Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the protagonist in both The Saxon Tales novel series, and The Last Kingdom television series. Over the course of the series, Uhtred, a Pagan, 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 and was the younger of Ealdorman Uhtred's sons. The name Uhtred was given always to the oldest son, but after his older brother was killed in a failed attack on the Danes, Osbert's name was changed to Uhtred. Uhtred was never taught swordsmanship in his nine years at Bebbanburg as his stepmother wanted 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(York). Ealdorman Uhtred was killed in the failed assault to reclaim Eoferwic, and Uhtred(his son) was captured by the Danes following his furious but feeble attack on a Danish warlord. That warlord, Earl Ragnar the Fearless, son of Ravn, 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.
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 war-band to where Ragnar and his family were sleeping and set their hall on fire, killing them all. Kjartan initially believed Uhtred to have also died in the fire. Uhtred was crushed by Ragnar's death and left Northumbria to find family amongst the Saxons in Mercia, to the south.
Uhtred ended up in Wessex and in the service of Alfred. Wessex was the last unconquered Saxon kingdom in England and thus always under constant threat from the Danes. Despite Uhtred's childhood he began to fight and revel in Danish defeats. However, Uhtred had a particular hatred towards Alfred whom he believed too pious, weak and trusting to fight off the Danish invasion, although he maintained a healthy respect for Alfred's intelligence. Alfred managed to calm any wanton violence between the two and Uhtred served him faithfully, though grudgingly, and at times with a mind to return to the Danes.
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In his youth, Uhtred is described a restless child, resisting his education and playing with armour 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 sincerely 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, later known as Ragnar Ragnarson, and willingly fights alongside him to avenge the elder Ragnar's death, retaking the stronghold of Dunholm in the process. Uhtred uses the name of his foster brother on a number of occasions to hide his true identity from the enemy he is interacting with, such as when going ashore when recapturing Lundene in Sword Song. Outranking all other priorities is his determination to oust his usurper uncle and take his rightful place as Lord of Bebbanburg.
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 son lives well but he shows great love for his daughter, Stiorra, with whom he is always playing., and nurturing. Although he shows a dislike for his second son as he wants to be a Christian and not a warrior. Uhtred is a complex character with his own loyalties constantly being questioned, even by himself, though he is a trustworthy man.
Uhtred dislikes the Scots, but has a grudging respect for their fighting abilities. In Lords of the North, Ivar Ivarsson's army is ambushed and decimated by the Scottish king Aed, after Ivar invades Scotland in response to Aed's men raiding across the Border. Uthred, when he hears accounts from survivors of the battle, comments, "Ivar's shield wall had held, but I could well imagine the ferocity of that battle. My father had fought the Scots many times, and he always referred to them as devils. Mad devils, he said, sword devils. Howling devils. And Ivar's Danes told us how they rallied from that first attack, and used sword and spear to cut the devils down - and still, the shrieking hordes came. Climbing over their own dead, their wild hair red with blood, their swords hissing."
In the novel The Burning Land, Uhtred again quotes his father, "Dealing with the Scots is like trying to geld wildcats with your teeth."
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- Bebbanburg (meaning "Bebba's fort") is now known as Bamburgh Castle in the modern English county of Northumberland.
- Bebbanburg was once the political centre of the kingdom of Bernicia, which was originally the northern-most Anglo-Saxon realm in Britain prior to the unification with the kingdom of Deira in the early to mid-7th century. Bernicia was composed of the modern English counties of Durham, Tyne-and-Wear and Northumberland, as well as parts of the modern Scottish counties of Berwickshire and East Lothian.
- Bebbanburg was first conquered by Ida son of Eoppa, who was a warlord of either Angle or Frisian origin. He took the fortress from the native British/Welsh tribe of the Bryneich (the origin of the name "Bernicia") in 547 CE. Ida is the grandfather of Aethelfrith, the first unifier of Northumbria, and ancestor of the House of Uhtred.