In Search of the Dark Ages (1981): S02E03 – In Search of Ethelred the Unready


In Search of the Dark Ages is a BBC television documentary series, written and presented by historian Michael Wood, first shown between 1979 and 1981.

It comprises eight short films across two series, each focusing on a particular character from the history of England prior to the Norman Conquest, a period popularly known as the Dark Ages. It is also the title of a book written by Wood to support the series, that was first published in 1981.


Wood starts in a Bradford on Avon church, where he states that Æthelred has arguably the poorest reputation of any English king. At the Bodleian Library Wood accesses the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, where a story of disaster, defeat and governmental collapse unfolds. Wood recalls the failure in 991 at Maldon, which led to vast payments of Danegeld, and visits the British Museum to examine coins of the period. He then recounts the St. Brice’s Day massacre of 1002 and Sweyn Forkbeard’s retaliatory raids, and the failure of the Anglo-Saxon fleet at Sandwich Bay, Kent in 1009. He then details the loss of Canterbury, and the 12 million silver coin ransom paid in 1012. Wood finally ponders the legacy of Æthelred the “un-red” or un-counselled through the exploits of his son and the rise of Sweyn’s son Cnut.

In Search of the Dark Ages Series

You can find a full overview and index of In Search of the Dark Ages here.

Production & Filming Details

  • Released Date: 02 April 1981.
  • Running time: 35-45minutes.
  • Rating: Unknown.
  • Country: UK.
  • Language: English.

Video Link(s)

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