Tag Archive | Uhtred of Bebbanburg

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Kingdom episode 4: The Peace is over

At the end of episode 3, Leofrich and Uhtred watched the Danes leave and Leofrich had some serious words for Uhtred about his future… “This year, what you’re giving to Alfred, it’s not about a mail coat and helmet. It’s about you. The Bastard thinks, didn’t I say that? He wants more than a year’s service, he wants you. He wants you to help take back England, all of  England. Of course when the year is up, you could go back to the Danes… but what would you be, who would you be?”

You could go back to the Danes but who would you be

 

This question will haunt Uhtred throughout his life, it will tear at him as he tries to figure out the answer and it will ever be what causes him to fight both the physical battles and those battles within himself. As the land settles into some temporary peace before the storm Uhtred will find no peace within himself for a very long time. He has sold himself to Alfred for the vague rewards that Alfred promises and it eats at him continually. The anger, frustration, resentment and guilt are always there just beneath the surface for Uhtred. Of course, those underlying feelings are much of what makes him the warrior that he is and will ever be, but they also cloud his judgement and his reasoning.

Episode 4 deals with the peace being over in more ways than one. It is not so much about peace being over in the land with the Danes, but more about peace of mind, peaces of heart being torn and doubts creeping into cracks. It is about those underlying conflicts coming to surface as the larger storm of war approaches. It is about those differences of thought and opinion that can tear a land apart before it even begins to do battle with an enemy. Uhtred is now a part of Alfred’s army, but there is much resentment from some among Alfred’s inner circle about this decision.  Uhtred holds title of Ealdorman of Northumbria, but that is far to north and in Dane control.  His title is in name only and holds little value to those in the south. Uhtred needs land holding in the south to be considered of importance by the Ealdormen there. Alfred also needs to bind Uhtred to him by some deeper hold… so he “rewards” Uhtred with marriage and a landholding…  Uhtred accepts the bride and the land, sight unseen because he needs the land and it’s wealth in order to accomplish his one goal of reclaiming Bebbanburg someday in the future, and his goal to one day rejoin Ragnar and avenge their family’s deaths. He claims to Leofrich that his bride’s appearance is of no consequence, makes little difference because this is a marriage for title, land and wealth nothing more…

The wife chosen for Uhtred is God daughter of Odda the Elder and in the very beginning of episode, we see Odda the younger’s resentment of Uhtred and of this proposed marriage. We also see, by the way, a very clear view of Uhtred and some of his finer assets…

moon 01

I readily admit here that I enjoyed and appreciated the view even though it could be considered in some sense as gratuitous and pandering to the female viewers. There was a conversation between Uhtred and Odda that made attempt to connect our view and make it relevant… that conversation also served to irritate Odda even more so I will accept that this was the supposed purpose of our view! Uhtred’s response to Odda’s disparaging remarks were, “Have you been watching me, Odda the boy? Should I be marrying you?” Odda is disgusted and offers to pay Uhtred to not go through with the marriage. Uhtred’s final response to this nonsense is to ask Odda if his Father knows or approves of this offer… Odda the younger rides off in more disgust.

I will also admit here that I have never read of any sort of custom that requires a young woman of some noble standing to go to her marriage in such complete masking or coverage as Uhtred’s bride arrived.  One might assume that she was contagious or possibly an obsessed beekeeper. That is my rather minor complaint with this portion of the episode. I would have thought that heavy cloak and hood would suffice in keeping her under wraps… I think they went a bit overboard in this aspect!

mildrith in mask

None the less, we did discover that rather than being a carrier of some dread disease, the young Mildrith was instead a true prize… or as Alfred would mention, a consolation prize for Uhtred.

uhtred and mildrith meet mildrith

Uhtred is quite happy with his bride and wonders why she has not been already given to someone else… Mildrith is rather evasive about this and chooses to direct the conversation elsewhere. Uhtred is so happy that he fails to question what she might be avoiding.  He takes his bride and his new best friend, Leofrich and heads off to his new home, never once questioning why he has received such a prize…

Along their way, they find Guthrum’s warriors scouting deep within the boundaries of Wessex.  Meanwhile back in Wessex, Alfred and Odda the Elder are discussing Mildrith’s plight and Uhtred’s test. “He will not like being beholden to God and King, but if he is to become a true Ealdorman he must accept his burden. That is the test… Mildrith is his beautiful consolation.”

Uhtred does quickly discover that Alfred has set him up by marrying Mildrith to him and now he will owe the church a 2000 shilling debt that increases yearly.  Needless to say, Uhtred is not amused with the news! Damn Alfred, Damn his church, Damn everything he stands for! His added response to Mildrith… By all means, Call me Earsling for not seeing this sooner!  Ummm probably not the best way to start a marriage. This is one situation that I really can not quite settle with in regards to Alfred’s many actions to maintain control of Uhtred. Many of his other retributions and controls, I could always come to some understanding on but this one was one of the most underhanded and manipulative of his deeds. It set Uhtred up so that in some essence or way, he might never be free or clear of this overhanging debt. And, the debt is not to Alfred, but to the church- which Alfred knows Uhtred has no regard for. The church feels the same way about Uhtred and would love to see him fail on this debt- not only so as to be free of him, but to gain the land involved. I think too, this is one instance where Odda the Elder does not agree with Alfred’s actions concerning using Mildrith and her property in this plot to tie Uhtred even more tightly to him in both loyalty and debt. This action does not teach Uhtred any lesson really, other than to trust Alfred even less. It’s certainly not one which would encourage or inspire undying loyalty.

 

Uhtred arrives at his new landholding to discover that is not quite what he was expecting either. No large hall, not much of anything but a worn and ragged rather rundown farmstead with an overseer who seems too well fed and dressed to be altogether honest no matter what trusting and naïve Mildrith might think. His best bud Leofrich abandons him and reminds him that it’s his wedding night, then he finds out that not only has he been robbed, but his wife Mildrith has been as well- of half of her bride price. To top it all off, the ale is not even worth drinking… so much for this Wedding night! He does however, manage to contain his anger- which is a rather huge accomplishment for him.   He wakes up the next morning in a somewhat better frame of mind sets about making amends to Mildrith because as he tells her, none of this was her fault and she has a good heart.  Mildrith does have a good heart, she is pleasant natured (for now) and she’s good to look upon as well. God is Good, an admit from Uhtred himself! Well, perhaps there is some hope for this relationship after all… then again perhaps not? 

mildreth gif 02

They have a lovely honeymoon period with some peace and seem to be living happily ever after on the farm… there is even the prospect of a new addition to the family. God is Good, Life is Good… until the sisters of fate intervene!

 

uhtred and leofrich2 uhtred and mildrith make peace with each other

The Peace is over and the Danes are marching through Wessex… By the time word reaches Alfred, it will be too late!

ragnar and brida brida

 

The peace is over within Alfred’s sanctuary, his home, his church and his inner circle as well. Arguments and accusations begin as Wessex attempts to prepare for the Heathen invasion and a battle at Wareham. Odda the Elder is made aware of his son’s dubious honor and Eilswith shows her more vindictive, spiteful nature…along with her ability to reproduce.  Her less than Christian behavior includes welcoming Mildrith to pray with her and then wishing Uhtred a quick death upon the battlefield. Mildrith is still happy, optimistic and in love with her husband so she cares not what Eilswith thinks, she prays God will protect him even if he is a heathen!

