I have heard that George RR Martin roughly used the events of the War of the Roses in at least the first book, A Game of Thrones. Is this true, and if so what events match up? Is it only the first book or do all the Westeros novels so far follow the historical events.

Please remember to use spoiler tags for facts about the books.

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The author (George R. R. Martin) has stated on several occasions that the War of the Roses was indeed an inspiration. House York roughly corresponds to House Stark while House Lancaster roughly corresponds to House Lannister. But apart from the names and a few other similarities (depending on how you see things), the histories don't match up all that well.

GRRM took the War of the Roses as inspiration but there is not an exact one-to-one match between history and fiction. The story in the chronicles of "A Song of Ice and Fire" gives a longer history of a larger place roughly analogous to here-and-now England.

Martin draws some inspiration from historical persons for his characters and events but there is not an exact progression. One can see that the "First Men" are roughly equivalent to the historical Celts. The Andals with their seven kingdoms are roughly equivalent to the historical Saxons and the seven kingdoms they established in England (Kent, Mercia etc...), and the Targaryens are roughly the Normans. This is where the historical trends end their one-to-one mappings.

The direct historical parallels that can be clearly seen are:

GRRM also drew inspiration from other events in history. For instance he has stated the that the "Black Dinner", which happened before the War of the Roses in Scotland, was his inspiration for the "Red Wedding".

Casting Tywin Lannister as Richard Neville and Cersei Lannister as Margret of Anjou places father and daughter from fiction in two different families from history, indeed on two different sides of the conflict.

The book series, in short, captures the spirit of history but is not a one-to-one allegory.

  • Another interesting note is that Valyrian steel swords seem to have been inspired by ancient Damascus Steel swords. – Aegon May 23 '16 at 9:50
  • Daenerys has a few similarities with King Abdul-Rahman I of Andalusia who was a child when his dynasty's Empire (Umayyad Empire) was destroyed in a rebellion and all members of Imperial house were slaughtered. Except Two kids, the brothers Prince Abdul Rahman and Prince Yahya. Later, Yahya got killed and Abdul Rahman kept running to West (Dany keeps going to East tho) until he came to Andalusia (Spain) and reestablished his Dynasty there like Dany conquers Meereen. He never was able to go back to East despite that being his deepest desire. Hope Dany does not meet the same fate. – Aegon May 23 '16 at 9:52
  • And of course, The Dothraki are obviously inspired from Great Mongol hordes i.e. The Golden Horde, The Illkhanate and Chagatai Khanate. – Aegon May 23 '16 at 9:54

As was mentioned above, there are some similarities between the two. Lannister and Stark sounds similar to Lancaster and York. The feud between the Nevilles and Percys mirrors the feud between the Starks and Lannisters. The overthrow of Aerys II Targaryen by Robert Baratheon mirrors the overthrow of Richard II by Henry IV. Cersei Lannister is similar to Queen Margaret of Anjou.

There are other similarities that have yet to be mentioned. The brothers Henry V, John, Duke of Bedford, and Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester are respectively similar to the three Baratheon brothers Robert, Stannis and Renly. Edward of Westminster, son of Henry VI and Queen Margaret, had his paternity questioned and had a reputation for relishing beheadings, which was perhaps the inspiration for Joffrey. The taint of madness in the royal families of France and England at the time is also seen in ASOIAF with the Targaryens.

So a lot of similarities and inspiration. But not a perfect match.

  • Don't you mean Richard III? – nomen Apr 15 '14 at 4:54

I would say AGOT has more similarities with the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which Martin has stated he is fan of.

  • Story occurs at the end of a great dynasty (Targaryan / Han)
  • Empire fractures into various kingdoms / factions (in ROTK it's initially far more than 3)
  • Victories more often achieved via treachery, politicking and clever tactics than brute force

Battle of the Blackwater is VERY Battle of Red Cliffs-ish... a pivotal naval battle decided by fire and chains

  • Characters like Jaime remind me of Lü Bu... a fierce warrior-general who's fatal flaw is arrogance and he murders his master
  • The Wall of course can be either Hadrian's Wall or the Great Wall of China. The size and significance of it is more similar to the Great Wall, imo.

Lastly.. Martin admits to being a big fan of the ROTK video game and its sort-of predecessor Bandit Kings of Ancient China.

The wall is almost certainly based on Hadrian's wall. Given geographical location. The fact it's there to keep out wildlings (the Scotish) and the fact that it is the Starks (york) that are charged with it's maintainance.

King's landing would be London sort of (down South, has a river and lot's of squalor.)

The Iron islands are i believe Ireland. Rebelling when the English are busy but ultimately lacking the power to win their freedom

Also i believe the Dothraki are the Golden Horde of Mongolia

I am into the 3rd book in the series and the similarities to the Wars of the Roses are even more apparent - Robb Stark is definitely Edward IV and the GOT version of Elizabeth Woodville appears in the 3rd book. Theon Greyjoy is George Duke of Clarence, Ned Stark is definitely Richard, Duke of York, father to Edward IV and Richard III. But there are other historical similarities other than the Wars of the Roses. Viserys Targaryn is definitely Bonnie Prince Charlie!

