Sunday, 5 July 2009

Uhtred:The Characters in Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Series

Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the protagonist and main character of the best selling Saxon Stories novel series by Bernard Cornwell. Over the four current books, Uhtred has become increasingly complex in his loyalty and general attitude. Uhtred is in part based upon the historical Uchtred the Bold who flourished at the start of the 11th century.

Uhtred was born into status as son of Ealdorman Uhtred, Lord of Bebbanburg and raised to have hatred towards the surrounding kingdoms of Mercia, East Anglia, Wessex, Scotland and the Danes. Uhtred was originally called Osbert due to being the youngest of Ealdorman Uhtred's sons but after the eldest son was killed in a failed attack on the Danes, his name was changed. Uhtred was never taught swordsmanship in his nine years at Bebbanburg due to his stepmother wanting him to pursue a life dedicated to being a priest.
In 866, The first of the Danish army began to arrive in Northumbria. In their speed the Danes were able to capture Eoferwic. After Ealdorman Uhtred was killed in the assault to reclaim Eoferwic, Uhtred was captured by the Danes following his feeble attack on a Danish warlord. That warlord, Ragnar Ravnsson, decided to nurture Uhtred's fury into a suitable fighting spirit and so adopted him. Uhtred found that living with the Danes was a much freer existence than with the pious Christians and their dour priests at Bebbanburg and embraced the Danish gods of Thor, Odin, and Hoder. Uhtred came to love Ragnar as a father and became a brother to Ragnar's sons, Ragnar and Rorik, and daughter, Thyra.

Ragnar's death
Living in Ragnar's company was enjoyable, even after Rorik's death of sickness, until everything changed. Ragnar had made an enemy in a man named Kjartan due to an incident between Thyra and Kjartan's son, Sven. The enmity came to a head one night when Uhtred was in the forest making charcoal for weapons. Kjartan led a warband to where Ragnar and his family were sleeping and lit their hall on fire, killing them all. Kjartan believed Uhtred to have died in the fire. Uhtred is crushed by Ragnar's death and leaves to find family amongst the Saxons.

Uhtred ends up in Wessex and in the service of Alfred the Great. Wessex is the last unconquered kingdom in England and thus always under constant threat from the Danes and despite Uhtred's childhood, he begins to fight and revel in Danish defeats. However Uhtred has a particular hatred towards Alfred whom he believes is too pious, weak and trusting to fight off the Danish invasion. Alfred manages to calm any wanton violence between the two and Uhtred serves him faithfully, though grudgingly, and at times, with a mind to return to the Danes. Yet as Uhtred's usefulness improves so does Alfred's attention and as Uhtred ages he begins to understand Alfred's wisdom although the dislike is always present.

Uhtred, in accordance with the times, is associated with a lot of women yet there are few women which shape his life. Uhtred has a penchant for defiant women who have "a spirit like an eagle", which he has attributed to many woman. Conversely he dislikes woman who crave order and Christianity.

Brida is Uhtred's friend and later mistress. Like Uhtred, she is Saxon in origin, and is adopted by the Danes after they see the ruins of her village, wiped out by a raiding party from a rival kingdom. Also like Uhtred, she comes to love the Danes for their free-spiritness. She and Uhtred become playmates and close friends, and later lovers when they reach adolescence. Brida becomes pregnant by Uhtred at least once, but miscarries. Along with Uhtred, she learns the art of making charcoal for forging steel, and so survives along with when Ragnar and the others are killed in the hall-burning. Brida despises the strait-laced, pious Christian Saxons of Alfred's court even more than Uhtred does, and, when Uhtred decides to seek a position there, she does not go with him, but remains with the Danes.

Mildrith is Uhtred's first wife, who first appears in The Last Kingdom. They were married as part of an arrangement whereby Uhtred gained command of the tiny Wessex fleet. The two do not really love each other, as a result of their vastly different outlooks in life and religion. As part of her dowry Mildrith brought with her a homestead in Oxton, but also an enormous debt because her father pledged a substantial portion of his estate to the church. They had a son, Uhtred, named after his father, who died after choking on a pebble. The elder Uhtred believes the death is supernaturally connected to the survival of Alfred's son Edward, who was healed by Iseult. After young Uhtred's death, Mildrith rejoins a convent.

