Netflix’s The Last Kingdom draws a lot of elements from real-history, but what about main character Uhtred Of Bebbanburg? How real was he?
The Last Kingdom, Netflix’s adaptation of Bernard Cornwell’s historical fiction novels, involve a lot of real-world figures. King Alfred, played on the show by David Dawson, was a real guy. He really did win an important victory in the Battle of Edington in 878, he was dedicated to improving his people’s quality of life, and he was known to be cool-headed and collected. A lot of the other characters are real, too, including his wife Aelswith, son Edward and conniving nephew Aethelwold, as well as the Danish warlords Ubba and Earl Guthrum. There’s even a real Bebbanburg, although it’s now called Bamburgh.
So there’s real history in this historical fiction. But what about our leading man, Uhtred of Bebbanburg? As played by Alexander Dreymon, he’s spent the last four seasons working for Alfred (and occasionally fighting him) while trying to reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg back from his vile uncle Aelfric. Was he also a real guy?
The answer is no…but also kind of yes. Let’s take a closer look.
Again, the simple answer is that no, there was not a Saxon boy raised by Danes named Uhtred of Bebbanburg who had a tempestuous relationship with King Alfred the Great. However, there was an nobleman named Uhtred who ruled Bamburgh Castle between 1006 and 1016, over 100 years after the timeframe when the show is set.
Cornwell took inspiration from this man when crafting his main character. In fact, they’re related. “They had a family tree, it went all the way back to the 6th century,” he told The Guardian. “They were the Lords of Bebbanburg in Northumberland, there was an Uhtred.”
We know sod all about him: we have his signature on the charter… the moment I met my real family I thought: ‘S**t, somehow this family survived the coming of the Danes, the Vikings, all the way through to King Canute, there was a family connection.
As Cornwell says, we don’t know a ton about the real Uhtred, but what little we do know makes it sound like he and Last Kingdom Uhtred might get along.
The real Uhtred was known as Uhtred the Bold. He won an important victory over invading Scots; married Ælfgifu, the daughter of King Ethelred II; and died along with 40 of his men when they were ambushed by Thurbrand the Hold, who was thought to be acting in support of the Danish king Cnut the Great. We’re hoping Uhtred gets a happier ending on The Last Kingdom, but given that he’s a professional warrior, death in battle is very much a possibility.
So there you are: there was an Uhtred, he did rule at
Bebbanburg Bamburgh, and he fought in battles…but he wasn’t the Uhtred we’ve come to know on TV.
Still, Cornwell is pretty great at folding real-world history into his stories, and it can get a lot more detailed than this: