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Literature / The Saxon Stories

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The novel that started it all.
"But I am Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and this is the tale of a bloodfeud. It is the tale of how I will take from my enemy what the law says is mine. And it is the tale of a woman and of her father, a king.
He was my king and all that I have I owe to him. The food that I eat, the hall where I live and the swords of my men, all came from from Alfred, my king, who hated me."
—From the prologue of The Last Kingdom (2004)

The Saxon Stories are a series of Historical Fiction novels by Bernard Cornwell, set during the reign of King Alfred the Great, who is fighting to keep England from being overrun by the Danes, and following Death of Kings, his successors. The stories follow Uhtred of Bebbanburg, who is captured by the Danes during a raid and adopted by the warlord Ragnar the Fearless. Uhtred lives among the Danes until Ragnar is slain by one of his shipmasters, Kjartan. Uhtred ends up serving King Alfred, ruler of Wessex, who controls the only English kingdom yet to be conquered by the Danes. Much of the story revolves around Uhtred's conflicting loyalties to the Danes and King Alfred, as well as his personal desire to reclaim Bebbanburg from his uncle, who claimed it after Uhtred was taken captive.

There are thirteen books in the series:

  • The Last Kingdom (2004)
  • The Pale Horseman (2005)
  • The Lords of the North (2006)
  • Sword Song (2007)
  • The Burning Land (2009)
  • Death of Kings (2011)
  • The Pagan Lord (2013)
  • The Empty Throne (2014)
  • Warriors of the Storm (2015)
  • The Flame Bearer (2016)
  • War of the Wolf (2018)
  • Sword of Kings (2019)
  • War Lord (2020)

Originally, Cornwell intended The Saxon Stories to be a trilogy, yet decided to keep writing after The Lords of the North.

The Last Kingdom, a television series based on the books, premiered in 2015.

The book series provides examples of:

  • 0% Approval Rating: The Norse warlord Ragnall Ivarson is widely disliked and mistrusted by his own jarls for his practice of taking many of their families hostage in order to ensure their obedience. Uhtred and Sigtryggr manage to finally defeat him by turning almost his entire army against him.
  • Action Dad: Uhtred becomes this at the end of The Last Kingdom by Mildrith and, after the child dies during The Pale Horseman, becomes one again by Gisela in between Lords of the North and Sword Song.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Not an extreme example, but Alfred the Great is portrayed as more or less dependent on Uhtred in military matters throughout the middle portion of the series. A good deal of his strategies involve blackmailing a renegade Uhtred into returning to Wessex, who then does the actual legwork of saving the kingdom.
    • Subverted somewhat in later books, when it's shown that Alfred can look after Wessex just fine without Uhtred, having a number of capable lieutenants. It's just that a) Uhtred's actually that good, b) Uhtred is also more Danish than the Danes, c) knows Wessex's defences and strategies like the back of his hand, since he either invented or implemented all of them. Alfred therefore likes to keep him where he can see him.
  • A Day in the Limelight:
    • While Ragnar the Younger is Uhtred's adoptive brother and close friend, he's normally a periphery character. However, Lords of the North focuses on his efforts take revenge on Kjartan the Cruel, who had murdered his father in the first book.
    • Warriors of the Storm finally gives us a look at Finan's backstory.
  • Aerith and Bob: Because some Norse and Old English names have remained popular to the present day, and others have not, you have characters with familiar names like Edward, Erik, Harald, and (of course) Alfred alongside characters named Uhtred, Ravn, Leofric, Ubba, and Æthelred. There’s even some in-between ones that haven’t really been seen in England for a long time but are still used elsewhere, especially in the Nordic countries; there are still people around bearing names like "Ragnar" and "Kjartan" (there’s even a modern Icelandic artist named "Ragnar Kjartansson", whose father is "Kjartan Ragnarsson").
  • Age Lift: Osferth is portrayed as having been born during his uncle's, if Alfred even was his father, reign when history shows he was born in 885, which would have been during the reign of his supposed father Alfred.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Subverted. Alfred is easily one of the most ambitious characters in the series, and also one of the most indisputably devoted to righteousness. On the other hand, he has no qualms with cooking up a lie to usurp the throne which by all lawful rights should have gone to his elder brother. note  He also has little issue with deceit and other underhanded tactics when it serves his goals. He's also very condescending towards Uhtred for being a pagan, but that can be pretty much laid at the feet of every other Saxon too.
  • Anglo-Saxons: Kind of a given.
  • Animal Motifs: The banner of Uhtred's family depicts a wolf, and Uhtred himself possesses an ancestral helm that is forged to resemble a snarling wolf-face.
  • Anti-Hero: Uhtred is ultimately committed to defending Wessex, even though he'd rather be off raiding and pillaging with the Vikings. In later books, he comes to enjoy defending Wessex, to the point where he inwardly complains that he wants to be 'the Sword of the Saxons' rather than just playing defence all the time.
  • Anti-Villain:
    • Erik Thurgilsson, Jarl Sigefrid's much less brutal younger brother who falls for Aethelflaed.
    • The Danes as a whole tend to come off this way. While there's no question that they are brutal conquerors bent on rape, pillage, and slaughter, Uhtred frequently points out that they have a more free and tolerant society than the Saxons.
  • Arch-Enemy:
    • Uhtred goes up against a lot of enemies, but both Haesten and Ælfric could probably be considered this.
    • Kjartan the Cruel is this for Ragnar the Younger.
  • Arranged Marriage: Uhtred finds himself in one. Not only does his bride have a substantial debt to her name, she's also a pious Christian while he's a staunch pagan, who is extremely annoyed at having been railroaded into a marriage he doesn't want by Alfred. They get along about as well as you'd expect.
  • Artistic License – History: The series is definitely one of the more history-based retellings of the era, thanks to Cornwell's extensive research. Though Cornwell still takes plenty of liberties for the purpose of story-telling (mostly by condensing the timeline and creating fictional details in areas where history gets murky). The general rule of thumb that is most events surrounding Alfred, his descendants, and the wars they fought are generally true, while everything involving Uhtred and Bebbanburg specifically is fictional (though Uhtred himself is inspired by the real-life Uhtred the Bold). As in his other novels, Cornwell includes Historical Notes at the end of each book to explain in detail.
    • The Last Kingdom: the Norse leader Ubba is identified as a son of Ragnar Lothbrok, whereas only very late medieval sources do this, the earlier sagas don't. Uhtred also kills him a full year before Ubba is recorded to have died for the purpose of narrative. Furthermore, The nickname of Ivar "the Boneless" is rather lamely explained as a joke about his thin build, whereas most historians infer from details in accounts that it referred to his deformed legs, possibly due to a congenital disorder. Then again, that's only one possible interpretation regarding the epithet, with other historians inferring that it referenced his possible asexuality, and others saying it may actually be a mistranslation, and should be "Ivar the Despicable" or "Ivar the Hated".
    • The Pale Horse: The exact location of the Battle of Ethandun remains unknown. Cornwell places it in modern-day Bratton Camp, which is believed to be one of the more likely locations. The novel also uses the folk-legend of Alfred mistakenly burning cakes while in hiding. Svein of the White Horse is an fictional character meant to be a temporary stand-in for Ubba. Haesten, on the other hand, was a real person (or persons, as there may be two notable Haestens around during that era), though his story is fictionalized.
    • Lords of the North: There is no actual proof that Guthred was a slave before becoming King of Cumbraland, but Cornwell takes advantage of the legend. The entire storyline involving Kjartan, his son Sven, and Dunholm is completely fictional.
    • Sword Song: Æthelred's actions (in this book and the others he appears in) are invented for drama. It wouldn't be much of a stretch to say that Cornwell's version of him is a fictional character. Æthelflaed's kidnapping by Sigefried and Erik is also fictional.
    • The Burning Land: Harald Bloodhair is a fictional character based on a real Danish leader whose name is unknown, his sorceress Skade is also fictional.
    • Death of Kings: The climatic battle is based on an engagement during Edward's great raid into East Anglia where his Kentish men disobeyed an order to retreat and fought the Danes in an unknown location. The Anglo-Saxon chronicles suggest that it was a pyrrhic Danish victory that cost them most of their leaders, including the East Anglian King Eorhic and a rebelling Æthelwold. It's unknown why exactly the Kents refused to retreat when ordered, so Cornwell invents a subplot of their ealdorman trying to betray the West Saxons.
