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A long path back to that Last Kingdom and the real Uhtred the Bold!

No, I have not deserted you, forgotten you, or gotten completely lost in time… well, okay I have come close on that last one! I have taken some much needed time off from writing to enjoy the holidays with my family. I hope that all of you had time to spend with your own families and appreciate the gift that family is. No matter what problems you may face, how annoying, irritating or frustrating your family may be at times, this is the time of year to set those problems aside and be thankful for what and who you have been blessed with.

Besides enjoying the family  that is here with me, I have been busy trying to fill in the gaps of my family tree as a way of connecting with the past on a personal level and honoring all of those ancestors who have had a part in shaping who I am today. I am trying to fill in those gaps and get a better picture or understanding of  those ancestors in Britain in preparation for my upcoming trip to England in April.  That trip planning has taken up a good portion of my free time as well. Those of you who visit here on a regular basis are probably aware of my planned trip. It is pretty much official now- having received flight confirmations as a Christmas gift from my daughter. As she says, “No backing out now cause the tickets are already paid for… Now, you’re going whether you want to or not!”  We will be flying from Seattle to Aberdeen Scotland with a stop over in Iceland. Our trip will take us through Scotland, England, a stop in Cardiff Wales and and ending stop in Dublin, Ireland with a flight home from Dublin to San Francisco. This is the trip of a lifetime, a fulfillment of dreams and a very real connection to our heritage that began so many centuries ago in Britain. 

You can read more about our trip plans here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/29/timeslips-makes-travel-plans-real-ones/

TimeSlips travels

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/06/travel-planning-and-last-kingdom/

Bambugh Castle, the inspiration and setting for Bebbenburg Castle in Last Kingdom

Bamburgh Castle, the inspiration and setting for Bebbenburg Castle in Last Kingdom

The next few months are going to be extremely busy for me as I work  to get everything sorted out and set for this trip. I will try to keep you all updated as much as possible but most of my energy, effort and focus will be devoted to getting through the next few months of intense research and planning. Much of our reason for this trip is to find and feel that connection to our very distant roots.  I am working on piecing together those distant names and places of our ancient history in Britain and finding ways to fit them into our journey. It’s not just the idea of seeing the fantastic historical sites, but of also seeing them in connection to our family roots. 

If you have read through some of my family history posts, you know that I have found some ancestry links that take us back as far as Northumbria and Uhtred the Bold who has found fame in Bernard Cornwell’s versions of Anglo-Saxon history in his Last Kingdom series. This is in addition to the links that take us back to William the Conqueror and then further back of course to Rollo, the founder of Normandy, who has found his own fame in Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga. These links are all due to one young woman who on initial appearance in our family tree seemed quite unremarkable or uneventful… other than the fact that she seemed to be married off at an extremely young age, even for back then, to my ancestor Humphrey Workman. This young girl- I have to call her a girl because according to some of the records, she was married to Humphrey at the age of 11 or 12- Joan Hathaway was her name and she brought to our family an ancestry that included those already mentioned, along with the inclusion of some other famous or infamous historical figures by the name of Wydville or Woodville.  I have mentioned her limited story in some previous posts concerning family history but I just wanted to mention her here once again and give her the credit she deserves. We know very little about her or her immediate family other than that her Father, Robert Hathaway died shortly before her marriage leaving a rather large family to be taken care of. Joan was one of two girls and was the youngest child of the family. There were five older brothers, all of whom were young adults when their Father died. As far as any records show, Joan’s older sister, Alice did not marry and died in about 1560. My personal thought is that possibly the older brothers and or Joan’s Mother sought to see her married off quickly after Robert’s death in 1545. My ancestor, Humphrey was the son of a wealthy merchant in the area of  King’s Stanley, Gloucestire. He was born in 1525 and was about 10 years older than Joan who was born in 1536. We know little about Humphrey or his parents Nicholas and Julyan Workman- they are one of those families who just seem to appear in a place from nowhere? It is Joan who holds the key to unlocking this portion of our history so I feel it only right to give her her due mention! 

While I do try to keep an open mind on facts and such the further back you go in tracing family history, I do have my share of suspicious nature and skepticism regarding information and all of the possibilities for misinterpretation, errors, blatant mistakes and even made up connections as people strive to connect themselves to some bit of famous history. The striving for famous connections has never been my intent, desire or wish. When I have stumbled across the more famous links recently, in fact my first impulse has been to say- I’m sure that can’t be right! Because I have that skeptical and at times suspicious thought over information that I am doubtful about, I have purchased a DNA testing just to see where it leads and whether it backs up any of the information I have currently found. I will let you know later about this experience and whether it’s even worth the money invested in it! It takes about 4-6 weeks to process so we shall anxiously await it’s results.  It will be interesting to see what the test says about my heritage or genealogy and if it provides any new answers. There are a number of different tests that you can purchase, all of which have their own positives and negatives. I purchased mine through ancestry.com mainly because I already have a membership there, and that is where I have been working on my family tree… this is by no means a plug or advert for their service! I have previously voiced my various complaints about the site and will not delve into them once again. I am at a point in my research where it serves it’s purpose and provides me with enough basic information to do my own further research. I am not necessarily all that happy about it but it works for me right now. Their DNA testing will match my DNA test with other members and hopefully the ones I am most interested in will be members! I am considering this testing as a basic start to the DNA testing. My daughter and I have agreed that at some later point we will probably purchase on of the other tests on the market that may give us more detailed information. For the time being, the cost of Ancestry’s DNA test fell within our more limited budget at the moment.

Now back to Joan Hathaway and her links to our more ancient past, namely that which includes Uhtred of Last Kingdom fame. As Bernard Cornwell has often clarified and stated, the Uhtred of his books is somewhat based on his family history that includes Bamburgh Castle, Northumbria and one or two Uhtreds.  I recently read a post in one of my FB groups where a member shared a copy of an old Family Tree for family Oughtred, which is the old spelling of Uhtred. Of course I was excited because I have managed to find my own connection back to Uthred.  In a previous post, I provided some information on that connection that comes via Waltheof of Northumbria and his wife Judith of Lenz. Judith also provides part of my link back to William the Conqueror. 

You can read Judith’s history and story here:

judith of lens

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/19/my-ancestor-path-to-normandy-northumbria-and-even-a-uthred-the-bold/

It is Judith’s husband, the ill fated Waltheof of Northumbria that gives us our link further back in Northumbria. If you read the above post on Judith and Waltheof, you will understand why I say ill fated! He met his demise at the hands of William in a rather unpleasant way.

My connection to Waltheof of Northumbria and wife Judith  comes through their daughter Maud Matilda Queen Consort of the Scots, Countess of Huntingdon and Northumbria (1074 – 1131)daughter of Waltheof Earl Northumberland. Waltheof of Northumbria is my 28th great grandfather. There are a number of cross over threads and connections in there as well due to that pesky habit of intermarrying of relatives and such…

Waltheof Earl Northumberland (1045 – 1076)
28th great-grandfather
Maud Matilda Queen Consort of the Scots, Countess of Huntingdon and Northumbria (1074 – 1131)
daughter of Waltheof Earl Northumberland
Henry Prince of Scotland 3rd Earl of Northumberland and de HUNTINGDON (1114 – 1152)
son of Maud Matilda Queen Consort of the Scots, Countess of Huntingdon and Northumbria
William I Lion Scotland (1143 – 1214)
son of Henry Prince of Scotland 3rd Earl of Northumberland and de HUNTINGDON
Amicia De Huntingdon Scotland* (1167 – 1184)
daughter of William I Lion Scotland
Simon de Senlis (1181 – 1250)
son of Amicia De Huntingdon Scotland*
Simon De Saint Elizabeth de Senlis (1218 – 1296)
son of Simon de Senlis
William DeSaintElizabeth DeSenlis (1246 – 1286)
son of Simon De Saint Elizabeth de Senlis
Sir William St . Elizabeth Senlis (1274 – 1313)
son of William DeSaintElizabeth DeSenlis
Lady Alice De St Elizabeth (1300 – 1374)
daughter of Sir William St . Elizabeth Senlis
Isabel “Lady of Swanbourne” de Lyons Godard (1345 – 1392)
daughter of Lady Alice De St Elizabeth
Richard Woodville De Wydeville (1385 – 1441)
son of Isabel “Lady of Swanbourne” de Lyons Godard
Joan Maud Wydville (1410 – 1462)
daughter of Richard Woodville De Wydeville
Sir William XIII, Keeper of the Forest Dene, Hathaway (1440 – )
son of Joan Maud Wydville
William Hathaway (1470 – )
son of Sir William XIII, Keeper of the Forest Dene, Hathaway
Robert Hathaway (1500 – 1545)
son of William Hathaway
Joan Hathaway (1536 – 1584)
daughter of Robert Hathaway
William Workman (1568 – 1628)
son of Joan Hathaway
John Workman (1590 – 1640)
son of William Workman
John William Workman (1600 – 1647)
son of John Workman
Dirck Jans Woertman (1630 – 1694)
son of John William Workman
Jan Derick Woertman (1665 – 1712)
son of Dirck Jans Woertman
Abraham Woertman Workman (1709 – 1736)
son of Jan Derick Woertman
William P Workman (1746 – 1836)
son of Abraham Woertman Workman
Amos Workman (1764 – 1844)
son of William P Workman
Isaac A. Workman (1799 – 1845)
son of Amos Workman
William Workman (1819 – 1906)
son of Isaac A. Workman
Charles W. Workman (1862 – 1956)
son of William Workman
Clarence Bertrand Workman (1889 – 1968)
son of Charles W. Workman
Ward Harlan Workman (1924 – 1994)
son of Clarence Bertrand Workman
Judith Ann Workman
You are the daughter of Ward Harlan Workman

The line from Joan Hathaway back to Waltheof  is fairly well documented considering how far back we are reaching for any type of verifiable and reasonable evidence… Anything after Waltheof is somewhat sketchy and uncertain depending on what sources you choose to use for reference, and realistically as I’ve pointed out previously the further back you go, the chance of error is ever higher.  Much of my research is a time consuming process of weeding through glaring mistakes, mismatches of dates and duplicated names to come up with some reasonable and hopefully half way decent accuracy!

If you look at encyclopedia or historical references, this is basically what you will come up with for Waltheof and his genealogy or ancestry.  As I’ve already mentioned, everything beyond Waltheof and possibly his Father Siward gets a little iffy and sketchy!

Waltheof was the second son of Siward, Earl of Northumbria. His mother was Aelfflaed, daughter of Ealdred, Earl of Bernicia, son of Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria. In 1054, Waltheof’s brother, Osbearn, who was much older than he, was killed in battle, making Waltheof his father’s heir. Siward himself died in 1055, and Waltheof being far too young to succeed as Earl of Northumbria, King Edward appointed Tostig Godwinson to the earldom. He was said to be devout and charitable and was probably educated for a monastic life. In fact around 1065 he became an earl, governing Northamptonshire and Huntingdonshire. Following the Battle of Hastings he submitted to William and was allowed to keep his pre-Conquest title and possessions. He remained at William’s court until 1068.

Waltheof’s Father was Siward, Earl of Northumbria. His link to Uhtred came through his Mother’s side. Aelfflaed was a granddaughter of Uhtred the Bold.  Uchtred or Uhtred, called the Bold, (d. 1016) was the ealdorman of all Northumbria from 1006 to 1016, when he was assassinated. He was the son of Waltheof I, ealdorman of Bamburgh, whose ancient family had ruled from the castle of Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast.

Uchtred or Uhtred, called the Bold, (d. 1016) was the ealdorman of all Northumbria from 1006 to 1016, when he was assassinated. He was the son of Waltheof I, ealdorman of Bamburgh, whose ancient family had ruled from the castle of Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast.  

I am currently in the process of trying to sort through the discrepancies of various sources and piece together what I believe is some reasonable history as it pertains to my ancestry links. I am going by what I can find as some documented facts or accountings of the history and lineages. So, for my purposes, I will focus on what I do know… Waltheof of Northumbria had one brother who was much older than him and that brother, Osbearn died in battle and no heirs were listed from him. 

Waltheof’s Father was Siward of Northumbria. Siward was probably of Scandinavian origin, perhaps a relative of Earl Ulf, and emerged as a powerful regional strongman in England during the reign of Cnut (“Canute the Great”, 1016–1035). Cnut was a Scandinavian ruler who conquered England in the 1010s, and Siward was one of the many Scandinavians who came to England in the aftermath of that conquest. Siward subsequently rose to become sub-ruler of most of northern England. From 1033 at the latest Siward was in control of southern Northumbria, that is, present-day Yorkshire, governing as earl on Cnut’s behalf.

He entrenched his position in northern England by marrying Ælfflæd, the daughter of Ealdred, Earl of Bamburgh. After killing Ealdred’s successor Eadulf in 1041, Siward gained control of all Northumbria. He exerted his power in support of Cnut’s successors, kings Harthacnut and Edward, assisting them with vital military aid and counsel. He probably gained control of the middle shires of Northampton and Huntingdon by the 1050s, and there is some evidence that he spread Northumbrian control into Cumberland. In the early 1050s Earl Siward turned against the Scottish ruler Mac Bethad mac Findlaích (“Macbeth”). Despite the death of his son Osbjorn, Siward defeated Mac Bethad in battle in 1054. More than half a millennium later the Scotland adventure earned him a place in William Shakespeare‘s Macbeth. Siward died in 1055, leaving one son, Waltheof, who would eventually succeed to Northumbria. St Olave’s church inYork and nearby Heslington Hill are associated with Siward.

