George RR Martin’s Symbolic Character Names Symbols, Part 2

names-symbols-game-of-thrones

This article is continued from George RR Martin’s Symbolic Character Name Choices and looks at the names in Houses Bolton, Greyjoy, Baratheon, and Tyrell.

One of the interesting patterns in George RR Martin’s character name choices is how often Greek names come up. Out of the twelve first names in this article, at least three (25%) have Greek roots and there were three Greek names in the last article. This seems to be yet another connection to the Greek-Roman empire (Byzantium). Is this deliberate? Does this mean that the spirit of the Byzantine empire is the soul of A Song of Ice and Fire?

bolton-sigilHouse Bolton

Depending on your accent, if you say “Bolton” quickly, it almost sounds like “bolting.”  The name Bolton may be a reference to faithless fighters like Ralph Neville and Thomas Stanley. As described in our article, Stanley typically waited to see which side would win the battle before picking sides. The name Bolton reminds us that, like the loyal-to-no-one Stanley, Roose might bolt in the heat of battle.

Roose

The first name of Roose Bolton, the deadly and treacherous leader of House Bolton, rhymes with noose. A name reminiscent of the hangman’s knot is fitting for such a cold, slippery and menacing character.

Ramsay

The name Ramsay is an Old English name that means “garlic island,” which is an interesting tie-in to the fan theory, discussed  in our article here, that Ramsay Bolton is based on Dracula/Vlad Tepes. (Swap out impalement for flaying.)

If Martin is actually alluding to Dracula and garlic with Ramsay, does this mean symbolically that Ramsay is allergic to his own name? He certainly loathed being a bastard and being called “Snow.”

ramsay-becomes-a-bolton

Ramsay presents his father with Moat Cailin’s banner. Minutes later his father rewards him by giving him papers of legitimacy from King’s Landing – an event that moved Ramsay deeply. Image: © HBO.

Ramsay also means “raven island,” “ram island,” and “strong island.”  Given Martin’s repeated raven motif, the name might have appealed to him for that reason as well.

Given Martin’s love of Scottish history, it is worth mentioning that Ramsay is also a place name that was once a common Scottish surname.

House Greyjoy

pyke=iron-islands

Pyke castle is located on the island of Pyke, which is one of the seven Iron Islands. Image: © HBO.

Grey-joy evokes a muted joy, or perhaps even joylessness, and nicely encapsulates the mood of this grim and overly serious house. The strongest images associated with House Greyjoy are grey in color: the ironborn, the grey overcast stormy sea, and rocky seat of Pyke to name a few.

Theon

“Theon” means godly in Greek. Perhaps, this is another nod to the stories’ Roman and Greek-Roman (Byzantine) roots. Does Theon’s name foreshadow his fate? Will the beaten, emasculated prince convert to the Faith of the Seven and become a septon and live in a septry? Does Theon have a higher calling? Is giving Theon a name that means “godly” just a coincidence?

Asha (Yara)

Asha is the Sanskrit word for hope or wish. It also evokes ashes. Given that Theon’s sister spends so much time yearning (to be somebody else (a man),  to save her baby brother), the name suits her.

Asha evokes the grey mood of the Iron Islands but also destroyed hopes. Will everything turn to ashes for Theon’s sister? Let’s hope not.


House Baratheon

The house probably takes its name from the personality and interests of  King Robert, who was presumably its first character. The name Bara-theon  is a combination of  theon, which is Greek for “godly,” and barra, which is another the word for fishing, croft — an appropriate name for somebody whom Martin has admitted is inspired by Edward IV.

Like Robert Baratheon, Edward IV loved hunting, fishing, and other outdoor pursuits. Edward died after a fishing trip under what some contemporaries believed was suspicious circumstances – an event Robert’s death closely parallels. Given Robert’s love of the rugged outdoorsy life of campaigning and hunting, it seems likely his higher power was the outdoors and hunting and fishing. His name ultimately foreshadows his fate: to met his maker outdoors.

wild-boar

Medieval people considered hunting wild boar to be extremely dangerous. They believed boars were a clever and wily opponent.

Robert

Although Robert Baratheon may take after Edward IV more than Robert the Bruce, he still bears the Scottish king’s name. To connect Robert Baratheon to his younger counterpart, the man who is Edward IV’s junior half, the Baratheon king bears a variant of the same name as Robb Stark.

Joffrey

Joffrey is a variant of Geoffrey [Jeffrey]. Geoffrey means “pledge of peace” — ironic given the young tyrant’s bellicose ways.

