Warning: This article contains spoilers for Seven Kings Must Die.


The Last Kingdom spin-off film Seven Kings Must Die finally finds the young Aethelstan (Harry Gilby) make a brutal bid for the throne of Wessex – but a secret is weighing heavily on his soul.

Indeed, it is soon revealed that Aethelstan is in a sexual relationship with his closest adviser Ingilmundr (Laurie Davidson), for which he feels a great deal of shame due to his devout Christianity.

He feels that, if he can spread his faith far and wide by becoming king, then it might redeem him in the eyes of God for his homosexual desires, but this attitude causes him to act erratically – and leaves him open to manipulation.

Viewers watching at home might be wondering whether King Aethelstan was gay in real life, so we put the question to Seven Kings Must Die screenwriter Martha Hillier.

Seven Kings Must Die: was Aethelstan really gay?

Harry Gilby in The Last Kingdom season 5
Harry Gilby in The Last Kingdom season 5. Netflix

Martha Hillier has been part of The Last Kingdom family for quite some time, having written both seasons 4 and 5 of the television series as well as Seven Kings Must Die.

She told RadioTimes.com that there is "some evidence" to suggest that Aethelstan could have been gay, which is why the plot point was included in Bernard Cornwell's books (known collectively as The Saxon Stories).

"All of that period is hard to research [but] there is definitely a reasonable amount of debate about it. It's not something we've made up for TV – not at all," she explained.

The screenwriter went on to acknowledge that including diversity in a period drama can prove controversial, as was also the case when Father Benedict (Patrick Robinson) was introduced in season 5.

Hillier continued: "LGBT history is only a relatively new subject, so it's quite interesting that people are so keen to say ‘that can't be the case’. Why couldn't it be the case?

"I want to get it right, but you're never going to satisfy the people who've decided that you're doing things for other reasons. It actually wasn't about trying to be inclusive or anything – it was just like ‘this is interesting’."

She added: "It’s stuff we’ve not done [before]. Otherwise it's like, ‘Well, what do you want? For everyone to be exactly the same? All the characters to be exactly the same all the time?’"

In an interview with Sharon Kay Penman in 2020, The Last Kingdom author Bernard Cornwell explained his initial inspiration for making Aethelstan a gay character.

He explained: "History records that he never married, which is unusual in a king because of the desire to leave an heir, and also that he liked to decorate his hair with golden ringlets, and on that small evidence I decided he might have been gay.

"[It's] a choice that hasn’t pleased all my readers, but I was happy with it."

The Seven Kings Must Die cast is led by Alexander Dreymon in his final performance as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, while Mark Rowley, Arnas Fedaravičius and Elaine Cassidy also star.

Seven Kings Must Die is available to stream on Netflix from Friday 14th April 2023. Sign up for Netflix from £4.99 a month. Netflix is also available on Sky Glass and Virgin Media Stream.

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