Kingship in the Game of Thrones with “medieval” Comparisons

Introduction:
The Game of Thrones is a popular television series that adapted George R. R. Martin’s book series, The Game of Thrones. Whoever sits on the Iron Throne controls all the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. These novels are considered fantasy novels. The Seven Kingdoms consist of: The North ruled by the House of Stark; The Vale ruled by the House of Arryn; The Stormlands ruled by the House Baratheon; The Reach ruled by the Tyrells; The Westerlands is ruled by the House Lannister who descent from the Andal invaders. The Iron Islands/Riverlands was ruled by the House Hoare but the Baratheon family now rules, the House Tully rules the Riverlands while House Greyjoy rules the Iron Islands, and Dorne follows customers of the Rhoynish people and has allegiance to the Targaryens through marriage alliance. 1 The Game of Thrones has many parallels to the Middle Ages one such being the Kings and their families from the Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses had a series of battles that were fought in medieval England between the House of Lancaster and the House of York over a span of thirty years.

This essay will present the portrayal of kingship in the Game of Thrones and how it appears to be medieval in comparison to actual kingship in the Middle Ages. It will explore: Kingship, Kingsguard, Feudalism, and Queenship. In the Game of Thrones, King Robert I Baratheon, the usurper dies and thus the War of the Five Kings starts to take place. It is a major military conflict which is a three-way battle for the Iron Throne. To complicate matters further, King Aegon Targaryen’s daughter, Daenerys, who is exiled wants to take back the kingdoms. Daenerys Targaryen cannot be forgotten in this essay as she is central to the storyline of this series as she is a female who by her own right is going to take back the lands that her father conquered from all the males who ruled.

Kingship:
Kingship in the Game of Thrones is comparable to the kingship of the Middle Ages. The position and the office that the king holds in Westeros is similar to that of a medieval king. The series shows how ones’ journey took them from an ordinary person(s) to kingship. King Robert Baratheon, the First of His Name was from the House of Baratheon. Robert took the Iron Throne from King Aerys Targaryen after he was slain by one of his Kingsguards. Robert served Aerys as the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands. During Robert’s Rebellion, Robert Baratheon was victorious over Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, the eldest son of King Aerys Targaryen. Prince Rhaegar had abducted Lyanna Stark who had been betrothed to Robert Baratheon.2 This action was the cause of Robert’s Rebellion and the fall of Aeyrs Targaryen’s rule. Even though Robert Baratheon was a “fearless, indomitable warrior”3 he did prove that he was chivalric when he refused Ser Barristan to be killed as he was gravely wounded in the battle.4.

Medieval kingship includes the dignity of a king and how they behave towards those of equal or lessor rank then themselves. Maester Yandel5 who is writing the account of King Robert portrays him as a person who can be a warrior on the battlefield while upholding the moral and social code of a medieval chivalric knight. Characteristics of Robert Baratheon are similar to those of Edward IV. During his reign on the English throne, he was portrayed as the second Arthur. Edward IV and his family possessed books of Arthurian romance in the attempt to conform to the same chivalric ways of life as indicated in Arthurian and other romance literature.6 By doing so, this influenced others perception of Edward IV and how he conducted his court. Kingship from position to its journey and its chivalric ways are both represented in the Middle Ages as well as in the Game of Thrones.

Kingsguard:
The use of the Kingsguard7 in the Game of Thrones provides another level of comparison to the Middle Ages. Even predating the Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century, The Kings of Kingsguard is a staple of medieval literature. During the Middle Ages, knighthood would have been conferred upon warriors who were vassals of a King or a Lord. The knight would then serve the King or Lord in a military capacity. George R. R. Martin brings to life the medieval knight in the form of Ser Barristann Selmy, the Kingsguard commander. William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke served four Kings of England. He rose from obscurity to “become one of the most powerful men in Europe”8 during the late twelfth and early thirteenth century. William was eulogized by the Archbishop Stephen Langton as “the best knight that ever lived”.9 As a young knight Ser Barristan Selmy was a renowned fighter10 and like William, Selmy served four kings while he was in the Kingsguard.11 William Marshal was known for having a legendary tournament record. During the twelfth century, tournaments could often been deadly and dangerous. It is believed that William was the only men ever to have unhorsed Richard, Duke of Poitou, who later became Richard I ‘The Lionheart’ of England.12 William was welcomed back to the English Court, once Richard I was crowned King. This is similar to how Barristan Selmy became the Kingsguard Lord Commander when Roberto Baratheon was victorious over the Targaryens. Even in his old age, Selmy was fierce knight to be reckoned with. When King Joffrey, son of Robert Baratheon, dismissed Selmy “on the grounds of old age”13 he became a member of the Queensguard to Daenerys Targaryen. At the age of sixty-nine William Marshal had already outlived a majority of his peers. He was named by the King’s Council as “Regent of the Kingdom and Protector of the nine-year old Henry III”.14 In his seventieth year, Marshal was victorious at the Second Battle of Lincoln against the French army. Sometimes real history is more entertaining than fantasy or fiction as we can see with the comparison of Ser Barristan Selmy from the Game of Thrones and the life of William Marshal from the Middle Ages. The mighty warrior in the form of a knight in the Kingsguard always provides entertainment for the reader both in history and in fantasy. This offers a dynamic conflict, loyalty, and intrigue to the story whether it is historical or fictional.