Siward’s career in northern England spanned the reigns of four different monarchs. It began during the reign of Cnut, and lasted through those of Harold Harefootand Harthacnut into the early years of Edward the Confessor. Most important was the reign of Cnut, in which so many new political figures rose to power that some historians think it comparable to the Norman conquest five decades later.  These “new men” were military figures, usually with weak hereditary links to the West Saxon royal house that Cnut had deposed.As Cnut ruled several Scandinavian kingdoms in addition to England, power at the highest level was delegated to such strongmen. In England, it fell to a handful of newly promoted “ealdormen” or “earls”, who ruled a shire or group of shires on behalf of the king. Siward was, in the words of historian Robin Fleming, “the third man in Cnut’s new triumvirate of earls”, the other two being Godwine, Earl of Wessex and Leofwine, Earl of Mercia.

Siward was, at some stage, married to Ælfflæd, daughter of Ealdred II of Bamburgh, and granddaughter of Uhtred the Bold. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle asserts that, in 1041 Eadulf, Earl of Bamburgh, was “betrayed” by King Harthacnut.  The “betrayal” seems to have been carried out by Siward; since when the Libellus de Exordio and other sources write about the same event, they say that Siward attacked and killed Eadulf.  It was thus that Siward became earl of all Northumbria, perhaps the first person to do so since Uhtred the Bold. It is possible that Siward used Ælfflæd’s lineage to claim the earldom of Bamburgh for himself, although it is unclear whether the marriage took place before or after Siward killed Eadulf.  Kapelle has pointed out that no ruler of Bamburgh after Uhtred is attested at the English royal court, which he argued “must mean they were in revolt” against the monarchy, and that Siward’s attack may therefore have been encouraged by a monarch wishing to crush a rebellious or disloyal vassal.  Siward however probably had his own interests too. Killing Eadulf eliminated his main rival in the north, and the marriage associated him with the family of Uhtred the Bold, and with Uhtred’s surviving son Gospatric.

One of Siward’s sons is known to have survived him, Waltheof, whose mother was Ælfflæd. Waltheof later rose to be an earl in the East Midlands before becoming Earl of Northumbria.  When Waltheof rebelled against William the Conqueror, however, the act led to his execution and to his subsequent veneration as a saint at Crowland Abbey.  Waltheof’s daughter married David I, King of the Scots, and through this connection Siward became one of the many ancestors of the later Scottish and British monarchs. 

Besides Ælfflæd, Siward is known to have been married to a woman named Godgifu, who died before Siward. The marriage is known from a grant she made of territory around Stamford, Lincolnshire, toPeterborough Abbey. Although no surviving children are attested, and no source states the name of Osbjorn’s mother, this marriage has nonetheless raised the possibility that Waltheof and Osbjorn were born to different mothers, and William Kapelle suggested that Siward may have originally intended Osbjorn to inherit his southern territories while Waltheof inherited those territories in the north associated with the family of his mother Ælfflæd

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siward,_Earl_of_Northumbria

Little is documented about Siward’s wife Aelfflaed or her Father, Ealdred II of Bamburgh. 

Ealdred was Earl of Bernicia from 1020/25 until his murder in 1038. He was the son of Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria, who was murdered by Thurbrand the Hold in 1016 with the connivance of Cnut. Ealdred’s mother was Ecgfrida, daughter of Aldhun, bishop of Durham.  Ealdred succeeded his uncle Eadwulf Cudel as Earl of Bernicia in 1020/25, and some time probably in the mid 1020s he killed Thurbrand in revenge for his father’s death. In 1038 Ealdred was murdered by Thurbrand’s son, Carl. He was succeeded as Earl of Bernicia by his brother, another Eadwulf. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle asserts that in 1041 Eadwulf was “betrayed” by King Harthacnut.  The “betrayal” seems to have been carried out by Siward, Earl of Northumbria; since when the Libellus de Exordio and other sources write about the same event, they say that Siward attacked and killed Eadulf.  It was thus that Siward became earl of all Northumbria, perhaps the first person to do so since Uhtred the Bold. Ealdred’s daughter, Aelfflaed, was the first wife of Siward and her son, and Ealdred’s grandson, was Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria.

This brings us to Uhtred the Bold. Uchtred or Uhtred, called the Bold, (d. 1016) was the ealdorman of all Northumbria from 1006 to 1016, when he was assassinated. He was the son of Waltheof I, ealdorman of Bamburgh, whose ancient family had ruled from the castle of Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast.  In 995, according to Symeon of Durham, when the remains of St Cuthbert were transferred from Chester-le-Street to Durham, Uhtred helped the monks clear the site of the new cathedral. The new cathedral was founded by Bishop Aldhun, and Uhtred married Aldhun’s daughter, Ecgfrida, probably at about this time. From his marriage he received several estates that had belonged to the church.

In 1006 Malcolm II of Scotland invaded Northumbria and besieged the newly founded episcopal city of Durham. At that time the Danes were raiding southern England and King Ethelred was unable to send help to the Northumbrians. Ealdorman Waltheof was too old to fight and remained in his castle at Bamburgh. Ealdorman Ælfhelm of York also took no action. Uhtred, acting for his father, called together an army from Bernicia and Yorkshire and led it against the Scots. The result was a decisive victory for Uhtred. Local women washed the severed heads of the Scots, receiving a payment of a cow for each, and the heads were fixed on stakes to Durham’s walls. Uhtred was rewarded by King Ethelred II with the ealdormanry of Bamburgh even though his father was still alive. In the mean time, Ethelred had Ealdorman Ælfhelm of York murdered, and he allowed Uhtred to succeed Ælfhelm as ealdorman of York, thus uniting northern and southern Northumbria under the house of Bamburgh. It seems likely that Ethelred did not trust the Scandinavian population of southern Northumbria and wanted an Anglo-Saxon in power there.

After receiving these honours Uhtred dismissed his wife, Ecgfrida, and married Sige, daughter of Styr, son of Ulf. Styr was a rich citizen of York. It appears that Uhtred was trying to make political allies amongst the Danes in Deira. Through Sige, Uhtred had two children, Eadulf, later Eadulf III, and Gospatric. This Gospatric’s grandson was the infamous Eadwulf Rus who murdered Bishop Walcher.

In 1013 King Sweyn of Denmark invaded England, sailing up the Humber and Trent to the town of Gainsborough. Uhtred submitted to him there, as did all of the Danes in the north. In the winter of 1013 Ethelred was forced into exile in Normandy. After London had finally submitted to him, Sweyn was accepted as king by Christmas 1013. However he only reigned for five weeks, for he died at, or near, Gainsborough on 2 February 1014. At Sweyn’s death, Ethelred was able to return from exile and resume his reign. Uhtred, along with many others, transferred his allegiance back to Ethelred, on his return. Uhtred also married Ethelred’s daughter Ælfgifu about this time.

In 1016 Uhtred campaigned with Ethelred’s son Edmund Ironside in Cheshire and the surrounding shires. While Uhtred was away from his lands, Sweyn’s son, Cnut, invaded Yorkshire. Cnut’s forces were too strong for Uhtred to fight, and so Uhtred did homage to him as King of England. Uhtred was summoned to a meeting with Cnut, and on the way there, he and forty of his men were murdered byThurbrand the Hold, with assistance from Uhtred’s own servant, Wighill and with the connivance of Cnut. Uhtred was succeeded in Bernicia by his brother Eadwulf Cudel. Cnut made the Norwegian, Eric of Hlathir, ealdorman (“earl” in Scandinavian terms) in southern Northumbria.

Uhtred’s dynasty continued to reign in Bernicia through Ealdred, Earl of Bamburgh (killed 1038) his son from his marriage to Ecgfrida, and Eadulf (killed 1041) his son from his marriage to Sige, and briefly Eadulf’s son Osulf held the earldom of northern Northumbria 1067 until he too was killed. Eadulf‘s brother Cospatric began the Swinton Family dynasty, his son Eadulf Rus famously murdering William Walcher, Bishop of Durham which led to William the Conqueror sending an army northwards to harry the region again. Uhtred’s marriage to Ælfgifu produced a daughter, Ealdgyth, who married Maldred, brother of Duncan I of Scotland and who gave birth to a son, Gospatric, who was Earl of Northumbria from 1068 to 1072.

In Bernard Cornwell‘s series The Saxon Stories the protagonist is Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg, also from Northumbria. The story of the siege of Durham and the severed heads on poles is told about the historical Uhtred (see Battles of the Dark Ages, Peter Marren), though it is perhaps possible to assume that the fictional Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg is an ancestor of this Uhtred.

In Bernard Cornwell’s series he adds a ‘historical note’ at the end, in which, especially in the first book, he mentions that Uhtred was his ancestor. He took the liberty of installing Uhtred earlier in history. 

If we look at what is documented about Uhtred the Bold’s offspring, we see three children accounted for. Naturally, that would mean that his descendants would come from one of these three lines.  My lineage would come from his son, Ealdred with his marriage to Ecgfrida. As far as I know or can find, no other children are listed from that marriage. 

Earlier I mentioned viewing a copy of an old family tree for the Family Oughtred. I have received permission from that poster to share those photos here. They are photos of the tree and thus are somewhat difficult to read. The tree was done back in 1939. This is a copy of the tree that Bernard Cornwell received from his biological father, William Oughtred. If you look at page 2 of the tree, you will see Uhtred listed at the bottom right with the three wives.  This tree takes the line much further back and I have not yet sorted through all of that! I have so far only focused on the line of Ealdred and his descendants because that is the line I am descended from.  I have no idea which branch Bernard Cornwell descends from as this does not show any of that, but it would be interesting to know which branch he fits on!

oughtred family tree

Uhtred family tree from Bernard Cornwell

Uhtred of northumbria family tree

If anyone else is a descendant of one of the other lines, I would love to know more about your history and your ancestry! If any of the other names listed among my ancestors sounds familiar to you, let me know!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Kingdom, ep. 5: Ubba obviously loses, but who wins?

ubba loses but who wins   I know, I am far behind in updates and reviews- my sincere apologies for that! It is certainly not due to any disappointment or lack of interest in the show. No, far from that- in fact, my interest and my appreciation for this show has grown with each episode. Unfortunately, it has been just a matter of real life catching up with me-leaving me in the swamps, marshes and trenches of present day battle for survival in the world of work! I have also been battling the massive webs of ancestors in my family history. I have now clawed my way out of much of that mess, at least temporarily, until the next onslaught begins.  I have a bit of time for much needed respite, rest and reflection so I will try to catch us up on this awesome journey to the past with Uhtred.  If you have not watched any of the series yet, what are you waiting for, an engraved invitation from either Alfred, Uhtred, or possibly Guthrum???  Alfred or Uhtred could possibly accommodate you on the written invitation, but Guthrum as yet has not mastered the magic of the written word. Guthrum may have to send a messenger with a verbal invitation for you. He is currently running low on trusted and loyal subjects, however and he is in the process of changing some of his affiliations and alliances so who ever he sends as messenger may come as a surprise to you… and seeing as he is still Guthrum, you perhaps should be slightly wary of any messenger he sends?

guthrum and aethelwold3

aethelwold5

 

For those who have read the books and are now watching the show, there have of course been some changes to the details. After having watched all of it play out so far, my personal opinion is that the changes to details and characters have not  affected the overall story or plot line. In episode 5, we saw some differences but the outcome remained the same. Uhtred made his escape from the Danes and eventually made his way to  to warn Alfred of the coming danger. War is coming, Alfred is preparing for battle and Odda the younger has taken Mildrith and the baby Uhtred to safety. Before reaching Alfred, Uhtred made his way first to his home to find his estate being grossly used by the obnoxious and disgusting steward, Oswald who was in the process of “plowing a lovely field of barley” as in one serving wench. Uhtred discovers he has a son and that his wife and son have been taken by Odda.  Before he can reunite with his family he must find Alfred and his army,  face the battle of Cynwit hill… and Ubba. This battle played out differently than the books but it still reflected somewhat accurately the factual accounts of this battle.

 

The Battle of Cynwit, also spelt Cynuit, took place in 878 at a fort which Asser calls Cynwit. The location of the battle is uncertain. Possible sites include Cannington Hill, near Cannington, Somerset;  and Countisbury Hill (also known as Wind Hill), near Countisbury, Devon. A party of Vikings led by Ubba, brother of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson, landed on the coast at Combwich with 23 ships and twelve hundred men. There they observed that a number of English Thanes and all of their men had taken refuge in the fort of “Cynwit” for safety.  Ubba and the Vikings proceeded to besiege the fort, expecting the English to surrender eventually from lack of water (as there was no available source near the fort).    While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle glosses over the battle of Cynwit, it is important for two reasons.

Firstly, it was an important victory for the English won by someone other than Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex at the time who was spearheading the English resistance to the Viking invasions. The Chronicle, in addressing the year 878, makes the claim that “all but Alfred the King” had been subdued by the Vikings. Secondly, at the battle of Cynwit, Odda and the English forces not only succeeded in killing Ubba, but they also captured the Raven banner called Hrefn or the Raven. While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle only briefly mentions the battle, it does draw attention to the capture of the banner, which is interesting considering that it does not single out any other trophy captured by the English in the many other victories they had against the Danes.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Cynwit

Cannington Camp/Hill

Cannington_Camp4 Cynwits_Castle_Cannington_Somerset_Map

Cannington Camp is a Bronze Age and Iron Age hill fort near Cannington, Somerset, England. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  The small hill rises to 80 metres (260 ft) above low lying land about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) west of the tidal estuary of the River Parrett, near the ancient port and ford at Combwich. The hill fort is roughly square in shape, with a single rampart (univallate) enclosing 5 ha (12 acres), and the main entrance to the south-east. The north side of the hill has been destroyed by quarrying during the 19th and 20th centuries. Minor excavations were carried out in 1905, 1913 (Bezell), and 1963 (Rahtz).  It is possibly the site of Cynwit Castle (or Cynuit, Cynwith, Cynwits, etc.) and the Battle of Cynwit between Saxons and Vikings in 878 AD (see map). It may also be the location of an earlier battle in 845 AD, when the Saxons were led by Eanwulf and Ealstan, Bishop of Sherborne.

