She started as a disgraced noblewoman who used her beauty for influence, but quietly, Stefanie Martini's Lady Eadith saved people in Mercia again, and again, and again.
There was a moment in the sixth episode of the fourth season, whilst on the run with Uhtred, his men, his children, and a couple of royal kids, that Eadith remarked how she liked that they did not look at her as something to be used. It was such a quiet moment, but it cut to the core of this noblewoman who drastically shifted from a court presence with an eye to advantage, to a woman free, a companion of warriors, a female character in the late 9th century who found that she liked and was capable of forging her own path outside of the powerful men who used to surround her. Eadith declared her emancipation from a life spent trying to reclaim her family's place amongst the Mercian nobles, and in doing so, saved countless lives.
1. Eadith persuaded her brother Eardwulf to tell Aethelred that Mercia was under attack by the Danes.
The first time we met Eadith, she was skillfully tolerating the advances of the repulsive King Aethelred (he started calling himself king after Alfred died) whilst firmly saying no to actually sleeping with him. As she explained to her ambitious brother Eardwulf, the moment she allowed the king to bed her, he would lose interest. Eardwulf had already wormed his way into becoming the head of the king's household guard, but that was not enough for them. Mercian nobles still viewed Eardwulf as a servant who kept trying to ingratiate himself to the king. He was not even a member of the powerful Witan.
Eardwulf was more ambitious, but Eadith was the smarter of the two. When she found out that her brother killed Edward's messenger, the one who brought word that Mercia was lost to the Danes, Eadith insisted that Eardwulf tell Aethelred the truth. Eardwulf reasoned out that if Aethelflaed fell with Mercia, then Aethelred would be free to marry Eadith. Eadith, speaking her brother's language of ambition, pointed out that there was no point to her marrying a king without a kingdom.
Eadith tried to allay her brother's fear that Aethelred would kill him upon hearing the news, and promised she would do her best to put the king in a good mood. Eadith put on the rather revealing dress Aethelred had made for her and allowed the king to bed her. The next day, when her brother still wavered about owning up to his bad counsel, Eadith insisted that she had done her part, and now her brother must do his.
What would have happened had Eadith not persuaded her brother to tell Aethelred the truth? If Aethelred's forces were delayed further, or if they did not come at all, then the Danes might have won the Battle of Tettenhall. The Danish numbers were simply overwhelming, so that every single warrior was needed to achieve the victory. Even if the few Mercians, the Welsh army, and the Wessex army under Edward managed to eke a victory, there likely would have been greater losses, which would be detrimental to the Saxon kingdoms moving forward. By standing up to her brother and insisting that he did the right thing, Eadith saved the lives of Mercians (and others who fought in the battle against Cnut's forces), many of whom viewed her as nothing more than Aethelred's mistress.
2. Eadith helped Aethelflaed escape Mercia.
'Why would a mistress help a wife?' Aethelflaed asked when Eadith came to the quarters where she was being held on the orders of her brother Edward. Eadith pointed out that they were not so different, that they were both wronged by their brothers and by Mercia. At this time, Eardwulf was on the ascent; Edward was lining things up so the man he chose could be the next lord of Mercia. Aethelflaed, who had led Mercians into battle, was being set aside as men monopolised the decision making in Mercia.
As soon as news reached them that Aethelred was gravely injured and could die, Uhtred tried to persuade Aethelflaed to flee. Both he and Aethelflaed knew that the widow of even a powerful ruler could quickly be pushed to the sidelines, even confined to a nunnery. Alfred was the most beloved ruler in The Last Kingdom, yet after his death, Aelswith barely had a voice at court. When Edward and the Mercian nobles started to take away Aethelflaed's voice, and her freedom, Eadith stepped up to rescue her.
Eadith's move was made even braver by her utter lack of power. She could not count on her brother for support. She had no money of her own. Her only hope was perhaps to flee to her distant family in Frankia. If she were caught and her complicity in undermining a king's order discovered, she could be executed, or banished. She did it anyway.
