| Our Island Story|
|by H. E. Marshall|
|A child's history of England from earliest legendary times delightfully retold. Beginning with the stories of Albion and Brutus, it relates all the interesting legends and hero tales in which the history of England abounds through the end of the reign of Queen Victoria. Ages 9-12 |
ETHELRED THE UNREADY
 ALFRED died in 901 A.D. and his son, Edward, became king
after him. He is called Edward the Elder, because he was the
first of a great many kings of that name. He was a good king
and was greatly helped by his sister, Ethelfleda, who was
called the Lady of Mercia. She was a brave, wise woman and,
like Boadicea, often led her soldiers in battle. For the
Danes began to be troublesome again, and Edward and
Ethelfleda had to fight many battles with them.
When Edward the Elder and Ethelfleda both died, Edward's
son, Athelstane, came to the throne. He, too, was a good
king, and he, too, had to fight with the Danes. After him
came six kings who have been called the "boy kings," because
they were all so young when they came to the throne. Some of
these boy kings were wise and good, and all of them had to
fight with the Danes.
Year by year the Danes were becoming more and more powerful
in England. They not only came and went in their ships, but
many more of them settled in the country. They made their
homes in England and forgot about their old homes in
Denmark. That would not have mattered much, if they had
become good English subjects, willing to obey an English
king. But that is what they did not do. Instead, they
rebelled always against the king, and so wars and fighting
 Now you shall hear about the last of the "boy kings." His
name was Ethelred, and because he was foolish and slow, he
was also called the Unready. He lived about a hundred years
In his reign everything seemed to go wrong. The Danes soon
found out what a foolish man he was, and they came in
greater numbers than ever. Ethelred had not spirit enough to
be a good leader. He was never sure of what he wanted to do,
so his soldiers lost heart and his captains quarrelled among
He built ships, but they were shattered by storms. The city
of London caught fire by accident and was burnt to the
ground. Everywhere there was misery and misfortune.
Then Ethelred thought of an unhappy plan for ridding the
country of the Danes. He said to them, "I will give you a
large sum of money if you will go away."
The Danes, of course, were delighted at the idea of getting
money so easily, and they gladly promised. Ethelred gave
them the gold, and they sailed away and the English people
But the Danes, as you know, were never careful about keeping
their promises. They went home, it is true, but when they
had spent all the money which Ethelred had given them, they
said, "Let us go to England again and rob the people.
Perhaps their foolish king will give us more money."
And so they sailed to England. Ethelred again gave them
money to go back to Denmark; again they sailed away, but
when the money was spent, once more they returned.
Over and over again the same thing happened, Ethelred always
giving the Danes larger and larger sums, for they grew more
and more greedy when they saw
 how easy it was to make the
foolish English king give them money.
How did Ethelred get all the money which he gave to the
Danes? Was it his own? No. In order to get the money,
Ethelred taxed the people, that is, he made each person pay
a certain sum every year, and this was called Danegelt or
The English were already accustomed to pay taxes for various
things, and at first they did not mind paying this new one.
Indeed they were glad to do it, in the hope of getting rid
of their terrible enemies. But when the Danes returned time
after time, when year by year the tax grew heavier and
heavier, the people grew wary of it, and angry.
"We strive and toil," they said, "to earn money, that we may
live in peace and comfort, but it is of no use. The King
takes our money and gives it to these idle heathen. We will
work and pay no more." So the people grew moody, and the
country was in greater misery than before.
Then Ethelred thought of another plan by which to get rid of
the Danes. This plan was both terrible and wicked.
He sent messengers into every part of England, telling the
English that, on the 13th of November, they were to kill all
the Danes, men, women and children.
This was a most cruel and wicked order. Besides, it was not
the Danes who were living in England who gave the greatest
trouble, but those who year by year came across the sea in
their ships, to plunder and kill. But Ethelred was weak and
cowardly. He dared not fight the fierce sea-kings as they
were called, so he thought he would murder their peaceful
brothers and sisters.
 And the most dreadful thing is that Englishmen all over the
country were found willing to carry out the cruel order. Yet
we must not think too hardly of these old Englishmen, for
they had suffered so much from the Danes that it was little
wonder that they hated them.
Even those Danes, who were living peaceably in England, were
so proud and haughty that the English hated them. They
always thought they should have the best of everything, they
expected to be called "Lord Dane," they treated the English
like slaves, and if an Englishman and a Dane met in a narrow
passage or on a bridge the Englishman had to go back until
"my Lord Dane" had passed.
So when the 13th of November came, the Englishmen rose and
slaughtered the Danes, every one, man, woman and child, rich
and poor, high and low. None were saved.
Among those who were killed was the Princess Gunhilda,
sister of the King of Denmark. She had married an English
lord and was living with him in England. She was not only
very beautiful, but good. The Danes were heathen, but
Gunhilda had become Christian, and in her gentle way she
tried to bring about peace between the English and the
When the terrible slaughter began, and the air was filled
with shrieks, Gunhilda's husband, son and servants gathered
round her, to protect her. Bravely they fought for her, but
all in vain. First her husband and then her son fell dead at
her feet, pierced by many spears.
Then a cruel man seized the beautiful Gunhilda by the hair
and buried his sword in her heart.
"Alas!" she said, as she sank dying to the ground, "my death
will bring great sorrow upon England."
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