Ealswith and mildrith ealswith is showing her spiteful side mildrith2

 

The conflicts between Alfred and Uhtred come to the surface as they debate the Hand of God and whether God is speaking to the Danes as well.  Alfred considers it God’s doing that Ivar has died across the sea in Ireland and Ubba will abandon this fight to go avenge his brother.  Uhtred confronts Alfred on the debt owed to the church and Alfred responds that Sacrifice and Penance are what separate us from the Heathens… I have my broth to suffer, you have your debt.  Alfred later admits to Father Beocca, “He can not be tamed” Father Beocca’s answer is that he can be trusted and Alfred assures Beocca that he will not abandon Uhtred because he may still be of some use.

Guthrum and his Danes, including Ragnar take Wareham and the Saxon army prepares for battle. Guthrum however, knows and understands that Alfred can easily win this siege by waiting them out. Guthrum spends time within the quietness of the Christian Church contemplating his situation and is confronted by Ragnar who wants to fight, “I did not march my men all the way across this country to sit here and starve!” Guthrum points out that Ubba has abandoned them and put all their lives at risk so now is not the time for war…. until Ubba returns, we must make peace. Doubts are setting in on the Dane side as well, doubts about each other and doubts about personal beliefs.  Guthrum feels them but manages to keep them at bay for the time being, mainly because when he calls out to the Christian God and asks for a sign, he gets nothing- “So, if you are there God of Rome, Strike me down… ahhh I thought naught!” It is becoming apparent though that Guthrum is having some thoughts about this God again and his peace of mind is shaken.

Guthrum God of rome strike me down

Alfred and Guthrum meet on the field at Wareham but both realize the futility of battle right now… neither side would truly win such a battle attempt and the result would be a weakening of their forces. There is negotiation over Guthrum leaving, and when… it is in Guthrum’s best interest to remain as long as possible in hopes that Ubba will return while it is in Alfred’s best interest to be rid of them as quickly as possible. They’re at a stalemate but come to some agreement that results in more loss of that inner personal peace of mind for a few people. Alfred has a plan to create more doubt in Guthrum’s mind. He has heard rumors of Guthrum’s questions about the Christian God so he decides to send a Priest to sway Guthrum and work towards converting him- a challenge that obviously plays havoc with Father Selbix’s peace of mind! Alfred also uses Uhtred once again and once more puts him in the middle of the Danes, and his family. Alfred’s decision to use Uhtred as a hostage casts yet another shadow on Uhtred’s heart and tears again at his loyalties.

hostages

Father Selbix must try to make peace with Guthrum and show him the way to the Christian God…

father selbix selbix and guthrum selbix to guthrum you are a miracle

While we might assume that Father Selbix failed in his mission, did he really? Yes, he met his death much as he expected he might at the hands of Guthrum and the Danes, but he met it quickly and mercifully as Guthrum sent him on his way to meet his God. There was no lengthy dragged out torture here. In fact, the torture seemed to be more on Guthrum’s face and possibly in his mind or heart as he did what he felt he needed to do in the killing of the hostages that included Father Selbix.

Guthrum gives Selbix a merciful quick death and meeting with his God

Uhtred and Ragnar battled their own inner wars as they faced each other again and had to work through guilt, feelings of betrayal and the heart ache of being a family divided by this coming war. Brida’s thoughts were and always will be more black and white, cut and dried on the issues. You are either a Dane and with them, or you are not, in her mind it will ever come down to that feeling. Ragnar is filled with frustration and rage at Uhtred’s oath and loyalty to Alfred but he does understand Uhtred’s need now to return to his family, his wife and the son that he has been given news of. In Ragnar’s mind and heart, they will ever be brothers, family- and that will come before anything else.  Uhtred admitted to Ragnar that he must try to escape if Ubba returned and although Ragnar is outraged at Uhtred’s disloyalty to the Danes, in his heart he knows that Uhtred is now doing what he feels he must to protect his own family. Ragnar and Uhtred will always have that certain deeper bond that even Brida does not have with Uhtred.

Uhtred waits out the hostage situation.

Uhtred waits out the hostage situation.

Ragnar is outraged

Ragnar is outraged

In the end, Ragnar can not stand by and allow Uhtred to be killed. He stands against Guthrum to protect Uhtred. Guthrum makes some attempt to reason with Ragnar but then once more he shows some compassion, some mercy… some charity.

ragnar will defend his brother at any cost

guthrum once agains shows mercy and charity he releases Uhtred without a horse

The Peace is over.  War will tear hearts and loved ones apart but compassion, mercy and family will forever be a tie that binds people together.

go and see your child

uhtred the peace is over

Some additional history about people events during this time:

odda with mildrith

In the Last Kingdoms books and on the show, we see Odda the Elder and Odda the younger… Odda the Elder is a historical figure connected to Alfred and to the Great Heathen Wars. We will see more of both of them in episode 5 along with the events at the Battle of Cynwit.

Odda, also known as Oddune,  was a ninth-century ealdorman of Devon. He is known for his victory at the Battle of Cynwit in 878, where his West Saxon forces defeated a Viking army led by Ubba, brother of the Viking chiefs Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson.  Throughout the 870s Odda’s liege, Alfred the Great, King of Wessex, was engaged in constant war with the Vikings. They had begun their invasion of England in 865, and by Alfred’s accession in 871 the Kingdom of Wessex was the only Anglo-Saxon realm opposing them.  By 878 the conflict was going poorly for Alfred. In January of that year, the Danes made a sudden attack on Chippenham, a royal stronghold in which Alfred had been staying over Christmas, “and most of the people they killed, except the King Alfred, and he with a little band made his way by wood and swamp, and after Easter he made a fort at Athelney in the marshes of Somerset, and from that fort kept fighting against the foe”.

Guthrum and his men were holding Wareham…

Archaeological evidence exists of a small Roman settlement, though the current town was founded by the Saxons.  The Roman name is unknown, but the town is referred to as Werham in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle entry of 784, from Old English wer (meaning ‘fish trap, a weir’) and hām (‘homestead’) or hamm (‘enclosure hemmed in by water’).

  Wareham

waiting at Wareham

waiting at Wareham

The town’s oldest features are the town walls, ancient earth ramparts surrounding the town, likely built by Alfred the Great in the 9th century to defend the town from the Danes as part of his system of burh towns. The Danes had invaded Wareham in 876, only leaving after the payment of a ransom. In 998 they attacked again, and in 1015 an invasion led by King Canute left the town in ruins.  The town was a Saxon royal burial place, notably that of King Beorhtric (800 CE). Also in the town at the ancient minster church of Lady St. Mary is the coffin said to be that of Edward the Martyr, dating from 978. His remains had been hastily buried there and were later taken from Wareham to Shaftesbury Abbey in north Dorset (and now lie in Brookwood Cemetery, Surrey).

ragnar tells Guthrum my men they will not follow you

In 876 under their new leader, Guthrum, the Danes slipped past the Saxon army and attacked and occupied Wareham in Dorset. Alfred blockaded them but was unable to take Wareham by assault.  Accordingly, he negotiated a peace which involved an exchange of hostages and oaths, which the Danes swore on a “holy ring” associated with the worship of Thor The Danes, however, broke their word and, after killing all the hostages, slipped away under cover of night to Exeter in Devon.

