I just had to blog this. But spoiler alerts are due. So, if you haven't watched Seasons 3 or 4 of The Last Kingdom and intend watching it, feel free to come back later.
I love historical shows and movies. An extreme example of what I've witnessed in The Last Kingdom was the Starz show, Black Sails. This was where the writers came up with a historical setting and shoehorned characters from books and actual historical pirates into the show. It was never intended to be historically accurate but a rough representation of what pirates dealt with and how life was for them in somewhere like Nasau.
The Last Kingdom is based on a book. Fair enough. So you don't expect 100% accuracy but, given that it's based not just on the life of Uhtred but also those of actual historical people who lived at that time, you'd expect them to take more care with historical facts because people are going to look them up.
It was nice to see that the Welsh, for once, weren't forgotten. If all you ever learned was what you saw in movies, you'd swear that it was just Scotland, England and Ireland in this part of the world. But let's get to the elephant in the room. The fact that they have completely screwed over the timeline.
They seem to have gone to some lengths to get the Saxon aristocracy right.
Alfred died in 899. He was succeeded by his son Edward, who would have been 25 at the time. That all seems to check out judging by the apparent age of the actor who plays him. But it seems to point to the fact that, certainly where the English are concerned, the writers were trying to stick to history as much as possible while keeping the story going. In fact, they even put in the story about his son, Aethelstan being possibly illegitimate. That is historically accurate in that nobody has ever known for certain. They managed to intertwine that into the story.
All good so far. They do play fast and loose with Aethelred of Mercia. By the time he died in 911, he'd been on the throne for 30 years, so the actor is too young but at least the timing of his death is kind of within an acceptable range. The suspicions of the Mercians towards Edward's intentions for their lands in the show is also based on historical fact. Edward did eventually take over Mercia, but not for another 15 years.
They're trying to be accurate-ish, but when it came to Wales, everything went out of the window.
The Hywel that Wessex went to for aid was undoubtedly Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good). This was confirmed after a couple of episodes where he tells his right-hand man, Rhodri, that he's going on pilgrimage. Again, that was historically accurate because he did, becoming the first Welsh ruler to go on pilgrimage and return. When I heard Ealhswith ask Father Pyrlig to go to Hywel, I knew that it had to be Hywel Dda because if there's one thing the show does, is pick up on some of the better known characters from that time. But when I saw him, I had a feeling something was a little off. He was too old.
In fact, the real Hywel was about 6 years YOUNGER than Edward, not 30 years OLDER!! When we're first introduced to the Welsh when Pyrlig is confronted by a couple of guards, the name Deheubarth appears across the screen to tell us all where they are. This show is currently set at some point between 899 and 905AD. Deheubarth didn't even exist. It wouldn't exist for at least another 15 years when Hywel created it after joining up two kingdoms he ruled over. What's more, Pyrlig would have had to cross at least one other Welsh kingdom to get to Hywel's domain because he had no lands that bordered the English kingdoms at that time.
He ruled from around 918 and, contrary to his depiction in the show as being fiercely independent, he and his brother (joint ruler) submitted to Edward. He became sole ruler in 920 and expanded his domains to cover almost all of Wales.
The shift in the timeline also leads to another huge inaccuracy. When Edward does die in 924, it's his alleged illegitimate son, Aethelstan, who takes over. Hywel became close friends with him. If Hywel was as old as he's depicted in the show, he'd probably be dead by the time Edward dies and would possibly never have even met Aethelstan.
I think the problem for the writers was that they wanted to introduce a strong character who was well-known. Unfortunately, this was really a time when there were in fact few Welsh rulers who's names had resonated through the centuries. Rhodri Mawr (Rhodri the Great) died 25 years before Alfred. A better character for them to use would have been a guy called Anarawd, Rhodri's son and King of Gwynedd at the time of the events depicted in the show. If they had been clever, they could even have intertwined him with Aethelred's story because he invaded Gwynedd and had his ass handed to him by Anarawd. Anarawd also had to deal with an attack by Danes from Ireland in 902. Gwynedd's lands also bordered Saxon lands.
So, given that I've just finished watching an episode where Hywel discovers that the Danes are coming for him from Ireland, I think what's happened is that the writers took Anarawd and replaced him with Hywel, changing the location and Hywel's age as well in the process. Few people have even heard of Anarawd, even though his father remains one of the most revered Welsh leaders. And we have places named after Hywel.
I don't mind inaccuracy for the sake of pushing along a story but this was just too much.