Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Why Earl Godwin From Vikings: Valhalla Looks So Familiar

The role of the manipulative adviser is a common trope of classical fiction. For example, actor Aidan Gillen is well known for his portrayal of the scheming Lord Petyr Baelish (aka Littlefinger) in seven seasons of "Game of Thrones." Similarly, Brad Dourif's Gríma Wormtongue, serves as chief counsellor to King Théoden of Rohan (Bernard Hill) in the "Lord of the Rings" franchise, before he too is revealed to have ulterior motives.

In its first season, Netflix's "Vikings: Valhalla" also finds itself deploying a new iteration of the conniving consultant in the form of Godwin, Earl of Wessex, as portrayed by English actor David Oakes. If you think Oakes looks familiar, there's probably a pretty good reason for that. This is far from his first royal rodeo. During the course of his career, Oakes has appeared in more than 25 different film and television productions, many of them historical fictions centered on royalty of some form or another (via IMDb). 

Here is a quick recap of the places from which you're most likely to remember him.

David Oakes played William Hamleigh in The Pillars of the Earth

David Oakes' first series regular role came in the form of "The Pillars of the Earth," a 2010 Starz miniseries based on Welsh author Ken Follett's 1989 novel of the same name (via New York Times). Though the miniseries is a work of fiction, its characters and story are based amidst the backdrop of many real-life events set in the 12th century, most prominently a civil war fought in England and Normandy called "The Anarchy" (via The National News). For his job, Oakes takes on the role of William Hamleigh, the central antagonist of the series. In the first episode, Hamleigh develops a decades-long vendetta against the Shiring family after his proposal to Lady Aliena (Hayley Atwell) is unexpectedly rejected. 

The eight-episode series, which ultimately earned three Golden Globe nominations, features an ensemble cast of characters, including the acting talents of A-list performers like Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Hayley Atwell, Eddie Redmayne, Sam Claflin, and Donald Sutherland to name only a few (via IMDb). Though the series proved popular among audiences, critics seemed to not think quite as much of it at the time of its release (via Rotten Tomatoes). 

He also played Juan Borgia in Showtime's The Borgias

For his next project, Oakes decided to jump forward a few centuries and relocate from England to Rome. In the first two seasons of Showtime's 2011 TV series "The Borgias," Oakes plays Juan Borgia, one of the four children of Rodrigo Borgia (aka Pope Alexander VI) (Jeremy Irons) (via IMDb). Despite the shift in time and location, Oakes once again plays a somewhat antagonistic character. While Oakes' portrayal of Hamleigh in "The Pillars of the Earth" is noted for his cruelty, Oakes' portrayal of Juan Borgia is equally noted for his vast arrogance and endless ignorance.

The real-life Juan Borgia is arguably best known for his murder in 1497, five years into his father's papacy. As the story goes, Juan Borgia was last seen as he departed a dinner party at his mother's home, but was discovered dead in the Tiber River two days later. Examination of his body revealed that although he had been stabbed more than nine times, he was suspiciously not robbed. Though his father was reportedly devastated by his loss, he mysteriously called off the investigation into his son's murder only a short time after it began, leaving many to speculate about the identity of the murderer (via CrimeReads). 

Much like "Vikings: Valhalla," "The Borgias" makes a number of alterations to history in order to better suit its narrative. For example, Oakes' character becomes a middle child of the infamous pope, rather than the oldest. Perhaps more importantly, however, the series also depicts Cesare Borgia (Francois Arnaud) as Juan's murderer, a rumor of the time never conclusively proven or disproven.

David Oakes portrayed George Duke of Clarence in The White Queen

Another period drama you might recognize David Oakes from is BBC One's "The White Queen," a miniseries based on Philippa Gregory's novel of the same name (via BBC). Starring future "Mission: Impossible" star Rebecca Ferguson, "The White Queen" tells the mostly true story of Elizabeth Woodville, the consort to King Edward IV and Queen of England from 1464 to 1470 and 1471 to 1483 (via Queens College Cambridge). 

In seven episodes of "The White Queen," Oakes plays the important role of George, Duke of Clarence, the brother of King Edward IV and the brother-in-law of the show's titular character (via IMDb). Like many characters on the series, Clarence was a real man who lived in England during the 15th century and played a vital role in the so-called "War of the Roses" (via Ancestral Findings). The son of the Duke of York and the brother to two Kings, Clarence led a difficult life. 

According to The Crown Chronicles, the 1476 death of his wife and the subsequent death of his newborn son caused Clarence to have a mental breakdown, leading to a variety of erratic behaviors from the English nobleman including his participation in a rebellion against his brother, Edward IV. Clarence was later charged with treason and executed at the Tower of London in 1478 at the young age of 28. Interestingly, many have claimed that Clarence was executed by forced drowning in a vat of Malmsey wine, but no reputable sources have been found to confirm such a story. According to Find A Grave, George, Duke of Clarence, was buried in Tewkesbury Abbey.

He more recently played Ernest II in Victoria

Based on every role in this list, Oakes seems to enjoy playing the role of a meddlesome acquaintance or a manipulative relative to a monarch, nobleman, or religious leader. In 2016, Oakes continued this trend with his first appearance in Season 1, Episode 3 ("Brocket Hall") of ITV's "Victoria." 

In this series, Oakes plays Ernest II, Prince and, later, Duke of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (via IMDb). Not only is Oakes' character the brother of Prince Albert (Tom Hughes), he is also a first cousin to Queen Victoria (Jenna Coleman) (yes, Victoria really married her first cousin). Although these family relations are entirely accurate to real life, "Victoria" is another example of historical fiction often leaning more into the essence of its latter noun than its former adjective. According to RadioTimes, much of Ernest's storyline on the series was entirely fabricated. Oakes makes his final appearance in "Victoria" Season 3, Episode 2 ("London Bridge Is Falling Down"). 

"Victoria" aired its last episode on March 3, 2019 (via IMDb). As of this writing, there do not appear to be any plans for "Victoria" to return for a fourth season (via RadioTimes).