Chaucer_Hoccleve

A possibly extant illustration of Chaucer in a contemporary’s manuscript.

 

By far, the most famous medieval man named Geoffrey was Geoffrey Chaucer, the first English fiction author to write in the vernacular. Chaucer was a contemporary of Edward III, the English king who initiated the Hundred Years War. Chaucer was very definitely in the orbit of the Hundred Years War king: Chaucer married a lady-in-waiting under Edward’s wife, Philippa of Hainault. His wife was also the sister John of Gaunt’s mistress and (later) second wife, Katherine Swynford.

Joffrey Baratheon doesn’t appear to have much in common with his possible namesake. Chaucer was neither a ruler nor a sadist. If Martin did name the sociopathic little king after Chaucer, it is probably mainly a tribute and nothing more. It’s worth noting, however, that Cersei did teach the young Joffrey to be a storyteller.

cersei-joffrey-painted-whores

“Someday you’ll sit on the throne and the truth will be what you make it.” – Cersei, as she instructs her son not to admit he screamed and cowered when Arya’s direwolf bit him. Image: © HBO

Stannis

Stannis may be a variation of the Russian name Stanislav, which means glorious government. Robert Baratheon’s second brother is a just ruler but overly harsh and far too serious. It is as though his entire being is encompassed in his position as a governor.

Selyse

Perhaps, Se-Lyse is a variation on the name of another disturbed mother and high lord’s wife, Lysa Arryn. Maybe the two women are meant to be foils for each other.

Lisa can also be spelled Lise. Lise is a German name that means “God is my oath,” so it is a good choice for the religious nut Selyse.

lysa-feeding

stannis-wife-catherine-aragon

Both images © HBO.

 

Renly

Martin might have chosen the name Renly due to its similarity to its similarity to the bird, the wren. A wren is a small perching song bird.

wren-grey-mantle

A grey-mantled wren. Source: Wikimedia.

When Catelyn travels to broker an alliance with Renly, she finds him perched on his throne, “playing at war” rather than fighting one.1 Presiding over tourneys, Renly is the king of display. However, he is all talk and no action. Curiously, Wikipedia describes the wren as “small and rather inconspicuous, except for their loud and often complex songs.” Renly is also pretty good at drawing attention to himself:

“The golden rose of Highgarden was seen everywhere: sewn on the right breast of armsmen and servants, flapping and fluttering from the green silk banners that adorned lance and pike, painted upon the shields hung outside the pavilions of the sons and brothers and cousins and uncles of House Tyrell2 .”

Just as Renly was in two marriages — he wed Margaery but was essentially married to his lover and constant companion Loras Tyrell, some wrens are polygamous.

catelyn-meets-renly-throne

Catelyn greets King Renly, who perches upon his throne with Queen Margaery watching jousts and other “play” at fighting. Characters portrayed by Michelle Fairley, Gethin Anthony, and Natalie Dormer. Image: © HBO.

This blog notes that Renly is a play on raven, which is also a possibility, given Martin’s extensive use of the symbol. Perhaps, the question is was Renly a bad-ass raven or a meek wren?

Incidentally, the word ren refers to a kidney, an organ that purifies the blood. It is not clear, however, that Renly had any type of purifying role in terms of his conflict with Stannis over succession.

====After this Point… Book Spoilers and Historical Spoilers====

 

 

house-tyrell

House Tyrell

The name Tyrell maybe another Wars of the Roses reference. Perhaps, it is an homage to the falsely accused scapegoat James Tyrell, whom Henry VII executed for murdering the Princes in the Tower. Perhaps,  House Tyrell is really the “House of the Falsely Accused”?

Olenna

Olena is a Greek or Ukrainian variation of Helen. At least superficially, Helen means “sun ray”.  As implied by the name Helen, however, Olena may be far more complex.

The most famous Helen is, of course, Helen of Troy. In legend, Helen of Troy’s father married her to King Menelaus. Instead of remaining with him, Helen forged her own path by choosing a different lover, Paris. This has a faint parallel with Olenna Tyrell’s story of how she seduced her sister’s intended over the man to whom she was engaged. More subtly, both Helen and Olenna’s actions start,  or have the potential to start, wars.

olenna-tyrell-1024

Olenna Tyrell (as portrayed by Diana Rigg). © HBO.