Alfred blockaded the Viking ships in Devon, and with a relief fleet having been scattered by a storm, the Danes were forced to submit. The Danes withdrew to Mercia.

800px-England_Great_Army_map_svg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Kingdom episode 3

One King dies, another King rises… Armies march and Uhtred must choose

 In episode 3, we spent much of the time in Wessex seeing the fallout from the unseen battle that resulted in the death of one King and rise of another, Alfred. Althelred is mortally wounded in the battle and dies shortly afterwards.  Alfred is filled with doubts about his own abilities but is certain of one thing… he can surely hold the Kingdom together better than the incapable and drunken young man who insists that he is the true heir to the crown. Besides dealing with Athelred’s death, his impending kingship and the surly drunken Athelwold, he must also determine what to do with Uhtred and the rather surly outspoken Brida.

TLK_103_7 TLK_103_47

a drunken Athelwold

a drunken Athelwold

TLK_103_1

Uhtred and Brida await news of the battle’s outcome from a jail cell. Father Beocca brings them good news but Brida does not see it that way. In her mind, the best news would be of a loss and Alfred’s death.  Beocca assures Uhtred that they will be released soon, but Brida can not hold her frustration and anger in screaming, “We are Danes!”  probably not the wisest comment considering their current circumstances… 

brida can not and will not hold her tongue Brida thinks good news would be Alfred is dead Brida makes it clear we are Danes

Once they are finally released, Uhtred impatiently insists on a meeting with Alfred to discuss the battle win and his reward… Alfred calmly explains that he has a few other things on his mind right now like the death of his brother and his own impending kingship. Alfred is a little pre-occupied right now to have to deal with Uhtred. That will have to come later.

 

Episode 3 dealt with the fallout from the battle that took Athelred’s life and left Alfred and his nephew, Athelwold at some odds over who should rule the Kingdom. There is never really any question about that debate, other than what might be in Athelwold’s rather foggy and often inebriated mind. Athelwold does have one half hearted supporter, however and that young man’s actions should not be discounted or blown off… he will show his deviousness and untrustworthiness in the future. That young man is Odda the Younger and he is not quite so fuddled or incompetent as Athewold.  I only mention him here and now because in the beginning of episode we see a conversation between him and Athelwold that gives a huge clue as to how Odda the Younger’s mind works… when he encourages Athelwold in his ploy and suggests how  Athelwold should claim his Father’s backing of him no matter what Alfred or the Witan might say differently.

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Some people have made comments and voiced some concerns about the lack of battle scenes thus far. Episodes 3 and 4 do not include major battles, blood or gore. These two episodes deal more with setting up the future plot lines and twists that will become important in the future. They serve to give us a better look and understanding of the characters and of the underlying conspiracies that will run through the story. I think this is just as important to the story as attempting to include some major battle scene in every episode. First of all, the show is running on an extremely tight time and money budget for this first season- those massive battle scenes are expensive and time consuming to pull off in a believable, authentic manner or representation. I personally would prefer that rather than include battle, blood and gore in every episode just for effect, they save the battle scenes and provide them in a way that will truly be epic, standout and memorable to viewers. Yes, they could have shown the battle that killed Athelred in episode 3 but then they would have had to eliminate some of the other just as important but not so in your face violent scenes and segments. The results of the battle are important for everyone concerned there.  That aftermath needed to be addressed in the way it was because it sets up the future for all of them, Saxons and Danes alike.

Thanks in part to Uhtred’s advice, the Saxons did win the battle. Uhtred assumed that Alfred would be so grateful for that help that he would just automatically reward him and not question his reasons or motives at all. Alfred was not so gullible as to believe anything or anyone at face value… well, other than his priests. What you should be realizing even this early in the story is that Uhtred is not necessarily the stereotypical hero type. Uhtred messes up, a lot. He may be the main and central character that the story revolves around, he may be the “good guy” warrior of the battle but that does not mean that he always wins or that he conquers all. Right now, Uhtred has many lessons to learn in life. He will learn most of those lessons the hard way- as in “if at first you fail, then try again”  The person who ends up teaching Uhtred many of those difficult life lessons is Alfred the King. 

Are you offering your sword or selling your sword

On the subject of Alfred the King, we need to understand something very important about his role in the story and in general, I think. Alfred does express his own failings, his own doubts on being a successful King but he does not express these feelings to the public. Alfred is very clear about his goal, his dream for a united England. He also understands his role as leader of his people and knows full well that the worst thing he could do in his situation is show any sign of weakness or vulnerability to his subjects or to the Danes. It’s obvious to anyone who sees him that he is not a strong warrior who can go out and conquer battles/enemies physically. That leaves him with one other option… he must win with mind games, with words and out thinking his opponents. Alfred knows that his kingdom is in a precarious situation and that he will have to make difficult decisions which many of his subjects will not approve of or agree on.  As King, it is Alfred’s responsibility to lead his people and win this war that is beginning around them.  Alfred will inevitably often do things which may not endear him to everyone… he definitely is not the most likeable or jovial, fun loving kind of King. His court is certainly not one high on the A-list of parties or events. It will never be that kind of place even when there is peace in the land! Whether you like him or not is not really his ultimate concern or worry. He has far more important matters to be concerned with than whether he is well liked by all. Of course, he would like to be known as a fair and just ruler to his subjects but he needs his subjects, all of them- and that includes stubborn Uhtred- to trust him, to know that he is strong in mind and convictions, that he can not be taken advantage of or manipulated by factions who would seek to use him for their own benefits. Ohhh and yes of course, he does want to be liked by that one temptation of the flesh that he keeps near to him because of Father Beocca’s suggestion.   One might assume that Alfred’s likeability issues are due to the religious influences engrained in him and while that does play a huge part in his actions, I think it comes down more to the fact that he needs to win a war and make those often unpopular decisions that come along with any crisis. I think even without the religious influence, Alfred would have still been a serious minded individual who needed to be seen as a strong and firm leader.  Alfred’s idea of a good time is more along the lines of a philosophical discussion, a rousing taefl game of strategy or an evening of riddling… and then possibly a game of temptation involving earlier mentioned temptation of the flesh.

taefl game board

The term tafl  is the original name of the game. However, Hnefatafl became the preferred term for the game in Scandinavia by the end of the Viking Age, to distinguish it from other board games, such as Skáktafl (chess), Kvatrutafl (Tables) and Halatafl (Fox games), as these became known. The specific name Hnefatafl possibly arose as meaning “board game of the fist”, from hnefi (“fist”) + tafl, where “fist” referred to the central king-piece. The precise etymology is disputed, but hnefi certainly referred to the king-piece, and several sources refer to Hnefatafl as “King’s table”. In Anglo-Saxon England, the term tæfl also referred to many board games. It is not known if the Anglo-Saxons had a specific name for the game or if they generically referred to it as “tæfl” in the way that modern people might refer to “cards”.  Having spent time in Francia, Alfred may also have had some experience with early games of chess.

Riddling

One of the most popular games was riddling. A warrior was not considered to be up to much unless his word skill was as good as his weapon skills. Riddling was a good way of demonstrating this skill and many of the riddles of the time are full of double meanings which suggest two answers, one innocent, the other more ‘raunchy’. These riddles could be anything from a one to a hundred lines long and sought to describe everyday objects in an unusual way. Part of the skill of riddling was to be able to construct the riddle using the correct ‘poetic’ conventions. Obviously, as well as the correct construction, it was important to make sure that the description given was not too obscure. Here are some actual Saxon riddles. Alfred of course would have preferred the more innocent and correct poetic contexts and conventions!