Iseult is a British shadow queen from Cornwall who appears in The Pale Horseman. Iseult was married to a minor king named Peredur who kept her virginity in the belief that it maintained her powers of prophecy. Seeing that Uhtred's arrival would result in her freedom, she convinced Peredur to hire on Uhtred and his ship's crew when they appeared off the coast in order to fight the Danish warlord Svein of the White Horse, who had captured a nearby fort. Svein and Uhtred ended up colluding to turn on Peredur and pillage his settlement, and Uhtred claimed Iseult and began living with her although he was still married to Mildrith. Although Iseult healed Alfred's son Edward from an illness that nearly killed him and created herbal medicines for Alfred that made him healthier, she was feared and distrusted by the Wessex court because of her paganism. Alfred used her as a "surety" to ensure that Uhtred would not betray him and go to the Danes. She was later baptized, which helped alleviate the resentment against her, before she was killed during the Battle of Ethandun.

Hild (Hildegyth) is a nun who had been raped and prostituted after being captured by the Danes before being rescued by Uhtred, Steapa and Alfred in The Pale Horseman. She becomes Uhtred's companion and lover after Iseult's death and accompanies him back to Northumbria in Lords of the North. During this time Uhtred's attraction to Gisela was a factor that made her reconsider joining the church. When Uhtred discovered that he had been sold into slavery by Guthred as a condition of his alliance with his uncle Ælfric, he bequeathed his possessions to Hild. Hild then returned to Wessex where she used Uhtred's hoard of wealth which he had buried before journeying to Northumbria and the promise that she would return to the church and found a nunnery dedicated to helping the poor and sick of Wessex to convince Alfred to mount an attempt to rescue Uhtred. After Uhtred was liberated and returned to Wessex, he retrieved his armor and weapons from Hild, now the Abbess Hildegyth, who also gave him a small jeweled cross which he then had worked into the hilt of his sword Serpent-Breath. According to Uhtred, Hild was later revered as a saint.

As of Sword Song, Uhtred is married to the Danish Gisela, sister of King Guthred of Cumbraland.

In his youth, Uhtred is described a restless child, resisting his education and playing with armor and the harp. After his capture by the Danes, his restlessness is shaped into a warrior's fierceness.
Uhtred is forced to hate the Saxons because as a "Dane" they are his enemy. After the Danes win battle after battle against the Saxons, he becomes disgusted at their weakness in relying on prayers, and failing to produce decent warriors. He also honestly grows to love Ragnar the Elder as a surrogate father, and his family as his own.
However, during the Danes' first attempt at capturing Wessex, Uhtred discovers a streak of pride at a rare Saxon victory, and feels remorse when his uncle is killed in battle. After Ragnar's death deprives him of his family, he realizes he must rejoin the Saxons, where he develops friendships with several comrades that prevent him from returning to the Danes.
Portrayed as brash and arrogant, Uhtred at first despises Alfred as a weakling who listens too much to the counsel of priests, but, as time goes on (and also writing with the benefit of hindsight), he realizes that Alfred's cleverness is an effective weapon against the Danes, and also that he has a vision of something no one has ever dreamed of before: England united as one kingdom.
Uhtred is often portrayed as having to juggle several conflicting loyalties and priorities: despite having rejoined the Saxons, he still retains his love for his Danish foster brother, Ragnar the Younger, and willingly fights alongside him to avenge the elder Ragnar's death. Outranking all other priorities is his determination to oust his usurper uncle as lord of Bebbanburg and take his rightful place.
Uhtred does not like breaking oaths and is therefore hesitant if he must take one and his arrogance, although rightly earned through the killing of fearsome Danish warlords, gives some people the wrong impression about Uhtred.
Uhtred shows love for his children, his first son died due to swallowing a pebble and choking and although cold at first, he weeps when it actually hits him. His second sons lives well but he shows great love for his daughter, Stiorra, whom he is always playing with and nurturing. Uhtred is a complex character with his own loyalties constantly being questioned, even by himself, though he is a trustworthy man.

