Top 12 War of the Roses influences on Game of Thrones

Unless you’re living under a rock, you’ll be well aware of the Shakespeare 400 anniversary, which has brought us a new trilogy of The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses on the BBC.

And as any self respecting Game of Thrones fan will know, George R R Martin’s epic story was heavily influenced by The Cousin’s War between the Houses of Lancaster and York in medieval England.

Watching The Hollow Crown, it struck me that while many of the events and characters in Game of Thrones are a composite of real historical events and people from the world over, there are many with whom fiction is far closer to fact than others. So here are my top 12 War of the Roses influences on Game of Thrones.

The Lannisters / House of Lancaster versus The Starks / House of York

The constant reversals of fortune for both families mirrored the real life antagonisms led by personal feuds and warring factions, with the switching of allegiances common. Even the marriage of Henry Tudor and Elizabeth of York didn’t put an end to hostilities completely, with the Yorkists supporting claims from those purporting to be one of Edward IV’s lost princes (see below) and the Suffolk line again rearing its head upon the death of Edward VI.

The Iron Throne / The Hollow Crown

Both symbolise the office of the king: the occupant or wearer is where power lies, or should lie. They’re practically characters themselves. “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” wrote Shakespeare (Henry IV, Part 2), emblematic for the fears inhabiting the minds of kings; uneasy sits any king on the Iron Throne, literally, with its commissioner, Aegon the Conqueror, recognising that it will never be a comfortable occupancy.  

The Ambitious Queens: Cersei Lannister / Margaret of Anjou

For Cersei Lannister, the driving force is the advancement of her children - much like Margaret of Anjou. Powerful, strong women, both of whom apparently happy to use sex as a means to an end and determined that their children be the ones to rule. Margaret did actually lead her army into battle; Cersei would rather “face a thousand swords” instead of awaiting her fate with the “flock of frightened hens” during the Battle of the Blackwater.

The Womanising Warrior: Robert Baratheon / Edward IV

The similarities between these two are more than striking: Brave, good looking, fearsome in battle but a penchant for over indulgence in wine, women and song saw both dead in peacetime, plunging their realms once more into turmoil as families turned on each other.

Shades of Robb too, in the Young Edward. Becoming Duke of York after the death of his father, the teenager won many battles against the Lancasters and remained unbeaten on the battlefield. He also married unsuitably, which led directly to Warwick’s betrayal of him, as with Walder Frey and Robb.

The Honourable Betrayed: Lord Eddard Stark / Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester, Protector of the Realm for the young Henry VI.

Both honour and duty bound men accused of treason due to the sly machinations of the ambitious queens: Ned, legally murdered in the public gaze; Humphrey - son of Henry IV, brother of Henry V and uncle of Henry VI - rumoured to be poisoned after his fall from grace upon his wife being accused of witchcraft.

The Spoilt Royals: Joffrey Baratheon / Edward, Prince of Wales

We all know what a nasty little brat Joffrey was, no more need be said. Apparently, in his time in exile at the French court, the young Prince of Wales was also pretty enamoured with the idea of chopping off everyone’s head, and was thought to be at best, detached and aloof, and at worst, brutal and savage to his teenage bride, Lady Anne Neville.

The Monsters: Tyrion Lannister / Richard III

Physically unattractive for the time they inhabited, both accused of kinslaying (in Tyrion’s case, fair enough) but with no real evidence that they murdered their nephews.

The Protective Mothers: Lady Catelyn Stark / Elizabeth Woodville

Desperate to protect their children, Catelyn, a source of counsel for the teenage King of the North, and Elizabeth, exerting her influence over Edward IV in the advancement her family, made them both a target for their enemies. That they were both extremely fertile was also to their enemies’ chagrin - there were no shortage of heirs.

The Princely Imposters: Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen / The Princes in the Tower (Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, eldest sons of Edward IV)

The heinous murders of Elia and Rhaegar’s two infants is not without intrigue in the book - Aegon is said to have been switched with another child, just as Richard was rumoured to have been exchanged with a servant boy. Blue haired Young Griff is revealed as silver haired, violet eyed Prince Aegon, last seen attacking Storm’s End in Book 5. Two claimants, just boys, under guidance from rebellious Yorkists, laid claim to the crown of Henry VII: Lambert Simnel ended up as a kitchen boy in the royal kitchen, before later becoming the King’s falconer and living to the grand old age of 57. Perkin Warbeck fared less well - he was eventually hanged.

The Loyal Betrayers: The Umbers / Warwick the Kingmaker

The Starks / York’s fiercest supporters turned traitors? It was the Greatjon who proclaimed Robb Stark as King, much as Warwick, the most powerful northern Lord, did for Edward IV. However, it appears that the Smalljon has betrayed Rickon, as Warwick turned on York.

The Balancing Powers: Mace Tyrell & Petyr Baelish / Thomas Stanley

Highgarden and The Vale have been relatively unscathed so far, Loras and Margaery’s predicaments notwithstanding. Will Mace (Master of Ships and Master of Coin on King Tommen’s Small Council, and a ‘waiter’) or Littlefinger (chief manipulator of all - a ‘plotter’) copy Thomas Stanley (stepfather to Henry Tudor but also Richard III’s Chamberlain and Constable - and a major ‘waiter’)? That is, wait to see who’s winning in battle and then choose a side? Stanley eventually sent his men to aid Henry at Bosworth, and there endeth the War of the Roses. Incidentally, the Tyrell emblem is a Tudor rose in all but colour …

The Marriage Pawns: Margaery Tyrrell / Sansa Stark / Anne Neville / Elizabeth of York

First she was Renly Barratheon’s, then upon his death, the Tyrells sided with the Lannisters and Margaery became Joffrey’s bride - and was then passed to Tommen. Sansa, betrothed to Joffrey, luckily escapes him only to be wedded to Tyrion, with patriarch Tywin desperate to keep the North tied to King’s Landing. The Tyrells also recognised her value but were too slow to grab her.

Lady Anne, the daughter of Warwick The Kingmaker, was used to tie the former Yorkist Warwick to the Lancaster cause by marrying her to Henry VI & Margaret of Anjou’s son, Edward, Prince of Wales (see Spoilt Royals, above). Following his death, she married Richard, Duke of Gloucester (Richard III), thus switching sides again. The marriage of Elizabeth of York to Henry Tudor brought the houses back together. With the prophecy regarding Tommen’s survival and the rumours of Jon Snow’s parentage, it’s entirely possible Sansa or Margaery could end up a Targaryen in order to do this.

Or maybe, they’ll be no such unifying of Westeros and we’ll go down the Armageddon route, with the whole lot wiped out by the White Walkers. You wouldn’t put it past George, would you?

The final part of The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses, featuring the magnificent Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard III, is shown tonight at 9pm on BBC2. Game of Thrones Series 6 Episode 5 follows in the UK on Monday at 9pm on Sky Atlantic.

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