The Saxon Stories
The Last Kingdom, first in the series
|Published||2004 - Present|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
The Saxon Tales 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 is conquered. The name of the protagonist comes from the historical Uhtred of Bebbanburg; Cornwell is descended from this long ago family.
The historical story centers on the emergence of England as a nation on the island of Britain from the vision and actions of Alfred, later historically 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.
Idea for the series of novels
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. The historical setting is the big story; writing historical fiction needs a little story so the history can be the background. When he was about fifty, Cornwell met his birth father, named 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.
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.
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.
Bibliography of the Saxon Tales
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, 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.
The following novels have been published, with the UK publication date listed.
- The Last Kingdom (2004)
- The Pale Horseman (2005)
- The Lords of the North (2006)
- Sword Song (2007)
- The Burning Land (2009)
- Death of Kings (2011)
- The Pagan Lord (2013)
- The Empty Throne (2014) 
- Warriors of the Storm (forthcoming 8 Oct 2015)
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. 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.
- Author's note to The Last Kingdom.
- Hannah Lafferty (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.
- "Uhtred in Your Questions". 3 October 2014. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
- "The Empty Throne". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 9 June 2014.
- "The Pagan Lord (2013)". Fantastic Fiction. Retrieved 17 September 2015.
- Una Maguire (9 July 2014). "BBC Two announces new drama series, The Last Kingdom". Retrieved 24 July 2014.