A lot of the intrigue, conspiracy and political machinations in Game of Thrones come straight out of our own history books. This week I’m looking at some unsolved historical mysteries that inspired George R. R. Martin, author of the book series on which Game of Thrones is based…
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series and seasons 1-5 of Game of Thrones…
The illegitimate prince
Prince Edward of Lancaster was the son of King Henry VI and Queen Margaret of Anjou and rightful heir to the throne of England in the mid-to-late 15th century.
Or was he?
Henry VI suffered from mental illness and it was during one of his long periods of madness that Edward of Lancaster was born. Because of the circumstances, there were widespread rumours that the king was not Edward’s father and that Queen Margaret had been screwing around with one of her loyal supporters. In fact, some believed that Margaret and her extra-marital bed buddies had taken over the government. Edmund Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, and James Butler, Earl of Ormonde, were both suspected of being Prince Edward’s real father.
In Game of Thrones, the dark secret of Kings Landing which Jon Arryn discovers before he is assassinated is that Prince Joffrey is not actually King Robert Baratheon’s son and heir. He’s the product of Queen Cersei’s affair with her own brother, Jaime Lannister. Okay, so George R. R. Martin has sexed up the paternity question in Game of Thrones-land, but there’s plenty of real history he could’ve plucked the incest plot from. Henry’s VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, was tried and found guilty of shagging her brother, and became the first of Henry’s wives to lose her head for it (except that modern historians generally agree that Anne was innocent of this, whereas Cersei is definitely guilty).
I’ve also learned that much like the sadistic Joffrey, Prince Edward of Lancaster was not the sort of boy you’d be happy babysitting. In 1467, the Ambassador of the Duchy of Milan said, “This boy, though only thirteen years of age, already talks of nothing but cutting off heads or making war”. And Chief Justice John Fortescue said that during martial exercises, “he often delighted in attacking and assaulting the young companions attending him”.
The mysterious death of Edward II
I actually investigated the death of King Edward II in an earlier blog. Basically he was kicked off the throne and imprisoned in 1327, only to die from a ‘fatal accident’ shortly afterwards. However, no one seems to know the exact nature of this accident. Rather, many suspect that Edward was murdered, either by suffocation, strangulation or having a hot poker shoved up his bum to burn out all his innards. Nice.
And the rumoured perpetrator in Edward II’s murder? His own wife, Isabella of France. The one who kicked him off the throne in the first place.
This could be one of the inspirations behind the death of King Robert Baratheon in Game of Thrones. Robert also dies in a ‘fatal accident’, namely after being attacked by a boar during a hunt. The TV show hints that his squire, Lancel Lannister, was giving Robert too much wine in order to make him susceptible to an attack. It’s then revealed in Season 5 that Lancel was ordered to do this by Robert’s wife, Queen Cersei. In the books, it’s made clear that Cersei ordered Lancel to give Robert wine three times as potent as normal to make sure he got extremely drunk.
The prince who choked to death at a feast
Eustace, Count of Boulogne, was the eldest son and heir of King Stephen of England. Stephen was king during the period of civil war known as the Anarchy, a bitter feud between Stephen and his cousin, Empress Matilda, who believed the throne of England was rightfully hers.
Stephen was obviously pretty keen on Eustace becoming king after him, but Matilda also had a son, Henry, who she wanted on the throne.
In August 1153, Prince Eustace arrived at Cambridge Castle and sat down to dine. Then, suddenly, he started choking — apparently on his first bite of food. The accounts of his death vary, but many suspect that he was poisoned. By who, we’ll never know. But what is known is that the Anarchy died with him. The civil war between Stephen and Matilda ended and a grief-stricken Stephen accepted Matilda’s son, Henry, as his new heir. He became King Henry II after Stephen’s death.
Ringing bells? Joffrey dies in a similar way at his own wedding feast in Game of Thrones. It was made to look like he’d choked on some celebratory pie, but in fact his wine had been spiked with poison. We soon learn that Joffrey was murdered as part of a conspiracy between Lady Olenna Tyrell and Lord Petyr ‘Littlefinger’ Baelish. We’ll obviously never know who killed Eustace, but removing him as heir to the throne to end a war is a pretty strong motive.
George R. R. Martin has actually stated that Eustace’s death served as inspiration for Joffrey’s murder at what’s now known as the “Purple Wedding”. With two more books in A Song of Ice and Fire yet to be published and two more seasons left of Game of Thrones, what other baffling mysteries and devilish conspiracies from our own history might the author draw on?
Next week: I’m actually taking a trip to Budapest next week, so I’ll return with a new blog in two weeks’ time. (Who knows — perhaps I’ll come back with a ton of Hungarian conspiracy theories to write about!)