A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones and the Wars of the Roses

A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones have many different historical counterparts. The narrative and characters are not based on a single historical event or time period, rather they are influenced by the history of many different countries. For instance, a number of events in British history have had an influence on the development of the narrative and its back story. One such event that influenced Martin’s series was the British Civil War, more commonly known as the Wars of the Roses. Many people tend to believe that this event had the greatest influence on the series. However that is not the case, it was just one of many different events that played a role in influencing the direction, feel and characters of the story. One of the key points that Martin states many times when discussing the historical influences behind A Song of Ice and Fire is that he did not use one-on-one counterparts.1 Many of his characters are influenced by a number of different historical figures, so there is no single historical figure that the fictional characters take after. Looking at the many different figures that played a significant role in the Wars of the Roses, it is clear that their lives and actions have influenced a number of the major characters within the world of Westeros. At the same time, a number of the events that define the Wars of the Roses have also influenced the narrative, which is one of the main reasons that many people have associated Martin’s narrative with this historical event. Therefore, the Wars of the Roses are one of the many historical events that have significantly influenced Martin’s series, A Song of Ice and Fire. This is demonstrated through the similarities between the historical figures and fictional characters and the events from history and in Martin’s world.
The Wars of the Roses is the common name of the Civil War that occurred in Britain between 1455 and 1485 between the Yorks and the Lancasters.2 A. J. Pollard writes that “by tradition, the Wars of the Roses signify a period of total anarchy brought on by a dynastic conflict which divided England before the coming of the Tudors.”3 The strife began when young Henry VI was crowd the King of England in 1429 after the death of his father, Henry V.4 Henry VI was married to Margaret of Anjou in 1445 who became a major player during the Wars of the Roses.5 She had one son, Edward.6
Richard of York, one of Henry VI’s subjects, also had a claim to the English throne, and he began to push for this right to sit on the throne.7 By 1452, Richard of York had raised an army to try and force his way to the throne. However, he was forced to submit when his army was outnumbered and defeated. Although he was defeated, by 1454 he was made the protector of the English throne, when Henry VI showed signs of mental instability.8
When Henry VI had recovered in 1455, Richard of York was pushed out of power. Two armies, one led by Richard of York and the other the royal army, meet at the First Battle of St. Albans in 1455. During this battle, both the Duke of Somerset and the Earl of Northumberland were killed, and Henry VI suffered another attack and was unable to rule.9 This was when the Wars of the Roses began, as two powerful opposing forces rose up and fought over the right to rule.
During 1459 and after multiple battles, Richard of York claimed the throne and had Henry VI’s young son Edward disinherited, but he was killed in battle with one of his sons a year later.10 Edward IV, Richard of York’s eldest son claimed the throne in 1461 after the Battle of Towton in which he pushed back the Margaret of Anjou and Lancaster army.11 Edward IV eventually married Elizabeth Woodville in secret in 1464, to the frustration of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick who had been trying to broker a marriage alliance between Edward IV and France.12 This unfortunately made Warwick look like a fool in the eyes of France. As he was increasingly alienated from Edward IV, he began to conspire against the King which led to open conflict in 1469.13
George, Duke of Clarence, brother to Edward IV rose up against him and aligned himself with Margaret of Anjou and his brother-in-law, Richard Neville.14 By 1471, Edward IV had managed to defeat the Lancaster army; Warwick and Prince Edward were killed on the battlefield, and Henry VI was executed after the battle.15 The Yorks had managed to destroy the Lancaster dynasty in just over ten years. This however, did not end the Wars of the Roses. After Edward IV’s death in 1483, his brother Richard, Duke of Gloucester took over as Protector of the Throne for his young nephews.16 It is also believed that Richard killed Edward IV’s young sons in order to claim the throne.17 Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond was a Lancaster, and with Richard losing support, he was able to defeat Richard, establishing the Tudor reign.18 Although this took time, Henry VII was able to stabilize the government and restore “monarchical authority,” effectively ending the Wars of the Roses, and bringing the Lancasters back into power.19
The Wars of the Roses had many characters that played different roles within the rising clash of two opposing powers. It was not just the men who influenced the civil war; the women as well played key roles behind the scenes influencing their male counterparts. Within the world of Westeros many of the characters share traits with historical figures from this period, establishing how Martin used this event in British history to influence his narrative.

