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.

Why Beatrix Potter Ended Up Self-Publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was Beatrix Potter’s first book—and is still her best known. But had the beloved author not had the confidence to publish the book on her own terms, we might not have ever known her name (or Peter Rabbit's) today.

The origin of Peter Rabbit dates back in 1893, when Potter wrote the beginnings of what would become her iconic children’s book in a letter she sent to Noel Moore, the ailing five-year-old son of Annie Carter Moore, Potter's friend and former governess. “I don't know what to write to you, so I shall tell you a story about four little rabbits whose names were—Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Peter,” the story began.

According to The Telegraph, it was Carter Moore who encouraged Potter to turn her story and its illustrations into a book. Initially, she attempted to go the traditional route and sent the book to six publishers, each of whom rejected it because Potter was insistent that the book be small enough for a child to hold while the publishers wanted something bigger (so that they could charge more money for it). It wasn't a compromise that Potter was willing to make, so she took the matter into her own hands.

On December 16, 1901, a 35-year-old Potter used her personal savings to privately print 250 copies of The Tale of Peter Rabbit. The book turned out to be a hit—so much so that, within a year, Frederick Warne and Co. (one of the publishers that had originally rejected the book) signed on to get into the Peter Rabbit business. In October 1902, they published their own version of The Tale of Peter Rabbit, complete with Potter's illustrations, and by Christmastime it had sold 20,000 copies. It has since been translated into nearly 40 different languages and sold more than 45 million copies.

In August 1903, Frederick Warne and Co. published Potter's next book, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. A few months later, Warne published The Tailor of Gloucester, which Potter had originally self-published in 1902 for reasons similar to her decision to self-publish The Tale of Peter Rabbit.

"She was very dogmatic about what she wanted it to look like and couldn’t agree with Warne," rare book dealer Christiaan Jonkers told The Guardian about why Potter self-published The Tailor of Gloucester. "Also he wanted cuts, so she published 500 copies privately. By the end of the year Warne had given in, cementing a relationship that would save the publishing house from bankruptcy, and revolutionize the way children's books were marketed and sold."

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

15 Fascinating Facts About Beatrix Potter

Getty Images
Getty Images

Even today, more than 75 years after her death on December 22, 1943, celebrated children’s author Beatrix Potter's beautifully illustrated tales—featuring animals and landscapes inspired by her beloved home in England’s Lake District—are still hugely popular. Below are 15 fascinating facts about The Tale of Peter Rabbit author.

1. Beatrix wasn't Potter's real first name.

Potter was born in London on July 28, 1866 and was actually christened Helen after her mother, but was known by her more unusual middle name: Beatrix.

2. The Tale of Peter Rabbit was inspired by a letter.

The first edition of The Tale of Peter Rabbit.
Aleph-bet books via Wikimedia // Public Domain

Potter’s most famous book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit , was inspired by an illustrated letter Potter wrote to Noel, the son of her former governess, Annie, in 1893. She later asked to borrow the letter back and copied the pictures and story, which she then adapted to create the much-loved tale.

3. Peter Rabbit and her friends were partly based on Beatrix Potter's own pets.

Peter was modeled on Potter’s own pet rabbit, Peter Piper—a cherished bunny who Potter frequently sketched and took for walks on a leash. Potter's first pet rabbit, Benjamin Bouncer, was the inspiration for Benjamin Bunny, Peter's cousin in her books. Potter loved sketching Benjamin, too. In 1890, after a publisher purchased some of her sketchers of Benjamin, she decided to reward him with some hemp seeds. "The consequence being that when I wanted to draw him next morning he was intoxicated and wholly unmanageable," she later wrote in her diary.

4. Potter’s house was essentially a menagerie.


Riversdale Estate, Flickr // Public Domain

Potter kept a whole host of pets in her schoolroom at home—rabbits, hedgehogs, frogs, and mice. She would capture wild mice and let them run loose. When she needed to recapture them she would shake a handkerchief until the wild mice would emerge to fight the imagined foe and promptly be scooped up and caged. When her brother Bertram went off to boarding school he left a pair of long-eared pet bats behind. The animals proved difficult to care for so Potter set one free, but the other, a rarer specimen, she dispatched with chloroform then set about stuffing for her collection.

