– by Mark MacDonald, Staff Writer –
From Hadrian’s Wall to the Wars of the Roses, George R. R. Martin drew inspiration from our real history to pen his massively successful Game of Thrones franchise. Indeed, human history is wrought with epic feuds, dastardly betrayals, and conniving maneuvers that boggle the mind. Here are but a few.
The Yorks and the Lancasters
It’s not hard to see why George R. R. Martin drew a great deal of inspiration from the series of wars fought in 15th century England, known as the Wars of the Roses. Waged between the Lancasters and Yorks, the civil war began when Richard of York raised an army against the weak, ineffectual King Henry VI – who also suffered mental illness and had been persuaded by the manipulative Queen Margaret of Anjou to grant lands and titles to the House of Lancaster. When the rebellious Richard was killed, his son Edward took up the struggle and achieved a series of stunning victories over the Lancasters, fighting Margaret’s forces and the heir to the throne, a seven-year-old Edward of Westminster known for his cruelty (think Joffrey).
Though the House of York was able to capture London, crown Edward of York king, and crush the Lancaster forces in the Battle of Towton, Edward made a fateful error. He married (in secret) the widow of a Lancastrian knight, effectively snubbing a marriage that his ally, the Earl of Warwick, had arranged between Edward and a French princess (much like Robb Stark). This angered the Earl of Warwick so much he switched sides and joined the forces of Margaret and the Lancasters, alongside George Plantagenet, Edward’s brother (think Theon Greyjoy). The Wars of the Roses continues on for years; Edward dies, Margaret and Edward of Westminster are killed, revolts come and go, great battles are fought, revenge is had, princes mysteriously disappear from a tower and, eventually, Henry Tudor sails across the channel (i.e. the Narrow Sea) conquers all of England, marries Elizabeth of York and unites the white rose of House York with the red rose of House Lancaster. An epic period in history, it’s clear the Wars of the Roses inspired much of the “clash of kings” featured in Game of Thrones. For a great animated summary of the conflict, check out this link:
The Black Dinner
One of the more heinous acts in history, the Black Dinner rivals George R.R. Martin’s Red Wedding in its utter brutality and dastardliness. In 1440, Scotland was increasingly under the control of the powerful Douglas clan, much to the chagrin of Sir Alexander Livingston and Sir William Crichton, who were ten year-old King James II’s closest advisors and de facto rulers of the kingdom. According to the legend, the 16 year-old Earl of Douglas, his brother, and their advisor Sir Malcolm Fleming were invited to Edinburgh Castle by Sir William Crichton for a celebratory feast of reconciliation. At the end of dinner, the head of a black bull was brought into the hall and presented before the Earl, symbolizing what was to come. Though the ten year-old James II is said to have pleaded for the lives of the Douglases, they were beheaded in front of him after a mock trial. The Earl’s great uncle James, who was rumored to have conspired in the massacre, inherited the Douglas estates and was appropriately known as “James the Gross,”
Oliverotto of Fermo
Not to be out done by their Scottish counterparts, the noble houses of Italy had their fair share of villainy in the 15th century. As recounted by Machiavelli in his famous work The Prince, one Oliverotto Euffreducci was a prime example of such turpitude. Fatherless and raised by his uncle Giovanni Fogliani, Oliverotto coveted the township of Fermo and sought to install himself as ruler. He wrote to his uncle, claiming he wanted to meet with him. Giovanni obliged, lodging Oliverotto and his soldiers in his own mansion. After a banquet hosted by Giovanni, Oliverorro suggested that they retire to a more private place to discuss matters of politics and the like. As Machiavelli put it, “no sooner were they seated than soldiers issued from secret places and slaughtered Giovanni and the rest.” Oliverotto then laid siege to the palace and set up a dictatorship. His rule was short-lived however, as Cesare Borgia, a cunning leader in his own regard, saw that Oliverotto was strangled to death in 1502.
The Glen Coe Massacre
One of the most infamous events in Scottish history, the massacre of Clan MacDonald at the hands of the Campbells served as even more inspiration for George R. R. Martin’s Red Wedding, and for good reason. In 1692, honoring the Highland tradition of hospitality, the chief of the MacDonald clan, Alasdair Maclain, billeted Robert Campbell and roughly 100 of his men at his estate in Glen Coe. Campbell was wary of the MacDonald’s growing strength and had been plotting their demise, along with other nobles and the crown, for some time. After 12 days under the hospitality of the MacDonald clan, the order was given to Robert Campbell to “fall upon the rebels…and put all to the sword under seventy” so that the clan would be “cut off root and branch.” After their hosts had fallen asleep, the Campbells and their forces systematically slaughtered Alasdair Maclain and 38 other men in their beds. An additional 40 women and children died from exposure to the elements after their homes were burned, including the chief’s wife. The event was considered a truly heinous crime and has lived on in Scottish memory to this day. Even now, there is a sign on the door of the old Clachaig Inn at Glen Coe stating “No Campbells.”
The Nika Riots
In the 6th century AD, Constantinople was a city with great power and a massive, sometimes unruly, population. Associations known as demes were a well-developed part of Byzantine society and these factions, essentially a combination of political parties, social classes and street gangs, supported various teams in sporting events-particularly chariot racing. Competitors for the teams (Blues and Greens being the prominent ones) often shouted political demands between races, and were backed by aristocratic families sometimes hostile to the Emperor. In 532, a tense and angry crowd entered the Hippodrome, an enormous stadium capable of holding over 100,000 spectators, and began to chant insults at Justinian, the Emperor, who was presiding over the races from his adjacent palace complex. Soon, a full-fledged riot began, lasting five days, which resulted in the destruction of much of the city and the foremost church, the Hagia Sophia.
With the palace under siege, Justinian considered fleeing, but his wife Theodora is said to have convinced him to stay, arguing, “those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss. Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress,” and adding, “royalty is a fine burial shroud.” Having decided to stay, Justinian hatched a plot that involved a popular eunuch, Narses, and two of his best generals. Narses entered the Hippodrome alone and unarmed, carrying a bag of gold, and went directly to the Blues’ section. There, he reminded the Blues that Justinian had supported them over the Greens and that the man they were set to crown Emperor, Hypatius, was a Green. After receiving Narses’ gold, the Blues spoke quietly amongst themselves. Then, in the middle of Hypatius’s coronation, they stormed out of the Hippodrome. The Greens sat stunned before the Emperor’s generals entered the stadium and slaughtered them-some 30,000 people. Whoever survived the ordeal, it is certain they continued to salute Theodora as empress.
From ancient times to the Middle Ages, history is filled with bloody events that astound us even today. As George R.R. Martin himself put it, “the Starks and the Lannisters have nothing on the Capets and Plantagenets.”