Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a son of the Saxon Ealdorman Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg, and was born in Northumbria. He lived during the era of Alfred the Great in the late 9th century, when Britain was divided between warring kingdoms, each one ruled by it’s own king. The Danes had already landed, conquering large parts of Britain. As a child, Uhtred learned that the Danes, and the kingdoms of Scotland, Mercia, East Anglia and Wessex were his enemy, and the enemy of his kingdom.
I am Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and this is the tale of a blood feud…– Bernard Cornwell
Uhtred, who was originally named Osbert, was not the first born. He had an older brother also called Uhtred, who died in battle against the Danes. The name Uhtred was given to first born sons by tradition, and so passed down to Osbert, after his brother’s death.
This seems to be a plausible story, realistically following historical events back in the Anglo-Saxon period. However, Uhtred of Bebbanburg was indeed a fictional character. He was created by the author of The Saxon Stories, Bernard Cornwell. Uhtred first appears in the The Last Kingdom, which is the first book in the Saxon series, and now a television series.
So was Uhtred of Bebbanburg fictional or real?
Well, Bernard Cornwell’s family tree had been traced back to the 6th century by his father. While searching through this historical family tree, Bernard discovered he was descended from Uchtred (Uhtred) the Bold from the 11th century, an Ealdorman of Northumbria and Lord of Bamburgh! Uhtred the Bold reigned from 1006 to 1016, when he met his treacherous death at the hands of Thurbrand the Hold, a thegn of Cnut, son of Sweyn Forkbeard.
It was this fascinating link that inspired Bernard to write The Last Kingdom, and the rest of the Saxon stories, with Uhtred of Bebbanburg at its helm.
Uhtred in The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
We know that Bernard Cornwell created Uhtred for the Last Kingdom, and the Saxon Stories series, so what is the book about?
In the late 9th century, the Viking Danes had set sail across the sea and arrived in Northumbria. Following the usual trend of Viking behaviour of invasion, pillaging and conquering, they captured York (Eoferwic). York was a major town in the North, and was seen as a vital victory for the Danes. Uhtred’s father, Ealdorman Uhtred quickly marched to York with a small army, in an attempt to reclaim the stronghold. Uhtred (of Bebbanburg) did not want to be left behind with the priest, and so the boy secretly followed his father into battle.
However, young Uhtred of Bebbanburg was captured by Ragnar the Fearless, after witnessing his father die in the failed assault. Uhtred is taken to live among the Danes. Initially, he was kept as a slave, but through his fighting spirit, courage and determination, Ragnar grew fond of him. Some time passed, and Uhtred began adopting the Viking way, worshipping their Gods and enjoying the free spirited life that the Danes led. Soon enough, Uhtred was treated like a brother and son to Ragnar’s family, and became known as Uhtred Ragnarson.
Things would soon change though. A squabble in the Danish camp between children from different families, led to Ragnar banishing another Viking, Kjartan. Keen to seek revenge, Kjartan attacked Ragnar’s home with fire. The outcome was not good for Uhtred’s adopted family, and he was forced to flee. But where would Uhtred go?
With allies dropping on both the Saxon and the Viking side, Uhtred and his sword arrived in Wessex, another enemy kingdom, in his mind. But there he would join the service of Alfred the Great, in what was the last unconquered Saxon kingdom. Not always seeing eye to eye with the king, Uhtred’s destiny was still linked with Alfred’s, and the desire to get Bebbanburg could only be achieved with Alfred’s help. Destiny is all.
More Saxon Stories in the Series by Bernard Cornwell
Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg features throughout the Saxon Stories series, on a quest to seek what is rightfully his, Bebbanburg. Here are the books in the series:
The Last Kingdom
Uhtred is an English boy, born into the aristocracy of ninth-century Northumbria. Orphaned at ten, he is captured and adopted by a Dane and taught the Viking ways. Yet Uhtred’s fate is indissolubly bound up with Alfred, King of Wessex, who rules over the only English kingdom to survive the Danish assault.
The struggle between the English and the Danes and the strife between Christianity and paganism is the background to Uhtred’s growing up. He is left uncertain of his loyalties but a slaughter in a winter dawn propels him to the English side and he will become a man just as the Danes launch their fiercest attack yet on Alfred’s kingdom. Marriage ties him further still to the West Saxon cause but when his wife and child vanish in the chaos of the Danish invasion, Uhtred is driven to face the greatest of the Viking chieftains in a battle beside the sea. There, in the horror of the shield-wall, he discovers his true allegiance.
The Pale Horseman
Uhtred is a Saxon, cheated of his inheritance, adrift in a world of fire and treachery. He has to make a choice: whether to fight for the Vikings who raised him, or for King Alfred who dislikes him.
Alfred and Uhtred make unlikely allies. The king is a pious Christian, Uhtred a Pagan and warrior. Yet two forge an uneasy alliance that will lead them out of the marshes to the stark hilltop where the last remaining army will fight for the very existence of England.
The Lords of the North
The year is 878 and the Vikings have been thrown out of Wessex. Uhtred, fresh from fighting for Alfred in the battle to free Wessex, travels north to seek revenge for his father’s death, killed in a bloody raid by Uhtred’s old enemy, renegade Danish lord, Kjartan.
While Kjartan lurks in his formidable stronghold of Dunholm, the north is overrun by chaos, rebellion and fear. Together with a small band of warriors, Uhtred plans his attack on his enemy, revenge fuelling his anger, resolute on bloody retribution. But, he finds himself betrayed and ends up on a desperate slave voyage to Iceland.
Rescued by a remarkable alliance of old friends and enemies, he and his allies, together with Alfred the Great, are free to fight once more in a battle for power, glory and honour.
