(Note: This post contains SPOILERS for the first four seasons of The Last Kingdom.)
In a scene in the second season of The Last Kingdom, the then still young Uhtred was showing off his fighting skills to an audience of warriors, priests, women, and a king. Lady Gisela, who would later on become his beloved wife, watched from the sidelines, amused, but she was hardly the only woman who had her eyes on Uhtred. Father Beocca wryly commented, 'Even his scars are handsome'. For, indeed, as certain as Uhtred would have battles to fight, there were also, always, women for him to love.
Whilst waiting for the fifth season, let's take a look back at the women Uhtred loved and lost through four seasons of The Last Kingdom.
If you have not yet seen the fourth season of The Last Kingdom, please stop reading now, go to Netflix, and enjoy one of the most underrated shows on TV.
Final warning. Spoilers for the first four seasons ahead.
On we go.
The bitter Brida we saw at the end of the fourth season was a far cry from the Brida we met back in the first season. Like Uhtred, Brida was a Saxon kid who was taken to be a slave to the powerful Ragnar the Fearless. Earl Ragnar raised Uhtred as a son, and when he was grown, the kindly lord suggested that he marry Brida. By this time, both Uhtred and Brida had set aside their Christian roots and very much embraced the Danish way of life, including the Danish gods.
Uhtred and Brida were together in the woods when Kjartan the Cruel, his son Sven, and their men massacred the Earl and his family, and kidnapped poor Thyra. They went on a run together in an effort to clear their names and correct the spreading story that Uhtred killed Earl Ragnar. It was whilst trying to gain audience with the powerful Earl Ubba that Brida was cursed by his sorcerer Storri, a curse that she carried with her through heartbreaking consequences, until she and Uhtred got together years later and went searching for Storri once more.
Brida left Uhtred when Earl Ragnar's now powerful son Young Ragnar returned. By that time, Uhtred had already sworn a year's service to King Alfred, a decision he made because the call of Bebbanburg remained in his blood. Uhtred wanted to regain his childhood home, his birthright. For Brida, the life of a Christian woman, a Saxon, was one she could not accept. She preferred the freedom she has come to enjoy with the Danes. With Ragnar, she could live the life of a warrior that she wanted.
Uhtred may have been Brida's childhood companion and first love, but Ragnar was the man she loved the most, and loved the longest. They fought together, became captives together, led armies together. Ragnar was always the more easygoing of the two, the more accepting of Uhtred though Uhtred served and spent time with Christians. But Ragnar was also a man who wanted heirs, and heirs, Brida had not been able to provide. It was the curse of Storri. Brida watched as Ragnar bedded other women so he could father sons.
It was interesting that, through all this time, Brida knew how to counter Storri's curse, but she never made an effort to do so. It was only after Ragnar was murdered by Aethelwold that she went on a quest with Uhtred. Ragnar died without a sword in his hand; that was the worst thing to happen to a Danish warrior. That meant that his soul was stuck in Niflheim, unable to ascend to Valhalla. Uhtred and Brida searched for Storri because, as a warlord's sorcerer, he would know how to get a warrior out of Niflheim. After they got the information they wanted, Brida killed Storri without spilling a drop of his blood, which effectively ended the curse.
Uhtred and Brida's time together were spent uneasily, because Brida had never quite forgiven how Uhtred turned his back on his Danish family, on Ragnar. After Uhtred told Brida that he only voluntarily swore to Alfred once, that the second time he did it, it was to save Ragnar's life, the relationship between the two finally thawed. In one of The Last Kingdom's most touching scenes, Uhtred told reiterated to Brida that she would always be half his life.
Brida allied with Cnut, because she knew that Ragnar's men would not follow a woman for long. Brida was pregnant with their child when she found out that Cnut effectively guided Aethelwold's hand in murdering Ragnar. Brida killed Cnut, then, with Welsh forces surrounding them, begged Uhtred to kill her. Brida strongly believed in the afterlife; she was weary of betrayal and wanted to be with the one man she unfailingly loved, Ragnar. That Uhtred could not bring himself to kill Brida was a failure to act Brida could not forgive. She survived slavery with determination to take her vengeance on Uhtred. The failure of her alliance with Sigtrggr only strengthened what for her had become a blood feud. From the man she might have married, Uhtred was now her enemy.
