The Last Kingdom historical accuracy: Aelswith was the ‘forgotten’ lady of Wessex

The Last Kingdom historical accuracy: Aelswith was the ‘forgotten’ lady of Wessex

The Last Kingdom season 5 trailer from Netflix

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The Last Kingdom season five is on Netflix now and it brought many characters’ storylines to a close. Aelswith (played by Eliza Butterworth) proved she could not be taken down easily as she survived being poisoned by Lord Aethelhelm (Adrian Schiller). The queen went on to show how she was more than just Alfred’s (David Dawson) wife, yet a historical expert told about the real Aelswith’s fate.

Aelswith had one of the most dramatic character arcs of the series as she ended up winning the hearts of viewers.

As Alfred’s sceptical and dismissive wife, she did not take kindly to Uhtred’s (Alexander Dreymon) relationship with the king.

Initially, she believed Uhtred was a bad example for her husband and she cared only for his vision to unite England as one kingdom.

Yet after her wake-up call at the end of the fourth season, during the Winchester siege, her personality changed.

She became more sympathetic and trusted Uhtred to raise her grandson Aethelstan (Harry Gilby).

The warrior within her shone through in the final instalment as she used her initiative to keep her granddaughter Aelfwynn (Phia Saban) safe.

She went as far as to kill the evil Bresal (Harry Anton), who had been working for Aethelhelm.

The queen may have been the hero of the hour in the final season, but history expert Professor Clare Downham suggested this may not have been the case in real life.

The Institute of Irish Studies Professor told “Aelswith was the daughter of a Merican noble and her mother was a member of the Mercian royal family.

“In 868 she married Alfred who was heir to the kingdom of Wessex.

“It was probably an alliance brokered to improve relations between Wessex and Mercia.

“Alfred would go on to be one of the most famous English kings, Alfred the Great, from 871 to 899.

“Aelswith is hardly mentioned in contemporary sources making it hard to know what she was really like.

“Alfred’s contemporary biographer Asser never names her and according to West Saxon custom she didn’t hold the title of ‘queen’.

“And strangely enough she does not appear as a witness in any of Alfred’s charters.”

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From this it seems Aelswith was one of the forgotten figureheads of Anglo-Saxon history.

However, what is known is that she had a number of children with King Alfred, some of which feature in The Last Kingdom series.

Clare continued: “Despite this Aelswith and Alfred had at least five children including Aethelflaed, Lady of Mercia, and Edward who would succeed his father as king.

“There seems to have been genuine affection between Alfred and Aelswith as in Alfred’s will he left her the places of his birth (Lambourn) and the places of his two greatest military victories (Wantage and Edington).

“[This suggests] careful thought about the sites that she would remember him by.”

At the end of The Last Kingdom, Aelswith decided to stay with Uhtred in Bebbanburg.

Having been reunited with her granddaughter Aelfwynn and grandson Aethelstan, she finally felt safe.

As for the real Aelswith, she founded the convent of Nunnaminster at Winchester.

Clare said: “She shared in the piety of her husband and she had an interest in supporting religious women.

“Aelswith died on December 5, 902, and was buried next to her husband in the new church of New Minster, Winchester.

“Alfred had bought the land for the church but it was the project of his son Edward to have this monastery built and the double burial was a fitting tribute to his parents.”

The Last Kingdom season 5 is on Netflix now. The film Seven Kings Must Die is in production and it will conclude Uhtred’s story.

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