We know you (like us) are a Game of Thrones fan. That’s why you’re reading this, right?
As we all know, the eight seasons of the show has unleashed a torrent of bloodshed and battalions to our TV screens, but surprisingly it’s nothing the world hasn’t seen before—literally. In fact, there’s a bevy of true events which inspired author George R.R. Martin’s best-selling book series A Song of Ice and Fire and the subsequent TV series. Martin is not afraid to admit that he took plenty of inspiration from years past, plucking plenty of his plotlines and central characters from British history and amplifying them to write the books’ more iconic scenes. So what are we talking about exactly? We explain.
The War of the Roses
The ongoing stoush between rivalling families the Lannisters and the Starks was directly inspired by The War of the Roses. Between 1455 and 1485, a series of bloody battles were held by rival royal families desperate to claim the British throne for themselves, namely the York (of the white rose sigil) and the Lancasters (of the red rose). If you delve deeper into the War of the Roses you’ll notice the startling similarities between the GoT plotline (aside from the names that is); we’re talking decades of war, boy kings, scheming women, seduction, betrayal, and some seriously violent deaths.
There is a great wall that sits outside of Westeros. But IRL it’s made from rock, not ice. Hadrian’s wall on the Scottish border in the North of England was erected in 128AD to mark the most northern edge of the Roman Empire in Britain, as well as to keep out the Scottish clans (or, you know, Wildlings). George R.R.Martin has admitted that a visit to the imposing wall (which stretches 135km across the country) formed the key source of inspiration behind the great wall in the hit series, as did its original guards who were low-ranking officers forbidden to have wives or children.
The Black Dinner
It sounds like an episode cooked up in the world of Westeros but this was a real event—and in fact, the inspiration, if you will, behind The Red Wedding. That Season 3 plot twist was based on a macabre true story, well two of them to be precise. The first occurred in 1440 with the Black Dinner, when the Earl of Douglas (then 16) and his younger brother were invited to dine with 10 year old King James II at Edinburgh Castle. The young king’s men feared the Black Douglas Clan was simply too strong so, during dinner, dumped a black bull head on the table to symbolise their house. Unfortunately for both Douglas boys they were shortly dragged from the table and beheaded outside.
The second event was the Massacre of Glencoe in 1691 which was the year when the clans of Scotland were ordered to support King William of Orange. The MacDonalds signed their oath to William but the document was delivered late. Unimpressed, 120 of William’s men were sent to the MacDonalds begging shelter from the cold. After treated to a fortnight’s worth of room and board, the men murdered 38 MacDonald men in their sleep, causing the remaining 40 women and children to flee into a blizzard. That single evening wiped out the entire clan.
William the Conqueror
Not so much an event but a person, William the Conqueror’s dramatic life still managed to have quite the impact on the Game of Thrones. William was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy who wanted to rule over all of England’s seven kingdoms. William proceeded to cross the sea separating France and England in 1066 with his fearsome army behind him and did just that. He was rather successful in his conquest to reign over England—after all his 22nd great granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II still sits on the throne today.
As for the GoT link? Aegon the Conqueror took control of Westeros following the exact same script—give or take a dragon or two—to establish the Targaryen Dynasty. Long may he reign. (Or not.)
The Little Ice Age
‘Winter is Coming’ isn’t just a catchy (albeit, foreboding) phrase. It was a problem outside the realm of GoT and during the Medieval period. From the 14th Century to the 19th Century there was a climate shift which followed the Medieval Warm Period and (you guessed it) saw a serious drop in temperatures. While it didn’t quite see the rise of white walkers, the colder winters of the Little Ice Age did have rather dramatic consequences on Europe and Northern America. Glaciers and sea ice encroached onto land, destroying shipping routes and any cities in their wake, crops failed, famine ensued and so did rising numbers of those suffering from hypothermia. All-in-all, I think we can agree—decades of winter aren’t great for anyone.