Like many of the other names here, Olenna/Helen connects to Byzantium – not just through its Greek roots. The name Helen appears to mean some type of bright flame, such as “torch” or “St. Elmo’s fire.”  St. Elmo’s fire is an electrical weather phenomenon that glows blue or violet around sharply pointed objects. According to Wikipedia, at least, St. Elmo’s fire can interfere with compass readings and some sailors regarded it as an ill omen.

St-Elmo's_fire-ship

St. Elmo’s fire on the masts of a ship

During  the 1453 Ottoman Siege of Constantinople — when Constantinople  ultimately fell to the Muslims — contemporaries reported spotting St. Elmo’s fire emanating from the top of the Hippodrome. The Byzantines believed the St. Elmo’s fire prophesied that God would vanquish the Muslim army. The St. Elmo’s fire vanished just days before Constantinople fell, ending the Byzantine Empire.

Constantinople_1453

The 1453 siege of Constantinople.

By the way, George RR Martin counter-factually immortalized the fall of Constantinople with the Battle of the Blackwater — and with good reason. When the Ottoman armies captured Constantinople, it sent shock waves through Western Europe. The Byzantine (Greek-Roman) Empire lasted nearly 1000 years longer than the Roman empire and seemed unstoppable.

Constantinople was once one of the most sophisticated and wealthiest cities in Europe. At one point, it’s population was over 650,000 people making it over three times larger than the biggest Western European city, Paris. By 1453, Constantinople was not the glorious pearl it once was. Struggling to survive economically, its population had dwindled to 70,000. Still, after numerous failed sieges, people believed Constantinople, with its double Theodosian walls and underground water supply, was impregnable.

water-cistern-istanbul

In the sixth century, Emperor Justinian built the Basilica Cistern in Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul) to ensure a safe water supply during sieges. This cistern was one of hundreds. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Incidentally, the name Oleanna, however, connotes a false utopia where bountiful crops of wheat (and corn) are grown. Maybe this is a curious coincidence, but it makes me wonder if everything at the Highgarden, the bread basket of Westeros,  is as good as it looks.

All of this makes me wonder, does Olenna Tyrell’s name locate her at the center of an ominous defeat or disaster?

Mace

Olenna’s plodding son may take his name from the weapon a mace, a blunt instrument. Even Mace’s own mother, openly dismisses her dim-witted, dull son and regrets she didn’t have a chance to beat him more often when he was a child.

Colloquially, people use the phrase “blunt instrument” to refer to a person who is dull, not sharp, and has a fumbling, plodding way of getting things done.

===SPOILER ALERT===

 

 

Margaery

The_Conjuration-marjorie-jourdemayne

A fictionalized reenactment of Marjorie Jourdemayne’s spellcasting, this drawing is known as “The Conjuring” and immortalized in Henry VI.

Margery is a French name brought to England in the 1100s. However, Margery stems from the Greek name Margaret, which means pearl. Marjorie is also the name of an herb.

Margaery Tyrell’s name may come from a woman who was, in essence, falsely accused in the most famous trial in fifteenth century England and the first English biographer. The two most famous Margerys of the Middle Ages were Margery Kempe and Margery Jourdemayne – and, boy, what a contrast do they make.

Margery Kempe (c. 1373 – after 1438) was a medieval mystic revered as being so holy she is still honored in the Anglican Communion. Margery Kempe believed she conversed with God and authored what may be the first English-language autobiography, The Book of Margery Kempe, describing these conversations and recounting her pilgrimages. Martin may have chosen the name Maergery for the same reasons he might have chosen the name Joffrey: to pay tribute to one of the first English writers.

So far, at least, there are few traces of mysticism in Maergery Tyrell. She may, however, share some common ground with Margery Jourdemayne (1415 – 27 October 1441), a lowly woman charged with witchcraft at the tail end of the Hundred Years War and burned at the stake. Jourdemayne’s trial rocked medieval England since one of her co-accused, Eleanor Cobham, was the wife of the king’s heir (Humphrey of Lancaster, Duke of Gloucester).

The_Penance_of_Eleanor_(Abbey)

A Victorian recreation of Eleanor Cobham’s penance. Unlike Majorie, Eleanor’s life was spared. She was condemned to parade through town barefoot, divorce her husband, and then imprisoned for life.

 

Although Jourdemayne may have dabbled in witchcraft, her crimes were disproportionate to her offense, and, in effect, she was falsely accused. Humphrey’s enemies trumped up charges against his wife Eleanor in an effort to drag him through the muck – an oblique strike since he was too powerful to attack directly.