    • The Pagan Lord: Cornwell's version of the Battle of Teotanheale is fictionalized, as there are few known details about the real battle. Cornwell also places two fictional characters Cnut and Sigurd in the places of two actual Danish leaders who were killed in the battle. There was also a search for Saint Oswald's bones beforehand, though it's treated as a competing scavenger hunt between the Mercians and Danes.
    • The Empty Throne: Æthelhelm's plot to assassinate Æthelstan is invented, though it is based on the belief that Æthelstan was Edward's bastard son. Sigtryggr did lead an attack on Ceaster as in the book, but in may not have been in the exact timeframe.
    • Cornwell admits that Warriors of the Storm and The Flame Bearer are almost entirely fictional, particularly the later, which entirely focuses on Uhtred's attempt to finally recapture Bebbanburg. Warriors of the Storm, however, is based on the exodus of multiple Norse lords from Ireland, and attempts to re-settle in Mercia, and Sigtryggr did in fact become king of Jorvik (Eoforwic).
    • War of the Wolf: Both the siege of Ceaster and the conflict with Sköll are fictional (who is also a fictional character).
    • Sword of Kings: The succession crisis between Æthelstan and Ælfweard is fictionalized, as well as the climatic battle. Sigtryggr also dies three years early for narrative sake.
    • War Lord: Anlaf Guthfrithson, a king of Norse Dublin who serves as one of theFinal Bosses of the series, is depicted as a grandson of Guthrum, an earlier Viking antagonist who was one of the biggest threats to Alfred's reign. Although it's possible that the historical Anlaf could have been kin to Ivar The Boneless, there doesn't appear to be any family links between him and Guthrum. Cornwell taking this liberty effectively turns the Battle of Brunanburh into a showdown between grandsons.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The priests in the series are prone to quoting scripture, though due to the cultural ignorance of the time it's usually taken wildly out of context.
  • Author Appeal: Uhtred often expounds at length about what a joy it is to sail a ship on the open seas, along with numerous detailed descriptions of construction and maintenance of Danish longships. Bernard Cornwell himself is an avid sailor, so it's a safe bet that this aspect factored significantly into the series' conception. The devoutly pagan Uhtred is also very biased against Christianity, correlating with Cornwell's own bias against Christianity (and organized religion in general).
  • Ax-Crazy:
    • Ragnar's sister Thyra becomes this at the end of the third book. She gets better.
    • Brida showed some signs of this in her childhood, before eventually Jumping Off the Slippery Slope.
    • Skade in the fifth book, full stop. Her preferred method of intimidation is skinning people alive, and she enjoys it!
    • Any of the more bloodthirsty Danish or Norse warlords, such as Ubba Lothbroksson, Sigifrid Thurgilsson, and Harald Bloodhair.
    • Arguably, Uhtred himself. Count the times he's suggested to Alfred that Murder Is the Best Solution - it actually becomes a Running Gag. As early as the second book, Alfred's first response when he notices that Uhtred is unusually cheerful in the morning is to ask if he's just killed somebody (he hadn't - his girlfriend, on the other hand, had). However, Uhtred generally tends to suggest this in instances when murdering somebody would actually solve a lot of problems. These instances just happen to come about fairly often.
  • Back for the Finale: After being absent from several books, and having been mentioned to have retired to breed horses in Devonshire, Steapa returns in War Lord.
  • Back from the Brink: On a micro-level, Alfred and Uhtred successfully do this for Wessex. On a macro-level, they do it for Anglo-Saxon culture as a whole.
  • Badass Boast:
    • Finan, even when a slave on Skerri's ship Trader, makes a fantastic one, which doubles as a promise:
    Finan: Finan the Agile, they called me, because I would dance around my enemies. I would dance and kill. Dance and kill. There was a time when I owned five spears, six horses, two swords, a coat of bright mail and a helmet that shone like fire. I had a woman with hair that fell to her waist and a smile that could dim the noonday sun. Now, I gut herrings. But one day I shall come back here, and I shall kill Sverri, hump his woman, strangle his bastard children and steal his money.
    • An aged Uhtred gets a low-key one when preparing to execute the much younger warrior Eadwulf in single combat. Knowing that he's still recovering from a near-fatal injury, both his son and his future son-in-law offer to kill Eadwulf for him.
    Uhtred: I do my own work.
  • Badass Bureaucrat: Alfred may not be a warlike man, but his political genius in many ways ensures the long-term survival of Wessex, something grudgingly acknowledged by Uhtred. While Uhtred leads the field armies, Alfred runs the kingdom, making and maintaining vital alliances, implementing new defensive strategies, and basically laying the groundwork for the unification of England. While their vastly differing worldviews prevent them from ever actually liking each other on a personal level, Uhtred and Alfred eventually come to respect one another.
  • Badass Family:
    • The Lothbroks. Uhtred is frightened of all of them, and with good reason.
    • The Uhtredsons are no slouches either. Uhtred's father, Uthred himself and his son Uhtred are all badasses. Even his technically non-combatant children, Father Judas and Stiorra, qualify.
    • Ragnar's family too (which includes adopted son Uhtred) - lets just say in a time when you either spend your time fighting Vikings or being one yourself, this trope seems fairly common.
    • The House of Wessex, or at least Alfred's branch of it. Alfred, Aethelflaed, Edward, Æthelstan, and Osferth are all highly competent, clever, and courageous.
    • The Ui Imars, starting with their forebear Ivar the Boneless (himself one of the above mentioned Lothbroks) and continuing on through a long list of sons, grandsons and later descendants, who have appeared throughout the series to give Uhtred major headaches. One of them even becomes a son-in-law whom Uhtred helps make King of Northumbria.
  • Badass Preacher:
    • Father Pyrlig used to be a full time warrior before entering the priesthood. However, his priestly duties do not in any way prevent him from kicking Danish ass whenever the opportunity arises.
    • Father Beocca, when he strides into a pack of man-eating dogs and exorcises Thyra's personal demons with a heartfelt prayer..
    • Also Father Willibald, who went into battle armed only with a stave of wood.
  • Barbarian Hero: Uhtred is a more realistic version, and gets steadily tamed by civilisation, to his disgruntlement.
  • Barbarian Longhair: The standard hairstyle for most Northmen. A few Saxon warriors (most notably Uhtred, usually to make a point) still wear their hair long, though it's become much less common among them.
  • Barrier Maiden: After Alfred's reputation as a formidable opponent has been firmly cemented, the Danes decide to marshal their forces and simply wait until he dies. Essentially, throughout the last half of The Burning Land and the first half of Death of Kings, Alfred was keeping the Danes at bay just by being alive. After his death, of course, they attack with redoubled strength and ferocity.
  • Been There, Shaped History: Much like Richard Sharpe, Uhtred plays a vital role in many of the key events and battles of his time period. Without him, this version of King Alfred would have almost certainly failed and England would not have existed.
  • Berserk Button: Given the amount of importance that Uhtred attaches to oath-keeping, he naturally has a special hatred for oath-breakers. The main reason for Uhtred's fierce enmity for Haesten is that the latter had broken an oath to serve him.
  • The Berserker: Uhtred isn't a textbook example, but he completely embraces "the battle-joy" during combat, and describes how it makes him feel like a god on the battlefield.
  • BFS: Steapa's sword.
  • Big Badass Battle Sequence: At least one per book.
  • Big Bad Wannabe: Aethelwold attempts to usurp the throne of Wessex after the death of Alfred, but it's clear that Cnut Longsword is the real power behind his rise.
  • Big Good: Alfred plays this role, especially later on in the series. After Alfred's death, his son Edward assumes this role.
  • Big "NO!": Uhtred when he hears that Gisela has died in childbirth, along with the child.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Cnut Ranulfsson's banner depicts an axe shattering a cross.
  • Blood Knight: The Danes, most prominently. Uhtred himself is rather psychotically valorous too. His battle with the Welshmen in The Last Kingdom, the very first real fight he gets into, pretty much reads like an extra bloody Conan story. As his commander at the time says in astonishment (on hearing that this is Uhtred's first battle), "Lord love me, you're a savage one." Time and experience in the true horrors of battle gradually temper this attitude, with an aged Uhtred by the end of the series freely admitting no desire to ever again join a shieldwall, though plot circumstances leave him little option.
  • Book Dumb: Steapa is a fairly extreme example — illiterate and uneducated, he strikes most people (including Uhtred) as incredibly stupid. But he's not only a great warrior, but a capable tactician, able to read the flow of battle and react accordingly. There's a reason Alfred trusts him with command.