Mildrith was Uhtred's first wife, the woman through whom Alfred bonded him to Wessex. Alfred knew that a warrior like Uhtred was useful, but he also sensed the restlessness in Uhtred, particularly since Uhtred believed in the Danish gods rather than keep to the Christian faith he was born into. Alfred arranged for Uhtred to marry a beautiful noblewoman with a secret; the land she inherited from her father, the land that was now Uhtred's, was deep in debt. It was the debt that tethered Uhtred to Wessex, more than his beautiful, pious wife.
Uhtred and Mildrith initially had a good, even loving, relationship, but eventually, they were too different to remain together. That Mildrith witnessed Uhtred murder in anger their farm manager who had been stealing from them forever changed how she viewed the husband she had grown to be fond of. Uhtred, too, had started to feel the breaking of his bond with his wife and a strong attraction to Queen Iseult, whom he met whilst he traveled and raided for silver. When Mildrith and Uhtred's son died, perhaps a consequence to the spell Uhtred asked Iseult to perform to save Alfred's son Edward, Mildrith entered the nunnery.
Iseult was a shadow queen in the court of King Peredur, valued because of her ability to see the future whilst she remained a virgin. Because of the debt Alfred sneakily tethered him to, Uhtred, along with Leofric, Aethelwold, and a few other men dressed as Danes and raided territories in search of silver. It was during their travels that they ended up in King Peredur's court.
After a Danish warlord named Skorpa killed King Peredur, Iseult ended up traveling with Uhtred. It was Iseult who showed Uhtred and his men King Peredur's buried treasure, that gave them more than enough silver, and Uhtred a valuable relic that he used to bargain the church to forgive his debt.
Uhtred's strong connection with Iseult coincided with a time when his marriage to Mildrith was falling apart. They were together when the Danes sacked Winchester; in the horrifying scene where we first met Hild, it was Iseult, not Uhtred or Leofric, who could not bear to watch her rape, and jumped from their hiding place to stab one of the Danes. Uhtred and Leofric killed the other two. Uhtred and Iseult remained together whilst they hid in the marches with Alfred and his court, and through the difficult process of gathering an army to retake Wessex.
Iseult was a sweet soul who long suffered because of the darkness her powers brought her. She wanted to be rid of it, and she and Uhtred slept together. At the Battle of Ethandun, Iseult was left behind the camp whilst Uhtred lined up with the men of Wessex. It was at the camp that Skorpa found her. Skorpa taunted Uhtred with her head. With the fury of his heart break, Uhtred broke the Danish shield wall, killing Skorpa and forcing the Danes under Earl Guthrum to surrender.
Uhtred grew up with Brida, he was forced to marry Mildrith, but Iseult was his choice. They were sweet together, and I had hoped their pairing would last a bit longer. It was not to be. Iseult was ultimately a tragic character, a young woman who lived in darkness as she saw the future and lived with a king who used her. She lost her life just as she felt ready enough to live it without the one thing that set her apart, even gave her power. Iseult was one of the dramatic high points of the first season for me.
Gisela was the woman Uhtred loved the longest. Theirs was a happy marriage that was tragically cut short when Gisela died giving birth to their third child and second son. The union of Gisela and Uhtred also served to illustrate the England that Alfred was trying to build.
Because of a dream by Abbott Eadred, Gisela found herself sister to a king and a political pawn. She and Uhtred fell in love against the wishes of the powers around them. The strong willed Gisela went into hiding after Uhtred was sold to slavery. When she was found, she was forcibly married to Uhtred's uncle via proxy. The newly freed Uhtred arrived after the ceremony, and in anger killed the abbott. Alfred used the abbott's death, and Ragnar's presence as Alfred's agent when it happened, to bind Uhtred back into his service.