  1. I’m by nature solitary,
    scarred by spear
    and wounded by sword, weary of battle.
    I frequently see the face of war, and fight
    hateful enemies; yet I hold no hope
    of help being brought to me in the battle,
    before I’m eventually done to death.
    In the stronghold of the city sharp-edged swords,
    skillfully forged in the flame by smiths
    bite deeply into me. I can but await
    a more fearsome encounter; it is not for me
    to discover in the city any of those doctors
    who heal grievous wounds with roots and herbs.
    The scars from sword wounds gape wider and wider
    death blows are dealt me by day and by night.
  2. I’m told a certain object grows
    in the corner, rises and expands, throws up
    a crust. A proud wife carried off
    that boneless wonder, the daughter of a king
    covered that swollen thing with a cloth.
  3. Wob’s my name if you work it out;
    I’m a fair creature fashioned for battle
    When I bend and shoot my deadly shaft
    from my stomach, I desire only to send
    that poison as far away as possible.
    When my lord, who devised this torment for me,
    releases my limbs, I become longer
    and, bent upon slaughter, spit out
    that deadly poison I swallowed before.
    No man’s parted easily from the object
    I describe; if he’s struck by what flies
    from my stomach, he pays for its poison
    with his strength – speedy atonement for his life
    I’ll serve no master when unstrung, only when
    I’m cunningly nocked. Now guess my name.
  4. On the way a miracle: water become bone.
  5. Favoured by men, I am found far and wide,
    taken from woods and the heights of the town,
    From high and from low. during each day
    bees brought me through the bright sky
    skillfully home to a shelter. Soon after that
    I was taken by men and bathed in a tub.
    Now I blind them and chasten them, and cast
    a young man at once to the ground,
    and sometimes an old one too.
    He who struggles against my strength,
    he who dares grapple with me, discovers immediately
    that he will hit the hard floor with his back
    if he persists with such stupidity.
    Deprived of his strength and strangely loquacious,
    he’s a fool, who rules neither his mind
    nor his hands nor his feet.
    Now ask me, my friends,
    who knocks young men stupid,
    and as his slave binds them
    in broad waking daylight?
    Yes ask me my name.
  6. On earth there’s a warrior of curious origin.
    He’s created, gleaming, by two dumb creatures
    for the benefit of men. Foe bears him against foe
    to inflict harm. Women often fetter him,
    strong as he is. If maidens and men
    care for him with due consideration
    and feed him frequently, he’ll faithfully obey them
    and serve them well. Men succour him for the warmth
    he offers in return; but this warrior will savage
    anyone who permits him to become too proud.
  7. The dank earth, wondrously cold,
    first delivered me from her womb.
    I know in my mind I wasn’t made
    from wool, skillfully fashioned with skeins.
    Neither warp nor weft wind about me,
    no thread thrums for me in the thrashing loom,
    nor does a shuttle rattle for me,
    nor does the weaver’s rod bang and beat me.
    Silkworms didn’t spin with their strange craft for me,
    those strange creatures that embroider cloth of gold.
    Yet men will affirm all over this earth
    that I am an excellent garment.
    O wise man, weigh your words
    well, and say what this object is.
  8. A woman, young and lovely, often locked me
    in a chest; she took me out at times,
    lifted me with fair hands and gave me
    to her loyal lord, fulfilling his desire.
    Then he stuck his head well inside me,
    pushed it upwards into the smallest part.
    It was my fate, adorned as I was, to be filled
    with something rough if that person who possessed me
    was virile enough. Now guess what I mean.
  9. A strange thing hangs by man’s hip,
    hidden by a garment. It has a hole
    in its head. It is stiff and strong
    and its firm bearing reaps a reward.
    When the retainer hitches his clothing
    high above his knee, he wants the head
    of that hanging thing to find the old hole
    that it, outstretched, has often filled before.
  10. I saw a creature: his stomach stuck out behind him,
    enormously swollen. A stalwart servant
    waited upon him. What filled his stomach
    had travelled from afar, and flew through his eye.
    He does not always die in giving life
    to others, but new strength revives
    in the pit of his stomach: he breathes again.
    He fathers a son; he’s his own father also.

ANSWERS:

  • Shield
  • Dough/Bread
  • Bow
  • Ice
  • Mead
  • Fire
  • Mail shirt
  • Helmet
  • Key
  • Bellows

Temptation of the flesh…

TLK_103_21

 

So, we can rather safely assume that the majority of Alfred’s warriors would prefer to find their own entertainment and amusements elsewhere,  anywhere else but in Alfred or his wife Eilswith’s company for any evening. Let’s face it, as for Eilswith, even Alfred may have preferred to be anywhere else but in her company.  But, Alfred was a dutiful husband and really, he was not one to be outwardly cruel to his lawfully wedded wife who was devoted and loyal to him. He needs her on his side and in his bed at least occasionally… he does need heirs after all!  Even though Eilswith is about appealing as a mud fence and if possible, even more pious than Alfred, and has a sharp vicious tongue, she can do one thing well as it should become apparent… she can produce fine healthy babies! Historically, Eilswith’s alliance is of importance because she is from a Noble line of Mercia and the long range goal of Wessex rulers is to keep Mercia under their control. Her ability to provide heirs is also of importance. If you are familiar with the history of Alfred’s family- as in his siblings- he was one of six children and out of those six children, the only ones to produce any heirs were him and his brother Athelred. This is part of the reason there was little argument over who would rule. There was no one else left to lay claim to the crown but Alfred and two young nephews, who historically were assumed too young to rule. In episode 3, we begin to see just how unsuitable nephew Athelwold is for any leadership role let alone King. We also begin to see though that he is not going to go away quietly or give up on his claim, especially when he is encouraged by ones such as Odda the younger.  At times his speaking without thinking comes very close to treason. Leofrich bluntly reminds him of that. Uhtred is of the ongoing opinion that Alfred should have had him killed immediately and been done with any possibility of rebellion or attempt for the crown by Athelwold. Alfred reasons that, “If I killed him then it would make it appear as though he did have some legitimate claim.”    Ironically, of course, there are probably a number of Alfred’s supporters who have the same continuing thoughts about Uhtred. He is a vile, hated and untrustworthy Pagan that Alfred should have just killed and been done with him.

TLK_103_1 odda the older and Odda the elder from farfarawayTLK_103_20

 

So, as you can see, no matter how distasteful the thought of Eilswith is, Alfred must make attempt to keep her belly full of babies and her Mercian supporters on his side.

ailswyth Aelswith Father forgive me... go away I might not get another chance at this for a while I am your loving loyal wife

As I mentioned, episode 3 provides us with a better understanding of what is going on within the Kingdom of Wessex, from Alfred’s doubts and temptations, his inner circle of supporters and possible traitors, to his personal relationships, all of which will play their part in the decisions he makes in the future. This is a vulnerable and fragile kingdom verging on chaos and that is exactly what the Danes are hoping for and expecting in their plans for dealing with Alfred. Alfred must use what ever advantages he can come up with and that includes Uhtred, even though Alfred doesn’t trust him any further than he could throw him… which is obviously not very far.  Alfred needs Uhtred but he needs Uhtred loyal to him and he knows that Uhtred is loyal to no one but himself right now. Alfred must find a way, any way to keep Uhtred under control and he needs to do something else important… He needs to show Uhtred that he is the one in control, not Uhtred. This is extremely important in the context of Alfred’s overall rule because if Uhtred is able to best him, to outwit and out maneuver him then he will have lost control of not just Uhtred but others as well who are most likely watching the situation closely. In some ways, this battle of wills between Alfred and Uhtred is a battle that Alfred can not afford to lose. He has to prove himself to his warriors, his subjects, the Witan that put him on the throne, and most importantly, the Danes who are at the doorstep of his Kingdom waiting for him to fail.