    • Uhtred is a mild example. Education as a whole bores him, though he reluctantly recognises its practical utility, he only learns to read as an adult and generally comes off as a mildly sociopathic Boisterous Bruiser, but he is a very, very clever man and a brilliant general. There's a reason why Alfred tolerates his shenanigans.
  • Born in the Wrong Century:
    • Uhtred would have been more at home among the original Saxon warriors who invaded Britain, as his paganism and Blood Knight tendencies often make him out of place among his 9th/10th century kinsmen.
    • Alfred, unlike most other rulers in the series, works to increase the standards of law and education in his kingdom. He is also one of the very few Christians who attempts to practice the ethic of forgiving one's enemies, though this sometimes compromises his kingdom's safety.
  • Brave Scot: The Scots are noted to be psychotically courageous, cruel, fond of the Full-Frontal Assault, and almost impossible to deal with. Indeed, they are one of the few groups of people that terrify Uhtred. In fact, the only people who can match them on the battlefield are the Vikings themselves.
  • The Casanova:
    • Alfred was this before he had a religious awakening.
    • Uhtred has bedded nearly every major female character he's come across who isn't related to him.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Uhtred observes this about his son-in-law, Sigtryggr - "a few months of being king put lines on his face and drew all the joy from his soul."
  • Character Filibuster: Through the first-person narration, Uhtred is prone to go on brief inner monologues about various topics.
  • Christianity is Catholic: Due to the setting. However, it's mentioned that some of the churches in Celtic lands have different practices than the Roman church.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Haesten.
  • Control Freak: A large part of Uhtred's dislike of the Christian God is that he sees Him embodying this, particularly in the confining society of Saxon Christians. He reflects many times throughout the series that God (basically the Christian Church of the time) is "loving", but demands eternal servitude, declares even the most basic of pleasures as sin and wishes to bring all the people of the world (often violently) to His sole worship. In contrast Uhtred ruminates that he doesn't serve his Norse Gods, his role in life to instead bring them amusement with what deeds he performs, along with the respect and occasional sacrifice which is only fitting for a god. The inherent independence of pagan society and faith (with its considerable cruelty along with kindness, a reflection of life itself) keeps Uhtred wistful of the Danes even many years after living with his fellow Saxons.
  • Cool Boat: The Wind Viper, later the Seolforwulf. Justified in that the Norse, Svear, Danes and Geats were renowned for their shipbuilding skill. The Saxons have ships too, but compared to the Nordic dragonships they are little more than tubs, as Uhtred complains when put in charge of Wessex's fairly laughable navy.
  • Cool Versus Awesome: Norsemen vs. Picts. Blood Knight vs.Blood Knight. Germanics vs. Celts. Barbarian vs. Barbarian.
    • To a lesser extent, Anglo-Saxons vs Danes, Norsemen, Geats (the Lothbroksons) and the odd Svear.
  • Cool Old Guy: Ravn. Magnified by the fact that Rutger Hauer will portray him in the television series.
  • Cool Sword: Both of Uhtred's swords, Serpent-Breath and Wasp-Sting.
  • Crapsack World: Life in Anglo-Saxon England is a harsh existence, and the brutal Viking invasions have largely thrown the kingdoms into disarray. Alfred tries his hardest to impose order over the chaos, but Uhtred thinks it's futile - though he later concedes that Alfred seems to be succeeding.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Sven who is torn apart by a pack of savage dogs set on him by Thrya as revenge for keeping her as a slave and raping her for years. To make him suffer, she beats the dogs away every time they try to go for his throat and directs them to attack his lower extremities. The dogs effectively eat Sven alive. If anyone deserved that, he did, but... damn.
  • Corrupt Church: To an even greater degree than in most Cornwell works, partially because the story is told from the POV of the very pagan Uhtred, and in an era where the Church wielded a great deal of social and political power.
  • Dark Action Girl: Skade.
  • Decadent Court: After surviving the initial Viking onslaughts and returning to a state of relative stability, the remaining Saxon kingdoms take on heavy shades of this. A good amount of the turmoil later on in the series stems from different factions within the courts of Wessex and Mercia pursuing different agendas. Inevitably, Uhtred ends up getting entangled in the intrigues. He eventually becomes rather good at navigating them, after realising that he can't just kill his way out of trouble.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Uhtred. And Pyrlig, and Finan, and Ragnar the Younger, and Ragnar the Elder, and... pretty much every warrior in the book except for Steapa.
    • Ravn, to everyone from Uhtred to Ivar the Boneless.
    • Alfred is another notable example, occasionally getting into Snark-to-Snark Combat with Uhtred, especially as the latter gets older and their relationship becomes closer to equal.
  • Death by Childbirth: Uhtred's wife Gisela in the fifth book. Justified in that it was far more common in the period in which the story takes place.
    • Just at the beginning we are told that both Uhtred's and his older brother's mothers both died in childbirth, too. Gytha was Uhtred's father's third wife, and died shortly after the birth of a healthy baby, too after being married to Uhtred's uncle.
  • Death of the Old Gods: As the series progresses, Uhtred begins to realize that this is happening. One of his primary hangups about fighting for Wessex is that a Saxon triumph would greatly strengthen the Church's hand.
  • Death Seeker: Downplayed. While Uhtred doesn't go out of his way to try to get himself killed, he frequently mentions his desire to die with a sword in his hand, and thus ascend to Valhalla.
  • Defrosting the Ice Queen: Bishop Leofstan (Beocca's former pupil) successfully does this to Uhtred, despite the latter's well-known and occasionally murderous dislike of the clergy.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The series doesn't shy away from depicting the less positive aspects of Anglo-Saxon society, such as the rampant sexism and intolerance of anything non-Christian.
  • Designated Girl Fight: Even after all she's done, it would be a bit much to have Uhtred kill his first love, Brida. So Stiorra does it for him.
  • Dirty Coward: Haesten again. Though he actually can fight when he has to.
    • Æthelred, who's generally terrified of Uhtred - and not without reason, since Uhtred hates him and has more than once threatened to murder him for how he treated his wife.
  • Domestic Abuse: Æthelred to Æthelflaed, until Uhtred publicly threatens to murder him over it.
  • Downer Ending: The second book, The Pale Horseman, ends with Uhtred leading the armies of Wessex to a great victory, and managing to save the life of his brother Ragnar, but at a heavy cost:
    “They killed my woman,” I told Ragnar. He said nothing, but just stood beside me and, because my thigh was agony and I suddenly felt weak, I put an arm about his shoulders. “Iseult, she was called,” I said, “and my son is dead, too.” I was glad it was raining or else the tears on my face would have shown. “Where’s Brida?”
    “I sent her down the hill,” Ragnar told me. We were limping together toward the fort’s northern ramparts.
    “And you stayed?”
    “Someone had to stay as a rear guard,” he said bleakly. I think he was crying, too, because of the shame of the defeat. It was a battle Guthrum could not lose, yet he had.
    Pyrlig and Steapa were still with me, and I could see Eadric stripping a dead Dane of his mail, but there was no sign of Leofric. I asked Pyrlig where he was, and Pyrlig gave me a pained look and shook his head.
    “Dead?” I asked.
    “An ax,” he said, “in the spine.” I was numb, too numb to speak, for it did not seem possible that the indestructible Leofric was dead, but he was, and I wished I could give him a Danish funeral, a fire funeral, so that the smoke of his corpse would rise to the halls of the gods. “I’m sorry,” Pyrlig said.
    The price of Wessex,” I said.
  • The Dragon: Uhtred is this to Alfred's Big Good, and is frequently sought by the Danes to be this or part of a Big Bad Duumvirate.
  • Due to the Dead
    • Subverted in Kjartan's case. He requests to die with a sword in his hand, but Ragnar the Younger denies him this as revenge for murdering Ragnar's parents.
  • Dumb Muscle: Steapa Snotor.
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: Offered in-universe to Eardwulf, as a motivation for him to fight to the last.
    Eardwulf: And if I kill you?
    Uhtred: Then my son will kill you. But for all time men will know that Lord Eardwulf conquered Uhtred.
  • Easily Forgiven: Guthred for his part in making Uhtred a slave as part of an ultimately failed political move to shore up his kingdom. Mainly because Uhtred likes him so much and because he'd actually been advising Guthred to be more ruthless in the run-up to Uhtred's being enslaved.
