Jul 17 2011 2:00pm

Lannister is to Lancaster as Stark is to York: Game of Thrones as History Retold

I’m enthralled: Epic storytelling, political intrigue, intricate plotting, noble knights and mad, ruthless kings.

Game of Thrones is all of these things, and though George R.R. Martin creates his world on a grand, fantastical scale, it recalls the time in English history that was full of bloodshed, betrayal and wary alliances (although when wasn’t that happening?). A time when two royal families, Lancaster and York, fought to wear the crown of England—the War of the Roses.

Ned StarkThe captivating dynamics between the various noble houses in Game of Thrones bears a remarkable resemblance to medieval English politics. The constant threat of betrayal, rebellion, anarchy and greed prevail in both Martin’s series, as well as in real history.

Death plays a major role in this series, as it did in the Middle Ages, when living past thirty was considered quite a feat, and when bearing a child could mean death to a woman, both noble and poor.

Knowing too, that “Winter is coming” places all the characters, and the viewers, in a constant state of fear. Life for these souls “is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” (Hobbes) What’s more is one cannot fathom what is worse, the politic of court life in King’s Landing, aka London, or the wilds of the North, ie Scotland.

And just like history, compelling characters—of whom there are many—pull you even deeper into the story. When the series began, it was a bit daunting to be confronted with such a vast array of characters: Everyone from the noble Ned Stark to the sinister Cersei, and my goodness, Martin wastes no time in plunging our burgeoning feelings for his characters right over a cliff.

Margaret of AnjouThe best example of this is in the second-to-last episode where our lovable, if a bit stupid, Ned Stark forfeited his life for his foolish honor. Perhaps had he not trusted Cersei, nor threatened her with exposure of her incest, he might live still.

I liken Cersei to Margaret of Anjou, French queen of Henry VI, a woman who tenaciously fought for her sons’ right to the throne, at the cost of many a life.

Ned Stark disputed Joffrey’s right to the throne because he suspected he was the son of Cersei’s incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime Lannister, not borne of her marriage to Robert Baratheon. It has been widely speculated that Margaret of Anjou’s son was not Henry VI’s at all, but was in fact the product of an affair with one of her courtiers!

King JoffreyI have to give it to Martin; the man can weave a great tale, have his readers become emotionally invested by a character’s fate, only to feel it like a blow to the chest when he prematurely kills them off. And true to life, no one is safe. With one swift slash of a sword we’ve lost someone we’ve grown to love, to root for. The reality of Westeros is that people, even the good ones, especially the good ones, do die, often in a most ruthless, barbaric manner. Like real life, and real history.

So—great story-telling or an ability to use history as a realistic springboard? Perhaps a bit of both.


A.J. Wilson, Shark By Day, Lover Of All Things Plaid By Night

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Charli Mac
1. CharliMac
That Margaret of Anjou sounds like a piece of work.

I love comparing fiction and history. Tis so much fun!
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
@CharliMac: Yes, I think using real events to inspire fictional brilliance is fantastic. I wonder if Margaret was as lethal as Cersei? Cool that AJ made the comparisons.
AJ Wilson
3. AJ Wilson
Margaret of Anjou was often
referred to as the 'Bitch of France'. The English, did NOT want to be
ruled by a woman, and a French one at that.

@Charli Mac - History is often better, and more exciting than fiction; truly a great inspiration!

@MFrampton - In 1461, after the Second Battle of St. Albans, where Margaret
defeated the Yorkists faction led by the powerful Earl of Warwick, in what
could only be called a calculating Cersei manner, ordered the execution of two Yorkists
POW’s, - decapitation – both of which had guarded King Henry during the battle. It has been told, albeit allegedly,
that she had her young son, Prince Edourd, or Edward, preside over the ‘mock’
trial, asking him how the men ought to die, to which he replied, “that their
heads should be cut off.’ The King’s plea for clemency fell on deaf ears.
AJ Wilson
4. AJ Wilson
The 'Bitch' was teaching her young son, much as Cersei is with Joffery ...
AJ Wilson
5. Mochabean
LOVE this. And when you referenced "Winter is Coming" in this context I suddenly heard "Now is the winter of our discontent Made glorious summer by this son of York" and now I am imagining Tyrion ending up on a battlefiled screaming for a horse and getting unfairly blamed for it all. (I guess in that scenario Lannister woulld be York - oh well) Very fun. thanks!
A.J. Wilson
6. AJWilson
Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low'r'd upon our house
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.
Richard The Third

