Potential Medieval Influences on the Character of Margaery Tyrell

The most obvious parallel between George R. R. Martin’s Margaery Tyrell  is the character of Anne Boleyn. This association is perhaps most obvious because of Natalie Dormer’s onscreen depiction of both women, with Anne Boleyn being played by the actor in The Tudors, a series which lasted three seasons. 1 While the character of Margaery Tyrell shares many traits with the historical social climber, there are other medieval women who could have influenced the character of Margaery Tyrell. This essay will argue that although Tyrell was perhaps influenced by various queens in history, larger overarching literary methods have influenced Martin as well. The role of medieval noblewomen in literature will be explored, as well as the symbol of the rose in medieval French poetry. This paper will also explore the similarities between Tyrell and the historic medieval queens: Anne Boleyn; Empress Matilda; and Catherine of Aragon.

“Natalie Dormer as, on the left, Anne Boleyn, and on the right as Margaery Tyrell. Images: (c) Showtime and (c) HBO respectively,” History Behind Game of Thrones.com, Accessed June 10, 2015, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/natalie-anne-margaery.png

Firstly, the character of Anne Boleyn should be examined as an inspiration for the character of Margaery. Martin revealed in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that he was a fan of Dormer’s portrayal of Anne Boleyn in The Tudors. 2 While this could purely be a coincidence, it is no surprise that the creator of Westeros is familiar with the Boleyn. Also, the revelation that the actor enjoyed Dormer’s portrayal of Boleyn could suggest that he feels she is a suitable choice to portray a similar character in his series. While this is speculative, the historical facts do lend credence to the idea that elements of Tyrell’s character could have been borrowed from Boleyn.

Martin’s text does not base its characters on one sole historical being, and it should not be supposed that the histories he bases his characters around are only singular renditions of particular events. In the early twentieth century Reginald Drew explained this in his biographical work of Anne Boleyn’s life, that Boleyn’s ‘scheming ways’ and ‘social-ladder climbing portrayal’ is not the full picture, and in fact she was persuaded forcefully to consent to marry the king. 3 Despite the historiographic controversy, in relationship with Martin’s work of fiction the truth of the history may matter less than the mythology.

One can find numerous parallels between the accusations against Boleyn and the accusations against Margaery Tyrell. In the text, unlike the television series, Cersei Lannister makes false accusations against Margaery Tyrell, including some that are similar to the charges Boleyn faced. 4 In the text, Margaery was charged with “adultery and high treason” 5 Likewise, Boleyn was charged with sodemy, adultery, and incest, and the church was used as a justification for the punishment she was sentenced to. 6 Despite the similarity in these charges there are several differences as well. The charges are not identical, and various aspects of Boleyn’s life could be paralleled to Cersei, and other characters throughout the text. Various interpretations of Boleyn’s life, as previously dicussed, could influence Martin’s fantasy—his fictional work is not wholly reliant on a specific historic “truth”.
Aside from the similarities noted by fans and bloggers 7 , Margaery Tyrell perhaps has more broader influences, brought from historic archetypes. In Nancy Black’s Medieval Narratives of Accused Queens, Black discusses the archetypal challenges that noble women face, specifically in romantic Medieval literature. Her findings bear a striking resemblance to the thrice widowed Tyrell’s story. In her text Black states, “[t]hroughout the present study, I have been repeatedly asking why medieval authors are so interested in…[subjecting] highborn married women…to abuse from incestuous fathers, jealous mothers-in-law, and lecherous suitors.” 8 Tyrell clearly fits the second of these fates which noble women are subjected to.

