Kjartan or Kjartan the Cruel was a supporting character and antagonist in both The Saxon Stories novel series, and The Last Kingdom television series. He was a former shipmaster in the service Earl Ragnar.
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Kjartan is accompanied by his leader Earl Ragnar and his family; as well as a fellow Danish warlord, Ubba. They sail to Eoferwic to meet up with Guthrum, another Danish warlord. After the Danish victory against the Northumbrian forces, Kjartan's son Sven kidnapped Thyra, Ragnar's youngest child and stripped her half-naked. Upon learning of this, Earl Ragnar crushed one of Sven's eyes as "half the punishment" for stripping his daughter half naked, then banished both from his lands. Kjartan, however, was able to find a post as the chief officer in the bodyguard of King Ecgberht and also became Ecgberht's tax-collector. Soon, Kjartan became so rich, he acquired the stronghold of Dunholme and elevated himself to the status of an Earl. ("Episode 1.1")
Years later, Kjartan, with his grown-up son Sven, lead an assault on the estate of Earl Ragnar on the night of his daughter's wedding. Kjartan and Sven massacred most of Earl Ragnar's household, with the exception of Thyra, who was brought into their captivity. Uhtred and Brida were in the high woods during the night of the attack. He then claims that this assault was a Saxon attack led by Uhtred. ("Episode 1.1")
Sven is tied up and blind folded, left to wander the woods aimlessly in darkness. He is rescued from the woods by Fiske and taken to Durham; Kingdom of Northumbria. Kjartan questions why a dead horseman rides with sickly lepers. Kjartan believes that it was merely a trick that his son was fooled by. ("Episode 2.1")
Sven and Fiske inform Kjartan that Guthred has been made the King of Cumbraland. And he is building up an army made up of Danes and Saxons. The commander of the army is Uhtred. Kjartan orders Tekil to join the King of Cumbraland and kill him. But he is to bring Uhtred back alive. Kjartan wants to make him suffer. ("Episode 2.1")
Kjartan and Sven look outside of the fortress and discover the heads of their men on posts. Fiske recovers the heads, reporting back to Kjartan and Sven. They sent eight men but only seven heads can be seen. The last is Tekil. Uhtred rides by on a horse and takes Fiske's head, as well. He continues to disguise himself as the dead horseman. Kjartan believes that it is in fact Uhtred under the hood and calls him out. ("Episode 2.2")
Sven warns Kjartan that Uhtred and Ragnar are in Northumbria. He surmises they'll go to Guthred for men. He's certain that Uhtred will attack. Sven wants to hunt them down, but they're safe inside the fortress. He then orders Sven to go to his wild white and tells her she need not feed her hounds. ("Episode 2.4")
The Kingdom of Dunholm is under attack by Uhtred and Ragnar. Steapa kills the guards by the gates and opens them for Brida and Ragnar to enter. Kjartan tries to stop him, but he is unsuccessful. They eventually force Kjartan to retreat. Ragnar then challenges him to a battle to the death. Brida warns him against it, but Ragnar is fueled by revenge. He taunts Ragnar by telling him how often they would hump his sister and how they killed the rest of his family. Ragnar disarms Kjartan and pins his arm to the ground with his sword. He then kicks Kjartan's sword out of his hand so that he doesn’t go to Valhalla. Ragnar finally kills Kjartan. However, after doing so, he continues to stab his lifeless body repeatedly. Even his own comrades watch in disbelief. Uhtred has to pull Ragnar off of Kjartan's body. ("Episode 2.4")
This list shows the victims Kjartan has killed:
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- Kjartan is an Old Norse name which means "sea warrior". It is short form of an Old Irish name of Mýrkjartan.
- Kjartan was a noble; he was the Jarl of Durham.