I’m continuing my commentary on the second series of The Last Kingdom here.
Uhtred gets revenge on his old enemy Kjartjan, who killed his adoptive Viking father and kidnapped his adoptive sister. Lots of fight scenes. Father Beocca, the former childhood Tutor to Uhtred, takes a liking to his long-lost sister. Not much of Alfred, or the family, except a chess match with Aethelflead, and Aethelwold, Alfred’s nephew being dispatched North and complaining about it.
Much more worthy of comment in this Episode. Wedding bells as ringing, as father Beocca gets married, and a new Viking army lands, this being the second ‘Great Heathen Army’ Alfred fought, under the leadership a new Viking adventurer, Heasten. Although, at this stage, the Vikings are mostly sticking in their base at Benfleet in Essex, and so are not considered an immediate threat by Alfred, nor made any excursions into Wessex. I’m beginning to notice that said Vikings bear more than a passing resemblance to the Dwarves in Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit movies though the Dwarves probably had better manners, and seem a whole lot more friendly and personable. I am tempted to refer to Uhtred, Sigefrid and their fellows as Thorin, Dwalin, Ori, Nori and Dori from henceforth.
One other aspect of this episode that is worthy of note is the claim, also made in the first series, that Aethelwold was somehow cheated out of his throne by Alfred, in what is implied to have been a usurpation. Was he? Well probably not, actually.
Contrary to the casting in the series, Aethelwold was probably only a young child at the time of death of his father, King Aethelred c. 871. Just like in 1066, in 871 ability and experience trumped birth, and the adult Alfred was chosen to be King by the witan because he was deemed capable of leading his Kingdom and a child was not. It was not a deliberate stitch-up, as Anglo-Saxon witans were extremely unlikely to choose an underage child to succeed a King, even if that child happened to be his son.
Of course, it was a different matter as Aethelwold grew up to become and adult, and considered that he was in a position to succeed Alfred as King of Wessex because of his royal blood. Watch this space.
There were so many reasons I wanted to yell about this episode. It was just wrong! Thehighlight was of course the wedding of Aethelflead to Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians. Lord Aethelred is depicted as a brutal and cruel man, and as a marital abuser, who beats his wife when she defies him.
That’s the problem. With only a few exceptions, whenever he makes an appearance in fiction, which is not often, Lord Aethelred is usually depicted as an abusive and bad husband. He is vilified just as much as a certain Plantagenet monarch, but on an even weaker basis. There is simply to evidence that Aethelred was abusive, and to give Bernard Cornwell some credit, he does admit that particular detail was invented.
Of course, this does not stop the speculation and assertions of ‘it might have happened like that’. I for one am not convinced by speculation being used to justify historical inaccuracy in fiction. If its unproven speculation, call it that: just because something ‘might’ have happened does not mean it did. Conversely, the opposite might also have been true.
One reason that people assume Aethelred and Aethelflead had an unhappy marriage is because they only had one child, but there could just as well have been some medical reason for that. I for one favour the Twelfth century Chronicler William of Malmesbury’s explanation that because the birth of her daughter, Elfwyn, was so difficult, Aethelflead took a vow of chastity, or meant that she was sadly unable to carry another child.
Of course, there is also the modern antagonism towards arranged marriage, which causes us to assume that such arrangements were inevitably unhappy when history often reveals something different. Those familiar with the series will know Aethelflead is secretly infatuated with Uhtred, as with pretty much all the other females in the series, who find the long-haired superhero irresistible.
I for one think the real Aethelflead was more pragmatic and level-headed and rather less inclined to romantic idealism. Anyway, the fictional version of her husband is not only A mean, abusive bully and coward with and obnoxious sidekick, but also a useless fighter, as pretty much everyone is in comparison to Uhtred. When sent by Alfred to deal the Viking army led by the troublesome brothers Erik and Sigefrid in London, he and his fellows are tricked, and the series ends with Alfred’s daughter fleeing for her life into the nearest wood clad a very conspicuous and inconvenient flowing pink dress.
Tune in some time next week for my commentary on the final two episodes (which no doubt subject the Lord of the Mercians to yet more character assassination), continued in my usual forthright and caustic manner. Once again, I recommend my lovely book for those seeking to learn what the husband of Aethelflead was really like!