We recently asked our regular blogger, Luke, to consider writing about how Game of Thrones compares to the Wars of The Roses. We didn’t need to ask twice.
In his latest and slightly longer than normal read, Luke takes an in-depth look at where we can draw comparisons between the two. The following contains SPOILERS for the show up to Series 8, episode 5.
A GAME OF THRONES COMPARISON STUDY
As we approach the final episode of Game of Thrones, there is still so much riding on the decisions of Jon, Daenerys, Sansa, Bran, Arya et al in their bid for the Iron Throne.
It’s quite well known that George R R Martin’s books draw their lore from real medieval history but now the TV show is flying off the rails of George’s original plan it’s even harder to predict what will happen but if they are basing these things at least loosely on history maybe history can provide us with some answers we are all so frantically searching for…
1. York vs Lancaster, Stark vs Lannister
Cast your mind back to those heady days of the long summer in series 1 when Ned Stark was the honest man of the north coming down to the corrupt world of King’s Landing. The North, like our north in the medieval times, was much more barren of people, crops and cultural exports and had bred hardy folk led by hardy leaders. In the same way the Kingdom of the North was ruled by the Starks since forever and its leaders disdained London. Ned Stark has beef with the Lannister family, but they reluctantly co-operate over their shared respect for the king and desire to see Westeros prosper…
Richard Duke of York, the one who made us think of the ‘House of York’ built up a faction around his personal integrity (although like Ned he was not wholly honest). Richard of York stood in direct opposition to the ‘Lancaster faction’ based around Queen Margaret of Anjou, the king’s fierce wife who had accrued personal fortune by putting the crown in severe debt.
The result for Ned is that Cersei and her faction get him accused of treason and he is beheaded. Richard of York did commit treason and was also beheaded, worse still the queen put his head on a spike and his body on an anthill.
So the Yorks like the Starks are northern lords famed for their honesty and the Lannisters, like the Lancasters, see this as naivety. The families personal conflicts envelop the whole country and the king until a war is raged for years on end.
What does this mean for the ending?
Well the Lancaster family died out in the war and the York line was only carried on through Elizabeth, a girl batted about by politics in the capital and eventually becoming Queen and mother to Henry VIII. Sansa’s role is increasing far more than Elizabeth’s ever was but could she bear the baby who would become Westeros most famous king? She best not, she should sit on that throne herself.
2. The brothers Baratheon, the sons of York
Robert Baratheon, before the show starts, has taken the crown by force from a mad king, then grows older whilst still living like a twenty-something. Siring two sons to be heirs, he dies. His sons having dubious legitimacy, his brothers try to take the throne and that’s the War of Five Kings.
Now I know I just said the Yorks were the Starks, but you can also think of Robert Baratheon as Edward IV. Edward IV was an equally bawdy king who won the crown by conquest and saw himself as a righteous young man all through to his much less righteous middle age and ate and drank himself sick every night until he died, leaving his child heirs behind with their uncles and mother. Those brothers are mirrored by Stannis and Renly. George wasn’t much like Renly (he wasn’t gay and never got crowned) but Stannis was very close to Richard.
Both were the last brother left alive for a couple of years after the other two died. In peacetime Stannis sat on the small council as master of ships and Richard in the privy council as Admiral. Stannis is a strong commander and had been from his defence of Storms End aged 18; Richard was considered the best warrior in the country since his first battle in his big brother’s war (Barnet, 1471, aged 18). The key commonality is the commitment to justice and judgement. Stannis is unbreakably legal minded and upholds the rule of law at all costs and Richard, from his time as Duke to his rule as king was no different. This has given both a somewhat tough reputation but, in both cases, they also have their vehement defenders.
George R R Martin has said in interviews that Stannis is based on Tiberius Caeser, this explains why he is so ruthless and gloomy, but the events of his life are very much like Richard III’s.
What does this mean for the ending?
Edward and George died leaving Richard’s nephews heirs, but he disputed this based on legitimacy and used law to make his case for the crown, just like Stannis. The extinction of the Baratheon line means they join the Boltons and Tyrells in the dusty libraries of Oldtown just as the Plantagenets made themselves extinct through the Wars of the Roses leaving the door open for new powers to take control. Powers like Bronn of Blackwater and Davos Seaworth perhaps?
3. Money maketh man
Mark Gattiss shows up in Game of Thrones about twice every season for his scheduled appearance to remind everyone that Braavos across the sea has an Iron Bank full of other people’s money, which is gradually becoming full of other people’s debt.
In medieval times banks held your gold and silver safe from thieves and kept track of how much everyone was worth. As even the most powerful kings waged more expensive wars and borrowed from other kings who were also in debt, then the levels of separation between worth and actual gold in the bank got further and further, eventually leading to the modern idea of stock market credit, asset debt and currency trading we have today.
The Lannisters are supposed to be rich but bankrupted themselves when the Dothraki attacked their repayment baggage train and Cersei hired the ‘Golden Company’ of mercenaries. The whole continent of Westeros is drained of resources with which to pay.
We are moving towards three things economically:
a) The Iron Bank controlling the throne even more
b) Merchants holding power in Westeros as they are the only ones who understand how to trade money with money
c) A switch in how jobs work in Westeros – if there’s no more gold to mine, crops to harvest or fish to…fish then this switch will have to be towards trading debt for debt.
In the Tudor age, and the Renaissance as a whole, the need for money trading and management gave rise to the likes of the Borgias and Thomas Cromwell and the stock trading capital of Amsterdam and its merchant guilds. Braavos is already a key player but by the end of the series they will basically own the Iron Throne and whoever sits on it.
