The prequel series House of the Dragon, based on Martins book Fire & Blood, draws its inspiration from medieval and early modern history. This series of civil conflicts in late medieval England, known as the Anarchy, is no surprise.
At a recent SDCC panel on House of the Dragon, George R.R. Martin explained that I spewed from actual history, and briefly describing the series of events that led to the Anarchy. Ryan Condal told Den of Geeks David Crow that the writers read a lot of material about the Anarchy all the way up, because I knew that Georges influence was there.
If you prefer dragons to retellings of British history, look at Naomi Noviks Temeraire series of novels. Martin does not directly parallel any of his characters with specific characters from British or European history, but rather he takes a character here, an incident there, and a confrontation over here in new and unexpected ways.
We kind of take the approach of trying to immerse ourselves in the general history of the time period so that you may utilize them and exploit them in a way that makes this world seem more like a textural object and realized. Or, as Martin himself said during SDCC, I take elements from history and turn it up to eleven or to 111.
The infamous Red Wedding in Game of Thrones was inspired by two separate Scottish events: the Glencoe Massacre of 1692, in which members of the McDonald clan slaughtered their guests the Campbells, and the Black Dinner of 1440, in which the young Earl of Douglas and his brother were invited to dinner at Edinburgh Castle by the 10-year-old King James II and were murdered. Neither of these events has any relation to the Wars of the Roses.
Martin's fiction is woven from all sorts of different historical threads, rewritten in new ways, and populated with new characters, as well as some dragons added on top of that. But his method remains much the same in writing Fire & Blood, the book of Targaryen history that is the basis for HBO's new Game of Thronesprequel series, House of the Dragon. Bits and pieces of real history have been used as inspiration and sometimes as a framework for new stories.
Here are a few historical facts that you may want to know about.
The Anarchy: Stephen and Matilda's Reigns, aka. the Reigns of Stephen and Matilda
Between 1135 and 1154, Henry I of England's heirs, Stephen and Matilda, fought the Anarchy.
King Henry I (reigned 1100 1135) had 27 children, give or take, but only two legitimate heirs; one son died in infancy, and the others were all born out of wedlock by various different mothers. Only his daughter Matilda, sometimes known as Maude, or her younger brother William could inherit the throne from him, so William was Henry's heir, while Matilda married the Holy Roman Emperor and became Empress.
In 1120, William drowned trying to save his half-sisters in the White Ship disaster, when their boat was towed off the coast. Five years later Matildas husband died and she returned to Normandy (held by the Norman English kings at the time) and in 1127 Henry I forced his lords and barons to swear an oath of loyalty to Matilda as his heir. Although you might think this would be unnecessary given that she was his only surviving
Matilda and Geoffrey were married since 1128 in northern France, and before Matilda could go to London to claim the throne, her cousin Henrys nephew Stephen of Blois came first, claiming the throne for himself as the next male heir. Although he had sworn the oath to Matilda in 1127, he argued that Henry probably changed his mind about his death.
Matilda (who remained the Empress of England and Normandy for a few months in 1141) continued to fight until she returned to Normandy in 1148, when her eldest son Henry took charge.
The ongoing conflict appears to have been exacerbated by the fact Matilda was unpopular and apparently unlikeable, and Stephen was incapable of controlling those around him, his own younger brother leaving him for Matilda for a few months before returning. It's ironic, since they were actually co-rulers in a bitter civil war.
Henry II, the son of Matildas, fought for the victory and got Stephen to name him his heir, killing Stephen the following year. Stephen's surviving son died five years later, allowing Henry to rule England and Normandy as Henry II. Henry II later went to war with his own wife and sons and accidentally murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury in the cathedral.
Whats Wrong with Queens Anyway?
Why were English barons so reluctant to accept a Queen rather than a King? There were a few reasons. One was that there simply was no tradition of governing queens in Anglo-Saxon England. Cleopatra was Egyptian, and Boudicca was British Celtic. Many medieval queens did the same later, but none of them ruled as the monarch until Henry VIII's daughter Mary I, centuries later in 1553.
Matilda was in the early stages of pregnancy with her third son William, having almost died of her second son, Geoffrey, 18 months earlier, and she was able to beat her to it and take the throne. Contraception was unreliable and pregnancy and childbirth were dangerous, making a woman of childbearing years an unlucky prospect for a throne.
There was also a fair share of simple sexism involved. Thats why Elizabeth I never married and why Queen Victoria's husband Prince Albert was denied the title of King. Geoffrey of Anjou wasnt particularly popular; though the barons probably should have avoided such a thing.
The people themselves are the main influence on matters such as whether or not Stephen had decided to be King, would the barons have accepted Matilda? Quite possibly. There is no specific law against a woman claiming the throne in House of the Dragon, on the other hand, several councils have decreed that women cannot inherit the throne. Daemon Targaryen assumes that the throne is his rightful seat.
How Does This Relate to House of the Dragon?
The main characters in House of the Dragon do not resemble any of these historical people, although there are clear similarities between several of them. Martin reuses a lot of familiar names for his characters, just like in real medieval history. One of the reasons Matilda is often known as Maude is because there were so many other Matildas around, including her own mother and her rival Queen, Stephens' wife).
House of the Dragon opens during Viserys I Targaryen, who has been chosen by the lords of Westeros to succeed the previous king, Jaehaerys I Targaryen. As the show progresses, subsequent episodes jump forward in time, and the question of who will succeed Viserys becomes more and more complicated.
House of the Dragon's two main characters are inspired by the real Empress Matilda. Rhaenys Velaryon, the Queen Who Never Was, was given over for succession years before the series began when her grandfather Jaehaerys named her younger son, his deceased younger son, his grandson. That decision established a preference for male relatives over female even when a woman was closer to a direct line of succession.
Rhaenyra Targaryen, Viserys' daughter, is referred to as his heir at the conclusion of her first episode, which has clear similarities to Henry I's swearing oaths to his daughter Matilda. We then see Matt Smiths Daemon Targaryen, Viserys next male heir at this time in time, looking cross, establishing a strong connection with Stephen.
As new characters are introduced, the story mutates from history in its own way, and of course the Targaryens have dragons, something Englands Norman rulers were sorely lacking! However, divorce was extremely difficult, and by the time he had the barons swear their oaths to Matilda, he knew she was his only surviving legal child.
Viserys remarries after his lords swear their oath to Rhaenyra. He has a legitimate male son, Aegon, with his new wife, Alicent Hightower. This changes the situation completely, as by the rules of male primogeniture, his oldest legitimate son would be expected to be his heir. Thats why Henry VIII's youngest child, Edward, became king before either of his sisters, Mary and Elizabeth.
Is It Possible To Make Temptation Based On Medieval History?
The short answer to that question is, naturally, no. The series is a fantasy series that does not follow historical happenings.
The history of these early English civil conflicts will continue to impact the tone of the series. The result of Stephen and Matildas' bitter conflict included years of turmoil and religious conflict (Stephen received support from one of the two competing Popes for his accession to the throne in 1135), and a legacy of inter-family rivalry that would not end with Henry II and the next generation.
Personality plays a major role in medieval history, as it did in medieval times. Matilda was never crowned Queen of England because she enraged the people of London that her coronation failed, while Stephen was a good military leader, but not always so adept at forming policy.
Matilda once escaped from captivity in Oxford Tower and ran across the frozen River Thames. Stephen was also captured at some point, after fighting on with a broken battle ax, and was eventually recovered in a prisoner exchange organized by his wife. Were curious to learn how he uses the rich material from medieval history for his stories and how he changes it.
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House of the Dragon premieres Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO.