All that Glitters is Not Gold: The Lannisters, Gold, and their Empty Mines

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Cersei and Joffrey at Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding. Note the gold embroidered lions on Cersei’s sleeves and Joffrey’s gold antler crown. © HBO.

The Lannisters are broke, and the Iron Bank of Braavos will get its due one way or another. The Lannister wealth originally came from its gold mines, but the vein ran dry over three years ago. This article looks at some of the Lannister’s golden goods and their relationship to history.

The Lannister Gold Mines

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Casterly Rock© HBO, via Wikia Map of Roman Britain showing the Dolaucothi mine in what is modern-day Wales. Image: Via Wikimedia Commons.

 

On the Westeros map, Casterly Rock and Lannisport appear in roughly the same vicinity as the gold mine of Roman Britain: the Dolaucothi mine in Wales. The Romans found the Dolaucothi vein shortly after they invaded; however, archeologists believe gold mining in Dolaucothi dates back to the Bronze age (c. 3300-1200 BCE). Roman slaves toiled in the hazardous mines where lousy ventilation combined to make extraction using fire-setting even more explosive. When the Romans left Britain in the fifth century, they abandoned the mine and nobody attempted to extract gold for centuries.

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In Roman mines, there were no explosives so slaves extracted the gold from rock by heating the rock face with fire and then pouring cold water on it to make the rock crack. Poor ventilation of smoke and hot gases made this method potentially explosive. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The Lannister stronghold Casterly Rock is built right on top of a gold mine, where it perches perhaps precariously and symbolically. After all, how strong is Casterly Rock’s foundation when the gold supporting it is gone?

The Baratheon Crowns

The Baratheon crown is almost like a laurel of antlers, antlers being the symbol of House Baratheon. Robert, Renly, Stannis, and Joffrey all wear slightly different versions of the crown. Ultimately, the evolution of Joffrey’s crown comes to symbolize his fate.

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The antler crown may be an HBO innovation. The Game of Thrones novel describes Joffrey’s crown as a golden and “crusted with rubies and black diamonds”1. In Clash of Kings, however, Sansa recollects how King Robert and Renly Baratheon wore antlers on their helms2 . Perhaps, the set designers found inspiration for the Baratheon crowns in these crowns from antiquity with deer and antelopes on them.

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A gold diadem from Ancient Scythia (c. first century CE). Note the deer.

The evolution of Joffrey’s crown also demonstrates how the show employs subtle symbolism to heighten its themes. At Joffrey’s wedding, he wears a gold crown in which roses wrap around, or perhaps strangle, the antlers.

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Joffrey’s crown at his wedding from the HBO Viewer’s Guide. © HBO.

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© HBO.

In the words of HBO, “Joffrey’s crown has antlers, but rose are creeping within it. The idea is that slowly they’re beginning to wrap around and control him. We wanted to represent what the Tyrells were hoping would happen.”

Cloth of Gold: A fabric born of blood?

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A few of Joffrey’s cloth-of-gold outfits. © HBO.

When it comes to cloth-of-gold – that all important medieval status symbol – the series may depart from the books. TV King’s Landing royalty tend to adorn themselves in lighter, more flowing silks and gowns that appear to be a Byzantine, Roman and medieval hybrid.  In the novels, the Lannister attire tends to resemble that worn by late medieval Northern European royalty – and, perhaps because they own a (now-depleted) gold mine, the Lannisters (and the King’s Landing “Baratheons” – aka Jaime and Cersei’s children) often wear cloth-of-gold.

In the Game of Thrones novel, “Joff wore plush black velvets slashed with crimson, a shimmering cloth-of-gold cape with a high collar.”3 Tywin is described as wearing a thick multi-layered cloth of gold cape secured by gold lions into battle. Tommen wears cloth-of-gold under a sable mantel. And, when Cersei fantasizes about Tyrion’s funeral, she plans to wear “crimson silk, cloth of gold and rubies in her hair”4 since she wouldn’t be expected to wear mourning attire.

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When Sansa Stark became Sansa Lannister, her wedding dress was made of a subtle cloth-of-gold damask. Image: HBO Viewer’s Guide, © HBO

Other characters in the novels, however, also wear cloth-of-gold. In Storm of Swords, Margaery weds Joffrey in ivory silk and Myrish lace with a maiden’s cloak made of “a hundred cloth-of-gold roses sewn to green velvet.”5 In Game of Thrones, Renly Baratheon wears dark green velvet with a dozen golden stags embroidered on his doublet, a cloth-of-gold half cape fastened with an emerald broach.6 And, the City Watch officers wear cloth-of-gold cloaks7 . Even Seven of the Most Devout – the ruling council of the Faith of Seven — wear cloth-of-silver.

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An example of one of Cersei’s gowns in a lighter fabric with embroidery by Michele Carragher. © HBO and Michele Carragher.

