Eadred: Controlled Rage in a King


After Edmund came his brother Eadred, king of Wessex and acknowledged as overlord of Mercia, the Danelaw, and Northumbria. For having such a powerful position, he didn’t rule very long.

Part of the problem was his health. It was terrible. Apparently, he suffered for most of his adult life from a lingering ailment that rendered him unable to digest more than the juices of the foods he so wanted to eat (and with which his grateful subjects were no doubt eager to provide him).

Eadred also had a bit of a temper, as displayed by his almost constant desire to make anyone who opposed him pay the ultimate price for such opposition. He was eager to keep the Norsemen under his heel, fearing that any outbreak of sentiment for the “invaders,” as they were still called in many Saxon circles, would lead to open revolt and, of course, lessening of the king’s influence throughout the land. But Eadred could turn on his own people as well.

In the early 950s, the people of Northumbria found that they rather liked better than Eadred the Norseman Eric Bloodaxe. Now with a name like that, you’d expect him to be bloodthirsty; and by all accounts, he was, fighting and ruling with an iron fist in the proud tradition of his ancestors. Trouble was, his ancestral homeland didn’t want much to do with him.

So, Eric decided to sail to England. For some odd reason (perhaps they were tired of Eadred’s meddling), the people of Northumbria decided to make Eric their ruler. The Bloodaxe set up court in York, driving Eadred furious with (you guessed it) rage.

The Wessex king immediately (at least more quickly than was usual in those days) raised a large force and marched north, stopping along the way to pillage the countryside, apparently to teach the recalcitrant Northumbrians a lesson. In a massive battlefield engagement, Eadred emerged victorious and promptly set off back home, figuring that he had taught Eric a lesson. Eric, however, didn’t learn very well or at least didn’t want to learn what Eadred was teaching. The Wessex king found himself attacked from the rear on his way home.

Eadred was angry, of course, at Eric for attacking him after the battle had been fought. He was probably angry as well at Eric for not returning to his ancestral homeland. But Eadred, it turns out, was more angry with the people of Northumbria and threatened to lay waste to the entire land if Eric wasn’t “compelled” to leave.

The people of Northumbria got the message, and Eric was “let go.” Eadred reigned again in Northumbria, although for a short time only. The Northumbrians yearned for a Norse ruler again and in 951 accepted Olaf Sihtricson as their overlord. Eadred returned soon thereafter and reasserted his authority.

For all this effort, Eadred didn’t live long enough to really enjoy his position, or so it would seem. He died in 955.