Uhtred of Bebbanburg

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Uhtred of Bebbanburg
The Saxon Stories
The Last Kingdom
character
First appearance
  • Novel:

The Last Kingdom (2004)

Created byBernard Cornwell
Portrayed byAlexander Dreymon
Tom Taylor (Young)
Information
AliasOsbert (birth name)
Uhtred Ragnarson
NicknameUhtredærwe ("Uhtred the Wicked")
Priest-Killer
Uhtred the Godless
TitleLord
Spouse
  • Mildrith
  • Gisela
  • Eadith
Significant otherÆthelflæd (Novels)
ChildrenUhtred (deceased)
Oswald (formerly Uhtred)
Stiorra (deceased)
Uhtred (formerly Osbert)
Relatives
  • Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Father)
  • Ælfric (Uncle)
  • Uhtred (Half-Brother)
  • Ragnar Ravnson (Foster Father)
  • Ragnar Ragnarson (Foster Brother)
  • Rorik Ragnarson (Foster Brother)
  • Thyra Ragnarson (Foster Sister)
  • Guthred (Brother-in-law)

Novels:

  • Æthelred (Cousin)
  • Uhtred Ælfricson (Cousin)
  • Sigtryggr Ivarson (Son-in-law)
  • Gisela Sigtryggdottir (Granddaughter)
  • Uhtred (Grandson)
  • Ælswyth (Daughter-in-law)
ReligionOld Norse religion

Uhtred of Bebbanburg, also known as Osbert, Uhtred son of Uhtred and Uhtred Ragnarson, is the main character of the best selling Saxon Stories novel series by Bernard Cornwell and the BBC / Netflix television adaptation, The Last Kingdom. Uhtred is in part based upon the historical Uhtred the Bold from the 11th century. However, the timeline of the fictional Uhtred fits better with Uhtred, an Ealdorman of Derbyshire who flourished in the 10th century, believed to have come from Northumbria.

Story[edit]

Uhtred was born in 856 to Ealdorman Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg and a Mercian noblesman. Uhtred, originally called Osbert, is the younger of Ealdorman Uhtred's sons. The name Uhtred is given by tradition to the oldest son, so after his older brother is killed in a failed attack, Osbert's name is 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. However, this did not stop Uhtred from wishing to go to battle.

Wishing to reclaim Eoferwic, which was captured in 866 when the Danish army began to arrive in Northumbria, the Ealdorman of Bebbanburg joined forces with King Osbert and King Ælla to fight against the Danes and reclaim Eoferwic. After the failed battle his son Uhtred is captured by the Danes following a furious but feeble attack on a Danish warlord after seeing his father stabbed through the throat in battle. After seeing his bravery, the Danish warlord - Ragnar the Fearless - decides to take Uhtred as a slave rather than to kill him. Ragnar begins to grow fond of Uhtred, and decides to purchase him when the other Danish earls tried to ransom him back to the new Ealdorman of Northumbria, Uhtred's uncle. Uhtred finds living with the Danes much freer than with the pious Christians and their dour priests at Bebbanburg and embraces the Danish gods of Thor, Odin, and Hoder. Despite their history, Uhtred comes to love Ragnar as a father and becomes a brother to Ragnar's children, Ragnar the Younger, Rorik, and Thyra.

Uhtred lives a happy life in the village of Leeds with his new family for years. However, Ragnar had become enemies with a man named Kjartan due to an incident between Uhtred and Kjartan's son Sven when he was a boy. Uhtred had attacked Sven to protect Thyra when Sven tried to assault her sexually. When Thyra told Ragnar what happened afterwards, Ragnar banished Kjartan and blinded Sven in one eye as punishment. However, years later, as revenge, Kjartan led a warband attacking the village while Ragnar and his family slept and setting their hall on fire, killing everyone in it but Thyra. Meanwhile, Uhtred and his childhood friend Brida were guarding the blacksmith's fire - therefore avoiding death. Kjartan initially believed Uhtred to have also died in the fire. He later ended up being found out when he went to find his uncle, the Ealdorman of Bebbanburg, as he suspected his involvement in the attack on the village. After doing this, a false rumor was spread that Uhtred started an uprising and killed his adoptive father, and due to his Saxon heritage and bloodline it was believed by all of the Danish lords.

