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The Unready

Levi Roach

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An imaginative reassessment of Æthelred "the Unready," one of medieval England’s most maligned kings and a major Anglo-Saxon figure

The Anglo-Saxon king Æthelred "the Unready" (978–1016) has long been considered to be inscrutable, irrational, and poorly advised. Infamous for his domestic and international failures, Æthelred was unable to fend off successive Viking raids, leading to the notorious St. Brice’s Day Massacre in 1002, during which Danes in England were slaughtered on his orders. Though Æthelred’s posthumous standing is dominated by his unsuccessful military leadership, his seemingly blind trust in disloyal associates, and his harsh treatment of political opponents, Roach suggests that Æthelred has been wrongly maligned. Drawing on extensive research, Roach argues that Æthelred was driven by pious concerns about sin, society, and the anticipated apocalypse. His strategies, in this light, were to honor God and find redemption. Chronologically charting Æthelred’s life, Roach presents a more accessible character than previously available, illuminating his place in England and Europe at the turn of the first millennium.

Levi Roach is lecturer at the University of Exeter, and formerly a junior research fellow at St John’s College, Cambridge. He lives in Exeter, UK.

"Research across an exceptionally wide range of early medieval European lands, and historiographies in many languages, underpin Levi Roach’s fresh account of the life and reign of Æthelred II. With a keen comparative appreciation of contemporary European societies and states, Roach assesses Æthelred’s many dimensions in balanced judgements. He extracts new and timely understandings from texts familiar to historians, and also from archaeology, legal studies, liturgiology and ritual, and, often bringing all these together interdisciplinarily, numismatics. The effect is to alert readers both to the deep political and social structures of Æthelred’s reign and to the experiential rhythms of his long life. This is a book for experts and students alike."—Jinty Nelson, professor emeritus, King’s College London

"To what extent should rulers respect the wishes of those they rule? How is power to be tempered with prudence?  Should states seek accommodation with terrorists? Is England part of Europe, or should it detach itself from wider European trends? These tenth-century dilemnas faced by King Aethelred II remain surprisingly topical, a thousand years later. In exploring them, Levi Roach offers new insights into one of the darker yet most fascinating epochs in English history. His is a masterly account: a scholarly adventure story here for the first time set out in true context and vibrant detail."—Nicholas Vincent, author of Magna Carta

“This biography gives us a judicious, reliable and rounded account of the King and his reign, and places them in the context of their age.”—Dr. Nicholas Orme, Church Times

"This detailed yet readable history does allow us to re-evaluate a misunderstood figure whose long reign occupied a nightmare of our island story… Levi Roach has written a well-considered, academically rigorous account of a fascinating, brutal and often neglected period in English history."—David Miles, Minerva

ISBN: 9780300229721
Publication Date: September 26, 2017
392 pages, 5 11/16 x 8 15/16
21 b/w illus.