Game of Thrones may feature witches, dragons and zombies, making the fantasy television series seem far from realistic. There are aspects of it that are in fact, very real. Set in what looks like the 15th century, a lot of the show’s plot lines are actually based on true events in European history. That’s right. There was once a real-life Joffrey Baratheon (imagine that!) and “the Wall”, built thousands of years ago exists in reality!
So, how factual is GoT? Here’s an exploration of Game of Thrones’ real history and the events and characters that inspired the show…
1. The Starks vs Lannisters and Yorks vs Lancasters
The rivalry between the noble houses of Stark and Lannister in Game of Thrones bears a remarkable resemblance to that of the Lancasters and Yorks in English medieval history.
The fight over the Iron Throne is very much based on the War of the Roses. Between 1455 and 1487, the Lancasters and Yorks fought over the English throne. Henry IV, belonging to House Lancaster had stolen the crown and deposed King Richard II. This ultimately triggered the war, as the Yorks would soon claim that the Lancasters had unlawfully taken the throne.
So how does this compare to the Starks? They didn’t exactly try to seize the throne in the television series. They did however try to stop the Lannisters from wrongfully claiming it, which involved treachery and warfare (Ned Stark’s death). Not just that. Like the Yorks, the Starks are northerners, while the Lannisters, like the Lancasters, are famously rich.
2. Ned Stark and Richard of York
Not only do these four houses (Stark, Lannister, Yorks, Lancasters) have similar-sounding names but their dynamics and relationships were noticeably alike, too. In Game of Thrones, Ned Stark was friend and adviser to King Robert Baratheon. Likewise, in English history, Richard of York was appointed Protector of the Realm when Henry VI (a Lancastrian) suffered a mental breakdown. Keep in mind that Richard had a claim to the throne, causing tensions with Henry’s wife, Margaret of Anjou, as Ned did with Cersei Lannister.
The historical accuracy is on-point! Richard soon tried to seize the throne but failed and was eventually beheaded. This, of course, mirrors the moment Ned attempted to seize the throne from Joffrey and ended up beheaded, too. Funnily enough, both Richard and Ned’s heads were mounted on spikes.
3. Robb Stark and Edward IV
Just as Robb Stark rose up against the Lannisters following his father’s death in Game of Thrones, Richard of York’s son, Edward did the same in the Middle Ages by revolting against the Lancasters. What’s more? Both Edward and Robb disastrously blew off arranged marriages, only to marry commoners instead.
The Earl of Warwick had hoped to foster an alliance between Edward’s government by marrying him to Louis XI’s sister-in-law. Unfortunately, Edward secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, a commoner, just as Robb had married Talisa after being arranged to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters. Warwick tried to rebel but Edward successfully conquered him. He had a much happier ending compared to Robb Stark. Edward lived on to become a king.
4. Cersei Lannister and Margaret of Anjou
There’s a reason why Cersei Lannister is so wonderfully wicked. George RR Martin probably based her character on Margaret of Anjou, wife of Lancastrian King Henry VI. Not only is Margaret remembered as a smart manipulator, but a merciless leader, too.
Like Cersei after King Robert’s death, Margaret stepped up to lead while King Henry suffered a mental breakdown. She would also supposedly execute Yorkist prisoners over the objections of her husband. Similar to Cersei, Margaret also lost a son and was later imprisoned by the Yorkists. Wonder if they were as brutal as the Sparrows? Did she walk the Walk of Shame, too?
5. Joffrey Baratheon and Prince Edward
Talking of Margaret’s sons, one of them, Prince Edward is considered to be the inspiration for Joffrey Baratheon. Not only was he illegitimate like Joffrey, Prince Edward was also a savage and ruthless teenager whose hobbies included executing people and attacking others with his sword for fun – that sounds
As mentioned in our Game of Thrones facts post, Joffrey eerily resembles Caligula – a Roman Emperor who ruled from 37 AD to 41 AD. Nevertheless, it’s safe to say his personality is more similar to Prince Edward. Perhaps George based his character on both historic figures…
6. Tyrion Lannister and Richard III
Like Tyrion, King Richard III was described by Shakespeare as a small, hunchbacked and monster-like man with a witty personality. Although more evil and conniving than our favorite little Lannister, Richard III also happened to be accused and framed for murdering his nephews to secure the throne – sounds like a familar plot line from season 4 when poor Tyrion was charged for the murder of his nephew, Joffrey!
7. The Red Wedding and Black Dinner
Could the Game of Thrones Red Wedding be based on history? Indeed! It’s possible that it was inspired by the real-life Black Dinner. Like the awful event in the fantasy series, the Black Dinner involved betrayal and death. The king of Scotland invited his enemy, the Earl of Douglas to his house with promised safety.
Like the Red Wedding and that awful Rains of Castamere song that played out, a drummer began pounding on a single drum during the Black Dinner and the Earl was served a head of a black boar on a plate – the symbol of death. He was later beheaded.
8. Wildfire and Greekfire
Remember the Wildfire the Lannisters used against the Baratheons during the Battle of Blackwater Bay? Well, the special substance is remarkably similar to the legendary “Greekfire” used during the siege of Constantinople in 717 AD. The Caliphate ambushed the Byzantine capital of Constantinople from the sea using a substance called Greekfire which set the rival ships ablaze. We guess Tyrion Lannister isn’t a genius after all. He was simply inspired by the Greekfire used in 717 AD. Lol, we joke….
9. The Wall and Hadrian’s Wall
Game of Thrones’ infamous Wall was built to keep the White Walkers away but the real life wall was in fact built to block the Scots. The Wall in the show is clearly a historical parallel to Hadrian’s Wall which was built by the Romans as a barrier keep out the “barbarians” of what is now Scotland. Although not as big as the show’s Wall, Hadrian’s Wall measured about 20 feet tall and 80 miles long. We doubt the Scots were as dreadful as those White Walkers!
10. Battle of the Bastards and Battle of Cannae
One of the most powerful and shocking scenes – the Battle of the Bastards, was actually inspired by a real-life Roman war. Miguel Sapochnik, who directed the action-packed episode even admitted that he looked to history for inspiration – specifically, the Battle of Cannae. The Battle of Cannae between the Romans and the Hannibal-led Carthaginians in 216 BCE had one of the greatest tactical feats in military history. Just as Bolton’s army had enclosed Jon Snow’s, Carthage beat the giant Roman army in a crushing defeat by circling their enemies through a double envelopment. What a powerful military strategy that was!
Now that you have an idea about the history behind Game of Thrones, it’s time to check out these super-cool Easter Eggs in the show that only eagle-eyed fans would have noticed! Have fun!
This post was originally published on 1st June, 2016.