“On a Scale From One to Sansa Stark,” Buzzfeed.com, Accessed June 10, 2015, http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/static/2014-06/11/15/enhanced/webdr06/enhanced-25515-1402513344-1.jpg

“If You Ever Call Me Sister Again,” All Geek to Me.net, Accessed June 10, 2015. http://www.allgeektome.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/cersei-margaery-strangle.gif

The tumultuous relationship between Tyrell and her mother-in-law is quite obvious. Despite the fact that the film depicts Cersei welcoming Margaery instead of Ned Stark’s daughter as the future queen, the two were unable to maintain a peaceful relationship. This further supports Black’s claim, as Cersei only brought Margaery into the family in order to play the role of meddling mother-in-law to Sansa Stark.

“Game of Thrones (S2E10) Tyrion Wakes Up/Joffrey and Margaery,” YouTube.com, Accessed June 10, 2015, https://youtu.be/ijMZdsE3Zfo?t=262

Another historical figure who shares similarities with Martin’s Tyrell, is the figure of Empress Maude, or Matilda. Matilda was only eleven years old when she became queen, and thus began gaining knowledge and experience about the throne; the fact that marriage was a political move, not an emotional one, was clearly a relevant sentiment to her. 9 In his article Charles Leem discusses the use of marriage as a political tool by Matilda. Her marriage to Geoffrey Plantagenet who was nine years her junior (she was twenty-five at the time) could be seen as an inspiration for Margaery’s strategic marriage to Tommen, and the name Geoffrey even has a resemblance to the name of Tyrell’s second husband. 10 The young woman knew that in a society which favoured men as rulers, her best chance at power was through a political and strategic marriage. This being stated, Martin deviated from this marriage alliance too. Tommen’s marriage to Tyrell was strategic for her, in that he was the king after Joffrey’s death. The reason for the union between Geoffrey, who was not immediately in line for the throne, and Matilda, is the subject of historiagraphical debate. 11

“Tommen and Margaery Wedding,” Zap2it.com, Accessed June 10, 2015, http://image-cdn.zap2it.com/images/game-of-thrones-tommen-margaery-wedding-hbo.jpg.

Another medieval queen which could have influenced Tyrell is Catherine of Aragon. Catherine was known as pious, and an advocate for her people according the research of Timothy Elston. 12 While Margaery is perhaps not a pious queen, her first acts in King’s Landing, at least in the television production, reveal her understanding that seeking popular opinion among the ‘common folk’ is a strong political tactic. Catherine sought to maintain the reputation she built following her divorce from the king, according to Elston, while Tyrell sought to build her reputation despite being engaged to Joffrey Baratheon. 13 Elston reminds the reader that not all women in the medieval period were born into such a position that they could demand power and rights, and that many had to work within the confines of what was considered feminine in order to gain and utilize power. 14 This summarizes well Tyrell’s role in politics. Unlike Daenerys or some of her other female counterparts in Martin’s text who ‘break free’ of the mold of femininity, Tyrell works within the confines of her sex in order to gain power.

Black also reminds the reader that for women in medieval literature, their roles are strategic. She describes a scene from Jehan Maillart’s Roman du Comte d’Anjou, wherein a young woman strategically plays chess with her incestuous father, who is so overcome by her beauty that she is able to maneuver her way around the board, thus ultimately championing the patriarchal male symbol in her life. 15 In this way it could be argued that Tommen and Joffrey were manipulated by Margaery. It was her good looks which bewitched the young men. While Margaery and the remainder of both houses considered the political advantages of the marriage, the boys are more interested in the sexual aspects of the relationship. In the same way the young woman from Maillart’s 14th century tale was able to symbolically defeat her father, who can be viewed as a less intelligent person, purely consumed with lust than with his kingdom.

“#Instantly In Love,” ReBloggy.com: Top Tumblr Posts, Accessed June 10, 2015, http://rebloggy.com/post/game-of-thrones-asoiaf-margaery-tyrell-joffrey-lannister-got-s3-asoiafgifs/47471822097.

Furthermore, Tyrell’s political prowess separates her from many of the women in Westeros. Unlike Cersei, who is motivated majorly by what she feels is best for her children, Margaery has only one goal, which is to be the queen of Westeros.