The Witenaġemot (“meeting of wise men”), also known as the Witan (more properly the title of its members) was a political institution in Anglo-Saxon England which operated from before the 7th century until the 11th century. The witenagemots did not represent the political will of all England: before the unification of England in the 10th century, separate witenagemots were convened by the Kings of Essex, Kent, Mercia, Northumbria, Sussex and Wessex. The Witenagemot was an assembly of the ruling class whose primary function was to advise the king and whose membership was composed of the most important noblemen in England, both ecclesiastic and secular. The institution is thought to represent an aristocratic development of the ancient Germanic general assemblies, or folkmoots. In England, by the 7th century, these ancient folkmoots had developed into convocations of the land’s most powerful and important people, including ealdormen, thegns, and senior clergy, to discuss matters of both national and local importance.  The influence of the king, or at least of kingship, on the constitution of the assembly seems to have been immense. But on the other hand he (the king) was elected by the witan .. He could not depose the prelates or ealdormen, who held their office for life, nor indeed the hereditary thanes. .. At any rate, the king had to get on with the highest statesmen appointed by his predecessor, though possibly disliked by him, until death made a post vacant that he could fill with a relation or a favourite, not, however, without having a certain regard to the wishes of the aristocracy. In addition to having a role in the ‘election’ of English Kings, it is often held that the witenagemots had the power to depose an unpopular king. However, there are only two occasions when this probably happened, in 757 and 774 with the depositions of kings Sigeberht of Wessex and Alhred of Northumbria.

Uhtred is young, cocky, and rebellious. In Alfred’s thoughts he is like an unruly, untamed hound who must be kept on a very tight leash and taught to obey his master… or at least listen and recognize that he has a master otherwise he will be the most dangerous of all animals, a lone wolf. I don’t believe it is ever Alfred’s intent to completely tame Uhtred or break him… what good would that prove. I believe that Alfred knows the power and force that Uhtred will become and he wants to make sure that power is on his side, not the side of the Danes. He needs to teach Uhtred a lesson or two, or three or more as the case will be but I do not believe it is now or ever will be his intent to completely destroy Uhtred. What he needs to do is use any means possible maintain some semblance of control over this volatile weapon he has in Uhtred. Uhtred needs to learn that he does not have that upper hand with Alfred.  Alfred knows exactly how Uhtred thinks right now and calls him on it with his comment on Uhtred’s service to him. He asks Uhtred, “Are your offering me your sword, or are you selling me your sword?”

Are you offering your sword or selling your sword

In Uhtred’s mind right now, what matter should it make to Alfred as long as Alfred gets his service and he gets rewarded… He needs to recognize the difference and fully understand that difference between the loyalty of offering one’s sword and the selling and or trading of one’s sword to the highest bidder.  Uhtred does begin to understand this as we see him grow up emotionally in episode 3.

Uhtred and Brida both begin to grow more into their adult beliefs during episode 3 and as a result, they also begin to grow apart. Uhtred is learning to find a place, a purpose or at least a comfort level with the Saxons- well some of them anyway. He finds friendship and acceptance among the warriors that Alfred sets him to training in the fighting ways of the Danes. Uhtred, in his friendship with Leofric, quickly learns that liking Alfred is not a requirement of his service because many of the fighting men feel the same way about Alfred as he does.  Brida, on the other hand is learning that she will never fit in with these Saxon women, nor does she want to. They both attempt to hold on to their relationship but it seems as though they both have some realization that they are changing in some very fundamental ways. While Uhtred learns to adapt and more fully understand what Alfred’s vision of the future means to him and to his chances of reclaiming his birthright, Brida becomes more determined and set against the Saxons.  The turning point in their paths comes with Brida’s vision seeking and the loss of their child. With that loss, it seems as though they very quickly and harshly must grow up and accept their individual paths. 

Uhtred finds a friend, Leofrich

Uhtred finds a friend, Leofrich

TLK_103_18

Brida knows one thing, she does not want to be a Saxon woman

Brida knows one thing, she does not want to be a Saxon woman

TLK_103_23 TLK_103_43

Ragnar the younger has arrived to help the Danes in their fight and it is at their meeting with him that we see Uhtred’s better understanding and belief in the loyalty and honor of offering one’s oath or sword. We see the difference between Uhtred’s and Brida’s beliefs come to light as Brida tells him to break his word to Alfred, it means nothing. When Uhtred explains though to Ragnar that he gave his word, his oath, Ragnar understands and accepts it. Brida will join Ragnar and return to the Danes where her vision showed her she would go without Uhtred. Uhtred will remain with the Saxons for the time being because he has learned that oaths are honor. It will be his belief throughout his life, good or bad, he will feel honor bound by oaths he will make.

ragnar and brida

While Wessex was dealing with the fallout from that battle, so were the Danes as well. We saw argument and discord among them as their two leaders began to have differences of opinion.  Ubba questioned Guthrum on his action of going into battle without him and he questioned Guthrum’s ability to lead or win battles.

TLK_103_29 TLK_103_28

They headed towards a negotiation with Alfred that they assumed would be easy to win. They assumed Alfred to be weak, spineless and willing to turn over his Kingdom to them. Alfred stood his ground and maintained control of the negotiations. He offered peace with the Danes and explained the importance of the written word that would be a part of history. Those written words would show that Alfred acted in good faith, that Alfred offered peace. Alfred would offer gold, silver and grain but not land, and not the head of Uhtred- which Ubba wanted. Alfred then began to play his mind games with Ubba telling him, “If you wish to occupy Wessex then go ahead, do it. How many Fortresses have you taken to date?”  This infuriated Ubba and he lost control of his emotions while Guthrum for the most part remained more restrained and calm during the meeting. If you pay close attention, you will see Guthrum thinking about what Alfred is saying rather than reacting violently to the words. Alfred ends the meeting reminding them that what will be written and remembered was that Alfred offered terms, Alfred offered payments and Alfred sought peace above all else.

TLK_103_33 uhtred and alfred

TLK_103_30 TLK_103_32

The meeting ends and the Danes leave but everyone knows full well that this but a temporary and extremely fragile peace. Brida has chosen her path with Ragnar and the Danes. Uhtred will follow his own destiny or path that is with the Saxons for now because of his oath of service to Alfred, and also now too because Alfred has saved his life… When the Danes demanded Uhtred’s head as part of the agreement, Alfred refused. He could have easily turned Uhtred over to the Danes at that point, but Uhtred is far more valuable to Alfred alive than he is as a dead trade of peace. It was after that meeting that Alfred made it clear that he never had intent or thought of trading Uhtred’s life. It was also then that he made the offer to Uhtred of one year of service to him. “One year of service, oath and loyalty to me… And, in return you shall have your own reward Uhtred of Bebbanburg”

uhtred via farfar away

Uhtred believes Alfred, puts his trust in him and his vision for the future, and gives him that oath. One year does not seem such a long time. In the beginning, Uhtred was as optimistic as the rest of Wessex that they could fight the Danes and win… In reality, a year can be a very long time and fate will change all. This is merely a lull before the storm that would be known as the Great Heathen invasion and would last for generations beyond Alfred’s reign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BBC Last Kingdom: So far, So Excellent!

