Cersei Lannister is known in A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones as the villainous, power hungry, incestuous Queen Regent of Westeros. Cersei’s character is extremely intricate and complicated, which is why I believe George R. R. Martin used a variety of historical inspirations when developing Cersei’s incredibly interesting, yet detestable persona. Having drawn inspirations from medieval queens like Margaret of Anjou, Catherine de Medici, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and Isabella of France as the key parallels, Cersei is a complex amalgamation of these various influential women.
Margaret of Anjou
Margaret of Anjou is a noteworthy historical parallel to Cersei Lannister not only for her prominent role in the War of Roses, which Martin notably drew inspiration on for his novels, but for their many personal similarities. Margaret came from a prominent French family; her father was Duke of Anjou and brother-in-law to Charles VII King of France1. At the age of 15 Margaret was arranged to marry King Henry VI of England by William Duke of Suffolk, where she became Queen Consort of England from 1445-14612. Margaret’s marriage to King Henry extended the Lancastrian line and prevented the House of York from claiming the throne, while negotiating a truce with France3. Similar to the actions of William of Suffolk in marrying off Margaret to form an alliance between England and France, Tywin Lannister effectively secured House Lannister to the Iron Throne by arranging his 19 year old daughter Cersei to marry the new young King Robert Baratheon4. Married to the new king, Cersei was finally in a position of some power, however on their wedding night during consummation Robert spoke the name of his dead love Lyanna Stark – humiliating Cersei and totally ruining the moment and subsequently their marriage.
After eight years of marriage to King Henry, Margaret finally strengthened her political position with the birth of her son and heir Edward of Lancaster5. However, due to knowledge of Henry’s mental illness many rumours sparked and were flamed by the York’s that Henry wasn’t the father of Edward and he was a bastard6. Similar rumours constantly surround Cersei that her three children are from her brother Jaime with which she is supposedly incestuously involved with – however these rumours are actually true (as she admits to Ned and Tyrion) and are being spread by Stannis with hopes to claim his rightful place on the Iron Throne.
Being a foreign queen from France, many of her English subjects were suspicious of her intentions7, as she often persuaded the weak King Henry into making political moves to benefit her French allies – notably she used her influence over the King to secure the surrender of Maine and Anjou back over to the French – displeasing many English nobles8. Although Cersei is not a foreign queen, she is greatly disliked by many of her subjects for being cruel, unforgiving and not caring at all about the poor small folk.
Unlike Cersei, Margaret was raised in a household of strong, educated and capable women. Her mother, Duchess of Lorraine was well educated and ruled the family’s affairs as Margaret’s father was often absent, and her paternal grandmother Yolande of Aragon acting as Dowager Duchess of Anjou and notable supporter of Joan of Arc9. Perhaps being under the education of these women was a contributing factor to Margaret’s somewhat political competence leading to her ability to hold on to Lancastrian power for as long as she did; without her the York’s claim to the throne would have been validated much sooner.
“Real as her power was in some respects, it was never really her own but only borrowed from and to be exercised in the name of husband and son” 6 – on the faux-power of Margaret of Anjou
As for Cersei, her lack of strong female role models and harsh gender typecasting led to her being used as a political pawn through marriage instead of sculpted for political competency by her father Tywin.
Like Cersei after the death of her husband King Robert, Margaret had to take on political leadership, especially when Henry slipped into madness10, making sure her allies would defend against usurpation attempts on Henry’s throne11. Margaret was constantly defending her son Edward as rightful heir and refused all recognition of Richard Duke of York’s claim to throne12. Cersei acted swiftly to secure Joffrey as King immediately after she had Robert killed as Stannis and Renly Baratheon along with Robb Stark were all threatening to push the Lannisters off the throne. Both Margaret and Cersei were successful in attaining the power they desired, however, neither was very good at holding onto it.
