Game of Thrones is undoubtedly one of the best shows on television right now. While it's wildly creative on its own, that doesn't mean that the story hasn't taken some inspiration from real life events. Yep, that's right. Some of the straight up crazy shit that goes down on Game of Thrones was actually inspired by real life events in the history of mankind.
Of course, the world of Game of Thrones is a bit more magical than the one we are living in. There are no dragons flying around, although that would be super cool. There are also no White Walkers chillin' around the corner waiting for winter, which would be much less cool than the whole dragons thing. So, obviously, those elements weren't pulled from our history.
While many of the magical aspects were not inspired by historical events, many of the characters, marriages, battles, and deaths were pulled straight from our history books. If I knew that paying attention in history class would have given me greater insight into Game of Thrones, I would have majored in history. Okay, I probably wouldn't have, but you get my point.
So, next time you're watching an episode that is out of this world crazy, you should consider that it may actually be based on something outrageous from the history of mankind. Here are fifteen crazy similarities between historical events and Game of Thrones.
11 The Red Wedding Was Based On The Black Dinner & The Glencoe Massacre
The Red Wedding was a tiny bit difficult to watch, right? It may be a bit comforting to know that George R.R. Martin didn’t just think up that horrific scene on his own. He had a little bit of help from history. Martin has actually said that this was based on two events from history: The Black Dinner of 1440 and The Massacre of Glencoe of 1692.
In 1692, Highland Clan MacDonald was to swear allegiance to King William of Orange, but for a number of reasons, his letter stating his allegiance arrived late. This really ticked King William off, so he sent 120 men to the MacDonalds’ residence in Glencoe. The men claimed that they needed shelter because the nearby fort they were due to stay at was full. The MacDonalds, being the generous and warm family that they were, took them in for a whole two weeks.
Finally, one night when everyone was asleep in their beds, the soldiers murdered almost everyone. 38 men died and 40 women and children escaped the house but died of exposure anyway. This broke the “Slaughter Under Trust” Scottish rule of thumb, which is very similar to the Guest Right rule in Game of Thrones. Basically, no one should be killing a guest or a host because, duh.
In 1440, the Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his even younger brother were invited to have dinner with the 10-year-old King of Scotland. All three were getting along very well, until the end of the meal, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table. This apparently symbolized the death of the Black Douglas family. The Douglas brothers were then dragged out of the room, found guilty of treason and beheaded. Evidently, there was fear that the Douglas family was growing too powerful and that had to be stopped.
Of course, neither of these events are exactly like The Red Wedding, but it is easy to see the similarities with guests being murdered in such gruesome ways.
10 The Purple Wedding Was Based On Eustace Of Boulogne
I, for one, didn’t think The Purple Wedding was all that disturbing, but that’s mostly because I had been waiting for Joffery to die for several seasons by that point. At The Purple Wedding, Joffery marries Margaery Tyrell and carries on in his normal Joffery way, with immature antics and threats to anyone he pleases, but mostly Tyrion. Finally, Joffery sips from his goblet of wine. This results in him gasping and grabbing at his throat. He turns a gross shade of purple and finally dies, making several audience members, myself included, very happy to be rid of one of the show’s top villains.
In 1153, England was experiencing a civil war, as both King Stephen of England and his cousin, Empress Matilda, believed that they were the rightful heirs to the throne. Both of them had sons, and both of them hoped their son would be on the throne following Stephen.
Prince Eustace, son of Stephen, arrive at Cambridge Castle for a dinner, and after his first bite of food, he started choking and died. Many believe that he was poisoned, quite possibly by Matilda to, err, stack the odds in favor of her son becoming king. After Prince Eustace’s death, Stephen and Matilda reconciled and Stephen named Matilda’s son, Henry, as the new heir to the throne.
Martin has actually stated that the death of Prince Eustace served as inspiration for Joffery's death scene.
9 Yara Greyjoy Shares Similarities With Empress Matilda
Since we're chit chatting about Empress Matilda, it seems like a great time to point out that she shares some similarities with Yara Greyjoy.
