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Eadric Streona: One of the Worst Britons Ever?

Eadric Streona: One of the Worst Britons Ever?

– or how one greedy, treacherous Saxon earl weakened the English monarchy and paved the way for the Norman Conquest.

According to an article that appeared in the BBC History Magazine in 2005, a relatively obscure Saxon nobleman called Eadric Streona, who few people have probably heard of, was named the 11th century’s worst Briton! As we approach the 1000th anniversary of Eadric’s most notorious acts of treachery in the year AD 1016, now is a good time to look at how he acquired this terrible reputation.

Ethelred the Unready

The year was AD 1007 and Viking raiders were continuing to plague the Saxon kingdom of England. Far from appeasing them, the payment of Dangeld – in effect bribes of gold and silver bullion to buy off the Vikings (today we might call it protection money) – was just encouraging their fleets of longships to return each year to demand yet more money. As the poet Rudyard Kipling wrote nearly 1000 years later “Once you have paid him the Danegeld, you never get rid of the Dane!”

Viking Raiders

Viking Raiders (Public Domain)

On the throne (he ruled intermittently from 978 to 1016) was one of England’s most disastrous monarchs, King Aethelraed II Unraed – better known to history as Ethelred the Unready. His unfortunate nickname is based on a pun – Aethelraed meaning noble counsel, while Unraed means no or bad counsel.

Having paid out a record 36,000 pounds in weight of silver by way of Dangeld in 1007 to the Danish Viking leader King Sweyn Forkbeard (Sweyn held a personal grudge against Ethelred as the Dane’s sister Gunhilde was one of the victims of the so-called Saint Brice’s Day Massacre in November 1002, when Ethelred ordered the slaughter of every Dane in England –there is still a dispute among historians as to whether the death toll amounted to thousands or just a few hundred) the following year Ethelred ordered the construction of a national fleet of warships to defend the country.

King Aethelraed II Unraed, or Ethelred the Unready

King Aethelraed II Unraed, or Ethelred the Unready (Public Domain)

And so it was that in 1008, a fleet of 300 warships assembled off the port of Sandwich in Kent. At the time, this was the largest English fleet ever seen. Unfortunately, Ethelred’s plans soon began to unravel.

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