Being stuck at work for two and a half days (not an exaggeration) has left me with naught to do but seek comfort in the pursuit of knowledge. The knowledge of early English kings.
If I had to guess who the first king of a unified England was, I’d have guessed Alfred the Great. Makes sense, he’s the famous one. Turns out though, no. He was the first ‘King of the Anglo-Saxons’, but in reality he only controlled mainly the south-west of the country as we know it, with the invading Danes holed up in the east and north. It was actually his grandson, Ethelstan (these names just tickle my pickle) who was the first king to rule over the whole country. He got those pesky Danes out of the joint, only for the Normans to move in just over a hundred years later.
So Alfred, Great as he was, had to continually push the Vikings back throughout his reign. Random aside, in 878 Alfred had to retreat into Somerset after a surprise Danish attack. There, the legend goes, he was sheltered by a peasant woman who didn’t know or care if he was the king of all England, she just wanted someone to watch the cakes she was baking, a role she entrusted to the Great one. Old Al, who was in fact the king of all England (although not really, as noted), couldn’t possibly give a stuff about some rando sheila’s cakes, and as he contemplated the affairs of the nation the cakes – *gasp* – burnt to a crisp! Cue a stern rebuke from the lowly bread-baker to quite an abashed Alfredo.
Like I said this is the stuff of legend, invented in the 12th century purely for the lulz. But as far as made up anecdotes about kings being eliminated from Medieval Great British Bake Off go, this one is far too good not to include. My “Facts” posts are becoming more pseudo-historical by the minute.
In my defense, most of history is a lie anyway. Take all these names these guys had. Edgar the Peaceful? Murdered a dude in cold blood over a woman. Ivar the Boneless? Probably had all of his bones. Edmund Ironside? Didn’t appear in a single episode. Harald Bluetooth? Not Bluetooth compatible. Lies I tell you!
Even Ethelred The Unready is total bollocks. Now it may be one of the most fantastic names for a king ever coined, and it was a contemporary epithet, but sadly it probably didn’t actually mean “unready”. In the Old English of the time “unready” was derived from “unred”, meaning “bad counsel/advice”, so a more accurate translation would be something like “Ethelred The Ill-Advised”…which to be honest is kind of an amazing name in its own right. Even more amazing is that the name Ethelred means “wise counsel”, so the nickname was a play on words that gives us a “good advice, ill-advised” pun. An Old English Pun. There’s nothing better than that.