Kjartan (pronounced: kee-yar-tan) is a former shipmaster in the service Earl Ragnar, until one day when his son, Sven, kidnapped Thyra, Ragnar's youngest child and stripped her half-naked before a young Uhtred saved her from being sexually assaulted. Upon learning of this, Earl Ragnar crushed one of Sven's eyes as "half the punishment" for stripping his daughter half naked, then banished both from his lands. Kjartan, however, was able to find a post as the chief officer in the bodyguard of King Ecgberht (the Danish puppet-ruler of Northumbria) and also became Ecgberht's tax-collector. Soon, Kjartan became so rich, he acquired the stronghold of Dunholme and elevated himself to the status of an Earl.
Kjartan, with his grown-up son Sven, would lead an assault on the estate of Earl Ragnar on the night of his daughter's wedding. Kjartan and Sven massacred most of Earl Ragnar's household, with the exception of Thyra, who was brought into their captivity. Uhtred and Brida were in the high woods during the night of the attack. He then claims that this assault was a Saxon attack led by Uhtred. The Danes believe Kjartan's story, especially the powerful and dangerous Ubba, who considers Uhtred a traitor. Only Ragnar the Younger doubts the guilt of his half-brother. Following the murder of Earl Ragnar Ragnarsson, Kjartan become an extremely powerful Jarl with an imposing army.
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- As a shipmaster in the service of Earl Ragnar, Kjartan would have been known as a Styrimathr or "steers-man" in Old Norse.
- Dunholme (modern Durham) was the location of the relics of Saint Cuthbert. Due to the Danish conquest of Northumbria, the monks charged with protecting the relics went into exile with the body of the saint.