  • Enemy Mine:
    • As brutal as the Danish invasions are, a common enemy was ultimately what the Saxons needed to begin building a unified kingdom.
    • Later on in the series, the Saxons and the Welsh occasionally set aside their differences when threatened by the Vikings, bonding over their mutual Christianity.
    • Warriors of the Storm sees the Norsemen and the Irish decide to stop killing each other and start killing Saxons instead.
  • Evil Former Friend: As of Warriors of the Storm, Uhtred's childhood best friend/lover Brida has become this, going completely off the deep end.
  • Evil Prince: Based on what we've seen so far, Ælfweard, Edward's son by his second marriage, is basically Joffrey Lite, by contrast to Aethelstan, who's most definitely the Wise Prince.
  • Evil Uncle: Uhtred's uncle Ælfric takes Bebbanburg for himself, even though Uhtred is the rightful heir.
    • Uhtred more or less admits that if Ælfric weren't his uncle he would probably admire him as he's more or less doing in the North what Uhtred is doing in the South, holding off the Danes from conquering England by beating them at their own game. Given how often Uhtred proposes the Murder Is the Best Solution, it's highly doubtful he would have done anything different from Ælfric.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: For all his many faults, Kjartan loves Sven dearly and reacts wrathfully when his son is insulted by anyone.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Uhtred is infuriated by Æthelred's abuse of Æthelflaed and later terrifies him into not raising a hand to her.
  • Exact Words: Despite being Book Dumb, Uhtred is very, very good at this, seen best in The Empty Throne. The throne of Mercia is vacant, with no extant male heir. Uhtred has a strong claim by virtue of being Aethelred's cousin through his mother and thus part Mercian. He's also a famous warrior and experienced general. The deciding factor, though, is by getting the support of the machiavellian Aethelhelm, father-in-law of King Edward of Wessex and a man minded to have his grandson Alfweard ruling Wessex and Mercia in the future as opposed to Aethelstan, Edward's son by his first marriage... who Uhtred is guardian of. How does he do this? By promising that he'll support Alfweard's claim while he's Lord of Mercia. He's crowned... then he promptly abdicates in favour of Aethelflaed. Alfweard's reaction?
    You bastard.
  • Famed In-Story/The Dreaded: Uhtred becomes both of these quite quickly. Killing a dangerous Viking warlord in single combat will do that. He becomes more and more famous as time goes on.
  • Family Theme Naming: Uhtred's father, son, older brother and one cousin (and presumably most of his paternal ancestors) are all named Uhtred. As of The Pagan Lord both of Uhtreds sons have been named Uhtred.
  • The Fatalist: One of the core elements of Uhtred's character is his firm belief that fate is inexorable, and that the future has already been woven by the Norns. He also points to Rome's lost glory, and civilization's subsequent decline, as evidence that the world is steadily and inevitably sliding toward complete chaos, and ultimately Ragnarök.
  • Fate Worse than Death: For the Norsemen, being killed without a weapon in their hand, because it means they won't reach Valhalla and thus won't be able to feast in Odin's hall with their old enemies. Uhtred, for this reason, usually gives Danes the opportunity to put their hands on their weapons before he kills them. Notably, the only Danes he lets die without a weapon are those he truly loathes, such as his old enemies Sven One-Eye and Kjartan the Cruel and Sigefrid, who murders his brother. He has no compunction about killing Christians without weapons, however.
    Uthred: After I die, your brother and I will drink mead in Odin's hall, and neither of us wishes your company.
  • Faux Affably Evil:
    • Jarl Sigfried
    • The conniving nobleman Æthelhelm behaves in an entirely courteous and amiable manner, while actively plotting to have the young Æthelstan done away with and his own grandson installed as the heir of Wessex.
    • Haesten. He'll smile and laugh and charm you while sliding a knife between your ribs.
  • The Fettered: Uhtred takes oaths very seriously; the oath he swore to Alfred early on in the series is essentially the only thing (at first) that kept him from running off to the Danes.
  • Fighting Irish:
    • Finan the Agile is one of the very few Irish characters in the series, and also one of Uhtred's most lethal warriors.
    • Even though we haven't actually seen much of the Irish yet, their fighting prowess is well-known. You know your people are a Proud Warrior Race when they can force the Norsemen to basically throw their hands up in the air and say "screw it, let's pick on someone else".
  • Foreign Culture Fetish: Despite his limited knowledge of them, Uhtred expresses great admiration of the Romans.
    • This probably also applies to his immense love of the Danes.
  • Foreshadowing: In The Burning Land Uhtred recalls his brief encounter with Constatin, the future king of Scotland. Writing in hindsight he claims that had he known just how dangerous an enemy Constantin would become in the future he would have killed the Scotsman then and there. In the final book (set many years later) King Constantin is one of Saxon Britain's most powerful opponents.
  • Four-Star Badass: By Sword Song/The Burning Land, Uhtred more than qualifies.
  • Friendly Enemy: Haesten and Uhtred despise each other, though it can be tough to tell with all the seemingly good-natured snarking they slip in between the death threats. On the other hand, Cnut Longsword genuinely likes Uhtred, despite sincerely believing that the two of them are fated to fight to the death; and Uhtred himself takes an instant liking to Hywel Dda, the king of his Welsh enemies.
    • Ragnar the Younger and Alfred seem to get on fairly well when they're on screen together, with Ragnar charming Alfred's children.
  • The Friend Nobody Likes: Both played straight and averted with Uhtred. His staunch paganism and Heel–Face Revolving Door tendencies make him widely disliked and mistrusted in Wessex, but the Danes (many of whom he grew up with) seem to respect him as a warrior and would genuinely welcome him if he decided to join them.
    • Guthrum the Unlucky in the first book, also.
    Uhtred: (in reference to the nickname) With that many rings?
    Ravn: You could give Earl Guthrum the world, and he'd somehow think you cheated him.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare
    • Haesten went from a slave to one of the more powerful Danish warlords. His fortunes tend to wax and wane, though, see Villain Decay below.
    • Not quite nobody, but Cnut Ranulfsson was introduced in book 5 as a fairly minor player in a coalition of Danish jarls, easily overshadowed by Haesten and Harald Bloodhair. However, he quickly emerges as the single biggest threat among them, becoming the main antagonist of books 6 and 7.
  • The Fundamentalist: A lot of these in the Christian church, both among the clergy and lay people. Uhtred is fond of noting how the Danes tend to have a more relaxed attitude toward religious differences.
  • Generation Xerox: Uhtred's son, Uhtred, takes over the narration for part of the eighth book. His attitude and skill set are almost identical to his father's at that age (it's later noted that Aethelflaed considers him frivolous and foolish), though he's noticeably more light hearted, less inveterately pagan and less sociopathic. In the same book, it's noted that Uhtred's daughter Stiorra is the image of her mother, Gisela; like Gisela, Stiorra falls in love with a handsome young warrior, and defies her family to marry him.
    • Uhtred's son also unknowingly describes his father in terms very close to Uhtred's own father. Other characters who know Uhtred well usually respond to him describing his father by noting that Uhtred's turned out almost exactly like him.
  • The Ghost: In the eighth book, there are a few mentions of a warlord named Hrolf (aka Rollo) who has established himself in northern Frankia, though so far his path has never crossed with Uhtred's.
  • Girl of the Week: While some of Uhtred's love interests are strong characters in their own right and important to the storyline, others of them come off more like this.
  • Glory Seeker: Uhtred, as well as most of the major Viking warriors. Their religious beliefs basically require them to be this, and Uhtred occasionally monologues about how reputation is the only thing that survives of a man after his death.
  • Gone Horribly Right: For the first part of the third book, Uhtred acts as The Spock for the naïve young ruler Guthred, counselling him to take more ruthless and pragmatic courses of action in order to seize the throne of Northumbria. This ends up backfiring when Guthred sells him into slavery, in exchange for Ælfric's support. Uhtred doesn't really hold a grudge, however, recognising that he dug his own hole.
  • The Good King: Uhtred ultimately accepts that Alfred is one of these.
    "He saw his life as a duty to his god and to the people of Wessex and I have never seen a better king, and I doubt my sons, grandsons and their children’s children will ever see a better one. I never liked him, but I have never stopped admiring him."