“Margaery Tyrell: I Want to be The Queen,” YouTube.com, Accessed June 10, 2015,  https://youtu.be/wpj1q0UOuI8?t=22

This literary analysis of the archetypes and allegories surrounding Margaery’s character can be further viewed through the symbol of the rose, which is also a symbol of house Tyrell. In French medieval literature the rose was not an unimportant symbol. In Medieval Imagination: Rhetoric and Poetry of Courtly Love, Douglas Kelly remarks, “In the Roman de la rose, the Rose obviously cannot have the same signification when it is plucked, sniffed, kissed or walled up.” 16 Here Kelly is making a clear parallel between plant and a woman’s sexuality. The question of the worth of the ‘rose’ is brought into question by Cersei in the text, who highly doubts the status of Tyrell’s sexual purity. Kelly argues that the Roman de la rose influenced medieval poetic styling, and therefore this symbolic controversy of the rose and its purity may be something that Martin was aware of when writing his text. 17 The symbolism that Kelly attributes to the text can be seen as a foreshadowing of this struggle in Tyrell’s life. Clearly this may not be the strongest connection, but it is a possibility that Martin is versed in this literature, and chose the symbol of house Tyrell to represent its most prominent character in Westeros.

At this point in the series, Margaery Tyrell fans anxiously await the results of their heroine’s trial, but much of the simpler elements of her character, apart from this trial, are clearly based on history. Martin’s advocating for the casting of Dormer may be circumstantial. There is no proof that he had an active role in choosing the actor who would portray his character, but it does make the television viewer note the similarities between the two women in a way that they perhaps do not with the other characters. Anne Boleyn’s story is a cocktail of dramas which have been seen throughout the television series and the books, played out in the lives of many different characters. The use of religion to justify the imprisonment of both characters, and the use of marriage as a form of social mobility are definitely elements that both characters share. The other historical characters including Henry VIII’s first wife, and the Empress Matilda also share similarities with Margaery Tyrell through their use of marriage as a form of retaining influence and power. The historical elements in history which influenced the creation of Margaery, are perhaps more nuanced than one might suppose.

Nancy Black’s medieval female archetype not only applies to Margaery, but one can note various similarities between other women in Westeros and Black’s theory. This overlapping theme surrounding women in medieval literature is truly created, in Tyrell’s life, through the character of Cersei Lannister. Black’s reference to the symbolism of chess, and the three struggles of female characters in medieval literature, summarizes in many ways, the confines within which Martin must work to create a medieval-esque portrayal of a noblewoman. While certain historical characters without a doubt will have influenced Martin in the creation of his characters, various literary archetypes and plot elements seem to guide the creation and development of these characters, Tyrell included.


1 “The Tudors,” IMDB.com, Accessed June 5, 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758790/
2 James Hibberd, “EW Interview: George R.R. Martin Talks ‘A Dance With Dragons’,” Entertainment Weekly, Published July 12, 2011, and Accessed June 5, 2015. http://www.ew.com/article/2011/07/12/george-martin-talks-a-dance-with-dragons
3 Reginald Drew, Anne Boleyn, Boston: Sherman, French, and Co., 1912. Page i.
4 George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows New York: Random House, 2005. Pg. 459-60.
5 Ibid. Pg. 507.
6 Retha M. Warnike, The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Pg. 191-95.
7 Lili Klein, “Margaery Tyrell & Anne Boleyn: More in Common Than Natalie Dormer?,” HBOWatch.com, Published May 14, 2013, http://hbowatch.com/margaery-tyrell-anne-boleyn-more-in-common-than-natalie-dormer/
8 Nancy Black, Medieval Narratives of Accused Queens, Florida: University Press of Florida, 2003. Pg. 67.
9 Charles Leem, “ “Greater by Marriage: The Matrimonial Career of the Empress Matilda,” Ed. Carole Levine & R.O. Bucholz, Queens in Power in Medieval and Early Modern England, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009, Pages 1-15. Pg. 1-4.
10 Ibid. Pg. 4.
11 Ibid. Pg. 66-67.
12 Timothy G. Elston, “ “Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII, and English Popular Opinion, 1533-36,” Ed. Carole Levine & R.O. Bucholz, Queens in Power in Medieval and Early Modern England, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009, Pages 16-30. Pg. 16-18.
13 Ibid. Pg. 16-18.
14 Ibid. Pg.18.
15 Ibid. Pg. 66-67.
16 Douglas Kelly, Medieval Imagination: Rhetoric and the Poetry of Courtly Love, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978. Pg. 23-25.
17 Ibid. Pg. 49.


