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Uhtred of Bamburgh

Who was Uhtred of Bamburgh?


Fans of the show The Last Kingdom: Seven Kings Must Die will be no strangers to the fearless character Uhtred of Bebbanburgh. Also known as Uhtred Ragnarsson or Uhtred the Brave, the adventures of the Saxon-born Viking and his influence on the English monarchy has captured audiences' imaginations.

It might not surprise viewers to learn that much of Uhtred’s on-screen character is largely fictitious. First created by author Bernard Cornwell for his Saxon Stories series, Uhtred Ragnarsson is purely fictional, but inspired by a very real historical figure.

Here are five facts about the real Uhtred of Bebbanburgh.

1. He was the ealdorman of Bebbanburgh

Uhtred’s father, Waltheof, was descended from the Eadwulfing family who had ruled Bebbanbugh (now Bamburgh) and the surrounding area of Northumbria for more than a century. However, unlike previous successions where the title was passed from father to son upon the ealdorman’s death, Uhtred was given the title of ealdorman of Bebbanburgh while his father was still alive.

When Malcolm II of Scotland invaded Northumbria and sieged Durham in 1006, Uhtred’s father refused to raise an army. Too old to fight, he opted to stay in his castle instead. With Ælfhelm, the ealdorman of York, also refusing to take action, and Viking raids ravaging the south of England, it looked like the city of Durham would fall to the invading Scots. Acting on his father’s behalf, Uhtred rallied troops from Bernicia and Yorkshire and successfully ended the siege.

King Ethelred was so grateful for Uhtred’s bravery that he granted him the role of ealdorman of Bebbanburgh, despite Uhtred’s father still being alive. He also had Ælfhelm murdered and made Uhtred the ealdorman of York in his place, uniting north and south Northumbria.

2. He wasn’t a Viking

Much to the disappointment of many of the show's viewers, the reality is that the real Uhtred wasn’t part Saxon, part Dane. The Scandinavian roots of his father’s name suggest that there may have been some distant heritage from past Viking invasions in Uhtred’s bloodline. However, he certainly wasn’t kidnapped and raised by Viking raiders.

3. He was married three times

Uhtred married three times and produced living heirs from each of the marriages. His first marriage was to Ecgfrida, the daughter of Bishop Aldhun, who Uhtred had helped build Durham Cathedral. As such, he was gifted several estates and lands that had belonged to the church, and together they had a son - Ealdred.

Uhtred eventually renounced his marriage to Ecgfrida and went on to marry Siga, the daughter of Styr Ulfsson of York. The marriage did, however, come with the condition that Uhtred would murder Styr’s enemy, Thurbrand the Hold. Uhtred didn’t carry out the murder, and the pair separated after having two daughters.

Finally, Uhtred married Ælfgifu, the daughter of King Ethelred. Together they had one daughter.

4. He didn’t know King Alfred

Uhtred wasn’t a mercenary in the employment of King Alfred the Great. In fact, they weren’t even alive at the same time. King Alfred the Great ruled from 871-886, a full century before Uhtred was born.

Uhtred did, however, cross paths with the fearsome Viking Cnut. While Uhtred was away campaigning with King Ethelred’s son Edmund, Cnut invaded Yorkshire. When on his way to a peace meeting with Cnut, Uhtred and 40 of his men were ambushed by Thurbrand the Hold (the same Thurbrand he was supposed to have killed during his second marriage) and assassinated. Thurbrand had been working with Cnut, who had orchestrated the assassination.

5. His assassination started a blood feud

Uhtred’s assassination launched a blood feud that spanned decades. Uhtred’s son, Ealdred, avenged his father’s death by murdering Thurbrand but was, in turn, murdered himself by Thurbrand’s son, Carl. The blood feud continued to build with each family's new generation and culminated nearly 60 years later when Ealdred’s grandson ordered the death of most of Carl’s sons and grandsons.