Comparison with Derfel Cadarn
Uhtred is frequently compared to Derfel Cadarn from another Bernard Cornwell series, The Warlord Chronicles. Both take their oaths seriously and endeavor to keep them and both generally succeed. However, Derfel fights for the people that fostered him (the Britons, he is truly a Saxon) and Uhtred fights for his own people, the Saxons and not for the Danes, his fosterers. His favourite saying is "Wyrd bi∂ ful aræd" which means "Fate is inexorable". This is also Derfel's favourite saying in The Warlord Chronicles.
Derfel loves and cherishs his partner, Ceinwyn, and Uhtred deeply loves the women he chooses. Uhtred treats Mildrith with contempt in the later years of their marriage yet their marriage was ordered by Alfred. Both are strong and their leader's best warriors and both were adopted during childhood, by the Britons in the case of Derfel and by the Danes in the case of Uhtred.
It should be noted, however that there are a number of differences between Uhtred and Derfel: firstly Derfel is a more overtly sentimental character whom many people see as more traditionally "good" whereas Uhtred's natural irascibility, irreverence when confronted with opportunities to buck the system or in this case Alfred's morality (and all who share it, or nefariously profess to) is frequent and is opposed by Derfel's more wistful hopes for justice in the face of immorality and his more romantic heroism.
Both character's fighting styles differ in that Derfel is more level headed, his tactical expertise come with years of fighting experience. He has also a great amount of valor that he passes on to his men in battle and is not afraid of death, yet he hates war and loves the rare times of peace that are depicted in the novel. Uhtred on the other hand fights like a Dane, he yearns for battle and once engaged he is always looking for what he calls "the joy of battle", a berzerking state in which he lusts for blood and in his words "a man becomes immortal". This joy of battle does not come whenever one wants, it is a sort of "inspiration" that comes by itself, but when it does one is drunk with power. Uhtred understands life through war, he loves the competition and approves the laws of the Danes which state that the strong should rule (unlike the royal blood ties which makes it possible for weak men to rule). Derfel however fights for freedom and for peace, he understands war is innevitable but as a last resource

Uchtred Genealogy
Ealdred of Bernicia
born about 0994 Of, Bernicia, Northumbria, England
died about 1039 Of, Bernicia, Northumbria, England
father:*Ughtred Ealdorman of Northumbriaborn Abt 0971 Of Northumbria, England

died 1016
mother:*Ecgfrida of Chester

born about 0973
siblings:Eadulf of Bernicia
children:*Aelfled (Elfleda) of Bernicia

born Abt 1031(?) Of, Bernicia, Northumbria, England

He was the son of Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria, who was murdered by Thurbrand the Hold in 1016 with the connivance of Canute. Ealdred's mother was Ecgfrida, daughter of Aldhun, bishop of Durham.
Ealdred succeeded his uncle Eadwulf Cudel as Earl of Bernicia in 1020/25, and some time probably in the mid 1020s he killed Thurbrand in revenge for his father's death. In 1038 Ealdred was murdered by Thurbrand's son, Carl. He was succeeded as Earl of Bernicia by his brother, another Eadwulf, who was murdered by King Harthacanute in 1041.
Ealdred's daughter, Aelfflaed, was the first wife of Siward, Earl of Northumbria and her son, and Ealdred's grandson, was Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria.
Fletcher, Richard. Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England. Allen Lane 2002.

