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II Aethelred

II Aethelred is an undated peace treaty from the tenth century between the Anglo-Saxons and the Viking army. Signatures include those of King Aethelred II, Archbishop Sigeric, and ealdormen Aethelwaerd of the Western Provinces and Aelfric of Hampshire. The three Viking leaders are Anlaf, Iustin and Guthmund Steita’s son.1 

The agreement survives in a collection of medieval English laws dating back to the turn of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. It is better known as Corpus Christi Ms 383, fol. 59v–61r and probably made in St Paul’s Cathedral, London. The collection came to Cambridge as a gift from Archbishop Matthew Parker in 1575.2

Viking Age Relevance

The Anglo-Saxons in the treaty are all accounted for in the history books. The names of the Viking leaders are well-educated suggestions. Based on Anglo-Saxon and Old Norse sources, Anlaf is most likely Olaf Tryggvason and Iustin his uncle Jostein.3 Guthmund Steita’s son is only known in this treaty and in no other source.4

Debate: Dating the Peace Treaty

The treaty has no date and the text does not give a clearcut answer to the question. Scholars have long suggested it is either 991 or 994 CE. By the early twentieth century, Felix Liebermann dates it to 991 CE, right after the battle of Maldon. He argues this on the basis of Sweyn Forkbeard’s absence on the treaty, and the fact that Archbishop Sigeric died in 994 CE.5 

By the 1950s, E. Gordon and Dorothy Whitelock opt for the year 994 CE. The lack of facts about Sweyn Forkbeard’s life makes it difficult to prove anything on his account. Instead, they point to Archbishop Sigeric as the key to solving this puzzle. The treaty’s first clause supports their argument. This paragraph states that it follows on earlier tributes made by Sigeric and the ealdormen.6 For one, this suggests that those smaller agreements were most likely made not long before this truce. Secondly, the Vikings ravaged Sigeric’s district in 991 CE, but not any of the ealdormen’s. But by 994, all had suffered from the Vikings’ raiding. As a result, this makes it more likely that the peace treaty was made after Maldon and by Sigeric’s death in October 994 CE.7

Summary of the Peace Treaty

The treaty consists of seven clauses, taking a pragmatic approach to the situation. It does not tell the Vikings to go away and never come back. Perhaps this is the result of lessons learned in 991 CE? For in that year, neither the treaty with Normandy nor the handsome tribute after Maldon kept the Vikings away. Worse still, they came back to attack London in 994 CE.8 

In contrast rather, the treaty offers to pay a large tribute, but on the condition that the Viking army staying in England will live in peace with the Anglo-Saxons. Traders and trade will be protected and in return, the Vikings receive “equal protection and legal compensation”.9None are allowed to execute revenge for lingering feuds or damages occurred before the treaty. The text also clearly states the price and conditions for breaking the peace, whether it be with robbery, murder, or the truce in general.10

Learn More

F. Liebermann’s side-by-side translation of Early English Laws.
Dorothy Whitelock’s translation of the treaty in English Historical Documents.


  1. B. Thorpe, Ancient Laws and Institutes of England. (1840), pp. 121.  ↩
  2. Æthelred’s treaty with Olaf (II Atr),’ Early English Laws. Last Accessed November 27, 2017.  ↩
  3. Anonymous, ‘The Anglo–Saxon Chronicle | 993,’ The Avalon Project | Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy. Last Accessed November 22, 2017.
    Margaret Ashdown, English and Norse Documents: Relating to the Reign of Ethelred the Unready. (Cambridge: CUP, 1930), pp. 218.  ↩
  4. Guthmund 3,’ PASE. Last Accessed November 27, 2017.  ↩
  5. Peter Sawyer, ‘Ethelred II, Olaf Tryggvason, and the Conversion of Norway.’ In: Scandinavian Studies, Volume 59, No. 3, pp. 300 [pp. 299–307].  ↩
  6. Dorothy Whitelock, English Historical Documents, 500–1042. Second Edition Reissued (London: Routledge, 1996), pp. 442.  ↩
  7. Peter Sawyer, ‘Ethelred II, Olaf Tryggvason, and the Conversion of Norway.’ In: Scandinavian Studies, Vol. 59, No. 3, pp. 299–300 [pp. 299–307].
    Dorothy Whitelock (1996), pp. 441–442.
    E.V. Gordon, ‘The Date of Æthelred’s Treaty with the Vikings: Olaf Tryggvason and the Battle of Maldon,’ In: The Modern Language Review. Volume 32.1 (1937): pp. 24–32.  ↩
  8. Levi Roach, Æthelred: The Unready. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016), pp.180.  ↩
  9. Leonard Neidorf, ‘II Aethelred and the Politics of the Battle of Maldon,’ In: The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Volume 111, pp. 455–456 [pp. 451–473].  ↩
  10. Dorothy Whitelock (1996), pp. 441–443.  ↩

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