7 Historical Parallels to Game of Thrones

Helen Sloan, Courtesy of HBO
Helen Sloan, Courtesy of HBO

When creating his highly detailed fantasy world, George R. R. Martin based much of Game of Thrones on medieval European history. In particular, Martin drew heavily from the War of the Roses; here are seven more possible historical connections.

(Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

1. Joffrey had some things in common with Edward of Lancaster.

As evil as he was, King Joffrey's vicious personality seems to be rooted in history. Edward of Lancaster was the son of King Henry VI and Margaret of Anjou—and, like Joffrey, there were rumors around his parentage. Also like Joffrey, Edward had a touch of madness, and he shared Joffrey’s affinity for lopping off the heads of his enemies. The Ambassador of Milan once wrote, "This boy, though only 13 years of age, already talks of nothing but of 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." (Though some have argued that he wasn’t really as violent as centuries of historians have proposed.)

2. Theon Greyjoy's historical equivalent was George Plantagenet, 1st Duke of Clarence.

Theon grew up in Winterfell as a ward to Lord Eddard Stark and a surrogate brother to Robb. Following the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings, Theon was one of Robb’s most trusted advisors. After Robb sent Theon to meet with his father, Balon Greyjoy, Theon turned on his friend and invaded the North.

Theon's historical counterpart, George Plantagenet, was brother to Edward IV of York and, like Theon, began the War of the Roses as a staunch York defender. Much like Theon, George Plantagenet turned on his brother during the War of the Roses and defected to the Lancastrians. Although the brothers reconciled, George was drowned in a butt of wine for treason, which some might say is a kinder punishment than the many atrocities that Theon endured at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.

3. The Red Faith is Zoroastrianism.

In the show (before his death at the hands of Brienne of Tarth), Stannis followed the advice of the “Red Woman,” Melisandre, who worships the lord of light, R’hllor. The faith of the R’hllor appears to be based on the ancient Persian religion Zoroastrianism. In Zoroastrianism, fire is considered a medium for spiritual awareness and wisdom, with worshipers often praying in the presence of fire or in fire temples. Like the followers of The Lord of Light, Zoroastrianism also stresses a great struggle and the duality between good and evil (in the series it is referred to as “The Lord of Light” and “The Great Other”). As of right now, there is no evidence to suggest that demon shadow babies actually existed.

4. Jaime Lannister's historical equivalent is Gottfried von Berlichingen.

In Game of Thrones's season four premiere, Jaime Lannister received a shiny new gold hand to replace the one that was hacked off. The character has a little something in common with Gottfried von Berlichingen, or, as he was also known, "Gotz of the Iron Hand." Like Jaime, Gotz was born to a noble family before serving as an Imperial Knight. During battle, Gotz's hand was blown off by a cannon. Not easily deterred, Gotz designed a prosthetic iron hand and returned to combat. He's well known for his catchphrase, "er kann mich am Arsche lecken" ("he can lick my arse"), which also makes him a precursor to Futurama's Bender.

5. Part of Lyanna Stark's story may have been inspired by Lucretia.

Lyanna Stark was the sister of Eddard Stark and the one true love of Robert Baratheon. Her alleged kidnapping by Rhaegar Targaryen and the events that followed sparked Robert's Rebellion, which landed him on the Iron Throne. Of course, we now know that that version of events was a lie: Lyanna went with Rhaegar willingly—eventually marrying him and bearing him a son, Aegon Targaryen, a.k.a. Jon Snow. But the version of events that Robert believed has a lot in common with Lucretia. She was a Roman figure who committed suicide after being raped by the Etruscan king's son, a tragedy that sparked the revolution to overthrow the monarchy and establish the Roman Republic.

6. The Battle of Blackwater Bay has similarities to The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople.

The Battle of Blackwater Bay—when Stannis Baratheon attempted to sieze the capital of King’s Landing—was the focus of the penultimate episode of season two. Stannis was defeated after Tyrion attacked his navy with wildfire, a chemical that burns even on water. Tyrion might have gotten this idea from The Second Arab Siege of Constantinople, where Greek Fire was used to repel invaders. Additionally, in the books, Tyrion employed a giant chain to cut through Stannis’s navy, which is clearly inspired by the Great Chain of Constantinople, also used in The Second Arab Siege.