Selmy - Kingsgaurd After Joffrey jettisons the loyal Kingsgaurd commander for being too old, Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) seeks out Daenerys Targaryen. © HBO.

Selmy – Kingsgaurd
After Joffrey jettisons the loyal Kingsgaurd commander for being too old, Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) seeks out Daenerys Targaryen. © HBO.

Feudalism:
Medieval Europe’s dominant social system which is called feudalism is incorporated into the Game of Thrones. The Starks of Winterfell is a prime example of medieval feudalism, they are Wardens of the North thus swearing their fealty to the Iron Throne.15 Prior to the conquest and unification of the Seven Kingdoms, the Starks of Winterfell ruled their lands and were considered Kings, which they called themselves Kings of Winter or Kings in the North. These Kings were hard men who fought many battles to keep their land or take back their land from rebels. Many ancient houses were reduced from royals to vassals by the Starks in the North. Petty Kings would be subdued by the Starks during a series of wars that lasted about two hundred years.16 The Yorkists of the Middle Ages can be compared to the Starks as they held lands in the Northern part of England. They are descendants from Northumbrian Kings, whose royal centre was York. The city of York rebelled two years after the Norman Conquest of England in the eleventh century. The rebellion was initially successful until William the Conqueror put down the rebellion. During Robert Baratheon’s reign in the Game of Thrones, Eddard Stark is the head of the House of Stark and Lord Paramount of the North. He is a loyal friend to the King Robert Baratheon. Eddard Stark also holds the little of Lord of Winterfell, thus owing fealty to the Iron Throne. In his younger years Eddard Stark supported Robert’s claim to the throne and was an acting general in several major battles. He eventually takes the positions of Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm. Things did not end well for Lord Stark as he was executed at the request of King Joffrey Baratheon when he tried to seize the throne from him. Much like Eddard Stark, Richard, Duke of York was fearsome warrior who fought in the Hundred Year’s War during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Richard was rewarded for his success with various offices of state and proving that he was a capable ruler during all his appointments.17 Richard owed a fealty to the crown of England. Eventually Richard became protector of the kingdom during Henry VI’s mental illness. Just like Lord Stark, things did not end well for Richard. He tried to size the throne unsuccessfully resulting in his beheading. Both men were once vassals of their king that they served providing military service to them. Once they both rose to such power, and tried to seize the power of the king’s throne, things did not go so well for them both in the end.

Queenship:

Queen Daenerys Targaryen is a ruling Queen in her own right as she and her brother escaped after the Lannisters killed her father, King Aerys II Targaryen who united six of the seven after his conquest. She raises an army of freed slaves with the basis of her deceased husband’s nomadic tribe, the Dothraki. Her powerful secret weapon is that she is mother to three dragons which is the myth that the dragons will come back and the ruler of them will rule the Seven Kingdoms. She overcomes adversary under her abusive brother and becomes a strong, confident, courageous woman. She has a compassion in which she wants to bring justice through her reign, ending slavery as a particular goal. Mind you, she can be ruthless with her enemies. Her leadership is inherited as her followers regard her with great respect. Targaryen kings either were madmen or brilliant rulers. Daenerys could be compared to Henry VII who was Henry Tudor. Henry Tudor had was exiled for many years in France while England was strife with conflict. He slowly amassed a huge army like Daenerys.18 Henry and Daenerys had to cross a body of water in order to take the throne from the ruling family and to return to their birthplace. Daenerys could also be compared to Empress Matilda. She was the daughter of Henry I, King of England and Matilda of Scotland. Matilda married the Holy Roman Emperor and insisted that people call her the “Empress Matilda instead of Queen”19, even when her husband died. This is similar to Daenerys insisting on being called Kahlessie, even though her husband was no longer alive. George R. R. Martin uses Daenerys as a queenship similar to a role of a male monarch. This brings medievalism into the present to appease the female audience.

