Ædric was a Mercian who rose in Anglo-Saxon society to marry a daughter of Ætheldred the Unready and as though that weren’t enough managed to get himself voted as one of the BBC History Magazone’s ‘Worst Britains.’ It should be added that he didn’t come from a long line of Steonas it was a nickname given on account of his acquisitiveness.
William of Malmesbury has Ædric as taking a leading part in the massacre of the St Brice’s Day Massacre of the Danes in 1002 which doesn’t necessarily make him the worst person you could think of as an eleventh century historical figure. He began to notch up his chances of being the century’s most villainous person when Eadric first he invited Ælfhelm, earl of Northumbria to be his guest at Shrewsbury. He duly entertained the earl for two or three days, and then went hunting with him. At some point Ædric managed to separate Ælehelm from the rest of group and the town butcher who was also, very conveniently the town executioner, bumped him off. The account can be found in Florence of Worcester who made up what he didn’t know – so how reliable the tale is must be a matter of speculation. He rounded off the murder by arranging to have the earl’s sons blinded. He was made ealdorman of the Mercians in 1007, and by 1009 had married Ædgyth, one of the daughters of King Æthelred. Effectively the murders and the mutilation were part of a change in management. Our next interlude is Oxford in 1015. Ædric invited two Danish Athens to meet with him and then had them murdered as well. Again he was probably acting on the orders of Æthelred. Essentially the man broke every law of hospitality and as such he wasn’t terribly popular even in his own lifetime, let alone with a poll of modern readers.
When Cnut, the Dane, invaded England in the summer 1015, Ædric raised an army and joined forces with Æthelred’s son Edmund Ironside. By this time there were two main court factions, one headed by Ædric and the other headed by Edmund. Æthelred for reasons known to himself sided with his son-in-law rather than his son. It was all going horribly wrong in terms of Viking aggression, Æthelred was very unwell and Ædric having a strong sense of self-preservation could see that if Edmund became king that his influence and power would be over, so he turned his coat and joined Cnut. In 1016 he was with Cnut’s army when it invaded Mercia. Earl Uhtred (think Bamborough Castle) found himself in a situation where he had to submit to the Danes. Cnut promptly had him murdered, it is thought on Ædric’s advice given that the two didn’t much like one another and there was a long term Northumbrian feud in the background.
Æthelred conveniently died. Cnut and Edmund slogged it out. Edmund was doing a grand job until our man Ædric met him in Aylesford and persuaded him that a) his turning of coat had been an act of great service on his part because he was secretly working for the Anglo-saxons all the time and b) not to attack the Danes at their base on the Isle of Sheppey. Instead Edmund took his army into Essex. At the battle of Assandun or Ashington in Essex, Ædric led the men of Herefordshire and promptly …turnedcoat….
On 30 November, Edmund died suddenly. Henry of Huntingdon, a later chronicler, blamed Ædric’s son for Edmund’s death. This meant that Ædric was able to go to Cnut and tell him that he was the only king in England. In 1017 Ædric is supposed to have advised Cnut to put Edward’s two sons to death – whether this is true or not is another matter entirely, but by this point in the story most chronicler’s believed that Ædric was responsible for almost every treacherous, murderous and unpleasant royal going on that happened at this Tim. Cnut rewarded Ædric with his old earldom of Mercia, but having met the man and been advised by him was under no illusion as to the man’s inability to demonstrate even a modicum of loyalty. When Ædric was in London the following Christmas he was murdered on Cnut’s orders. And because this is Anglo-Saxon England with a definite hint of the Dane about it – the story ends in a way that makes Game of Thrones look positively restrained – Ædric’s body was thrown over city wall and left to rot.
Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
Whitehead, Annie (2020) Mercia: The Rise and Fall of a Kingdom, Amberley Press, Stroud