  • Good Parents: Uhtred is a zig-zagged example — he's a good father to all of his children when they're small, is a fairly good, if strict father with his second son (who is somewhat scared of him, but so is just about everyone), while being unable to refuse his daughter anything. He's also an excellent adopted parent to Aethelstan. He's not so good to his oldest son, however, who's mild and pacifistic (but with the family badass streak lying within him) and breaks his heart by becoming a Christian Priest — as result, Uhtred disowns him and makes him take the name Judas. The newly minted Father Judas, however, takes it on willingly. He later regrets this and the reserve he showed to his other children, admitting repeatedly that he was a terrible father to his oldest son, an attitude which has a great deal to do with his own father's influence and his wife Gisela dying in childbirth.
    • Alfred is, if nothing else, a loving father. It's one of the few things that makes Uhtred like him.
    • Ragnar the Fearless was this to all his children, including Uhtred, who in turn loved him more than he ever did his own father.
    • Kjartan counts too, if in a twisted way. He's obviously a villain, but his son Sven means everything to him even if he is an utter bastard. In fact, the thing that motivated Kjartan to betray Ragnar was his brutal punishment of his son.
  • Good Shepherd: Most of the Christian priests in the series are portrayed as either corrupt or fanatical. Pyrlig, Beocca and Cuthbert are three notable exceptions, as they are genuinely committed to the principles of their faith without being overly judgemental (in the latter case, Cuthbert isn't remotely judgemental).
    • Father Judas.
  • Grim Up North:
    • Pretty much everyone, Northmen included, view Scotland as this.
    • To a lesser extent, Northumbria plays this role to the rest of the Saxon kingdoms, being a harsher and sparser land, and having been under Viking control for the longest period of time.
  • Happily Adopted: Uhtred basically raises Aethelstan and frequently mentions that he loves the boy, treating him like another son (and rather better than he treated his older son at that). Aethelstan, meanwhile, quite obviously adores him.
  • Hates Everyone Equally: Uhtred likes to give off this impression, making people believe that he's a Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk.
  • Heel–Face Revolving Door: While Uhtred is oath-bound to defend Wessex, he still greatly prefers the Danish way of life, and feels a much stronger connection to them. More than once throughout the series, these conflicting loyalties have caused him to defect to the Danes, though he never stays among them for long. His indecision is finally put to rest in Death of Kings, when he firmly resolves to become "the sword of the Saxons" despite his various misgivings about Wessex.
  • Heroic Bastard: Osferth is the bastard son of King Alfred. Although Uhtred initially has doubts about his usefulness, he proves to be a stalwart ally, a skilled lieutenant and a good friend.
  • Heroic Comedic Sociopath: Uhtred sometimes displays shades of this. When he appears to be very cheerful whilst with Alfred in the swamp, Alfred's first question is as follows:
    Alfred: Does that mean you've just killed somebody?
    • The answer is no, but his girlfriend did.
  • Hero of Another Story: King Edward has some traits of this. While Uhtred and Æthelflaed are busy pushing the Northmen out of Mercia and dealing with the politics of Northumbria, Edward successfully leads a campaign to conquer Danish-held East Anglia. This just isn't related first-hand, because Uhtred wasn't there for it.
  • Hidden Depths: Uhtred loves architecture and building, though he's not particularly skilled at it. He also tends to get philosophical whenever he thinks about how much better the Romans were at everything.
  • Hijacked by Jesus: Uhtred notes that, in the version of Beowulf he grew up with, it was Thor, not "Halig God" who gave the hero the strength to slay Grendel.
  • Historical Domain Character: So many. So, so many. Alfred the Great, Edward the Elder, Aethelstan, Aethelfflaed, Aethelred of Mercia, Ivar the Boneless, Ubba, Guthrum, Odda the Elder, Aethelwold, Asser, Wulfhere and dozens more with both large and small roles in the plot.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Interestingly enough for a series called The Saxon Stories, this is averted with the Saxons as a whole. They're definitely the protagonists, but the narration doesn't pull any punches about some of the less pleasant aspects of Christianized Anglo-Saxon society, such as rampant gender inequality, intolerance toward anything non-Christian, and their capacity to be every bit as brutal as the Northmen if given the chance.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade: Æthelred of Mercia. In the historical notes of the fifth book, Cornwell admits there is no evidence that he ever displayed the bastardry he does in the novels.
    • Subverted with Bishop Asser. He always acts like a total dick to Uhtred, but the narration frequently points out that he has an excellent reason for doing so.
  • Honorable Warrior's Death:
    • The need for a warrior to die in battle, or at least with a weapon in hand, is frequently touched on. Being a pagan and raised by Danes, Uhtred often gives Danish warriors that he has nothing against a chance to make sure they'll be holding onto their weapon before they die. However, almost once a book, Uhtred purposefully denies an enemy whom he despises the chance to die with a weapon in hand, barring them from Valhalla.
    • When Ragnar the Younger defeats Kjartan the Cruel, he makes sure that Kjartan dies without a weapon in hand to deny Kjartan any chance of going to Valhalla.
  • Honor Before Reason: Alfred tends to show clemency to his defeated enemies, even when his kingdom would probably be safer if he just had them killed.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Eanflæd qualifies.
  • Horny Vikings: Duh. In this series, they're collectively referred to as Northmen. Norsemen is specifically used to refer to Vikings from Norway, as well as their cousins who put down roots in the Orkneys, Ireland, and the Hebrides. Northmen can encompass Danes, Norsemen, Geats, Svear, and anyone else from Scandinavia.
  • Hypocrite: Uhtred often mocks and criticizes Christians for their willingness to believe in miracles and the power of dead saints, but on several occasions he proves to be every bit as superstitious in matters regarding his own beliefs. Eventually Eadith calls him out on this.
  • The Idealist: Alfred is this, though he's completely aware that the ultimate realization of his vision will probably not occur in his lifetime.
  • Identical Grandson:
    • Ivarr the Boneless' relatives.
    • Also a fan theory as to a possible connection between Derfel and Uhtred. It helps both are big, blond and clever warriors adopted by their ancestral enemies who love their adopted people and dislike bards intensely. Occasionally extended to Sharpe, since Sean Bean plays him as a big, blond... yeah a familiar pattern emerges.
    • In The Warlord Chronicles, Alfred's ancestor Cerdic is a slightly-built, almost clerkish-looking man, but nonetheless an extremely cunning and formidable opponent. Alfred's sincere Christianity means that he has scruples that his pagan ancestor didn't (but the same ruthlessness underneath).
  • If You Ever Do Anything to Hurt Her...: Uhtred gives a speech along these lines to Æthelred about Æthelflaed, threatening violent murder, though since there's some Domestic Abuse going on that Uhtred's noticed, the gist is more 'If You Ever Do Anything To Hurt Her Again'. Unlike most examples of this trope, it is given added force because it is entirely likely that Uhtred would actually go through with it. Æthelred certainly does.
  • Informed Attribute: while he IS illiterate, and lacks Uhtred's barbed wit, Steapa doesn't come across as nearly as dumb as the latter describes him. Seeing as the two of them are friends after the first two novels this might be a case of Vitriolic Best Buds.
    • Uhtred's narration frequently describes Cnut Longsword as a jokester with seemingly inexhaustible supply of funny stories - this is not especially evident when he appears; if anything Cnut is one of the more reserved Danish characters in the series.
  • Interfaith Smoothie: Uhtred's younger son describes himself as "half a pagan, or maybe less than half". He seems to be predominantly Christian, but occasionally prays to Woden.
    • Even Uhtred has been known to pray to the Christian God. While he doesn't like Him, he does acknowledge His existence and His power.
  • Ironic Nickname: Steapa is nicknamed "Snotor" which means "clever" in Old English. Ironic because Steapa is anything but. On the other hand he shows glimmers of not being as stupid as he first appears.
  • Jerkass: Uhtred is arrogant, rude, and not above killing people who piss him off. Somewhat justified by the time period, as kindness and mercy were not considered good traits for Anglo-Saxon warriors. He does show signs of Jerk with a Heart of Gold, as he is disgusted with those who mistreat women and children and will generally give people chances to prove themselves. However, The Pagan Lord sees him move more toward being a straight jerkass, as he beats, demeans, and disowns his eldest son for becoming a priest.
    • Though the last case could partly be because said eldest son broke his heart by doing so and in The Empty Throne, Uhtred occasionally laments the fact that he was, in his view, a poor father.
  • Jock Dad, Nerd Son: Uhtred is a courageous, ruthless, and fiercely pagan warrior, while his eldest son is quiet, milquetoast, though a case of Beware the Nice Ones, and eventually becomes a Christian priest, albeit one with Badass Preacher elements.
