‘Game of Thrones’: Meet the ‘Real Life’ Lannisters and Starks

Despite the fact that Game of Thrones occurs in a world that includes dragons and magic, author George R. R. Martin has gone on record pointing out that historical events, not necessarily fantasy, provided the backbone of his book series. The War of the Roses in particular, has been pointed to as the major influence for the War of the Five Kings in Game of Thrones. Fought between 1455 and 1487, the War of the Roses revolved around the houses of Lancaster and York — north and south — and their battle over claim to the English throne.

Here are some of the real life inspirations for members of the Lannister and Stark families.

1. Richard II and Edward of Lancaster (King Joffrey)

King Joffrey
King Joffrey in Game of Thrones | HBO

Like most of the Game of Thrones characters on this list, King Joffrey can’t be directly linked to any one historical figure, but the two that he most closely resembles are Richard II and Edward of Lancaster.

Richard II’s similarities to Joffrey are more rooted in the superficial elements of his reign. Richard II became King of England in 1377 at the age of 10, but unlike Joffrey, he ruled for over 20 years before he was overthrown and killed in 1399 after a period sometimes referred to as the “tyranny” of Richard II. It was a time that saw numerous arrests and executions. Additionally, there are also some historians who believe mental health played a role in the downfall of Richard II.

But when it comes to Edward of Lancaster, the connections to Joffrey are clear. Not only was Edward, the only son of Henry VI — at the heart of a struggle over claim to the English throne — but there were also rumors that Edward was not a legitimate heir. Edward also had a cruel streak that echoes many of the qualities of his Game of Thrones counterpart. And in 1467, a French ambassador wrote, “already talks of nothing but cutting off heads or making war, as if he had everything in his hands or was the god of battle or the peaceful occupant of that throne.”

2. Richard, Duke of York (Ned Stark)

Ned Stark in Game of Thrones
Ned Stark in Game of Thrones | HBO

Ned Stark and Richard, Duke of York are probably the most similar pairing on this list. Like Ned, Richard was a war-tested northern lord who attempted to stop the political corruption overtaking the throne. He also clashed with Queen Margaret, who at the time, was asserting power over the ill king and claimed his son was illegitimate. After his army was defeated while attempting to overthrow the king, Richard was executed with his head hoisted upon a pike with a paper crown, leading to the War of the Roses.

3. Elizabeth Woodville, Margaret of Anjou, and Anne Boleyn (Cersei Lannister)

Cersei Lannister - Game of Thrones Season 6 Finale
Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones | HBO

An amalgamation of several well-known historical figures on both sides of the War of the Roses, Cersei Lannister most closely resembles three figures in particular. Like Cersei, Elizabeth Woodville attempted to exert power through her son Edward V when her husband Edward IV died. She was known for her beauty and effective politics.

Then there is Margaret of Anjou — the same Margaret who had Richard, Duke of York executed — whose political history closely mirrors the beginning of Game of Thrones in relation to Ned Stark’s death. Because her husband, King Henry VI had mental problems related to illness, Margaret was essentially the ruler behind-the-scenes.

Finally, there is Anne Boleyn who in all actuality has little connection to Cersei aside from the fact that she was accused and later executed for incest and treason by Henry VIII. However, over the previous centuries those charges have been the subject of intense skepticism.

4. Edward IV (Robb Stark)

Red Wedding - Game of Thrones, Season 3
Robb Stark in Game of Thrones | HBO

When Robb Stark breaks off his arrangement with House Frey to marry Talisa in Game of Thrones, it very closely resembles Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth Woodville in 1464. Edward IV was set to marry Anne of France, the daughter of King Louis XI, but he instead married the widowed Elizabeth in secret, ignoring the political reasonings for the planned marriage in the first place.

While Edward IV’s marriage to Elizabeth, who was not a member of English nobility, certainly ruffled some political feathers, he didn’t ultimately pay a price for it like Robb. He ruled until 1483 when Edward V took over under Elizabeth’s tutelage.

5. Richard III (Tyrion Lannister)

Tyrion Lannister - Season 3 Game of Thrones
Tyrion Lannister in Game of Thrones | HBO

Tyrion Lannister is another character whose historical roots may extend to several figures, but the most appropriate seems to be Richard III. While the actual historical figure of Richard III is markedly different than Tyrion, it is the propagandized vision of him made famous by Shakespeare’s Richard III — in which he is depicted as a deformed, intelligent, and cunning schemer — that seems to form the base for Tyrion’s character, at least at the start of the series. Furthermore, Richard III’s musing within the play about what it means to be a bastard closely resembles the central conflicts at work within Tyrion.

The real Richard III is another story entirely, however. While Tyrion had two victories at Battle of the Green Fork and the Battle of the Blackwater, Richard III was highly skilled on the battlefield, winning many battles and nearly killing Henry Tudor at the Battle of Bosworth Field. He also managed to seize the throne from his nephews and eliminate his enemies before ultimately being betrayed by the Stanleys and Percys. All in all, the real Richard III’s historical imprint doesn’t perfectly align with Tyrion, but the overall reputation of the figure certainly does.

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