Perhaps, Martin chose the name Maergery, not only as a tribute to a writer, but also since it is associated with a medieval cause celebre trial in which a woman was falsely accused. (After all, calling Maergery “Anne” might be a bit too obvious.) In A Feast for Crows, Cersei falsely accuses Margery Tyrell of adultery and treason.

 

All images from Game of Thrones © HBO.

  1. Martin, George R.R. (2003-01-01). A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two (p. 257). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. []
  2. Martin, George R.R. (2003-01-01). A Clash of Kings: A Song of Ice and Fire: Book Two (p. 257). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. []

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."

40 Comments

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    M.E. Lawrence

    Speculations about names and their origins are so entertaining, and often thought-provoking, especially when they pertain to books like the GofT series. (It helps to be fascinated by names in the first place, as I am.)

    By the way, the study of name origin, history, etc., is onomastics or onomatology. Thanks, J.A.

    • Reply July 10, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Onomastics – wow! That’s so neat. I had no idea. For everyone else who is reading, from Wikipedia: “Onomastics or onomatology is the study of the origin, history, and use of proper names.[1] Onomastics originates from the Greek ὀνομαστικός (onomastikos), which translates to “of or belonging to naming”[2][3] from ὄνομα (ónoma) meaning “name”.[4] Toponymy or toponomastics, the study of place names, is one of the principal branches of onomastics. Anthroponomastics is the study of personal names. Onomastics can be helpful in data mining, with applications such as Named-entity recognition, or recognition of the origin of names.[5]” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onomastics

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    Martine

    I adore this onomastic blog Jamie! I have been fascinated with name symbolism since my college days and literature studies- but GRR takes this to a new level, especially for the history buff who sees the possible origins and links.
    On a rather unrelated note ( as always..!) the words :

    “Someday you’ll sit on the throne and the truth will be what you make it.”

    could have been the exact ones said by Margaret Beaufort to her son, Henry Tudor!

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Over here for my GoT fix (in the absence of the show for the next x-z months). A fairly high profile person called Ramsay whose parents were unmarried was the first British Labour Party Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald. I give the link to Wikepedia’s entry about him as they can explain the subject more clearly than I can http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramsay_MacDonald
    Now as GRRM grew up on the East coast of America, I don’t know whether or not he would be familiar with Ramsay Macdonald’s life. I saw a documentary, though it’s many years ago, which stated that one of the right wing papers printed a copy of his birth certificate – being illegitimate was a bigger deal in those days it seems, at least in polite society. (Being illegitimate may have been less of an issue in other strata of society – I seem to recall reading something in either “London’s Poor” or “London’s Underworld” by nineteenth century journalist, Henry Mayhew that many of London’s costermongers did not marry, simply because they found of buying a marriage licence prohibitive.

    • Reply July 10, 2014

      Watcher on the Couch

      Oh dear, my proof-reading continues to be manky, viz, omitting closing bracket in my last sentence above. That sentence should also have read ……”they found the cost of buying a marriage licence prohibitive”…

      Could I also mention that Marjorie Bruce (or de Brus), Robert the Bruce’s eldest daughter married Walter the High Steward of Scotland, whence the house of Stewart. I seem to remember from the back story of the Tyrells that they were the stewards of Highgarden before the “Field of Fire”. Not saying it’s so, but it’s worth a thought.

  • Reply July 10, 2014

    Jun

    I love all your articles, Jamie, but I especially love the two recent articles about names. The Margaery analysis gave me the chills! We don’t know whether Margaery Tyrell is indeed a virgin (a very important question for aristocracy then) but indeed there are many examples of trials of women falsely accused for Martin to choose from. And the fact that Eleanor was forced to walk the town barefoot recalls the chapter about another character in AFFC, so it’s almost certain that Martin is aware of this incident. And LOL at the “calling her Anne might be too obvious” aside.

    You are revealing too many of Martin’s secrets!

    • Reply July 12, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks!! That’s so sweet.
      re: the secrets
      Lol. Well, I hope not too many spoilers! I really try hard to avoid them. But, it is kind of fun theorizing about where he might be going based on the history. 🙂
      >>”it’s almost certain that Martin is aware of this incident…”
      I know I’ve said this quite a few times – like a broken record! 🙂 – but I’m truly shocked by the level of Martin’s history knowledge. Usually, I stumble across parallels while reading about medieval history — often in fairly low-level, granular, obscure and academic books. But, when I actually knew what the parallel was before I researched the article about Prince Eustace and Joffrey’s death, if memory serves, I couldn’t even pull up a description of Eustace’s death in Google books. (Nobody cares about Eustace — he’s a much more obscure version of [prince] Arthur Tudor. Nobody cares about either prince because somebody else became king.)

