No Ordinary Woman: Historical Inspirations Behind the Mother Of Dragons

George R.R. Martin’s fantasy world, A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO’s television adaptation Game of Thrones has reached the attention of millions creating a worldwide phenomenon that has left fans thirsty for more, causing an urge to uncover all the secrets and influences behind the story’s most beloved and hated characters. Martin has used multiple sources from different historical time periods for inspiration, collapsing temporalities, which provides a sense of familiarity yet unpredictability driving the complexity behind many of the major characters. Daenerys Targaryen, one of the story’s most intriguing and popular characters, has been compared to many historical figures that are known as great, and powerful leaders. Upon further research it is evident that historical figures such as Henry VII of England, Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Zenobia are all possible inspirations for Daenerys, as they share many similar personality qualities and life events. Throughout this paper, these historical parallels to Daenerys will be presented and explored to demonstrate the complexity of her character.

(c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

King Henry VII of England “A notably clever king, he amassed enormous wealth for the Crown and established relative peace in England.”

It has been widely accepted and believed that Martin’s narrative of the events that have transpired in Westeros were influenced by the dynastic conflicts over claim to the English throne during the 15th century commonly known as the War of the Roses.1 The many battles that took place during the War of the Roses were between the Lancaster family and the York family, as Richard of York claimed the throne, overthrowing and putting an end to the Lancaster dynasty. During the final battle of the War of the Roses, Henry Tudor defeated the then ruler Richard III, commencing the Tudor dynasty and became the rightful king.2 However, prior to defeating Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth, Henry Tudor faced a series of obstacles that are comparable to those that Daenerys faced in her attempts to reclaim the throne and restore Targaryen rule.3 Born in 1457 during the War of the Roses, Henry was left orphaned at a young age having never met his father. Having Lancaster blood on his mother’s side he did have a claim to the thrown following the death of his cousin Henry VI and at the age of fourteen he began to rally his supporters and create an army while living in exile across the British Channel in Brittany in 1471.4 While in Brittany, Henry was able to borrow money from the Duke of Brittany, Francis II to purchase supplies and equipment in order to make an attempt to return to England. This mission however was not successful and the led to the death of the Duke of Buckingham, forcing Henry to flee to France to escape Richard III’s extradition. Henry’s escape to France proved to be a very pivotal decision, as it was here that he was able to begin rallying French and Scottish men to begin his second attempt at returning to England. As he made his way across the channel into Pembrokeshire Henry was met by even more support from Whales, which was originally a Lancastrian stronghold and in close proximity to where he was born. Therefore, with a massive army of French, Scottish, and a great deal of Welsh soldiers, Henry Tudor was able to defeat King Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth Field and assume the throne as the rightful heir.5

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Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485

Although Daenerys has not yet travelled across the Narrow Sea into Westeros to claim the Iron Throne, (assuming that Martin will not destroy Dany fans’ dreams and do what he does best; killing off major characters), there are several comparisons that can be drawn between these two leaders. Similarly to Henry VII, Daenerys becomes the only true heir to the Iron Throne following the death of her older brother Viserys.6 Her father Aerys II Targaryen more commonly known as the “Mad King” was the last Targaryen to sit upon the Iron Throne and rule the Seven Kingdoms, as he was overthrown and killed by Ser Jamie Lannister, during Robert Baratheon’s Rebellion.7 King Aerys II was killed before Daenerys was born, soon followed by her mother who died while giving birth to Daenerys on the Island of Dragonstone.8 Just as Henry VII’s uncle Jasper Tudor has taken Henry into exile across the English Channel as a young boy9, Ser Willem Darry, a loyal knight of House Targaryen, took Daenerys with Viserys across the Narrow Sea to live out their lives in the Free Cities for their own protection against Robert Baratheon’s rebellion.10

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Young Daenerys and her older brother Viserys in Pentos

