Spoiler alert: if you haven't caught up on all season of Game of Thrones, do so now. For those who've loved every fantasy-driven and bloody moment, then you're ready for the show's season 6 premiere on April 5. One of GoT's most memorable moments was the Red Wedding, in which some of George R.R. Martin's most beloved characters were massacred. But did you know that real-life bloodbaths inspired the author to create this brutal event?
The Black Dinner
Both of the tragedies on which the Red Wedding was based took place in Scotland. Event One was the "Black Dinner" of November 24, 1440. At the time, the Scots king, James II, was just ten years old; his advisers, William Crichton and Alexander Livingston, arranged to have several members of a powerful noble clan, the Douglases, killed. Longtime servants to the king, the Douglases rose to even further prominence under the reign of James I, James II's father, and Crichton and Livingston weren't having it, perhaps perceiving them as a rival to the crown.
James II, King of Scots and murderer of Douglases.
As a result, the sixteen-year-old Earl of Douglas and his ten-year-old brother were invited to join the royal household for a meal. Everything went well until a black bull's head, a traditional harbinger of doom, was served at the end of dinner. Against the young king's wishes, the two Douglases were seized, given a mock trial, and executed, leading the tragic encounter to have the name of the "Black Dinner."
James II reportedly wept at these deaths, but he grew up to hate the Douglases as much as his guardians. In 1452, James himself. murdered another earl of Douglas. In 1455, the most recent earl's brother and successor, yet another Lord Douglas, rebelled against James, and the monarch once and for all quelled the influence branch of the Douglas clan (dubbed the "Black Douglases:).
The Massacre of Glencoe
This tragedy also involved another Scottish monarch named James: this time, the Catholic King James II of England and VII of Scotland, who was expelled from Britain in the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Many Scots were sympathetic to James, especially in light of his successors, the Dutch William III and his wife, James's daughter, Mary. The supporters of the exiled James II/VII were known as Jacobites, from James's name in Latin, "Jacobus."
Four years later, there were still lots of Jacobites afoot in Scotland, and William wasn't having it. He ordered the chiefs of the Highland Scottish clans to sign an oath of allegiance to him by January 1, 1692. By that date, the MacDonald chief of Glencoe in Argyllshire still hadn't acknowledged William as his king, and the Dutch dude gave the order to retaliate against the MacDonalds. On February 13, soldiers killed thirty-eight MacDonalds.
A monument in Scotland commemorating the Massacre of Glencoe
Perhaps the biggest scandal of all wasn't that nearly forty people died, but that those who murdered them had abused the ancient Scottish custom of hospitality, just as the guests at the Game of Thrones wedding did by killing their hosts. The soldiers, men of the Campbell lord of Argyll, had received room, care, and board from the MacDonalds for almost two weeks before they turned on the other clan. After this breach of trust, many Jacobites turned even further against William III.
Feature image via HBO/Flickering Myth.