I know, I am far behind in updates and reviews- my sincere apologies for that! It is certainly not due to any disappointment or lack of interest in the show. No, far from that- in fact, my interest and my appreciation for this show has grown with each episode. Unfortunately, it has been just a matter of real life catching up with me-leaving me in the swamps, marshes and trenches of present day battle for survival in the world of work! I have also been battling the massive webs of ancestors in my family history. I have now clawed my way out of much of that mess, at least temporarily, until the next onslaught begins. I have a bit of time for much needed respite, rest and reflection so I will try to catch us up on this awesome journey to the past with Uhtred. If you have not watched any of the series yet, what are you waiting for, an engraved invitation from either Alfred, Uhtred, or possibly Guthrum??? Alfred or Uhtred could possibly accommodate you on the written invitation, but Guthrum as yet has not mastered the magic of the written word. Guthrum may have to send a messenger with a verbal invitation for you. He is currently running low on trusted and loyal subjects, however and he is in the process of changing some of his affiliations and alliances so who ever he sends as messenger may come as a surprise to you… and seeing as he is still Guthrum, you perhaps should be slightly wary of any messenger he sends?
For those who have read the books and are now watching the show, there have of course been some changes to the details. After having watched all of it play out so far, my personal opinion is that the changes to details and characters have not affected the overall story or plot line. In episode 5, we saw some differences but the outcome remained the same. Uhtred made his escape from the Danes and eventually made his way to to warn Alfred of the coming danger. War is coming, Alfred is preparing for battle and Odda the younger has taken Mildrith and the baby Uhtred to safety. Before reaching Alfred, Uhtred made his way first to his home to find his estate being grossly used by the obnoxious and disgusting steward, Oswald who was in the process of “plowing a lovely field of barley” as in one serving wench. Uhtred discovers he has a son and that his wife and son have been taken by Odda. Before he can reunite with his family he must find Alfred and his army, face the battle of Cynwit hill… and Ubba. This battle played out differently than the books but it still reflected somewhat accurately the factual accounts of this battle.
The Battle of Cynwit, also spelt Cynuit, took place in 878 at a fort which Asser calls Cynwit. The location of the battle is uncertain. Possible sites include Cannington Hill, near Cannington, Somerset; and Countisbury Hill (also known as Wind Hill), near Countisbury, Devon. A party of Vikings led by Ubba, brother of Ivar the Boneless and Halfdan Ragnarsson, landed on the coast at Combwich with 23 ships and twelve hundred men. There they observed that a number of English Thanes and all of their men had taken refuge in the fort of “Cynwit” for safety. Ubba and the Vikings proceeded to besiege the fort, expecting the English to surrender eventually from lack of water (as there was no available source near the fort). While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle glosses over the battle of Cynwit, it is important for two reasons.
Firstly, it was an important victory for the English won by someone other than Alfred the Great, the king of Wessex at the time who was spearheading the English resistance to the Viking invasions. The Chronicle, in addressing the year 878, makes the claim that “all but Alfred the King” had been subdued by the Vikings. Secondly, at the battle of Cynwit, Odda and the English forces not only succeeded in killing Ubba, but they also captured the Raven banner called Hrefn or the Raven. While the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle only briefly mentions the battle, it does draw attention to the capture of the banner, which is interesting considering that it does not single out any other trophy captured by the English in the many other victories they had against the Danes.
Cannington Camp is a Bronze Age and Iron Age hill fort near Cannington, Somerset, England. It is a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The small hill rises to 80 metres (260 ft) above low lying land about 1.5 kilometres (0.93 mi) west of the tidal estuary of the River Parrett, near the ancient port and ford at Combwich. The hill fort is roughly square in shape, with a single rampart (univallate) enclosing 5 ha (12 acres), and the main entrance to the south-east. The north side of the hill has been destroyed by quarrying during the 19th and 20th centuries. Minor excavations were carried out in 1905, 1913 (Bezell), and 1963 (Rahtz). It is possibly the site of Cynwit Castle (or Cynuit, Cynwith, Cynwits, etc.) and the Battle of Cynwit between Saxons and Vikings in 878 AD (see map). It may also be the location of an earlier battle in 845 AD, when the Saxons were led by Eanwulf and Ealstan, Bishop of Sherborne.
In our version of the oncoming battle, Uhtred arrived to warn and help but was again doubted and suspected of treachery because he managed to survive and escape the Danes. He must once again prove himself to the English army being led by Odda the elder, who is as Leofrich remarks, a good man but not such a capable leader. He is worried and doubtful while his son, Odda the younger is spiteful, distrustful and willing to make any excuse or attempt to escape rather than fight…. except when they win- then he will happily take all credit for it!
