Historia Guest: A Game of Thrones and A War of Roses

By Bryn Davies

Hi everyone! Welcome back to a slightly different post about Yorkshire today written by Bryn Davies. Instead of focusing just on Yorkshire history, today Yorkshire has been incorporated into an article about the influence of the War of the Roses and the warring houses of York and Lancaster on George R.R. Martin’s ‘Game of Thrones.’ I hope you enjoy!

It is widely known that George R.R. Martin used real-world medieval conflict to inspire his series of epic fantasy novels. Let’s be honest, few of his characters are awarded the pleasure of a comfortable death. Wars and illness are constant struggles and there’s always the looming threat of an invasion from beyond the Wall- sounds like a lot of periods from English history! The War of The Roses is the most often cited of these conflicts to share a narrative thread with the ‘A Song Of Ice And Fire’ saga, but just how much do the novels reflect this brutal and bloody period of history?

When you dive beyond the surface of this turbulent time you uncover just how closely the two reflect each other!

Note: this is a huge period of history so some people have had to be missed out.

The Wars of The Roses were a series of battles which ultimately led to the installation of Henry Tudor as king of England. In the late 15th century, decades of feuding over control of the English throne took place between two squabbling families of prominence; the Lancasters and the Yorks. Now, neither family had dragons or heirs with the ability to bend time and control animals but the story of the War of the Roses does include plenty of rivalry, weak monarchs, shifting loyalties, murdered princes, scheming protectors and even assistance from outsiders across the Narrow Sea (in this case, the English Channel). Much like its fictionalised counterpart, The War of the Roses was a convoluted and brutally violent series of events. 

The Wars of The Roses began with the death of King Edward III (King Robert Baratheon) in 1377. Edward’s oldest son had already died, leaving the throne to his grandson, Richard II (Joffrey Baratheon ). The new king was just ten years old. By skipping a generation the crown had failed to land on the heads of Edward III’s three surviving sons. This created a power struggle and numerous claims to the crown. The struggle became particularly strong between the Lancaster family, descended from Edward’s third son (Stannis Baratheon) and the Yorks, descended from his fourth son (Renly Baratheon). After various battles and games of musical thrones, the crown passed on to Henry VI (Tommen Baratheon); a Lancaster and an infant of eight months old. Henry VI was a weak-willed and easily influenced king who ruled mostly at the suggestion of his advisors (Tywin Lannister / Jaime Lannister) who eventually convinced him to marry the beautiful and ruthless Margaret of Anjou (Margeary Tyrell / Cersei Lannister). This allowed the Lancasters to rely on French soldiers (and French coin) to support their claim to the throne.

Margaret eradicated anyone who threatened her position as Queen. She held a particularly strong distrust of Richard of York (Ned Stark), a prominent figure in his family who still harboured a claim to the throne. York was Henry VI’s closest advisor The Queen did everything in her power to keep York from achieving too high a position. York protested this and began openly fighting with the Lancasters. Margaret banished him to Ireland (at least in this scenario he kept his head). York attacked with an army, was reinstated as Protector of England (Hand of the King) and secured his heir’s succession following Henry’s death. During battles with Margaret’s forces, York was killed. His son took the throne as Edward IV (Robb Stark) after capturing Henry VI after the Battle of Towton.

Unfortunately, Edward IV’s success was undermined when he backed out of an arranged marriage with a French princess, secretly marrying the widow of a minor noble in her place. The ignored betrothal alienated many of Edward’s allies, especially the Earl of Warwick (Walder Frey / Roose Bolton). The Earl turned against Edward IV and even briefly reinstated Henry VI as king. However, Edward IV soon took back the throne and imprisoned Henry in The Tower where he later died. Edward IV reigned with little further uprising until his death in 1483. Edward IV’s twelve-year-old son failed to succeed him after his younger brother Richard III declared that the boy was illegitimate. He was the result of Edward IV’s ‘secret and inappropriate’ marriage. Richard III took the crown and imprisoned Edward’s children. They were never seen again.

Two years later, a figure from across the English Channel challenged Richard III’s reign. Henry Tudor (Daenerys Targaryen), a direct descendant of the first Duke of Lancaster, was raised in exile after his father’s death. Henry Tudor won support of the York forces, raised an army in France, crossed the English Channel, and defeated Richard’s forces. He married Elizabeth of York (Jon Snow), Edward IV’s daughter. This united the families of Lancaster and York and secured the crown enabling Henry VII to usher in the dawn of the Tudor age.

By looking at the real world history, it could perhaps be predicted that A Song of Ice And Fire will end slightly differently to the much maligned television adaptation.  Perhaps when the Winds of Winter is finally published we will see Daenerys sitting the Iron Throne with Jon fathering a Henry VIII or Elizabeth I inspired character? Now that’s a story better than fiction… 

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