Where’s Sansa’s Lantern?


This is the second part of my editorial about the recent rape. This part of the article is posted separately from the first part, in which I discuss the pain many of us feel when we see rape on television. It is with a little trepidation and mixed feelings that I write this article. On one hand, I’m extremely sympathetic to people who do not want to see violence against women portrayed on television. On the other hand, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about rape in Game of Thrones, what the showrunners are trying to accomplish, and whether TV should depict violence against women. Admittedly, these are complex issues and I don’t have full clarity of thought about them yet. Here is what I think for what it is worth.

In the “Kill the Boy” episode of Game of Thrones, Brienne sends a message to Sansa telling her that if she ever needs to be rescued she should place a lantern in the broken tower’s window. We haven’t seen the lantern yet — and for anyone familiar with Chekhov’s gun, that’s cause for alarm. By the Checkhov’s gun principle, we wouldn’t have been told about the lantern if it wasn’t going to be used. Is Sansa’s rape over yet?


In their final Game of Thrones critique, The Mary Sue writes, “it is not necessary to prove “how bad things were for women” (Game of Thrones exists in a fictional universe, and we already know it’s exceptionally patriarchal).”

Not quite.

Game of Thrones exists in a medieval-esque universe that is a more historically accurate than a lot of historical fiction. While we may understand that the Game of Thrones universe is patriarchal, if today’s history books are any indication, we certainly haven’t gotten the message about the brutality of life for medieval women (or peasants) — not to mention their counterparts in developing nations today.

Rape was an endemic problem throughout the Middle Ages and antiquity – particularly wartime sexual violence. And, in many parts of the developing world, arranged child marriage and rape remain issues even today.

Myths about chivalry and knights-in-shining armor, Disney princesses, fairy tales, and biography-driven popular histories have unwittingly whitewashed the pillage-and-rape, warfare-driven, patriarchal elitist reality of the Middle Ages out of our collective consciousness.

Sansa’s rape could “further the conversation” if people used the outrage to raise awareness of child rape, forced consummation, and marital rape as historical and modern-day issues.

A World Set in a Medieval War Will Have Rape

The A Song of Ice and Fire series is ultimately a grand meditation on war, penned by a pacifist. Game of Thrones has never purported to depict the kinder, gentler Middle Ages. George RR Martin objects to the “Disney Middle Ages” and strives to ground his fantasy in real history. He recreates the war-driven medieval world in a three-dimensional hyper-realistic manner complete with sigils, sex, food, and even privies.

In the real Middle Ages, women and children were diplomatic bargaining chips. The powerful cared primarily about amassing land (often to get bigger armies). Women were chattel. And, the elite rarely considered poor peasants who died from their scorched-earth war tactics, which often included rape.


The Rape of the Sabine Women by Nicholas Poussin. In the early days of Rome, the Romans reputedly abducted the women of neighboring Sabina. The term “rape” refers to the abduction of these women, whom the Romans forced to marry them. However, if the women were forced to marry Romans, I doubt it was so the Romans could live chastely with them.

For thousands of years, rape and war have marched hand in hand. There’s a reason why “rape and pillage” have become a catchphrase – and it’s pretty terrible. The Ancient Greeks, Romans, Vikings, Mongols, and many others all raped women (and men) as part of their warfare, after defeating their opponents on the field or by siege. During the first Crusade, knights marching to Constantinople raped women.

Soldiers regularly used rape, pillage, and plunder as weapons to demoralize civilians. In the Hundred Years War, fifteenth-century French soldiers raped English women. During Joan of Arc’s imprisonment, she feared rape so much that she reverted to wearing men’s clothing, despite promising the Church she would not — and was executed as a result. When starving armies resorted to pillaging villages, it could unleash a floodgate of horrible behavior including rape, as was the case in the Thirty Years’ War  ((The Readers Companion to Military History by Robert Cowley Geoffrey Parker p. 270)) .

Women and rape were also a form of booty for victorious armies. Historically, war leaders incented soldiers with the promise of booty, especially when they didn’t have enough money to pay them.


Did English queen Margaret of Anjou realize that paying her Scottish mercenaries with spoils might have included rape?