After this, Uhtred tried to convince the king of the Danes that the rumors were not true, but did not succeed. Realizing that he has been effectively cast out by the Danes, Uhtred left Northumbria with his mate to ally with the Christian Saxons in Wessex. Uhtred fled to Wessex because Wessex was the only kingdom left that he knew of that was not Danish controlled. Additionally, his old tutor, a priest at Bebbanburg, told him to go there years earlier if he ever needed help or a place to go.

Upon arriving in Wessex, Uhtred found his old tutor, who vouched for him when wishing to see the king of Wessex, Alfred the Great. Uhtred was knowledgeable of Danish customs and tactics, and as a result he proved to be an effective advisor to the king. However, there was constant tension between him and the king due to his disobedience, nonconformity with the social norms of Wessex, his non-adherence to Christianity, and the fact that he was reluctant to swear his allegiance to Alfred, as his ultimate goal was to reclaim the throne of Bebbanburg, which was stolen by his uncle. Nevertheless, his advice resulted in a victory for Wessex, and in return Alfred offered Uhtred land on the condition he marry a Christian woman from Wessex, and give his allegiance to the king for a period of 1 year as an Ealdorman.

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.

Women[edit]

Uhtred is associated with many different women, several of whom have a significant impact on his life. Uhtred has a fondness for defiant women who have "a spirit like an eagle", a characteristic he has attributed to many a woman. Conversely he dislikes women who crave order and Christianity (Æthelflaed and Hild being notable exceptions). Uhtred does not limit himself to those women with whom he has a long-standing relationship. In "The Burning Land", he was found lying with a slave girl in Dunholm by Father Pyrlig, one of many instances of his philandering.

Brida[edit]

Brida was Uhtred's friend, first lover, and later enemy. Like Uhtred, she is Saxon in origin, and is adopted as a child by the Danes after they see the ruins of her village, wiped out by a raiding party from a rival band of Vikings, and experience Brida's feisty nature. Also like Uhtred, she comes to love the Danes for their free-spirited nature. She and Uhtred become playmates and close friends, and later lovers when they reach adolescence. Brida becomes pregnant by Uhtred at least once, but she miscarries. Along with Uhtred, she learns the art of making charcoal for forging steel, and so survives along with Uhtred when Ragnar and the others are killed in the night-time attack by Kjartan The Cruel. Brida despises the strait-laced, pious Christian Saxons of Alfred's court even more than Uhtred does. When they both have the opportunity to join Ragnar the Younger, Uhtred decides to return to Alfred to complete his oath-sworn service, and she stays with the Danes, later becoming lovers with Ragnar the Younger.

As of The Burning Land, Brida hates Uhtred for abandoning the fight against Wessex with Ragnar; and in Warriors of the Storm, this hatred becomes mutual after Brida castrates Uhtred's disowned son, Father Oswald (formerly named Uhtred). Uhtred, enraged and eager to kill her, shows no sympathy at her painful death at the hands of Stiorra.

Mildrith[edit]

Mildrith is Uhtred's first wife, who first appears in The Last Kingdom. They were married as part of an arrangement whereby Uhtred gained command of the tiny Wessex fleet. The two do not really love each other, as a result of their vastly different outlooks on life and religion. As part of her dowry Mildrith brought with her a homestead in Oxton which bore an enormous debt because her father had pledged a substantial portion of his estate to the church which he had repeatedly been unable to pay. They had a son, named Uhtred after his father, but the child died young after choking on a pebble. The elder Uhtred believes the death is supernaturally connected to the survival of Alfred's son Edward, who was healed by Iseult at the same time that the younger Uhtred choked. After young Uhtred's death, through grief Mildrith retreats further into her religious devotion, eventually joining a convent.

Iseult[edit]

Iseult is an Irish shadow queen of Cornwall who appears in The Pale Horseman. Iseult was married to a minor king named Peredur who kept her virginity in the belief that it maintained her powers of prophecy. Seeing that Uhtred's arrival would result in her freedom, she convinced Peredur to hire on Uhtred and his ship's crew when they appeared off the coast in order to fight the Danish warlord Svein of the White Horse, who had captured a nearby fort. Svein and Uhtred ended up colluding to turn on Peredur and pillage his settlement, and Uhtred claimed Iseult and began living with her although he was still married to Mildrith. Although Iseult healed Alfred's son Edward from an illness that nearly killed him and created herbal medicines for Alfred that made him healthier, she was feared and distrusted by the Wessex court because of her paganism. Alfred used her as a "surety" to ensure that Uhtred would not betray him and go to the Danes. She was later baptized, which helped alleviate some of the resentment against her. She prophesied that Uhtred would father three children, two sons and a daughter but refused to go into any detail when pressed. She was killed during the Battle of Ethandun when Svein led Danes attacked the Wessex caravan from behind prompting Uhtred to slay Svein.

