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What “Game of Thrones” owes to the Wars of the Roses

In June 2019, a monument to the golden age of television came to an end. Whether we consider his botched ending or not, Game Of Thrones has become, in a few seasons, an unprecedented phenomenon that has now left many fans orphans, eager for new medieval-politico-perverse stories. Since then, chains and loyal fans have been looking at all costs for the “new Game Of Thrones» at each start of the series; but it could well be that the latter was released a few years ago…

In 2013, the BBC decided to produce a ten-hour mini-series, extremely faithful to British history and its famous Wars of the Roses. Four years later, a serial sequel was released. Good news: The White Queen and The White Princess arrived this Thursday, July 2 in France, on OCS. But what relationship with Game Of Thrones? In addition to the few actors they share (Michelle Fairley, Essie Davis …), the three series may well unleash the same passions, if only because George RR Martin was heavily inspired by the Wars of the Roses for his saga.

So certainly, the England of the XVe century has never seen zombified giants or dragons decimating entire cities – so far as we know – but when it comes to political conflicts, family grudges and stabbings in the back, Westeros has many what to worry about.

Stark and Lannister, York and Lancaster

We no longer count the family names thrown here and there in Game Of Thrones, there are so many different clans and alliances, which come and go over the seasons. But the series has always focused primarily on the rivalry between two houses: the Starks and the Lannisters. This animosity draws directly from the Wars of the Roses which, as its name suggests, featured two parties: the Lancasters (represented by a red rose) and the Yorks (a white rose). This hatred therefore inspired George RR Martin with everything that was found in the first seasons of Game Of Thronesfrom the death of the sovereign to the War of the Five Kings.

As with the death of Robert Baratheon in season 1 of the series, it is the disappearance of King Edward III that launches the festivities: his eldest son having already died, his grandson accedes to the throne (Richard II, 10 years old), passing in front of the three other sons of Edward III. Within this neglected progeny, two clans are formed: the Lancasters, descended from the third son of Edward III, and the Yorks, from the fourth. In short, here we are with a situation similar to seasons 2, 3 and 4 of Game Of Thrones: the legitimate king dies, leaving the throne to a child who ultimately has little reason to sit on it (Joffrey and Richard II). In Game Of Thrones, Joffrey’s access to the head of Westeros also marks the access to power of the Lannisters, since he is actually the son of Cersei and Jaime Lannister. In England, when the young Richard II is pushed out of the throne, it is by the fact of his cousin Henry IV, a… Lancaster. Can then begin, in Game Of Thrones like in real life, two very similar conflicts: Lancaster against York, Lannister against Stark. One family on the throne, the other not.

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However, if George RR Martin was inspired by this little family mess to build the bases of The War of the Five Kings, that of the Two Roses extends over generations. Either plethora of intrigues and protagonists who have in turn been infused in the saga and its television adaptation.

Marguerite d’Anjou and Richard York, Cersei and Ned

Born in the northeast of France (we hesitate between Pont-à-Mousson or Nancy), Margaret of Anjou managed to find herself on the throne of England from 1445 to 1461 and then from 1470 to 1471, as the wife of King Henry VI. The latter was looking for a solid union to strengthen his reign, which had been somewhat shaky since the death of his father (Henry V) and his coming to power. They found Marguerite, renowned for her beauty… and her cruelty.

Marguerite d’Anjou hated her husband’s adviser, Richard York, protector of the kingdom who tried as much as possible to reform England in the 15th century.e century. Does it remind you of anything? In Game Of ThronesCersei Lannister marries Robert Baratheon – a union that brings financial support to the crown – with a woman who does not hide her animosity towards Ned Stark, the Hand of the King.

While Cersei arranges to have Ned arrested and beheaded, Marguerite d’Anjou simply banishes Richard York to Ireland. It is precisely there that the York resistance is formed: an army is created, in order to dethrone the Lancasters – a little, finally, like when the North rebels under the impulse of the son of Ned Stark, Robb, to repair the odd caused by Cersei. In the Wars of the Roses, the Yorks did not fully succeed in their uprising, but ensured that Richard York was reinstated as protector of the kingdom. He can, when Henry VI falls ill, pass many reforms. And since the Lannisters, sorry, the Lancasters, are ruthless, Marguerite d’Anjou forces Henry VI to dismiss Richard York once again. The latter is finally killed by Marguerite’s faithful, and his head lands… on a spear. Ned and Richard, same fate.

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The beginnings of the Purple Wedding

Don’t worry, no pregnant woman has had her stomach cut here. But the Purple Wedding also has its roots in British history. Richard York had contrived to persuade Henry VI to appoint one of his sons heir to the throne: that fell to Edward IV, who would henceforth be our Robb Stark (although, in Game Of Thronesthe elder Stark is never more than a self-proclaimed king).

Just like in Game Of Thrones, Edward IV must imperatively marry. Remember: Robb Stark, in order to cross Westeros quietly, promises to marry one of Lord Frey’s daughters. He does nothing about it, since he falls madly in love with a nurse, whom he marries and with whom he is expecting a child. Results? Walder Frey invites them to his castle, claiming another marriage, disembowels Robb Stark’s wife and beheads the “King in the North”. Long live the bride and groom.

In reality, it is to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, that the task of finding a wife fell to the king. He arranged for the latter to marry Louis XI’s daughter, Anne, or his sister-in-law, Bonne de Savoie. A fateful alliance for the crown, and the country. Edward, however, would have preferred a lower-ranking widow, Eleanor Talbot, thwarting the Earl of Warwick’s plans.

And as with Robb Stark, the rest is not glorious for Edward IV: his wife dies and Richard Neville, wounded in his ego, leaves the court to join the Lancasters. He helps Henri IV to recover the throne in 1470, thanks to the support of Louis XI.

A recalcitrant uncle

How did the War of the Five Kings start in Game Of Thrones? With the death of Robert Baratheon, when Stannis, informed by Ned Stark, asserts that the Joffrey heir has no legitimacy to the throne (he is not Robert’s son, but the fruit of an incestuous relationship between Cersei and Jaime Lannister). Again, this story, although somewhat modified, has its foundations in the Wars of the Roses. When Edward IV dies, ascends the throne his eldest (Edward V, of course), from a second marriage with Elizabeth Woodville. Only here: we are in the XVe century, and marriage is for life. Thus, the brother of Edward IV, Richard III, accuses his nephew of having no legitimacy to the throne, since he is not from the “real” – understand, the first – marriage of his brother.

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But if in Game Of Thrones, Stannis Baratheon fails to dethrone the infamous Joffrey, Richard III manages to send Edward V and his younger brother to prison – where they are probably dead – and accedes to the throne. But not for long.

A stranger from elsewhere

In Game Of Thrones, a threat hangs over Port-Réal. She comes from across the sea, has three dragons, and is called Daenerys. Medieval history has Henri Tudor, who came from the other side of the Channel. Descendant of the first Duke of Lancaster, he lived a childhood in exile in Brittany, before returning to England to recover the throne which was rightfully his, in 1485. A bit like Daenerys, therefore, who left Westeros with her brother when the Targaryen are defeated, and have since done everything to return to the Iron Throne.

However, as we know, the rest of Daenerys’ adventures take a slightly totalitarian turn, before she is assassinated by Jon Snow. Henry Tudor becomes Henry VII and marries the daughter of Edward IV, achieving the impossible: reuniting the Lancasters and the Yorks despite a generations-old grudge. It’s the beginning of Tudor reignfrom 1483 until 1603. Fortunately, on this subject too, there is a series…

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