George R.R. Martin is a big history enthusiast, and no one writes fantasy that good without diving deep into actual historical territory. Martin has leaned heavily into it while writing his own timeless series of novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. With Game of Thrones' new HBO hit series, there is no surprise that it is no different.
Martin always used his influences in ways that aren't so straightforward, either. There are obvious parallels to be made, but, more than names of conflicts and character correlations, it's helpful to grasp how these historical stories influenced the novels and shows we know and love so much.
Martin admitted during a House of the Dragon panel at San Diego Comic-Con 2022. "Game of Thrones is, as many people have observed, based very loosely on the War of the Roses. House of the Dragon is based on an earlier period in history called the Anarchy." Both episodes are significant for English history in their medieval period, but let's take a look at how they shaped the World of Ice and Fire.
The War of the Roses
The conflicts between York and Lancaster, two of England's major noble houses, are the real life inspirations for House Stark and House Lannister, as well as the conflict between them in Westeros, as Martin himself made a point of mentioning.
The houses of York and Lancaster fought for the English throne in real life, while in Westeros, the Starks wanted mostly to make the North independent, while the Lannisters wanted to preserve the Iron Throne. King Edward III, of the House of Plantagenet, was the reigning ruler from 1327 to 1377.
The conflict lasted for 30 years, from 1455 to 1485, and occurred in the aftermath of the Hundred Years War, the English-French conflict that resulted in significant social and financial difficulties for the English side, despite Henry V's acquisition of continental Europe by the English nobles. Henry VI ended up losing these lands, and was severely questioned by the English nobles, launching the wars that lasted until Edward IV and Richard III's reigns.
Henry Tudor, a distant relative of the Lancaster dynasty, defeated Richard III in the Battle of Bosworth Field. He married Elizabeth of York, forming the Tudor Dynasty in England.
Martin based the decisions of Game of Thrones on single historical episodes, not necessarily related to the War of the Roses. The most notorious one, the Red Wedding, was based on the Glencoe massacre in Scotland in 1692. House Frey murdered most of House Stark during the wedding of Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) and one of the countless daughters of Lord Walder Frey (David Bradley).
The Anarchy occurred centuries before the War of the Roses, just as House of the Dragon was set centuries before Game of Thrones. And, despite the name, this conflict had nothing to do with modern anarchism.
The Dance of the Dragons, the first of a series of civil wars fought by House Targaryen, was created by Martin; she was granted the heirship by her father, but her English lords denied her. Rhaenyra's fate is unlikely to last long, according to both Milly Alcock and Emma D'Arcy.
After Matilda's refusal, a lengthy conflict ensued, in which the self-proclaimed rulers became more concerned about the conflict rather than the ruling, hence the term "Anarchy," which means the absence of actual government. The outcome also resembles that of the Dance of the Dragons, as both parties reach an end of mutual exhaustion and reach an agreement that eventually takes both to the throne.
The Anarchy was the perfect model for the creation of a brave female character that had legitimacy in her claim to the Iron Throne, but was ahead of her time in almost every aspect of her being. Although we may not know much about Matilda, her claim to the throne was denied because she was a woman, exactly as Rhaenyra.
"I don't think Westeros is particularly anti-woman or misogynistic than real life," Martin said in the SDCC panel for House of the Dragon, and the Anarchy was only one of many other examples throughout history. It's always worthwhile to know our past, because it can inspire far more than just fantastic fantasy television programs.