History

Game of Thrones: How it Parallels the Wars of the Roses

I’ve been a bit obsessed by the The Wars of the Roses lately. Maybe that’s hard for some people to understand, but I look at it like a really, really old season of Scandal, just with much worse hygiene. But apparently I’m not alone in my fascination, because author George RR Martin has made no secret that his A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) is based loosely on The Wars of the Roses. Cool. GRRM gets it.

Now, while the books/TV show that you and I know by heart is no allegory for the multi-decade conflict, there are a whole lot of parallels we can draw. So here is where I tear into the major characters like I am Henry VIII clawing apart a whole roasted chicken (I know, I know, the Tudors come later, but seriously, that man could really eat!).

The Lancasters Always Pay Their Debts

First, you need to understand that the (over-simplistic and somewhat misleading) gist of real-life The Wars of the Roses is that it’s a tale of two families battling for the English throne.

First, the Lancasters ruled. Then the Yorks.

And back and forth, and a bit wiggly all around for a while. Complicated. Now, notice the similarities in the names. Familiar, eh?

Lancaster = Lannister
York = Stark

Lancaster’s (alleged) red rose sigil = Lannister’s red lion sigil

York’s (alleged) white rose sigil = Stark’s white dire wolf sigil

You see? Even linguistically and symbolically, it’s pretty obvious where GRRM started. Even the map of Westeros loosely resembles the UK.

In fact, the only place where the allegory really falls apart is how kindly the Starks are portrayed by GRRM. The real-life Yorks were mostly some really greedy assholes. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Oh, and if you want to learn more about the Wars of the Roses in a fun and delightful way, I retell the history here. Ya know, jut in case you want more background.

Okay, let’s just jump in and look at how I see the characters lining up:

Richard II = Mad King Aerys (Aerys II)

Richard II and Aerys

Richard II

King Richard II is largely considered the first major victim of The Wars of the Roses (TWOTR). See, Richard II had ruled the kingdom since he was only ten years old, and by most accounts, he had grown up to be a right little shit. His egocentric hobbies included building monuments to himself and surrounding himself with sycophants. After his wife, Anne of Bohemia, died, Richard started to become outwardly paranoid and began executing and banishing most of his rivals. This didn’t go over so well with his (recently banished) cousin, Henry Bolingbroke, who raised an army against him, and threw him in prison, where he shortly thereafter died–possibly murdered, possibly starved to death, accounts differ.

Mad King Aerys II

Aerys II also ascended to the throne via largely non-disputed lineage. Good for him. But that didn’t help him much after his paranoia and general insanity caused him to start offing rivals, oh yeah, and playing with fire. As with Richard II, those who had once been close to him started throwing shade his way, distrusting the king’s actions and motives. Eventually Aerys II was overthrown in Robert’s Rebellion. Of course, Aerys’s death was much swifter…and pointier. No prison for him.

There are, of course, many differences between the characters. Aerys’s affinity for kidnapping and pyrotechnics sets him apart from his historical doppelgänger. But ultimately, both lost the throne that rightfully belonged to them because they lost their grip on reality. And when that happens, there is always someone waiting in the wings to pluck the crown of the king’s head.

King Henry IV = Robert Baratheon

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The Wars of the Roses in Pictures

A Totally True, Completely Authentic Retelling of History
(To be Enjoyed With a Butt of Malmsey Wine)

For nearly one hundred years in England’s history, a knot of noble families fought over the royal throne in a giant, messy multi-generational screw-you fest that history has dubbed “The Wars of the Roses”.

This title is a misnomer, of course. The murder, deception, and power mongering went far beyond any battlefield. So not simply a war.

And furthermore, though history tries to explain this era as being a battle between two families–each represented by a rose–that ignores a lot of historical context, and a whole lot of players from other families and other countries. So not really strictly about roses either.

Maybe they should have called it The Great English Stink instead. Eh, guess no poets were on hand to think of it. Shakespeare really dropped the ball on this one, eh?

wars-roses-smell-it
“You will smell the white rose! Smell it! Smellllll it!”

Anyway, it’s a rotten, stinkin’ historical mess that took forever to play out and is really damn confusing. So to understand this giant historical knot, you really need a proper illustrated guide. Right? And it ought to be irreverently blunt. Right? Yes, yes. Good, good. I think so, too.

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