In our version of the oncoming battle, Uhtred arrived to warn and help but was again doubted and suspected of treachery because he managed to survive and escape the Danes. He must once again prove himself to the English army being led by Odda the elder, who is as Leofrich remarks, a good man but not such a capable leader. He is worried and doubtful while his son, Odda the younger is  spiteful, distrustful and willing to make any excuse or attempt to escape rather than fight…. except when they win- then he will happily take all credit for it!

odda the younger

While the English are arguing with each other over how to survive let alone win a battle against the Danes, Ubba is making judgement errors of his own. He is devoted and completely dependent on his sorcerer, Storrie for advice and listens to what ever Storrie might profess to see in the signs… Unfortunately, as we’ve seen before, Storrie is not all that accurate at his skill in prophecies and signs. Ubba is confident, perhaps overly so of a victory due to Storrie’s advice so he settles into wait and takes time for entertainment and pleasure before battle.

ubba and storri

ubba storri misreads the runes

 

Uhtred is unwilling to sit and wait, so devises a plan to out maneuver the Danes by attacking first… his plan is met with resistance and mistrust by Odda the younger, and doubt by Odda the Elder. He succeeds though in setting the Danish boats on fire and distracting them, all the while hoping that Odda the Elder will follow his directions and use the distraction to attack the Danes by surprise.

boats burning

Uhtred becomes trapped in the Danes’ camp and thus must face Ubba in a one on one battle to the death.

ubba is surprised by this attack ubba is angry very angry ubba has the upper hand here

This does play differently than the books where Uhtred kills Ubba from the shield wall during battle, but it works to advantage this way as we see this more as a personal battle of honor for Uhtred and for Ubba. Uhtred is defending his honor and his truth against Ubba who refuses to ever accept or believe that Uhtred did not have part in killing his family. Ubba had long before branded Uhtred as a family killer, a traitor and vowed to kill him… now he must uphold that vow and this becomes more of a blood feud than a battle between armies.

go to valhalla lord go to valhalla lord 2

As this battle plays out, we still see that Uhtred succeeds in killing Ubba more by luck than anything else. When he kills Ubba, he still respects Ubba as a warrior, places a weapon in his hand and sends him to Valhalla with honor… it is not until afterwards that he realizes the enormity and danger of what he has just done as he looks around and sees the Danes surrounding him. Fortunately, Odda the Elder has by that time conveniently come to his senses and led his men to a stealthy night attack- thereby allowing Uhtred to escape into the depths of their shieldwall.

the saxon shield wall shows up in the darkness

The English have won the battle and Leofrich advises Uhtred to proceed without haste to Alfred and inform him of his actions in this battle. Uhtred as usual, fails to listen to advice and insists that he must go first to find Mildrith and his son. Odda the elder has been gravely wounded in the battle and his son, Odda the younger is now in charge, a fact that Uhtred fails to take into serious enough consideration- a fact that will cause him much added trouble in the future.

odda the elder

Leofrich warns and advises Uhtred to head for Alfred and tell of the events...

Leofrich warns and advises Uhtred to head for Alfred and tell of the events…

 

Uhtred does find Mildrith and his son…they share a bit of family happiness that will quickly be short lived due to Uhtred’s slight problem with some anger issues.

baby uhtred

baby Uhtred

Unaware of treachery and deception taking place, the family happily heads towards Winchester where Uhtred assumes he will be welcomed with open arms and high rewards. Such is not the case and Uhtred’s anger issues come to light in response to that deception by Odda the younger and to the spitefulness of some others such as Alfred’s wife, Ealhswith. Eahlswith’s truer colors, her vengeful character and her purest hatred of anything remotely Pagan… namely and especially Uhtred begin to become much clearer as does Odda the younger’s truest less than honorable character.  She and Odda the younger make fine friends in their mutual hatred of Uhtred.

eilswith and odda

Alfred at prayer and peace

An unsuspecting Uhtred arrives in Winchester to tell Alfred of the victory and his role in it, unaware that Odda the younger has already arrived and taken credit for all, also unaware of new laws passed by Alfred to protect himself and his peace. Beocca attempts to warn him of such new laws but as per usual with Uhtred, he brushes off Beocca and plows headlong into yet another mess, created partly by his own actions or lack of them… He breaks into Alfred’s peace and his prayer, raises his weapon and loses his temper. As a result of this infraction, his punishment is penance and humiliation. This scenario played out much like the book, which I am immensely grateful for! He was joined in this groveling form of penance by Alfred’s nephew, Aethelwold who is much used to such punishments by now. Aethelwold steals the scene and provides some much needed comic relief while still managing to convey some deeper underlying meanings and messages. As they begin the trek of groveling, Aethelwold advises Uhtred to just follow and allow him to lead this procession while commenting that Uhtred will owe him for this act. As they grovel towards a waiting Alfred and company, Aethelwold commences to turn this act of contrition and humility into an all out laughable parade in which he begs forgiveness for his sins of ale, women, tits and asses. Throughout this charade, he points his words directly towards Alfred who understands completely his nephews references to seduction and sins of the flesh being directed towards him. He is not amused, nor is wife Ealhswith who presumably, probably also fully gets the intended reference. They quickly depart the scene and the penance event turns more into an entertaining interlude for all of the villagers watching.

 

tits and ass athelwold saves the day with humor alfred is not amused

I can not resist and neither can you uncle

Alfred’s wife Eahlswith has achieved her own personal ultimate success during this time by producing a male heir for the Kingdom… her status, importance and value to Alfred have greatly increased and her attitude will show it. We catch a glimpse of her attitude in a family scene with Alfred and daughter as they look upon this new baby. This is a quick glimpse at this family life and dynamic but it does show some foreshadow of how this attitude might affect the daughter’s life in the future.

Eilswith too smug

this is not going to go well for the girl children

Alfred’s relationship with his family, and in particular, this daughter will become of great importance and prominence in the future. We do not see it as yet in the show but hopefully there will be added seasons and you will see this girl child grow and take on her true importance in the story and in history. This young girl child is Aethelflaid who will one day be known as Lady of the Mercians.

alfred and family alfred and aethelfaid

Athelflaid, Lady of Mercians

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%86thelfl%C3%A6d

 

The shaming and humiliation have incited Uhtred’s anger at Alfred and at the church or anything related to it, including his wife. The bliss is definitely wearing off of this marriage… Mildrith is upset with Uhtred’s behavior and at his lack of control over his anger. Uhtred has had close to enough of Mildrith’s preaching ways and is disgusted with her rather continuous tears. Her attitude and behavior for him is almost as bad as Alfred’s pious better than thou actions. The final straw breaking their marriage apart happens on their return home to their estate when he discovers the thieving and slovenly steward, Oswald has been stealing trees off their land and selling them for profit. Now, to Uhtred’s credit, he did warn Oswald previously that should he ever catch him being so disrespectful and dishonorable to the estate and to Uhtred, that he would kill him with pleasure. By the time they arrived home, Uhtred’s mood was to say the least, not good… He was in a foul, rage filled mood and most likely anything would have set him off. Oswald’s theft from him was just the trigger that caused him to blindly release his rage and dispose of the man as promised in the name of Justice with no thoughts of consequence for the act. Mildrith was naturally horrified by the killing thus began yet another round of crying, wailing, and moral judgements. Clearly, Uhtred has lost this round of anger management… not that he was really making any effort towards managing his anger issues in the first place but realistically at some point he needs to realize that these uncontrollable fits of temper and anger are creating part of his problems! As Mildrith oft preaches to him, “You’re too ready with anger, there’s a bad spirit within you that needs to be exorcized… You should look to God!”   Mildrith can not fix this man right now, as Alfred can not either nor can their God. Uhtred’s demons are deep within him will take much time for some others to help him exorcize on his own.

uhtred has some marriage troubles

unhappy wife alert gif clip 02

I think it’s important to keep in mind that Mildrith is not a bad person, a bad wife in this situation…she and Uhtred are just not well suited for each other. Once the initial infatuation and lust wore off and they were put in a difficult desperate situation, they reacted in completely different ways and would never come to see things with a like mind or purpose. Faced with the same events as Mildrith, a majority of women would most likely react to Uhtred’s anger issues and violent tendencies in a much similar way as she did- even if we insist that we wouldn’t, that we would be fearless and bad ass strong in our reactions. We like to think we would be as strong as Brida or other shieldmaidens but in reality, few of us would truly be able to handle Uhtred’s outbursts without some fear, tears or meltdown of our own.

So, while Ubba very clearly and obviously lost his battles in this episode, Uhtred was not truly any winner. He only succeeded in killing Ubba by sheer luck, he suffered great humiliation and loss of pride at the hands of Alfred, he certainly lost any attempt at anger control and as a result of that loss, he also lost any chance or hope of some ongoing peace or even civility within his relationship with wife Mildrith. He also lost in a battle of thinking and wits to Odda the younger, and to Ealhswith. Unfortunately in this round, Uhtred must concede defeat to Odda the younger, to Ealhswith, and even to Aethelwold.  Odda has won a huge albeit temporary advantage for now with his deceptions and his sucking up to both Alfred and to Ealhswith. Ealhswith could and does consider herself a winner in all things right now just for the fact that she has scored high on any front by producing that precious heir. And, Aethelwold… well, although for all appearances sake, he is not a winner in anything, he has managed to achieve one thing for his actions. Aethelwold has won by fact that Uhtred now owes him a debt, a favor that he will be able to cash in on at some later time!

One last thought on all of the events and people of this history… our first thoughts and tendencies are to choose sides, label right or wrong and place blame or judgement upon the people involved. What we need to remember instead is that there is good and bad on both sides, in all peoples. This story is not so much about a good or bad, a right or wrong side but of the complexities that made up each of the choices and decisions made by both sides. Mistakes are made, poor judgement is used and immoral inhumane decisions are made by both sides as well. The majority of the people are not all good heroes, nor are they evil incarnate mad villains… you notice I say a majority because as in any society there are those few who display the very worst of what we are, and the few who reflect the very best of all of us.  No one in this story is a perfect ideal or portrayal of who we assume, think, or wish they should be. As in reality, these characters have flaws- they, just as we are, are shaped by the world they live in, the culture and society that has raised them, and the events that take place around them. And… some of them are just unlikeable people- such as Ealhswith and Odda the younger!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More good news for Bernard Cornwell fans and fans of history!

Just wanted to share this recent news.  A recent Variety article revealed that Bad Wolf productions is developing an small screen adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s series, The Warlord Chronicles!

Variety can also exclusively reveal that the company is developing an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s trilogy “The Warlord Chronicles,” which is a revisionist take on the King Arthur legend. “He is a great storyteller as we know from everything from ‘Sharpe’ to ‘The Last Kingdom,’” Gardner said. “He has a very innovative way into the Arthurian stories, which is to take an ordinary man who by work, chance and life is an observer and an intimate in the relationships of Arthur, Lancelot and the key characters that we know.”

This information was included in Variety’s announcement of  HBO partnering with Bad Wolf Productions. You can read the entire article here:

http://variety.com/2015/tv/global/hbo-partners-with-production-company-bad-wolf-1201632217/

If you follow this blog on any regular basis, you will probably be well aware and familiar with my interest in the early Saxon period in Britain as well as the Roman involvement there. I’ve read the Warlord Chronicles and discussed them previously.  If you have not read this series, you should!

Bernard Cornwell takes a more realistic approach and perspective in his telling of the legend of Arthur. For the most part, he avoids the myth, magic and fantasy realm and tries to create the more real world that Arthur might have lived in. The only exception is his inclusion of Merlin, but even with Merlin, Cornwell attempts to give us a more realistic presentation of Merlin as one of the few remaining Druid Preists in that time period. He does an excellent job for the most part, of debunking much of the magic, mystery and myth but does leave some mystery and question surrounding Merlin.  I say for the most part, because I will admit that I did struggle a bit with the character of Merlin, and at times I felt like Bernard struggled a bit with him as well. Aside from that minor issue, the books were an excellent interpretation of the legend and the more real history that surrounds that myth and legend.

I’ve already written reviews on the book series as well as a number of articles pertaining to early Saxon and Roman history in Britain. I have also previously discussed the legends of Arthur. I will provide links here to some of those previous articles!

Saxons, Romans and Arthur:

king-arthur-tapestry

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/30/saxons-romans-and-arthur/

From Odin and Woden to Anglo-Saxons in Britain:

wodin and his followers

wodin and his followers

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/06/23/from-odin-and-woden-to-anglo-saxons-in-britain/

 

Ancient history connects Norse with Romans and Arthur:

Roman era map of Britain

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/06/24/from-the-creator-ancient-history-connects-the-norse-with-romans-and-king-arthur/

Awesome reviews for Last Kingdom premiere!

Apparently I am not the only one impressed with BBCA’s production of The Last Kingdom. There are a number of highly positive reviews showing up for the show so I just want to share some links to them here! Here is a list of reviews and interviews related to the show and it’s premiere.

a less battle ready or prepared Saxon army

The Last Kingdom: A Bloody period piece with depth

http://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/the-last-kingdom-a-bloody-period-piece-with-depth.html/?a=viewall

thelastkingdom-still-08b

TV-Recaps and Reviews for Saturday- Last Kingdom makes it into top 30

http://www.tv-recaps-reviews.com/2015/10/saturday-cable-ratings-october-10.html

ubba of Last Kingdom

The Last Kingdom Series Premiere: If You Like Vikings, Then You’ll Love This

BBC America’s newest sword and shield epic will undoubtedly and unfairly be compared to HBO’s Game of Thrones within the first five minutes of viewing this well-crafted premiere. This is a shame, since The Last Kingdom is a much different kind of beast, and a welcomed one at that.