Aerys II Targaryen

Aerys II Targaryen “The Mad King”

For example, there are similarities between the character Aerys II Targaryen and Henry VI. Aerys II was often known as the ‘Mad King’ during his rule, and Henry VI was known for having bouts of mental insanity, at which times he was unable to rule and had to have someone stand in for him.20 Martin greatly exaggerated Aerys II’s madness, but it is clear that there are similarities between the two mad kings. It was Aerys II’s reign that led to the end of “near three centuries of Targaryen rule in Westeros” as the people rose up in rebellion to put an end to his rule.21 Similarly, it was under Henry VI’s rule that there was a civil war began to end the Lancaster power in England, he was overthrown and eventually killed, which ended the Lancaster control in England for many years.22 Furthermore, just as Henry VI had to have Richard of York become the Protector of England when he could not rule, Aerys II’s Hand, Tywin Lannister had to rule in his place, as the King’s actions became more erratic and unstable.23 It is unsurprising that Martin chose to create a character that was known as the ‘Mad King’ as several Kings including Henry VI in the fifteenth century who were considered to have some mental instability.24

Rhaegar Targaryen at a Tournament

Rhaegar Targaryen at a Tournament

Looking at Aerys II’s eldest son Rhaegar Targaryen there are clear similarities with Prince Edward of Lancaster. Rhaegar Targaryen is often referred to as the ‘Last Dragon’ after his death during Robert Baratheon’s Rebellion.25 Prince Edward was the only son and heir of Henry VI and he fought against the Yorks during the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1471 to try and reclaim his throne.26 One of the major similarities between the two Princes was their prowess on the battlefield. Both Edward and Rhaegar were seen as being skilled warriors at a young age. For instance, Rhaegar was knighted by the age of seventeen and became “a skilled and capable fighter (culminating in his victory at the Tourney at Harrenhal).” 27 Prince Edward was seen as a strong warrior who was talented with a blade. However, despite being talented warriors, both Rhaegar and Prince Edward were killed during their first battle. Rhaegar was killed by Robert Baratheon and it is unclear whether Edward died in the battle or was later executed.28 Finally, one last major similarity between the two princes, is that after their defeat in battle, their fathers were executed ending, in Rhaegar’s case the reign of the Targaryens and in Edward’s case the last hope for the Lancasters to retake the British Throne.29 Therefore it is clear that Martin drew on a number of Prince Edward’s characteristics and paralleled them in his character Rhaegar Targaryen.

Robert Baratheon

Robert Baratheon

There are also many similarities between Robert Baratheon and Edward IV who eventually became the King of England. Firstly, when Robert was younger he was considered to be a great warrior, who was able to successfully lead a rebellion against the Targaryen rule.30 Similarly Edward IV was also considered a talented warrior, who led an army to reclaim the British throne after his father, Richard of York’s death, and to push back Margaret of Anjou and her army.31 Both young men claimed the throne and were successfully crowned King and ruled for many years. Yet, their similarities run deeper, after they were crowned King, they both eventually descended into drunkenness and coarse behaviour.32 Cogman writes that Robert Baratheon was “more interested in whoring and drinking than affairs of state.”33 Similarly, Edward IV “had a strongly hedonistic streak,” and would pursue such gratification, even while he was King.34 Both Kings shared many similarities indicating that parts of Robert’s personality and back story were based on the figure Edward IV, King of England.

Robb Stark

Robb Stark

However, Robert Baratheon is not the only character in Martin’s narrative to share characteristics with Edward IV. In fact, there are many similarities between Edward IV and Robb Stark. With Robb Stark, Martin drew upon different characteristics than those paralleled in Robert Baratheon. For example, both men entered into secret weddings, upsetting those around them.35 Robb Stark had agreed to marry one of Lord Frey’s daughters; however he backed out of the vow and married the woman that he loved instead.36 In the same way, Edward VI married Elizabeth of Woodville in secret, when Richard Neville, one of his advisors had been arranging a marriage alliance with France.37 Both of these marriages resulted in the betrayals of their allies. Lord Frey betrayed Robb, as he was angry that Robb had gone back on his word, and this led to Robb’s untimely death.38 Likewise, the Earl of Warwick who had been arranging this marriage for Edward felt alienated from the throne and in turn later rebelled against him siding with Edward’s enemies instead.39 Both men were great fighters and leaders, yet it was their decision to marry against everyone’s wishes that resulted in the betrayal of their allies.