Gisela and Uhtred lived for years in peace in Coccham, a seemingly idyllic hamlet where Danes and Saxons existed together in peace. Like Uhtred's men, his community was a mixture of faith. Gisela and Uhtred firmly believed in the old gods, but Christianity also thrived in Coccham; Alfred was pleasantly surprised to find a church there, and later, Uhtred gave Brida permission to build a nunnery. Such was their life of peace that Uhtred even got his men to cross the river into Mercia to help villagers being raided by Danes.
Gisela presented to Uhtred not just an equal partner, but a way out of his profoundly unequal relationship with Alfred. When Gisela sensed that Alfred had begun to once more view Uhtred suspiciously, she suggested that Uhtred ought to ask the king to release him from his service rather than wait for their relationship to devolve. They could go north to Dunholm, which Ragnar held at that time, or to Gisela's brother, who was King at Eoferwic.
Uhtred's first marriage to Mildrith devolved into almost hatred on her part. Gisela and Uhtred were in love to the end. Their relationship lived through their children; their daughter Stiorra even used their love to point out to Sigtryggr that Uhtred was not an enemy of Danes, and that peace between the two frequently warring camps was possible. Uhtred sincerely mourned Gisela, though Uhtred being Uhtred, the seeds of his eventual relationship with Aethelflaed were planted not long after his wife's death.
I could get in trouble for this, but I do think Aethelflaed was far too pragmatic to be in love with Uhtred in a romantic, shipping sense. Aethelflaed respected Uhtred as a strategist and a warrior, she knew she could count on him any time, she very likely was physically attracted to him. But theirs was a grown up kind of love, one that they entered into with both eyes open, one that they knew was not the end all be all of their lives.
At the finale of the fourth season, when Aethelflaed found out that Uhtred was inside Winchester with Sigtryggr and his army, she paused, then went on to calmly state that the life of one man could not stop them from pushing forward with what they believed was the right course of action. Aethelflaed knew that even her own mother Aelswith would gladly die if that would allow her and Edward to retake Winchester. It was the kind of calculation people like them who were in power had to make.
By the time Aethelflaed and Uhtred became romantically involved, Aethelflaed had been Lady of Mercia for some time, by virtue of her marriage to Aethelred. Yet, even when she was a young girl just married to her abusive husband, Aethelflaed chose statesmanship over her own happiness and comfort. She refused to ask for her powerful father Alfred's help to stop Aethelred from abusing her, because she worried that doing so would break the alliance between Wessex and Mercia.
The one man I think Aethelflaed passionately loved, beyond duty, beyond her pragmatic lens, was Erik. She was willing to throw her whole life away for him. She was willing to endanger the Wessex/ Mercia alliance for him. She was willing to live a life of a fugitive just to be with him. To be fair, whilst Aethelflaed was with Erik, she still thought of the England Alfred was trying to build. She was determined to end her life rather than be the instrument to accumulate the funds the Danes would then use to attack Wessex and Mercia. Yet the roads she saw then were just two, her death, or a life with Erik. He was her great love.
Or, she was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome.
In any case, the Aethelflaed who slept with Uhtred was not the Aethelflaed who slept with Erik. Through their entire relationship, Aethelflaed was firmly in control of herself. Aethelflaed could dispassionately make decisions even where Uhtred was concerned. Could Uhtred do the same? Well, during the Battle of Tettenhall, Uhtred told Aethelflaed to choose someone to kill her softly, should the tide of battle turn against them. Aethelflaed replied that she had already chosen her man; it was Aldhelm. Aethelflaed did not choose Uhtred; perhaps she knew he would not be able to do it (though later, Aldhelm could not, as well). I have no idea how their relationship was in the books (I have only recently started reading The Pale Horseman, the second book in the series), but at least in the TV show, their relationship appeared to be a case of Uhtred loving Aethelflaed more than she loved him. But then again, Father Beocca once said that he feared Uhtred was too fond of love. Perhaps Uhtred was simply a serial monogamist who loved with everything he was and had, every time.
The fifth season is far into the future. There has not even been a confirmation from Netflix yet, though I remain hopeful it will come soon enough. It has been fun to look back into the loves of Uhtred's life. Do you have a favourite Uhtred ship? Do you think there will be another woman in his life in the next season?