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King Alfred the Great (871-899) to King Ethelred the Unready (978-1016)
Kings and Queens: Alfred to Ethelred (1) : England’s rulers from the only one named ‘the Great’, to the king who lost his crown to the Danes.
Kings and Queens: Alfred to Ethelred
Part one

At the end of the 9th century, the eastern side of England was occupied by Danish invaders with their own government (‘the Danelaw’), and King Alfred of Wessex on the south coast inherited a kingdom on the edge of extinction. Little more than a century later, his successors had united all England under them.

THE first steps towards a Kingdom of England were taken by Alfred the Great, King of Wessex on the south coast.

In 878 he pushed back against the invading Danes, and by astute government laid the foundations of a secure, civilised and stable Christian nation. Alfred’s son Edward the Elder added Mercia in the midlands to the realm in 899.

In 927, the Vikings’ hold over Northumbria was broken by Edward’s son Athelstan, who now found himself lord of a realm comparable to modern England.

Athelstan’s brothers Edmund (who died saving his steward from a knife attack) and Edred, and Edmund’s sons Edwy and Edgar ‘the Peaceful’, consolidated the House of Wessex as Kings of England in the tenth century.

However, after Edgar’s son Edward was murdered – martyred, some would say – at Corfe Castle in 978, his half-brother Ethelred ‘the Unready’* allowed corruption and court intrigue so to weaken the kingdom that it fell to Danish king Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’ in 1013.

* ‘Unready’ here does not mean ‘ill-prepared’, but ‘badly advised’, being a corruption of the Old English word unrede, ‘no-counsel’. It was a play on his Christian name, Ethelred, ‘wise-counsel’.

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Picture: © David Dixon, Geograph. Licence: CC BY-SA 2.0. View original
Alfred the Great, as imagined for a statue on Broadway in Winchester on the south coast of England, the city which was Alfred’s capital in the ancient Kingdom of Wessex.

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