For starters, if you were going to compare The Last Kingdom to any series, then it would be more accurate to say that the show resembles History’s popular Vikings saga, which will be back for its fourth season in the early part of 2016. In fact, this show is more of a direct sequel to the aforementioned series than an interpretation, or copycat. The Last Kingdom stands alone, and excels at telling a story both compelling and unique.

http://screenrant.com/the-last-kingdom-series-premiere-review/

You bought me for how much Too much

The Last Kingdom Episode 1 review by author, Patricia Bracewell

BBC America’s new series THE LAST KINGDOM is based on The Saxon Tales a series of novels by the brilliant and prolific Bernard Cornwell. I have been a fan of Mr. Cornwell’s books for many years, so I was excited about this series, and especially curious to see how closely this filmed version would follow the story line and capture the atmosphere of the novels. According to a book reviewer for The Wall Street Journal, “Mr. Cornwell writes as if he has been to ninth-century Wessex and back.” After seeing the first episode of THE LAST KINGDOM I would say that everyone involved with the series went there as well, and those of us watching are going right along with them. This was the 9th century brought to vivid, often horrifying life.

http://www.patriciabracewell.com/2015/10/the-last-kingdom-episode-1/

uhtred tearfully watches as they bargain for him

‘The Last Kingdom’ – an interview with screenwriter Stephen Butchard

how did you get involved with ‘The Last Kingdom’?

I worked with a guy called Phil Temple who was the script editor on ‘Five Daughters‘. He’s now a Development Producer at Carnival Films and we keep in touch. As we were talking one day he produced the book by Bernard Cornwell ‘The Last Kingdom’ – I read the blurb which immediately hooked me – a Saxon boy who was kidnapped and brought up by Danes, the conflict between Paganism and Christianity when England was being invaded, I thought “this has got to be a great story!”. I hadn’t read Bernard’s books before or seen Sharpe, although of course I was aware of it. I read the book and really enjoyed it. I think it’s essential that you love a book if you are going to be adapting it. As I read it I thought of things I could do with it.

Bernard was really generous and let us go in whatever direction we wanted with it. After all, the books would always be there, and the experience of reading them is personal to each reader. After I read the first book I knew that wouldn’t be enough for a full series and carried on to read the second in the series, ‘The Pale Horseman’.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/writersroom/entries/8d9181b7-0894-4add-87b4-db26d8c45b31

 

 uhtred the peace is over

The Last Kingdom, Episode One: Review by John Henry Clay

Being based in the US at the moment means I’ve been able to watch the first episode of The Last Kingdom, airing on BBC America a week before the UK premiere. (Don’t worry, the following contains only very very minor spoilers.)

 Set in ninth-century England and based on a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell, it stars relative newcomer Alexander Dreymon as Uhtred, treacherously dispossessed of his Northumbrian earldom as a boy and taken in by a band of invading Danes. 

There’s a rich story here waiting to be told, the stuff of classic adventures: revenge, betrayal, conflicting identities and loyalties, and of course the abovementioned beheadings. Dreymon and the younger version of Uhtred, played by Tom Taylor, are propped up an array of stalwarts including Matthew Macfadyen and Rutger Hauer (just about recognisable behind hooded cowl and swirly blue cheek tattoos).

http://www.johnhenryclay.com/?utm_campaign=buffer&utm_content=bufferf970e&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com#!The-Last-Kingdom-Episode-One-Review/c1q8z/561b196e0cf2c6c6436f70cf

alfred is crowned and england is bornRutger Hauer as Ravyn

The Last Kingdom: ‘This is the making of England’ Interview with Bernard Cornwell

Patrick Smith speaks to Bernard Cornwell and the team behind the BBC’s new Game of Thrones-esque historical drama, The Last Kingdom.

It was inevitable that the success of Game of Thrones would inspire sagas cut from the same bloody cloth. HBO’s swords-and-sorcery epic, adapted from George RR Martin’s novels, has been a phenomenon, its lurid mix of sex, death, skulduggery and Byzantine intrigue winning tens of millions of fans and numerous awards – including a record-breaking 12 at last month’s Emmys. Now, four years since it premiered in the UK, the BBC has finally decided to tap into a similar vein of sword-wielding medieval strife with two new lavishly produced historical dramas.

Laying siege this winter will be Fall of a City, a 10-parter tackling the decade-long Trojan War. But before then comes The Last Kingdom, a battle-packed ninth-century story charting the Viking invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain, told from both side’s perspectives. “I’ve always wanted to play a Viking,” says Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, who’s part of a cast that includes Matthew Macfadyen and Alexander Dreymon. “For me, [The Last Kingdom] was Alice in Wonderland with a dark side.”

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11921496/The-Last-Kingdom-This-is-the-making-of-England.html

 a well trained and prepared shield wall army

 The Last Kingdom Series Premiere Review: Game of Danes

The latest would-be heir to the (game of) throne, “The Last Kingdom” is an adaption of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling historical novels, collectively known as “The Saxon Stories.” Cornwell, perhaps best-known for the series of novels revolving around Richard Sharpe, is a sucker for ongoing storylines, thus making him perfect fodder for television, with the Sharpe novels already having been made into a series prior to this one, featuring Sean Bean. (Other series ripe for the picking include “The Warlord Chronicles,” “The Grail Quest Novels” and “The Starbuck Chronicles.”)

The latest to make the sojourn to the small screen, “The Last Kingdom” is an eight-part miniseries based on the first novel of the same name in the ongoing “Saxon Stories” saga, which is currently on its ninth book, “Warriors of the Storm,” which was just released earlier this month. Therefore, as with “Game of Thrones,” there is plenty more source material to draw from, should the first season be a success.

http://www.tvequals.com/2015/10/11/the-last-kingdom-series-premiere-review-game-of-danes/

 

Hopefully some of these various reviews will encourage you to watch this series. I think if you watch the first episode, you will be drawn into the story and not be disappointed. It is not Game of Thrones fantasy, nor is it Vikings series.  You will not find dragons flying or any other mythical creatures. You may find some sorcerers and seers but they are rooted in reality and the beliefs of this time period.

ubba's sorcer storri

If the show is successful (I sincerely hope it will be!) you will see some myth and legend but it will only be from the perspective or belief in such legend, myth or religion  that people might have believed in at the time.  You will not see any overdone, overly explicit or excessively graphic scenes… If that is what you are looking for, please stick to Game of Thrones, or even as much as I hate to admit it- Outlander. This story and show is not all about sex. What you will see is a very realistic representation of people’s views on sex, love and marriage arrangements in this time period.  It will present the sexual situations in a way that leaves something to your imagination, which I greatly appreciate. We all know that Uhtred is a young man who has some very basic short range thoughts in his head right now. Those thoughts do include sex, or in his words- humping on a very regular basis because as he points out to Brida, “It is our destiny to hump!” He is not one however to share the most private intimate details of such activity with the world- Saxon, Dane or the rest of us included!  I am more than impressed with how they have dealt with the sex so far, including some presentation of it as a basic and natural part of life but not pressing the scenes or issue to a point where it takes over from the rest of the story. I especially love the humor that they have put into it!

brida comes up with some of her best thoughts in the middle of humping

brida comes up with some of her best thoughts in the middle of humping

brida's humor

I think that this series offers something that Game of Thrones and Vikings does not. It provides an excellent story full of bloody battle, torture and violence along with love, lust, heartbreak and joy as well but does it in a very realistic and historically accurate format. You will see more than enough bloodletting to satisfy that desire, but you will also see everyday mundane parts of life and relationships. There will be plenty of mystery, intrigue and political as well as personal conspiracies but they will be balanced with more than enough humor to keep you from a complete overdose and breakdown from horror and suspense.  The writers have managed to capture and reserve Cornwell’s excellent sense of humor in this production!

Last but definitely not least- If you are looking for spaces, groups or communities to share your thoughts on the series, here are two facebook groups that you can check out and join!

The Last Kingdom of the Aftermath group

Last Kingdom aftermath

https://www.facebook.com/groups/507550966085991/

The Last Kingdom BBCA

Last Kingdom Uhtredforever

https://www.facebook.com/groups/478635388978382/

 

 

 

 

Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived!

Yes, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has arrived on our small screens! In case you missed it, the premiere of The Last Kingdom aired on Saturday via the BBC America channel. It will make it’s debut in the UK on Oct. 22 by way of BBC2. Because of that short delay for many viewers, I will try not to give out too many spoilers in this initial review. If you know me at all, you will understand what an extremely difficult challenge this will be for me!

Before we get into the review, we should refresh ourselves on some basic information related to the premise of the show. Everyone who follows this blog should be well aware that the show is based on the Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell.  I have made numerous references to the author and the books here and have the utmost praise and appreciation for his work! You can visit his official site for more information on all of the books!

http://www.bernardcornwell.net/

The Last Kingdom is a contemporary story of redemption, vengeance and self-discovery set against the birth of England.

This historical drama comes from BBC America, BBC Two and the Golden Globe and Emmy award-winning producers of Downton Abbey, Carnival Films.  The series is an adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s best-selling series of books ‘The Warrior Chronicles/Saxon Stories’ by BAFTA nominated and RTSD award-winning writer Stephen Butchard.

For more information:  http://www.bbcamerica.com/the-last-kingdom/

And to read a review of the programme: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/arts/television/review-the-last-kingdom-offers-a-fight-with-swords-for-identity.html?_r=1

The creator of the show are using the books as their guideline but will use their own creative license in telling the story. What this means is that there will be changes made in order to transition the stories to a workable format for the small screen. Bernard Cornwell is fine with this idea so you should be as well. Mr. Cornwell is not involved in this production at all and was happy with this arrangement. He created the initial story and is as excited as the rest of us to see how the show goes about creating this version of it. I am mentioning this now because I know full well how some book purists will make much fuss about the slightest variations to the story. There have already been complaints about such minor details as Uhtred’s hair color… Please believe me when I assure you that once you start watching this series, you will be so engrossed in the story that you will care little about the color of Uhtred’s hair!

Another point I want to be clear on for some viewers who may be interested in the series because of their fandom of the Vikings series on History Channel. I have had comments from a few viewers that would suggest some slight misconceptions or misunderstandings regarding these two very separate shows that are dealing with the same time period. The Last Kingdom is not in any way related to, linked to or based on the Vikings series. Other than the fact that they do deal with the same time period and a few of the same historical figures, they are two completely separate individual entities. They tell two very different versions of the same basic history and any resemblance between characters is simply due to similarities in somewhat common names of the time for the most part. The Vikings Saga is more along the lines of historical fantasy while The Last Kingdom is most definitely in the category of historical fiction. I recently read a comment that sums this up perfectly… there is history and then there is Hirstory! Hirst’s version is fun and entertaining- while it does contain some level of historical reference it has veered well into the fantasy realm. You can read more about my thoughts on the differences between historical fiction and historical fantasy here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/07/28/historical-fiction-vs-historical-fantasy/

historical fiction

As I mentioned, there are a few key historical figures that show up in both shows. For the time being those characters are limited to Ubba (son of Ragnar Lodbrok) and the adult sons of Aethelwulf- Athelred and Alfred.  The Ragnar in the Last Kingdom is not connected or related in any way to Ragnar Lodbrok. Ivar the Boneless has not yet made any appearance in Last Kingdom and depending on how the events play out, he may not appear at all. The importance in Last Kingdom is set more on Ubba and another Danish leader, Guthrum. 

ubbe of Vikings Saga

Ubbe of Vikings series

ubba of Last Kingdom

Ubba of Last Kingdom

Sons in Viking series vs Sons in Last Kingdom

Athelred and Alfred of vikings seriesAethered and Alfred in last kingdom

The last and important figure to clear up any confusion on is this King… This is Ecghbert of Northumbria, the ridiculous puppet King of Nothing set in place and allowed to rule by the Danes after their battle at Eorfic/York in which they defeated the Kings of Northumbria- Aelle and Osberht. This King is not related to or connected to King Ecbert of Wessex in any way!

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

ecbert sends aethelwult to mercia to deal with queen kwentirith

Ecgberht (died 873) was king of Northumbria in the middle of the 9th century. This period of Northumbrian history is poorly recorded, and very little is known of Ecgberht.

He first appears following the death of kings Ælla and Osberht in battle against the Vikings of the Great Heathen Army at York on 21 March 867. Symeon of Durham records:

Nearly all the Northumbrians were routed and destroyed, the two kings being slain; the survivors made peace with the pagans. After these events, the pagans appointed Egbert king under their own dominion; Egbert reigned for six years, over the Northumbrians beyond the Tyne.

Historians presume that Ecgberht ruled as the Great Army’s tax collector and that he belonged to one of the several competing royal families in Northumbria. The next report of Ecgberht is in 872: “The Northumbrians expelled their king Egbert, and their Archbishop Wulfhere“. Finally, Ecgberht’s death is reported in 873, and it is said that Ricsige succeeded him.

I wanted to address this matter of Ecbhbert now because there has been a bit of confusion for some about him from those who are not quite so familiar with the history surrounding this time period.  It is details such as these that put Last Kingdom more firmly in the historical fiction category. Many of the events in this series have some verifiable historical basis and many of the characters you will see are there because of their documented  involvement in such events.