Conclusion:
The Game of Thrones is considered fantasy. This type of genre concentrates heavy on medievalism with a twist. There are many components to the Middles Ages which has influenced aspects of the series. Kingship, Kingsguard, Feudalism, and Queenship are various subjects that can be part of medieval studies. Wars of Roses could be considered the main inspiration for Martin’s books20 which reflect the conflict of the Lannisters and Starks or the Lancasters and Yorks. The medieval life of people were affected by the Kings and their conflicts, as we see in George R. R. Martin’s series. Feudalism is well represented in every episode with the posturing of the knights towards their kings. The female characters is usually not represented in the historical documentation about the Middle Ages but recently there is a upsurge in researching the female character. This can been found with George R. R. Martin representing strong female characters especially in a Queenship. Martin mimics current academic research that is going on about investigation of medieval prominent female characters. Kingship or Queenship, it does not really matter about the gender, there will always be someone vying for the Iron Throne!

Footnotes
1 Blog on Game of Thrones, http://www.gameofthronesbooks.org/seven-kingdoms-of-westeros/ (accessed June, 2015).
2 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014), 127.
3 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014), 128.
4 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014),World of Ice and Fire, 129.
5 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014),World of Ice and Fire, X.
6 Institute of Historical Research, University of London, School of Advanced Study, Review of “Arthurian Myths and Alchemy: the Kingship of Edward IV”, http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/335 (accessed June, 2015).
7 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. “Kingsguard – an institution that was only formed during the reign of Aegon the Conqueror”. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014), 10.
8 Forum for Historygot.com, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/the-anarchy/barristan-selmy (accessed June, 2015).
9 Painter, Sidney, William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron and Regent of England, (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1933), 289.
10 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014), 112.
11 Forum for Historygot.com, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/the-anarchy/barristan-selmy (accessed June, 2015).
12 Forum for Historygot.com, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/the-anarchy/barristan-selmy (accessed June, 2015).
13 Forum for Historygot.com, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/the-anarchy/barristan-selmy (accessed June, 2015).
14 Forum for Historygot.com, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/the-anarchy/barristan-selmy (accessed June, 2015).
15 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014), 141.
16 Martin, George R. R., and Elio M. Garcia. Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice & Fire The Untold History of Westeros and The Game of Thrones (New York: Random House LLC, 2014), 137.
17 Chris Pleasance, “Revealed: The REAL history behind Game of Thrones’ fantastical characters (and it’s surprisingly like the War of the Roses)”, Mail Online, (May 10, 2014), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2625187/Revealed-The-REAL-history-Game-Thrones-fantastical-characters-surprisingly-like-Wars-Roses.html.
18 Chris Pleasance, “Revealed: The REAL history behind Game of Thrones’ fantastical characters (and it’s surprisingly like the War of the Roses)”, Mail Online, (May 10, 2014), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2625187/Revealed-The-REAL-history-Game-Thrones-fantastical-characters-surprisingly-like-Wars-Roses.html.
19 Forum for Historygot.com, “Dragonlords, Dark Ages, and Deeper Meanings in the Game of Thrones”, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/interviews/gotdeep (accessed June, 2015).
20 David Orr, “Dragons Ascendant: George R. R. Martin and the Rise of Fantasy,” The New York Times , (August 12, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/books/review/george-r-r-martin-and-the-rise-of-fantasy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed June 2015).

BIBLIOGRAPHY
Blog on Game of Thrones, http://www.gameofthronesbooks.org/seven-kingdoms-of-westeros/ (accessed June, 2015).
Forum for Historygot.com, “Dragonlords, Dark Ages, and Deeper Meanings in the Game of Thrones”, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/interviews/gotdeep (accessed June, 2015).
Forum for Historygot.com, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/the-anarchy/barristan-selmy (accessed June, 2015).
Institute of Historical Research, University of London, School of Advanced Study, Review of “Arthurian Myths and Alchemy: the Kingship of Edward IV”, http://www.history.ac.uk/reviews/review/335 (accessed June, 2015).

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

Orr, David, “Dragons Ascendant: George R. R. Martin and the Rise of Fantasy,” The New York Times , (August 12, 2011), http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/14/books/review/george-r-r-martin-and-the-rise-of-fantasy.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 (accessed June 2015).

Painter, Sidney, William Marshal, Knight-Errant, Baron and Regent of England. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1933.

Pleasance, Chris. “Revealed: The REAL history behind Game of Thrones’ fantastical characters (and it’s surprisingly like the War of the Roses)”, Mail Online, (May 10, 2014), http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2625187/Revealed-The-REAL-history-Game-Thrones-fantastical-characters-surprisingly-like-Wars-Roses.html.

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