Under her brother’s commands, Daenerys travels throughout the nine Free Cities with Viserys searching for support for their campaign. They travel for quite some time before they finally reach the Free City of Pentos where they find allies that intend to provide them support. Daenerys is married off to a Dothraki leader, Khal Drogo, known for his military strength and unbeatable army, who would be able to provide Viserys with a great army to invade Westeros. Upon the Visery’s death by Drogo, Daenerys realizes her full potential and begins to relish in her new leadership capabilities, which is accelerated even further following the untimely death of Drogo11 and the birth of her three dragons at his funeral. The Dothraki people looked to Daenerys as their new leader, declaring her the Mother of Dragons.12 Leading her people through the many cities of Essos, she continued to search for support, however she was unsuccessful and left emgiphypty handed until she reached the slave city of Astapor on Slaver’s Bay. It is here that Daenerys purchases an army of Unsullied soldiers in exchange for one of her dragons and declares that they are free from their bonds of slavery, those wishing to fight for her campaign will do so upon their own free will. She is able to then also free all the Astapori slaves as she commands her dragon, Drogon to kill the Astapori leaders with his fiery breath, giving her the title of Breaker of Chains. Daenerys continues on her mission to rally troops in the cities of Yunkai followed by Meereen, where she takes hold of the city through relieving the cities’ slaves and continues to build the strength of her army to invade Westeros.13

It is quite evident that there are several similarities between Henry VII of England and Daenerys in their leadership capabilities as well as their pasts, living in exile. Despite having to grow up without parents to care for them and in world where you are being sought after by powerful kings, both Daenerys and Henry VII were relentless in their pursuit to reclaim what is rightfully theirs. giphy (1)Although Henry VII was not presented with the gift of dragons to aid in his persuasion of his supporters and the invasion, a red dragon was shown on his emblem and coat of arms adding a bit of a fantastical element of strength to reality, where as in Martin’s world of ice and fire such fantastical elements as dragons are a part of their reality.14 There are some very interesting parallels that can be drawn here, however as Martin has suggested, he does not make one-to-one comparisons therefore there are other possible historical figures that have influenced the actions of Daenerys.

Daenerys is a queen that is known for her shrewd political intelligence and leadership skills, which has so far led to success. Another queen who is also known to possess such traits was a Tudor monarch and considered to have had one of the most successful reigns in English history. Queen Elizabeth I of England, being the last Tudor monarch to sit upon the English throne had many personality traits and life experiences that readers and viewers have also seen in Daenerys, even in her early life.

Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)Born in 1533 to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth was the third heir in line to the throne after her older half-brother Edward and older half-sister Princess Mary.15 Therefore it seemed quite uncertain that Elizabeth would succeed to the throne, just as Daenerys’ older brother Viserys made it very clear that he would be the ruler of the Seven queen_elizabeth_i_tilbury_quote_poster-rd5bf3919aa79498897c83cd7411aaa44_wad_400Kingdoms, and Daenerys is more or less just used as a bargaining chip in Vierys’ campaign to reclaim the Iron Throne.16 Nevertheless, in 1558 following the death of Mary, Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England and retained her title as Queen for another 45 more years.  During her reign, Elizabeth had to make many difficult decisions that would have a great impact on her nation and determine much of her success. To help her with these challenging choices she appointed several advisors of whom she placed significant trust in to create a council of loyal, intelligent men. Some of these men included Baron Burgley, Christopher Hatton, William Cecil, and Walsingham, each having their own specific position and duty to their queen, such as Secretary of State, Lord Chancellor, and a chief advisor.17

As demonstrated in the books and the television series, Daenerys also always surrounded by several male advisors that were appointed to her Queens guard to provide her with both protection as well as some guidance when making a tough decision, mainly those that are associated with needed military action. Those that were appointed to her Queensguard included the Dothraki soldiers Aggo and Jhogo, Ser Jorah Mormont, Ser Barristan Selmy originally a Kingsguard swordsmen, and Daario Naharris, all of which have proven their loyalty to their Queen and some have even grown to love her.18 For both queens, their advisors proved to be of great service to them, however it is their ability to inspire thelives of their people and their armies that ultimately stimulated such great admiration. It is evident that both Elizabeth I and Daenerys demonstrate an immense amount of care and passion for the good their people and seek only to do ensure the well being of their kingdoms.