Now, with some of that basic information covered, I can give you my thoughts on this show. My first and primary thought is this- If you have not seen it, go find it now and watch it! The first episode is available on the official website:

http://www.bbcamerica.com/the-last-kingdom/

If you have not read the books, I would also highly suggest you go find them as well! While it is not necessary to have read the books in order to enjoy and understand what is going on in the show, the books are excellent and well worth the read. It’s difficult for me to make a realistic appraisal and determination on the importance of having read the books because I have read the books so it does bias my thought on that.  I do think that the creators have done a great job so far in telling this story on it’s own merit as a stand alone piece that can be viewed and immensely enjoyed without benefit of having read the books. It immediately immerses you in the harsh and gritty reality of the time period.  Even without having read the books, I believe that I would have been just as swept up and sucked in quickly to the story of Uhtred as he lives through the battles taking place around him for survival, for power and control of lives and land.  I read an interview with the writers/creator of the show where they stated their vision, their goal in wanting to create a world that are as realistic as possible- not fake or cliché representations or stereotypical images of this past. One writer commented on his initial doubts and how all he could foresee were the unrealistic images of  medieval type feasts with goose legs being waved around. I admit too that when I read about this attempted production, I had my own doubts. I had some serious worries that this would turn out as a slaughtering of Bernard Cornwell’s series. I also had concerns that maybe my personal expectations were far too high regarding any attempt to re-create this work on screen. Even as the premier episode approached and I saw glimpse of what it would be, I still had some fearful doubts about whether they could pull this off, whether I would be cringing in disappointment at what had been done to a story that I am so devoted to.  Those doubts quickly vanished as soon as the show began!

From the very beginning you are placed so quickly and firmly in Uhtred’s world that you forget about any minor details that might have caused you moments of doubt.  As I mentioned earlier, I could care less what color Uhtred’s hair is or any number of other insignificant details. I have the highest praise for the creators of this series and their successful efforts to pull us into the story and the world of the Danes and the Saxons as they both try to shape their futures and their destinies. They have done an incredible job of immersing us in that world, presenting a picture of not just a larger scale war on the horizon but of the smaller battles and confrontations on a personal level. Are there inaccuracies as far as clothing or weapons or fighting strategies… yes of course I’m sure there are and I am sure that any number of critics will be quick to point them out. Do those small inconsistencies really make such a difference in the telling of the story- no they do not! I was so involved in the story that I did not have time to sit and debate on whether those shields were exactingly accurate or whether the Viking army would have really used such a shield wall as was portrayed. 

There has been a bit of debate already on the validity or accuracy of the initial battle scene between the Danish army and the Northumbrians. It may not necessarily have been a truly accurate depiction but it worked so well in doing what I think it was intended to represent. The Danes and their army were a force to be reckoned with. They were well trained and prepared for battle at this time while still being cautious in their strategies. The Northumbrians were not prepared for this onslaught and not ready to deal with this attack. They were already in a weakened state of chaos due to the fighting between their two Kings. The Danes were well aware of this inner strife and the thought of many is that this why they chose to invade Northumbria first.  The initial battle scene in the show did an excellent job of portraying this lack of cohesion on the part of the Northumbrians.

a less battle ready or prepared Saxon army a well trained and prepared shield wall army

We also see from the beginning that this invasion by the Danes is not just one of raiding and pillaging for wealth and then returning to their homeland. This is also a personal journey, a seeking of land to settle, of a place to call home and to put down roots in. Ragnar the elder makes that clear at the beginning- for him is not so much a battle for just for wealth, but for a place to raise his family.

why they came in the first place

The show has only 8 episodes this first season to tell the story of the first two books from Cornwell’s series of 9 books. They have done an amazing job so far of compressing the storylines and moving us quickly along on the path of Uhtred’s life from childhood to adult, from heir of Bebbanburg to Danish slave boy to loved and recognized son of the Danish warrior, Ragnar and then to a young man who has lost everything whose only hope or chance of reclaiming any of it lies with the last Kingdom, Wessex and it’s leaders- Alfred and his brother Athelred. The episodes are fast paced, riveting and full of details and clues to the future so it’s important to pay close attention to some of those scenes and discussions!

Uhtred with his medallion young Uhtred refused to listen and followed Father to war... his uncle let him go with hopes that he will fall uhtred captured by danes2 Uhtred looks on as Ragnar threatens Kjartin with fighting within the hazel branches You bought me for how much Too much uhtred the dane comes out of the water Uhtred the Dane immerges from the water uhtred as a young adult

Book readers can rest assured that while there may be changes to the storyline, the most important and relevant details are still presented although in some altered ways. Cornwell’s spirit and style is still maintained throughout those adaptions and you will feel that essence within the changes. Episode one sticks very close to the book but compresses it into the one hour time frame. There is horror, heartbreak and humor enough to balance those most painful moments. There are also so many heart touching moments within the horror and humor that you can not help but feel like you are a part of this tapestry, this story of life.

Take her to Valhalla with you

One scene that caused some confusion for a few viewers was where the priest, Father Beocca is baptizing young Uhtred and appears to be trying to drown the boy… never fear, Beocca is simply teaching Uhtred a lesson and repaying him for his earlier disrespect of reading, writing and religion! Beocca will forever be Uhtred’s faithful friend and supporter even when Uhtred would prefer him not to be… and when Beocca is so frustrated with him that he would rather not support him!

baptizing Osbert to Uhtred

One other thing that I need to mention in my profound appreciation of the series creators is the way that they have provided us with some time frames and locations, and given us a translation from the Old English spellings/pronounciations to more modern versions! My undying gratitude for now knowing how to pronounce some of those words!

Eoferwic york Loidis Leeds

 

I have already watched episode 2 but I know there are a great many people who have not been able to view it yet so for now I am going to keep my review of it limited to my overall impressions and general thoughts on it. For me personally, it was even better than the first episode if that’s possible. I do think that this episode may rile up some of the book purists though in that this episode takes a distinctly altered path from the books. It presents us with some detailed history that was included in the books but which is still extremely valuable in setting up the future storyline. It takes us on a slightly different path through the events but I do believe it will still bring us to the same place and events. There are some variations on how or why certain things come about but they work so well that I was quite happy with how it is playing out. Ubba and Guthrum will begin to take on their value and importance in the story and the history. We will see the beginnings of Uhtred’s rocky relationship with Alfred forming and we will see Alfred’s beginnings of a leadership role. We will also see the difficulties he faces within his personal life…  One thing I would highly suggest- if you should ever be invited to dine with Alfred, you should probably just politely make some excuse and decline the offering. Even Alfred has trouble managing to swallow it or tell the difference between the offerings of broth and gruel!

ailswith

And, just one last thought… Really, Alfred considering what we know of your wife, who could blame you for being tempted by some others?

temptation of the flesh

For more information on the history of Wessex and Alfred, you can read my previous article:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/23/from-ecberts-dream-to-alfreds-reality/

I hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to The Last Kingdom and that you will continue to join me on this epic journey with Uhtred of Bebbanburg! In upcoming posts I will try to provide some helpful historical information including some maps and some additional reference material as I come up with it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Travel planning and Last Kingdom!

Ahhhh I’ve been so busy with initial travel plans that I have not had time to focus or concentrate on much else lately. When you first think about it, 6 months seems like a long time in the future and one might have the thought of “That’s so far out there, why worry so much about it now?” In reality, we’ve come to realize that planning a trip such as this is somewhat similar to planning a wedding. When you break down all of the various details that need to be addressed in order for this to be successful, 6 months is not really all that long! I mentioned in my previous post that one of those important details needing attention so far ahead of time was the accommodations. Those have been set and so now they shape the rest of the travel plans because they set the route and the stopping points for the trip. We also quickly realized that while we would love to take that more care free, wing it attitude that we so often do with our road trips, we really need to plan ahead for this sort of adventure. We will remain somewhat flexible in our sight seeing options along the way but there are just some things that we feel we can not be quite so flexible on. 

As I mentioned in the previous article, there are a few specific places and sights that we have labeled as priorities and those sights must be included in our overall plan.  My daughter has added her own additional stipulations to the plans… she is determined expand her knowledge and appreciation of Beer and breweries. Neither of us are quite so fond of harder spirits such as Whisky but really, one can not visit Scotland without tasting the Whisky.  She was initially more set on the Beer and breweries so she set about a search for breweries in Scotland. She was immediately served with a list of distilleries rather than breweries in that area so has chosen to embrace, or at least experience the Whisky in Scotland. So, because of this, we must find a way to include some of that Whisky experience in our tour of Scotland. Her current thought is as long as the day ends at a pub with opportunity for appreciating the alcohol, she’s good with what ever else happens throughout the day. I am quite fine with that idea as well, and one thing we both agree on is that there will be absolutely no tasting, experiencing or appreciating Haggis!

We have spent the past week tweeking and adjusting our plan and schedule in regards to what we feel is most important and what is realistically workable for us. It has been a process of  thinking on what we truly want to see and experience the most, what we can do without and what we feel is actually doable given our tight timeline and budget. Part of this intense pre-planning is having an estimate far ahead of time on the budget aspect. We need to have a good idea of how much some of these must see sights and experiences will cost us as well when they are open and how much time they will take to experience.  Because of the time issues and the budget, we really do need to have a fairly detailed plan set well ahead of time. I wish it could be otherwise but as I said, in order for this marathon race to be successful, we need to be well prepared and have a good solid plan as to how to accomplish this adventure.

Our time in Scotland is pretty well mapped and set- I will give you more details about that in a separate post. In this post, I want to talk about the one portion or leg of the trip that we have spent the past few days working on. This is possibly the most important and exciting portion for me… and my daughter has begun to show some great enthusiasm for it as well. This one day trip from Edinburgh to Leeds will  be  full of history from ancient Romans, early Anglo-Saxons, Viking era, some Norman influences and some Scottish history. I can’t even think of which is more interesting or important and there is no way to try to eliminate one sight or place from the plan… believe me, we did try but when it came right down to it, neither of us could say “No, let’s toss this part out” so we opted for a way to include as much of it as possible. I will admit that being able to fit Bamburgh Castle into the plan and have my daughter get excited about it was a highpoint of the planning!

This portion of the trip will truly be a marathon day and because of that we have attempted to plan it out as much as possible. In order to hopefully include all of the sights we have listed as a priority on this portion, the pre-planning was and is essential. This will be an incredibly long day. Our ultimate goal is to visit each of the following sights/places and arrive in Leeds completely exhausted- probably late in the evening with no thought or plan to do anything there but sleep and be ready for the next day’s trip.

We will leave Edinburgh as early as possible on Saturday morning in order to accomplish our marathon history goal.  Our mapped out schedule is as follows:

Edinburgh to Prestonpans:

edinburgh to prestonpans

This is a relatively short trip, about 1/2 hour drive. Prestonpans is the site of the 1745 Battle of Prestonpans, and has a history dating back to the 11th century. The town boasts some impressive examples of historical architecture, such as the Preston Tower and the doocot and the local Mercat Cross, which is the only one of its kind in Scotland which remains in its original form and location.  The town is also credited for achieving the title of “Scotland’s Mural Town” with many wall murals reflecting the town’s colourful past.

According to certain stories Prestonpans was originally founded in the 11th century by a traveller named Althamer, who became shipwrecked on the local beach/coastal area. Finding it impossible to get home, the survivors of the wreck decided to remain where they were and founded a settlement named Althamer in honour of their leader. Whether this story is true or not is a matter of opinion, however when the monks of Newbattle and Holyrood arrived in the district in 1184 there was already a settlement named ‘Aldhammer’ on the site of what is now Prestonpans. The monks gave the settlement their own name, Prieststown or Prieston. Because of the salt manufacturing carried out by the monks using pans on the sea shore, the town’s name would later develop into Salt Prieststown and Salt Preston, and finally Prestonpans.

The Battle of Prestonpans (also known as the Battle of Gladsmuir) was the first significant conflict in the second Jacobite Rising. The battle took place on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and a heavily mythologised version of the story entered art and legend. A memorial to the Battle of Prestonpans in the form of a modest stonemason-built cairn sits close to the battle site. An earlier (and tellingly, much larger and more impressive) monument to Colonel James Gardiner, a Hanoverian who was mortally wounded on the field of battle, was also erected in 1853 near Bankton House where the Colonel lived. It was sculpted by Alexander Handyside Ritchie. Each year on the anniversary of the battle, a Battlefield Walk is organised by local historians, and in September 2008 the Battle of Prestonpans 1745 Trust organised a symposium on local battlefields. A memorial in the parish church commemorates “John Stuart of Phisgul…barbarously murdered by four Highlanders near the end of the Battle.

Battle_of_Prestonpans_Cairn

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Prestonpans

I have stated previously that this trip is not any sort of Outlander theme type trip but more about all of the rich history of both Scotland and England. This site is important to all of that history and may interest some of the Outlander readers/fans because it the battle that the Jacobite forces won. The Battle of Prestonpans was the first significant conflict in the Jacobite Rising of 1745. The battle took place at 4 am on 21 September 1745. The Jacobite army loyal to James Francis Edward Stuart and led by his son Charles Edward Stuart defeated the government army loyal to the Hanoverian George II led by Sir John Cope. The inexperienced government troops were outflanked and broke in the face of a highland charge. The victory was a huge morale boost for the Jacobites, and a heavily mythologised version of the story entered art and legend. We will arrive at Prestonpans early in the morning and most likely won’t see too much, but we are hopeful that we can manage to fit in something of the history.

 

From Prestonpans it is  short trip on to Berwick upon Tweed. We will be following the coastal route down through this portion of England.

prestonpans to berwick

prestonpans to Berwick

The trip from Prestonpans to Berwick is about an hour.

Berwick-upon-Tweed  is a town in the county of Northumberland and is the northernmost town in England,  on the east coast at the mouth of the River Tweed. It is 2 12 miles (4 km) south of the Scottish border. It is about 56 miles (90 km) east-south east of Edinburgh, 65 miles (105 km) north of Newcastle upon Tyne and 345 miles (555 km) north of London. Founded as an Anglo-Saxon settlement during the time of the kingdom of Northumbria, the area was for more than 400 years central to historic border war between the Kingdoms of England and Scotland, and several times possession of Berwick changed hands between the two kingdoms. The last time it changed hands was when England again took it in 1482. Berwick remains a traditional market town and also has some notable architectural features, in particular its medieval town walls, its Elizabethan ramparts and Britain’s earliest barracks buildings (1717–21 by Nicholas Hawksmoor for the Board of Ordnance).