7. The Red Wedding has historical parallels in the Kojiki.

Game of Thrones's "Red Wedding" was one of the most shocking moments in TV history. In one move, Tywin Lannister (in collusion with Roose Bolton and Walder Frey) kills Robb Stark and ends the northern rebellion. The Red Wedding is said to be based on two British massacres, but it also draws parallels to an ancient Japanese event that's detailed in the Kojiki, a half-historical, half-mythological text that chronicles the rise of Japan's first ruler, Emperor Jimmu. Part of the Kojiki describes how Jimmu consolidated his power: by murdering a group of his enemies at a feast. Like the Red Wedding, the start of the massacre was a song, this one sung by Jimmu himself.

This story was updated in 2019.

9 Other Things That Happened on July 4

iStock/LPETTET
iStock/LPETTET

Of course we know that July 4 is Independence Day in the U.S. But lots of other things have happened on that date as well. Here are just a few of them:

1. Three former presidents died.

On July 4, 1826, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson—America's second and third presidents, respectively—both passed away. The two politicians had a love-hate relationship, and Adams's last words were supposedly, "Thomas Jefferson survives." (He didn't know that Jefferson had passed away a few hours earlier.) Exactly five years later, on July 4, 1831, fifth U.S. President James Monroe died in New York City.

2. Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond.

On July 4, 1845, Henry David Thoreau began his two-year living experiment at Walden Pond, near Concord, Massachusetts.

3. Alice Liddell first heard the story of Alice in Wonderland.

On July 4, 1862, little Alice Liddell listened to a story told by Lewis Carroll during a boat trip on the Thames ... it would later become, of course, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It was published exactly three years later—on July 4, 1865.

4. Two famous advice columnists were born.

On July 4, 1918, twin sisters Esther Pauline and Pauline Esther Friedman were born. Today they're better known as Ann Landers and Dear Abby.

5. George Steinbrenner came into the world.

On July 4, 1930, future Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was born (and presumably fired the doctor immediately).

6. Lou Gehrig delivered his retirement speech.

On July 4, 1939, Lou Gehrig gave his famous retirement speech at Yankee Stadium after being diagnosed with ALS. He tells the crowd that he considers himself "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."

7. The Zodiac Killer killed for the first time. (As far as we know.)

On July 4, 1968, the Zodiac Killer murdered his first victims (that we know of) at Lake Herman Road in Benicia, California.

8. Koko was born.

On July 4, 1971, Koko, the sign-language gorilla, was born.

9. Bob Ross passed away.

On July 4, 1995, Bob Ross died, and all over the world, Happy Little Trees were a little less happy.

This list first ran in 2008 and was updated for 2019.

16 Savage Teddy Roosevelt Insults

George C. Beresford, Hulton Archive/Getty Images
George C. Beresford, Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Theodore Roosevelt had a way with words. Over his lifetime, the eminently quotable president and author popularized many witty turns of phrase. And though he wasn’t fond of swearing, Roosevelt didn't always speak softly, either—he was capable of delivering a savage insult when he felt it was appropriate (though usually he saved his irritation for letters and didn't deliver the insult to his enemy’s face). Here are just a few of them.

1. “An amiable old fuzzy-wuzzy with sweetbread brains.”

This insult was leveled at an anonymous Supreme Court Justice who dared to cross Roosevelt.

2. “A well-meaning, pin-headed, anarchistic crank, of hirsute and slab-sided aspect.”

Said of the Populist Senator from Kansas William Alfred Peffer, who was indeed hairy, tall, and lean.

3. “The shifty, adroit, and selfish logothete in the White House.”

According to historian Edmund Morris, in 1915 Edith Wharton had asked Roosevelt to visit Europe and report on what was happening to the French in World War I. But Roosevelt proclaimed that he would only go when he could fight, which he considered unlikely under President Woodrow Wilson, who Roosevelt said "cannot be kicked into war." The former president didn't have kind words for Wilson's supporters, either; he called them "flubdubs and mollycoddles."

4. “A cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

When he wrote this, Roosevelt was insulting President Benjamin Harrison, who had appointed Roosevelt as a reform commissioner because he owed TR a favor. Harrison quickly came to regret it: Soon after Roosevelt was appointed, he investigated Indianapolis Postmaster William Wallace … Harrison’s best friend. 

5. “[A] little emasculated mass of inanity.”

Roosevelt said this of novelist Henry James. James, for his part, said that Roosevelt was “dangerous,” and “the mere monstrous embodiment of unprecedented and resounding Noise.”

6. “The most intolerably slow of all men who ever adored red tape.”