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Daenerys sitting upon her throne in Meereen, flanked by her Queensguard, Ser Jorah Mormont and Ser Barristan Selmy

During Elizabeth’s reign, her kingdom faces many threats of invasion from nearby countries. One in particular that has been depicted in several motion pictures is the threat of an invasion from the Spanish opposition, whereby the famous speech at Tilbury was given.19 Elizabeth’s extremely memorable speech inspired her troops to fight with their heads held high with honour and declares to them although is a slight woman she will fight alongside them, proving her ability to hold her position as conqueror, a role that is not typically held by women.20

Like Elizabeth, Daenerys is also in a position of high power that is primarily occupied by men, however she too is able to demonstrates the same kind of strength and power that any male leader could possibly possess. This is proven by her ability to control her Unsullied army and the cities that she has conquered. While Daenerys is in Astapor she gives a speech to her army and the Astapori slaves declaring that their chains have been broken and they no longer serve any leader unwillingly.21 This speech has been compared to the infamous speech given by Elizabeth at Tilbury, as both led to even greater worship and admiration for these resolute queens.

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Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra

A final historical figure that draws a parallel to Daenerys is a less iconic queen that is not as well known as Queen Elizabeth I, but she remains to be just as significant nonetheless. The very title of this queen has a ring to it that immediately allows one to believe that she may in fact be one of Martin’s very own creations, however this is not the case. Zenobia, Queen of the Palmyrene Empire, Warrior Queen, descendent of Cleopatra, and Roman Augusta, was known as a “freedom fighter” who began a rebellion against the Roman Empire in the 3rd century, leading her armies into several major battles that were won. Zenobia was a woman with great intellectual abilities that proved advantageous in her battle against Roman politics, and was also a woman of great beauty, not unlike Daenerys. Prior to her rise as a great leader of her empire, Zenobia was married to a king with great military power, which launched her climb to her position as queen of an empire.22 Like Daenerys’ marriage to Khal Drogo, Zenobia’s marriage did not last, as her king was murdered leaving her to assume control over her deceased husbands army and people.23 During her reign Zenobia led her empire into battles, which ended in the conquering of Egypt, Anatolia, and Syria, and improving the power and status of the Palmyrene Empire.24 Parallels can be drawn between Zenobia’s conquest of these Middle Eastern countries to that of Daenerys conquest of the Free Cities of Asapor, Yunkai, and Meeren where she frees the thousands of citizens oppressed by slavery,25 which also have similar geographic qualities to those of the Middle East.

These warrior queens both possess a great sense of ambition and an intense drive to take what they believe is rightfully theirs, and according to John Pavely author of the article “Game of Thrones: Who is Daenerys Targaryen and Will She Live Until Book Seven?” it is because of these strong qualities that they were able to experience great success in their time as female leaders. Daenerys may share some qualities with Queen Zenobia, however as she has yet to take on her final conquest of Westeros it is not possible to say whether Martin will continue to use Zenobia as a historical influence as she did face defeat in her final conquest against the Roman Emperor Aurelian.26 Those who have had made the comparison between Zenobia and Daenerys have fabricated some interesting theories regarding Daenerys’ fate in the future based on how Zenobia fared after being conquered by Roman enemy.

As demonstrated in the arguments within this paper, one can see clearly that Martin has used multiple sources of inspiration to create this very complex, and powerful female warrior character. Daenerys appears to be a representation of admirable leaders, who came from uncertain and challenging backgrounds but were able to overcome certain obstacles and rise into positions of great power. Despite some distinguishing features of Daenerys, one very important convergence being that she is the mother of three massive, bone chilling, fire-breathing dragons, there is no denying that there are many parallels that can be tied to the personal lives and experiences of King Henry VI of England, Queen Elizabeth I of England, and Queen Zenobia. By using multiple sources of inspiration, from different time periods and locations such as the medieval period and the period of the Holy Roman Empire, Martin was able to add a high level of complexity to Daenerys’ character, which is what makes her so intriguing. It is important to keep in mind when making such a comparison to Daenerys that her story has not come to a close just yet; therefore a cloud of mystery continues to surround her for both readers and viewers, but also for the power players in Westeros who have yet to face her wrath.

giphy (2)

Endnotes

1 McKenzie, Alicia. Not Quite the Wars of the Roses. ML 300Q. May 28, 2015. Wilfrid Laurier University.

2 Herman, Peter C.. 2011. Short History of Early Modern England : British Literature in Context. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell. Accessed June 15, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. http://site.ebrary.com.libproxy.wlu.ca/lib/oculwlu/reader.action?docID=10510345.

