Do you think that Game of Thrones was so grotesque and wild that nothing in history could come close to competing with George R. R. Martin’s War of the Five Kings? If so, then you are wrong. The Wars of the Roses, spanning from the mid-to-late 15th Century, has all of the key components of the Game of Thrones plotline. The historical feud between the Lancastrian and Yorkist factions, ending with the creation of the Tudor dynasty, was filled with many of the plot twists Martin wrote into his best-selling books. Mad kings, military betrayals, Invasions across seas, religious uprisings, disputed heredities; it can all be found in the War of the Roses. Oh, there were also multiple children murdered during the years of war, too.
1. Mad Kings
The events of Game of Thrones begins after Robert’s Rebellion, where Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark and their allies usurp the Iron Throne from the mad Targaryen king, Aerys. If you have watched or read Game of Thrones, then you know that another king, Joffrey, is also a tad bit mad. The Wars of the Roses also featured madness. The Lancastrian King, Henry VI was deemed mad enough for England to require Richard, who was the Duke of York, to step up as Protector of the Realm. The King recovered and regained control of his kingdom, but his period of madness was a key event that enabled the Wars of the Roses. France, though in no way a participant in the Wars of the Roses, also had a mad king just thirty-three years before the war started. King Charles VI of France, also known as Charles “The Mad,” killed several of his courtiers during fits of madness. Charles also was reported to have howled like a wolf, often forgot his children, and even believed himself to be made of glass.
2. Religious Movements
Game of Thrones features a religious movement, labeled as the “sparrows,” which floods the Capital, Kings Landing, with masses of pilgrims and zealots. The movement gains momentum during the books and film. The sparrows eventually gain enough power to force even the mightiest nobles into humiliating situations. Likewise, just after the Wars of the Roses, England faced a similar religious movement from the masses that challenged the king’s authority. During the reign of Henry VIII, a rebellion occurred known as the Pilgrimage of Grace. The strength of the pilgrims required Henry to pacify the rebellion with a treaty that favored the pilgrims’ cause. If the fate of the sparrows of Westeros is going to be anything like the fate of the Pilgrimage of Grace, then the future is grim. The Pilgrimage of Grace disbanded after Henry’s treaty, and the naïve pilgrims were then hunted down by the military. The main leader of the Pilgrimage of Grace, Robert Aske, was executed along with other leaders of the movement.
If you have read or watched Game of Thrones, then you know that heredity is a key point in the events of Westeros. The legitimacy of kings and nobles was also scrutinized during and after the War of the Roses. One of the Yorkists, Edward IV, crowned himself King of England after dealing major blows to his Lancastrian foes. Though nothing was ever proven, the king’s opposition claimed that Edward was fathered by an archer named Blaybourne. The rumor persisted even after the Tudor Dynasty emerged victorious. Henry VIII encountered the rumor again, after the War of the Roses was concluded. The Blaybourn theory even makes an appearance in C. J. Sansom’s novel, Sovereign, which is set during King Henry VIII’s rule. Just as the noble’s of Westeros questioned the legitimacy of their royalty, the parentage of figures from the War of the Roses was questioned, as well.
If you have not read or seen Game of Thrones, then I will try not to spoil the plot line. What I will say is that Game of Thrones has a very long and frustrating pattern of betrayal. The people of Westeros can only trust themselves. The unwary can find themselves beheaded, backstabbed, cursed, flayed, poisoned, and even murdered by musicians performing at joyous events. The Wars of the Roses also sported its fair share of betrayals. One example is the battle of Nothampton in 1460. During the middle of the battle, one of King Henry VI’s commanders, Lord Grey, defected to the Yorkists. With Grey, an entire wing of Henry’s army joined the Yorkists, resulting in the capture of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI. Another, more famous, example is Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick, who was also known as “the Kingmaker.” Warwick helped the Yorkist, Edward IV, gain the crown. He later betrayed Edward, helping Henry VI of the Lancastrians regain the crown. The Yorkists, however regained control. Edward IV’s forces would eventually kill Warwick in battle. The greatest betrayal of the Wars of the Roses was likely done by Edward’s own Brother, Richard III, but that will be in the next segment.
5. The Murder of Children
The world that Game of Thrones inhabits is a very violent and gruesome world. Without naming names, there are many murders, and attempted murders, of children in George R. R. Martin’s books and film adaptation. Children were not immune from the brutality of the Wars of the Roses, either. Richard Plantagenet, the Duke of York, faced a devastating defeat in the battle of Wakefield in 1460. York died during the battle, but his seventeen-year-old son, Edmund, was executed in the aftermath of the battle. Twenty-three years later, the Yorkists had regrouped and suppressed their Lancastrian enemies. Edward IV, the victorious king of the time, died in 1483, leaving his teenage sons to be looked after by his brother, Richard III. Unfortunately for Edward’s sons, the rooms they were given by their uncle were cells in the Tower of London. Both of Edward’s sons died the same year as their father, leaving Richard III as the King of England. Though it was never proven, it is likely that Richard had his nephews murdered. Even if he did not issue the order, he could not have expected anything good to come out of having his nephews locked away in the Tower of London.
6. Outside Threats
The Game of Thrones’ War of the Five Kings is constantly endangered by outside threats. Monsters and Wildlings prowls beyond the Wall, only guarded by the Night’s Watch. Daenerys, across the sea from Westeros, finds opportunities to recruit hordes of horsemen, slavers, and even dragons to her cause of one day retaking her Targaryen heritage. If you are just waiting for Daenerys to finally make her move on the continent, then look with hope on the events of the Wars of the Roses. If Daenerys needs a role model, Henry VII is a fine choice. While Edward IV killed the Lancastrians and Richard III killed his own nephews, Richard VII was across the British Straits in Brittany. When Richard III thought he had won the Wars of the Roses, Henry VII returned to the homeland and challenged Richard III. The result was the battle of Bosworth, which Richard III dead and Henry VII as the first king of the Tudor Dynasty.
If Daenerys follows the example of the Tudors, her children, too, can stand tall and proud for a portrait of their own, like Henry VIII.