While the English are arguing with each other over how to survive let alone win a battle against the Danes, Ubba is making judgement errors of his own. He is devoted and completely dependent on his sorcerer, Storrie for advice and listens to what ever Storrie might profess to see in the signs… Unfortunately, as we’ve seen before, Storrie is not all that accurate at his skill in prophecies and signs. Ubba is confident, perhaps overly so of a victory due to Storrie’s advice so he settles into wait and takes time for entertainment and pleasure before battle.
Uhtred is unwilling to sit and wait, so devises a plan to out maneuver the Danes by attacking first… his plan is met with resistance and mistrust by Odda the younger, and doubt by Odda the Elder. He succeeds though in setting the Danish boats on fire and distracting them, all the while hoping that Odda the Elder will follow his directions and use the distraction to attack the Danes by surprise.
Uhtred becomes trapped in the Danes’ camp and thus must face Ubba in a one on one battle to the death.
This does play differently than the books where Uhtred kills Ubba from the shield wall during battle, but it works to advantage this way as we see this more as a personal battle of honor for Uhtred and for Ubba. Uhtred is defending his honor and his truth against Ubba who refuses to ever accept or believe that Uhtred did not have part in killing his family. Ubba had long before branded Uhtred as a family killer, a traitor and vowed to kill him… now he must uphold that vow and this becomes more of a blood feud than a battle between armies.
As this battle plays out, we still see that Uhtred succeeds in killing Ubba more by luck than anything else. When he kills Ubba, he still respects Ubba as a warrior, places a weapon in his hand and sends him to Valhalla with honor… it is not until afterwards that he realizes the enormity and danger of what he has just done as he looks around and sees the Danes surrounding him. Fortunately, Odda the Elder has by that time conveniently come to his senses and led his men to a stealthy night attack- thereby allowing Uhtred to escape into the depths of their shieldwall.
The English have won the battle and Leofrich advises Uhtred to proceed without haste to Alfred and inform him of his actions in this battle. Uhtred as usual, fails to listen to advice and insists that he must go first to find Mildrith and his son. Odda the elder has been gravely wounded in the battle and his son, Odda the younger is now in charge, a fact that Uhtred fails to take into serious enough consideration- a fact that will cause him much added trouble in the future.
Uhtred does find Mildrith and his son…they share a bit of family happiness that will quickly be short lived due to Uhtred’s slight problem with some anger issues.
Unaware of treachery and deception taking place, the family happily heads towards Winchester where Uhtred assumes he will be welcomed with open arms and high rewards. Such is not the case and Uhtred’s anger issues come to light in response to that deception by Odda the younger and to the spitefulness of some others such as Alfred’s wife, Ealhswith. Eahlswith’s truer colors, her vengeful character and her purest hatred of anything remotely Pagan… namely and especially Uhtred begin to become much clearer as does Odda the younger’s truest less than honorable character. She and Odda the younger make fine friends in their mutual hatred of Uhtred.
An unsuspecting Uhtred arrives in Winchester to tell Alfred of the victory and his role in it, unaware that Odda the younger has already arrived and taken credit for all, also unaware of new laws passed by Alfred to protect himself and his peace. Beocca attempts to warn him of such new laws but as per usual with Uhtred, he brushes off Beocca and plows headlong into yet another mess, created partly by his own actions or lack of them… He breaks into Alfred’s peace and his prayer, raises his weapon and loses his temper. As a result of this infraction, his punishment is penance and humiliation. This scenario played out much like the book, which I am immensely grateful for! He was joined in this groveling form of penance by Alfred’s nephew, Aethelwold who is much used to such punishments by now. Aethelwold steals the scene and provides some much needed comic relief while still managing to convey some deeper underlying meanings and messages. As they begin the trek of groveling, Aethelwold advises Uhtred to just follow and allow him to lead this procession while commenting that Uhtred will owe him for this act. As they grovel towards a waiting Alfred and company, Aethelwold commences to turn this act of contrition and humility into an all out laughable parade in which he begs forgiveness for his sins of ale, women, tits and asses. Throughout this charade, he points his words directly towards Alfred who understands completely his nephews references to seduction and sins of the flesh being directed towards him. He is not amused, nor is wife Ealhswith who presumably, probably also fully gets the intended reference. They quickly depart the scene and the penance event turns more into an entertaining interlude for all of the villagers watching.
Alfred’s wife Eahlswith has achieved her own personal ultimate success during this time by producing a male heir for the Kingdom… her status, importance and value to Alfred have greatly increased and her attitude will show it. We catch a glimpse of her attitude in a family scene with Alfred and daughter as they look upon this new baby. This is a quick glimpse at this family life and dynamic but it does show some foreshadow of how this attitude might affect the daughter’s life in the future.