We should note that this was not the first time Eadith stood up for Aethelflaed. Early in the season, Aethelred carelessly spoke of how he could get Aethelflaed killed so he could marry Eadith. Eadith related this to her brother and firmly told Eardwulf that if the king were to ask him to kill Aethelflaed, he should refuse. Of course, Eardwulf being Eardwulf, he was more than willing to do it.
3. Eadith revealed that Eardwulf killed Aethelred, thereby preventing him from taking over as lord of Mercia.
Uhtred and his men were seasoned warriors, but there was little chance that they would have defeated Eardwulf and his men had their meeting on the road ended in a fight. For Eardwulf, recovering Aethelflaed's daughter Aelfwynn was integral; she was the key to his rise to become Mercia's new lord, the most powerful figure in a kingdom where he has had to bow and scrape to restore his family honour. If Eardwulf had succeeded in taking Aelfwynn back to Mercia, then the Mercians would have had a leader who viewed every circumstance through the lens of how it would benefit him. A leader as weak, selfish, and corruptible as Eardwulf would have spelt doom for a Mercia that was struggling to maintain its independence, both from the slaughtering Danes and the increasingly power-flexing Wessex.
They have had their differences, but it could not have been easy for Eadith to renounce her brother like that. She accused him of crimes his men would not forgive, the murder of their king and the delay of the return of their army from East Anglia to Mercia, a delay that might have cost the lives of their families. Eadith proclaimed that she would swear on the book (bible), an act that the deeply Christian Saxons took very seriously. Eadith also proved Eardwulf's culpability by pointing out that he had inside his pouch Aethelred's ring. The Mercian guards left, Eardwulf was forced to flee, and Aelfwynn was left unmarried. Aethelflaed was eventually declared the ruling Lady of Mercia.
4. Eadith saved Aelfwynn from dying of a sickness.
Young Aelfwynn fell ill on the road, though whether it was the result of the 'sickness' (the symptoms based on Finan's description did not really match this) or a sickness, the outcome of a frail child traveling long distances in a manner she was not used to, it was not confirmed. Uhtred left the possibly dying Aelfwynn in the care of Eadith and Osferth whilst he returned to Aegelesburg. Eadith could not bear to watch the child die and not do anything, so she purchased wormwood, a potentially dangerous concoction.
Eadith knew that outbreaks like the 'sickness' were often blamed on sinners. She was a Saxon and a Christian, but she was also mistress to a king whose wife was well loved by the people of Mercia. If Aelfwynn died even without her intervention, it was not inconceivable that she would be blamed. She took some of the potion before she gave it to Aelfwynn.
After Aelfwynn appeared to be at death's door, Eadith insisted that she be taken to Aegelesburg, despite Uhtred's instructions that they remained hidden. Was it the potion that saved Aelfwynn's life, or something else? Whichever it may have been, I still think Eadith saved Aelfwynn's life. Even if the wormwood did not work medically, the combination of Eadith and Osferth's care, and Eadith's insistence that she be moved to more comfortable quarters where she could get proper medical attention, certainly helped.
5. Eadith saved Uhtred, his men, and Father Pyrlig from dying whilst tied up a tree.
After Aethelflaed told her that she could not remain in living in the Mercian court, Eadith offered to buy Finan and the others ale if they would allow her to travel with them. As a woman alone, it would not have been safe for her to travel, so she obviously wanted the relative safety of being around warriors. On the road, however, Uhtred and his men, and Father Pyrlig, all ended up in need of rescuing after Haesten's larger force ambushed them.
Eadith's rescue plan again showed how smart she was. She was still some distance away from the camp when she screamed, which forced one of the men guarding Uhtred and company to a spot where his companion could no longer see him. Eadith pretended to be crying; as she stood up, she stabbed the man. She snuck back into the camp when the other guard went in search of his companion and freed the men, the very ones she had been counting on to keep her safe.
Eadith started out as a noblewoman who tried to derive her power from a man. In the end, she realised that she was far more powerful on her own. She influenced the fate of a nation and earned herself allies who saw her for the awesome human being that she was. Let's hope we'll get to see more of Eadith in the fifth season of The Last Kingdom (Hi Netflix, please announce this already).