Manchester Historian

Student newspaper for the University of Manchester's History department

Sunday 20th April 2014 | Manchester, UK

Game of Thrones

The success of the epic medieval fantasy television show, Game of Thrones, has spurred huge media attention. Viewers regularly attempt to find historical parallels between the medieval ages and the television show and several notable comparisons between the show’s characters and plot have already been drawn to real world historical figures and events. Perhaps the most obvious parallel is between the war in Game of Thrones and the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses. The Wars of the Roses were fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York over the throne of England. In Game of Thrones, House Lannister and House Stark are in conflict with one another over the succession of the Iron Throne.

The character Cersei Lannister, husband to King Robert Baratheon, has been compared to Margaret of Anjou, the husband of King Henry VI of England, who was a prominent figure in the War of the Roses. In Game of Thrones, following the death of King Robert Baratheon Cersei Lannister fights for her son Joffrey’s right to the throne against Ned Stark. Similarly, Margaret of Anjou, of House of Lancaster, fought against the House of York for her son, Edward of Westminster. Historians have seen Margaret as a prime driver of the War of the Roses; in the same way that Cersei’s attempt to solidify Joffrey as King resulted in the War of the Five Kings. The characters differ in that whilst Margaret was skilled in court politics, Cersei is somewhat incompetent.

On the Stark side of the conflict, Rob Stark bares some comparison to the Yorkish King Edward IV. The young Rob Stark illustrates his brilliance as a military tactician in a series of crushing victories against the Lannister forces in season two. However, he shows some political naivety in an ill-advised marriage. Edward IV shared Rob Stark’s military cunning, showcased in his succession against the Lancastrians in a series of battles at only 19 years of age. He too possessed some political naivety when he secretly married Elizabeth Woodville, the widow of a Lancaster sympathiser, which alienated his allies in Warwick.

Stannis Baratheon’s claim to the Iron Throne and his naval attack against King’s Landing is similar to William the Conqueror. The Norman Duke claimed the King of England for himself and led a huge naval invasion of England. Stannis and William were powerful military commanders.

Parallels also exist between Petyr Baelish ‘Littlefinger’ the Master of Coin, the kingdom’s treasurer on the King’s small council, and Thomas Cromwell an English lawyer and statesmen who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540. Both rose from minor social positions to be prominent players in court politics; Baelish was born a lord of a minor holding, whilst Cromwell was born the son of a blacksmith. Baelish also possesses Cromwell’s skill at manipulating court politics; like his historical counterpart he assumes an unthreatening demeanour, while scheming against his political opponents and utilising bribes to achieve his goals.

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