Both Margaret and Cersei battled with the fact that their sons were monsters. Joffrey’s blatant love of torture and cruelty is seen on many occasions throughout his reign as king – the beheading of Ned Stark, slaughtering Ros for fun, ordering Tyrion’s murder, and the killing of all Robert’s bastards to name a few. Cersei acknowledges Joffrey is a monster, however her fierce love for her children, even Joffrey, will always triumph.
Catherine de Medici
Catherine de Medici is a parallel for Cersei for the way she stopped at nothing to position her weak sons on the French throne, however, Catherine is known for have a slightly better political record than Cersei even though most were only short-lived victories.
Catherine was the daughter of an Italian prince of the extremely wealthy Medici family. At a young age her uncle Pope Clement VII arranged her marriage to the popular French King Henry II, becoming the Queen Consort of France from 1547-155913. Catherine’s affluent upbringing and politically inclined arranged marriage is the first parallel between her and Cersei. For the first decade of their marriage, Catherine remained childless, perhaps because Henry was completely under the influence of his mistress Diane de Poitiers14 resulting in a constantly humiliated Catherine having little power with the king. Similarly, Cersei’s loveless marriage to Robert resulted in a life of animosity and bitterness towards her husband and a lonely Cersei seeking comfort in the arms of a number of men including her twin brother Jaime.
Catherine eventually had 10 children with Henry and although only 4 boys and 3 girls survived, much like Cersei, her children were Catherine’s driving force. In 1559 King Henry sustained mortal wounds during a jousting tournament and died shortly after. After Henry’s sudden death, Catherine’s eldest son Francis II became king of France at only 1515. Acting as regent for Francis, Catherine had great influence over her sickly son. Francis was married to Mary Queen of Scots and was completely taken by his new wife, which led to a constant power struggle between mother and daughter-in-law for influence over Francis, as Mary was managed by her uncle Duke of Guise16 leading to her participating in many political actions. After 18 months on the throne Francis mysteriously dies and Catherine’s second son Charles IX takes power at the age of 10 resulting in Catherine resuming her role as regent and keeping Charles extremely close to her.
“She had only one virtue, and that was her zeal for the interests of her children.”30 – Catherine’s fierce nature to protect her children
Throughout the reign of both sons, France is undergoing religious was between the Protestant and Catholic groups forcing Catherine to attempt to keep her country running smoothly through her sons during the great political tension17.
Likewise, Cersei’s constant attempts to rule the Seven Kingdoms through her king sons suffer many setbacks, first through Joffrey’s blatant disregard for his mother’s authoritative existence and second through her constant tug-of-war for power with Margaery Tyrell, when she marries both Joffrey and Tommen. Cersei considers her children as direct extensions of herself, and when anyone attempts control over them she considers it a direct threat and acts with short-tempered judgements time and time again.
Eleanor of Aquitaine
Being known for her political intelligence and bold attitude, Eleanor of Aquitaine represents what Cersei could have achieved if she didn’t choke every time she had the power in her hands.
Eleanor of Aquitaine was born to a very wealthy family in France and at the age of 15 she was married to King Louis VII of France, becoming Queen Consort of France from 1137-115218. She is described as being strong-minded, bold and ambitious, opposite to the feeble and weak personality of her husband King Louis. After being forced to join her husband on a failed expedition of Jerusalem instead of participating in a crusade for Edessa, Eleanor was sick of her boing marriage and consequently had the relationship annulled19 while taking back control of her vast estates.
She then married King Henry II of England, becoming the Queen Consort of England from 1154-118920. Together, Henry and Eleanor contributed to the success of their empire, yet unlike Cersei who was denied inheritance of Casterly Rock, Eleanor had her own power through her inheritance of the duchy of Aquitaine through her father. Eleanor eventually grew estranged from her husband and led a rebellion against him with the help of her sons. Henry had been notorious for his infidelities often parading his bastards around court, much to Eleanor’s distain. Similarly Cersei felt great distain for Robert over his conquests of many women and subsequent many bastards.
