|King of Anglia|
|Reign||18 March 978 - December 1013|
|Reign||February 1014 - 23rd April, 1016|
|Successor||Edmund II of Wessex|
|Died||23rd April 1016 |
Emma of Normandy
Aethelred II is generally regarded as a poor king seemingly surrounding himself with bad counselors. His actions appear to increased the violence of the Danish Invasions of Anglia which would led to his brief exile and the breakup of the English kingdom.
The death of King Edgar in 975 had left two young children to carry a kingdom. Aethelred was probably only ten years old, his elder and possibly illegitimate brother Edward rose to the throne but then quickly alienated many powerful lords with 'intolerable behaviour'. In 978 Edward was murdered, probably by members of Aethelred's household but what hand the young prince had in the murder is unknown.
Not long after Aethelred took the throne small companies of Danish adventurers began to raid the southern coasts. This would engineer the beginnings of a relationship between Wessex and Normandy as Aethelred attempted to shut down friendly ports for the marauding Danes. Peace abroad was not matched by victory at home and the Danes destroyed the English army at Maldon in 991. This started a series of Danegelds, tribute paid to the Danish host to stop their raids. However they took the money and continued the raids and revisited the south coast throughout the 990s. In 994 an even bigger horde of gold was paid to the foremost raider, Olaf II Tryggvason, who would use it to conquer Viken from Sweyn Forkbeard. Another yet larger Danegeld would be paid in 1002. All this money had to come from somewhere and it largely stripped the country of much of its moveable wealth. The Danelaw meanwhile had contributed nothing.
Aethelred's father had had a tense relationship with the Danelaw, the broad swath of eastern England which still followed Danish law and its lords had extracted rights out of the Wessex kings for services rendered in restraining the independent kingdom of Jorvik in the 930-40s. The relationship was generally peaceful. However, Aethelred appears to have considered them disloyal to his rule and under the impression that many of the raiders came from within its borders. So in November 1002 on St Brice's Day he ordered the death of every Dane in England. Within the Danelaw this would have been impossible but in Wessex or Mercia it seems his orders were carried out. One of his victims however was Gunhilde, the sister of Sweyn Forkbeard. Her death resulted in Sweyn's invasions of 1004, 1007 and 1012. These were not just the adventurers which had come before but the full-blown army of Denmark.
By 1012 Sweyn had made his mind up to conquer England for himself and by the end of 1013 Aethelred was forced to flee to his brother-in-law Robert II of Normandy. Sweyn would die only a few months later and Aethelred was recalled. Sweyn's son Cnut was briefly expelled but at this point of victory his own son Edmund rebelled and held out until Aethelred's death in April 1016.
Edmund would succeed him but Cnut had returned to England in 1015 and picked up his conquest where he had left off. By the end of 1016 Edmund had been defeated and the kingdom split into two. Cnut, his successor in the eastern half of the country, Anglia, took his widow Emma of Normandy as his new wife, if only to shore up support and stave off a potential invasion from the continent.