Hopefully by now, many people have already seen the first few episodes of BBC’s The Last Kingdom series. If you have not seen it yet, please go find it and watch!  I did an initial review after the first episode premiered a few weeks ago and promised to give added thoughts after more people had a chance to view it. We are now up to episode 3 here in the states so I am going to give my thoughts on it up through that episode. Please be advised and warned that I will be including spoilers in this review! There is also some comparison and reference to the book series by Bernard Cornwell.

First of all before we go any further, I want to address the continuing comparisons to Game of Thrones. This is not GOT, this is not fantasy and should not be compared as such. This show is historical fiction/drama but by no means should it be considered and some sort of fantasy genre. Nor is it all about graphic sex for ratings. This is a dirty, grim, and often harsh look at history and life during the time of Alfred’s reign and the Great Heathen armies conquest of England. I have read some reviews in which the viewers complained that it felt dated and low budget as compared to some other shows. I completely disagree in that regard. As I mentioned, what it is, is a more realistic presentation showing the conditions that many- most people lived in during that time.

Are there some historical inaccuracies, of course there are- nothing is perfect and I don’t expect 100% historical authenticity or accuracy… if I did, I would refrain from television or fiction at all and read only text books about the events- and even then, I would never get exact because even text books make mistakes. I am far more interested in the story that is being told here and that story is keeping me interested and waiting for each new episode. If you have read the books, yes there are deviations and changes so I suppose that if you are book purist, this may cause you some frustration, annoyance or irritation. I appreciate the changes that have been made to make this story work in the compacted visual version that the creators are limited to. As far as I can see, the story is still falling into place and following a similar path as the books did, just getting there in a slightly different manner.

In my previous initial review, I did go over the highlights of episode 1. I am not going to repeat that here, you can read my previous review here:

https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2015/10/12/uhtred-of-bebbanburg-has-arrived/

 

For those who have read the books, the first episode followed closely along the lines of the book. It included many of the important events and highlights of the book. Please keep in mind that this initial season is only 8 episodes and is trying to compact the events of two books into these 8 episodes. I do say initial season because from what I have read, if this season is successful, there are already plans for additional seasons! Obviously there is no way they can include every event that each reader might deem important in the filming of the show. While I do wish that we could have seen more of Uhtred’s early years with Ragnar and his family, I understand completely why they chose to present it the way they did. As an introduction to Uhtred’s adult life, the initial episode worked the way it was supposed to. It gave us that introduction to him, his life and the events that would shape his future. We saw the child Uhtred, heir to Bebbenburg, watch the Danes arrive. We watched with Uhtred, the battle between the Danes and the Northumbrians that destroyed Northumbria as a Saxon Kingdom and killed Uhtred’s Father. We were provided with the details of Uhtred’s Uncle’s treachery and deception to take Bebbenburg from Uhtred. Then we also saw Uhtred’s capture by the Danes along with his remaining childhood spent living with them, becoming for the most part a Dane himself.  That first episode provided us with the conspiracies and treasons between the Danes. It included the treachery of a family against Uhtred and his Danish family that will last long into the future. Events such as the actions of young Sven against Thyra, Ragnar’s retaliation, then the later hall burning and kidnapping of Thyra by Kjartin and Sven as well as their blaming of Uhtred for the event; those events are by far the most important parts of the initial story that will continue to haunt Uhtred and shape his path throughout the future.

With episode 2, book readers will see a change in the storyline and of course some may be critical of these changes. I have to say that I am not one of those critical people. I was highly impressed with the episode and the additional history/background it provided. In episode 2, Uhtred and Brida fled Northumbria and headed for the supposedly safer kingdom of Wessex and the one person whom Uhtred thought might be able to help achieve his goal of reclaiming his birthright of Bebbenburg. Uhtred’s one goal in life right now is claiming his rightful title and his lands from his traitorous Uncle.  Uhtred is young, brash and rash in his actions and thoughts, but he does clearly understand one thing… even were the Danes not against him at the moment because of their belief that he turned on his Danish family, they would not allow him to be the clear owner and ruler of Bebbenburg. The Danes might eventually help him to gain it, but it would forever be for their own purpose. They made that quite clear with their installation of Echbert, “King of Nothing”. They might allow someone to rule or hold a title, but they would be the ones in control of that person. Uhtred pins his hopes on the leaders of Wessex being willing or able to help him.

Ecghbert the ridiculous puppet king for Danish masters

In episode 2, we see Uhtred and Brida coming into their own beliefs and ideas as young adults on their perilous adventure to what they hope is some safety. We see them enjoying life but we also see both of them beginning to question the world around them and take steps towards the beliefs that will shape all of their future life decisions. Uhtred insists that their safety lies with Wessex for the time being but Brida is not so sure. The one thing they are sure about is that they are not safe with the Danes until they can find some way of proving their innocence in the murder of Ragnar and their family. They have lost everything except the wealth of Ragnar’s hoard and Uhtred is realistic when he tells Brida that they have no other option but Wessex for the time being… whether Brida likes it or not, they can no longer be Dane- they must be Saxons.

brida we are no longer danes

brida we are no longer danes

During their journey to Wessex, Uhtred purchases what will become his lifelong companion, possibly more important to him than anything else even Bebbenburg. Uhtred’s sword, Serpent Breath is born and is hungry for blood. Uhtred quickly begins to feed his sword’s thirst for blood as he and Brida are besieged and attacked Danes and Saxons both who are hunting for him.

I've given her some beauty but she is a tool first

I’ve given her some beauty but she is a tool first

Introducing Uhtred's best friend Serpent Breath

Introducing Uhtred’s best friend Serpent Breath

 

What Uhtred discovers in Wessex is that Alfred, brother to King Athelred, already knows well of Uhtred and the events of Northumbria. As Alfred later tells Uhtred, “I have ears and eyes everywhere in every Kingdom.”  Uhtred also discovers his childhood tutor and protector, Father Beocca is in Wessex as Alfred’s close advisor and priest. Father Beocca will forever be Uhtred’s friend, advisor, and in many ways, a Father figure for Uhtred whether he wants to adimit it or not. Beocca will eventually often become Uhtred’s inner voice of conscience and reason much as he is for Alfred. We see the beginning of this long relationship between the three men as Beocca introduces Uhtred to Alfred, makes attempts to defend Uhtred and makes no bones about reprimanding Uhtred for his misguided thinking. Beocca possibly knows Uhtred better than Uhtred knows himself and he stands firm in his belief in Uhtred despite Alfred’s doubts, misgivings and rightful mistrust of this adult man who as he puts it, is no longer a child but a man- a man who is selfish “soul-less” and without principle or solid belief. In many ways, Alfred’s current initial assumptions about Uhtred are correct whether we want to admit this of our hero or not.

