Robb Stark as a Young Edward IV

In Game of  Thrones, George RR Martin may base two characters on Edward IV: Robb Stark may be an incarnation of a young Edward IV whereas the older Edward IV may have inspired his Robert Baratheon. Here’s my take on Robb Stark as the young Edward IV.


Robb Stark’s torment after learning of his father’s death (In Season 1, Episode 9 “Baelor” At roughly 49:00). Courtesy of Wikia.

Robb Stark’s journey involves his coming of age as both a man and leader of House Stark. Robb is continually put into situations that test his courage and leadership, whether he is correcting his little sister Arya when she throws food at Sansa, telling his brother Bran he will never walk again, or stepping into his father’s shoes as lord of Winterfell. To save his father after his imprisonment, Robb has to assume leadership of his father’s men and make decisions that risk not only his own life but the lives of his men.

Edward IV, the teenager who overthrew the king of England, has a similar journey as a young man. Born heir to the richest duke in England, Edward IV was raised in his own household in Ludlow Castle with his brother Edmund. However, in spite of his birth into wealth and privilege, Edward’s life was far from easy. Edward was thrust into the role of leading the house of York after his father was killed and had to take on enormous responsibility and risk when he was only eighteen years old.

Young Edward IV

Edward IV. Artist unknown.

Both Edward IV and his fictional counterpart, Robb Stark, had a father who died a humiliating death. Robb’s father, Ned Stark, was tricked into confessing to a crime he didn’t commit and then executed. Edward IV’s father, Richard Duke of York (Ned’s counterpart), was also killed in humiliating circumstances. During the Battle of Wakefield, Richard of York was killed and Edward’s brother Edmund, inexperienced in warfare, only seventeen, and injured, was executed by John Clifford (“the butcher”). The Lancastrians mounted both Richard of York and his son’s heads on the City of York’s gate to rot – a fate reserved for common criminals and traitors. Worse, the Lancastrians placed a paper crown on Richard of York’s head – allegedly at the queen’s suggestion – to mock Richard of York’s claim to the throne.

Richard of york's decapitated head

A nineteenth-century recreation of the desecration of Edward’s father’s corpse and the mocking paper crown.

The paper crown was particularly offensive since it mocked the family’s claim to the throne. Edward was deeply humiliated by this disrespectful treatment of his father’s corpse and apoplectic over his brother’s execution. Both acts fueled a desire for vengeance that spurred him into action and victory.

In addition to his desire for revenge, Edward IV was motivated by saving his family. In the middle ages, people with strong claims to the throne were in precarious positions. Contenders for the throne and their heirs would almost certainly be killed if the king could get his hands on them.

Like Edward IV, Robb Stark was thrown into war after his father’s ill fortune. Soon into Season 1 of Game of Thrones, King Robert Baratheon asks Ned Stark to become the Hand of the King. The Hand of the King is like a first minister or uber administrator and is the power behind the throne: the person really ruling the country. Despite his wife Catelyn’s protests, Ned accepts and moves to the capital.

Soon, however, Robert Boratheon dies and the hazardous-for-your-health intrigues of King’s Landing catch up with Ned. The Lannisters imprison Ned and take Sansa and (so the Stark’s believe) Arya hostage. As a result, Robb Stark has no choice but to become leader of his house and his father’s men. despite his lack of military experience, Robb has to risk his life and lead thousands of men into battle in order to save half his family.

In Robb’s speech to rally the troops after they seized Jaime Lannister from the Lannister contingent in “Baelor,” he lists his family’s life as his first concern: “One victory does not make us conquerors. Did we free my father? Did we rescue my sisters from the queen? Did we free the north from those who want us on our knees? This war is far from over.”(From Season 1, Episode 9 “Baelor” at roughly 49:00.)


Robb Stark giving an inspiring speech to his bannermen: “One victory does not make us conquerors.” (In Season 1, Episode 9 “Baelor” At roughly 49:00.) Courstey of Wikia.

Robb’s speech reflects Edward IV’s situation after his father’s death, when he became leader of his house. Interestingly enough, Edward was also known for giving inspirational speeches. However, these weren’t just empty words; it seems likely that both Edward IV, and his fictional counterpart Robb Stark, felt the weight of their actions heavily.

“I sent 2000 men to their graves today” — Robb Stark
“The bards will sing songs of their sacrifice.” – Theon Greyjoy
“Aye, but the dead won’t hear them.” – Robb Stark in Season 1, Episode 9 “Baelor” at roughly 49:00.

Like Robb, Edward may have been haunted by the deaths in the battles that placed him on the throne. Robb’s line “I sent 2000 men to their graves today” captures what young Edward may have felt after the Battle of Towton, where it has been alleged that 1% of England’s population died. Possibly as a result, Edward wasn’t particularly fond of war and was quick to avoid bloodshed – often forgiving traitors and issuing orders to let the common soldiers escape at the end of battles. His contemporaries viewed him as overly forgiving.