In 1296 England went to war with France, with whom Scotland was in alliance. Balliol invaded England in response, sacking Cumberland.  Edward in turn invaded Scotland and captured Berwick, destroying much of the town. Edward I went again to Berwick in August 1296 to receive formal homage from some 2,000 Scottish nobles, after defeating the Scots at the Battle of Dunbar in April and forcing John Balliol to abdicate at Kincardine Castle the following July. It was at this time that work began on building the town walls (and rebuilding the earlier Castle); these fortifications were complete by 1318 and subsequently improved under Scottish rule. An arm of William Wallace was displayed at Berwick after his execution and quartering on 23 August 1305. In 1314 Edward II of England mustered 25,000 men at Berwick, who later fought in (and lost) the Battle of Bannockburn.

Between 1315 and 1318 Scottish armies, sometimes with the help of Flemish and German privateers, besieged and blockaded the town, finally invading and capturing it in April 1318.[21] England retook Berwick some time shortly after the Battle of Halidon Hill in 1333.  In October 1357 a treaty was signed at Berwick by which the Scottish estates undertook to pay 100,000 marks as a ransom for David II of Scotland,  who had been taken prisoner at the Battle of Neville’s Cross on 17 October 1346.

Berwick Castle was the site where one of Robert the Bruce’s supporters, Isabella Macduff was imprisoned for 4 years of the war between Scotland and England. She was the daughter of Donnchadh III, Earl of Fife, and Johanna de Clare, daughter of Gilbert de Clare, 6th Earl of Hertford. She was married to John Comyn, Earl of Buchan and thus was the Countess of Buchan. After Robert the Bruce killed John III Comyn, Lord of Badenoch at Greyfriars Kirk in Dumfries, the Earl of Buchan joined the English side in the Scottish Wars of Independence. Isabella took the contrary view.

According to tradition, the ceremony of crowning the monarch was performed by a representative of Clan MacDuff, but Isabella arrived in Scone the day after the coronation of Robert the Bruce in March 1306. However, the Bruce agreed to be crowned for a second time the day after, as otherwise some would see the ceremony as irregular, not being performed by a Macduff.  Bruce was defeated at the Battle of Methven in June 1306, so he sent Isabella and his female relatives north, but they were betrayed to the English by Uilleam II, Earl of Ross. Edward I of England ordered her sent to Berwick-upon-Tweed with these instructions: “Let her be closely confined in an abode of stone and iron made in the shape of a cross, and let her be hung up out of doors in the open air at Berwick, that both in life and after her death, she may be a spectacle and eternal reproach to travellers.”[1]

She was imprisoned in this cage for four years,  then moved to the Carmelite friary at Berwick. This was not necessarily a humanitarian move; it is suggested that by this stage Bruce was gaining support, his female relatives were potentially valuable hostages, and the English did not want them to die of ill-treatment. The last clear mention of her is being transferred again in 1313, her eventual fate is uncertain. Most of Bruce’s female relatives returned to Scotland when they were exchanged for English nobleman captured after the Battle of Bannockburn, but there is no mention of her in the records, so she had probably died by then.   Little or nothing remains of the original Castle other than ruins but I am hoping to see them!

berwick castleberwick castle2berwick castle3

With our arrival in Berwick upon Tweed, we will officially be in Northumbria! We will drive down the coast from Berwick towards the best part of all… for me anyway- we will make our way to Bamburgh Castle! For fans of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series, Bamburgh Castle is the basis for Uhtred’s ancestral home of Bebbanburg!

berwick to bamburgh castle

berwick to bamburgh castle

From Berwick to Bamburgh Castle is about  1/2 hour drive and will take us past Lindisfarne/Holy Island. Due to our limited time frame, we will not be making the trip to the Island. I have been advised that there is the very real possibility and likelihood that we could get stranded there for a number of hours because of the tides. We will view it from the mainland as I am not about to miss out on Bamburgh Castle because I am stuck on Holy Island for 4-5 hours!

 

As I mentioned, Bamburgh Castle is the basis for Bebbanburg Castle, Uhtred’s childhood home.

Young Uhtred of Last Kingdom

Young Uhtred of Last Kingdom

I am Uhtred rightful lord of Bebbanburg I am Uhtred and I wll claim what is mine

For those of you waiting and anticipating the premiere of Last Kingdom on BBC America which airs on Saturday, just a few days from now- here is just a quick biography of Uhtred:

Uhtred was born into status as son of Ealdorman Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, and raised to have hatred towards the surrounding kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Scotland and the Danes. Uhtred was originally called Osbert and was the younger of Ealdorman Uhtred’s sons. The name Uhtred was given always to the oldest son, but after his older brother was killed in a failed attack on the Danes Osbert’s name was changed to Uhtred. Uhtred was never taught swordsmanship in his nine years at Bebbanburg as his stepmother wanted him to pursue a life dedicated to being a priest.

In 866, the first of the Danish army began to arrive in Northumbria. In their speed the Danes were able to capture Eoferwic. Ealdorman Uhtred was killed in the failed assault to reclaim Eoferwic, and Uhtred was captured by the Danes following his furious but feeble attack on a Danish warlord. That warlord, Ragnar the Fearless, son of Ravn, decided to nurture Uhtred’s fury into a suitable fighting spirit and so adopted him. Uhtred found that living with the Danes was a much freer existence than with the pious Christians and their dour priests at Bebbanburg and embraced the Danish gods of Thor, Odin, and Hoder. Uhtred came to love Ragnar as a father and became a brother to Ragnar’s sons, Ragnar and Rorik, and daughter, Thyra.

Living in Ragnar’s company was enjoyable, even after Rorik’s death of sickness, until everything changed. Ragnar had made an enemy in a man named Kjartan due to an incident between Thyra and Kjartan’s son, Sven. The enmity came to a head one night when Uhtred was in the forest making charcoal for weapons. Kjartan led a warband to where Ragnar and his family were sleeping and lit their hall on fire, killing them all. Kjartan initially believed Uhtred to have also died in the fire. Uhtred was crushed by Ragnar’s death and left Northumbria to find family amongst the Saxons in Mercia, to the south.

Uhtred ended up in Wessex and in the service of Alfred the Great. Wessex was the last unconquered Saxon kingdom in England and thus always under constant threat from the Danes. Despite Uhtred’s childhood he began to fight and revel in Danish defeats. However, Uhtred had a particular hatred towards Alfred whom he believed too pious, weak and trusting to fight off the Danish invasion, although he maintained a healthy respect for Alfred’s intelligence. Alfred managed to calm any wanton violence between the two and Uhtred served him faithfully, though grudgingly, and at times with a mind to return to the Danes. Yet, as Uhtred’s usefulness improved so did Alfred’s attention, and as Uhtred aged he began to understand Alfred’s wisdom although dislike was always present.

 

Now, here is some information on the real Bamburgh Castle.

Built on a dolerite outcrop, the location was previously home to a fort of the native Britons known as Din Guarie and may have been the capital of the British kingdom of the region (see Gododdin, Bryneich and Hen Ogledd)  from the realm’s foundation in c.420 until 547, the year of the first written reference to the castle. In that year the citadel was captured by the Anglo-Saxon ruler Ida of Bernicia (Beornice) and became Ida’s seat. It was briefly retaken by the Britons from his son Hussa during the war of 590 before being relieved later the same year.  His grandson Æðelfriþ passed it on to his wife Bebba, from whom the early name Bebbanburgh was derived. The Vikings destroyed the original fortification in 993.

The Normans built a new castle on the site, which forms the core of the present one. William II unsuccessfully besieged it in 1095 during a revolt supported by its owner, Robert de Mowbray, Earl of Northumbria. After Robert was captured, his wife continued the defence until coerced to surrender by the king’s threat to blind her husband.

Bamburgh then became the property of the reigning English monarch. Henry II probably built the keep. As an important English outpost, the castle was the target of occasional raids from Scotland. In 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, it became the first castle in England to be defeated by artillery, at the end of a nine-month siege by Richard Neville, 16th Earl of Warwick.

The Forster family of Northumberland provided the Crown with twelve successive governors of the castle for some 400 years until the Crown granted ownership to Sir John Forster. The family retained ownership until Sir William Forster (d. 1700) was posthumously declared bankrupt, and his estates, including the castle, were sold to Lord Crew, Bishop of Durham (husband of his sister Dorothy) under an Act of Parliament to settle the debts.  The castle deteriorated but was restored by various owners during the 18th and 19th centuries. It was finally bought by the Victorian industrialist William Armstrong, who completed the restoration. The castle still belongs to the Armstrong family, and is opened to the public. It also hosts weddings and corporate events. It has been used as a film location since the 1920s, featuring in films such as Ivanhoe (1982), El Cid (1961), Mary, Queen of Scots (1971), Elizabeth (1998) and both the 1971 and 2015 adaptions of Macbeth. This gives me all the more reason to see the current movie, Macbeth!

bamburgh castle1 bamburgh castle2 bamburgh castle3 bamburgh castle5 bamburgh castle6 bamburgh castle7 bamburgh castle8

http://www.bamburghcastle.com/castle.php

 

I may have extreme difficulty tearing myself away from Bamburgh… I have a feeling that my daughter may have to step in and forcibly drag me away! If we are able to manage departing this place in a reasonable amount of time, we will head on to Roman history at Housesteads Roman Fort which is a part of Hadrian’s Wall.

bamburgh to housesteads roman fort near hexham

It is about 1 1/2 hour drive from Bamburgh to Housesteads so we may end up in a sever time crunch to fit this or the next possible stop into our schedule. Set high on a dramatic escarpment on Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, Housesteads Roman Fort takes you back to the Roman Empire. Wander the barrack blocks and the hospital. Peer into the oldest toilets you’ll ever see, and admire the stunning panoramic views from this ancient fortress. Our interactive museum showcases objects once belonging to Roman soldiers, and the mini-cinema will take you on a journey through time. 

Roman Fort and Tour

Imagine what life was like for the 800 soldiers living and working at Housesteads in Roman times.  The fort’s original name was ‘Vercovicium’ meaning ‘the place of the effective fighters’.

At the very edge of their empire, the soldiers were secure and self-sufficient within the fort. They had a barracks block, hospital, Commander’s House, granaries and communal toilets, all of which you can still see today.

 

http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/housesteads-roman-fort-hadrians-wall/

 

housesteads-hadrians-wall-view housesteads-museum housesteads-roman-fort

 

As I’ve mentioned already, this will be a marathon day and if we manage to accomplish all of it, I think we shall consider ourselves winners!  From Housesteads, we will head for Leeds.

housesteads to leeds

It’s another two hour drive from Housesteads to Leeds so I can safely assume that by the time we arrive in Leeds it will be fairly late. Our plan is just to find our hotel and crash into bed! No sights or plans other than that for the Leeds area!  I was originally hoping to fit in a trip through Durham on the way to Leeds but being realistic, we’ll be lucky to accomplish what is on this list as it is without adding anything else to the plan!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Ecbert’s dream to Alfred’s reality

From Egbert's fantasy to ruler of Wessex

In the previous article, From Charlemagne to Egbert and Wessex, we looked at the real Ecbert and some history of Wessex. I used  representations and comparisons from Michael Hirst’s Vikings Saga. In this article, I will continue with that and in addition, I will add some comparison to the upcoming BBCA Last Kingdom series based on Bernard Cornwell’s books about that time period. I hope this will gives fans a bit more real history on how Alfred actually came to inherit the crown of Wessex.

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/09/14/from-charlamagne-to-egbert-and-wessex/

Viewers and fans of the Vikings Saga by Michael Hirst are waiting to see what the fate of Ecbert, Aethelwulf, and little Alfred will be in Hirst’s version of history. Hopefully there will be some answers or resolution in the upcoming season. Right now, we are left with the puzzle of how Hirst will weave facts into his ongoing story of the Vikings. He has promised us and made assurances that baby Alfred is indeed based on the Alfred the Great of history and will eventually be King of Wessex. He has also made reference to a future in which the sons of Ragnar will grow up and become those well known warriors involved in the Great Heathen conquests of the Kingdoms of Britain, fighting against Alfred.

Fans and potential viewers of the upcoming Last Kingdom are aware of history from Uhtred’s personal point of view after Alfred has succeeded to the throne of Wessex and becomes embroiled in the fight to save Wessex from the Heathen Armies of Northmen. Cornwell does an excellent job of presenting the history from Uhtred’s perspective and of providing a look at the events taking place after Alfred inherited the Crown.

The unanswered question or puzzle remains… What happened in between those times? How did Wessex go from Egbert’s dream or fantasy of conquering it all and being that all powerful Bretwalda to being a last holdout against the Danes with a sickly young King stuck in a swamp having little hope of holding on to his own Kingdom let alone uniting all of them to defeat the Northmen, the Heathens.

We covered Egbert’s actual role in the events that led to his rise and his eventual fall in the previous article. Along with that, we also covered much of Aethelwulf’s role and history as it relates to Wessex.  We do need to look a bit closer at some of Aethelwulf’s history here because it does set up the path for his younger son Alfred to come into his own as King of Wessex.

aethelwulf vikings2

We know that Aethelwulf was the only child of Egbert and on Egbert’s death in 839,  Aethelwulf inherited the throne of Wessex.  his wife Osburh was the mother of all his children. She was the daughter of Oslac, described by Asser, as a man who was descended from Jutes who had ruled the Isle of Wight.  Æthelwulf had six known children. His eldest son, Æthelstan, was old enough to have been appointed King of Kent in 839, so he must have been born by the early 820s, and he died in the early 850s.  The second son, Æthelbald, is first recorded as a charter  witness in 841, and if, like other brothers, he began to attest or witness documents  when he was around six, he would have been born around 835; he was King of Wessex from 858 to 860. Æthelwulf’s third son, Æthelberht, was probably born around 839 and was king from 860 to 865. The only daughter, Æthelswith was probably born around 840 and married Burgred, King of Mercia in 853.  The other two sons were much younger: Æthelred was born around 848 and was king from 865 to 871, Alfred was born around 849 and was king from 871 to 899. 