      As a result, the only place I could find information quickly was at an academic library – in the bowels of very academic tomes. Most of my research for this blog is from books anyway, but my real point is that Martin doesn’t just casually read popular histories. That book tower he has across the street from his house is presumably jam-packed with history books, among others. Martin is, in his own way, a real historian.

      Anyway, sorry to go on about this but I am just constantly amazed by his knowledge. I don’t know a quarter of the stuff he does and I’m always just nipping at his heels, searching for clues based on key phrases. He is picking from thousands of years of history he has read whereas I’m trying to track down references.

      I don’t know where he even finds time to read all these books. From what I can tell, he basically has a nodding acquaintance with at least 2000 years of history across several countries, including Ancient Rome, Byzantium, Gaul, Scandinavia, and England. He also appears to know at least some ancient military history and certainly about major dynasties like the Ptolemies. He also knows about all periods of English history, and medieval history for Scotland, France, Italy, Spain, Burgundy, and Romania/Transylvania (IMO).

      Martin claims not to know medieval Spanish history, a claim which I am somewhat skeptical of. (To be precise, Martin said he didn’t know about a specific Spanish king.) In interviews, he has said he only knows about English history and some French because “English is the only language [he] has.” However, I guess it depends on how you define “know” – if he means has expertise, that may be true. The great American medievalist Teofilo Ruiz has published extensively in English about medieval Spain, dating back to the 1980s. Ruiz alludes to Spain being, in some ways, more progressive towards women than other countries in the Middle Ages. Martin alludes to this idea with Dorne.

      From what I can tell, Martin is also acquainted with medieval Italian history. I finally tracked down some information about the term “Braavoos” but it took significant amounts of digging. You can’t bring it up easily in Google Books or Google Scholar – even if you fiddle with the spelling. Well, at least I couldn’t… 🙂

      I think Martin is a little coy and cagey even about the historical origins of his work. I think he should be proud of it – because his knowledge is dazzling. But I suspect he fears people will criticize him for not being original – he addressed this in his most recent Rolling Stone interview. Also, as you pointed out, when people start trying to decode his “borrowings,” it can reveal spoilers — and I suspect the king of the twist hates that.

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Martine

    Oh well said Jamie! GRRM’s wealth of knowledge is truly breath taking, I agree 100%.
    I find that his portrayal of the machinations of power, the characters , the brilliant plotlines and the superb dialogue ( in both books and show) are far ‘truer’ to history than so many of the not so wonderful attempts to ‘do’ Historical Drama on television and in film. In GoT we actually get the closest rendering of the ‘real thing’ that has ever been made, in my opinion.
    LOVE your ‘King of the Twist’ monicker. Jamie. xxx

    • Reply July 13, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hey Martine,
      Always nice to hear from you. 🙂 re: King of the Twist – thanks.
      Have you seen any of the old “New Twilight Zone” episodes from the 1980s? Martin wrote on that series and many of them ended with a major twist. I loved them when I saw them years ago, but they may be cheesy and dated now. Martin has said in interviews that it has gotten a lot harder to surprise people because audiences have become so sophisticated. Still, as we know from Ned’s execution, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Tywin’s death, and many other smaller events, Martin is pretty good at surprising even these so-called sophisticated audiences. lol. 🙂

      I agree with you about Game of Thrones being more real. To me, the White Queen, for example, comes across as “unhistorical”, anachronistic, and cardboard-y. It really isn’t realized in a three-dimensional way like Game of Thrones. I read half of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and I thought it was excellent, but it did feel a little claustrophobic after a while. (I don’t have an opinion about the historical accuracy of it because I simply didn’t get far enough into the famous events from Cromwell’s life.)

      I started this blog because I was dabbling with a novel about the Wars of the Roses, and in America, they tell aspiring novelists that you have to have a blog. (Then I got kind of into writitng the blog and that’s a whole other story.) What I wanted to do in the novel was make the Wars of the Roses and the Middle Ages feel “real”. I suspect that a lot of historians and historical novelists have the same goal. But what is “real”?

      How do you make the Middle Ages real for readers in a way that translates the complexity of the world and isn’t so intrusive as to break their suspension of disbelief? I’m not normally a Philippa Gregory fan, but I was so excited to read The White Queen simply because it was about Wars of the Roses. Then, when she started yammering on about magic and Jacquetta really being a witch, the story just fell apart for me. I could no longer buy Gregory’s world. To give Gregory her due, lots of people love her work and I think she really succeeds in capturing an interpretation, albeit not mine, of her character’s emotional perspective.