Yes George R. R. Martin has confirmed that the War of the Roses was an historical influence on himself when writing the books.

Is it true that you based A Song of Ice and Fire off the War of Roses?
No, not really. Certainly I wanted to give my series a strong grounding in real medieval history, rather than in other fantasy novels, but I drew on a whole number of sources and periods. The Wars of the Roses, yes, but also the Hundred Years War, the Crusades, the Norman Conquest... you name it.
So Spake Martin, INFLUENCE OF THE WARS OF THE ROSES

However, he has also stated it's not a direct copy and he hasn't copied events on purpose so he can keep his work unpredictable.

I wanted to avoid that and stay a little closer to history. In that, with that in mind, I read a lot of history, I read a lot of historical fiction, the Wars of the Roses which some people have compared this series too was certainly an inspiration. That being said, there were other inspirations too, the Crusades were an inspiration, the Albigensian Crusade, the Hundred Years War, some of the Scottish border wars, some of the incidents from Scottish history, French history, all of this was grist for the mill.
I don't like to just take a character from history, whoever it is, and just change his name, kind of file off the serial number and present him as my own character. What I much prefer to do is perhaps take 2 or 3 characters from history and mix them up together or do juxtapositions that are original; I mean I don't want…I love historical fiction as a reader, but one of the problems with historical fiction, if you read a lot of history, you're always going to know how it's comes out. If you read a novel that’s actually set during the Wars of the Roses, you know what’s going to happen to those two little boys in the tower; you know who's going to win the Battle of Bosworth Fields. You know the ultimate fate of the mad King Henry VI. So I don't like that, I don’t want someone to just look at my book and know what happens because they're recognizing historical analogues, I like the stories to be unpredictable.
So Spake Martin, SECOND LIFE APPEARANCE

It's been mentioned that House York and House Lancaster from our world are match ups to House Stark and House Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire. From the quote above I doubt they are direct copies and I haven't been able to find a quote confirming or denying these claims yet. The closest I've come is the following but all that does is confirm he knows of the comparisons.

We spent a lot of time talking about the Wars of the Roses and we talked about the Yorkist, Lancastrian and Tudor ancestry and claims, and we compared our sources.
So Spake Martin, A DINNER WITH GRRM (MADRID, SPAIN)

The author has indeed drawn inspiration from The War of the Roses.

He mentioned that in correspondence with a fan. From Citadel SSM Entry "Historical Influences":

Most of my borrowings, however, come from English and French medieval history, simply because I am more familiar with those than with the heroes, legends, and traditions of other countries. The Wars of the Roses, the Crusades, and the Hundred Years War have been my biggest influences... oh, and some Scottish history as well, such as the infamous Black Dinner that inspired my own Red Wedding. This isn't a matter of choice so much as it is one of necessity. I don't have any other language besides English, and there's a paucity of good popular English language histories about medieval Spain, medieval Germany, and the like. I was in Germany last fall, and looked everywhere for good reference books about the medieval Holy Roman Empire, which would be treasure trove, I suspect. There are a ton of them that looked likely... but all in German.

He has however also noted, in the same post, that he doesn't do straight one-for-one transposition of fact into fiction so one can't establish that Starks are inspred from House of York etc.

Q: [Edited for clarity after this point. Ser Loras's (Ser Loras is the nickname of the fan) question concerning whether GRRM borrows from history, particularly Spanish history, received the reply below.]

George: Well, yes and no. I have drawn on a great many influences for these books. I do use incidents from history, yes, although I try not to do a straight one-for-one transposition of fact into fiction. I prefer to mix and match, and to add in some imaginative elements as well.

He emphasized that point once again in Citadel SSM 950:

The Wars of the Roses have always fascinated me, and certainly did influence A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE, but there's really no one-for-one character-for-character correspondence. I like to use history to flavor my fantasy, to add texture and versimillitude, but simply rewriting history with the names changed has no appeal for me. I prefer to reimagine it all, and take it in new and unexpected directions.

So in conclusion:

  1. Yes War of the Roses is an inspiration for ASOIAF.
  2. There is no history-to-fiction transposition.
  3. There is no one-for-one character-for-character correspondence.
  4. The books don't have to follow a historical pattern at all.

While there are several posts including the answers here which are based on observed similarities between Real people and ASOIAF characters however, as Author says, that's not something he tends to do so that makes it guesswork.

For further details, see Historical Influences on GRRM.

You can certainly see strong parallels between Robb Stark's marriage to Jeyne and that of Edward V to Elizabeth Woodville. Both Kings were expected to honour an arranged marriage that would cement their power, however they both impetuously married a lower-born wife of a house that was allied to their enemy, (Elizabeth Woodville's first husband fought for the Lancasters, and of course, Jeyne's family were Lannister bannermen). Like Robb Stark, Edward's marriage and his subsequent favouring of his wife's family was seen as a direct snub by his most powerful supporter, Richard Neville, who switched sides and helped to depose Edward.

According to GRRM so is the main inspiration for Robb Stark is Charles XII of Sweden. King at the age of fifteen. Won every battle when he personally led the troops (injured at Poltava), but lost the war. Died young and was loved by his soldiers.

  • 2
    Where has GRRM said this? – Möoz May 18 '16 at 21:40

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