Aethered and Alfred in last kingdom

I have eyes and ears everywhere in every part of Engleland

I have eyes and ears everywhere in every part of Engleland

Beocca saves Uhtred's ass

Beocca saves Uhtred’s ass

Beocca vouches for Uhtred and leads him to Alfred instead of the king.

Beocca vouches for Uhtred and leads him to Alfred instead of the king.

I look at you I see a Dane Uhtred of nowhere who cares about nothing but himself

I look at you I see a Dane Uhtred of nowhere who cares about nothing but himself

Father Beocca:I know this boy I know his soul Alfreds reply: Father Beocca he has no soul

Father Beocca:I know this boy I know his soul Alfreds reply: Father Beocca he has no soul

 

Uhtred is young, stubborn and strong willed. His thoughts are basic and primary during this time. He is guided by his lust for life, his need for revenge and his desire for what he believes is his rightful title and land. Uhtred must often be reminded of the bigger picture, of the realities and common sense reasonings by Brida, Beocca and by Alfred.  We do see the beginnings of that inner character, that inner man that he will become- the one that Beocca sees.

It is our destiny to hump

finding a way to pass the time

finding a way to pass the time

Brida to Uhtred: I am thinking you have a turd for a brain

Brida to Uhtred: I am thinking you have a turd for a brain

Brida's sound advice Uhtred you need to forget about Bebbanburg

Brida’s sound advice Uhtred you need to forget about Bebbanburg

Father Beocca believes you are an advantage but I believe you are here soley for yourself

Father Beocca believes you are an advantage but I believe you are here soley for yourself

Only by saving Wessex can we have a Northumbria or even a Bebbanburg

Only by saving Wessex can we have a Northumbria or even a Bebbanburg. Alfreds explanation begins to sink in to Uhtred

I mentioned earlier that the show takes a slightly different historical path than the books beginning in episode 2. While it takes a slightly different path, it works well toward taking us to the same events and ideas of the books.

Uhtred's first sight of Roman building skills

Uhtred’s first sight of Roman building skills

One of the most interesting smaller details that people should pay close attention to is Uhtred’s initial reaction to the buildings of Alfred’s domain. It is in this short scene that we see a glimpse of what will be Uhtred’s life long fascination, appreciation and love of building- and all things of that ancient Roman past that is deteriorating around them. This is actually very important because it sets up Uhtred’s view that the world is falling into the darkness and chaos of the Dane belief in Ragnarok.  Throughout Uhtred’s life he will look at the Roman wonders and ruins around him, see the loss of that greatness and compare it to the desolation and chaos of his time. He will see it as that comparison to Ragnarok, the end of time. This deep seated belief in the Old Gods, in the coming of Ragnarok, and in fate or destiny will remain with Uhtred throughout his life even as he makes the decisions to fight for the Saxons, the Christian Nailed God.

Ragnarök  was the doom of the gods and men, and heralded the destruction of the Nine Worlds. Nothing will escape the coming destruction, whether you live in heaven and on earth. The war will be wage between the goods and the evils. The goods were the Aesir, led by Odin, ruler of the gods. The evils, were the giants and monsters, led by Loki.  Yet the strangest things about Ragnarök was that the gods already knew what was going to happen through the prophecy: who will be killed and by whom, who would survive, what happen to those in the other world and so forth. Despite, knowing their fates, the gods will still defiantly face their destiny, as brave as any hero in a saga. The Norse gods knew what was to come, and knew they could not do anything to prevent prophecy coming to pass.

 

Episode 2 introduces us to the leaders and followers of Wessex, to their personal conflicts and to their flaws. We see Athelred as a King trying to hold on to his kingdom and we see the problem he faces with a son that he deems as unqualified and unfit to inherit the rule of Wessex in this most dire time. In history, Athelred did have two sons who should have been next in line to rule but a decision was made to place his adult brother Alfred on the throne instead. It is generally assumed that the decision was made because the boys were too young to rule and as an adult already proven in battle, Alfred would be the better choice to rule in such difficult times. We are introduced to Althelred’s son who does not show much capability to rule… Athelred’s doubts about him are apparent when he makes the comment, “I can not believe he is my son… if his Mother were not dead already, I would have her killed for adultery”

a drunken Athelwold

a drunken Athelwold

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

I ask that you become a man and quickly

I ask that you become a man and quickly

 

 

We see that Alfred has doubts about his own ability to rule because of his personal failures and sins. Alfred is tempted by sins of the flesh and Father Beocca advises him that this temptation is a sign, a test from God and he must put temptation in his midst so that he can ever be reminded of it and resist it… as a result, his temptation of the flesh is made a part of his household servants and we will eventually see that Alfred does not fare well in resisting it. Alfred’s foretelling and prophetic comment regarding his brother and kingship is, “Pray God that my brother does not die soon, for what kind of King would I be, sinner that I am!” 

temptation of the flesh

We also see Aflred’s other weakness, his very real physical weakness- the ailment and illness that will follow him throughout his life.

Join us for breakfast, I dare you!

Join us for breakfast, I dare you!

it is broth not gruel you should be thanking god for it's goodness!

it is broth not gruel you should be thanking god for it’s goodness!

But, aside from his temptations and his physical weakness, we are introduced to Alfred’s mind, his thought process and his unwavering belief in an idea of One united Kingdom of England. Alfred is intelligent, well studied in strategies of war, cunning and ruthless if he needs to be in order to survive this onslaught from the Danes. Uhtred is advised again and again not to underestimate Alfred. Brida wisely tells Uhtred not to trust him and Beocca warns him against thinking he can outsmart or outthink Alfred. Uhtred is stubborn and refuses to listen to either of them…

 

What we also see in episode 2 is the Dane side of events. We are given a better feeling and understanding of Ubba and of Guthrum, the two major leaders of the Dane army at this time. The massacre of King Edmund of East Anglia was presented in a gruesome segment that tells the story of that massacre and gives some insight to the mindset and thoughts of Guthrum and of Ubba. It is also the defining moment where Uhtred and Brida realize how impossible is for them to try to prove their innocence to the Danes. Ubba is the leader of the Danes and his mind is set against them, to him they are traitors of the worst sort. 

 

Ubba's sorcerer, Storri

Ubba’s sorcerer, Storri

It is during this segment though that we see Ubba’s one weakness.. his complete and unquestioning devotion and belief in his sorcerer, Storrie. Ubba will base all of his decisions on what his sorcerer tells him. If you watch the segment closely, you will also see the beginnings of some inner questions or doubts in Guthrum’s mind. It seems that Guthrum is merely amusing himself and others with his questions to Edmund about religion and this so called true God, but could be looked at as some foretelling of a  distant future in which Guthrum did indeed accept Christianity, at least on the surface. What it does foretell is a different mindset and thinking between these two leaders- one which will become more apparent as you see their differences take shape in episode 3.

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

guthrum: tell me about this god are you not afraid

guthrum: tell me about this god are you not afraid

guthrum: I've heard mention of this heaven

guthrum: I’ve heard mention of this heaven

Guthrum I would say your God has left you hanging

In history, Edmund of East Anglia was was king of East Anglia from about 855 until his death in 869.  In 869, the Great Heathen Army advanced on East Anglia and killed Edmund. He may have been slain by the Danes in battle, but by tradition he met his death at an unidentified place known as Haegelisdun, after he refused the Danes’ demand that he renounce Christ: the Danes beat him, shot him with arrows and then beheaded him, on the orders of Ivar the Boneless and his brother Ubba. According to one legend, his head was then thrown into the forest, but was found safe by searchers after following the cries of a wolf that was calling, “Hic, Hic, Hic” – “Here, Here, Here”. Commentators have noted how Edmund’s death bears resemblance to the fate suffered by St Sebastian, St Denis and St Mary of Egypt.