Hild[edit]

Hild (Hildegyth) is a nun who had been raped and prostituted after being captured by the Danes when they took Cippenaham (Chippenham) before being rescued by Uhtred, Steapa and Alfred in The Pale Horseman. She becomes Uhtred's companion and accompanies him back to Northumbria in Lords of the North. During this time Uhtred's attraction to Gisela was a factor that made her consider rejoining the church. When Uhtred discovered that he had been sold into slavery by Guthred as a condition of his alliance with his uncle Ælfric, he bequeathed his possessions to Hild. Hild then returned to Wessex where she recovers Uhtred's hoard of wealth which he had buried before journeying to Northumbria. She uses the hoard, and the promise that she would return to the church and found a nunnery dedicated to helping the poor and sick of Wessex, to convince Alfred to mount an attempt to rescue Uhtred. After Uhtred was liberated and returned to Wessex, he retrieved his armor and weapons from Hild, now the Abbess Hildegyth, who also gave him a small silver cross which he then had worked into the hilt of his sword Serpent-Breath. According to Uhtred, Hild was later revered as a saint.

Gisela[edit]

Uhtred met the Danish Gisela, sister of King Guthred of Cumbraland. When Uhtred was betrayed by Guthred as part of Guthred's alliance with Ælfric, Gisela was devastated. She determinedly waited for Uhtred to return and eventually the two are reunited. She often relies on Viking runes to tell her of the future (she shares her predictions with Uhtred). She has sworn not to leave Uhtred's side. They have three children as of 'Sword Song' (Uhtred, Stiorra and Osbert). In 'The Burning Land' she and their fourth child both die, much to Uhtred's grief. Uhtred was loving and fiercely loyal to Gisela, and wept bitterly at her death, though only in front of Finan. In the book Burning Lands Uhtred accidentally killed a blind monk, Brother Godwin, out of anger, by breaking his neck with a single blow, for him calling Gisela a witch (among other things) in Alfred's court after she had died.

Æthelflaed[edit]

After Gisela's death in The Burning Land, Uhtred reneges on his oath to Alfred of Wessex. When Jarl Haesten prepares to attack Mercia, and Æthelred tries to get a divorce from Æthelflaed by having one of his lords sleep with her (therefore making her an adulterer), Æthelflaed calls on the oath that Uhtred made to her before the attack on Lundene in Sword Song. Father Pyrlig persuades Uhtred that he cannot break this oath because it was made in love. Uhtred, with some 40 of his men, returns to Æthelflaed's side and rescues her from the Lord Aldhem. It is soon revealed that the ailing Alfred of Wessex had advised Æthelflaed to use Uhtred's oath. Uhtred had maintained a friendly relationship with Æthelflaed since she was a child. However, during The Burning Land, they fall into a forbidden love. Uhtred sees Æthelflaed as the woman of Iseult's prophecy, 'She will be a woman of gold.' (Æthelflaed has golden hair).

It is thanks to Uhtred that Æthelflaed succeeds her husband as ruler of Mercia in The Empty Throne. The two are lovers for many years, but their relationship dissolves once Uhtred enters a relationship with Eadith who was the mistress of her late husband. Regardless, Æthelflaed and Uhtred remain friends after this, and Uhtred does not break his oath to her.

Uhtred meets her for a final time in The Flame Bearer and she is dead by the start of the next novel in the series War of the Wolf.

Skade[edit]

Skade is the consort of Harald Bloodhair who presents one of the main threats to Wessex during the events of The Burning Land. On his way to meet Alfred at Æscengam, Uhtred and his small force pass through a small village where they come across one of Harald's war bands led by Skade who is found mutilating the village priest in the church. At Æscengam Harald impulsively comes to demand her release, threatening to execute Saxon prisoners one by one in front of the walls until she is released to him. Skade meanwhile openly curses Uhtred, which leads him to blame her for the subsequent death in childbirth of Gisela. Uhtred refuses to release Skade despite some prisoners dying and gold as the bribe of her release.

After defeating Harald at Farnham (written in the book as Fearnhamme), Skade is taken prisoner again. When Uhtred flees to Ragnar's fortress Dunholm after he murdered Brother Godwin, who had called Gisela a whore, Skade convinces Uhtred to go Viking and go steal her first husband Skirnir's hoard in Frisia. It is during the journey to Frisia that Uhtred and Skade become lovers. However, when Uhtred refuses to give her half of the captured hoard - which turns out to be vastly inferior to how it was described - relations between the two become acrimonious and increasingly hostile.