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

aethelwulf with baby Athelred

In the interest of condensing the timeline and history, Hirst  conveniently eliminated some of these children in his version of the history. In Hirst’s story, we see depictions of only the youngest two sons and a change in the Mother from Osburh to Judith (Judith’s background has been completely changed presumably to allow for some added connection between Wessex and Northumbria).  Whether or not Judith will bear any more children is still unknown to viewers at this time… the only way this would play any importance in Hirst’s story depends partially on how he deals with the plaguing detail or issue of Mercia. We will see how the issue of Mercia was dealt with in the real history of Aethelwulf and his children. We  also see a slightly more accurate accounting of Mercia’s fate in Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series.

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about athelstan

ecbert showers affection on alfred and wonders about Athelstan

I understand Hirst’s rationale for leaving the other children out of the story in his effort to tighten up the storyline and focus more on a future that directly involves those two youngest brothers in the wars against the Vikings.  Those other children however, are important to the history of Wessex, to how the real Alfred came to his power and how he maintained relationships and allies with such Kingdoms as Mercia.

In the previous article, we established that for the most part, Aethelwulf provided a well balanced and stable reign of Wessex from 839 until his death in 858.  He had limited encounters with Viking attacks or raids and other than a few defeats, he managed to contain any real threat from them. During his reign he took measures to improve his Kingdom’s relationship and alliance with Mercia by marrying his only daughter, Aelswith to King of Mercia, Burgred in 853. He then assisted Mercia in a successful attack on Wales to restore the traditional Mercian hegemony over the Welsh. These events helped to seal the formal  allegiance between Mercia and Wessex even after Mercia began to be taken over by the Danes. This alliance would become critical in later years when Alfred would be dealing with Mercia.  Personally, I would like to see Hirst address this ongoing alliance in his story because it is so important to later events.

Aethelwulf  provided a well balanced and stable reign for his Kingdom, and he attempted to maintain stability in his family life despite some rather difficult situations.  Aethelwulf had six children by his first wife Osburh.  It is not known what actually happened to Osburh… she probably died but then again, may have been set aside so Aethelwulf could make the advantageous marriage to Judith of Flanders. Which ever the case, to say that Aethelwulf’s older sons were unhappy with their Father’s second marriage is an understatement of the event! What caused much of the dissent  was the fact that as part of the marriage agreement, Judith would be given the status of anointed Queen, and therefore any offspring she might produce would immediately take precedence in the succession of rule. Fortunately, Judith never had any children by Aethelwulf so that issue did not come up.  By the time of his second marriage in 856, his older sons were adults and were already capable of ruling in some capacity. Oldest son, Athelstan was ruling as King of Kent up until the early 850s.  He would have been the first in line for succession after Aethelwulf but unfortunately died before any of this mess started. So, one son down- four to go… the two youngest, Athelred and Alfred were children during this time and would probably not have had any expectations of ever really ruling anyway. That leaves two remaining sons to be discontented with Father’s marriage and possibly take matters into their own hands.

Athelbald was the second son, and after his brother’s death in 851, he was next in line to rule Wessex.  In 855 he became regent of Wessex while his father, Æthelwulf, visited Rome. His younger brother Æthelberht became king of Kent.  When the sons learned of Aethelwulf’s marriage to Judith, there was a plot or threat of rebellion against Aethelwulf.  Æthelwulf returned to Wessex to face a revolt by Æthelbald, who attempted to prevent his father from recovering his throne. We need to give Aethelwulf some credit here as he went out of his way to appease Athelbald and avoid a civil war by allowing Aethelbad to continue to rule Wessex itself (or the western part of Wessex) while he took Kent and the other eastern parts of the kingdom.

In Aethelwulf’s will, he made provisions for the succession of rule. The kingdom was to be divided between the two oldest surviving sons, with Æthelbald getting Wessex and Æthelberht taking Kent and the south-east. The survivor of Æthelbald, Æthelred and Alfred was to inherit their father’s bookland – his personal property as opposed to the royal lands which went with the kingship – some historians argue that this probably means that the survivor was to inherit the throne of Wessex as well.  Other historians disagree. Nelson states that the provision regarding the personal property had nothing to do with the kingship,  and Kirby comments: “Such an arrangement would have led to fratricidal strife. With three older brothers, Alfred’s chances of reaching adulthood would have been minimal.”   This would have immediately discounted any children of the three older brothers for succession and set a dangerous precedent for any offspring in future lines. I do not believe that Aethelwulf would have willingly set up such a precedent and have to agree that he most likely assumed it to mean that Athelred and Alfred would receive shares of his personal holdings.  What is interesting to note here is that in this basic history of Aethelwulf, his reign, his trip to Rome, or his will , there was no mention of any writ or provision that may have been made for Alfred’s future accession of the crown.

Æthelwulf died on 13 January 858. He was succeeded by Æthelbald in Wessex and Æthelberht in Kent and the south-east. The prestige conferred by a Frankish marriage was so great that Æthelbald then wedded his step-mother Judith, to Asser’s retrospective horror; he described the marriage as a “great disgrace”, and “against God’s prohibition and Christian dignity”.  When Æthelbald died only two years later, Æthelberht became King of Wessex as well as Kent, and Æthelwulf’s intention of dividing his kingdoms between his sons was thus set aside. In the view of Yorke and Abels this was because Æthelred and Alfred were too young to rule, and Æthelberht agreed in return that his younger brothers would inherit the whole kingdom on his death, whereas Kirby and Nelson think that Æthelberht just became the trustee for his younger brothers’ share of the bookland.

It was shortly after Aethelwulf’s death that the Danes would begin to have their impact on all of the Kingdoms including Wessex. As Aethelbald’s reign was so short and marred by the scandal of his marriage to his Father’s wife, Judith, there little is known of his reign.  Only one charter survives, witnessed by king Æthelbald, king Æthelbert and Judith, suggesting that he was on good terms with his brother.  Æthelbald died at Sherborne in Dorset on 20 December 860. Asser, who was hostile to Æthelbald both because of his revolt against his father and because of his uncanonical marriage, described him as “iniquitous and grasping”, and his reign as “two and a half lawless years. Asser was of course, biased in his opinion and would have considered anything done by Aethelbald as lawless. He died childless so the rule of Wessex went to his brother Aethelberht.

With the death of Aethelbald, the separate rule of Wessex and Kent was set aside.  Unlike his predecessors, Æthelberht did not appoint another member of his family as under-king of Kent probably because his brothers were too young to take over that role and there were no other family members. A charter issued in the first year of Æthelberht’s reign reflects an extraordinary new kind of assembly: it was the first charter of a West Saxon king to include a full complement both of West Saxon and of Kentish witnesses.  Aethelberht ruled Kent from 858 and then ruled all of Wessex from 860 until 865.  The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle describes Æthelberht’s reign as one of good harmony and lasting peace. Though this was true of internal affairs, the Vikings were becoming a great threat, unsuccessfully storming Winchester and ravaging eastern Kent. He died in 865 leaving no children.

If you look at the rule, the early deaths and the lack of offspring by any of the older sons, it’s probably easy to see why Hirst chose to eliminate them from his storyline as being unimportant to the overall story. While they may indeed seem insignificant or unimportant, they do show how Wessex suffered from some instability and lack of true leadership or guidance after Aethelwulf’s death. There was a quick succession of rulers who had little time to get a firm grasp on the events that were taking place around them. This all led directly to the turmoil and disarray that would suddenly leave Alfred in charge. 

A number of other things contributed to Alfred’s unique and unexpected inheritance besides his brothers’ untimely deaths.  Aethelwuth for all practical purposes had planned well for the future of Wessex but as much as he had planned, some things just did not go according to those plans. Take for instance, the marriage of his daughter to the King of Mercia… this marriage should have well sealed that alliance and put a descendant of Aethelwulf on the throne of Mercia.  Unfortunately, the marriage did not result in any children. Her marriage did probably signal the subordination of Burgred to his father-in-law and the Saxon kingdom at a time when both Wessex and Mercia were suffering Danish (Viking) raids.  Repeated Danish incursions over the years gradually weakened Mercia militarily and in 868 Burgred was forced to call upon Æthelswith’s brother King Æthelred of Wessex to assist him in confronting an entrenched Danish army at Nottingham.  In 874, the Danes would achieve some victory in Mercia when they succeeded in driving Burgred out of the country. He fled to Rome along with wife Aethelswith.  Bergred died in Rome and Aethelswith died sometime later at Pavia, Italy. If the name of Pavia sounds a bit familiar, that is because it is the same place that the earlier Queen Eadburh ended up at!  

On the surface, the failure of Ealswith to produce an heir and the abandoning of his Kingdom by husband Bergred might look like part of the bad luck and worst case scenarios for Aethelwulf’s plans. In reality though, they went along with all of the other coincidental events that became part of Alfred’s miraculous fortune or seemingly blessed fate. These events left Mercia without a stable or strong King and extremely vulnerable to later Viking attacks and conquest. They also left Mercia easily open to later being taken over and controlled by Alfred.  The situation with Mercia could have, and almost did go so wrong, yet somehow it ended up working in Alfred’s favor just as other events did.

As I mentioned, Aethelwulf planned well for the future and could hardly be blamed for the events that changed those plans. Earlier I mentioned Aethelwulf’s trip to Rome and the mysterious writ or document that would come to play such an important part in Alfred’s claim to the crown later. Much is made of this document as some proof that Aethelwulf was paving a way for Alfred’s ascent to the crown.  In reality, why would he have done such a thing? He could not have foreseen the events that would take place in his Kingdom and had already paved the way for his older sons to inherit. Since this document did play such an important part in the future, we should look at what really happened on that trip to Rome and what that writ actually was.

In 853, Aethelwulf sent not just Alfred, but his older brother Athelred as well to Rome, probably in connection and preparation for his own forthcoming visit. So, first of all this was not some special visit set up just for young Alfred’s benefit. Later historians and biographers such as Alfred’s own monk, Asser would lessen the focus on Athelred and alter the facts to the promotion of  Alfred. The reality is that both sons were sent on this early trip as emissaries of goodwill in preparation for Aethelwulf’s future trip in 855. Some historians argue that the journey suggested Alfred was intended for the Church. Others argue that the trip and a declaration by the Pope were actually intended for just the opposite purpose by Aethelwulf. By gaining the Pope’s favor and affirmation of throne worthiness for them, he was protecting both of them against the possibility of being forcibly tonsured to the Church by the older brothers. 

 The document was simply a letter from Pope Leo IV in which he responded to Aethelwulf’s goodwill gesture of presenting his sons to the Pope. Pope Leo IV most likely invested both boys with a belt of consul and referred to them as his spiritual sons thus creating a spiritual link or alliance between the two Fathers.   Alfred, and possibly Æthelred as well, were invested with the “belt of consulship”. Æthelred’s part in the journey is only known from a contemporary record in the Liber Vitae of San Salvatore. What this term consul meant at that time was that the Pope was  simply recognizing them as official Diplomats. This investiture was by no means any bestowal of anointment to Kingship.  At some later point historians such as Asser would misconstrue or misrepresent the term (probably on purpose) and the letter from the Pope to mean that Alfred was being confirmed as anointed King.   There is absolutely no evidence, reason, or justification for such an action by the Pope at that time nor any reason that Aethelwulf would ever have had such intent or plan in mind for his youngest son. No one could have foreseen any future that would call for such an action that would spell disaster for any Kingdom and certain death for those two youngest sons should the Pope take such a controversial and extreme step.

No one, not even the Pope could foresee a future for Wessex that would involve three adult sons- three Kings dying in quick succession with no heirs and a grown daughter married to a King also producing no heir! No one could foresee a Kingdom so wealthy and so stable, falling so quickly into disarray that it was left basically to the two youngest sons who were never expected or  trained to rule the Kingdom. No one could foresee a future that included all of the other Kingdoms quickly falling to Viking conquests and leaving that last Kingdom of Wessex with it’s unprepared new rulers to fend off such a similar attack and fate. No one, certainly not Aethelwulf, the Pope or even young Alfred himself  could foresee or envision a future that would require a frail and sickly last son (who would probably have preferred a quieter, more churchly life) to step forward, become the leader of his Kingdom and all of the other Kingdoms against an invading army intent on conquering all of Britain.

The trips to Rome were not special treatment or favor shown to Alfred or his brother Athelred. The trips were part of Aethelwulf’s plan to improve his own alliances with Rome and with the Frankish Empire. The youngest sons were allowed to go on these trips because they were considered expendable… the succession to the throne was already firmly set in place and if something should happen to either Aethelwulf or the boys during their trip, the throne was safe in the hands of the older brothers. Aethelwulf took the boys on his trip and there was no ulterior motive to any of it other than what may have possibly been Aethelwulf’s own plan to secure himself a second wife and a closer alliance with Francia. The boys would most likely have looked at the entire trip as a grand adventure.  Athelred was born in 848 and Alfred in 849, so at the time of these trips they were very young children of no more than 6 or 7 years old. They were not destined to be rulers so would have been allowed some greater freedom from political and reigning indoctrinations… meaning they would have probably enjoyed the trip for what it was to them, not much more than a family vacation. They went on this extended vacation with their Father and returned home to Wessex with a new Step Mother who was not all that much older than them.  That event also would not have been such an odd occurrence and the boys would have just went on with their lives as usual.   Even their Father’s death in 858 would not have had all that great of impact on these youngest boys’ lives. Aethelwulf had made solid plans and arrangements for everyone’s futures and as the boys were so young and not considered really important to the matter of succession, once again they would probably have carried on as usual with their studies and little thought toward the future.

