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He absolutely loves history. So much so that the creator of Game of Thrones, George RR Martin, didn’t have to look far for inspiration when creating his mega-hit book series that became the first five seasons of the best-loved show of all time.
In his own words:
“There are so many wonderful stories among wars and battles and seductions and betrayals and the choices people make… I don’t make it up. I take it and I file off the serial numbers, and I turn it up to 11, and I change the colour from red to purple and I have a great incident for the books.”
Westeros, the Seven Kingdoms and all the crazy characters that inhabit it can be seen as a homage to different historical eras, events, peoples and characters. Even the Red Wedding was based on a real event, the Black Dinner of 1440 in Scotland. Let’s break it down further, shall we?
The War of the Roses
This was one of the original inspirations for George and the world of Westeros. The War of the Roses was fought in England from 1455 to 1487 and was a contest for the throne that lasted several generations.
It was fought between the House of York (whose badge was a white rose) and the House of Lancaster (who adopted a red rose). Both houses were closely related, much like the Starks and Lannisters of Game of Thrones.
It was not an easy war and no side was the clear victor. There were constant reversals and mixed into that was sex, betrayal and family loyalties. Much like in Westeros.
While the Yorks overthrew the Lancasters initially, it was the Lancasters who came out on top with the help of outside forces (Henry Tudor) in 1485 when they finally recaptured the throne.
That’s the historical period, now let’s look at the characters.
Daenerys Targaryen / King Henry VII (1457-1509) and Cleopatra (69BC – 30BC)
Like King Henry, Dany spent much of her life in exile in fear of death. But when King Henry marched back to England from Wales to reclaim the throne, his banners bore the sign of the dragon. And we all know about Dany’s relationship with dragons.
But there is also a lot of Cleopatra’s story weaved in to Dany’s character, with her being a strong and beautiful leader. The City of Slaver’s Bay,where Dany seized power, mirrors ancient Egypt strongly. And we can’t help but notice the name of Cleopatra’s son Caesarion is very similar to that of Dany’s dragon Viserion.
Ned Stark / Lord William Hastings (1431-1483)
Lord Hastings was good friends with King Edward IV at the time, much like Ned Stark’s relationship to Robert Baratheon.
When Edward died, Hastings helped his brother, Richard III, take the throne. But Richard then betrayed him.
So, much like Lord Hastings, Ned was a loyal friend to the King who tried to do the right thing, but ended up getting beheaded for his efforts.
Tywin Lannister / King Edward I (1239-1307)
The patriarch of the Lannister family was definitely based on King Edward I of House Lancaster, known as Edward Longshanks, Hammer of the Scots.
They’re both ruthless and terrifying, and believe that the end always justifies the means, no matter how horrific. Edward was the type of king who would not think twice about burning down a village he thought may be disloyal.
Edward was also disappointed in his children, much like Tywin. Edward was incredibly frustrated with his own son, Edward II, who would never be the military man or politician that he was. We clearly see something similar in Tywin’s attitude to his family.
Tyrion Lannister / King Richard III (1452-1485)
Tyrion can be compared to King Richard III (House York) whom 16th -Century historians described as a deformed monster whose grotesque appearance was a reflection of his lack of moral fibre.
King Richard III was falsely vilified in history as an evil kin-slayer. This was a lie. He was not deformed at all, but because he was a deposed king, the Tudor historians tried to paint him as a physically twisted and deceitful character.
This is how Tyrion is seen in Game of Thrones: a dwarf hated by the gods, so they deformed him as a clear mark of the evil inside of him. (But we all know that this is far from the truth when it comes to Tyrion’s character.)
Cersei Lannister / Queen Margaret of Anjou (1430-1482)
There are many strong women in history but an apt comparison for Cersei is Queen Margaret of Anjou, who was known as the She-Wolf of France and was one of the most influential women in The War of the Roses.
Both Margaret and Cersei were willing to go to any lengths to rule and protect the birth rights of their children who would come to power.
Joffrey Baratheon / King Richard II (1367-1400)
Both were boy-kings who rose to the throne after to the unexpected deaths of their fathers, and both got completely drunk on their own power.
King Richard II had no military experience, was a brat, and also extremely spiteful and vengeful. Sound like anyone you know in Game of Thrones? Oh yes, of course – Joffrey.
Is this history a sign of things to come in Game of Thrones? We don’t know. What we do know is that George – and the show’s writers – are very good at flipping the script at the very moment when you think you know what’s going on.
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Cover image: HBO
1. A. (2016). Real History Behind Game of Thrones (Explained by Historians & George R.R. Martin). [Online Video]. 14 July 2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Odw3Nxdqq4o. [Accessed: 13 September 2017].
2. History.com. 2010. The War of the Roses. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-war-of-the-roses. [Accessed 13 September 2017].
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