They return to Dunholm where Brida convinces Ragnar to sail south and attack Wessex, along with the two most powerful Danes in Northumbria, Sigurd and Cnut. Haesten arrives to convince the three that as a diversion he will attack East Anglia distracting Alfred's forces away from the supposedly main threat of Ragnar, Sigurd and Cnut. Haesten becomes infatuated with Skade and when he leaves Dunholm, she leaves with him.

After the Saxon victory at the battle of Benfleet (written in the book as Beamfleot), Uhtred fights his way to Haesten's hoard in the new fort where he finds an incredibly hostile Skade on top of the hoard. This leads to a standoff which is resolved when a crippled and vengeful Harald Bloodhair, grievously wounded in his defeat at Farnham, makes his way to Skade and while feigning affection embraces her, then stabs her, killing her.

Sigunn[edit]

Sigunn was Uhtred's mistress. Born Danish, she is rescued by Uhtred after her husband dies in battle after the conclusion of The Burning Land. She is present with Uhtred during the sixth book Death of Kings and accompanies him in battle with King Eohric's men in East Anglia as bait. She is also present in the seventh novel, The Pagan Lord, where she is kidnapped by Cnut Longsword in retaliation for the alleged kidnapping of his wife and children by Uhtred and is again featured in the eighth novel, The Empty Throne.

In Warriors of the Storm Uhtred mentions that she died a couple of years before the events of the novel, something that he admits upset him.

Eadith[edit]

Eadith was formerly Æthelred's mistress who become Uhtred's wife after Æthelred's death. In The Flame Bearer, it's revealed that they've married.

Personality[edit]

In his youth, Uhtred is described a restless child, resisting his education and playing with armour and the harp. After his capture by the Danes, his restlessness is shaped into a warrior's fierceness. Uhtred is forced to hate the Saxons because as a "Dane" they are his enemy. After the Danes win battle after battle against the Saxons, he becomes disgusted at their weakness, their relying on prayers, and their failing to produce decent warriors. He also grows to genuinely love Ragnar the Elder as a surrogate father and his family as his own.

During the Danes' first attempt at capturing Wessex, Uhtred experiences a tinge of pride after a rare Saxon victory, and feels remorse when his uncle is killed in battle. After Ragnar's death deprives him of his family, he realizes he must rejoin the Saxons, where he develops friendships with several comrades that prevent him from returning to the Danes. Brash and arrogant, Uhtred at first despises Alfred as a weakling who listens too much to the counsel of priests, but, as time goes on (and also writing with the benefit of hindsight), he realizes that Alfred's cleverness is an effective weapon against the Danes, and also that he has a vision of something no one has ever dreamed of before: England united as one kingdom.

Uhtred is often forced to juggle conflicting loyalties and priorities. Despite having rejoined the Saxons, he still retains his love for his Danish foster brother, Ragnar the Younger (later known as Ragnar Ragnarson), and willingly fights alongside him to avenge the elder Ragnar's death, retaking the stronghold of Dunholm in the process. Uhtred uses the name of his foster brother on a number of occasions to hide his true identity from the enemy, such as when going ashore when recapturing Lundene in Sword Song. Outranking all other priorities is his determination to oust his usurper uncle, Ælfric, and retake his rightful place as Lord of Bebbanburg.

Uhtred shows great love for his children. After his first son dies from swallowing a pebble and choking, Uhtred is at first cold and detached, but he later weeps when it actually hits him. His second son lives well but he shows great love for his daughter, Stiorra, whom he is always playing with and nurturing. He comes to dislike his second son as he wants to be a Christian priest and not a warrior. Uhtred is a complex character with his own loyalties constantly being questioned, even by himself, though he is a trustworthy man.

Uhtred does not like breaking oaths, and is therefore hesitant if he must make one. His ego, although arguably justified through his killing of fearsome Danish warlords, gives many a poor impression of him. Uhtred dislikes the Scots, but has a grudging respect for their fighting abilities. In Lords of the North, Ivar Ivarsson's army is ambushed and destroyed by the Scottish king Aed after Ivar invades Scotland in response to Aed's men raiding across the border. Upon hearing accounts of the battle from survivors, Uhtred muses about the times his own father engaged the Scots, and what fierce warriors they were.

References[edit]