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

Edmund is still alive to face his fate

Edmund is still alive to face his fate

Edmund I've changed my mind I will make no demands

Edmund I’ve changed my mind I will make no demands

Let us try let us see if this god is all powerful if he will save you

Let us try let us see if this god is all powerful if he will save you

 

Uhtred’s and Brida’s escape from Ubba and Gutrum is managed only by their taking of Ubba’s sorcerer, Storri as hostage. Ubba is so fearful of losing his sorcerer that he allows Uhtred to leave but with a last warning that, “One day I will kill you”. 

Now let us see if Our Odin will protect you from the arrows

While on the surface, Brida’s treatment of Storri the sorcerer is humorous and shows her own warrior side, it also shows her deeper future path as a seer in her own right. It gives us an insight to her own personal beliefs that are in some ways, far stronger than Uhtred’s. This side of Brida had not really been addressed until this event where she mentions that he cursed her and she was simply stopping the curse. She does not mention what the curse was so she is beginning to keep her own counsel, her own secrets from Uhtred- which will also come into importance in episode 3.

Storri has learned the hard way do not mess with brida

Storri has learned the hard way do not mess with brida

There's a branch up his ass... which is why he's naked

There’s a branch up his ass… which is why he’s naked

He cursed me it was necessary to block the curse

He cursed me it was necessary to block the curse

 

It is towards the end of episode 2 that we see how serious Alfred is about his convictions and about his mistrust or doubts of Uhtred. We also see Uhtred begin to understand the warnings of both Brida and Father Beocca. Uhtred mistakenly believes that he can easily gain Alfred’s trust by going against all of those warnings, by going behind Alfred’s back to gain his own information on the Danes. He assumes that Alfred and the others will accept him, his words and predictions and that he will be rewarded for his actions. Alfred is not swayed by this action which he very realistically points out to Uhtred could very easily be just another trap by the Danes. How do they know for certain that Uhtred is not working for the Danes and that this is a ploy to send them all to defeat and death? Alfred is determined to keep Uhtred and Brida contained until the outcome of this battle is certain. If the Saxons are being set up and will meet their demise at this battle, then so shall Uhtred meet his own end as will Brida. Alfred is nobody’s fool and Uhtred would be wise to keep this in mind should he survive!

The Pagans need to feel the power of God

The Pagans need to feel the power of God

Uhtred goes behind Alfred back to spy on the Danes and finds his own evidence

Uhtred goes behind Alfred back to spy on the Danes and finds his own evidence

Alfred doesn't trust Uhtred2 if the Saxons lose this battle so does Uhtred2

Alfred chose to teach Pagan Uhtred a lesson in humility and show him that he is not in charge or in control of dealings with Alfred. Alfred then headed into the battle with his own plan but probably the ideas and thoughts of Uhtred as well.

Alfred thinking on his own plan and possibly remembering uhtred's advice

Alfred thinking on his own plan and possibly remembering uhtred’s advice

The battle that Alfred and his brother were headed to was one at a place that Alfred referred to as Asec’s hill… this corresponds to ‘Æscesdūn’ or Ashdown which is generally thought to be an ancient name for the whole of the Berkshire Downs. It is not known exactly where the two armies met, though it was around a lone thorn tree. Thorn Down at Compton, near East Ilsley — meaning Place of Conflict — is therefore a popular contender. Modern investigation suggests a site on the Ridgeway between Aldworth and the Astons.

In late 870, King Ethelred led the army of Wessex against the Danes in their stronghold at Reading. The attack failed, and the Anglo-Saxons were forced to retreat while the Danes pursued. The Danish armies caught up with the Anglo-Saxons on the field of Ashdown, located somewhere near the border of Oxfordshire and Berkshire (the precise location is unknown). It was January 8, 871. The weather was cold and damp, and the Berkshire Downs were soaked and boggy. King Ethelred divided his army in two, positioning the halves on either side of a ridgeway. Ethelred commanded one side, Alfred the other. As the Danes approached, they also split their army.

Alfred watched as the Danes drew nearer, waiting for the order to charge. However, his brother Ethelred had decided that he must pray before the battle and refused to advance until his prayer service was complete. Seeing that the Danish movement would cost him the advantage of high ground, Alfred decided to attack without help from his brother. The Anglo-Saxons’ charged on the Danes on their side of the ridgeway. Although nothing specific is known about the fighting, it is likely that both sides employed shieldwalls from which to push and batter against each other. Eventually the Danes broke and fled across the downs.

Only later did Ethelred launch his own troops into the attack. After more heavy fighting, his side was also victorious.

The West Saxons had a slight advantage in numbers (around 800 to 1,000 men), but the Danes held the high ground. The battle, little more than a great clash of shield walls, resulted in a victory for Alfred. The battle, however, was not decisive. This was a pyrrhic victory, for a great many lives were lost on each side and the Danes were subsequently able to win several battles after receiving reinforcements. Nevertheless, the hard fighting may have made the Danes more cautious in their raids into Wessex, preferring easier targets.

Historically, Athelred would actually die sometime later after the battle of Marton.  The Battle of Marton or Meretum took place on 22 March 871 at a place recorded as Marton, perhaps in Wiltshire or Dorset, after Æthelred of Wessex, forced (along with his brother Alfred) into flight following their costly victory against an army of Danish invaders at the Battle of Ashdown, had retreated to Basing (in Hampshire), where he was again defeated by the forces of Ivar the Boneless.

It was the last of eight battles known to be fought by Æthelred against the Danes that year, and the defeated King is reported to have died on 15 April 871. Whether he died in battle, or as a result of wounds suffered in battle is unclear. The site of the battle is unknown. Suggestions include the borders of the London Borough of Merton, Merton in Oxfordshire, Marden in Wiltshire or Martin in Dorset. The more westerly locations tend to be favoured because King Ethelred was buried in Wimborne Minster in Dorset shortly afterwards.

 

There are just a few last relationships to the book that I want to bring up right now. The first is Leofic because the character is introduced in episode 2 and will play an important part in Uhtred’s life in the future.  In episode 2, we meet Leofric who, though he is introduced in a different way than the book format, still will become a friend to Uhtred. In episode 2, we see him as one of the warriors/guards of Wessex and he does not hold Uhtred in much high regard. We will see the friendship develop more in episode 3.

meeting of Leofric and Uhtred

meeting of Leofric and Uhtred

Leofric still wants a piece of Uhtred

We also meet Odda the elder and his son, Odda the younger, who both will be important to events in future episodes. Odda the elder is  a well trusted and honorable landholder in Wessex, much as in the books.

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

I do not think he is mine if his mother were dead already I might have her killed for adultery

Odda the younger… not so much, just as in the books as well! Their interactions and relationships with Uhtred will most likely play out in a similar fashion as the books. You should pay attention to them because I believe they will both important in the storyline being mapped and planned as the show continues.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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/

 

 

 

 

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!