Cersei Lannister

Cersei Lannister

However, the men of Westeros are not the only characters to draw parallels with figures from the Wars of the Roses; many of the women of Westeros have similar connections. For instance, Cersei Lannister is often compared to Margaret of Anjou the wife of Henry VI. Margaret of Anjou has frequently been described as being both controlling and cunning and more concerned with having things done her way, than the “greater good.”40 Cersei Lannister is described in a similar manner, she is both beautiful and ambitious, and will do anything to fulfill her own desires.41 Both of these women were fiercely protective of their children, and would anything to keep them safe.42 Finally, both women were suspected of having affairs while they married.43 Cersei was indeed having an affair with her brother Jamie Lannister, starting when they were young and continuing throughout her marriage.44 Although it was suspected that Margaret of Anjou was having an affair it was never proven, so it is unknown whether or not this belief was true.45

Daenarys Targaryen

Daenarys Targaryen

Daenerys Targaryen is another female character that draws parallels with historical figures from the Wars of the Roses. Daenerys has often been compared to Henry Tudor, or Henry VII, with whom she shares several similarities. Both Henry Tudor and Daenerys grew up in exile and each had claim to their throne. Daenerys Targaryen was the last of the Targaryen line and Henry Tudor was the last Lancaster with claim to the English Throne.46 Yet each was determine to return to their home and reclaim their throne. Henry and Daenerys massed huge foreign armies who were loyal to their cause, and would have to cross the sea in order to claim back what was rightfully theirs.47 Cogman writes that Daenerys’ mission was to “reclaim her family’s birthright and take back the Iron Throne.”48 At this point in the show, she has not yet crossed the sea and returned to Westeros so one can only image what will happen when she does, and one wonders whether “Daenerys will triumph like Henry Tudor once did”.49
All of these characters among others draw upon parallels with historical figures that played key roles during the Wars of the Roses. Yet, there are also parallels between the events of that define the Wars of the Roses and events in Westeros. For instance, there is a civil war going on in Westeros as different families fight each other for control of the Iron Throne, loosely mimicking the civil war between the Lancasters and the Yorks in fifteenth century England.50 Both politics and war are key elements in the Wars of the Roses and in the world of Westeros. Additionally, the back story that sets the stage for the Martin’s narrative shares many similar characteristics with the Wars of the Roses. For instance, the story begins several years after Robert Baratheon lead a rebellion that toppled the Targaryen rule and he claimed the Iron Throne for the House of Baratheon.51 The Wars of the Roses began as the house of York rose up and overthrew the house of Lancaster, starting a civil war that would last several decades.52 Each event started when the ruling family was overthrown by an opposing power, sparking civil war, betrayal and chaos.
In conclusion, it is clear that the Wars of the Roses had a significant influence on Martin’s narrative and character development. Although, he does not use one-on-one counterparts, that are many characters within the world of Westeros who have similar traits to those who were major figures during the Wars of the Roses. Many of the characters have multiple historical counterparts, demonstrating that Martin does not rely on a single historical event or period, but rather integrates many different historical periods to create his world. At the same time, the events that define the Wars of the Roses also influence the story and the path that it takes. The Wars of the Roses may have occurred in the fifteenth century in England and yet it is able influence popular culture today and to be remembered by the stories that the events inspire.