Incidentally, this wartime sexual violence isn’t a largely irrelevant aspect of a by-done era of warfare. War rapes continue in the modern world. After the Russian’s Red Army invaded Berlin in 1945, they gang raped girls as young as eight and women as old as eighty. In 1968, during the American war with Vietnam, American servicemen gang raped Vietnamese women and mutilated their bodies in an event known as the My Lai Massacre. In Bosnia, during the 1990s, Serbian “White Eagle” gunmen raped Muslim women “day and night.”

Violence Against Women and Peasants Downplayed in Many History Books

If we are surprised by the violence of the Game of Thrones world, it may be because so much medieval violence never makes it into the pages of today’s popular histories and the previous generations of historians referred to it in misleading or oblique ways.

When I’ve tried to find information about the brutality of specific late medieval wars, I’ve had to dig down deep into academic histories, niche histories, or worse. In the case of the Hundred Years War, initially, I had to order books from France. Biography’s lens has distorted far too much history as biographers fall in love with their subjects.


The promo text for Dr. Mortimer’s book gloats that Edward III presided over the longest period of *domestic* peace in the Middle Ages. It’s amazing how peace at home happens when you send the most violent caste overseas to inflict mayhem (rape, pillage, and plunder) on the local population there.

Try searching, for example, for the word “peasant” in the offensively entitled The Perfect King: The Life of Edward III Father of the English Nation. I believe it shows up twice. (Edward III is the fourteenth-century English king who initiated the Hundred Years’ War and waged it by attacking French civilians (aka peasants).)

Although I’m sure The Perfect King is brilliantly written, after reading the title and overleaf, I could not stomach reading Mortimer’s  entire book. In the portions I read, Ian Mortimer completely divorces Edward III’s scorched-earth raids from their tragic consequences for the French people he claimed to want to rule. The three million who died in the Hundred Years War are a footnote in the story of this “family man,” to borrow a phrase from the back cover. This style of decontextualized analysis is morally objectionable on every single level.

Although I’m singling Mortimer out due to his book’s title, he is far from alone.  I  found book after book on the Hundred Years’ War written almost exclusively from the perspective of either the English or the nobility, or both.

Historians shy away from writing about the visceral horror of historical violence. In his book A Brief History of Britain 1066-1485, historian Nicholas Vincent writes of how previous historians have downplayed rape during the Norman Conquest.  (Rape was such an extensive problem in early Norman England that the nunneries overflowed with Anglo-Saxon women seeking refuge from Norman knights.) “This great flight to religion has generally been presented as an attempt by Anglo-Saxon women to escape forced marriages. In fact we now know enough about the practices of victorious armies in Berlin in 1945 or Bosnia in the 1990s, to appreciate that it was not so much marriage as rape that was feared1 .”

The unintentional effect of using genteel euphemisms is a whitewashing of history. And when we can’t face the horror of events long since passed, what does that say about how we engage with atrocities against women in the present? Do we just try to blot it out of consciousness?

By all appearances, George RR Martin’s work, and that of the showrunners, is a conscious attempt to create a realistic three-dimensional world set in a war-torn medieval period. Ultimately, we can’t understand war, if we don’t feel its blades. And, we can’t deconstruct the princess myth, if we don’t see the potential brutality of the princes they married.

Disney distorts our perception of medieval princesses

The Disney Princess myth does a hatchet job on our perception of medieval women. Real medieval princesses and noblewomen were often child brides.


After her first husband, Prince Arthur Tudor died, Catherine of Aragon waited in limbo for seven years while her parents and Henry VII negotiated over her  marriage to Prince Henry. While they haggled, she lived at various points as a veritable prisoner and was virtually penniless. Her distant father effectively ignored her complaints.

The reality for many medieval princesses and noblewomen was living away from their families with relatively limited protection. They were vulnerable to the whims of their betrotheds and husbands. Being a medieval princess was not thwarting wicked witches, dancing at balls, living in dwarf cottages, or singing with the birds. And, as any of Henry VIII’s wives could tell us, it was not falling in love with heroic, kind-hearted handsome princes.


Snow White sings with the birds.



Sansa’s journey as a character is a deliberate attempt to deconstruct the princess myth. She moves from a girl who daydreams about marrying princes to a vulnerable orphan whose prince fiancé beats her to the raped wife of a violent sadist. Sansa’s story is the opposite of the happily ever-after lives of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty.


