Cultural depictions of Æthelred the Unready

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Cultural depictions of Æthelred the Unready have generally been less than flattering.

Cultural references[edit]

Æthelred was the subject of a stageplay by Ronald Ribman titled The Ceremony of Innocence which was made into a film by the same name. It was first performed in 1968, and depicted interactions between Æthelred and his court, family and advisors, and also with the Danish king, Sweyn Forkbeard. Æthelred was portrayed by Richard Kiley in both play and film.

Æthelred is also the subject of Richard Edward Wilson's Æthelred the Unready, a comical one-act opera composed in 1992.[1]

He is also referenced in the 'Sid Meier's Civilization' franchise of computer games, occupying the second lowest rank that a player may earn upon the game's completion, just above Dan Quayle.

Æthelred is also featured in the historical novel A Hollow Crown: The Story of Emma, Queen of Saxon England (2004, also published as The Forever Queen) by Helen Hollick. The protagonist is his wife Emma of Normandy. The novel opens with the wedding of 13-year-old Emma to Æthelred, a 34-year-old man with a grown son of his own. The early years of their marriage are barren, and Æthelred considers ending said marriage. He is then depicted in a "drunken fury", first killing Emma's dog, then engaging in a night of domestic violence and marital rape. Edward the Confessor is depicted as the result of that night, unloved by his own mother.[2]

He also appears in the 1999 play Silence by Moira Buffini, in which he initially marries off 'Ymma' (Emma of Normandy) to Silence, the Viking Lord of Cumbria. He then has a dream of Ymma as his lover and pursues her and Silence to Cumbria, laying waste to Silence's lands, attempting to kill Silence and eventually marrying Ymma. An epilogue to the play then tells of Ymma's marriage to Canute.

In Patricia Bracewell's historical novel Shadow On The Crown Æthelred appears as a major character. While the novel focuses on Emma of Normandy, Æthelred plays a pivotal role not only as the King of England, but as Emma's brooding and paranoid husband.

Æthelred is a supporting character in The Iron Hand's Good Wife, a historical novel by A.C. Masterson. The novel uses the death of Æthelred's father, and the coronation of his brother, Edward, as a backdrop. Æthelred is shown at a much younger age in this story, and appears to be a pawn used by his mother, Ælfthryth.


  1. ^ Kozinn, Allan (26 January 2011). "‘Aethelred the Unready' at Symphony Space- Review". The New York Times. 
  2. ^ Gilbride, A Hollow Crown.[dead link]