The Real Heahmund

The Real Heahmund

With the fictional Bishop Heahmund causing all sorts of havoc every week on Vikings, we wanted to take a look at the historical figure that inspired him. Let’s find out just how much of his story is based in actual fact.

The real Bishop Heahmund died in 871, and not much else is known about him in terms of dates aside from his consecration, which happened between 867 and 868. He was the Bishop of Sherbourne, and fought against the Viking invasion.

We definitely know that the fictional Heahmund was a fighter, and that much seems to align with historical knowledge. His identity as a warrior bishop also makes him a predecessor to the Knights Templar, and has been quoted by Michael Hirst, the creator of Vikings, as being one of the most fearsome.

The real Heahmund is noted in history as having fought alongside King Aethelred and Prince Alfred of Wessex, and dying in the Battle of Marton. The battle took place on approximately March 22, 871.  Their opponents are thought to likely have been under the command of King Halfdan Ragnarsson. The King died later that year, though in battle or from wounds suffered in battle it is unknown.

Heahmund’s tangles with Lagertha are unsupported by history, and it is far more likely that the two figures never met, let alone had extensive interactions. The addition of their meeting is definitely something that Michael Hirst thought was a necessary addition to the show, and seeing the two characters together onscreen is sure to continue to be interesting in the episodes yet to come.

Read more from our Real Vikings article series, including The Real Lagertha and The Real Floki.

The warrior bishop was an idea that interested creator Michael Hirst a great deal, and he saw Heahmund as a great foil for Ivar, the two being such wild cards. His role in the show is largely enhanced from the accounts in the history books. Because Jonathan Rhys Meyers has such an explosive performance in this role, it is likely that he has been given more opportunity to shine than the real Heahmund would have had in the history books.

The rivalry seen between Heahmund and Ivar is something that hasn’t been backed up with historical accounts, although the two men did live during the same time. Their on-screen tension is definitely worth stretching the truth a little.

While Michael Hirst never said that Vikings was supposed to be historically accurate, it is interesting to look at the inspirations behind our favourite character and find out which of the crazy things that happen on screen actually happened years ago in real life. Most of the characters on the show have some grounding in reality, and it’s fun seeing where the great writers behind the show take some of their cues from.

If you’ve enjoyed looking at the historical inspiration behind Heahmund’s character, perhaps you’d enjoy the other characters we’ve looked at through a historical lens. Check out the real Ragnar, and the real Floki. Both of which are rich in historical accounts and exciting fictional add-ons.

There are quite a few things in the history books written about Heahmund that we have yet to see, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t in the cards for the warrior bishop we’ve come to know so well. Make sure to tune in to Vikings, Wednesdays at 9 EP so you don’t miss any of the exciting action.