Back in Winterfell, Sansa excitedly meets her (almost) future mother-in-law Cersei at the feast. (c) HBO.


Sansa while she is being beaten by Joffrey’s knight (Ser Meryn Trant). (c) HBO.


Sansa as she dreams of a happier life with Loras Tyrell. (c) HBO


Sansa during her first forced marriage (as she weds Tyrion). (c) HBO.

In Sansa’s tale, we can find threads from the lives of real-life medieval princesses (and noblewomen) like the oft-betrothed Elizabeth of York and Anne Neville; Catherine of Aragon (who was left in a vulnerable limbo at the English court after her marriage to Prince Arthur ended); and Elizabeth I (who was vulnerable to the advances of her sort of step-stepfather/guardian Thomas Seymour).


Sansa fleeing for her life with Littlefinger (in the Thomas Seymour role) after Joffrey’s assassination. (c) HBO.

George RR Martin himself has indirectly alluded to the problems with Disney’s depiction of the Middle Ages in his 2011 Time magazine interview:

“…the contrast between [historical fiction] and a lot of the fantasy [when he began writing ASOIAF] was dramatic because a lot of the fantasy of Tolkien imitators has a quasi-medieval setting, but it’s like the Disneyland Middle Ages. You know, they’ve got tassels and they’ve got lords and stuff like that, but they don’t really seem to grasp what it was like in the Middle Ages.

Fairy tales alter our perception of the Middle Ages. Many academics have decried the “Disney-fication” of the Middle Ages and how Disney’s hodge-podge of architectural and clothing styles have distorted our perception of our own past. They have created a neo-Middle Ages. A study by Smithsonian curator Paul Sturtevant reveals that children who watch Disney’s fare have trouble learning medieval history because its incongruous with their existing ideas about the (Disney) Middle Ages2 .

Rape to consummate marriages

Medieval kings abandoned their little girls in foreign lands to cement peace treaties. Many child brides never saw their parents again. This system pushed grooms to consummate marriages quickly and tacitly sanctioned what we would consider to be wedding-night rape.

One problem was that impregnating the bride cemented the match.

Consider the case of Margaret Beaufort (the English king Henry VII’s mother).


Margaret Beaufort.

Edmund Tudor married Margaret shortly after she turned twelve. If he could impregnate Margaret, he would share in her estates for life. By mid-1456, Edmund succeeded: Margaret was thirteen-years old and pregnant.

While the record is silent as to whether Edmund Tudor raped Margaret Beaufort, it seems unlikely that this little girl would have welcomed sex with her twenty-six year old husband. When she gave birth, she was so tiny the delivery nearly killed her. Years later, she would fret in the margin of a religious text over whether it was a sin to find sex repugnant.

Although her experience might have been extreme, Margaret Beaufort was not alone in marrying so young. Lucrezia Borgia and Eleanor of Castille married at 13, and Marie Antoinette at 14. The Church and contemporaries urged grooms to wait until at least a girl reaches puberty before consummating the marriage.


Sansa’s terror after she gets her period and realizes the Lannisters will make her marry Joffrey. (c) HBO.

This year, on the show, Sansa is roughly 17 so technically she is still a child bride.

Medieval princesses weren’t the only women who were raped on their wedding nights. It seems more than plausible that many child brides were raped on their wedding nights – and child marriage dates back to at least Ancient Greece and Rome. In fact, it is only within the last twenty-five years that marital rape has become illegal across all of the United States.

Where’s the lantern for child brides today?

Raping a woman on her wedding night wasn’t even considered a crime in America until the 1970s or, in some states, 1993. In South Carolina, marital rape isn’t a crime without aggravated violence or the threat of violence with a weapon. Over 700 million women alive today were married as children.

Were all of these women raped? It depends on how you define rape, the age of consent, the ability to consent, etc. But, violent rape seems likely when twelve-year old girls are married to men five times their age.

Five years ago, a thirteen-year old Yemeni girl died after being raped on her wedding night due to severe genital bleeding. A 2009 Yemeni law that raised the marital age to 17 was reversed after lawmakers deemed it “un-Islamic.”

Yemen is not alone. In Niger, 76% of women marry before 18. India has over 10 million women who were married under 15. Child marriage occurs dozens of countries, including Chad, Bangladesh, Mexico, South America, Africa, and even some Gypsy communities.