At the time of their trips to Rome with Aethelwulf, the boys would have been close in age to these two young boys who will portray Athelred and Alfred in season 4 of the Vikings.

Athelred and Alfred Judith's sons

The two boys who will portray Athelred and Alfred in season 4 of Vikings.

Little is known about the childhood of either Athelred or Alfred other that their trip Rome and Francia with Aethelwulf. There is mention that Alfred was sickly from the time of his childhood and it is thought that he probably suffered from Crohn’s disease. There is also some mention that he spent time in Ireland seeking cures for his ailments. As such a sickly child, he probably spent much of his time doing things that did not require a great deal of physical ability- such as reading or studying with tutors and Priests.  He may not have been expected even to survive to adulthood and so less attention would have been paid to his overall training or expectations of him. He was probably left much in the care and raising of those tutors and Priests who would have assumed that should he survive to adulthood, he would naturally choose a life with the church. What other option or choice would there be for him realistically as a youngest son too frail and sickly to fight and make a name or wealth for himself on his own?  His older brother Athelred was given more recognition and attention. Athelred held the title of Aetheling at least as early as 854.  He first witnessed his father’s charters as an Ætheling in 854, and kept this title until he succeeded to the throne in 865. There is no evidence or mention of this title being attached to Alfred during his childhood, so one would have to assume that at that time, Alfred was deemed of far less importance than even his brother that was so close in age to him.

During the earliest years of the Anglo-Saxon rule in England, the word ætheling was probably used to denote any person of noble birth. Its use was soon restricted to members of a royal family. The prefix æþel- formed part of the name of several Anglo-Saxon kings, for instance Æthelberht of Kent, Æthelwulf of Wessex and Æthelred of Wessex, and was used to indicate their noble birth. According to a document which probably dates from the 10th century, the weregild of an ætheling was fixed at 15,000 thrymsas, or 11,250 shillings, which was equal to that of an archbishop and one-half of that of a king.

 

Everything began to change for Wessex and for the two youngest sons of Aethelwulf when those older brothers died in such quick succession leaving no heirs. In addition to those untimely deaths, the Danes decided to take their conquest of Northumbria further south into Mercia and were paying close attention to what was happening within Wessex. Wessex, after all was the true prize. Wessex was the wealthiest and the most stable of all the Kingdoms thanks to Egbert and to Aethelwulf.  In the early 860s, the Northmen which included Norse as well as Danes began to arrive on the isle of Britain in great numbers seemingly with the sole intent of conquering it for their own. Prior to this time, there had been Viking raids or attacks throughout the Isle in limited numbers and for the most part the Kingdoms of Britain had always been able to defend themselves and keep the attacks contained. Wessex was so successful in their prior defenses that when the Heathen Army decided to strike in full force in the 860s, they chose to avoid Wessex and begin their assaults further north instead. Some might assume or suggest that this initial assault was more of a personal revenge attack designed and orchestrated by the sons of Ragnar Lodbrok as a retaliation against Aelle of Northumbria for his killing of their Father.

What one needs to do though is look at the invading forces and the initial assaults for what they actually were and what they entailed or involved. This was not a simple onslaught or personal attack led by one particular family or country against one person or Kingdom. The Great Viking Army or Great Danish Army, known by the Anglo-Saxons as the Great Heathen Army was a coalition of Norse warriors, originating from Sweden, Norway, and Denmark, who came together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in AD 865. Since the late 8th century, the Vikings had settled for mainly “hit-and-run” raids on centres of wealth, such as monasteries. However, the intent of the Great Army was different, it was much larger than the usual raiding party and its purpose was to conquer and claim land more so than just spoils or riches. This was a well planned campaign to settle, not to seek revenge or wealth and leave.  These forces had no intent devour, destroy and depart, they were determined to conquer and remain.

During early campaigns, the Danes had made attempts to take Wessex and were always defeated, this would suggest that they chose instead to focus on the Northern areas first, build up their forces and conquests before again attempting to defeat the prize of Wessex.  The Vikings had been defeated by the West Saxon King Æthelwulf in 851, so rather than land in Wessex they decided to go further north to East Anglia.  Legend has it that the united army was led by the three sons of Ragnar Lodbrok: Halfdan Ragnarsson, Ivar the Boneless, and Ubba. Norse sagas consider the invasion by the three brothers as a response to the death of their father at the hands of Ælla of Northumbria in 865, but the historicity of this claim is uncertain.

King Aella of Northumbria

As I mentioned, this was a well planned campaign, probably years in the making and involving a great deal of intense preparation and forehand knowledge of what was going on in the Kingdoms of Britain. The Danes did not go into this war on a whim or a sudden and intense desire for personal revenge… if the possibility for such personal revenge happened to come up during such battles then so be it, that would just be an added bonus for those who were able to carry that revenge out in addition to their overall goal. Just as with any well planned, organized campaign, the Danes would have had their own spies deep within the kingdoms to keep them apprised of the situations in each area and allow them to determine which places would be most easily defeated first. They probably knew full well the weaknesses of the various kingdoms and made their initial decisions based on those weaknesses. This would have been their reasoning for starting further north and working down towards Wessex, all the while paying close attention to the critical events taking place in Wessex… namely the weakening and demise of capable rulers.  The Danes were in no hurry to grab and go this time, and as they quickly managed to conquer the other kingdoms, they could settle in and wait for Wessex to weaken because they had every assumption that these last two rulers of Wessex would be easily defeated and controlled just as the other kingdoms had been.

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If you look at a map of the Army conquest that includes a timeline, you can see that their initial focus was East Anglia and then to move on to Northumbria before attempting to gain control of Mercia and Wessex. Obviously, East Anglia was an important coastal territory for them and as we will see in a future discussion of Northumbria, that kingdom was already in serious disarray because of feuding between royal families, so would have been an easy target. If Ragnar’s sons chose to extract some type of personal revenge during that assault, well so much the better for them on a personal basis, but I do not think that Northumbria was singled out specifically for just that reason!

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Right now, we are only focusing on the events of Wessex that led up to the frail and most unlikely candidate for King anyone might imagine, Alfred to end up as ruler of Wessex. We’ll look at the events of Northumbria, Mercia and East Anglia in separate discussions.

As I already mentioned, the third brother Aethelberht was King of Wessex from 860 to 865 when he died with no heirs. In 865, Athelred  became King. Keep in mind that with the demise of those three older brothers, Wessex was left with the two youngest sons who no one, not even they themselves had ever expected to become King. Athelred would have been about 17 at the time he took over the rule. He was young and most likely somewhat inexperienced, and at same the time he took the crown, the Heathen Army arrived. Within only a few short years, that army would take over East Anglia, Northumbria and move into Mercia. In 868, Athelred’s brother in law, Bergred of Mercia appealed to Wessex for help against the Danes. Æthelred and his brother, the future Alfred the Great, led a West Saxon army to Nottingham, but there was no decisive battle, and Burgred bought off the Vikings. In 874 the Vikings defeated Burgred and drove him into exile.

Despite Athelred’s youth, he did manage to accomplish something his older siblings failed at… he produced heirs! A charter of 868 refers to Wulfthryth regina and there were two known sons,  Æthelhelm and Æthelwold.  Æthelwold disputed the throne with Edward the Elder after Alfred’s death in 899. The accepted assumption on them not succeeding to the rule is that they were too young so the crown passed to Alfred instead.

From 868 on, Wessex was deeply involved in the war against the Heathen Armies, assisting in the fight to keep Ivar the Boneless out of neighboring Mercia. By 870, the Vikings turned their attention to Wessex, and on 4 January 871 at the Battle of Reading, Æthelred suffered a heavy defeat.  Although he was able to re-form his army in time to win a victory at the Battle of Ashdown, he suffered further defeats on 22 January at Basing, and 22 March at Meretun.

Surprisingly, despite the youth and inexperience of both Athelred and his younger brother Alfred, they were capable fighters and defenders. Alfred joined his older brother in the battles, fighting along side him and was credited with the success of their battle at Battle of Ashdown on the Berkshire Downs, possibly near Compton or Aldworth. Even though they seemed to be fighting a losing war, the two young brothers proved themselves to be worthy opponents.  They were not about to just give up and run like their brother in law Bergred would do.

alfred is crowned and england is born

alfred is crowned and england is born

 

In April 871, King Æthelred died, and Alfred succeeded to the throne of Wessex and the burden of its defence, despite the fact that Æthelred left two under-age sons, Æthelhelm and Æthelwold. This was in accordance with the agreement that Æthelred and Alfred had made earlier that year in an assembly at Swinbeorg. The brothers had agreed that whichever of them outlived the other would inherit the personal property that King Æthelwulf had left jointly to his sons in his will.  The deceased’s sons would receive only whatever property and riches their father had settled upon them and whatever additional lands their uncle had acquired. The unstated premise was that the surviving brother would be king. Given the ongoing Danish invasion and the youth of his nephews, Alfred’s succession probably went uncontested.

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While he was busy with the burial ceremonies for his brother, the Danes defeated the Saxon army in his absence at an unnamed spot, and then again in his presence at Wilton in May. The defeat at Wilton smashed any remaining hope that Alfred could drive the invaders from his kingdom. He was forced instead to make peace with them, according to sources that do not tell what the terms of the peace were. Bishop Asser claimed that the ‘pagans’ agreed to vacate the realm and made good their promise.   the Viking army did withdraw from Reading in the autumn of 871 to take up winter quarters in Mercian London. Although not mentioned by Asser or by the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Alfred probably also paid the Vikings cash to leave, much as the Mercians were to do in the following year.  Hoards dating to the Viking occupation of London in 871/2 have been excavated at Croydon, Gravesend, and Waterloo Bridge. These finds hint at the cost involved in making peace with the Vikings. For the next five years, the Danes occupied other parts of England as well.

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Because this discussion is meant only to give us some insight into how Alfred came to rule, I am not going to go into how he proceeded with his reign and his long battle to defeat the Heathen Army despite insurmountable odds. We’ll save that for a future discussion.  The only additional and important matter to remember right now is his alliance, however shaky at the time, with Mercia. In 868, when his brother in law Bergred asked Wessex for help against the Heathen Army, Alfred married a member of the Mercian Royal family. This move would back up the alliance already  put in place with his sister’s marriage to Bergred. While his sister’s marriage produced no offspring which would further firm the alliance and put a Wessex descendant on the throne of Mercia, Alfred’s marriage would prove fruitful and enable him to gain sufficient control of Mercia. When Alfred took over his rule and managed to regain enough power to take back Mercia, he took control of Mercia by marrying his daughter Aethelflaid to an Ealdorman of Mercia who was one of his supporters in the English part of Mercia.

Alfred’s battles against the Danes would continue for most of his life. He died in 899 and the Danes did not give up on the thought to conquer Wessex completely until around 896. At the end of this year and early in 895 (or 896), the Danes drew their ships up the River Thames and River Lea and fortified themselves twenty miles (32 km) north of London. A direct attack on the Danish lines failed but, later in the year, Alfred saw a means of obstructing the river so as to prevent the egress of the Danish ships. The Danes realised that they were outmanoeuvred. They struck off north-westwards and wintered at Cwatbridge near Bridgnorth. The next year, 896 (or 897), they gave up the struggle. Some retired to Northumbria, some to East Anglia. Those who had no connections in England withdrew back to the continent.

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Alfred, against all odds managed to basically be the last man or heir standing in line for the rule of Wessex. Fortunately for Wessex and the rest of England, he was by no means as weak or frail as everyone supposed him to be. He was a highly intelligent, well educated man who was keenly adept at the strategies of warfare. While he was devoutly religious, he was open minded and not so rigidly set in past “acceptable” doctrines or rules. This mindset enabled him to often think outside the box and do what ever he deemed necessary to find solutions to the situation with the Heathen Armies. From 879 on, Alfred carried out a dramatic reorganisation of the government and defences of Wessex, building warships, organising the army into two shifts which served alternately and establishing a system of fortified burhs across the kingdom. This system is recorded in a 10th-century document known as the Burghal Hidage, which details the location and garrisoning requirements of thirty-three forts, whose positioning ensured that no one in Wessex was more than a long day’s ride from a place of safety. In the 890s these reforms helped him to repulse the invasion of another huge Danish army – which was aided by the Danes settled in England – with minimal losses.

Alfred also reformed the administration of justice, issued a new law code and championed a revival of scholarship and education. He gathered scholars from around England and elsewhere in Europe to his court, and with their help translated a range of Latin texts into English, doing much of the work in person, and orchestrated the composition of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. As a result of these literary efforts and the political dominance of Wessex, the West Saxon dialect of this period became the standard written form of Old English for the rest of the Anglo-Saxon period and beyond.

The Danish conquests had destroyed the kingdoms of Northumbria and East Anglia and divided Mercia in half, with the Danes settling in the north-east while the south-west was left to the English king Ceolwulf, allegedly a Danish puppet. When Ceolwulf’s rule came to an end he was succeeded as ruler of “English Mercia” not by another king but by a mere ealdorman named Aethelred, who acknowledged Alfred’s overlordship and married his daughter Aethelfaid. The process by which this transformation of the status of Mercia took place is unknown, but it left Alfred as the only remaining English king.

 

To see more of Alfred’s battle for Wessex, you should plan to watch BBCA’s upcoming series, The Last Kingdom based on those novels of the Viking era by Bernard Cornwell! I would also suggest that you read the books! You knew I would get this plug in eventually- It starts on October 10 and I will be here with my thoughts on all of it!