HBO’s Game of Thrones is a worldwide sensation, mixing compelling political intrigue with high fantasy concepts. The stories seem so rooted in reality it can be easy (well, not that easy) to forget you are watching a program about dragons and the walking dead. Of course, there may well be a reason for that.
George R.R Martin has made no secret of the parallels between his work and the War of the Roses (a civil war that inflicted England in the 15th century), with many of the events in both the book and the tv show echoing those that occurred between the House of Lancaster and the House of York. Indeed, many of the characters themselves share many similarities with historical figures involved in the period (and even some who weren’t!).
Let’s check some our, shall we?:
1. Robert Baratheon/Henry VIII
Other than the obvious physical transformation that occurred during their reigns (both Henry and Robert went from active young men to bloated drunkards), they also spent excessive amounts of money on impressively frivolous endeavours, essentially bankrupting their kingdoms. Each had a love of booze, tournaments, and women who weren’t their wives, and, as an added coincidence, one of Henry’s (many) wives, Anne Boleyn, was rumoured to have had an incestuous relationship with her brother- although that may well have been a piece of propaganda spread to give credence to her eventual execution.
2. Tyrion Lannister/Claudius
Tyrion’s character influences actually come from quite a few historical figures, Richard III among them, but he most closely resembles Emperor Claudius who, like Tyrion, was born into a family who looked down on him for his physical disabilities. Claudius speech impediment and limp led people to continuously underestimate him, yet he proved to be a rather skilled operator in the increasingly perilous world of Ancient Roman politics.
3. Jaime Lannister/Cesare Borgia
Perhaps the closest aligned of any of these comparisons, Jaime and Cesare were both born into incredibly powerful families and had distinguished military careers. Both had reputations for betrayal, with Jaime’s as the Kingslayer and allegations that Cesare murdered his brother and even slept with another of his brother’s wife. They also both slept with their sister, with rumours that Cesare fathered the so-called Infans Romanus (the Roman child) with his sister Lucrezia Borgia.
4. Cersei Lannister/Margaret d’Anjou
Margaret d’Anjou was forced into an unhappy marriage to Henry VI to bring France and England together, much like Cersei and Robert Baratheon with House Lannister and House Baratheon respectively. Margaret was also a stalwart supporter of the Lancastrian cause in the War of the Roses, constantly using her political influences to build support and allegiance to her side. Both women also had the legitimacy of their children questioned; correctly in Cersei’s case, but probably not in the accusations directed towards Margaret from the Duke of York and the Earl of Warwick that her son, Edward of Lancaster, was a bastard that she had conceived with the help of her ally the Duke of Somerset.
Incidentally, Edward of Lancaster was just as much as a total prick as Joffrey was.
5. Joffrey Baratheon/Caligula
Well, maybe Edward of Lancaster as well.
Both Joffrey and Edward had sadistic tendencies, with the latter (and, to be fair, the former) taking particular pleasure in torturing and then executing his enemies. Both shared a questionable legitimacy, although Edward never tasted real power as he was killed during the Battle of Tewkesbury, one of the decisive battles of the War of the Roses.
Caligula, however, did reach power and was just as cruelly insane as Joffrey. He murdered many of his relatives, confiscated large swathes of peoples property, and famously made his horse a senator. He also died young, although he was stabbed to death as opposed to the more theatrical poisoning Joffrey received.
6. Robb Stark/Edward IV of York
There are many parallels between Robb Stark, The Young Wolf, and Edward IV of York. Both men inherited their position at a young age after their fathers were beheaded, both saw success in a civil war, and both had very strong matriarchal figures in their lives (Robb with Catelyn Stark and Edward with Cecily Neville, Duchess of York). They also both ignored pressure to marry to form a political alliance, with Edward marrying a certain Elizabeth Woodville, much to the chagrin of Richard Neville, Duke of Warwick (Walder Frey if you will). Luckily for Edward, executing king’s is actually frowned upon in real life and he was restored to the throne; where he promptly ate himself to death by the age of 41.
7. Varys/Francis Walsingham
Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s spymaster and, although some of his actions were undoubtedly self-serving, he undoubtedly contributed to the relative stability that prevailed over England at the time. Sound like anybody familiar?
8. Stannis Baratheon/Oliver Cromwell
Both men were devout, steely, and militarily accomplished leaders. They also both had a sense of divine providence, with Cromwell genuinely believing that he had been chosen by God, and his victories on the battlefield only seemed to embolden him. Likewise, Stannis’ prowess in combat is continuously lauded and his faith the being The Chosen One by the Lord of Light pushes him to dangerous extremes.
However, unlike Stannis dying on the field of battle, Cromwell died in office as the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland.
A mysterious stranger with an oversized influence on the wife of a man who holds power? Seemingly magical powers and a resistance to poisons? You’d have sex with them? Well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad.
The sexual magnetism and epic mythmaking that surrounds both Melisandre and Rasputin, not to mention the unspeakable horrors they both committed in the name of higher powers, cast both as fascinating figures in both historical and fictional settings.
10. Ned Stark/Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York
Oh Ned, how I miss thee…
Richard, Duke of York, was the first leader of the House of York (a powerful North of England house) during the War of the Roses. A career soldier, Richard marched south in an attempt to stop a meddling Queen corrupting the royal bureaucracy. he was also loved by the common folk and generally disliked by the English aristocracy. However, he wasn’t quite as good a soldier as Ned, losing quite a few battles, including one at Wakefield that eventually led to his demise.