Battle of Towton by Richard Woodville.

Battle of Towton (29 March 1461) by Richard Woodville. From Hutchinson’s Story of the British Nation 1 (13). London, United Kingdom: Hutchinson and Company 1922. This work is in the public domain in the USA and the EU due to its copyright date.

While Robb and his commanders are trying to figure out how to face the Lannisters who outnumber them, somebody brings an enemy scout into their tent (Season 1, Episode 8 “The Pointy End” at roughly 48:50).  Much to everyone’s fury, Robb allows the scout, who had been counting Robb’s troops, to leave alive. Robb says: “My father understands mercy when there is room for it. And, he understands honor and courage.” Perhaps, Robb’s leniency may have been inspired by Edward’s attitude. Granted in this scene, Robb ultimately uses the scout to trick the Lannisters into misdirecting their forces, it shouldn’t be discounted that Robb came up with this scheme to avoid killing the scout.

Robb turns to tell the commanders he is letting the scout go. The scout is in the background. (Season 1, Episode 8 “The Pointy End” at roughly 48:50.) Courtesy of Wikia.

Like Robb Stark, Edward IV was a brilliant strategist and never defeated on the field of battle. Tywin Lannister sums up Robb’s success when he says: “We’ve underestimated the Stark boy for too long.  He has a good mind for warfare. His men worship him. As long as he keeps winning battles, they’ll keep believing he is king in the north. You’ve been waiting for him to fail. He is not going to fail – not without our help.”  (From Season 2, Episode 5 at 20:20.)

It is unclear if Edward IV or Robb Stark had any aspirations to the throne per se. Each were put in an irrevocable position through his father’s actions, even though their father’s actions may have been just.

Like Robb, Edward had significant support in the North. However, unlike Robb, although Edward had ties to the North, he was not considered a Northerner. Edward’s support stemmed from his relationship with his cousin Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. Like Edward’s mother, Warwick came from one of the great Northern noble families and with that he brought enormous military support. To my knowledge, Edward was never proclaimed “King of the North.” Even though he was from the House of York, his family did not necessarily spend that much time in York. However, this changed toward the end of Edward’s reign with Richard III. Richard III had so much support in the North and spent so much time there, that Edward gave him a palatinate there.

One final and significant way that Robb Stark is like Edward IV is that both men married for love. I’ll expand on this more in another post.

By

Episodes
Season 1, Episode 8 “The Pointy End”
Season 1, Episode 9 “Baelor”

Learn More, Explore More
Edward IV by Charles Ross
Edward IV and the Wars of the Roses by David Santiuste
“Richard of York” on Wikipedia. There is also biography Duke Richard of York 1411-1460 by P.A. Johnson.
For what this world looked like, see this Pinterest board: http://pinterest.com/jamieadairwrite/richard-iii-and-his-world/



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."

16 Comments

  • […] my last blog post, I discussed the similarities between a young Edward IV and the character Robb Stark. As I wrote, I […]

  • Reply May 31, 2013

    Jean Loup

    Thanks, finally some useful information about the obvious ties to real historic events in these books!

    • Reply June 2, 2013

      jamie-adair

      Thanks, Jean! I’ve really enjoyed writing the posts. Also, thanks for adding a comment.

  • […] my posts about Ned Stark, Robb Stark, and Robert Baratheon, I discuss how Martin may base a character on a person from one period but […]

  • Reply December 4, 2013

    Will Farley

    I stumbled on the War of the Roses Wiki page by accident recently and was struck by all the similarities between it and ASoIaF. I started trying to match up fantasy and historical characters but only found a couple possible connections (So many Edwards!). Thanks for this, you went a lot farther than I did and found some real possibilities. Edit – paragraph 4: “Worse, the Lancastrians placed a paper head on Richard of York’s head”. “paper head” should be “paper crown”.

    • Reply December 4, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      Whoops!! I’ll fix that. Thanks for pointing that out and also thanks for the kind words! Please tell your friends.

  • Great post, as always, Jaime!
    Also, I’m waiting for the post on both men marrying for love – and breaking up important allegiances due to marrying the “wrong” person. I think that is even a more clear indicator that Edward IV inspired Robb Stark, as there are so much similarities: the brides were both from mid-ranked positions and were from families that were more loyal to the enemy (Lancasters and Lannisters, ha!). Here, I am considering Jeyne (from the books), and not Talisa.

