King shall hold kingdom

Tom Shippey

  • Æthelred: The Unready by Levi Roach
    Yale, 369 pp, £30.00, September 2016, ISBN 978 0 300 19629 0

Levi Roach’s book is an attempt to redeem the reputation of Æthelred II, king of England, with one interruption, from 978 to 1016. This is a hard task, as the book’s title concedes: Æthelred has been known as ‘the Unready’ for around a thousand years. Ever since 1066 and All That (originally a parody of Oxford University exam papers) he has also been logged as ‘the first Weak King of England’. The charge sheet includes incompetence, indecision, cruelty, paranoia and even, very un-regally, being a ‘mother’s boy’. In the popular estimation he probably outranks Bad King John and Wicked King Richard III as the worst ever English king.

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