      What’s interesting is that when Martin creates his world, he violates a lot of the cheesy (American) Renaissance-fair type tropes. He does have a couple of jousting scenes, but in general he avoids placing his characters in endless scenes with people taking walks in courtyards or in their chambers, which feels like the stock scene for The Other Boleyn Girl, The Tudors, and others. Sure his characters do walk in courtyards, but they do other things as well (like skinning animals, practicing archery, executing men, planning battle strategy, etc). To me, all the chamber and “walking” scenes – and its especially noticeable in the White Queen *TV* series – make the world seem two-dimensional. Gregory is just moving cardboard figures around on a stage with a painted backdrop. (Yes, I know some people will kill me for writing this – feel free! 🙂 )

      I find it interesting that Martin also opts to have the characters speak in a modern vocabulary. He uses modern swears like the F- word. Essentially, he (bravely) removes the more intrusive aspects of the fictional Middle Ages that really don’t add much to the story.

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    This is slightly off-topic but Hilary Mantel is alluded to above. I’ve never read any of her work but have been told she has a good command of language. Anyway, the Beeb is apparently going to broadcast an adaptation of some of her work next year http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2013/wolf-hall.html I believe I said on another thread I thought GRRM was very shrewd inventing the fictional world of Westeros – he isn’t pretending the story is “real” but it does come across as believable – but it being fiction nobody can “call him out” to say his account of Robert’s Rebellion didn’t happen the way he described it, can they? But he can still dip into “real” history for inspiration.

    • Reply July 14, 2014

      Jun

      Yes yes yes! I totally agree. ASOIAF gives me a strong sense of witnessing HISTORY in real time, more than any other fiction I’ve read before. It’s not like reading actual history books, because we know these are past events and therefore less acutely aware of the unpredictability of real life events. It is impossible to fake the sense of “anything could happen” in our head, because we already know what happened. I would almost venture to say that ASOIAF is intended as a simulation of history as history is lived through by people in it.

      Of course we are in fact living through our own period. We have no idea what is going to happen to our own lives or the country we live in and the people we live amongst. However in daily life we do not think with the historical view. I sometimes wonder about the long-range fates of countries currently in peace or conflict and what would happen to them, but it seems so far away from my own mundane daily life.

      ASOIAF has really changed the way I look at history in an intimate and profound way.

  • Reply July 13, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    >>”– but it being fiction nobody can “call him out” to say his account of Robert’s Rebellion didn’t happen the way he described it, can they? But he can still dip into “real” history for inspiration.”
    I agree. I think that’s the whole brilliance of Martin’s technique. He writes history that even the most knowledgeable of historians can appreciate. Even if you were Michael Hicks, you could still enjoy Game of Thrones because you wouldn’t have a pesky, “Well that’s not the way that happened..” floating through your mind.

  • Reply July 14, 2014

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    txxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx This is an afterthought, but having at last caught up on the books i have become one of the legions who want GRRM to write the next tome ASAP. I wonder if the amount of research is the reason the ASOIAF books (or at least the later ones) are so long in genesis?

    • Reply July 14, 2014

      Martine

      I love what you’ve written here Jamie- and I’m so delighted you agree ( great comments from Jun and Watcher too). I’ve been chuckling at the way you totally hit the nail on the head about the seemingly endless scenes of walking through courtyards and chambers …!
      Can I also add in the clunky ‘expositional’ dialogue that usually accompanies these stock scenes? Or the way that historical drama and fiction writers sometimes seem to feel compelled to write ‘Ye Olde Tymes’ speech patterns for their characters?
      One of the many, many delicious facets of GoT as ‘Real History’ for me is the use of naturalistic language- which is just as it would have sounded to the ears of the protagonists in these earlier times.
      Not one ‘cod historical forsooth’ to be found. Hooray.