    • Reply July 15, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks Juliana! Very kind words. You’re absolutely right about the similarities with the wrong bride choice. Some historians, especially older ones like Charles Ross, really emphasize how Elizabeth Woodville was a disastrous choice for Edward. Others, especially those with a kinder view of the Woodvilles, believe the marriage wasn’t that bad. I am definitely with the older school on this one. That doesn’t mean I necessarily agree with the debate about whether the Woodvilles were as bad as some early historians believed, but that marriage caused all kinds of issues that could have been avoided if Edward had only married Bona of Savoy.
      Did I say I’d write a post on both men marrying for love? I honestly don’t remember but it is very possible. 🙂 (If I did, my apologies.) But, I will definitely add it to the list. Thanks for the suggestion.

      • Hi, Jamie!

        No need to thank me, I truly love the blog and should be thanking you for writing it… I am really into history, and seeing all these similarities with GoT is just really fascinating. By the way, I started watching “The White Queen” and felt a really Robb-vibe in Edward, so I googled both names and ended up here again! 🙂

        I agree with you on your view of the marriage. I believe the Woodvilles were not such a bad choice “per se”, but they led to the fallout between Edward and Warwick, which had major consequences for his reign and for the War of Roses. All this could have been avoided, but Edward put love over duty. Of course, maybe we should thank him nowadays, because it does create a much more interesting story. 😉

        As for writing the post on both men marrying for I love, I got that from the last sentence in this post: “One final and significant way that Robb Stark is like Edward IV is that both men married for love. I’ll expand on this more in another post.”

  • Reply July 17, 2014

    Jamie Adair

    Ah, I wonder if I did. This website is now over 200 pages long, so it is getting hard to remember what I’ve written.

    For anyone browsing with Google Chrome (which has automatic translation in it) or who speaks Portuguese, Juliana is the Editor (I believe, based on Google Translate 🙂 ) of the website, Falacultura (http://falacultura.com/).

    Falacultura is a very cool magazine with modern takes on art and culture. Juliana was nominated as one of the ten finalists for the Inspiring Young Award by the Education Foundation and Editora Abril.

    • Hi, Jamie!

      So nice of you to mention my website. Thank you 🙂
      Yeah, I know how that goes, I forget things I wrote all the time!

  • Reply August 24, 2014

    linda J. holland-Toll

    As far as Robb Stark as the younger Edward IV, I tend to disagree. I think that Robert Baratheon represents both young and old. Like Edward IV, he was a great and successful warrior who deteriorated once he won the throne. The boozing, the gluttony, the women, the carelessness with which he ruled, and his relatioinship with his brother Richard all resonate in GoT. And as far as his wife goes, I agree with the comments, but I would look at Elizabeth Woodville to represent Cersei Lannister – the instance in the book where the Lannister grab land and heiresses left and right, the close relationship between Elizabeth Woodville and her brother Anthony, the dislike Richard III had for the queen, all resonate in The Game of Thrones

  • Reply January 2, 2015

    Anonymous

    Thanks for the research and interesting illumination of historical parallels. One point concerning the books: Ned Stark is reluctant to accept the position of Hand. He does so primarily on the basis of Catelyn’s promptings that he do so, rather than over any protestations from her. Indeed, the protestations are all his. In her interior monologue in A Clash of Kings, she regrets having convinced him to accept the position.

  • Reply May 14, 2015

    Johan

    I believe that Edward IV is the inspiration of Robert Baratheon, not Robb Stark. Young Edward was the young Robert and older Edward was the older Robert.

    I think that the real life person who is most similar to Robb Stark is Charles XII of Sweden. He became king at 15, was dragged into a huge war when he was 17 where his enemies thought that he was just a green unexperienced and weak boy. There was the same “no choice but to fight” situation as with Robb. It turned out that Charles was an extremely competent military commander. He crushed a russian army that was 5 times the size of the swedish one, and in basically every battle the swedes were numerically inferior but still won. He later on died without heirs, believed to have been murdered by his own.

  • Reply June 5, 2015

    RT

    This is quite a good analysis.I have always believed Edward IV became weary of war and its pointless devastations as evidenced by his 1475 aborted French campaign. Robb also makes a huge mistake in marrying the woman he falls in love with, just as Edward did. I do agree with an older Robert Baratheon resembling the last 10 years of Edwards rule.

    As for Cersei being representative of Elizabeth Woodville, only if you believe the Ricardian propaganda about the latter. I would concur they both cared deeply for family. Cersei appears more like an amalgam of Margaret Beaufort and Margaret of Anjou with a bit of incest tossed in.

    Many other parallels if you are a serious student of the WoR period. Very clever how the author mixes up fictional characters with recognizable bits of real life folk.

  • Reply March 16, 2016

    Anonymous

    Their name’s are basically the same as well, could be a slight easter egg to help us find this. Robb and Robert.

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