Shakespeare’s words translate thusly; Winter is a symbol for oppressing Richard’s family, but now that his brother is king, contentedness reigns. Edward IV’s emblem was the Sun, thus the joie de vivre of his crowning dispels the clouds that ‘lowered’ (glared) on the House of York …

@Mochabean - I can absolutely envision Tyrion winnning the day ...
AJ Wilson
7. Rachel Thomas 85
Read the white queen and the red queen if you liked this show
AJ Wilson
8. Joshua Raheim
Will someone write an article about the Tudor/Baratheon connection? Robert wins the throne as Henry VII. Margaery Tyrell = Catherine... yeah... you see it now.
AJ Wilson
9. NoliMeTangere

I am a late Medievalist in my last year of my Undergrad in England.

For me I love Game of Thrones, but my frustration is that the same people that love it are the same people who wonder why I've devoted my life to 'boring' old history.

Hopefully the finding of Richard III's body in Leiceister will revive the history of the Wars of the Roses in UK institutions and bridge that gap! For me Jof is Henry VI, unable to fill the boots of his warrior father (though in his former warrior status and later drunkeness there are parallels to Edward IV for Baratheon)Cersei Anjou & Ned in some ways in aiding Robert to the throne is like the 'King maker' the Earl of Warwick.

It is interesting too that after the finding of Richard III Yorkshire folk are starting to claim him as the last 'King of the North' and so should be re-interred there.

Any way, I strongly recommend anyone that loves Game of Thrones pick up a book on the Wars of the Roses, the Battle of St Albans or Towton have just us much drama and the Wars themselves as many twists and turns!
AJ Wilson
10. gridsleep
I wonder how the House of Targaryen fits into all this? Or are they and what lives in the North where history ends and full fiction begins?
Rachel Hyland
11. RachelHyland
Hey, sounds like all you folks should be checking out the BBC's The White Queen, which is, in its way, as much a fictionalised telling of the Wars of the Roses as is Martin's... Much as are the Philippa Gregory books on which it is based ( as mentioned by Rachel Thomas 85).
AJ Wilson
12. Aaron Maurer
the thing with the tudor house and henry the 7th hanst happned yet. henry the 7th unites the two houses. but in GoT Lannister is in alliance with baratheon who usurp Targaryen. and the baratheon kings have alot of lannister has alot of biological bloodline in them. im not sure whare house Stark lies though. althoguh maybe eventually house stark will unite both or all three house as the new kingship of westeros in a somewhat similar fashion that king henry the 7th unted york and lancaster.
AJ Wilson
13. EB Louis
The Starks seem to be loosely based on the Yorkist faction whilst the Lannisters are definitely based on the Lancastrian faction of Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou.

Margaret of Anjou must be the basis for Ceresi and her son Edward for Joffery. Henry VI is probably loosely a basis for Robert Baratheon's ineffectual role in the story.

Robb Stark's character has some elements taken from Edward IV (never losing a battle, making a marriage that caused huge political controversy, becoming a king immediately after his father's death) even though other details have been changed (Edward IV met with success in life whereas Robb was murdered).

Reading about the Wars of the Roses has led me to increasingly wonder whether a Stark-Lannister reconcilation (i.e. Sansa Stark and Tyrion Lannister) will be some sort of pivotal role in ending the conflict at the end of the story. Tyrion looks likely to regain the Westerlands though with a terrible PR problem.

The Baratheons, at least Stannis, might be partially based on the Yorkists. However, Robert Baratheon may be more akin enry VI in terms of his utter inability to govern and rule and the immense power wieldly instead by others in his faction. The personaly of Robert is extremely different from Henry VI, but his role in the story contains some similarities.

The Targaryens are harder to place than the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons, but could possibly, loosely, represent the Plantagenets before the Henry IV (similar to Robert, Tywin, and others overthrowing the Targs) deposed Richard II (if so then their role in the story is not based on actual history very much). The quarrell between Targ, Baratheon, and perhaps Blackfyre (fake Aegon) could be partly inspired by York and Lancaster also.
AJ Wilson
14. EB Louis
By the way, I agree with the comment that the stuff with the rise of the Tudors has not yet happened. Since the Tudors apparently heavily promoted the idea that they supposedly united the Yorkist and Lancastrian houses together and thus ended the conflict I wonder if some type of Stark-Lannister alliance (Sansa and Tyrion, basically) will play a big role in the ending.

Alternatively, Edric Storm could possibly be a Tudor like figure if he is legitimized and allies with the Starks.
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