The real history that inspired Netflix’s The Last Kingdom

The epic series features several notable figures from early British history.

Uhtred (Alexander Dreymon) in The Last Kingdom

Although The Last Kingdom was frequently compared to Game of Thrones when it first aired in 2015, there is one huge difference distinguishing the two shows: one is pure fantasy and one is inspired by real British history.

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The Last Kingdom features some of the most famous and influential figures from the early years of England, incorporating them into the fictional story of its lead character, Uhtred of Bebbanburg.

We’ve rounded up the most prominent characters from the first four seasons to see how they compare to the real people they are based on – beware, there are some **spoilers** for the series so far…

Uhtred of Bebbanburg in real life

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We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Uhtred of Bebbanburg is not directly based on a real person. The fearless yet noble warrior, born a Saxon but raised by Danes, is a work of fiction. However, he is included on this list as he does have a notable link to medieval history.

Author Bernard Cornwell discovered that he was a descendant of Uhtred the Bold, an Earl of Northumbria who ruled at Bamburgh Castle in the early 10th century. However, the main character in The Last Kingdom is similar in name and territory only, as the real Uhtred did not have the same remarkable upbringing or adventures.

King Alfred in real life

David Dawson plays King Alfred in The Last Kingdom

Alfred the Great was indeed King of Wessex from 871 to 899. As The Last Kingdom depicts, he was a well-liked ruler with a reputation among his people for being level-headed and merciful.

Under his reign, there were advancements made towards a fairer legal system as well as higher quality of life for ordinary people. Some of the military victories shown in the Netflix series did indeed occur in real life, most notably the conversion of viking warrior Earl Guthrum to Christianity at the end of season one.

The exact nature of King Alfred’s death is not known, but he did suffer from ill health for much of his life and his recorded symptoms have led some historians to theorise that he had Crohn’s disease. He passed away at the age of either 50 or 51 and was buried at Hyde Abbey in Winchester, the city where he had lived for most of his life. Sadly, his bones and many others were lost in the late 1700s, when a prison was built on the land. To this day, they have not been found.

Aelswith in real life

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Aelswith married Alfred in 868 and stayed by his side until his death 31 years later. As stated in The Last Kingdom, she was originally of Mercia and it is expected that her marriage to the Wessex king was part of an alliance between the two lands. She was never granted the title of queen, so when Alfred died, she founded a nunnery in Winchester that went on to be known as St Mary’s Abbey. Much of it was demolished in 1539 as part of the Tudor dissolution of the monasteries, with little trace left of it today.

Aethelwold in real life

The treacherous Aethelwold returns to Wessex, where one of his eyes is burned out with a red hot rod

Aethelwold is a character people love to hate in The Last Kingdom, known for his scheming and treachery against King Alfred as he eyes the throne for himself. Remarkably, this is inspired by events in real history.

When Alfred died in 899, Aethelwold staged a revolt in an attempt to seize the crown, similar to that which we see at the end of The Last Kingdom season three. As the son of King Aethelred I of Wessex, who ruled before Alfred, Aethelwold had a legitimate claim to the throne and some felt that he was the rightful ruler.

Nonetheless, his initial uprising against Alfred’s son, Edward, was a failure as he was unable to mobilise a large enough army, ultimately fleeing to Dane-ruled Northumbria where he found some support. He continued his bid for Wessex with the vikings as his allies, but was ultimately killed in 902 at the Battle of the Holme.

King Edward in real life

Timothy Innes plays King Edward in The Last Kingdom

Alfred’s son saw off a challenge from Aethelwold to secure his kingship over the Anglo-Saxons, reigning from 899 to 924. Not many sources survive from his time on the throne and he went largely unstudied by historians for a long time. However, recent assessments have found him to be an important figure in driving the vikings out of southern England. In season four, he describes Dane-controlled Northumbria as “the last kingdom”, which was very much true in the later years of his reign. He died in 924 while fighting a rebellion in Mercia and was buried in Hyde Abbey alongside his father. His remains were also lost in the 1700s.

Lord Aethelred of Mercia in real life

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Lord Aethelred was historically the leader of Mercia between 881 to 911, entering into marriage with King Alfred’s daughter as part of an alliance with Wessex. In The Last Kingdom, he is depicted as abusive to Lady Aethelflaed, although this may not have been the case in real life. Equally, there is some confusion over the circumstances of his death. Certain historians believed that he suffered poor health in his later years, which caused Aethelflaed to take on a more proactive leadership role in Mercia. However, others believe he was grievously injured at the Battle of Tettenhall, as shown quite hauntingly in season four of The Last Kingdom.

Lady Aethelflaed of Mercia in real life

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Aethelflaed holds a unique position in Anglo-Saxon history as one of the only women to wield significant political power. She became Lady of the Mercians after her husband died, an authoritative position that King Edward acknowledged, perhaps in exchange for ownership of London and Oxford. Historians consider her to have been a strong and successful military leader, who was instrumental in capturing Dane-controlled lands.

She is believed to have died of illness at the age of 48 or 49 in Tamworth and was buried at St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester. In 2018, a statue of Aethelflaed was erected outside Tamworth Railway Station to commemorate the 1,100th anniversary of her death.

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The Last Kingdom season four is now streaming on Netflix – check out our list of the best TV shows on Netflix, or find out what else is on with our TV Guide.