Alfred’s relationship with his family, and in particular, this daughter will become of great importance and prominence in the future. We do not see it as yet in the show but hopefully there will be added seasons and you will see this girl child grow and take on her true importance in the story and in history. This young girl child is Aethelflaid who will one day be known as Lady of the Mercians.
Athelflaid, Lady of Mercians
The shaming and humiliation have incited Uhtred’s anger at Alfred and at the church or anything related to it, including his wife. The bliss is definitely wearing off of this marriage… Mildrith is upset with Uhtred’s behavior and at his lack of control over his anger. Uhtred has had close to enough of Mildrith’s preaching ways and is disgusted with her rather continuous tears. Her attitude and behavior for him is almost as bad as Alfred’s pious better than thou actions. The final straw breaking their marriage apart happens on their return home to their estate when he discovers the thieving and slovenly steward, Oswald has been stealing trees off their land and selling them for profit. Now, to Uhtred’s credit, he did warn Oswald previously that should he ever catch him being so disrespectful and dishonorable to the estate and to Uhtred, that he would kill him with pleasure. By the time they arrived home, Uhtred’s mood was to say the least, not good… He was in a foul, rage filled mood and most likely anything would have set him off. Oswald’s theft from him was just the trigger that caused him to blindly release his rage and dispose of the man as promised in the name of Justice with no thoughts of consequence for the act. Mildrith was naturally horrified by the killing thus began yet another round of crying, wailing, and moral judgements. Clearly, Uhtred has lost this round of anger management… not that he was really making any effort towards managing his anger issues in the first place but realistically at some point he needs to realize that these uncontrollable fits of temper and anger are creating part of his problems! As Mildrith oft preaches to him, “You’re too ready with anger, there’s a bad spirit within you that needs to be exorcized… You should look to God!” Mildrith can not fix this man right now, as Alfred can not either nor can their God. Uhtred’s demons are deep within him will take much time for some others to help him exorcize on his own.
I think it’s important to keep in mind that Mildrith is not a bad person, a bad wife in this situation…she and Uhtred are just not well suited for each other. Once the initial infatuation and lust wore off and they were put in a difficult desperate situation, they reacted in completely different ways and would never come to see things with a like mind or purpose. Faced with the same events as Mildrith, a majority of women would most likely react to Uhtred’s anger issues and violent tendencies in a much similar way as she did- even if we insist that we wouldn’t, that we would be fearless and bad ass strong in our reactions. We like to think we would be as strong as Brida or other shieldmaidens but in reality, few of us would truly be able to handle Uhtred’s outbursts without some fear, tears or meltdown of our own.
So, while Ubba very clearly and obviously lost his battles in this episode, Uhtred was not truly any winner. He only succeeded in killing Ubba by sheer luck, he suffered great humiliation and loss of pride at the hands of Alfred, he certainly lost any attempt at anger control and as a result of that loss, he also lost any chance or hope of some ongoing peace or even civility within his relationship with wife Mildrith. He also lost in a battle of thinking and wits to Odda the younger, and to Ealhswith. Unfortunately in this round, Uhtred must concede defeat to Odda the younger, to Ealhswith, and even to Aethelwold. Odda has won a huge albeit temporary advantage for now with his deceptions and his sucking up to both Alfred and to Ealhswith. Ealhswith could and does consider herself a winner in all things right now just for the fact that she has scored high on any front by producing that precious heir. And, Aethelwold… well, although for all appearances sake, he is not a winner in anything, he has managed to achieve one thing for his actions. Aethelwold has won by fact that Uhtred now owes him a debt, a favor that he will be able to cash in on at some later time!
One last thought on all of the events and people of this history… our first thoughts and tendencies are to choose sides, label right or wrong and place blame or judgement upon the people involved. What we need to remember instead is that there is good and bad on both sides, in all peoples. This story is not so much about a good or bad, a right or wrong side but of the complexities that made up each of the choices and decisions made by both sides. Mistakes are made, poor judgement is used and immoral inhumane decisions are made by both sides as well. The majority of the people are not all good heroes, nor are they evil incarnate mad villains… you notice I say a majority because as in any society there are those few who display the very worst of what we are, and the few who reflect the very best of all of us. No one in this story is a perfect ideal or portrayal of who we assume, think, or wish they should be. As in reality, these characters have flaws- they, just as we are, are shaped by the world they live in, the culture and society that has raised them, and the events that take place around them. And… some of them are just unlikeable people- such as Ealhswith and Odda the younger!