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 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.
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.
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’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.
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 Jamie Adair
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/