1Alicia McKenzie, Not Quite the Wars of the Roses. ML 300Q. March 2, 2015. Wilfrid Laurier University.
2Trevor Royle, Lancaster Against York: The Wars of the Roses and the Foundation of Modern Britain (Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), vii-viii
3A.J. Pollard, The Wars of the Roses 3rd ed. (New York: Palagrave MacMillan, 2013), 1
4Pollard, 23,
5Sarah Gristwood, The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses (New York: Basic Books, 2013), 3
6Sadler, xix
7Pollard, 24; John Sadler, The Red Rose and the White: The Wars of the Roses, 1453 – 1487 (Toronto: Pearson Education Limited, 2010),, xxiv
8Pollard, 24
9Sadler, xiv, xix; Pollard, 25-26
10Pollard, 26-28; Sadler, xiv
11Sadler, xx, xv, 116; Pollar, 29
12Sadler, xx, xxiii
13Pollard, 31
14Sadler, xvii, McKenzie, 2015
15Pollard, 32-34; Sadler, xviii, xix
16Pollard, 36-37
17Gristwood, xxiii
18Pollard, 38-40
19Pollard, 41
20James Adair, More on Aerys and the Mad Kings. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2015. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/more-mad-kings
21George R.R. Martin, Elio M. Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson, The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Bantam Books, 2014), 113
22Sadler, xix
23Sadler, xxiv; Martin, Garcia & Antonsson, 114
24Adair, 2015
25Tom Pert, Black Princes, Lost Kings and Chivalric Savages? The Historical Inspirations of Rhaegar Targaryen. 2014. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/rhaegar-targaryen; Martin, Garcia & Antonsson, 127
26Pert, 2014
27Pert, 2014
28Martin, Garcia & Antonsson, 129; Pert, 2014
29Pert, 2014
30Bryan Cogman, Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones (California: Home Box Office Inc., 2012),93; Chris Pleasance, Revealed: The REAL History Behind Game of Thrones’ Fantastical Characters (and its surprisingly like the Wars of the Roses). Mail Online. 2014. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2625187/Revealed-The-REAL-history-Game-Thrones-fantastical-characters-surprisingly-like-Wars-Roses.html
31Sadler, xx; Pollard, 26
32Pleasance, 2014
33Cogman, 93
34Sadler, 161
35Pleasance, 2014
36Darren Mooney. Game of Thrones: Season 2 (Review). The Movie Blog. 2012. Web. Accessed Mar 30, 2015. http://them0vieblog.com/2012/06/25/game-of-thrones-season-2-review/
37Pleasance, 2014; Sadler, xx
38Pleasance, 2014
39Sadler, xxi
40Pleasance, 2014; Jamie Adair, Margaret of Anjou’s Influence on Cersei Lannister. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2013. Web. Mar 9, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/margaret-of-anjous-influence-on-cersei-lannister
41Cogman, 76
42Adair, 2013; Cogman, 76
43Adair, 2013
44Cogman, 76
45Adair, 2013
46Cogman, 155; James Adair, Daenerys as Henry VII. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2013. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/daenerys
47Pleasance, 2014; Cogman, 155
48Cogman, 155
49Adair, 2013
50Dan Jones, Game of Thrones: The Bloody Historical Truth Behind the Show. The Telegraph. 2014. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/game-of-thrones/10693448/Game-of-Thrones-the-bloody-historical-truth-behind-the-show.html
51Tom Holland, Game of Thrones is More Brutally Realistic than most Historical Novels. The Guardian. 2013. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015. http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/mar/24/game-of-thrones-realistic-history
52Holland, 2013

Bibliography
Adair, Jamie. Margaret of Anjou’s Influence on Cersei Lannister. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2013. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/margaret-of-anjous-influence-on-cersei-lannister

Adair, James. More on Aerys and the Mad Kings. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2015. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/more-mad-kings

Adair, James. Daenerys as Henry VII. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2013. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/daenerys

Cogman, Bryan. Inside HBO’s Game of Thrones. California: Home Box Office Inc., 2012

Gristwood, Sarah. Blood Sisters: The Women Behind the Wars of the Roses. New York: Basic Books, 2013

Holland, Tom. Game of Thrones is More Brutally Realistic than most Historical Novels. The Guardian. 2013. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
http://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2013/mar/24/game-of-thrones-realistic-history

Jones, Dan. Game of Thrones: The Bloody Historical Truth Behind the Show. The Telegraph. 2014. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/game-of-thrones/10693448/Game-of-Thrones-the-bloody-historical-truth-behind-the-show.html

Martin, George R.R., Elio M. Garcia, Jr. and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2014

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Mooney, Darren. Game of Thrones: Season 2 (Review). The Movie Blog. 2012. Web. Accessed Mar 30, 2015.
http://them0vieblog.com/2012/06/25/game-of-thrones-season-2-review/

Pert, Tom. Black Princes, Lost Kings and Chivalric Savages? The Historical Inspirations of Rhaegar Targaryen. History Behind Game of Thrones. 2014. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
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Pleasance, Chris. Revealed: The REAL History Behind Game of Thrones’ Fantastical Characters (and its surprisingly like the Wars of the Roses). Mail Online. 2014. Web. Accessed Mar 9, 2015.
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2625187/Revealed-The-REAL-history-Game-Thrones-fantastical-characters-surprisingly-like-Wars-Roses.html

Pollard, A.J. The Wars of the Roses 3rd ed. New York: Palagrave MacMillan, 2013

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Sadler, John. The Red Rose and the White: The Wars of the Roses, 1453 – 1487. Toronto: Pearson Education Limited, 2010

Mary Willet

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