Gemma Jackson has stated that they decided to create a visually unique world that isn’t Merry Olde England, and part of that entails costumes that don’t directly mirror late medieval attire. In many respects, this is probably a smart decision. After all, that Merry Olde England look has evolved into such a bad movie trope that it is hard to see the story behind the camp effect. The departure from the northern medieval look in the capital has meant fewer traditional medieval fabrics – cloth of gold, silk, velvet. Still, HBO does incorporate significant gold elements in their costumes through embroidery and they do use a muted version of cloth of gold damask.

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Cersei’s velvet gown from Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding has exquisite gold embroidery by Michele Carragher. Images: © HBO and  embroiderer Michele Carragher.

The one character, however, whom they decided to clothe in cloth-of-gold is Joffrey, which seems fitting given that there is no other item that so aptly symbolizes the excesses of the late Middle Ages, excesses founded on blood. During the fifteenth century, the riches English aristocrats plundered during the Hundred Years War fueled a competitive materialism. The nobility vied to show each other up by wearing extraordinarily expensive clothing  – to demonstrate their status and power – and nothing said power more than cloth-of-gold and jewels.

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Cloth of gold cost the earth. A master stone mason – essentially a skilled “professional” — earned just a little bit more than the price of 27 inches of cloth-of-gold in a year.8 Why did it cost so much? It wasn’t just that cloth of gold was made of gold. It was extremely labor intensive to produce.

Textile merchants made cloth of gold and silver by hammering the metal into long flat strips and wrapping it around a fabric core, such as silk. Weavers then wove the thread into a heavy, stiff cloth that would be made into clothing, such as capes, cloaks, doublets, or gowns. At Charles the Bold’s 1468 wedding to Margaret of York he spent 56,000 livres (roughly $540,164,337USD or £331,400,000GBP in today’s wages) on textiles from one cloth merchant alone.

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Field of the Cloth of Gold by James Basire (c.1774 based on a 16th-century oil painting).

The most famous example of cloth of gold in history is undoubtedly the 1520 “bonding” meeting between Henry VIII of England and Francis I of France known as the Field of Cloth of Gold. Although ostensibly arranged to solidify the 1514 treaty between France and England, at the event, the two kings dedicated themselves to trying to outshine each other – quite literally – through hosting huge feasts, jousts, music, games, and by draping nearly every surface with insanely expensive fabric. Basire appears to have illuminated these images in his painting of the event in gold — presumably because the fabric was cloth of gold:

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The Field of Cloth of Gold contained hundreds of yards of cloth of gold, cloth of silver as well as crimson, blue, and violet silk, damask, velour, and satin and 200 lbs of silk fringe. Luxury fabrics decked with fleurs-de-lis covered the roofs and walls of pavilions. Cloth-of-gold mounted on canvas lined the walls of the galleries king’s pavilion and his private quarters9 They even erected a sumptuous temporary palace to receive Henry with a brick base, cloth walls (on wood frames) painted to look like stone, and decked with numerous golden ornaments.

**

Cloth of gold is still made today.  Even before we learned the Lannisters are broke, the Tyrells were richer.  The Tyrells can feed armies — and, as the saying goes, armies march on their stomach. You can’t eat gold. The Lannisters’ fate may hinge on their ability to come to terms with the Iron Bank — or find a new mother lode.

All Game of Thrones images are copyright HBO.

  1. Game of Thrones p.617 Kindle edition []
  2. Clash of Kings p. 35 []
  3. Game of Thrones p.617 Kindle edition []
  4. Storm of Swords Loc. 21559 Kindle edition []
  5. Storm of Swords p. 809 Kindle edition []
  6. Game of Thrones p.185 Kindle edition []
  7. p. 60 Storm of Swords []
  8. “The Role of Dress in the Image of Charles the Bold” by Margaret Scott on p. 51 in Flemish Manuscript Painting in Context: Recent Research ed. Elizabeth Morrison, Thomas Kren []
  9. According to one inventory from Francis I’s reign – see The Field of Cloth of Gold by Glenn Richardson p. 44-45. []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

3 Comments

  • […] You can read more about the embroidery on Game of Thrones’ embroiderer Michele Carragher’s website. For more about cloth-of-gold in the Purple Wedding costumes, see here. […]

  • Reply April 13, 2015

    Gautham

    Hi Jamie,

    Do you think the Lannister Coat of Arms was inspired by the de Trafford family’s coat of arms??
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Trafford_baronets

    Please do let me know as this is for a quiz I’m putting together.

    Many thanks,
    Best,
    Gautham

    • Reply April 13, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Hi Gautham,

      I’m sorry but I don’t think the Lannister sigil looks like the de Trafford coat of arms. The de Trafford coat of arms appears to have a griffin on it with wings and a beak. That’s not even a lion! 🙂 There is an article on this site about sigils that might be helpful. The lion was an extremely common heraldic device.

      Cheers,

      Jamie

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