The Last Kingdom is based on a series of novels by Bernard Cornwell. His 11 books tell the story of Uhtred of Bebbanburg; a part Saxon/part Viking character who's fictional in all but name and title. Uhtred was a name found in the ancestor’s family tree and little is known of his life outside of being Lord of Beddanburg. So, if the main character is mostly made up, how accurate is the rest of the show? We dig deep into British history to find out. And surprisingly enough, these 10 details are perfectly spot on.
10 Alfred The Great
We know quite a lot about the West Saxon King Alfred. The show has done a good job of portraying his personality and life. Alfred’s life long struggle with his stomach and digestive problems are depicted quite realistically and showed him struggling greatly from an unknown illness. A monk named Asser—who is also depicted in the show—wrote extensively of the king’s health. We also know that Alfred was a pious man who was devoted to the church. However, the religious man wasn’t a prude by any means... Just like on the show, the real Alfred also loved women.
9 Battle Of Cynwit
Several key battles are depicted in the show. Some are a combination of events while others stay pretty true to history. The Battle of Cynwit gets the latter treatment. The scenes surrounding this event are mostly accurate and this surprising Anglo-Saxon victory was an important win for Wessex. The year of the battle differs in the show from reality, however, and fictional Uhtred is credited with the killing of Danish leader Ubba. Aside from these two discrepancies, the show does fairly well at depicting the carnage.
8 Danish Culture
When the Danes arrived in Brittain they assumed they would probably find mostly farmers. On the show, Danish forces expect to find an untrained and unprepared opposition. The British are easily defeated at their first meeting with the Danish, and Uhtred’s father is slain. His army is then decimated and defeated. This part is largely accurate. There was an Anglo-Saxxon military but they were ill-prepared for the Danish invasion. It’s even true that the Anglo-Saxons were unable to defeat a Danish shield wall during their first battle.
7 Peace Conference
In The Last Kingdom, several key battles are portrayed. Over the course of the fighting, the Anglo-Saxons had many successes in halting Danish advance. Wessex wasn’t entirely victorious and had to pay off the Danish King to end the bloodshed. The show depicts the negotiations for peace between Ubba and King Alfred. Viewers get a glimpse into what that meeting could have been like. The peace talks were a significant moment in history.
Aethelflaed was a fierce and mighty warrior queen. She laid the very foundations for England but has largely been overlooked by history. At the age of 16, she was married off to Aethelred much like in the show. She was a pioneer for women in her male-dominated time. Her kingdom sat at the front line of the battles that broke out when her father died. Incredibly, Aethelflaed was educated as well as her brothers. She grew up under Viking invasion and was prepared for the challenges her kingdom would face.
5 Naughty Slang
The show’s writers have included some very colorful colloquialisms in their dialogue. Even the vulgarity in The Last Kingdom is spot on. Several lewd words and phrases have been included which were heavily used during the time. Some of these even sound familiar to the modern ear. In particular, the act of "plowing a field" is an entendre in use today. There are several insults playfully tossed around in the show which would have been common to hear in the period.
Asser is one of the characters on The Last Kingdom that not only existed but is accurately portrayed on the show. He was extremely close to the king and would become his biographer. His loyalty and importance in Alfred’s life are displayed in the series as well as his interest in the kin’s health. Alfred would write extensively about Alfred's ailments in Life Of King Alfred. Scholars believe this was to paint the king in a more sympathetic light.
3 The Death Of King Edmund
The death of the East Anglian ruler is an incredibly dramatic scene in the show. Edmund has been captured by the Danes; he’s executed with a volley of arrows; and dies a painful death. The existence and power of Edmund’s god were being tested. The Danes wanted to see if he could, or would, save the king. This is a startlingly accurate scene. This death would later earn Edmund his sainthood.
Danish culture differed greatly from the Anglo-Saxons. Their moral code and religious dogma were not as strict. This meant that the Danes could rationalize acts of savage brutality.
Ubba was a powerful Viking who was listed as a son of Ragnar. He was commander in the Great Army that threatened to overtake Anglo-Saxon Brittain. In the show, they accurately capture the playful and affectionate nature of the Vikings.
Ubba was probably as frightening and charismatic as his TV counterpart. We know he was a brilliant strategist who smashed through British forces often. And unlike Uhtred, Ubba was more than just a name on a charter.
Guthrum was the real-life Danish king who waged war against King Alfred. He leads the Viking invasion that is the primary subject matter of the show. His army overran the kingdom of Wessex but was eventually beaten back. Guthrum eventually embraced monotheism and Christianity and was even baptized with Alfred as his godfather. At this time, he assumed the name Aethelstan. Coinage was minted in the small state he formed in East Anglia. Some of these coins, as well as the treaty signed between Aethelstan and Alfred, still exist to this day.