Was King Aethelstan Gay in Real Life?

Netflix’s ‘Seven Kings Must Die’ serves as the concluding chapter in the adventures of Uhtred of Bebbanburg (Alexander Dreymon). For five seasons of ‘The Last Kingdom,’ we have witnessed Uhred’s incredible journey as he reluctantly becomes an important figure in English politics, effectively playing the role of a kingmaker multiple times. ‘Seven Kings Must Die’ wraps his story up as he one more time must protect England. Following the death of King Edward, civil war breaks out between his children, and the enemies of England stir in their lairs. It is revealed that Aethelson (Harry Gilby), Edward’s son, who Uhtred raised, is secretly gay. He is in a relationship with his aide Ingilmundr (Laurie Davidson), which leaves him vulnerable to manipulation and blackmail. If you are wondering whether Aethelstan was gay in real life as well, we got you covered.

Aethelstan’s Sexuality: Historical Debate Continues

Although there is no proof that asserts beyond doubt that Aethelstan of history (Æthelstan) was gay, scholars have speculated on the notion for a long while. When he took his father’s throne in 924, he agreed not to marry or father any children so the line of succession could be passed to his half-brother Edmond without an issue. Some scholars believe that he did this to gain acceptance. This stems from another topic of scholarly contention in Æthelstan’s life: the legitimacy of his claim to the throne. Some believe that his mother, Ecgwynn, was Edward’s concubine, while others think the rumors about Æthelstan’s illegitimacy started during the succession dispute. The debate also continues about her social status, with some thinking she was a noble, while others believing she wasn’t.

Among the scholars who reject the notion that Æthelstan agreed not to marry and have children because of his desire to find acceptance, some hold the view that he did so because of religious reasons. Bernard Cornwell is the author of the historical fiction series of novels ‘The Saxon Stories,’ which is the source material for both ‘The Last Kingdom’ and ‘Seven Kings Must Die.’ In the final book of the series, ‘War Lord,’ Æthelstan is gay.

“I also took some liberties with Æthelstan, Alfred’s grandson, who eventually becomes the first king of a united England,” the author said in an interview with Sharon Kay Penman. “History records that he never married, which is unusual in a king because of the desire to leave an heir, and also that he liked to decorate his hair with golden ringlets, and on that small evidence I decided he might have been gay; a choice that hasn’t pleased all my readers, but I was happy with it.”

Martha Hillier, the screenwriter who penned the script for ‘Seven Kings Must Die,’ echoed Cornwell’s sentiments on the matter. “All of that period is hard to research [but] there is definitely a reasonable amount of debate about it. It’s not something we’ve made up for TV – not at all,” she explained in an interview with Radio Times.

Miller knew that this could potentially cause some controversy among viewers. “LGBT history is only a relatively new subject, so it’s quite interesting that people are so keen to say ‘that can’t be the case,” she observed. “Why couldn’t it be the case?”

The screenwriter elaborated, “I want to get it right, but you’re never going to satisfy the people who’ve decided that you’re doing things for other reasons. It actually wasn’t about trying to be inclusive or anything – it was just like ‘this is interesting.'”

Read More: Is Uhtred of Bebbanburg Based on Real Warrior?