  • […] Renly, she finds him perched on his throne, “playing at war” rather than fighting one.1 Presiding over tourneys, Renly is the king of display. However, he is all talk and no action. […]

  • Reply August 1, 2014

    Barbara Jackson

    Jamie, do you think that GRR Martin’s Khal Drogo is Genghis Khan. When Drogo gave Viserys his crown of gold it reminded me of the golden drink he gave to a Chinese overlord because he could not understand the Chinese’s greed for gold when you could not eat, wear or drink it!!! Also, Drogo was quite happy with his gyert, horse and cattle and he only fought against those who wanted to take his people’s land and wanted to make them slaves (reference to Daenarys perhaps??) I’m not sure how historically accurate this is tho. Regards Bebe Jax

    • Reply August 4, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Hi Bebe,
      First of all, thanks for your kind words on the site! Looking forward to your comments – if you feel so inclined that would be wonderful.
      Re: Ghengis Khan and Khal Drogo. Yes, I strongly agree. In fact, I believe Martin has admitted that Drogo is partially based on Khan – I’d need to check if that is who he said, but yes I think it was. He’s said the Dhothraki are partially based on the plain and Steppe peoples.

      Jamie

  • Reply August 1, 2014

    Barbara Jackson

    PS Love your site. I’m a bit of a history nut but must admit that I’m more of an historical novel reader. Love Conn Iggledun, GRR Martin and Bernard Cornwell buff but particular love the Plantaganets. Will avidly follow your site. Regards Bebe Jax

    • Reply August 4, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      There is actually an interview on GRRM’s blog in which he interviews Bernard Cornwell – it is fascinating. He asks Cornwell if he ever uses counterfactuals. I’ll try to find the link for it.

      • Reply August 4, 2014

        Bebe Jax

        Hi Jamie, thanks for your reply. I’ll look up GRR’s blog and see if I can find the interview. I’ve just finished reading Dance of the Dragons and thought it was brilliant. I wasn’t fussed on Feast of Crows but loved the Dragons book. Can’t wait for the future GoT series or the next book. Any news of when the books may be forthcoming?? Regards, Bebe Jax

        • Reply August 7, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          Well, GRRM is really cagey about when he’ll be finished. For some reason, I was thinking next May, but I don’t think I’ve officially heard that. One thing I do know is that his editor has said she thinks there might be an eighth book, which IMO means there almost certainly will be. She claims to be guessing there could be an eighth book, but I suspect she is mentioning it to get people used to the idea.

          • August 9, 2014

            Anonymous

            I certainly hope there is a further book . Shame there isn’t a reminder button on his website to let us know when one is available just like Sky Tv reminder!!!

      • Reply August 4, 2014

        Bebe Jax

        Jamie, just read GRRM’s interview with Bernard Cornwell, thanks for link. Loved it, they are two of my favourite authors. They are not too dissimilar are they? Tho Bernard Cornwell says that he does not want his readers having to refer to maps when reading about the battles in his books but that is one of the things I love about GRRM’s Ice and fire, the wonderful maps of Westeros, etc. which you can refer to when whenever there is a battle or incident in his books. Regards Bebe Jax

        • Reply August 7, 2014

          Jamie Adair

          Sorry I meant to actually post the link to the GRRM interview: http://www.bernardcornwell.net/interview-with-george-r-r-martin/

          It really is an amazing conversation. I’ve never read Bernard Cornwell, so I can’t say if they are similar but based on what I know of the subject matter of their books and that interview I definitely think they have a lot of common ground.

          One thing I really liked was GRRM’s question about counterfactuals. That’s what tipped me off to the idea GRRM used them. I think I had an inkling before, but his question confirmed it for me.

          Btw, in October GRRM is releasing a history encyclopedia type book on the history of the ASOIAF world. I’m actually very excited about this book since I believe it is exposed to reveal never before published aspects of the backstory.

          • August 8, 2014

            Jun

            Interesting interview. I have not read Cornwell but have seen the Sharpe TV series (starring Sean Bean). The technique of focusing on (fictional) small characters in large historical context works very well. Clearly Martin is as much a history writer/creator as a fantasy writer.

          • August 8, 2014

            Jamie Adair

            Yes, I agree and it is interesting because Cornwell picks up on that and sort of calls GRRM out on it. Cornwell tells GRRM he is a historical novelist:
            “It seems to me you write historical novels in an invented world which is grounded in historical reality …. “

          • August 9, 2014

            Anonymous

            thanks for heads up about the historical encyclopedia, I’ll certainly look out for it
            .

  • Reply August 8, 2014

    Brandon Butler

    Although Geoffrey Chaucer became the most famous medival Geoffrey, there was another who was probably more famous in Chaucer’s time and for some time thereafter: Geoffrey, son of Henry II and brother to King Richard I and King John.

    It was Geoffrey’s son Arthur who would actually be the FIRST child killed in the name of power: when King John came to the throne, Geoffrey was already dead and Arthur fell under his care, as in Shakespeare’s play. He remained in that care for a time, but died under mysterious circumstances. It is rumored King John finally killed Arthur himself in a fit of drunken rage.

