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The Last Kingdom is now in its fourth season on Netflix and the series was created using author Bernard Cornwell’s novels The Saxon Stories as inspiration. The series is set before the unification of England as one country, and it follows protagonist Uhtred of Bebbanburg (played by Alexander Dreymon). One of the characters in the series is Lady Aelswith (Eliza Butterworth), and fans are wondering whether she is based on a real person.
Is Aelswith based on a real person?
Aelswith is introduced in The Last Kingdom as the wife of King Alfred the Great (David Dawson), and she does not agree with her husband’s friendship with Uhtred.
The king’s wife is very dedicated to her faith and she cannot understand Alfred’s fascination with Uhtred’s Pagan ways.
On numerous occasions she called for her husband to cut ties with Uhtred, telling Alfred he could not be trusted, and he was a danger to their legacy.
However, when Alfred died, Aelswith slowly understood why her husband had taken an interest in Uhtred, and she began to show a more affectionate side in season four.
She is still somewhat sceptical when it came to Uhtred’s intentions, but fans began to admire her character as she started to head down a path to redemption.
But at the end of season four, her fate was left hanging in the balance after she was poisoned by the scheming ealdorman or elder man Aethelhelm (Adrian Schiller).
The character of Aelswith is based on the real-life Ealhswith, who was the real wife of Alfred the Great in the mid to late 800s.
She was the daughter of a Mercian nobleman and her mother was a member of the Mercian royal family.
Ealhswith married Alfred in 868, while the Danes had a hold over Nottingham, so historians believe their marriage was part of a Saxon alliance.
She had a brother-in-law called Aethelred, who was king at the time – not to be mistaken with Aethelred of Mercia (Toby Regbo), who married Aelswith’s daughter Aethelflaed (Millie Brady) in the series.
Alfred became king in 871 after his brother died and Ealhswith became a Lady of Wessex. She was not given the title of queen due to the misconduct of a former Wessex queen who accidentally poisoned her husband.
Alfred died in 899 and Ealhswith became the founder of the St Mary’s Abbey convent in Winchester, where she stayed until her death in 902.
She and Alfred had five children together – Aethelflaed, Edward, Aethelgifu, Aelfthryth and Aethelweard. Both Edward (Timothy Innes) and Aethelflaed make an appearance in The Last Kingdom.
The real Ealhswith is buried at her son Edward’s New Minster abbey in Winchester, and she became known as “the true and dear lady of the English” in manuscripts from the time period.
Ealhswith had a brother, Aethelwulf, but he does not appear in The Last Kingdom. The closest character to Aethelwulf is Aethelwold (Harry McEntire) although he is Alfred’s nephew in the series.
Actress Butterworth described the history of her character, saying: “Lady Aelswith is the wife of the wonderful King Alfred the Great and she was a real historical figure in Saxon times. She is kind of like a Lady Macbeth character in that she has got the ear to the King and she’s very divisive
and strategic and she’s got a lot of her own political views which helped influence Alfred in his reign.”
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In the series, Aelswith is loyal and protective over her husband, but she was not very popular amongst Alfred’s court.
According to history, she had been introduced to Alfred while he and his brother Aethelred had been trying to drive Vikings out of the country.
The Great Heathen Army had invaded Nottingham and Alfred took troops there to fight. This is where he met his future wife, and Mercia was able to form an alliance with Wessex as a result of their marriage.
Alfred fell ill on their wedding night and his condition, believed to affect his intestines, lasted for the rest of his life. Just before his death, Ealhswith had started laying the foundations for the St Mary’s Abbey convent, known as Nunnaminster. She only went on to live for three more years after Alfred’s death.
Not much else is known about Ealhswith’s early life, only she was from a noble background.
She was not known to have witnessed any charters in her lifetime, and her role as consort was most likely taken up by raising their children.
Actress Butterworth said she loved the fact she was able to play such an influential character in the series, as Aelswith is highly intelligent and has strong wit.
She added: “I think the audiences love The Last Kingdom because it’s really a show of very powerful storytelling and charismatic characters and epic battles all interwoven with real history, which is a great combination.”
Fans are keen to find out whether Aelswith survived the poisoning in the upcoming season five, as she was last seen being helped to bed by her daughter Aethelflaed.
She looked very unwell in her final moments, and some viewers are worried she may have died, but the truth is yet to be revealed.
The Last Kingdom is on Netflix now
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