3 McKenzie, May 28, 2015.

4 Crow, David. “The Real History of Game of Thrones.” Den of Geek. June 1, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.denofgeek.us/tv/game-of-thrones/133860/the-real-history-of-game-of-thrones.

5 Starkey, David. Monarchy: From the Middle Ages to Modernity. London: HarperPress, 2006. 4, 24-27.

6 Game of Thrones, The Golden Crown, directed by Daniel Minahan, May 22, 2011, HBO, Television.

7 Martin, George R. R., and Elio Garcia. “The Targaryen Kings.” In The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, 129. New York: Bantom Books, 2014.

8 “Daenerys Targaryen.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

9 Starkey, 4.

10 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

11 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

12 Game of Thrones, Fire and Blood, directed by Alan Taylor, June 19, 2011, HBO, Television.

13 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

14 Adair, Jamie. “Daenerys as Henry VII.” History Behind Game of Thrones. April 21, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/daenerys.

15 “Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603).” The Official Website Of The British Monarchy. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.royal.gov.uk/historyofthemonarchy/kingsandqueensofengland/thetudors/elizabethi.aspx.

16 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

17 http://www.royal.gov.uk/historyofthemonarchy/kingsandqueensofengland/thetudors/elizabethi.aspx.

18 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

19 http://www.royal.gov.uk/historyofthemonarchy/kingsandqueensofengland/thetudors/elizabethi.aspx.

20 “Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Speech – The Virgin Queen [BBC 2005].” YouTube. Accessed April 15, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbjj9Nmn6ZU.

21 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

22 Pavley, John. “Game of Thrones: Who Is Daenerys Targaryen and Will She Live Until Book Seven?” The Huffington Post. August 8, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-pavley/daenerys-targaryen-game-of-thrones_b_3409008.html.

23 http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

24 Paveley, “Game of Thrones: Who Is Daenerys Targaryen and Will She Live Until Book Seven?”

25 “Game of Thrones S04 E03 | Daenerys’ Valyrian Speech in Meereen.” YouTube. Accessed June 15, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhW3U5555SI.

26 Paveley, “Game of Thrones: Who Is Daenerys Targaryen and Will She Live Until Book Seven?”

Bibliography

Adair, Jamie. “Daenerys as Henry VII.” History Behind Game of Thrones. April 21, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/daenerys.

“Daenerys Targaryen.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Daenerys_Targaryen.

“Elizabeth I (r.1558-1603).” The Official Website Of The British Monarchy. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.royal.gov.uk/historyofthemonarchy/kingsandqueensofengland/thetudors/elizabethi.aspx.

“Elizabeth I’s Tilbury Speech – The Virgin Queen [BBC 2005].” YouTube. Accessed April 15, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fbjj9Nmn6ZU.

Game of Thrones, Fire and Blood, directed by Alan Taylor, June 19, 2011, HBO, Television.

Game of Thrones, The Golden Crown, directed by Daniel Minahan, May 22, 2011, HBO, Television.
“Game of Thrones S04 E03 | Daenerys’ Valyrian Speech in Meereen.” YouTube. Accessed June 15, 2015. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lhW3U5555SI.
Herman, Peter C.. 2011. Short History of Early Modern England : British Literature in Context. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Wiley-Blackwell. Accessed June 15, 2015. ProQuest ebrary. http://site.ebrary.com.libproxy.wlu.ca/lib/oculwlu/reader.action?docID=10510345

Martin, George R. R., and Elio Garcia. “The Targaryen Kings.” In The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones, 129. New York: Bantom Books, 2014.

McKenzie, Alicia. Not Quite the Wars of the Roses. ML 300Q. May 28, 2015. Wilfrid Laurier University.

Pavley, John. “Game of Thrones: Who Is Daenerys Targaryen and Will She Live Until Book Seven?” The Huffington Post. August 8, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-pavley/daenerys-targaryen-game-of-thrones_b_3409008.html.

Starkey, David. Monarchy: From the Middle Ages to Modernity. London: HarperPress, 2006. 4, 24-27.

Crow, David. “The Real History of Game of Thrones.” Den of Geek. June 1, 2013. Accessed June 16, 2015. http://www.denofgeek.us/tv/game-of-thrones/133860/the-real-history-of-game-of-thrones.

Williams, Neville. The Life and times of Henry VII;. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973. 25-31.

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