The Last King is set in Mercia in the Ninth Century, one of the ancient kingdoms of England. Mercia, at that time, is perceived as being on the decline – no more the mighty King Penda of the seventh century (who I’ve written about in Pagan Warrior) or King Offa of the eighth century (who I do want to write about), but instead Wessex, on Mercia’s southern border, just waiting to pounce when Mercia is already weak and further destabilised by the Vikings of the Great Heathen Army. It seems inevitable that Mercia will be subsumed by Wessex.
Mercia’s king in the early 870’s was Burgred, brother by marriage to King Alfred and with King Alfred himself married to a Mercian, I think we can all decipher the intentions of the House of Wessex towards Mercia. This alliance seems to have been powerful, persuasive, and long lasting, until abruptly, Wessex gave up on Mercia, and refused to assist in the battle against the Vikings. It is this Mercia that Coelwulf lived in, and lived through.
The historical Coelwulf was allegedly a member of a family who had ruled as kings in the early 800’s. King Coelwulf II (as he was known) was accepted by the Mercians as their king. This is ‘proved’ by the few charters which survive from the time period, which are ‘witnessed’ by the three bishops of Mercia, and her ealdormen as well. In the past, these documents have been taken to show that all of the Mercian nobility bowed down before the Vikings and accepted them as their ‘overlords.’ This view is only now being challenged, and I’m enjoying challenging it.
Mercia, unlike the kingdoms of Northumbria and Wessex, had no one who wrote propaganda for her. Northumbria had the Venerable Bede, Wessex had the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but for Mercia, there is a dearth of information. Perhaps there was a record, it is hinted at in something known as the Mercian Register incorporated in one version of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, but it is presumed that much of the record was burned by the Vikings.
I’m thriving on looking at the possibilities for what might have happened in Mercia. There are surprising omissions in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a few things that don’t make too much sense when you examine them further, and so ‘my’ version of the time period is a little bit different to anything people might read about in older books. It doesn’t make it right, but, and this is what is so appealing about the time period, it also doesn’t make it wrong.
They sent three hundred warriors to kill one man. It wasn’t enough.
Mercia lies broken but not beaten, her alliance with Wessex in tatters.
Coelwulf, a fierce and bloody warrior, hears whispers that Mercia has been betrayed from his home in the west. He fears no man, especially not the Vikings sent to hunt him down.
To discover the truth of the rumours he hears, Coelwulf must travel to the heart of Mercia, and what he finds there will determine the fate of Mercia, as well as his own.
Meet M.J. Porter
I’m an author of fantasy (viking age/dragon themed) and historical fiction (Early English, Vikings and the British Isles as a whole before the Norman Conquest), born in the old Mercian kingdom at some point since AD1066. I write A LOT. You’ve been warned!