Thoughts on “Swein Forkbeard’s Invasions” and “Reign of Æthelred II” by Ian Howard

Two books by Ian Howard (“Swein Forkbeard’s Invasions and the Danish Conquest of England 991-1017” and “The Reign of Æthelred II: King of the English, Emperor of All the Peoples of Britain”) deal with similar topics, so I thought I would address them together, especially since they share an author. Both are academic works that engage with a tumultuous and confusing period of early English history, when England fell to a Danish king in 1013, was recovered by the English one in 1014, and was conquered by Danes again in 1016.

Æthelred the Unready: What Lies Beneath the Legends

The image that had emerged by the 12th century was of a ruler who was afraid of candles, had defecated at his baptism, was scolded at his own coronation, was haunted by the ghost of his murdered brother, and who preferred drinking and sleeping to fighting vikings.

The Anglo-Saxon Magna Carta: Æthelred the Unready’s Agreement of 1014

Using the restoration agreement of 1014 as a starting point, it is possible to make sense of one of the most dramatic eras in English history, when King Æthelred not only had to fend off massive Viking invasions, but also had to navigate through dangerous factions, disloyal subjects, and an open rebellion by his own son.