Warning: contains spoilers for The Last Kingdom seasons one and two.
It’s happening, people. For three seasons, Uhtred of Bebbanburg has wanted to ride north to reclaim his ancestral lands. Destiny though, has always had other plans. Uhtred’s journey home has been interrupted by royal oaths, a witch’s curse, being sold into slavery, marriage, kids and countless battles fought and won. None of them though, are the battle he really wants to fight – against his uncle Aelfric, the man who stole Uhtred’s title and fortress.
With Aelfric (Joseph Millson) poised to return in The Last Kingdom season four – which adapts books seven and eight of Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories saga – here’s a reminder of everything that’s happened so far between him and his nephew Uhtred. Or should that be… Osbert?
‘We were kings here once, boy, kings of all the lands between the rivers Tweed and Tyne’
In The Last Kingdom, Aelfric (pronounced Ayl-fritch) was the unmarried younger brother of Saxon Ealdorman Uhtred (Matthew Macfadyen), who was father to two sons Uhtred and Osbert. Uhtred Sr. ruled the former kingdom of Northumbria from his fortress at Bebbanburg.
When Jarl Ragnar and his Danish army landed on the Northumbrian coast, Uhtred sent his eldest son to spy on them. The Danes killed the boy and presented Uhtred with his son’s decapitated head, to lure him into battle.
‘Uhtred, son of Uhtred of Bebbanburg, welcome to the Christian world. Behold your people and your lands.’
Deprived of his heir, Lord Uhtred immediately rechristened his younger son Osbert with the family name of Uhtred, and instructed the family priest Father Beocca (Ian Hart) to educate the boy on his heritage, symbolised by the family amber he wore around his neck (later set into the hilt of Uhtred’s sword). ‘Our ancestors took this land and it has been strengthened with our blood and bone,’ Uhtred’s father told him. ‘Now you are the new heir of Bebbanburg and you will die for it if needed.’
Even then, Aelfric was an ambitious man, telling his brother that their family ‘should be kings again’. He instantly saw the death of Uhtred Sr.’s heir as an opportunity for his own progression. When Uhtred Sr. went to battle the Danes, leaving Aelfric behind to protect his heir, Aelfric allowed Uhtred Jr. to escape the fortress and follow his father into battle, despite him still only being a child. Aelfric sent his henchman Scallion after Uhtred jr., instructing him ‘If my brother falls in battle, the boy must fall’.
‘Are you sure he’s a Saxon? He fights like a Dane’
When Uhtred Sr. did fall in battle, Uhtred Jr. attacked his killer with a ferocity that impressed the Vikings. Jarl Ragnar took him hostage and when the Danes realised he was heir to Bebbanburg, Danish warlord Ubba tried to ransom him to his uncle Aelfric. Father Beocca warned Uhtred Jr. that his uncle would kill him if he returned to Bebbanburg, and urged him to escape to Winchester to the protection of the king.
Aelfric immediately surrendered to Jarl Ragnar, giving the Danes his brother’s land, horses and offering them his own sword and allegiance.
At the ransom meeting, Jarl Ragnar was unimpressed by Aelfric’s lack of warmth towards Uhtred Jr. and his miserly attempts to barter down the price for his nephew, so he paid Abba the ransom himself and adopted Uhtred as his son.
‘Does this mean I’m a Dane?’
Raised by the Vikings, Uhtred became a man and therefore, a threat to Aelfric’s claim on Bebbanburg. Aelfric colluded with the villainous Kjartan and his son Sven One-Eyed to attack Jarl Ragnar’s land and kill both Ragnar and Uhtred. (Kjartan sought revenge on both Ragnar and Uhtred, the first for banishing him and taking one of his son Sven’s eyes as punishment for Sven’s attempted rape of Ragnar’s daughter Thyra, and the second for attacking Sven to protect Thyra.)
Aelfric sent his servant Scallion to take part in the attack, which left Jarl Ragnar dead and Thyra kidnapped by Sven and held at Dunholm. Uhtred was supposed to die alongside Ragnar, but he and Brida escaped.
‘I am going to kill him and take back what’s mine.’
Spotting Aelfric’s servant Scallion among the men who killed his adoptive father Ragnar, Uhtred murdered Scallion and presented his decapitated head to Aelfric at the gates of Bebbanburg, with a promise to take back his lands.
‘Uhtred wishes me dead. He will not rest, I know it. I’ve always known it.’
Knowing that his place at Bebbanburg was not safe as long as his nephew lived, in season two Aelfric made a bargain with the new Northumbrian ‘king’ Guthred. Despite having had a previous alliance with Kjartan, Aelfric promised Guthred 200 soldiers to help lay siege to Kjartan’s stronghold at Dunholm, in exchange for his nephew’s head.
Because Uhtred had freed him as a slave before he became king, Guthred chose not to kill Uhtred and instead sold him into slavery overseas. Guthred’s last words to Uhtred were ‘Goodbye, Osbert’, which told Uhtred that Aelfric was really behind it all.
When Aelfric discovered that Uhtred had not been killed, he was enraged and refused Guthred use of his soldiers. In an attempt to win back Aelfric’s favour, Guthred offered him his sister Gisela as a bride. Aelfric dismissed the idea until he learned that Gisela and Uhtred were in love and had planned to marry before Uhtred was sent away.
‘Why bark when there are hounds available?’
Wishing to hurt Uhtred, Aelfric agreed to marry Gisela and sent a message to Uhtred’s enemy Kjartan, telling him where to find and kill his nephew. Gisela, not trusting her brother Guthred, had escaped to a nunnery, sending word to Uhtred – now rescued from slavery by his Danish brother Ragnar – of where to find her.
Discovered hiding at the nunnery, Gisela was forced to wed Aelfric by proxy when Uhtred burst in and rescued her, killing the Abbot Eadred who performed the ceremony. The unconsummated marriage was annulled and Uhtred and Gisela escaped and married, settling down and having children in Uhtred’s Wessex estate as he served King Alfred.
‘My nephew’s name is Osbert, there shall be no more talk of Uhtred. He’s not the heir. He’s nothing.’
Aelfric was left without a wife, but still ruling the fortress of Bebbanburg and still hating and fearing attack from Uhtred, whom he insists on calling by his original name of Osbert.
Uhtred was left with a ferocious desire to reclaim his birthright and avenge himself against his scheming, self-serving uncle.
Uncle vs nephew, Christian vs Pagan, villainy vs honour… bring on season four. Destiny is all!
The Last Kingdom season four arrives on Netflix on Sunday April 26th.