After Henry I lost his son at sea, he only had one surviving daughter left - Matilda. Henry groomed her for the throne and even made his knights and lords swear to support Matilda's claim to the throne. Upon Henry's passing though, Matilda's cousin, Stephen, hopped on the throne himself. He had the backing of Englishmen who didn't believe that women were fit to rule.
This overthrow mirrors Yara's story in Game of Thrones, as she was groomed to succeed her father after her brothers were killed in battle or taken prisoner. Following the story of Matilda, Yara's father passed away and her Uncle Euron snatched the rule from her, as some Iron Islanders didn't believe that a woman was fit to rule.
As you read above, Matilda was able to at least sit her son on the throne, though it doesn't seems like Game of Thrones is going this direction with Yara. Most likely, she'll be facing off against her uncle.
8 The Entire Story Draws From The Wars of the Roses
We need to talk about the War of the Roses before we get any deeper with the historical inspiration for Game of Thrones because there are just so many similarities. George R.R. Martin has even stated that while his story draws from several historical events, it clings very closely to the War of the Roses.
The War of the Roses was a bloody war waged between two prominent families – The Lancasters (Lannisters) and The Yorks (Starks). The Yorks were represented by a white rose, just as the Starks are represented by the direwolf, and the Lancasters were represented by the red rose, as the Lannisters the lion.
Basically, in England, these two powerful families were both able to have a claim to the throne and started a long war spanning many generations, during which both families gained and lost the throne several times. While we haven't seen a Stark on the Iron Throne, some of the particular details are quite similar to Game of Thrones, like a mad king (Henry VI), someone crossing a narrow sea to take the throne (Henry Tudor) and a shit ton of bastards. The above video goes into everything Game of Thrones has in common with the War of the Roses.
7 Joffrey Baratheon Is Edward Of Lancaster
Ugh, there was a real life Joffrey. That is terrifying. Joffery shared quite a few traits with Edward of Lancaster, from the Lancaster (Lannister) family.
Since Edward was conceived during one of Henry VI’s periods of mental illness, there were rumors that Queen Margaret of Anjou may have strayed in order to get pregnant. This is very much like the very true rumors about Cersei's sex life and Joffrey’s parentage. In fact, Cersei bares many similarities to Queen Margaret, like the fact that they are both known to be ambitious schemers.
Joffrey was certainly on another level when it came to violence and sadism. The things Joffrey would do (showing Sansa her father’s head, torturing and murdering Ros with a crossbow) were pretty extreme and so, Edward was not nearly as bad as Joffrey. Edward, though, wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Of Edward, Ambassador of the Duchy of Milan said, “This boy, though only thirteen years of age, already talks of nothing but cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne.”
Another similarity is how both boys were engaged to traitors. Joffrey was engaged to Sansa, the daughter of Ned, who had committed "treason," and the sister of Robb, the King in the North and an imposing threat to Joffrey. Later, he was engaged and married to Margaery, though the Tyrells supported Renly’s claim to the throne. Likewise, Edward married Anne Neville. Anne’s father had once been a supporter of the Yorks in the War of the Roses, but later switched to support the Lancasters. The marriage between Anne and Edward was to ensure that her father did not switch sides again.
Well, at least Edward wasn't shooting down prostitutes. That we know of.
Sansa Stark, Joffrey's intended early in the series, actually bears many similarities to Anne Neville, Edward of Lancaster's wife. Anne Neville became something of a prize bride after her father and brother died in battle, making her the heir to a large estate. This is much like how Sansa is constantly being noted to be the key to The North in Game of Thrones. After Anne's first husband Edward died in battle, she was married to Richard III, so he could secure her wealth and land, and became Queen of England.
Later Anne died, and many believed it may have been the doing of Richard III in order to marry his niece, Elizabeth of York. Oddly enough, Sansa shares similarities to Elizabeth as well. Elizabeth was the sister to two younger brothers, who quite literally disappeared. They were locked in a tower and then just vanished from history. This is similar to Bran and Rickon, who both have now reappeared, but who were previously in hiding.