5. Peter Rabbit wasn’t an immediate success.

Potter self-published the Tale of Peter Rabbit in 1901, funding the print run of 250 herself after being turned down by several commercial publishers. In 1902 the book was republished by Frederick Warne & Co after Potter agreed to redo her black-and-white illustrations in color. By the end of its first year in print, it was in so much demand it had to be reprinted six times.

6. Beatrix Potter understood the power of merchandising.

In 1903 Potter, recognizing the merchandising opportunities offered by her success, made her own Peter Rabbit doll, which she registered at the Patent Office. A Peter Rabbit board game and wallpaper were also produced in her lifetime.

7. Potter was a naturalist at a time when most women weren’t.

Potter was fascinated by nature and was constantly recording the world around her in her drawings. Potter was especially interested in fungi and became an accomplished scientific illustrator, going on to write a paper , “On the Germination of the Spores of Agaricineae, ” proposing her own theory for how fungi spores reproduced. The paper was presented on Potter’s behalf by the Assistant Director of Kew Gardens at a meeting of the Linnean Society on April 1, 1897, which Potter was unable to attend because at that time women were not allowed at meetings of the all-male Linnean Society—even if their work was deemed good enough to be presented.

8. Potter sometimes wrote in secret code.

Between 1881 and 1897 Potter kept a journal in which she jotted down her private thoughts in a secret code . This code was so fiendishly difficult it was not cracked and translated until 1958.

9. Potter was reportedly a disappointment to her mom.


Wikimedia // Public Domain

Despite her huge success, Potter was something of a disappointment to her mother, who had wanted a daughter to accompany her on social calls and make an advantageous marriage. In 1905 Potter accepted the marriage proposal of her publisher Norman Warne. However, her parents were very against the match as they did not consider him good enough for their daughter, and refused to allow the engagement to be made public. Unfortunately, Warne died of leukemia just a few weeks after the engagement. Potter did eventually marry, at age 47, to a solicitor and kindred spirit, William Heelis.

10. Potter wrote much more than you. (Probably.)

Potter was a prolific writer , producing between two and three stories every year, ultimately writing 28 books in total, including The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin , The Tale of Mrs Tiggy Winkle , and The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher . Potter’s stories have been translated into 35 different languages and sold over 100 million copies combined.

11. Potter asked that one of her books not be published in England.

In 1926 Potter published a longer work, The Fairy Caravan . It was at first only published in America because Potter felt it was too autobiographical to be published in England during her lifetime. (She also told her English publishers that it wasn’t as good as her other work and felt it wouldn’t be well-received). Nine years after her death in 1943, the book was finally released in the UK.

12. Potter's later books had to be cobbled together from early drawings.

As her eyesight diminished it became harder and harder for Potter to produce the beautiful drawings that characterized her work. As a result many of her later books were pieced together from earlier drawings in her vast collection of sketchbooks. The Tale of Little Pig Robinson was Potter’s last picture book, published in 1930.

13. A lost work of potter's was published in 2016.

A lost Potter story , The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots , was rediscovered in 2013 and published in summer 2016. Publisher Jo Hanks found references to the story in an out-of-print biography of Potter and so went searching through the writer’s archive at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Hanks discovered a sketch of the kitty in question, plus a rough layout of the unedited manuscript. The story will be published with supplementary illustrations by Quentin Blake.

14. Potter was an accomplished sheep farmer.

Potter was an award-winning sheep farmer and in 1943 was the first woman elected President of the Herdwick Sheep Breeders’ Association.

15. You can visit Hill Top, Potter's home.


Strobilomyces, Wikimedia // CC BY-SA 3.0 

When Potter died in 1943 at the age of 77, she left 14 farms and 4000 acres of land in the Lake District to Britain’s National Trust, ensuring the beloved landscape that inspired her work would be preserved. The Trust opened her house, Hill Top, which she bought in 1905, to the public in 1946.

Mental Floss is partnering with the Paper & Packaging – How Life Unfolds® “15 Pages A Day” reading initiative to make sure that everyone has the opportunity (and time) to take part in The Mental Floss Book Club. It’s easy! Take the pledge at howlifeunfolds.com/15pages.

This article has been updated for 2019.

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