Æthelred The Unready Levi Roach

Publication date:
15 Sep 2016
Yale University Press
392 pages: 235 x 156mm
21 b-w illus.


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.


"This was an extraordinary period of English history, and there is a widening gap between academic writing about it and the general reader. Levi Roach has written a book that at least tries to bridge the gap… he is very good at extracting from the dry bones of charters, witness lists, land grants and coinage types, a compelling and impressive picture of what was going on at the court of Aethelred."—David Crane, Spectator

"Roach’s task in rehabilitating a king whose reign ended in foreign conquest is trickier, but he successfully steers us to a real appreciation of how faith, martial prowess, a sometimes impulsive personality and the huge challenges of the Viking invasions interacted to place almost impossible constraints on Aethelred… welcome additions to the corpus of works on an unjustifiably neglected era of English history."—Philip Parker, Literary Review

"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