Uhtred, called the Bold, was the ealdorman of all Northumbria from 1006 to 1016, when he was assassinated. He was the son of Waltheof I, ealdorman of Bamburgh, whose ancient family had ruled from the castle of Bamburgh on the Northumbrian coast.
In 995, according to Symeon of Durham, when the remains of St Cuthbert were transferred from Chester-le-Street to Durham, Uhtred helped the monks clear the site of the new cathedral. The new cathedral was founded by Bishop Aldhun, and Uhtred married Aldhun's daughter, Ecgfrida, probably at about this time. From his marriage he received several estates that had belonged to the church.
In 1006 Malcolm II of Scotland invaded Northumbria and besieged the newly founded episcopal city of Durham. At that time the Danes were raiding southern England and King Ethelred was unable to send help to the Northumbrians. Ealdorman Waltheof was too old to fight and remained in his castle at Bamburgh. Ealdorman Ælfhelm of York also took no action. Uhtred, acting for his father, called together an army from Bernicia and Yorkshire and led it against the Scots. The result was a decisive victory for Uhtred. Local women washed the severed heads of the Scots, receiving a payment of a cow for each, and the heads were fixed on stakes to Durham's walls. Uhtred was rewarded by King Ethelred II with the ealdormanry of Bamburgh even though his father was still alive. In the mean time, Ethelred had had Ealdorman Ælfhelm of York murdered, and he allowed Uhtred to succeed Ælfhelm as ealdorman of York, thus uniting northern and souther Northumbria under the house of Bamburgh. It seems likely that Ethelred did not trust the Scandinavian population of southern Northumbria and wanted an Anglo-Saxon in power there.
After receiving these honours Uhtred dismissed his wife, Ecgfrida, and married Sige, daughter of Styr, son of Ulf. Styr was a rich citizen of York. It appears that Uhtred was trying to make political allies amongst the Danes in Deira.
In 1013 King Sweyn of Denmark invaded England, sailing up the Humber and Trent to the town of Gainsborough. Uhtred submitted to him there, as did all of the Danes in the north. In July 1013 Ethelred was forced into exile in Normandy. After London had finally submitted to him, Swein was accepted as king by Christmas 1013. However he only reigned for five weeks, for he died at, or near, Gainsborough on 2 February 1014. At Sweyn’s death, Ethelred was able to return from exile and resume his reign. Uhtred, along with many others, transferred his allegiance back to Ethelred, on his return. Uhtred also married Ethelred’s daughter Ælfgifu about this time.
In 1016 Uhtred campaigned with Ethelred's son Edmund Ironside in Cheshire and the surrounding shires. While Uhtred was away from his lands, Sweyn's son, Cnut, invaded Yorkshire. Cnut's forces were too strong for Uhtred to fight, and so Uhtred did homage to him as King of England. Uhtred was summoned to a meeting with Cnut, and on the way there, he and forty of his men were murdered by Thurbrand the Hold, with the connivance of Cnut. Uhtred was succeeded in Bernicia by his brother Eadwulf Cudel. Cnut made the Norwegian, Eric of Hlathir, ealdorman ("earl" in Scandinavian terms) in southern Northumbria.
The killing of Uhtred by Thurbrand the Hold started a blood feud that lasted for many years. Uhtred's son Ealdred subsequently avenged his father by killing Thurbrand, but Ealdred in turn was killed by Thurbrand's son, Carl. Eadred's vengeance had to wait until the 1070s, when Waltheof, Eadred’s grandson had his soldiers kill most of Carl's sons and grandsons. This is an example of the notorious Northumbrian blood feuds that were common at this time.
Uhtred's dynasty continued to reign in Bernicia through Ealdred (killed 1038) his son from his marriage to Ecgfrida, and Eadulf (killed 1041) his son from his marriage to Sige, and briefly Eadulf's son Osulf held the earldom of northern Northumbria 1067 until he too was killed. Uhtred’s marriage to Ælfgifu produced a daughter, Ealdgyth, who married Maldred, brother of Duncan I of Scotland and who gave birth to a son, Gospatric, who was Earl of Northumbria from 1068 to 1072.

Uhtred was the King of Hwicce, jointly with Eanberht and Ealdred.
In 757 Eanberht, Uhtred, and Ealdred, granted land to Bishop Milred, and in 759 to Abbot Headda.
In 770 Uhtred issued a charter to his thegn Æthelmund .Æthelmund, an Anglo-Saxon noble, was Ealdorman of Hwicce in the late 8th century, perhaps living into the early 9th century. Æthelmund's predecessors had been kings, but he was a subject of the king of Mercia.
In 770 Uhtred of Hwicce issued a charter to his thegn Æthelmund.
Later, between 793 and 796 Earldorman Æthelmund witnessed a charter of Offa, King of Mercia.
In 796 Ecgfrith, King of Mercia, granted land to Æthelmund, now styled princep .
He seems to have been succeeded by his son Æthelric, who issued a charter in 804, in which he gave land to his mother, Ceolburh, presumably Æthelmund's widow.
Another grant, to thegn Coelmund, is dated 756, apparently in error for 777, 778, or 779.

Uhtred of York, Earl of York under King Ethelred II of England in the late tenth or early eleventh century

Uchtred of Lindisfarne, Bishop of Lindisfarne from 944 to 947

Powicke, F. Maurice and E. B. Fryde Handbook of British Chronology 2nd. ed. London:Royal Historical Society 1961

In Bernard Cornwell's series The Saxon Stories the protagonist is Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg, also from Northumbria. The story of the siege of Durham and the severed heads on poles is told about the historical Uhtred (see Battles of the Dark Ages, Peter Marren), though it is perhaps possible to assume that the fictional Earl Uhtred of Bebbanburg is an ancestor of this Uhtred

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