  • Reply August 10, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Geoffrey of Monmouth, the cleric who wrote some works that helped popularise the King Arthur myth is another Geoffrey from “days of old when knights were bold and paper wasn’t invented” (and I’m sure we are all too ‘delicate’ for me to finish this naughty rhyme).

    • Reply August 11, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Believe it or not, there is a third part to this symbolic names article, but I was worried everyone would be getting bored with the topic so I thought I should break it up. I think I might refer to Geoffrey of Monmouth in there.

  • Reply August 15, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    On a history site I visit periodically, somebody had posted this link about the finding of a tomb in Greece http://en.protothema.gr/vast-tomb-at-amphipolis-is-an-important-discovery/ Apparently Alexander the Great or Roxana (I’ve also heard her called Roxanne or Roshanak) his widow have been suggested as the occupier of the tomb. But I noticed that if you scroll down to where there is a picture of (perhaps) Anjelina Jolie and a little boy, the paragraph above mentions that Roxana and her (and Alexander’s) son were killed by one of Alexander’s successors. So as far as getting rid of inconvenient children, there’s nothing new under the sun. I seem to remember that Roxana had disposed of Alexander’s other wife and child soon after Alexander’s death so she wasn’t completely innocent. [Or the other one might have been pregnant]. The glory that was Greece wasn’t glorious all the time if kids were being bumped off.

  • Reply August 27, 2014

    rosswittenham

    I’ve only just realised this. Theon could also be a reference to Theseus. In the Bronze Age, the Minoans from Crete ruled the mainland Greeks, and probably maintained control by keeping hostages, just as the Starks kept Theon. There is a slight role reversal, since the Minoans were seafarers, whereas the Athenians were not. In ASOIAF, the Greyjoys are pirates, while the Starks are landlubbers.

    In the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, the Athenians sent seven young men and seven young women to Crete every seven years. In real life, they would have been returned at the end of those seven years, and traded for another fourteen captives. However, the Cretans were also into human sacrifice and bull fighting, so maybe not every hostage made it back home. In the myth, they are all eaten.

    In the legend, Theseus breaks the cycle by going to the labyrinth and slaying the Minotaur. Thereafter, he returns to Greece, accidentally causes the death of his father, and becomes king. In real life, Theseus would have had to do a lot more.

  • Reply January 2, 2015

    Andrew Boynton

    There was also a Cesare (pronounced Che-zer-ee) Borgia, who, though a man, has lots of similarities to Cersei. Cesare’s son was named Gioffre (Gee-off-ree).

  • Reply May 10, 2015

    Sandra Dermark

    Gioffre Borgia/Jofré Borja, in Catalan. Only so you know there was another way to spell it which sounds more familiar.

    • Reply May 11, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      That’s interesting. Thanks! I will have to look that up.

  • Reply May 10, 2015

    Sandra Dermark

    As for Roose Bolton, “Roose” sounds not much like “noose” as like “ruse”: a trick, a gambit (Roose becoming a traitor, it kind of fits)… The whole name would sound like “Ruse Bolting”…

    • Reply May 11, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Ah! That’s so funny. I just wrote this in my recap tonight. I just thought of it now – the ruse part. I think that is exactly what he does in episode 5 with Ramsay. Bolting certainly makes sense. I was thinking about it tonight; the whole Bolton family rises through trickery. Roose, Ramsay, and perhaps even Myranda (Ramsay’s mini-me) all excel at tricking others.

  • Reply May 13, 2015

    Sandra Dermark

    I love that you got the Roose/ruse homophony, and the fact that you find it convenient and appropiate. By the way, have you looked up the Gioffrè Borgia/Jofré Borja alternate spelling?

  • Reply September 10, 2015

    Duchess of Lancaster

    Just a nit-pick that John of Gaunt had three legal wives, not two. Blanche of Lancaster (mother of Henry IV), Constance of Castile and his former mistress, Kathryn Swynford, the great-great grandmother of Henry VII and great-grandmother of Edward IV and Richard III. Hmm — John of Gaunt and Kathryn Swynford created the Lancasters, Yorks AND Tudors — so the Wars of the Roses are their fault!

    Love your site — it’s like an extra dessert at the end of the day!

    • Reply September 15, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Oh right! I should correct that. Thanks for pointing it out. Thanks for saying such nice things about the site. It is great (and very motivating) to hear people enjoy reading it and look forward to articles.

Leave a Reply