Last Kingdom: Who is Aethelred? Is Aethelred of Mercia based on a real person?
23rd May 2020
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The Last Kingdom is a popular historical drama airing on Netflix and is based on The Saxon Stories by Bernard Cornwell. One of the main characters in the series is Aethelred (played by Toby Regbo), Lord of Mercia, who is married to Aethelflaed (Milly Brady). His story takes a dark turn in the fourth season and fans are wondering whether his character is based on a real person.

WARNING: This story contains spoilers for The Last Kingdom

Who is Aethelred?

Aethelred is one of the main antagonists in the series and he was first introduced in season two, when he was picked as a suitor to marry Aethelflaed.

Fans came to hate Aethelred as he treated his wife very poorly, forcing her to have sex with him and demoralising her.

He ordered his wife to be killed but as some of his followers realised how good a leader she was, they refused.

In the fourth season Aethelred was supported in his battle plans by Eardwulf (Jamie Blackley) and he had been having an affair with Eardwulf’s sister, Eadith (Stefanie Martini).

The brother and sister act have a plan to overthrow the Lord of Mercia, and Eadith is trying to win him over by acting as his mistress.

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Aethelred took his army to East Anglia in a bid to take over the lands while the Danes were supposedly in Ireland.

However the news was a lie and while he was away his own kingdom had been left undefended, and his people were dying.

The power-hungry Aethelred is later injured during the huge battle at Tettenhall, where his wife Aethelflaed had been fighting the Danes.

He is embarrassed about being late to the fight, and feels his men will look down on him as his wife is the more proactive fighter.

Still, he joins in the battle but is very nearly killed, when he is knocked into a ditch, hitting the back of his head.

Fans think he is unharmed as although he seems dazed, he stands up and continues to fight, but he is later carried back to camp on a stretcher, with the back of his head badly injured.

Viewers saw a whole different side to Aethelred after he learned he was not going to recover from his injuries, and he lay on his death bed.

Aethelflaed came to visit him, asking for his permission to let her choose a suitable man to marry their daughter, and to her surprise he agrees.

Fearing he does not have much time left in this world, he apologises to Aethelflaed for the way he treated her, and they end things on somewhat civil terms.

But wanting all the power to himself, his advisor Eardwulf enters his room and sits over him as he lay helpless in bed.

He starts pushing on the side of Aethelred’s head before his neck is heard snapping, and he lays lifeless.

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Is Aethelred of Mercia based on a real person?

Yes, Aethelred, Lord of the Mercians was a real person who came to rule Mercia following the death of its former king in the year 879.

Not much is known about his ancestors, but he went on to rule the western half of Mercia, as the eastern half was ruled by Danes.

His marriage is also a true story, as an alliance was formed between himself and King Alfred the Great of Wessex (David Dawson), with him marrying his daughter Aethelflaed.

Aethelred’s battle tactics were different in real life, as in 892 he led an army of Mercians, West Saxons and Welsh to victory against the Danes at the Battle of Buttington.

He is thought to have fought alongside Alfred’s son, Edward (Timothy Innes), until his health declined and he died.

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Like in the TV series, the real Aethelred also had a daughter with Aethelflaed, called Aelfwynn (Helena Albright) and she ruled Mercia for a short time.

Aethelred is thought to have died in 911, but the circumstances surrounding his death remain unclear as a large period of his life was not documented.

Historians believe his health deteriorated and his wife took over as the ruler of Mercia, and she joined forces with her brother Edward in battles.

He is thought to have taken part in some official meetings just before his death, but it seems he became too frail to continue ruling alone.

In whichever way the Lord of Mercia died, it seems it was not in the same way as in The Last Kingdom, and historians have found no record of the real Eardwulf of Northumbria killing him.

The Last Kingdom is available to watch on Netflix now

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