When Henry Tudor crossed the sea and took the throne, he married Elizabeth, as she had strong claim to the throne herself and he wanted to win the support of the Yorks. This ended the War of the Roses. While we don't know how Game of Thrones ends, it will be interesting to see if Sansa plays a part in the end game, much like how Elizabeth did.
6 The Mad King Concept Came From Henry VI
Keeping with the list of characters, The Mad King was not completely fictional. Now, not all of the Game of Thrones characters line up completely with history. For example, Queen Margaret (Cersei) gave birth to Edward of Lancaster (Joffery) who married Anne Neville (Sansa). All of that is pretty straightforward, but it gets murky when you throw Henry VI into the mix. Henry was married to Margaret and the father of Edward, so his counterpart in Game of Thrones would likely be Robert Baratheon, but he and Robert share very few similarities.
Instead, Henry VI is likely one of the inspirations for The Mad King, as Henry suffered from melancholy and depression. It was rumored that he was insane. With the pressure from the great nobles being divided, his nervousness grew worse and he suffered a complete mental breakdown, during which he was nearly catatonic. It was during this period that Margaret gave birth to Edward, which is why the rumors of his legitimacy began. If he couldn't feed himself, how could have created s son? Henry had even said that his son must have “been conceived by the Holy Ghost.”
Of course, he didn’t order anyone to ‘burn them all’ like The Mad King in Game of Thrones. The fact that he was unfit to rule, though, helped to create the powder keg that turned into the War of the Roses, just as Aerys Targaryen’s inability to successfully rule the kingdoms spiraled into several people claiming to have a right to the throne and the situation that is now in Game of Thrones.
The Wall that protects Westeros from the Wildlings isn’t so far fetched. Admittedly, The Wall in Game of Thrones protects the citizens from both Wildlings and the White Walkers, neither of which are issues in our world. Like most of the things from history that Martin borrowed, he flavored this to be much more magical in his fantasy world. Hadrian’s Wall, also known as the Roman Wall, was built in 122 AD as a defense tactic.
Martin has actually visited the wall himself and of it, said, “Well, some of it will be revealed later so I won't talk about that aspect of it, but certainly the Wall comes from Hadrian's Wall, which I saw while visiting Scotland. I stood on Hadrian's Wall and tried to imagine what it would be like to be a Roman soldier sent here from Italy or Antioch. To stand here, to gaze off into the distance, not knowing what might emerge from the forest. Of course fantasy is the stuff of bright colors and being larger than real life, so my Wall is bigger and considerably longer and more magical. And, of course, what lies beyond it has to be more than just Scots."
Again, Game of Thrones is a bit more magical than the real world, but all of those people who worship The Lord of the Light are actually practicing a religion based on Zoroastrianism, a pre-Islamic religion that emerged thousands of years ago. Both religions are monotheistic and worship fire, believing fire to be purifying and even using it in rituals. That being said, there are clear differences. For example, I don’t think Zoroastrianism gives out any necklaces to women in order for them to appear hot, even though they are, like, 6,000 years old. I’m fairly certain there are no religions with those necklaces and, if there was, I could totally practice that religion.
5 Robb Stark Is The Younger Edward IV
Robb Stark seems to be drawing from Edward IV, another player in the War of the Roses. Edward was fighting with the Lancasters over the throne and, in an effort to get some allies, Edward was promised to marry the King of France’s sister.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth Woodeville, a widow, came to ask Edward for help after her husband’s death. Rumor has it that Edward proposed they have some sex outside of wedlock and when Elizabeth refused, he married her to have sex with her. Robb was a bit more noble than that, but the situation is quite similar to Robb’s marriage to Talisa even though he was promised to a Frey girl.
Of course, Robb’s decision ended in his death, Talisa’s death and Catelyn’s death. Edward’s decision did bear the same consequences but he did lose France as a partner, as they then sided with the Lancasters.
The similarities go beyond just that situation. Both Robb and Edward had fathers who suffered humiliating deaths, as both of their heads ended up on spikes. From that point, both young men were thrust into leadership roles that they may not have been fully prepared to take on.