Black, Nancy. Medieval Narratives of Accused Queens. Florida: University Press of Florida, 2003.

Drew, Reginald. Anne Boleyn. Boston: Sherman, French, and Co., 1912.

Elston, Timothy G. “ Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII, and English Popular Opinion, 1533-36,” Ed. Carole Levine & R.O. Bucholz, Queens in Power in Medieval and Early Modern England, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009, Pages 16-30.

Hibberd, James. “EW Interview: George RR Martin Talks ‘A Dance With Dragons’.” Entertainment Weekly. Published July 12, 2011. Accessed June 5, 2015. “http://www.ew.com/article/2011/07/12/george-martin-talks-a-dance-with-dragons

Kelly, Douglas. Medieval Imagination: Rhetoric and the Poetry of Courtly Love. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978.

Klein, Lili. Margaery Tyrell & Anne Boleyn: More in Common Than Natalie Dormer?,.” HBOWatch.com. Published May 14, 2013. Accessed June 3, 2015. http://hbowatch.com/margaery-tyrell-anne-boleyn-more-in-common-than-natalie-dormer/.

Leem, Charles. “Greater by Marriage: The Matrimonial Career of the Empress Matilda.” Ed. Carole Levine & R.O. Bucholz, Queens in Power in Medieval and Early Modern England. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. Pages 1-15.

Martin, George R.R. A Feast For Crows. New York: Random House, 2005.

“The Tudors.” IMDB.com. Accessed June 5, 2015. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758790/

Warnike, Retha M. The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn: Family Politics at the Court of Henry VIII. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.

Multimedia Sources Listed in Order of Appearance on WordPress.com:

“Natalie Dormer as, on the left, Anne Boleyn, and on the right as Margaery Tyrell. Images: (c) Showtime and (c) HBO respectively.” History Behind Game of Thrones.com. Accessed June 10, 2015. http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/natalie-anne-margaery.png.

“On a Scale From One to Sansa Stark,” Buzzfeed.com, Accessed June 10, 2015,http://ak-hdl.buzzfed.com/static/2014-06/11/15/enhanced/webdr06/enhanced-25515-1402513344-1.jpg

“If You Ever Call Me Sister Again.” All Geek to Me.net. Accessed June 10. 2015. http://www.allgeektome.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/cersei-margaery-strangle.gif.

“Game of Thrones (S2E10) Tyrion Wakes Up/Joffrey and Margaery.” YouTube.com. Accessed June 10, 2015. https://youtu.be/ijMZdsE3Zfo?t=262.

“Tommen and Margaery Wedding.” Zap2it.com. Accessed June 10. 2015, http://image-cdn.zap2it.com/images/game-of-thrones-tommen-margaery-wedding-hbo.jpg.

“#Instantly In Love.” ReBloggy.com: Top Tumblr Posts, Accessed June 10, 2015. http://rebloggy.com/post/game-of-thrones-asoiaf-margaery-tyrell-joffrey-lannister-got-s3-asoiafgifs/47471822097.

“Margaery Tyrell: I Want to be The Queen.” YouTube.com. Accessed June 10, 2015. https://youtu.be/wpj1q0UOuI8?t=22.