Back to The Last Kingdom and I want to discuss a further principal ‘product placement’ of Season 2, having previously discussed Hadrian’s Wall and the Fuller Brooch. I’m referring to the famous Alfred Jewel. You can see this fabulous artefact in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

The Alfred Jewel is a wonderful tear-shaped filigreed gold jewel surrounding a rock crystal. The crystal covers a cloisonne plaque representing a human figure which might represent ‘sight’ – as with the central figure on the Fuller Brooch. At the base is an animal head, perhaps a dragon or a lion. It was once attached via the hollow socket in the mouth of the beast to a rod – of wood or ivory perhaps. It is widely considered to have been an aestel – a pointer for following text. To be clear: the modern ‘jewel’ is therefore widely considered a fragment of a once-whole artefact that might have been a prestigious gift of a textual artefact, maybe given to a monastic community or ealdorman by the West Saxon king.

The reason it is called the ‘Alfred Jewel’ is that this is the most famous of the ‘speaking artefacts’ of later Anglo-Saxon England. Rendered in openwork around the jewel’s edge is the Old English text: AELFRED MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN – ‘Alfred ordered me made’.

Please note: the association with King Alfred is often suggested but cannot be proven, especially given the lack of a royal title. It was found at the end of the 17th century in Somerset, not far from the abbey of Aethelney from which King Alfred the Great launched his retaliation against the Danes, thus fostering, but not proving, the association with the monarch.

So that explains what the artefact is. How does it appear in TLK? Well, the association is made with Alfred in a personal way. The jewel is treated as a personal token – like a seal – revealing that the bearer travels with the permission and authority of the king. Alfred gives it to his nephew Aethelwold for his travel through Mercia to Northumbria. Subsequently, we never see Aethelwold display the artefact.

The odd thing, of course, is that Alfred gives Aethelwold a broken artefact, as the artefact appears today! Therefore the Alfred’s Jewel of TLK is different from the artefact in the Ashmolean Museum, not a fragment of an aestel, but a prestigious token complete in its surviving form…

Is this deliberate, or a blooper?

Either way, in the context of the show, this product placement affords a legitimacy and prestige to the few surviving late 9th-century Anglo-Saxon artefacts in our museums as those that were pivotal to late 9th-century history, and likewise it affords an aura of authenticity to the show.