Æthelred the Unready

Summer 2011 #9

Our twelve piece dinner service, precious wedding gift cutlery that we save for special occasions, tossed into the stainless steel tumble dryer on heavy-duty cycle. Let’s throw in the Wedgwood too!  Or perhaps it is more like the sound of the many women of my household (before they started running off and getting married!) talking to me all at once and dragging their amassed 60 fingernails over a dozen chalkboards at the same time. Imagine a sound so cataclysmic, so jarring, so apocalyptic that you would sooner have your teeth pulled than bear it a minute more.  Such is the calamitous, dreadful sound of B4 crawling around the house with a mangled gearbox. She’s chucked a cog! Blown a gasket! Pulled a hammy!

I am suddenly confined to barracks, with emotional results that are, in my habitually introspective way, out of all proportion to the scale of the problem.  I have spent an unprecedented three (3, THREE!) consecutive days at home; and it would have been five days straight but for one brief and nasty outing in the car with good old Bugger, the manual wheelchair that no longer fits the bill.  I can’t recall such incarceration since we were farming many years ago, when I could happily stay inside the front gate a week at a time; occupying myself with a thrilling array of machinery and playing mother hen to fifty thousand chickens.  A few enforced days at home probably sounds delicious to many of my readers.  Others will wonder what the fuss is all about, having spent five months, or five years, in confinement.  But it’s been a tough week; one in which the spectre of the future did its wraithlike best to invade the present, an apparition whose dimensions are known only to me.

In the moment of calamity – and in the hours and days that follow – an awful lot can pass through one’s mind.  Some folks can simply say, “Stuff happens” and move on.  Not me!  I have voices inside my head, all of them bogus, but all of them persuasive!

There are ‘What Ifs’: What if I hadn’t gone to the corner to waive Little One and Favourite Wife off to work? 

There are ‘Should Is’: Should I have been more prepared? Should I have paid more attention to the odd noise that has been slowly developing for months? 

There are Eternal Questions:  If everything happens for a reason, what’s the reason? 

There is Superstition:  What might I have done to ward off calamity? 

There is Illogical Relief: Thank goodness it happened near home!  

There is Blame:  Who did this to me? Who dropped the ball?    

There is also Cosmic Blame:  Is there an evil power conspiring to ruin me? 

There is Existential Anxiety:  God? Are you there?  Am I here? 

There is Guilt:  What did I do wrong to make this happen?

And then there is the long, long shadow of Æthelred the Unready!  

"Æthelred the Unready"

Æthelred, a Medieval King of England whose reign was so plagued by underachievement that history has branded him forever with that single, most unfortunate remark: unready.   What an epithet!  Apparently little ever went well for Æthelred. Invasion, impotence, vacillation, and treachery were the hallmarks of his kingdom.   Is there such a thing as congenital inadequacy syndrome (CIS)?  More importantly, do I qualify?  I don’t think there are too many pilgrims on earth who have not laboured, secretly perhaps, under the insecurity of Æthelred.

What I actually believe about all this is one of the most demanding tenets of faith:

“In all things God works for the good for those who love Him,
who have been called according to his purpose”. Romans 8:28 

In hindsight there seems to me nothing that has proved more true than this; however in the present tense there is nothing I find harder to believe!  So often throughout my life the difficult circumstances have proved, in the course of time, to have been immensely productive.  Salvation has come!  That knowledge should be hugely reassuring, and yet I find over and again that a trying circumstance simply discourages me, when it should fill me with anticipation for the gain that lies ahead. 

Used haphazardly, this New Testament truth can be scandalously dismissive.  For example this week a New Zealand man narrowly escaped the devastation of Christchurch and began the journey back home to his wife and two small children in Lyttelton, where the earthquake was centred.  Finding the Lyttelton tunnel blocked he took to a walking track, messaging his wife that he was just ten minutes away.  He never arrived; killed by an aftershock rock slide, meters from his own door.   It makes no sense to apply this thought to the tragedy of others; nor can we say “everything happens for a reason”.  Often enough there is no reason, tragedy is senseless. 

What is true, I think, is that the Almighty is at work beside us in all things, even as the drama of this life unfolds.

I don’t think the shadow of Æthelred is cast over my life.  Nor yours!



Æthelred the Unready, or Æthelred II (c. 968 – 23 April 1016), was king of England (978–1013 and 1014–1016). Better translated as ‘ill-advised’ his nickname has probably contributed to an un-earned reputation.  But it makes a good story!

6 thoughts on “Æthelred the Unready

  1. Ann

    Roderick, love this post. I wonder who took the place of Æthelred for that one absent year, or did an invasion set an alien king in his place… The outing in “Bugger” had to be awful. Don’t you think of how our non-walking brothers and sisters must suffer in third world countries… or in earlier eras when the good B4 leaves you without a seat? If this had happened to me, the answer to your list of questions would have been: “Should I have paid more attention”. But there will be something good from all things…That’s my take on it. The discipline is always not needing to know “what exactly the good is”.

  2. Anne and Ann,
    I have just been listenning on the ABC radio to a chap who designs book covers for a large publishing house describing the daunting process of waiting each week to have his drawings evaluated by virtually the whole company. I thought, “That’s my Monday morning!” It is very reassuring to have the endorsement of thoughtful people; if I connect with you then I know I’m not crazy.

  3. Debbie

    You are certainly not crazy Roderick. I so love reading your blog – always gives me something to ponder & share with others. Praying B4 is returned very soon!
    Bless you heaps & heaps. Deb

  4. Æthelred the Unready
    A Postcript.
    The nickname has alternatively been taken adjectivally as “ill-advised”, “ill-prepared”, “indecisive”, thus “Æthelred the ill-advised”. The epithet would seem to describe the poor quality of advice which Æthelred received throughout his reign, presumably from those around him, specifically from the royal council, known as the Witan. Though the nickname does not suggest anything particularly respectable about the king himself, its invective is not actually focused on the king but on those around him, who were expected to provide the young king with god ræd. Unfortunately, historians, both mediaeval and modern, have taken less of an interest in what this epithet suggests about the king’s advisers, and have instead focused on the image it creates of a blundering, misfit king. Because the nickname was first recorded in the 1180s, more than 150 years after Æthelred’s death, it is doubtful that it carries any implications for how the king was seen by his contemporaries or near contemporaries.

  5. Thank you Debbie,
    I hope it’s back on the road soon too! We are mindful of you all with the changes in your world at present. Good things lie ahead I reckon, don’t you?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s