The Game of Thrones character, King Robert Baratheon, may have been inspired by an older Edward IV with maybe a touch of Edward IV’s grandson, Henry VIII. In fact, George RR Martin has admitted “If Robert is modelled on anyone, it is more Edward IV of England… though as usual, I rang in some changes1 .”
Robert Baratheon may have looked more like Edward IV’s grandson (Henry VIII, right) than Edward IV (left). Did a tinge of Tudor creep in to George RR Martin’s characterization?
When we meet Robert Baratheon, he is a hearty, boorish, sweaty, loud, swaggering lech. He openly kisses serving women as his wife looks on from the head banquet table. Granted Robert has a sense of humor and the common touch. During the feast, he mingles with the common folk, crown askew on his head, as his wife embodies queenly dignity and regal reserve.At this point, Robert has long lost the heroic stature of his glory days when he overthrew the Aerys Targaryen and became ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Instead, Robert reminisces about the pitiful cries of the first man he killed. He carouses and staggers through his days, bellowing for more wine, bullying Lancel, and making his brother-in-law stand guard as he romps with whores. State affairs appear to be the last of his concerns.
In my last blog post, I discussed the similarities between a young Edward IV and the character Robb Stark. As I wrote, I believe George RR Martin based two characters partially on Edward IV – one inspired by Edward when he was young (Robb Stark) and another inspired by Edward towards the end of his life (Robert Baratheon).Edward IV was a complex man. Today, he might be like the dog of the fraternity house who surprises everyone when they find out he gets straight As and there is depth behind the party-down facade. Tall, handsome, broad shouldered, and easygoing, Edward had considerable personal charm and charisma. Licentious yet literate, debauched yet courtly, Edward came from the highest of the nobility and yet had the common touch. He was an undefeated war hero who avoided war, but he didn’t let his military success turn him into a man who sought war solely to burnish his ego. During his second reign (yes, second) after Edward had spent time in Burgundy, he remade his court into the glittering pageant of majesty and theater of monarchy for which the Tudors became famous. Edward won over almost all who met him—women were seduced (literally) and men felt like they were his friends. He was likely the consummate sales man with an incorrigible need to be liked.
However, Edward also had a darker side and he was reknowned for unsavoury excesses. Today, he might have been labeled a sex addict and lust may have caused him to make some of the most disastrous mistakes of his reign. He overindulged in sex – particularly with prostitutes – wine, and food. But, despite what many of his contemporaries thought, Edward seems to have had deeper purpose than just a pleasure seeking sybarite. His debauched behavior may have been an outlet for stress rather than his driving goal. He lived to be nearly forty-one years old and died of a mysterious cause after a fishing (not hunting) trip. Contemporaries speculated he died from everything from catching a chill during the fishing trip, to “apoplexy” or a stroke, to eating too many fruits and vegetables to poison. Like Robert Baratheon, Edward made some unfortunate last-minute changes to his will. These resulted in a regency and legitimacy crisis wherein his brother, the soon-to-be Richard III, fought to get the throne. When Edward was alive, he shared many, but not all traits, with Robert Baratheon. Like Robert, he loved hunting. As both men aged, they spent increasing amounts of time in escapist pursuits, such as eating, drinking, hunting, and sex. Robert appears to be haunted by the ghost of his lost love, Lyanna Stark, whom he couldn’t save in the civil war.
It isn’t clear if Edward was actually haunted by anything in the first part of his reign—although it is hard to imagine that presiding over the bloodiest battle on English soil wouldn’t have taken his toll. However, by the second half of his reign, some chroniclers believe Edward began to truly lose control of his excesses after he executed his brother George, Duke of Clarence—who was famously drowned in malmsey wine in Shakespeare’s Richard III
In terms of physical appearance, while both men were corpulent and there is a slight resemblance; however, Edward was clean shaven. In real life, Edward loved opulent, sumptuous clothes far more than his fictional counterpart, Robert. Edward’s clothes were flashy and made from monstrously expensive velvet, damask, silk, and cloth of gold and speckled with twinkling gemstones and lustrous pearls. In today’s money, he spent between $17 million to $43 million USD (or £10 million to £30 million) per year on clothes. His clothes were always in the latest fashions. Interestingly, however, the bearded Robert does look a fair bit like Edward’s grandson, Henry VIII.
Like Robert Baratheon, Edward IV was reputed to be lazy. When Robert names Ned hand of the king, he says: “I’m not trying to honor you. I’m trying to get you to run my kingdom while I eat, drink, and whore my way to an early grave.” Some historians and contemporaries characterized Edward as lazy. However, recent research indicates that he spent long hours administering his realm and reviewed or oversaw the authoring of many official documents. One of Edward’s chroniclers, Crowland, noted how people across his kingdom:
“marveled that such a gross man so addicted to conviviality, vanity, drunkenness, extravagance, and passion could have such a wide memory that the names and circumstances of almost all men, scattered across the kingdom , were known to him, just as if they were daily within his sight even if, in the districts where they operated, they were reckoned of somewhat inferior status.”
Presumably, this claim refers to men who held positions of authority, regardless of how minor, and not every single man in England. Robert’s kingdom is in financial disarray. He has no interest in minimizing debt; he disparages limiting spending as “counting coppers.” Robert is deeply in debt to the Lannisters, his primary source of loans. His behavior seems more like Henry VIII, who blew through his father’s fortune in record time and never saw a jewel he didn’t like.
Edward was extremely aware of money and an excellent businessperson. He revitalized the English economy, improved the wool trade, and eliminated the debt he inherited, which I believe would be roughly $2.5 billion USD or £1.6 billion GDP (roughly £300,000 in 1460). When Edward needed money, he never borrowed it from his wife’s family, who certainly weren’t wealthy enough to support nations. Instead, Edward relied on loans from London merchants and, sometimes, foreign bankers who set up shop in London. Edward generally, if not always, repaid these loans. The one exception was that he would pressure London merchants and wealthy widows to give him gifts of money. However, Edward was not without people to whom he was indebted. He owed his crown to Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick’s support, and Warwick wouldn’t let him forget it.
Episodes: Season 1, Episode 1 “Winter is Coming”; Season 1, Episode 3 “Lord Snow”; and Season 1, Episode 7 “You Win or You Die”
Learn More, Explore More
Edward IV by Charles Ross Edward IV by Hannes Kleineke – this provides a good analysis of Edward’s administrative work.
The Wars of the Roses: The Bloody Rivalry for the Throne of England by Desmond Seward.
I used the following website to calculate monetary values in today’s dollars: http://www.measuringworth.com/ppoweruk/.
By Jamie Adair
- From “So Spake Martin” June 20, 2001 http://www.westeros.org/Citadel/ssm/category/heraldry/p435/P540 [↩]