4. Dragons vs cannons
1453 was a year that rocked the world, not because it was the year Richard III said his first word but because the last vestige of the Roman Empire, the eastern capital of Constantinople, fell to the Ottoman conquerors thanks to their revolutionary ideas about gunpowder.
Cannons were already used but the Ottomans were working on a much, MUCH, much bigger scale. They make all older forms of warfare pointless: if you’re wearing full armour and a good sword you are a valuable asset in a normal battle but would be squashed into a disc by the impact from a cannonball (or cooked in your own suit by Dragonfire). A castle will be a safe refuge from even the most determined army but will end up Swiss cheese when it meets modern bombardment (just like Eastwatch was melted by the undead dragon).
The way this instilled fear in the hearts of westerners when they found out about the siege of Constantinople incurs talk of the world ending due to unstoppable march of foreign armies on fire.
Just like Danaerys and her dragons.
Now the cannons like the dragons are fallible and breakable, more importantly they can be taken from one side to another and once Richard III’s friend Charles, Duke of Burgundy got hold of one it was looking like conquest of western civilisation by the Turks was not so certain after all.
What does this mean?
It wasn’t long before artillery became central to all European warfare and with it the skilled and experienced knight in shining armour went from necessity to mythology.
There are some incredible sword wielders in Westeros like the Hound, the Mountain, Ser Brienne of Tarth, Beric Dondarrion and Jorah Mormont – oh how I miss them (and me! – Ed.). Their age as heroes is over, as is represented by them all dying off. That’s not a guarantee Brienne won’t survive but thematically, with the rest of the sword-wielding heroes sadly dispatched, the future doesn’t look bright for her!
5. Joffrey and Tommen = Princes in the Tower..?
Joffrey appears on other lists of Game of Thrones characters like most satisfying death, worst king and nastiest little thing but he, and his mild-mannered brother Tommen appear in this list as another of George R R Martin’s little thought experiments: what if the princes in the tower had lived but that was a bad thing.
After Edward IV died, Richard III claimed (or believed, depending on your view) that his nephews were illegitimate, as did Stannis and Renly Baratheon, who were clearly correct. After Richard III took the throne he left his nephews in the tower of London for an unknown time and they were never seen or heard from again, leading many to believe they were murdered by their uncle. George R R Martin’s twist on the history means we get to see what would possibly happen if those princes had lived to be kings.
What does this mean for the show?
Well I said these princes were never seen or heard from again and that is generally agreed but some say the younger prince came back to challenge Henry VII for the crown over a decade later, causing him and his spies much grief. This ‘Duke of York’ eventually was caught and confessed to be a normal merchant’s child but some say he was a bastard son of the King.
Does that mean Tommen landed on a cart full of pillows and will return? No, but it could mean Gendry isn’t satisfied with Storms End and would prefer Kings Landing.
6. Daenerys = Henry Tudor
Here’s a story: a child is born a relative of the king, they are spirited away as a child from the island to the continent and their two aging guardians bide their time, learning a few life lessons along the way. Meanwhile the island is in chaos, the government is weak and without successors and so it is time to strike. After the child, all grown up, is the reigning monarch the humbled lessons they learnt as an exile change the country forever.
That’s the story of Henry Tudor and Daenerys Targaryen (except we leave out all the conquests she did, she’s much cooler than Henry).
What does this mean for the show?
As Tyrion will remind you a lot in the last two seasons, Daenerys wants to ‘break the wheel’, upend the status quo but we don’t really know what that means, it looks like there’s still going to be a Greyjoy in the Iron Islands, a Stark in Winterfell and a Baratheon in the Stormlands and most of all a Targaryen on the throne. What’s different about that to how things were a hundred years before the story except that now there’s no gold?
I have been scratching my head about this all through the last series and found no obvious answer except in Henry Tudor. He became a canny investor, took our country into the wide market of European trade and exploited it, he did the same thing with taxes and many other aspects of his dynasty and he did not have control of half the continent. The only thing that can save Westeros might be Daenerys and the only thing that can save her is a course in economics.
7. Euron Greyjoy = Thomas Lord Stanley
This is the one I’ve been thinking about the most, so I saved it for last. The Stanley family were a duplicitous northern group of aristocrats, fairly low-level importance until they discovered a trick in the Wars of the Roses to be on both sides of the battles. They were also self-styled ‘Kings of Man’ because they held the defunct hereditary title of kingship of the Isle of Man.
They were psychos, Richard III trusted them as much as one trusts a seagull after buying a bag of chips and to show it, he kidnapped the Stanley heir and threatened to kill him if Stanley would not be loyal. Stanley simply said, “I have other sons”.
Our de facto leader of the clan ruling the island off the north west coast of the country turned the tide of Bosworth by not intervening and helped Henry VII win, thanks to his treachery. I think Euron was supposed to be this man.
So what does this mean for the show?
Euron was an incredible figure because he was so competent and yet so unpredictable. He had no reason to betray Cersei (although did he actually believe it is his baby?) but his iron fleet could have turned the tide if all it did was just sit in the Blackwater Bay and watch Kings Landing burn… SPOILER ALERT: Daenerys and her last remaining dragon had other ideas.
Phew! That’s all for now but there is so much we still haven’t touched on, was Qyburn meant to be Da Vinci? If you go west of Westeros is there an America?
Let us know in the comments what you think is coming in the final episode on Monday and how you think Game of Thrones has been inspired by the history of Richard III.