Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ethelred (1109?-1166)
ETHELRED, ÆTHELRED, AILRED, or AELRED (1109?–1166), historical writer, though a Durham man by family—for he was the grandson of Elfred, son of Weston, sacristan of Durham, a famous collector of relics, who was living in 1056 (Reginald, B. Cuthbert; Simeona of Durham Hist. Dunelm. Eccl. iii. c. 7)—was born at Hexham in 1109, and was the son of Eilau, a priest, who was the deputy of the non-resident provost of the church of Hexham (Richard of Hexham, c. 9; Fasti Ebor. 168–9). As a child he is said to have given promise of his future sanctity, and to have prophesied the death of a bad archbishop of York. The editors of Æthelred's life in ‘Acta SS. Bolland.’ find a difficulty in this story; for the only archbishop whom it would fit in point of date is Thomas II (d. 1114), and he was by no means a bad man; while Archbishop Gerard, who certainly was not a good man, died in 1108; and they suggest that Æthelred may have been born some years before 1109, the date at which the anonymous biographer places his birth by his assertion that he lived to the age of fifty-seven. It is, however, quite possible that the biographer may have had an imperfect knowledge of the dealings of Thomas with Æthelred's father, whom he induced to give up his post at Hexham (ib.), and may therefore have given the archbishop a bad character. Æthelred spent his youth in the court of David, king of Scotland, as one of the attendants of his son Henry, and while there gave a remarkable instance of his sweetness of character by forgiving one of his enemies who had slandered him. David was much attached to him, and would have made him a bishop, but he preferred to become a monk, and entered the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx, in the North Riding of Yorkshire, founded by Walter Espec [q. v.] in 1131. There he held the office of master of the novices, and showed great tenderness and patience in dealing with those under his charge. He became abbot of Revesby in Lincolnshire (John of Peterborough, p. 78), another Cistercian house, founded in 1142, where he was probably the first abbot. In 1146 he was chosen abbot of Rievaulx, and returned thither (John of Hexham, col. 274). He evidently stood well with Henry II, for it was largely due to his exhortations that the king joined Lewis VII of France in meeting Alexander III at Touci in September 1162 (John of Peterborough, p. 79; for the interview, Robert de Monte, Bouquet, xiii. 307). Although suffering from ill-health, he attended the chapter of his order at Citeaux, and on his way thither began to compose a rhythmical prose eulogy of St. Cuthbert, for whom he, as a member of a Durham family, had a special veneration. When at Citeaux he laid aside this work. On his homeward journey he was accompanied by several other abbots, and the party was delayed fifteen days by contrary winds, which prevented them from embarking to cross the Channel. Declaring that his neglect of St. Cuthbert was the cause of this delay, he resumed his work, and the wind at once became favourable (Reginald, B. Cuthbert, p. 176). Nothing more is known of the composition. He was a friend of Reginald, the monk of Durham, and sent him to visit the hermit Godric, in order to gain materials for writing his life, a work in which Æthelred assisted him. Reginald also wrote his ‘Life of St. Cuthbert’ at his request and with his help, and cites him as his authority for several of the legends it contains (ib. pp. 32, 57, 60). On 13 Oct. 1163 he was present at the translation of Eadward the Confessor at Westminster, and offered his ‘Life of the Confessor’ and a homily on the words ‘Nemo accendit lumen,’ written in his praise (John of Peterborough, p. 79). The next year he went on a mission to the Picts of Galloway, who were then in a wild and uncivilised condition, constantly fighting among themselves, and sunk in vice and ignorance. He was at Kirkcudbright on 20 March. He induced the chief of the Picts to become a monk. He also visited Melrose in the present Roxburghshire, and Lauderdale in the present Berwickshire (B. Cuthbert, pp. 178, 188). During the last ten years of his life he suffered much from both gout and stone, but in spite of his bodily weakness continued to eat so sparingly that he was ‘more like a ghost than a man’ (Vita, anon.). All through 1165 he was troubled with a hard cough, so that often, when he returned from mass, he could neither speak nor move, but lay exhausted on his pallet. It is said that one day, when his sickness was very sore, as he sat on a mat before the fire with his head on his knees, one of the monks came into the room, and, after declaring that he was only shamming, threw him, mat and all, on the fire. The other monks picked him off and laid hold of the offender. But the saint declared that he was not hurt, ordered that no punishment should be inflicted on his assailant, and kissed and forgave him (ib.) He died on 12 Jan. 1166, at the age of fifty-seven, and was buried at Rievaulx, where Leland saw his tomb, which was adorned with gold and silver. He was canonised in 1191. Several forms of his name occur besides those given at the head of this article.
