Rethinking Cersei Lannister

George RR Martin may draw inspiration for Cersei Lannister, Game of Thrones’ ruthless, cruel, vengeful, and manipulative queen, from two different queens in Wars of the Roses: Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou. In Cersei Lannister: The Evil Queen We Love to Hate, I discussed the similarities between Cersei and Elizabeth Woodville. However, I’ve stubbornly resisted acknowledging any similarities between Cersei Lannister and Margaret of Anjou.

However, I received quite a few great comments and emails on this topic—thank you very much!—and now the similarities between Margaret of Anjou are striking to me. As a result, in tomorrow’s post, I’m going to explore the similarities between Margaret of Anjou and Cersei Lannister. (By the way, the great thing about working on this blog is that it’s really fun to hear other people’s ideas and  interpretations that hadn’t occurred to me. I love getting comments and email like that.)

Margaret-Anjou elizabeth-woodville
From left to right: Margaret of Anjou, Cersei Lannister, Elizabeth Woodville.
Image of Cersei via Wikia, © HBO.

In retrospect, I think I didn’t see Margaret of Anjou in Cersei because the superficial similarities between Elizabeth Woodville and Cersei blinded me. Both women are described as having long blonde hair and being extremely beautiful. (While Margaret of Anjou is blonde in the illustration above, contemporaries described her as dark, and some historians point out the illustrators may have never seen her.)

Unlike Margaret of Anjou, Cersei is not a foreign queen. Furthermore, I believe Robert Baratheon bears a strong resemblance to an aging, fat, drunken, and promiscuous Edward IV. Traditionally, historians have characterized Elizabeth Woodville and Margaret of Anjou as both being manipulative, imperious, haughty, arrogant, and power-hungry.* Consequently, either woman could inspire some of Cersei’s more negative qualities.

With all of this said, I still maintain that George RR Martin based aspects of Cersei on Elizabeth Woodville. In particular, her storyline as the widow of an overly indulgent conqueror who makes last-minute changes to his will that result in a struggle for the throne, seems, to me at least, strongly connected to Elizabeth. In my opinion, George RR Martin used traits from Margaret of Anjou and Elizabeth Woodville.

* There are some revisionist histories out, but these were released after Martin wrote the first book in the A Song of Ice and Fire series.

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."

11 Comments

  • Reply July 17, 2013

    Jessica

    i think she also had something about Isabeau of Baviera even some chronists belive her brother in law was the real father of her children, also the King Charles of France the mad had several bastards and at least she attempeted to kill him at a ball, and also in her lacked of goverment she almost sold France to the British I also believe about the prophecy that she would survived her children was similar about Catherine of Medici excepted that her younger child Marguerite of Valois survived her and her ex husband Henry of Navarre and by the end when this to married and finished days later with the saint Bartholomew´s massacre welll that also sorry if I bored you
    bye

    • Reply July 21, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      No, this isn’t boring at all. This is a great comment. I find the part about the prophecy especially intriguing. Hmmm…

  • […] e eventos históricos que podem ter inspirado Game of Thrones. Há algum tempo a autora publicou uma série de posts sobre possíveis inspirações para a personagem de Cersei Lannister. De acordo com Jamie Adair, […]

  • Reply August 6, 2013

    Cintia

    Hi, I just find your blog, and I love it! I’m going to read all!!! Your idea is amazing, congrats.

    • Reply August 6, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      Cintia, it is very nice to meet you and thank you so much for your kind words!!! I hope you enjoy it and, if you do, please tell your friends. Thank you!!!

  • Can I suggest another (clearly small) reference for Cersei Lannister?
    I was reading something and it reminded me of Cersei. She frequently refers to herself as “her father’s daughter” and “the lioness”. Well, I was reading a bit about Elizabeth I’s feeling towards her own father, and I found this piece of writing, from Tracy Borman: “She variously referred to herself as “my father’s daughter” or “the lion’s cub””.

    Also about Elizabeth: “It seems that not only did Elizabeth realise that she could overcome her so-called female weakness by calling on the memory of her father and relying on her inherited “masculine” characteristics of authority, courage and shrewdness, but that she could also make use of him as a role model for monarchy.”

    More here: http://www.elizabethfiles.com/elizabeth-i-her-fathers-daughter-and-the-lions-cub/3515/

    Clearly Elizabeth is not the inspiration behind most of Cersei’s character, but I found it interesting that her admiration for her father resembles so much Cersei feelings for Tywin, as well as her acknowledgement of her limitations as a woman. What do you think?

  • Olga Hughes
    Reply June 22, 2014

    Olga Hughes

    Hi Juliana. I think Elizabeth certainly used the memory of her father to reinforce her position but I am not sure we can say she really admired him. Elizabeth’s coronation included a “triumphal arch” of three levels, with Henry VIII holding a Tudor rose with Anne Boleyn at his side. It’s a rather bold and defiant statement against Henry VIII’s spin that his marriage to Anne Boleyn was invalid. It is also a reminder of her legitimacy, something that Rome and Catholic factions constantly attacked.
    Elizabeth replaced several of her ancestor’s tombs that were destroyed during the Dissolution yet never spent the money to have Henry’s tomb built, something he had outlined in his will. To this day he still lies under a marble slab while the rest of the Tudor family lies in Westminster Abbey.

    Cersei is very tricky indeed. Do you think she admired Tywin? I am not sure Cersei really had emotional connections with anyone.

  • Reply June 23, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    And of course UK people – if not from elsewhere – will know there is a lion in the United Kingdom coat of arms http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Coat_of_Arms_of_the_United_Kingdom – and the old rhyme “The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the Crown, The Lion beat the Unicorn all around the town” said to date from the time Edward I was earning his name as “The Hammer of the Scots”. Of course this does not relate directly to which historic personnage or personnages may have inspired the character of Cersei, though as Martine commented in response to another article in some ways Edward I (of England) was not dissimilar to Tywin Lannister.

  • Reply September 4, 2017

    Darin G

    Can I suggest someone I just stumbled upon?

    Gunnhild konungamóðir (mother of kings) or Gunnhild Gormsdóttir[1] (c. 910 – c. 980)

    ‘In the sagas, Gunnhild is most often depicted in a negative light, and depicted as a figure known for her “power and cruelty, admired for her beauty and generosity, and feared for her magic, cunning, sexual insatiability, and her goading”, according to Jenny Jochens.”

    She was the wife of Eric Bloodaxe (king of Norway 930–34, ‘King’ of Orkney c. 937–54, and king of Jórvík 948–49 and 952–54).

    You can read more about her on this wikipage:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunnhild,_Mother_of_Kings

    • Reply September 5, 2017

      WATCHER ON THE COUCH

      I don’t know (or didn’t know of that lady, Darin. As has been stated before it’s thought that GRRM uses multiple inspirations to spin his tale. Before I encountered Jaime and Cersei the mythical case of twincest I had heard of was of Siegmund and Sieglind in the Ring Cycle, so it’s possible Gunnhild went to make the fusion that we know as Cersei Lannister.

      • Reply September 6, 2017

        Jamie Adair

        I think that is very likly indeed. Darin, thanks for sharing and please post or comment if you see other such parallels. Very cool indeed!

Leave a Reply