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  • Print publication year: 2012
  • Online publication date: April 2013

The Burial of King Æthelred the Unready at St Paul's

Summary

In the late summer of 1015 Cnut, brother of Harold, king of the Danes, brought a fleet to Sandwich, in north-eastern Kent, and set out from there on the campaign which had led by the close of the following year to his accession as king of the whole of England. In the midst of the Danish invasion, and after a reign of over 38 years, Æthelred, king of the English, died at London on St George's Day (23 April) 1016. The notice of Æthelred's death in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle adds that ‘he had held his kingdom with great toil and difficulties as long as his life lasted’; and we learn from later sources that Æthelred was buried with all due honour in the church of St Paul. A modern visitor to St Paul's Cathedral is unlikely to have gone there in search of the tomb of King Æthelred the Unready, and, if he had, would not find it. The tomb was lost when the medieval cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, though Æthelred's name is to be found on a modern inscribed stone, set up on a wall of the café in the crypt, which replaces all the memorials known to have been lost in the conflagration. It is more likely, therefore, that a modern visitor would go to St Paul's for Nelson and Wellington, or for the granite slab marking the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, beneath its famous inscription: ‘Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice’.