Æthelred wrote several historical and theological works. All that have been printed, with the exception of the book on the Hexham miracles, will be found in Migne's ‘Patrologia,’ cxcv. 195 sq. Paris, 1855. His historical works are: 1. ‘Vita et Miracula S. Edwardi Regis et Confessoris,’ written at the request of Lawrence, abbot of Westminster, with a prologue addressed to Henry II. This biography was derived from an earlier life by Osbert or Osbern of Clare, prior of Westminster, and was compiled for the translation of the Confessor's body in 1163. It has in turn been made the groundwork of a metrical life of the Confessor, written about the middle of the thirteenth century, and for a Latin poem of the reign of Henry VI, both printed in ‘Lives of Edward the Confessor,’ ed. Luard (Rolls Ser.) It has also been versified in Latin elegiacs, a work often, though erroneously, attributed to Æthelred himself (Luard). Æthelred's ‘Life’ is in a mutilated form in Capgrave's ‘Legenda Nova,’ 1516, in the ‘De Probatis SS. Historiis’ of Surius, i. 127 sq., Cologne, 1570, in the ‘Vitæ SS.’ of Surius, i. 62 sq. Cologne, 1617, and in ‘Acta SS. Bolland.’ Jan. i. p. 292 sq. Antwerp, 1643. It was for the first time adequately presented by Sir Roger Twysden in the ‘Decem Scriptores,’ col. 369 sq. London, 1652. 2. ‘De Bello Standardii,’ a valuable tract on the battle ‘of the Standard,’ fought near Northallerton 22 Aug. 1138, between the army of David of Scotland and the forces of northern England. In this narrative Walter Espec is made the principal leader on the English side (compare the account given by Henry of Huntingdon). This tract is in Twysden, cols. 337–346. 3. ‘De Generositate … regis David, Pinkerton's ‘Vitæ SS. Scotiæ,’ p. 437, but is really a part of 4. ‘De genealogia regum Anglorum,’ which contains some useful notices of the family of Malcolm, incompletely presented by Twysden, col. 347 sq. 5. ‘De Sanctimoniali de Watton,’ a most revolting story of monastic life (Twysden, col. 415 sq.). 6. ‘Vita S. Niniani,’ of no value (Capgrave and Pinkerton). 7. ‘De Miraculis Hagustaldensis Ecclesiæ’ (Mabillon, ‘Acta SS. O.S.B.’ i. 204, Venice, and in Canon Raine's ‘Priory of Hexham,’ ii. 173 sq. Durham, 1864, Surtees Soc.). 8. ‘De fundatione Monasteriorum S. Mariæ Ebor. de et Fontibus,’ unprinted MS. C. C. C. Camb. F. v. 13. 9. ‘Epitaphium regum Scotorum,’ spoken of by John of Peterborough, is possibly a mistake for the ‘De Generositate David;’ if a distinct work it is probably lost (but see Wright, Bibl. Brit.), as also is the ‘rhythmica prosa’ of Reginald's story quoted above. The ‘Margaritæ Vita, reginæ Scotiæ,’ attributed to Æthelred by Wright and others, and printed by Surius and in ‘Acta SS.,’ is not his work. It appears to be an abridgment by Capgrave of the ‘Life’ commonly attributed to Turgot, with some additions taken from Æthelred (Hardy, Cat. of Materials, ii. 294). 10. ‘Chronicon ab Adam ad Henricum I’ is perhaps lost (but see Hardy, as above). This work, with probably a continuation, seems to be referred to by John of Peterborough, who under 1153, p. 77, writes, ‘Hic finit chronica Alredi.’ The theological works of Æthelred were collected by Richard Gibbons, S.J., who includes several of the more important in his ‘Opera Divi Aelredi Rhievallensis,’ Douay, 1616, 1631. They are: 11. ‘Sermones de Onere Babylonis,’ on Is. c. xiii. sq. (Gibbons; ‘Bibliotheca Cisterciensium,’ v. 229; ‘Magna Bibl. Vet. Pat.’ xiii. 1–154, Cologne, 1618; ‘Maxima Bibl. Vet. Pat.’ xxiii. Lyons, 1677). 12. ‘Speculum Charitatis’ (Gibbons and others). 13. ‘Compendium Speculi Charitatis,’ written before the larger work, and expanded by request. 14. ‘De Spirituali Amicitia,’ a treatise in the form of a discourse like the ‘De Amicitia’ of Cicero (Gibbons and others, and in S. Augustini Opera, iv.). 15. ‘De duodecimo anno Christi’ (Gibbons and others, and in S. Bernardi Opera, ii. 590). 16. ‘Sermones’ (twenty-five), in ‘Bibl. Cisterc.’ v. 162 sq., certain homilies are in Combefis (by a misprint in Wright's ‘Biog. Lit.,’ Combesis), ‘Bibl. Pat. Concionat.’ Paris, 1662 (Tanner), and the homily ‘De Natali Domini’ in the new edition of Combefis, Paris, 1859. 17. ‘Regula sive Institutio Inclusarum,’ Lucas Holstenius in ‘Codex Regularum,’ pt. iii. p. 110, Rome, 1661, Paris, 1665, and ed. Mabillon, Paris, 1719, also in ‘App. S. Augustini Opera;’ cf. ‘Patrologia,’ xxxii. col. 1451. 18. ‘De Natura Animæ,’ a dialogue, not printed, in Bodl. MS. 52, and transcribed in British Museum Lansd. MS. 209. 19. ‘Fasciculus frondium,’ lost. 20. ‘Epistolæ,’ lost (Wright).[Vita S. Aelredi, anon. Acta SS. Bolland. Jan. ii. p. 30; Reginaldi Mon. Dunelm. de Virtutibus B. Cuthberti, pp. 176–8, 188, ed. Raine; Vita S. Godrici, pp. 19, 173, 269, ed. Stevenson; Priory of Hexham, pref. ii. 173, ed. Raine (all Surtees Soc.); Simeon of Durham, De Dunelm. Ecclesiæ, col. 31; Richard of Hexham, col. 305; John of Hexham, col. 274 (all in Twysden); John of Peterborough, pp. 77–80, ed. Sparke; Raine's Fasti Ebor. pp. 168–9; Bale's Scriptt. Brit. Cat. cent. 2, script. 99; Tanner's Bibl. Brit. p. 247; Wright's Biog. Lit. (Anglo-Norman), p. 187; Hardy's Cat. of Materials, i. 45, ii. 248, 294.]