Unlike Cersei however, Eleanor never succeeded in disposing her husband from the throne (although she did not have him murdered like Cersei did Robert) and Henry had her captured for over a decade21. When Henry died her favourite son Richard I took the throne and had Eleanor released from captivity. Eleanor was constantly aiding in Richard’s gain of power by defending his lands22 – even if it meant battling her other son John to support her favourite. On his was back from war in the Holy Land, Richard was captured23; however Eleanor used her great influences to secure his release.
Much like Cersei in raising up her favourite (yet awful) son Joffrey to the throne by any ruthless means necessary and keeping him there for WAY longer than he deserved, Eleanor was relentless in supporting her favourite son Richard, which in turn cemented her reputation for political intelligence24 – a reputation that Cersei sadly lacks. Cersei and Eleanor clearly like to disregard the male authority placed upon them, yet despite both queens possessing equal ferocity and ambition to rule, Cersei fails in comparison to Eleanor’s intelligence and ability to actually take power for herself.
Isabella of France
Isabella of France’s dark side is most notably the parallel to Cersei as she is famously known for murder, infidelity and disposing her husband.
As the daughter of King Philip IV of France45, she was married off at 14 to Edward II King of England, becoming Queen Consort of England from 1308-135825. Edward was said to be the most handsome man in Europe, however despite her early feelings of joy for their nuptials, Isabella was soon trapped in an unhappy marriage as Edward was in love with someone else, Piers Gaveston26. Piers royally humiliated Isabella at her own coronation, which he planned, by wearing purple (the King’s colour) and displaying a portrait of him and the King, not to mention Edward granting him a higher position at court than Isabella herself. Edward’s allegiances to his ‘favourites’ had Isabella fighting a never-ending battle for power and her husband’s attention. From the first night of their marriage, Cersei discovered Robert’s undying love for his dead betrothed Lyanna, which only lead to further embarrassment, as Robert had no shame in parading his infidelities in front of Cersei and fathering numerous bastards with them. For both queens, the actions of their husbands lead to distain towards them and as result both queens eventually look lovers and plotted against their terrible spouses.
Isabella had an extensive affair with English nobleman Roger Mortimer27 and together they formed a rebellion against Edward having him disposed from the throne to end the influential hold Hugh Dispenser and his son had over the King. After usurping Edward from the throne, Isabella and Mortimer assumed power of her son Edward III due to his young age28. However, her young son, wanting to avoid the same fate as his father, executed Roger Mortimer and exiled his mother Isabella (sounds like something Joffrey would have done) for the rest of her life29.
Like Isabella, Cersei orchestrated the murder of her husband King Robert with aims to become the power behind the Iron Throne for her son Joffrey. However, her plan royally backfired as she became trapped between her sadistic beast of a son and her misogynistic beast of a father, consequently drinking up all the power Cersei desired while she was left bitterly drinking up all the wine.
George R. R. Martin had a plethora of ambitious medieval queens to take inspiration from for the equally as ambitious yet less successful character of Cersei Lannister. He succeeded in collapsing temporalities between these medieval queens when developing Cersei’s intense, angry and extremely intricate character traits often taking the darkest parts these queens’ history, making them ten times more wicked and outrageous and rolling it all up into one complicated ball of Cersei Lannister.
Much like Cersei, these medieval queens were all arranged at an early age to marry kings, with many of their marriages being unsuccessful. Like these medieval queens, Cersei battles a number of times for profitable intercession by trying to rule through her sons. These women all face many limitations of female authority set by their society, yet if many of them, including Cersei had just been born a man, their futures may have been brighter. Seen through countless facets of her personality, Cersei’s whole life has been the product of the misogynistic nature of Westeros’ society. She is an extremely ambitious woman, however, she has been battling limitations her whole life with considerable impact; making her cold, bitter and vengeful – a true product of her environment. Young Cersei is portrayed as fearless and bold, destined to achieve greatness – yet the only thing hindering her success is her gender.