  • Just a Flesh Wound: Subverted in the Battle of Ethandun, in which Uhtred takes a spear in the leg and completely ignores it until the fighting is done... and then walks with a limp for the rest of his life due to the muscle damage, with the injury mentioned in pretty much every subsequent book.
  • Kick The Son Of A Bitch: Occasions where Uhtred outright murders someone are almost always this.
  • King Incognito: The Pale Horseman recreates two of the most famous episodes from Alfred-related folklore:
    • The king disguises himself as a bard to infiltrate the Danish base and gather intelligence. His bard impression ends up being so bad that Uhtred has to bail him out.
    • While hiding from his enemies, the king is asked by a peasant woman unaware of his identity to watch her bread while it bakes. He accidentally lets the bread burn (because he's talking to Uthred) and the woman knocks him to the ground. Alfred considered it to be a case of Once Done, Never Forgotten, irritably informing Uhtred that he's never to tell anyone about it. Considering the fact that we know about it and, well, Uhtred being Uhtred...
  • Lady of War: Aethelflaed
    • Stiorra has elements of this by The Empty Throne.
  • The Last DJ: Uhtred's "career", as it were, is constantly stalled out due to his being a pagan. Eventually he overcomes it.
  • Lean and Mean: Ivar the Boneless is this. It's where he gets his nickname.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Finan.
  • Like a Son to Me: Uhtred outright states this about Æthelstan.
  • Long Bus Trip: Uhtred's first wife Mildrith, who joins a nunnery and is never mentioned again.
  • Loophole Abuse: Because Uhtred is far too old to die in battle by the time he relates the events of the series, he intends to have a sword in his hand when he finally passes away, in hopes that this will ensure his passage into Valhalla.
  • Love at First Sight: Uhtred and Gisela. "I saw her, and was stricken." Later, his daughter, Stiorra, has the same experience with Sigtryggr. It was mutual. And provided the distraction needed for Uhtred to cut Sigrtryggr's eye out. Yeah, not exactly a romantic comedy.
  • The Low Middle Ages: About the Viking invasions of Anglo Saxon England.
  • Made a Slave: Uthred, in The Lords of the North, in exchange for his uncle's supporting Guthred's claim to be King of Northumbria. He can't really get angry at Guthred's betrayal, considering he urged Guthred to be ruthless in upholding his claim, and Aelfric's support was worth more than his own.
  • Major Injury Underreaction: After losing an eye in battle to Uhtred, Sigtryggr's immediate reaction is to laugh it off and joke that he has become Odin.
  • Mama's Boy: Guthrum, to the point where he wears one of his deceased mother's rib bones in his hair to honour her memory. This is generally regarded as being extremely weird, but no one dares bring it up.
  • Man Behind the Man: The ealdorman Æthelhelm becomes this for King Edward, effectively running the kingdom and representing West Saxon interests abroad. He also conspires to have his own grandson assume the throne of Wessex, rather than Æthelstan.
  • Manly Tears: Steapa, after the death of Alfred. "His grim, skin-stretched face that had terrified so many of Alfred's enemies was wet with tears."
    • Uhtred himself, Finan, Ragnar the Younger (and Elder, possibly)... ALL the major badasses in the series cry at some point in the series. Doesn't lessen their badassery one bit.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: A standard feature of Cornwell's writing. Father Beocca's exorcism of Thyra is a particular example.
  • McNinja: In the earlier books, Uhtred solves more than one sticky situation by ninja'ing his way in the dark, sceadugenga ("shadow-walker") style.
  • Meaningful Rename: Uhtred, on several occasions.
    • First, his birth name was actually Osbert. His father, the elder Uhtred, renamed him after his brother, who was killed fighting the Danes, along with making him the heir to Bebbanburg.
    • At various points, Uhtred flip-flops behind identifying himself as "Uhtred of Bebbanburg" and "Uhtred Ragnarsson," depending on whether he personally is leaning more towards his kinship with the English and the Danes respectively.
    • Uhtred pulls this on both his sons
  • Men Don't Cry: the hell they don't. Uhtred turns on the waterworks at least half a dozen times in the first two novels alone.
  • Mighty Glacier: Steapa's fighting style, which consists of being gigantic, strong, almost impossible to injure, and slow-moving, at least as compared with Uhtred's Lightning Bruiser. It should be noted that Steapa is considered the better fighter, even by Uhtred.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: Later on in the series, Uhtred bitterly reflects upon how Wessex, once the last kingdom of the Saxons and the realm that he has spent most of his life fighting for, is now becoming The Empire. The expansionism of West Saxon-led Englaland, as well as its state enforced Christianity, poses a looming threat to Anglo-Scandinavian Northumbria, which becomes the new "last kingdom", in the sense that it is the last realm in Britain where one can worship whatever god they choose.
  • Named Weapons: Uhtred names his sword "Serpent-Breath" and his seax "Wasp-Sting". Justified, as everyone else in the books names their weapons, and it was a common thing in the time period.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Ivar the Boneless and Harald Bloodhair, to only name a couple.
    • Ragnar the Fearless, Kjartan the Cruel...
    • Although not an official nickname, Ravn hands out the impromptu sobriquet "Ubba the Horrible" while warning Uhtred away from ever fighting him.
  • Naytheist: Uhtred basically has this attitude toward Christianity. While he's a devout worshipper of the Norse gods, he by no means denies the existence or power of the Christian God. He just doesn't like Him very much (though he will occasionally pray to him, if the situation is dire enough).
  • Non-Action Guy: While Alfred does fight in some of the battles early on in the series, his establishment as the Big Good and his declining health soon turn him into this.
  • Not-So-Omniscient Council of Bickering: Whenever the Witan is called, it generally ends up looking something like this.
  • The Obi-Wan: Later on in the series, Uhtred becomes this to Prince Æthelstan, mentoring him in the ways of war and politics.
  • Odd Couple: During the first part of Lords of the North, Uhtred has a brief romance with Hild, a disgraced but nevertheless devout nun. After Uhtred is sold into slavery, she eventually manages to convince King Alfred to orchestrate his rescue. They end up as Amicable Exes, and Uhtred promises that her nunnery will always have support and protection from him - which, considering how much he hates the Church, is no small promise.
  • Odd Friendship: Despite Uhtred being an ardent pagan, he tends to get along surprisingly well with some of the less dogmatic Christian priests, even calling Father Beocca "one of the best men I knew".
  • Old Soldier: Uhtred really begins feeling his age in The Pagan Lord, but that doesn't stop him from leading campaigns and fighting in the shieldwall. He is stated to be nine at the beginning of the series in 866, meaning he was born in 857, and the series ends in 937 with the Battle of Brunaburh, meaning he is eighty by the end.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted because of the culture, but in the case of the Historical Domain Characters Ragnar Lothbrok and his sons, Cornwell saw fit to refer to them as "Lothbrok" and "Lothbrokson" (an invented term) because he used "Ragnar" and "Ragnarson" for his fictional characters. Since "Lothbrok" is really an epithet referring to the historical Ragnar's outfit, the characters are essentially called "Furry-Pants" and "Son of Furry-Pants".
    • Cornwell notes that Sihtric (Uhtred's servant, and later lieutenant) and Sigtryggr (a Viking warlord and Uhtred's son-in-law) are actually the same name; he just spells it differently to make it easier for the reader to tell who is who.
  • The Ophelia: Thyra, sister of Jarl Ragnar, taken captive after a raid that kills their father. It takes the best part of two years for Ragnar and his foster-brother Uhtred to fulfil the blood-feud with the captors and rescue Thyra. Taken hostage by the family who sexually abused her as an adolescent note  Kjartan's family have taken revenge on Thyra by making her a sex slave and subjecting her to repeated gang-rapes. When Uhtred and Ragnar capture the castle where she is being held, they see a wild-eyed scarecrow of a woman with dead flowers tangled in her hair, dressed only a filthy matted cloak. Understandably, her ordeal has driven her crazy. Kjartan and his son, the principal abusers, die horribly.
    • Brida ultimately becomes a deconstruction.
  • Papa Wolf: Uhtred towards Stiorra. Ragnar, taking revenge on the youth Sven Kjartansson for assaulting his daughter Thyra. As Sven only got as far as tearing her dress and baring one breast before Uhtred drove him off, her father is lenient. As Sven only saw one bared breast, Ragnar the elder is content to blind him in only one eye. But Ragnar declares the whole family outlaw and proclaims that anyone touching his daughter like this will die horribly. Ragnar the younger fulfils this blood-vendetta after Sven abducts and rapes Thyra, calling on his father's spirit to bear witness.
