Game of Thrones is inspired by real English history

The Game of Thrones book series is more than just fantasy. It's inspired by real history, especially English history.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington as Jon Snow in Game of Thrones /

When it comes to fantasy series, it’s hard to imagine that there may be some historical inspiration behind it. Well, Game of Thrones certainly has plenty. Let’s take a look at where ideas came from.

George R.R. Martin has always said that he is interested in history. He took an interest in English history in particular, and you see a lot of that throughout Game of Thrones. Most specifically, the War of Five Kings is inspired by the Wars of the Roses.

The Wars of the Roses took place between 1455 and 1485, although arguably the start of it dates back decades earlier. It was the time when the English crown passed between the Houses of York and Lancaster. In Game of Thrones, House Stark is very much the House of York, while House Lannister seems to be the House of Lancaster.

The War of Five Kings doesn’t play out in the exact way that the Wars of the Roses did. However, there are some major moments that stand out as being inspired. The Battle of the Bastards has a lot of connection to the Battle of Bosworth in the way the military campaign played out, while the finale battle was somewhat taken from the Battle of Culloden. Stannis Baratheon’s storyline is very much like King Richard III, who declared his nephew illegitimate for the throne and believed himself to be the rightful King of England after his brother’s death. Even The Wall is inspired by Hadrian’s Wall.

Particular Game of Thrones characters are inspired by historical figures

Many of the characters in Game of Thrones are inspired by real historical figures. They are not like for like as that wouldn’t make a lot of sense in the world Martin created, but they do have similar traits and storylines.

This is something that I could go into in far more detail for each character, and I will in the future. For now, here is a breakdown of the inspiration:

  • Ned Stark is Richard, Duke of York
  • Catlyn Stark is Cecily Neville, Duchess of York
  • Joffrey Baratheon is Edward of Westminster, son of Henry VI of England and Margaret of Anjou
  • Daenerys Targaryen is Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England
  • Roose Bolton is the Earl of Warwick
  • Cersei Lannister is Margaret of Anjou

One event taken from Scottish history

While a lot of Game of Thrones is inspired by English history when it comes to the Westeros storyline, there is one moment that is inspired by a Scottish historical event. It’s all about the Red Wedding.

We go back to 1440 for this one, when the 6th Earl of Douglas and his brother were invited to join King James II of Scotland. The young king hadn’t been the one to invite them. Instead, It was Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who invited the boys fearing that the Black Douglas clan was getting too powerful.

The boys were dragged outside and given mock trials before being found guilty of high treason. They were executed for that. The Douglas boys were 16 and 10!

There is also some inspiration of the Massacre of Glencoe, when the Scottish lords were called by William of Orange to swear loyalty to him rather than the Jacobite King James VII. The Secretary of State at the time, John Dalrymple, loathed Clan MacDonald, who had already sworn loyalty to James VII.

There was a chance for Dalrymple to get rid of the clan. He set up a trap while traveling through MacDonald land, with Captain Robert Campbell (a rival of MacDonald) and 120 men claiming to need shelter. It turned into a massacre when the Campbells killed many of the MacDonalds, some in their beds, despite there supposedly being a truce.

Sometimes, it’s clear that truth is stranger and far more dangerous than fiction. The inspirations of Game of Thrones show that.

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Game of Thrones is available to stream on Max.