The year is 885, and England is at peace, divided between the Danish kingdom to the north and Alfred’s kingdom of Wessex in the south. But trouble stirs, a dead man has risen and new Vikings have arrived to occupy London.
It is a dangerous time, and it falls to Uhtred, half Saxon, half Dane, a man feared and respected the length and breadth of Britain, to expel the Viking raiders and take control of London for Alfred.
His uncertain loyalties must now decide England’s future.
The Burning Land
The enemy is massing on the borders, a united force for once. The king, a man of many victories, is in failing health, and his heir is an untested youth.
Uhtred, the king’s champion, leads his country’s forces to war but his victory is soured by personal tragedy and by the envy of the king’s court.
That is, until one unexpected request…
Death of Kings
Alfred, the great king, is said to be dying. Rivals for his succession are poised to tear the kingdom apart. The country Alfred has worked thirty years to build is about to disintegrate.
Uhtred, the King’s warrior, Viking born but Saxon bred, wants more than anything else to go and fight to reclaim his stolen Northumbrian inheritance. But he knows that if he deserts the King’s cause, Alfred’s dream, and indeed the very future of the English nation, will very likely vanish.
Death of Kings is an outstanding novel by a master storyteller of how England was made, and very nearly lost.
The Pagan Lord
At the dawn of the tenth century Britain stands as a divided realm. The Danes rule the north, the Saxons, led by King Edward of Wessex, hold the south. But the uneasy peace cannot hold.
Uhtred, the late King Alfred’s celebrated warrior, must journey across Britain to recapture his ancestral home and the greatest fortress of the north, Bebbanburg. But the Viking lord Cnut Longsword is raising an army and, as his battle-leaders unite, loyalties will be divided and men will fall, as every Saxon kingdom is drawn into a bloody clash with the Danes.
And it is Uhtred, lord of the outcasts, who will decide the fate of the nation.
The Empty Throne
In the battle for power, there can be only one ruler. The ruler of Mercia is dying, leaving no apparent heir. His wife is a born leader, but no woman has ever ruled over an English kingdom. And she is without her greatest warrior and champion, Uhtred of Bebbanburg.
An empty throne leaves the kingdom exposed to rival West Saxons and to the Vikings, who are on a bloody rampage once more. A hero is needed, a hero who has been in battle all his life, who can destroy the double threat to Mercia.
A hero who will ultimately decide the fate of a nation…
Warriors of the Storm
A fragile peace is about to be broken…King Alfred’s son Edward and formidable daughter, Æthelflaed, rule Wessex, Mercia and East Anglia. But all around the restless Northmen, eyeing the rich lands and wealthy churches, are mounting raids.
Uhtred of Bebbanburg, the kingdoms’ greatest warrior, controls northern Mercia from the strongly fortified city of Chester. But forces are rising up against him. Northmen allied to the Irish, led by the fierce warrior Ragnall Ivarson, are soon joined by the Northumbrians, and their strength could prove overwhelming. Despite the gathering threat, both Edward and Æthelflaed are reluctant to move out of the safety of their fortifications. But with Uhtred’s own daughter married to Ivarson’s brother, who can be trusted?
In the struggle between family and loyalty, between personal ambition and political commitment, there will be no easy path. But a man with a warrior’s courage may be able to find it. Such a man is Uhtred,and this may be his finest hour.
The Flame Bearer
From the day it was stolen from me I had dreamed of recapturing Bebbanburg…
Britain is in a state of uneasy peace. The truce between the Vikings and Saxons has brought opportunity to England’s greatest warrior, Uhtred of Bebbanburg. At last he has the chance to retake the home stolen from him so many years ago.
Uhtred has made many enemies and sworn many oaths that could distract him from his ambition. New opponents join old foes and enter into the fight for England’s kingdoms.
But Uhtred is determined that this time nothing will stand in his way. For he is the lord of Bebbanburg and will marshal the lessons of a lifetime of war to reclaim his birthright…
War of the Wolf
Uhtred of Bebbanburg has won back his ancestral home but, threatened from all sides by enemies both old and new, he doesn’t have long to enjoy the victory.
In Mercia, rebellion is in the air as King Edward tries to seize control. In Wessex, rival parties scramble to settle on the identity of the next king. And across the country invading Norsemen continue their relentless incursion, ever hungry for land.
Uhtred – a legendary warrior, admired and sought as an ally, feared as an adversary – finds himself once again torn between his two heritages: fighting on what he considers the wrong side, cursed by misfortune and tragedy and facing one of his most formidable enemies. Only the most astute cunning, the greatest loyalty and the most spectacular courage can save him.
For decades, Uhtred has stood at the intersection between Pagan and Christian, between Saxon and Viking, between the old world he was born into and the new world being forged around him. But as the winds of change gather pace, the pressure on Uhtred as father, as politician and as warrior grows as never before.
Sword of Kings
Uhtred of Bebbanburg is a man of his word.
An oath bound him to King Alfred. An oath bound him to Aethelflaed. And now an oath will wrench him away from the ancestral home he fought so hard to regain. For Uhtred has sworn that on King Edward’s death, he will kill two men. And now Edward is dying.
A violent attack drives Uhtred south with a small band of warriors, and headlong into the battle for kingship. Plunged into a world of shifting alliances and uncertain loyalties, he will need all his strength and guile to overcome the fiercest warrior of them all.
As two opposing kings gather their armies, fate drags Uhtred to London, and a struggle for control that must leave one King victorious, and one dead. But fate – as Uhtred has learned to his cost – is inexorable. Wyrd bid ful araed. And Uhtred’s destiny is to stand at the heart of the shield wall once again…
Further Reading and Viewing
The Last Kingdom trailer:
Behind the scenes trailer of The Last Kingdom:
Interview with Bernard Cornwell: