George R.R Martin’s Song of Fire And … Richard III?

It seems that George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice books are very popular these days (something to do with an HBO series?).  I don’t know much about them, but thought that this crowd might appreciate a writeup showing that it’s basically the story of Richard III.

Anybody out there familiar enough with both to comment on the similarities?

5 thoughts on “George R.R Martin’s Song of Fire And … Richard III?

  1. I am! 😉 GRRM's admitted that he took a lot of inspiration from the Wars of the Roses in general — Starks vs Lannisters even *sounds* like Yorks vs Lancasters, after all — but it's not a one-to-one ratio of characters and events. It's definitely not a direct historical retelling (even in the inventive way that Shakespeare's R3 is). There are places where it's pretty blatant, and places where it runs waaaaay off the track.

    (And, as a bonus, in his world, there's another war that took place centuries earlier that was inspired by the Stephen v. Matilda wars of the mid-12th century).

  2. I'd say it's more of a general history plays/war of the roses thing, then specifically Richard III (the history or the play). There's a lot of similarities to be pointed out in the general feel of the series (especially the first book), and quite a few analogues too, but as has been mentioned, it's not really a retelling in any sense of the word.

    To give a few examples (couple of spoilers)

    In the immediate backstory, we have the legitimate but wildly ineffectual king Aerys II deposed by the powerful and popular Robert Baratheon (Richard II – Henry IV references abound).

    His death precipitates a war of succession, and we have a Henry VI in Robert's son Joffrey, a boy king utterly unsuited for the kingship, drawing (unfavourable) comparisons with the dead and deposed King, and utterly controlled by his domineering mother Cersei Lannister (Margaret of Anjou).

    You can also draw pretty strong comparisons for the princes in the tower, the Earl of Warwick, Elizabeth Woodville, and Richard's shall we say…sibling rivalry, if you were so inclined

    We've even get "Aegon the Conquerer "arriving in the oddly Britain-shaped kingdom about 300 years before the main series begins 🙂

  3. King Robert also has some pretty strong Henry VIII allusions going on, what with the young, handsome king who turns into a drink-sotted slob, who can't keep his hands off of any pair of breasts that wanders by him. So, yeah, there's a lot of mashing-up of references that goes on.

  4. GRRM actually specifies the sources of his medieval inspiration for the Song of Ice and Fire series ( The book that is of greatest importance to us Shakespeare Geeks is Barabara Tuchman's A Distant Mirror, which focuses of French 14th century history. It is quite useful, in this context, to see England as the North, Calais as the Neck and France as the South, but, as Cass said, there is no one-to-one ratio.

  5. Well we start with Aerys Targeryen as Henry VI, the mad king who ends up getting deposed by the rebel leader Robert Baratheon/ Edward IV, assisted by his friend Ned Stark and brother Stannis – who both play the part of the real life Richard III, Edward's brother.

    Robert aka Edward dies prematurely due to indulging in too much food and drink during the peaceful later years of his reign, leaving behind his powerful but unpopular wife (Cersei Lannister or real life Elizabeth Woodville), and her family to rule the kingdom through her not-yet-of-age son: Joffrey/Edward (the elder of the princes in the tower).

    However, the secret of the heir's illegitimacy is stumbled upon by Ned and Stannis / Richard III, which is where the path diverges a little.

    In real life, Richard III, now his brother's heir, put his brother's illegitimate sons into the tower of London and made himself king. In the story, Ned, realising the King's "sons" were bastards, ignored advice to take the throne himself and warns Cersei/Elizabeth to take her children and run. Of course, this backfires completely when Cersei crowns Joffrey/Edward Junior anyway and arrests Ned/Richard – who is then executed for treason. This could be George RR Martin's interpretation of what would have happened had Richard not taken the throne.

    The character of Stannis shows another path Richard III could have taken. Stannis proclaims himself King but doesn't have the power to seize the kingdom.

    In looking at A Song of Ice and Fire this way, we can also possibly see the future of the series. As we know, Henry Tudor, an obscure claimant to the throne and relative to the original King Henry VI eventually won the war after returning from a long exile abroad. This matches quite well with the character Daenerys Targeryen – daughter of the mad king Aerys who started the trouble – who has lived all her life in exile from Westeros.

    That's quite an odd thought actually – that George RR Martin may have chosen to portray the founder of the Tudor dynasty as his mother of dragons….

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