4 Robert Baratheon Is The Older Edward IV
Okay, I know I just said that Robb Stark was based off of Edward IV but Robert Baratheon may have also been based off of the King as well. In fact, Martin stated that if he based Robert off of anyone, it was Edward IV but with changes. We all know that Robert took the throne after The Mad King was taken down. Likewise, Edward IV took the throne after Henry VI (the real life mad king) was found to be unfit to rule.
As you may have guessed from the earlier description of Edward IV, he was super into sex, like Robert. Also much like Robert, he liked hunting, eating and drinking. Edward met his end on a fishing trip, and the circumstances are quite unclear. Since there are so many opposing theories about his death, it is likely that there was foul play – much like Robert’s fateful hunting trip. So, while it seems Robb draws from Young Edward, it seems that Robert draws from Edward in his later years.
3 Wildfire Is Basically Greek Fire
Yeah, so that crazy green fire that Cersei likes to play with is actually based on a real thing. Wildfire seems to be explosive fire that can even burn on water, as it did in the Battle of Blackwater Bay. Greek fire was actually ignited by water and was used in many of their battles. The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople was a specific battle during which the Greek army used Greek fire to defeat the Arab offensive. This particular tactic is what the Battle of Blackwater Bay was based on.
Lucretia is a figure from the history of the Roman Republic, whose story dates back to 510 BC. In the story, she was raped by the king’s son and afterwards, committed suicide due to the encounter. This event caused a rebellion that overthrew the monarchy. Furthermore, when she was found dying, she then explained what happened and forced them to pledge to her that they would extract vengeance.
There are some alarmingly obvious differences in the Game of Thrones version. First of all, Lyanna makes Ned promise not to avenge her, but to care for her son and keep him safe. The son is another difference, as it was never noted that Lucretia was pregnant from being raped. Also, the rebellion that Robert led didn’t result in a republic, but rather resulted with him sitting on the throne himself.
Of course, what stays similar is the fact that a prince raped a young woman and that led to a rebellion that overthrew the current leader.
2 The Dothraki Were Inspired By The Mongols
The Dothraki are the barbarians Daenerys married into in season one. They seem extreme in terms of violence and sex but they are actually based on a real-world group. Martin has stated that the Dorthraki are inspired by the Mongols.
The Mongols were horse lords who rode through Asia in the 13th century. The most well-known Mongol was Genghis Khan. Khan is actually the name given to him as the ruler, much how Khal was given to Drogo, as he was the ruler. They also had their own language, cared little for other cultures, and were nomadic people. This tribe, however, existed in the 13th century and played no factor in the War of the Roses, so it’s hard to predict what role Dany’s army will have in the upcoming seasons based off of history.
1 Daenerys Targaryen Shares Similarities To Henry Tudor
Uh, so how is Daenerys Targaryen anything like Henry Tudor? Well, in quite a few ways actually. For starters, they both believed that the throne was theirs by birthright. Henry’s mother was a descendant of Edward III, which was his claim, and we all know that Dany’s father was The Mad King, which is her claim.
They both grew up in exile across a body of water (Henry in France) and, when the time came, they built an army and crossed said body of water to take back the throne they believed to be theirs.
Henry crossed the sea and married Elizabeth (earlier pointed out as Sansa) in order to gain the throne and knock out any other Yorks who thought they had claim. While Dany marrying Sansa is, like, the least likely thing to happen on the show ever, it should be noted that she has before married in order to help advance her cause.
The War of the Roses ended with Henry on the throne so it should be interesting to see if this is in any way a clue to how Game of Thrones will end. Of course, the War of the Roses didn’t have dragons or White Walkers or Three-eyed Ravens so there’s certainly a few more factors to deal with.
Plus, Martin seems to have pulled from history but certainly added his own twist so relying on history to predict the end of Game of Thrones isn’t the safest bet.
Sources: Emgn.com, Mentalfloss.com, Telegraph.co.uk, History-behind-game-of-thrones.com, Theweek.com, Theguardian.com, gizmodo.com, Washingtonpost.com, Persephonemagazine.com
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