She is the only one of the Lannister siblings that possesses any true ambition: while Jaime has the ego and martial skill characteristic of most powerful men, and Tyrion has the intelligence to be a political success, Cersei is the only one who exhibits real thirst for power. However, despite her insatiable thirst, she is the one furthest away from the power she craves.
These queens all struggle with potential to obtain informal power by relying on allies to aid in their quests – Cersei uses intense manipulation of others to gain any scrap of power she can, yet is deeply distrustful and paranoid towards challengers to her power.
The one most important struggle these queens all share is the perception placed upon them of the ideal queen. Female authority, ambition and power are often frowned upon in medieval history and likewise in the age of Westeros that Cersei is part of. Cersei must resort to subtle orchestration and manipulation to appease her ambition while also attempting to play the role of a sweet queen, as she cannot directly pursue her thirst for power . Cersei uses her male spirit in her efforts to fight her way to power and respect and simultaneously her natural born female weapons to make the best of her situation while continuing to survive as that is the only way a woman can play the game of thrones.
1 Lee, Patricia-Ann. Reflections of Power: Margaret of Anjou and the Dark Side of Queenship. Renaissance Quarterly. Vol. 39, No. 2. University of Chicago Press, 1986. 184
2 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 184
3 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 185
4 Antonsson, Linda, Garcia, Elio M. Jr., Martin, George R. R. The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam, 2014., 131
5 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 198
6 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 190-191
7 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 190
8 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 185
9 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 189
10 Anthony Cheetham, “The House of Lancaster”, in Antonia Fraser, ed., The Lives of the Kings & Queens of England. California, 1998. 135
11 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 188
12 Lee, Patricia-Ann, 191
13 Neale, J. E. The Age of Catherine de Medici and Essays in Elizabethan History. Jonathan Cape, London, 1963. 32
14 Neale, J. E., 32
15 Neale, J. E., 33
16 Neale, J. E., 33
17 Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Catherine de Medicis.” Accessed June 15, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Catherine-de-Medicis.
18 Richardson, H G. “The Letters and Charters of Eleanor of Aquitaine.” The English Historical Review 74 (291). Oxford University Press: 1959. 195
19 Richardson, H G., 196
20 Richardson, H G., 198
21 Richardson, H G., 199
22 Richardson, H G., 200
23 Richardson, H G., 205
24 Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Eleanor of Aquitaine.” Accessed June 15, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Eleanor-of-Aquitaine.
25 Field, Sean L. Isabelle of France. Capetian sanctity and Franciscan identity in the thirteenth century. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 176
26 Field, Sean L., 176
27 Field, Sean L., 177
28 Field, Sean L., 178
29 Field, Sean L., 180
30 Strage, Mark, Women of Power: The, Life and Times of Catherine deMedici. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976
31 “You are the Queen Mother. Nothing more.” Youtube. Accessed June 12, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3OjAsfBYF4g
32 “Cersei Lannister.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Cersei_Lannister
33 “Tywin Lannister.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Tywin_Lannister
34 “Robert Baratheon.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Robert_Baratheon
35 “Joffrey Baratheon.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Joffrey_Baratheon
37 Tommen Baratheon.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Tommen_Baratheon
38 “Stannis Baratheon.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Stannis_Baratheon
39 “Renly Baratheon.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Renly_Baratheon
40 “Robb Stark.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Robb_Stark
41 “Tyrion Lannister.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Tyrion_Lannister
42 “Eddard Stark.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Eddard_Stark
43 “Margaery Tyrell.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Margaery_Tyrell
44 “Jaime Lannister.” Game of Thrones Wiki. Accessed June 15, 2015, http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Jaime_Lannister
45 Encyclopædia Britannica Online. “Isabella Of France.” Accessed June 15, 2015, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Isabella-of-France.