Seven Kings Must Die: Was Athelstan Really Gay?

Athelstan and Ingilmundr in Seven Kings Must Die 1
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*Warning: This article contains spoilers about Seven Kings Must Die.

Seven Kings Must Die introduced a very different Athelstan from the little boy in The Last Kingdom’s Fifth season despite retaining Harry Gilby to play the character. One of the most interesting things about the boy king was his sexuality. The self-loathing gay king made Athelstan a pitiful character at the beginning of the film, but it has also left many fans wondering whether the real-life Athelstan was gay.

While Athelstan is portrayed as possibly gay or bisexual in Seven Kings Must Die, no historical facts fully support the theory. Athelstan and Ingilmundr (Laurie Davidson) being lovers in the movie was, therefore, based on the scriptwriters and Bernard Cornwell’s interpretation of Athelstan from historical accounts, and not necessarily a reflection of King Athelstan’s real-life sexuality. 10th-century British culture also insisted on religious piety, meaning if the real-life Athelstan were gay, it would be a heavily guarded secret.

Portraying Athelstan as a sexually diverse character still made Seven Kings Must Die more interesting. It made him a lot more than the typical religious kings seen in the show. His feelings for Ingilmundr made him vulnerable and humanized Athelstan, deviating the character from the illusion of the ultimate strong king in historical records. So, how did Athelstan end up falling in love with Ingilmundr, and did that really happen in real life? Let’s delve into it.

Was King Athelstan Gay?

Ingilmunndr and Athelstan love scene 1

The historical records on Athelstan’s sexuality are scanty; therefore, there is no sufficient evidence to state whether he was gay or not.

There are some rumors that the king might have been sexually fluid or gay, which is why the show portrayed him as a gay man.

Bernard Cornwell also portrays Athelstan as gay in his books The Saxon Stories, upon which The Last Kingdom and Seven Kings Must Die are based.

Cornwell said in an interview that he portrayed Athelstan as a gay man based on his interpretation of the King’s behavior and lifestyle in historical accounts.

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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…” Cornwell said in an interview while explaining his reasons for portraying Athelstan as a gay king.

Since the show is based on Cornwell’s books, the producers retained his interpretation of Athelstan, including sexuality which brought more diversity to the movie.

Martha Hillier, who co-wrote Seven Kings Must Die, also supported Bernard Cornwell’s theory, saying that many voices suggested that Athelstan might actually have been gay.

She said they didn’t portray him as gay in the movie just for entertainment or inclusivity reasons. “It actually wasn’t about trying to be inclusive or anything – it was just like, ‘this is interesting’.” Martha Hillier said in an interview with Radiotimes.

Was Athelstan a Tyrant?

The Last Kingdom Aethelstan and Uhtred 1

Athelstan is one of the greatest kings in England’s history, famed as a wise and pious king that united all the English kingdoms under the crown, not a tyrant.

Athelstan is famous for not having lost any battle in his 15 years of leadership, with his biggest victory coming at the battle of Brunanburgh, where he defeated an alliance of five large armies.

In Seven Kings Must Die, Athelstan is portrayed as a tyrant at the beginning of his rule, who tries to force his people, including his friend and foster father Uhtred, to convert to Christianity while killing those that don’t agree with him.

The show portrays Athelstan killing his half-brother Aelfweard. However, it is all blamed on Ingilmundr’s influence which is a little unfair considering the fact that Athelstan was supposed to be a smart, independent, mined leader.

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In historical accounts, Aelfweard died of natural courses shortly after he was crowned king. Aelfweard was actually the king of Saxons for a few weeks after Edward died in official historical records.

The incident in the movie where Athelstan kills Aelweard and slaughters many innocent people just to make a point is, therefore, not based on historical records.

As for forcefully converting people to Christianity, there is no record of Athelstan committing mass executions to force people to convert, as displayed in the movie.

Athelstan was a smart warrior who got the Scots and Welsh to pay tribute to him and also quashed uprisings against him. Being a stronghanded king could therefore be part of his legacy as a king, but he is not portrayed as a tyrant in historical records.

Who was Ingilmundr?

Ingilmundr and Athelstan Seven Kings Must Die 1

In Seven Kings Must Die, Ingilmundr is one of the main antagonists who pretends to be a pious Christian and Athelstan’s friend and lover when he works for Anlaf to divide Saxons and unite its enemies against Athelstan.

Ingilmundr fools Athelstan into believing he is doing God’s work when he kills people who refuse to support his claim, including his brother Aethelweard.

The love between the two characters seemed genuine at first until Uhtred discovered that Ingilmundr was a spy exploiting Aethelstan’s weaknesses and causing him to agitate an uprising in favor of Anlaf.

In Cornwell’s books, Ingilmundr is a Dane Leader forced out of Irland who seeks refuge in Athelstan’s kingdom and actually got a settlement in Wirral.

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Ingilmundr being Athelstan’s chief advisor and lover is not part of the books; therefore, the movie’s writers only added it for entertainment.

While there is a Dane warlord named Ingilmundr in historical accounts, there is no sufficient evidence to prove that he ever met Athelstan.

Some records actually suggest that Ingilmundr is the same as Agmund, a Danish warrior executed during the battle of Tettenhall, which, in the case of The Last Kingdom, happened in the fourth season.

Was Athelstan ever married?

Aethelstan in Seven Kings Must Die 1

In Seven Kings Must Die, after watching how easily deceived Athelstan could be when he falls in love, Uhtred makes him swear that he would never get married as a condition before swearing Bebbanburgh and the rest of Northumbria to him.

Uhtred also gave Athelstan the condition that his half-brother Eadmund would succeed him as heir after his death, which actually happened in real life.

In real life, King Athelstan devoted his life to service of the Kingdom and the faith, commissioning the construction of many churches and spread of Christianity in his kingdoms.

He never married, nor were there any records of having other male or female lovers in his life until he died in AD 934.

In his defense, the betrayal by Ingilmundr might have broken his heart so much that he chose never to make himself vulnerable through romantic encounters again.

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