Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Uhtred, Son of Uhtred



Occasionally on this blog, I review television programs of note. When I do this, I am not endorsing the show in particular but rather speaking of a positive message within the show. One such show that I cannot endorse for all viewers is the BBC/Netflix series, The Last Kingdom (2015-2020). The show is a “blade-slinger” story set in the England of the late 800s CE and is about the conflict between the Saxon land holders and the invading Danes, Vikings, and Northmen (Norsemen) from Denmark and other points north. Uhtred is the hero (or perhaps anti-hero) of the story. He is a Saxon by birth who is born heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Bebbanburg at a time when Alfred the Great is seeking to draw together all of the Kingdoms of England under one king. Uhtred is kidnapped by the Danes and adopted into the family of Ragnar Ragnarson. Thus, Uhtred is known both as Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Uhtred Ragnarson, and simply Uhtred, Son of Uhtred and he grows to become the greatest warrior of England and supports King Alfred time and time again. But Alfred cannot quite accept that Uhtred will not accept his God and so he does not fully trust him and sometimes wishes him banished or even dead. Time and again Uhtred saves Alfred’s England, only to be mistrusted by Alfred. Season 3, Episode 10 offers brilliant dialogue emphasising darkness and light, good and evil, and the struggle of the two within the various people groups.

As King Alfred dies, Father Beocca, one of Uhtred’s most constant friends says,

“All that Alfred stood for is crumbling.
You, Uhtred, cannot be dragged into the shadows.
You must become the light….”

But as Uhtred is on trial in the open court of the palace, the following dialogue unfolds,

Beocca: Do you object to the people bearing witness to justice, Lord Aethelwold?
Aethelwold: I do not.
Lady Aelswith: Uhtred, the king swore that you were to die. Why the change in his heart?
Uhtred: Because he believed that I deserved his forgiveness.
Aelswith: Is that a boast?
Uhtred: Look to his chronicle. I am on every page.
Aelswith: That is a lie. You are not named, even once!
Uhtred: But I am there. Unwritten, Lady, but I am there! The warriors of Wessex know it. The Danes know it. And it is what the king has told me himself.
Aelswith: I have heard enough.
Uhtred: I am with him from the Somerset Marshes to Ethandun and all of the battles that have followed. We were bonded, him and I. He was the man that I could never be, nor did I wish to be. He was a man that I loved and despised but it was never less than an honor to serve him. He was my king. And he did not wish to go to his God without granting me what I have earned many times over! My freedom….

At this point, Edward, the heir to the throne of England is brought into the conversation. It is his first test as king apparent.

Uhtred: Perhaps your father chose not to announce my freedom for this very reason so that the people could witness their new king, Edward, dispensing justice. Fairly, I hope.
Beocca: Will you accept the decision of Edward Rex? I will. I give you my word….

Edward: A heathen would not be trusted completely until he had embraced Alfred's god as his own. And yet it was a heathen he did trust most. It was the word of Uhtred that he respected most. Uhtred of Bebbanburg, I find the letter written by my father to be true. Alfred's pardon does stand. You are a free man, able to choose your own path.
Beocca: May I ask, Lord Uhtred, may I ask? Now that you are a free man once more, where will your path lead? I would like to know….
Uhtred: One day, Father, I hope that my path will eventually lead north to Bebbanburg, but now, I believe I am needed here….

Then as the followers of Edward prepare for another battle with the Danes of the North,

Uhtred: All of you, hear me. Yes, it is likely that the Danes will have greater numbers, but this is a battle that we can win. Though it will take all of us, every man and every sword, and we will fight with all the guile and wit that Alfred has instilled.
Edward: God is with us.

Then, to the soldiers prepared to march into battle:

Uhtred: A letter has been sent. It speaks out to every man in the kingdom, demanding that he answers the call and joins us on the road to battle. It says that this will be a battle that will be spoken of for lifetimes to come. It is a battle that no man can ignore, no man can stand by and watch. Every man must find a weapon and every man must fight! Wessex will always be the light. And no matter how heavy our swords become, we must fight. Fight! Fight and keep on fighting until the victory is ours! We march!

The episode closes with Uhtred giving a monologue:

It will be written in the Saxon chronicle that Edward did gain a great victory over the Danes, ensuring he would become King of Wessex. But other battles lie ahead, both with the Danes and within Wessex itself. A king must decide who he can trust and who he must discard. He must understand the minds of both his enemies and his friends. He must recognize that the truth of a man lies not in the land of his birth, but in his heart. A king must be a king on his own terms. He cannot be his father. He can only be himself. The chronicle will grow. Pages will be added. But Uhtred of Bebbanburg will not be mentioned. Although I, too, was victorious. My name is Uhtred, son of Uhtred. My name is Uhtred Ragnarson. Destiny is all.[1]

Uhtred is a marvelous character created by Bernard Cornwell and adapted for this television series. He is constantly torn between being Saxon and Dane. He is honourable, honest, and loyal to any vow he swears. He is not Christian, despite being baptised twice over, yet he is more honourable and shows more Christian character than most of the Christian men of England. Many of the “good Christian” men of the kingdom are horribly broken, sinful, filled with hatred, and murderous. Uhtred, on the other hand, leads well, serves well, takes life only as necessary, and is the most valuable right-hand man to both King Alfred and King Edward. He sacrifices land, wives, children, family relationships, and wealth to justly carry out the will of Alfred. At the end of the day, all of England believes Uhtred will be eternally punished in hell because of his rejection of the Christian religion, yet he is one of the truest men of his time. His fictional life, as portrayed in this series, causes one to ask questions about what it means to be honourable, just, moral, and a person of true character. May men like him call us to our best humanity and highest calling by God.



3 comments:

  1. What if the story were true Keith? Where do you believe Uhtred would spend eternity?

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    1. Daryl, The answer to your question is bigger than can be answered here but perhaps you might read my book, The Great Beyond (https://amzn.to/35pKDHW), as a partial answer. You will notice that I said Uhtred rejected Christianity. What he saw of Christianity did not attract him to Christ.

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    2. Hmmm....seemed like a pretty simple question but I'll check out your book.

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