Episodes: Season 1, Episode 1 “Winter is Coming,” Season 1, Episode 7 “You Win or You Die,” Season 2, Episode 6 “The Old Gods and the New”
If Robert Baratheon is an older Edward IV, does that make the man Robert likened to a brother, Ned Stark, an incarnation of Edward IV’s brother Richard? In some ways, it does. However, there are major differences and Richard III was not the only historic person George RR Martin looked to when creating Ned.
Richard III, the notorious King of England, immortalized in Shakespeare’s play as the hunchbacked villain who murdered his nephews, remains deeply polarizing even today. For some, Richard is innocent of the crimes like murdering his nephews. These people note Richard’s good points like loyalty, skillful governance, and his popularity in the North – all traits Ned Stark shares.
Ned Stark’s singular defining, yet destructive, characteristic is loyalty. Despite his better judgment, Ned fatefully accepts the position of Hand out of duty to Robert. The same devotion leads Ned to decide to tell Robert his children are illegitimate. Ned’s compassion gets the better of him, and he warns Cersei of his decision with disastrous consequences. Later, when Tywin Lannister asks Arya, unaware of her identity, what killed her father, her reply? “Loyalty.” (Season 2, Episode 6 at 35:50).
Richard III chose the motto “Loyaulte me lie” (Loyalty binds me). When Richard’s brother Clarence rebelled against Edward IV, Richard sided with his brother Edward and fled with him to Burgundy. Richard’s decision to side with Edward may not have been easy; his cousin Warwick led the plot to overthrow Edward. Warwick may have been like a father to Richard, who lived in Warwick’s household at Middleham only a couple of years before.
Like Ned, Richard was also known for his good governance of the north. Edward delegated nearly the entire administration of the North and defence of the Scottish border to Richard. In 1483, Edward made him a palatinate king of the Westmoreland and Cumberland counties. Despite his brother’s favor, Richard stayed primarily in the North and avoided court. In the first Game of Thrones episode, when Robert greets Ned after a nine-year absence and asks why he hasn’t seen him, the ever-dutiful Ned’s reply is “Guarding the North for you, Your Grace. Winterfell is yours.” (Season 1, Episode 1 at 27:29).
However, unlike Ned, Richard was likely charismatic, charming, a powerful networker, and a skillful speaker. Richard likely started building the great northern network that supported him when he seized the throne in his time in Middleham. In the North, Richard was renowned for his loyalty and generosity towards his great northern affinity of followers. He practised “good lordship” where he shared his wealth, power, and successes with those below him: patronage had a positive connotation and a noble’s followers expected it. Chroniclers noted contemporaries saw Richard as a brilliant and charismatic speaker like his brothers.
George RR Martin also places Ned in the illegitimacy/succession crisis that occurred in 1483. After Edward IV died, Richard III was in a dangerous position. He felt threatened by the Woodvilles, whom he blamed for his brother’s death. He likely believed that they would kill him as well given the opportunity.
On Edward’s deathbed, Edward added a codicil to his will making Richard the regent until Edward’s son, Edward V, was old enough to rule as an adult. In Edward’s will, he appointed Richard regent and guardian of the royal children. The codicils have never been found, which may mean they were destroyed immediately after Edward’s death. Richard wasn’t present when Edward died – and wasn’t told until days later when Edward’s best friend, Hastings, wrote Richard with the news. It is quite possible that somebody in the Woodville faction, who was against Richard being regent, destroyed the codicils. This may have been the inspiration for Cersei Lannister (an incarnation of Elizabeth Woodville) ripping up Robert Baratheon’s will.
During the crisis following Edward’s death, Richard may have discovered Edward may have secretly entered into a marriage contract before he covertly married Elizabeth Woodville. Such a contract would have rendered his marriage to Elizabeth null and void and Edward’s children bastards. Richard based his claim to the throne on there being no legitimate heirs to the throne. The 1483 struggle for the throne is, at a very high level, not unlike the dynastic struggle that occurs after Ned writes to Stannis Baratheon that Robert didn’t father his own children.
One way in which Martin diverges from Richard’s life events is that, unlike Ned’s relationship with Robert, Richard never fought beside Edward in Edward’s first struggles for the throne. Richard was
13 10 years younger than Edward so he was only a boy when Edward overthrew the Lancasters. Ned also appears to lack the ruthlessness, impulsivity, decisiveness, and possibly raw energy for which Richard was known.
While Richard, like Ned was definitely, the dutiful soldier, Richard could be ironhearted when it came to doing what had to be done. Richard was likely responsible for killing, or ordering, the death of the “mad king” Henry VI after Edward regained his throne. Richard had no compunction about taking property from widows, including his mother-in-law, and he had his brother’s best friend executed within minutes of accusing him of treachery. While these actions made Richard little different from his peers, this cold calculation is not seen in Ned.
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(Note: Two corrections were added to this post in red text on April 25/13. Thanks to everyone for your great comments and for pointing out these errors.)
By Jamie Adair