The Real People That Inspired the Game of Thrones Characters

These historical figures were likely George R.R. Martin's muses.

The wait is finally, nearly, almost, just about over for Game of Thrones, Season Seven. How many times can we deconstruct the trailers and speculate about what minor costume details might tell us about a battle scene? To help us through those last days, let’s play a different game, one that takes a look at the fantasy world of the Seven Kingdoms and the real-life people from history that most likely inspired George R. R. Martin and his addictive saga.


If someone put a Valyrian-steel blade to my throat and told me to pick a real-life monarch who inspired Martin, it would have to be William the Conqueror. There’s a little of the 11th-century conqueror in a lot of different GOT characters. William took England’s throne from King Harold—brutally—after the invasion of 1066. Warmongering bastards are a go-to staple for GRRM, and in real life it was William, the illegitimate son of Duke Robert of Normandy, who set the pace for “I’ll show Daddy!” in the medieval world. In his novels, Martin writes a lot about conquerors who “cross the sea” to take a throne, and William did just that. Others tried it after him, such as Henry the VII, returning from foreign exile with an army in 1485 (it worked!) and Bonne Prince Charlie, who left France to take the English throne in 1745 (it didn’t). Awww, and he had such good-looking Highlanders in tow, too...


Coming second in the similarity stakes is the 5th century's ultimate warlord, who roared out of the Mongolian grasslands on horseback to conquer the known world. Sound like a certain Khal Drago we all love and miss? Attila was even betrothed to a very much non-Hun royal, Honoria. She married Attila to get away from a brother she hated, Roman Emperor Valentinian III. More echoes of the Dothraki soap opera? Atilla died on his wedding day to a gorgeous young woman, poisoned, some say.



There are echoes of Anne Boleyn and her brother George in those lovable rascals Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Anne was famously the second wife of Henry VIII, but when the marriage soured, the beautiful queen grew closer than ever to her brilliant, handsome, loyal brother. One of the charges against Anne Boleyn in her 1536 treason trial was incest with George, a charge the siblings denied—and one most historians doubt was true. Henry just wanted to pile on the charges to get rid of her and put Wife Number Three besides him. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die, remember?


It comes up more in the books than in the TV series, but the Targaryen royals practiced incest in their ancient dynasty to keep the bloodline pure. That’s what the ancient Egyptians did too. Cleopatra was the daughter of Ptolemy XII and Cleopatra V, who was either his sister or his niece. When Ptolemy died, Cleopatra became co-ruler along with her younger brother and future husband, Ptolemy XIII, but she wasn’t having it, and her sibling died, drowned in the Nile after brother and sister went to war with each other. Cleopatra went on to rule gloriously—and violently. We really hope Daenerys doesn’t end up cuddling with an asp.


Just because you’re a ruthless, war-happy, widely-feared king, doesn’t mean your kids will wear a crown well. Just ask Robert Baratheon. His “sons” didn’t turn out too kingly. Like King Robert, King William II, the son of William the Conqueror, died in the forest while hunting, very suspiciously. Robert Baratheon was gored by a boar after his young Lannister aide gave him spiked wine. In King William's case, an arrow pierced his lung on August 2, 1100 in the New Forest and his nobles all fled. A peasant later found the body, and thought he should tell someone. A modern historian called the unmarried king “a rambunctious, devil-may-care soldier, without natural dignity or social graces, with no cultivated tastes and little show of religious piety or morality—indeed, according to his critics, addicted to every vice, particularly lust and especially sodomy.”



The men of the House of Black and White in Braavos may be faceless, but they have a backstory, specifically the Council of Ten in 15th century Venice. When you wanted someone assassinated, you went to the Council of Ten, and there are still records of their proceedings: “giving the number of those who voted for and who voted against the proposed removal, the reasons for the assassination, and the sum to be paid for its execution,” according to the 1899 book Poison Romance and Poison Mysteries. The council was particularly adept at creating ornate cups with secret poison chambers.


And now we leap out of the ancient and medieval world to the wife of King George V (and grandmother of the current Queen Elizabeth). Born in 1867, Mary of Teck, as she was once known, was a girl from an insignificant royal house who got the chance at the biggest prize of all: marrying the future king of England. There’s a reason the path was rather clear. Prince Albert Victor, the Duke of Clarence, was not very bright and not very nice; in fact, people liked to speculate that “Eddy” was Jack the Ripper. For Mary, this was no problem at all. Unfortunately, for her plan, Eddy died of pneumonia at age 28. However, Eddy had a younger brother, George, fond of his stamp collection. Mary wed George in 1893 in the Chapel Royal in St. James Palace. Just like Margaery Tyrell on GOT, Mary very much wanted to be the queen.

This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors.

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Nancy Bilyeau
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