    • An odd case in regards to Uhtred's attitude to Aethelflaed in Sword Song - while he and Aethelflaed do end up as an item, at the time he is both Happily Married to Gisela and sees her as a child (she's 14) that he's fond of and nothing more. As a result, there are significant shades of this in his threat to Aethelred, his cousin and Aethelflaed's husband, to stop his Domestic Abuse or he [Uhtred] will personally murder him.
  • Perspective Flip: To Cornwell's earlier novels The Warlord Chronicles, which were about Britons (Welsh) fighting the Anglo-Saxons (English), who eventually win. The Welsh are only minor antagonists to the English in this series. It's as if Cornwell wrote a series about French dragoons, sort of.
  • Private Military Contractors: In the first part of The Pale Horseman, Uhtred and his men become these for Peredur, a petty king in Celtic Cornwall who is looking to defeat a rival claimant and defend his land from the Danes. Uhtred, being the viking at heart that he is, makes a deal with the Danes, turns on Peredur, and ransacks his settlement.
  • Proud Warrior Race: Most of the people groups Uhtred comes into contact with are this, to varying degrees. Special mention goes to the Scots, who take it up to eleven. Uhtred also laments the fact that Christianity is causing the Saxons to gradually shed this cultural mindset.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Uhtred has this attitude (unusually for the time), but most of the other characters don't.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Happens all the time. Indeed, the verb for going raping, pillaging, and burning in Danish: viking, as in "I'm just off viking", is where we get the term Vikings.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: Basically why Leofstan was assigned to the newly created Bishopric of Ceaster. Some of the more corrupt elements among the West Saxon clergy grew annoyed with his vocal Good Shepherd tendencies, and thus decided to make him bishop of a city in the middle of a warzone, commanded by Uhtred "I kill priests like I swat wasps" of Bebbanburg in the hopes that Uhtred would get bored/annoyed and murder him. Despite himself, Uhtred warms up to Leofstan and comes to count him as one of the few churchmen he genuinely likes.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Alfred, most of the time.
  • Religion is Magic: The Danes have this attitude, something the Christians consistently fail to grasp. Indeed, when Guhtred and Guthrum "convert" to Christianity, they simply add Iehovah to their current pantheon. Ivarr the Boneless is genuinely curious as to whether the "Christian magic" is stronger than that of the Danish gods after St Edmund boasts of St Sebastian's survival of the Roman arrows... so he decides to conduct a little experiment. With St Edmund as test subject. It goes with quite some surprising realism, much to the amusement of the Danes.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Constantin, the prince of Alba, has thus far appeared only once in the series, having a brief cameo in book 5. A cryptic remark by Uhtred, who is narrating years later, heavily implies that he will be causing major problems for the Saxons later on. He returns in book 10, intent on conquering all Saxon lands north of Hadrian's Wall. Which naturally includes Bebbanburg.
  • Replacement Scrappy: In-universe. After Alfred's death, some Saxons see Edward as this, believing that he'll never be able to fill his father's boots. With Uhtred's help, he proves them wrong.
  • Royals Who Actually Do Something: Alfred, as well as his son and daughter. They're notably the only Anglo-Saxon house that doesn't get quickly and easily steamrollered by the Vikings.
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: The tale sets this trope, paradoxically, in the past. The Saxon and Viking kingdoms that arose in England in the late 700's discovered the ruins of the departed Romans. Four centuries on from the Roman Empire, the Saxons found the infrastructure left behind by a departed people, and only had a hazy idea as to how it got there. They do know the stone buildings, the city walls, and the roads linking them, are there, and are far in advance of anything that their technology can create. This leads to extravagant speculation about a race of gods and giants - as well as a depressive sense of culture shock among the more thoughtful Saxons who wonder if this is a sign of former greatness now degenerating into a Crapsack World. Uhtred has a sense of awe and angst when he sees Hadrian's Wall for the first time, for instance. Although he has fought the Scots and understands exactly why the Wall was built; he just can't comprehend how. But the ruins of a former modern age are all around, for all to see.
  • Sensitive Guy and Manly Man: Alfred and Uhtred, respectively. However, Uhtred's also prone to Manly Tears when the situation deserves it and Alfred is capable of fighting when needs be and being incredibly ruthless.
  • Servile Snarker: Uhtred to Alfred, pretty much constantly. Alfred, for his part, mostly seems to find Uhtred's snark amusing (mostly because Uhtred's about the only person who dares to give him lip). Mostly.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: it's not in-your-face obvious, but by the later books it becomes more and more apparent that a lifetime of warfare took its toll on Uhtred not just physically, but mentally as well.
  • Shout-Out:
    • References to King Arthur become this since he is the Warlord of The Warlord Chronicles.
    • King Edward's youth as a warrior king and later penchant for hunting boars and whores brings to mind a certain Westerosi monarch.
  • Slave Galley: Uhtred becomes a galley slave in the third book. Unsurprisingly, he gets revenge.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Uhtred's narration is mostly cynical, though with an occasional (and sometimes begrudging) glimmer of idealism.
  • Smug Snake: Though Haesten would probably count as a Magnificent Bastard if he didn't always lose, often through bad luck or incompetent allies.
  • Soldier vs. Warrior: On two levels.
    • First there's the Vikings (warriors) vs the Saxons (soldiers). Uhtred notes that the Vikings are individually better fighters than the Saxons, but the Saxons win through discipline and persistence, and also because the Vikings' warrior ethos means that they follow the strongest warlord, and leave him when he starts losing battles, whereas if the Saxons are beaten they retreat, regroup, and come back for more.
    • Then there's Uhtred himself, who over the course of the books evolves from a warrior — a vainglorious, arrogant thug who loves to show off in battle, delights in slaughter, and is primarily concerned with burnishing his personal reputation — to a soldier — a stern, hard-headed, leader of men, who encourages discipline in his followers and understands the importance of the civilians who he protects.
  • Sour Supporter: A fairly extreme, though not exactly surprising, example in regards to Uhtred towards Alfred. In the early books, Uhtred dreams of a Danish conquest of Wessex, of Alfred dead and his people defeated, regards it as a great misfortune that his oaths bind him to follow Alfred, and generally has to be blackmailed into working for Alfred. This is fairly logical, considering that most of the people he actually likes are on the Danish side, including his foster brother, while most of the Saxons hate him and he hates them back, and the Danes actually respect him, while the Saxons usually fall under Ungrateful Bastard.
    • Becomes a more conventional example later on, as Uhtred grudgingly cleaves more to the Saxon side and comes to respect, if not like, Alfred, something Alfred reciprocates.
  • Spiritual Successor:
    • To The Warlord Chronicles, with many of the same conceits - the hero (narrating as an old man) is born to one culture but fiercely loyal to the one he's raised in (though not without some appreciation for his native one), his first Love Interest is a dark-haired young woman with magical inclinations who eventually goes completely Ax-Crazy, and he more or less elopes with his true love, the sister of a King. However, there are differences - Derfel's fighting an ultimately losing battle, and while he outlives his wife, doesn't lose her in childbirth, and is generally a much nicer person than Uhtred ever was.
    • The Conquest Series by James Aitcheson could probably be considered one to this series. Narrated by a Norman knight a few years after the Conquest, it deals with the Norman efforts to pacify the quarrelsome Saxons and fend off foreign aggression. Aitcheson is an avowed Cornwell fan, and the first-person narration and use of historical place-names (Eoferwic, Dunholm, etc.) make it very reminiscent of the Saxon Stories.
  • The Spock: Uhtred acts as this to both Alfred and Guthred, frequently counselling the more pragmatic, ruthless, and frequently, lethal solution to a given situation.
  • The Starscream:
    • Haesten to Uhtred.
    • Uhtred himself has come close to being Alfred's Starscream, but always ended up staying loyal due to his unwillingness to break his oaths.
    • The main reason why Edward is so hesitant about openly antagonizing Lord Æthelhelm is because he realizes that the latter has both the capability and willingness to plunge the emerging English realm into civil war if he doesn't get what he wants.
  • Storming the Castle: Uhtred does this on several occasions. It's awesome.
  • Succession Crisis: The Empty Throne centers around a power struggle to determine who will take control of Mercia when the heirless (and dying) Lord Æthelred passes away.
