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 Do We Eat Pumpkin Pie at Thanksgiving?

gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images
gjohnstonphoto/iStock via Getty Images

While it’s possible—even probable—that pumpkins were served at the 1621 harvest festival that’s now considered the predecessor to Thanksgiving, attendees definitely didn’t dine on pumpkin pie (there was no butter or wheat flour to make crust).

The earliest known recipes for pumpkin pie actually come from 17th-century Europe. Pumpkins, like potatoes and tomatoes, were first introduced to Europe in the Columbian Exchange, but Europeans were more comfortable cooking with pumpkins because they were similar to their native gourds.

By the 18th century, however, Europeans on the whole lost interest in pumpkin pie. According to HowStuffWorks, Europeans began to prefer apple, pear, and quince pies, which they perceived as more sophisticated. But at the same time pumpkin pie was losing favor in Europe, it was gaining true staple status in America.

In 1796, Amelia Simmons published American Cookery, the first cookbook written and published in the New World colonies. Simmons included two recipes for “pompkin pudding” cooked in pastry crust. Simmons’s recipes call for “stewed and strained” pumpkin, combined with a mixture of nutmeg, allspice, and ginger (yes, it seems our pumpkin spice obsession dates back to at least the 1500s).

But how did pumpkin pie become so irrevocably tied with the Thanksgiving holiday? That has everything to do with Sarah Josepha Hale, a New Hampshire-born writer and editor who is often called the “Godmother of Thanksgiving.” In her 1827 abolitionist novel Northwood, Hale described a Thanksgiving meal complete with “fried chicken floating in gravy,” broiled ham, wheat bread, cranberry sauce, and—of course—pumpkin pie. For more than 30 years, Hale advocated for Thanksgiving to become a national holiday, writing regular editorials and sending letters to five American presidents. Thanksgiving was a symbol for unity in an increasingly divided country, she argued [PDF].

Abraham Lincoln eventually declared Thanksgiving a national holiday in 1863 (to near-immediate outcry from Southerners, who viewed the holiday as an attempt to enforce Yankee values). Southern governors reluctantly complied with the presidential proclamation, but cooks in the South developed their own unique regional traditions. In the South, sweet potato pie quickly became more popular than New England’s pumpkin pie (mostly because sweet potatoes were easier to come by than pumpkins). Now, pumpkin pie reigns supreme as the most popular holiday pie across most of the United States, although the Northeast prefers apple and the South is split between apple and pecan, another Southern staple.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Anthony Blunt: The Art Historian/Russian Spy Who Worked at Buckingham Palace

Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Samuel West portrays Anthony Blunt in The Crown.
Des Willie, Netflix

*Mild spoilers for season 3 of The Crown on Netflix ahead.

Viewers of the third season of The Crown on Netflix will likely have their curiosity piqued by Anthony Blunt, the art historian who is revealed to be a spy for the Russians during his 19 years of service to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. Instead of getting the boot once he was discovered, however, Blunt went on to remain under Her Majesty's employ for eight more years—until his official retirement. While treason never looks good on a resume, the royal class had good reason to keep him on.

Blunt, who was born and raised in England, visited the Soviet Union in 1933 and was indoctrinated as a spy after being convinced of the benefits of Communism in fighting fascism. He began recruiting his university classmates at Cambridge before serving during World War II and leaking information about the Germans to the KGB. Blunt was one of five Cambridge graduates under Soviet direction. Two of them, diplomats Donald Maclean and Guy Burgess, relocated to the Soviet Union in 1951. Another, Kim Philby, went undetected until 1961. John Cairncross escaped notice, too, but was eventually outed.

However, it was Blunt who had a post at Buckingham Palace. After being tipped off by American intelligence, MI5 interrogated Blunt. He confessed to his treachery in 1964 and was granted immunity from prosecution. Why was he able to remain employed? One theory has it that British intelligence was so embarrassed by Blunt's ability to circulate in the upper levels of the monarchy that firing him would have raised too many questions. Another thought has Blunt having knowledge of some bizarrely congenial wartime correspondence between Adolf Hitler and the Duke of Windsor (a.k.a. King Edward VIII, whose abdication led to Elizabeth's eventual ascension to the throne).

Whatever the case, the Queen was advised by MI5 to keep Blunt around. In his role as art curator, he had no access to classified information. Blunt was at the Palace through 1972 and spent another seven years roaming London giving lectures. His actions remained a tightly guarded secret until Margaret Thatcher disclosed his treason in 1979.

As for that speech seen in The Crown, where Olivia Colman's Queen Elizabeth makes some not-so-subtle digs at Blunt at the opening of a new exhibition, there's no record of such a takedown ever happening. While the two reportedly kept their distance from each other in private, according to Miranda Carter's Anthony Blunt: His Lives:

“Blunt continued to meet the Queen at official events. She came to the opening of the Courtauld’s new galleries in 1968, and in 1972 she personally congratulated Blunt on his retirement, when the Lord Chamberlain, knowing nothing of his disgrace, offered him the honorary post of Adviser on the Queen’s pictures—inadvertently continuing his association with the Palace for another six years.”

Stripped of his knighthood as a result of the truth about his actions being made known, Blunt became a recluse and died of a heart attack in 1983. His memoirs, which were made public by the British Library in 2009, indicated his regret, calling his spy work "the biggest mistake of my life."

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