This isn’t the nicest thing to say about one of your colleagues—in this case, one of TR’s fellow Civil Service Commissioners (and Civil War veteran), Charles Lyman. According to Lyman’s Men of Mark in America entry, published in 1906, “While Mr. Roosevelt's work and attention were largely given to the investigation of abuses and violations of the law and rules, and to the education of public opinion in favor of the reform, through public addresses and the press, Mr. Lyman's work was almost wholly administrative and constructive, his purpose and effort being to establish the reform on a sound and conservative basis and to develop it according to the more obvious and pressing needs of the public service.”

7. “A professional yodeler, a human trombone.”

Said of William Jennings Bryan, then Secretary of State to Woodrow Wilson.

8. “That leprous spot upon our civilization.”

Roosevelt didn’t have kind words for William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, who dared “[portray] me as attacking labor when I enforce the law as regards Miller in the Printing Office,” Roosevelt wrote to Harrison Gray Otis in 1903. Earlier, the paper had published an interview in which Roosevelt supposedly called the paper’s coverage of the lead up to the Spanish-American War “most commendable and accurate.” The paper’s coverage was actually full of inaccuracies, and according to Roosevelt, he never gave that interview—and loudly denied those words of praise.

9. “Puzzlewit,” “Fathead,” “Brains less than a guinea pig.”

Roosevelt reserved some of his harshest words for his hand-picked successor. Roosevelt and William Howard Taft had a falling out; eventually, after challenging Taft for the Republican nomination (saying, "I'll name the compromise candidate. He'll be me. I'll name the compromise platform. It will be our platform”) Roosevelt ran against Taft in 1912 as a member of the Progressive party, a.k.a. the Bull Moose Party, and that’s when the gloves came off.

And in case the guinea pig reference seems random, Roosevelt once explained that “Just as machinery can be expressed in terms of horsepower, so some intellect can be expressed in terms of guinea pig power,” and that certain accusations against him “can only be heeded by men with brains of about three-guinea-pig power.” After which the St. Louis Dispatch opined, "Col. Theodore Roosevelt has further enriched the language which so many of his phrases now adorn by producing the following conjunctive description: ‘Three-guinea-pig-power brain.’ This is considered vastly superior to Woodrow Wilson’s ‘single track mind’ phrase, which had a brief vogue.”

10. “A flubdub with a streak of the second-rate and the common in him."

Another insult aimed at Taft.

11. “The true old-style Jeffersonian of the barbaric blatherskite variety.”

According to Merriam-Webster, a blatherskite is “a person who blathers a lot.” In this case, Roosevelt was referring to Mississippi Congressman John Sharp Williams, who served as the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives from 1903 until 1908.

12. “He is evidently a maniac, morally no less than mentally.”

TR was a man of morals, and he used these harsh words in reference to his brother, Elliott Roosevelt, who had an affair out of wedlock that resulted in a pregnancy. In his autobiography, Teddy wrote, “Moreover, public opinion and the law should combine to hunt down the ‘flagrant man swine’ who himself hunts down poor or silly or unprotected girls.”

13. “[A] hypocritical haberdasher … An ill-constitutioned creature, oily, but with bristles sticking up through the oil.”

Said of Postmaster General John Wanamaker, after Wanamaker refused to intervene when Milwaukee Postmaster George H. Paul (more on him in a bit!) had “dismissed Hamilton Shidy for treachery and insubordination,” according to Edmund Morris. Shidy had testified against Paul in corruption proceedings.

14. “About as thorough-paced a scoundrel as I ever saw. An oily-Gammon, church-going specimen.”

Here, Roosevelt was calling Milwaukee Postmaster George H. Paul a fatty ham in addition to a scoundrel. (Paul would eventually resign in 1889.)

15. "Too small game to shoot twice."

Roosevelt leveled this dig at William J. Long, after the Wilderness Ways author attacked the president for giving an interview in which Roosevelt had accused Long of being a “nature faker.”

16. “He seems to have a brain of about eight-guinea-pig-power ... it is useless to have a worthy creature of mutton-suet consistency like the good Sir Mortimer.”

Written in a letter to Whitelaw Reid. Sir Mortimer Durand was a shy and formal British Ambassador to the United States from 1903-1906 (he also lent his name to the Durand line between Pakistan and Afghanistan). The diplomat was a huge fan of Roosevelt; Cecil Spring Rice wrote that “My chief (Durand) thinks Teddy R. the greatest man in the world and has treated me with immense respect since I let on that I correspond with Teddy. I tell him stories and he listens open-mouthed.” But Durand couldn’t keep up with Roosevelt, either in conversation or physically. Once, when the two went for a walk, Durand recounted in his diary that Roosevelt “made me struggle through bushes and over rocks for two hours and a half, at an impossible speed, till I was so done that I could hardly stand.” Yup, that sounds like Teddy!

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