  • Switching P.O.V.: Uhtred's son Uhtred temporarily takes over the narration in The Empty Throne
  • Take That!: Uhtred (Cornwell?) tends to give quite a few of these to the Church/Christianity in general over the course of the series. A particularly memorable one comes from The Empty Throne, when Uhtred is arguing that Aethelflaed should take control of Mercia's army.
    Father Ceolnoth: King Edward must rule directly, and appoint someone else to command Mercia's army.
    Uhtred: Why not his sister?
    Father Ceolnoth: A woman! Commanding warriors? The idea is absurd! A woman's task is to obey her husband.
    Father Ceolberht: Saint Paul gave us explicit instructions! He wrote to Timothy saying that no woman could have authority over a man. The scripture is plain to understand.
    Uhtred: Did Saint Paul have brown eyes?
    Father Ceolnoth: We don't know, lord, why do you ask?
    Uhtred: Because he's full of shit.
    *both priests cross themselves*
  • Tattooed Crook: Ragnall Ivarson from Warriors of the Storm is a brutal Norse warlord whose arms, torso, and face are covered in tattoos.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: In the early books, Uhtred and Alfred will work together to save England, but that sure as Hel doesn't mean they have to like each other, with Uhtred resenting Alfred's manipulations forcing him to serve Wessex and Alfred trusting Uhtred about as far as he can throw him (not entirely without reason, considering that Uhtred's fairly open about how the people he actually likes are on the other side). In later books, this aspect fades somewhat, and while they never come to be particularly close friends, they do come to trust and respect each other, sufficiently that Alfred entrusts Uhtred with ensuring that his son comes to the throne.
  • The Strategist: Uhtred, Alfred as well except that he's more of a political than a military strategist.
  • Those Two Guys: Clapa and Rypere, A Dane and a Saxon who originally served in Guthred's royal guard before following Uhtred south.
  • Time Skip: Approximately ten years go by between Death of Kings and The Pagan Lord.
  • Token Enemy Minority:
    • Uhtred's paganism and Danish upbringing make him this to Wessex.
    • The Welshmen Pyrlig and Asser as well, the former often coming to the aid of Uhtred and the latter being in the service of King Alfred.
  • Token Evil Teammate: Uhtred is generally seen by those who dislike him as Alfred's useful dog of war and pet psychopath. They're not entirely wrong either, considering his ideas of dealing with people generally boil down to Murder Is the Best Solution - though as it happens, this often would solve many problems.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Aethelflaed appears to have done this by the time of The Empty Throne, but it transpires that most of this is just the difference between how Uhtred, who's known her since she was a little girl (and to whom she's willing to show her softer side), sees her and how everyone else sees her (if Uhtred's son, a badass in his own right, is anything to go by, they're terrified of her).
  • Troll: By the later books, Uhtred's antagonistic attitude towards Christianity has softened from "all Christians are worthless and their priests are scum who deserve death" to the point where he gets on pretty well with everyone who isn't a raving fanatic. Despite this he frequently acts the part of being a murderously angry pagan — which his Christian son claims he does purely because he likes to provoke a reaction. And that's without knowing about the unnecessarily graphic confession he gave as part of his manoeuvring around the throne of Mercia.
    And so Bishop Leofstan came to Ceaster.
    "I hate the bastard," I said.
    "No, you don't," Finan said. "You just don't like the fact that you like him."
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Father Beocca, often described by Uhtred is a very unattractive man, ends up like this.
    • To be fair he also saved his wife from madness, implied to be as a result of capture, torment, and possibly demonic possession. As with all his books, Cornwell leaves this one very ambiguous.
      • It's not that ambiguous; any cases where it might be the gods have fairly obvious modern explanations, or are just luck. Sometimes it's glaringly obvious, like when Uhtred is convinced of everything the witch in Death of Kings tells him, despite her being a huge fraud. This may come under Unreliable Narrator.
  • Unreliable Narrator: The whole series is narrated by Uhtred many years after the fact, so some of his deeds may be exaggerated, which he grudgingly admits. Also a reason why Uhtred doesn't really like bards.
  • The Usurper: Aethelwold attempts to be this in the sixth book. He fails.
  • Victory Is Boring: Uhtred had this mentality in his younger days, often going a-viking or hiring himself and his men out as Private Military Contractors during the brief periods of peace between the Saxons and the Danes. As he grows older, however, he seems to be more content to rule over his lands in peace whenever the rare opportunity presents itself.
  • Villain Decay: After his defeat in book 5, Haesten has been little more than a nuisance for Uhtred and co. He's reversed his fortunes before, though, and he may still have a few tricks up his sleeve...
  • Villain of the Week: In most of the books, the main events revolve around a large Viking invasion led by an exceptionally powerful warlord or group of warlords. Examples of these include the Lothbroks, Guthrum the Unlucky, Svein of the White Horse, the Thurgilsson brothers, Harald Bloodhair, and Cnut Longsword.
  • Violent Glaswegian: Guthred's backstory involves being captured by one, King Eochaid of Strath Clota (now Strathclyde), who made him empty his shit-pail. Indeed, raids from Strath Clota and Glas Cau are a perennial problem for the men of Cumbraland (Cumbria).
  • Virgin Power: Zigzagged with Iseult. According to her own people, the Celtic shadow queen had the gift of prophecy, so long as she remained a virgin. She successfully predicts that Uhtred's coming would free her from Peredur, so she convinces her husband to hire Uhtred and his men. However, even after becoming Uhtred's lover and ostensibly losing her gift, she makes a prophecy about his future that continues to influence him throughout the rest of the series.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Uhtred and Leofric, and to a lesser extent Uhtred and Pyrlig.
  • Walking Shirtless Scene: Ragnall Ivarson usually goes shirtless, probably in order to show off his intimidating physique and badass Norse tattoos.
  • War Is Hell: Crossed with War Is Glorious. Uhtred will talk at length about the joy and glory of battle... before turning around and talking about the horrible injuries, the deaths of friends, and how the close calls he's had so far still come to him in his dreams. All in all, a pretty even-handed view, if such a thing is even possible.
  • Warrior Prince: Æthelstan has become this as of Warriors of the Storm.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: Uhtred's father was this to him, and it seems that Uhtred has become this to his children - something that he genuinely regrets, considering how often he laments his failures as a parent in The Empty Throne.
  • We Used to Be Friends: Uhtred and Aethelwold have that vibe in the sixth book, with Uhtred reminiscing about their friendship on several occasions.
  • Wild Card: Uhtred is ultimately looking out for himself above all, although he does hold both his natural and adoptive fathers in high regard and wants to return to Bebbanburg as its rightful master and avenge the elder Ragnar's death some day.
  • World of Badass: It's the Dark Ages, so being a badass on some level is basically a requisite for survival. Simply being a Viking, Saxon, or Celtic warrior usually means you're a badass by default.
  • World of Snark: Sarcasm is quite prevalent amongst many of the characters, especially the warriors. Considering the Crapsack World they live in, it's as good a coping method as any.
  • Worthy Opponent: Uhtred has this view toward several of the Viking warlords he goes up against, most notably Cnut Ranulfsson. He also seems to hold some amount of respect for the Welsh.
  • Writer on Board: Uhtred loathes the Church, and is more than happy to tell the reader how he feels about it. Likewise, most of the openly Christian characters are shown to be zealous and dogmatic to the point of stupidity (Aethelflaed and Father Cuthbert being the main exceptions who aren't a Badass Preacher). His hatred of Christianity seems to become even more bitter and extreme as he ages, and realizes that the old pagan ways are slowly but surely dying out - though at the same time, he mellows more towards individual Christian clergy. This mirrors Cornwell's own dislike of institutional religion, which stems from his being raised in a very devout, repressive, and tiny Christian sect called the Peculiar People, and his dislike of authoritarianism.
    • Lampshaded to an extent in The Empty Throne when Uhtred's son (also named Uhtred) narrates the first chapter and observes his father's hatred of Christianity.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: Uhtred believes this to be so, and often quotes wyrd bi∂ ful ārǣd ("fate is inexorable"), a line from the Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer.
  • You Killed My Father: Ragnar the Younger, son of Ragnar the Fearless who adopted Uhtred, slays Kjartan in revenge for his father's death.
    • Subverted with Uhtred himself, he seems to bear no ill will at all towards the Vikings who killed his father and brother and prefers Ragnar the Elder to his own father.
    • He did attack Ragnar the Elder head on first time he met him, but he was about 9 and had a crap sword. From Ragnar's point of view, Hilarity Ensued.