The Saxon Stories

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The Saxon Stories
Cover to the UK first edition
The Last Kingdom, first in the series
Author Bernard Cornwell
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical novel
Publisher HarperCollins
Published 2004 - Present
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

The Saxon Stories (also known as "Saxon Tales"/"Saxon Chronicles" in the USA and "The Warrior Chronicles" and since the BBC TV adaptation as "The Last Kingdom Series" in the UK) is a continuing historical novel series written by Bernard Cornwell about 9th and 10th century Britain. The protagonist of the series is Uhtred of Bebbanburg, born to a Saxon lord in Northumbria, but captured and adopted by the Danes. The story takes place during the Danish invasions of Britain, when all but one of the English kingdoms are conquered. The name of the protagonist comes from the historical Uhtred the Bold; Cornwell is descended from this long ago family.[1][2]

The story centers on the emergence of England as a nation on the island of Britain from the vision and actions of Alfred, later dubbed "the Great". King Alfred of Wessex reluctantly accepts that he cannot drive the invaders from the island, after his defeat at Wilton, and is forced to make peace with them. His heirs consolidate what Alfred begins.

The first two novels in the series were adapted for television in 2015 as The Last Kingdom.

Idea for the series of novels[edit]

In an interview with Emerson College, Cornwell said: "Years ago, when I was at university, I discovered Anglo-Saxon poetry and became hooked on that strange and often melancholy world. For some reason the history of the Anglo-Saxons isn’t much taught in Britain (where I grew up) and it struck me as weird that the English really had no idea where their country came from. Americans know, they even have a starting date, but the English just seemed to assume that England had always been there, so the idea of writing a series about the creation of England was in my head for a long time."[2] The historical setting is the big story; writing historical fiction needs a little story so the history can be the background. When he was in his fifties, Cornwell met his birth father, named William Outhred (or Oughtred), and learned the story of his own descent from the Saxons who owned Bebbanburg (now called Bamburgh Castle). Thus was born Uhtred, the protagonist of the fictional tales.[2]

In the interview, he revealed that there is a plan to adapt the series for television, in answer to a question of how many more books are planned for the series. "I wish I knew! I don’t know how the chapter I’m writing now will end, let alone the book, and the series? No idea! I suspect there will be a few more; I just heard that BBC Television have commissioned a series that will follow Uhtred’s escapades. The company that makes Downton Abbey will make the programs, which is wonderful, and I’ll need to keep them supplied with stories (I hope). So? Six more? Eight more? I just don’t know."[2]

When the television adaptation of the first two novels aired in fall of 2015, Cornwell reiterated how the idea took shape in his mind when he met his birth father in Canada. Cornwell's paternal ancestors were traced to the time of Alfred; the family holding Bebbanburg was betrayed in the 11th century and fled to Yorkshire.[3]


The series is frequently compared to The Warlord Chronicles, not only because of similarities between the two protagonists (both were orphaned), but also in the similarities between the foreign menace in the form of the Danes in The Saxon Stories and the Saxons in The Warlord Chronicles. Alfred also resembles Arthur in his mission as the only man to save his kingdom (England for Alfred, Southern Celtic Britain for Arthur) from an unstoppable threat.

The main character, Uhtred of Bebbanburg (the old Saxon name of Bamburgh Castle), is an old man telling tales of events that took place decades earlier, starting from his childhood and going on, his story intertwining with the story of the British Isles in the end of the ninth century. He intersperses the narrative with often-acerbic comments regarding the events and characters he describes. It is notable that the Saxon-born Uhtred, baptized Christian three times, has a very critical view of the Christian religion throughout the entire series. Though he took an oath to serve Alfred, he keeps his sympathy to the Danes, their way of life and their gods. This offers the reader a balanced picture of the conflict of the times, when it was in no way a certainty that there would be an England or Angle-land instead of a "Daneland" as the southern and central parts of the island of Britain.

Name of the series of novels[edit]

This series of novels is known by several names. "Saxon Stories" and "Saxon Tales" were the first titles in the US and the UK editions for the first five novels, and those titles continue in use for later novels . Starting with The Death of Kings, the UK editions bear the series title, "The Warrior Chronicles". The series is also known as "The Saxon Chronicles" on US editions. In fall of 2015, a series of television programs based on the first two novels and using the title of the first novel – The Last Kingdom – has led book sellers to link the novels to the television series by referring to them as the "The Last Kingdom" novels

Bibliography of the Saxon Tales[edit]

Bernard Cornwell mentioned in the historical notes at the end of The Lords of the North (third in this series) that he intended to continue writing The Saxon Stories, and he has. On his website,[4] Cornwell states "I need to finish Uhtred", the main character in the "Saxon Stories". The eighth, The Empty Throne was published in the UK in October 2014.[5] Warriors of the Storm was published one year later, ninth in the series.[6]

The following novels have been published, with the UK publication date listed.

Television adaptation[edit]

In July 2014, the BBC announced that production would begin in autumn 2014 on a television adaptation of the Saxon Stories, to be titled The Last Kingdom. Stephen Butchard is the writer. A series of eight 60-minute episodes was produced.[8] BBC Two, Carnival Films and BBC America are involved in the production. The series is expected to premiere on BBC America on 10 October 2015 and on BBC Two in the UK on 22 October 2015.[3]


  1. ^ Author's note to The Last Kingdom.
  2. ^ a b c d Lafferty, Hannah (31 January 2014). "Bernard Cornwell Talks The Pagan Lord, The Challenges of Historical Fiction, And Future Plans". Emertainment Monthly. Boston: Emerson College. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  3. ^ a b Brown, Maggie (17 October 2015). "Bernard Cornwell: BBC made The Last Kingdom due to its 'interesting echoes of today'". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 October 2015. 
  4. ^ "Uhtred in Your Questions". 3 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014. 
  5. ^ a b "The Empty Throne". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 9 June 2014. 
  6. ^ a b "Warriors of the Storm". Fantastic Fiction. October 2015. ISBN 0-00-750407-1. Retrieved 9 October 2015. 
  7. ^ "The Pagan Lord (2013)". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 17 September 2015. 
  8. ^ Maguire, Una (9 July 2014). "BBC Two announces new drama series, The Last Kingdom". Retrieved 24 July 2014. 

See also[edit]