How cruel it is to think of the terror little child brides must feel as they imagine their wedding nights. This 35-year old woman’s frightening recollection of her marriage at eleven will make your hair curl.

Today poverty, security, and honor-based cultures are integral factors in why parents decide to marry off their daughters at desperately young ages. The fundamental issue, like in Northern Europe during the Middle Ages, is ultimately women’s lack of economic power.

By 2030, 15.4 million girls will marry as children – that’s an entire country of child brides. The total number of women married as children will grow to 1.2 billion in 2050. And, yet at least in America, to the best of my knowledge, we never attempt to use our muscle as a superpower to stop these practices.

If only senators like Claire McCaskill tweeted their outrage over child marriage and other human right’s abuses, instead of Game of Thrones.

Changing the conversation

Rather than talk about whether or not HBO should have included the rape scene, it would be better to talk about why it bothers us so much. It would be better to acknowledge the truth past and present underlying the scene – and raise awareness of modern-day child marriages.

And, perhaps almost as importantly, we should think about how we present history – in popular histories and animated fare. When we whitewash ugliness out of history, what effect does that have on how we see ourselves and how we see the present?

Given the three-dimensional nature of Game of Thrones, if George RR Martin and HBO had omitted forced consummations from their narratives they would have done medieval women a disservice. Does glossing over this historical ugliness help today’s child brides? Would it help the eight-year old Yemeni girl who died from severe internal bleeding on her wedding night — after her 40-year old groom forcibly consummated the marriage? This happened only a year and a half ago.

The issue with the rape scene isn’t the intensity of the violence. It’s that as women we hate seeing women raped on television. And, rightly so. But, do something with that anger.

Use scenes like Sansa’s rape as a graphic, visceral reminder of our collective history and on-going subjugation today. While we are still outraged, change the conversation. Redirect your rage towards the marital rape and child-bride practices that continue today.

As much as you may hate that rape scene, it is the history and modern-day reality underlying it that is truly disgusting.

  1. N. Vincent p. 138 Kindle edition []
  2. As cited in http://www.academia.edu/6653466/George_R.R._Martins_Quest_for_Realism_in_A_Song_of_Ice_and_Fire   []

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."


  • Reply May 24, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    I had written quite a long comment but I have lost it. If people are truly incensed about the final scene of last week’s episode of GoT would it be worth their while writing to HBO or to the show-runners to express their dislike of the episode’s finish giving reasons and perhaps how they would have developed the story (as they have more or less caught up on Sansa’s book storyline). Maybe if enough people protested the powers that be might take some notice. People can exchange pleasantries on websites such as this but that does not really affect how HBO as a group acts.

    There are parts in the ASOIAF books I don’t like

    possible book spoiler

    I can’t remember the name of the family but there is a place where Euron (am I the only one who is NOT crying into my cocoa that he hasn’t been included in the show thus far) and his crew make some women from a noble house who are waiting on them strip off – and somebody was raped there if I recall rightly.

    I found this article http://scribbling-inthemargins.blogspot.co.uk/2013/09/the-anglo-saxon-heiress-and-norman.html concerning Anglo-Saxon women at the time of the Normal conquest.

    I found this Wikipedia article about Chaucer’s “Wife of Bath’s Tale”http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wife_of_Bath%27s_Tale

    Rape is used as a plot-point though the rape victim doesn’t really feature in the rest of the story. The end of the story – where the ugly woman becomes beautiful – is something of a medieval trope.

  • Reply May 24, 2015


    Jamie, this is the most rational, well thought out- but most importantly- impassioned article I have read anywhere on this entire subject.
    I cannot applaud you enough

    • Reply May 25, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Martine, thank you so much! That’s *very* kind and supportive. I felt like I was going out on a limb a little bit — especially for criticism Ian Mortimer’s book, but that is how I feel. Thank you again. Very kind of you…

    • Reply May 25, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      P.S. Sorry it took me so long to reply.

  • Reply May 24, 2015

    Phil Hallam-Baker

    The problem with the lantern is that it is not clear that Sansa can trust it. Theon was allowed to escape and it was a trick. Can Sansa trust the old woman, is the message from Brienne or from Ramsay?

    • Reply May 25, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Oh geez. The lantern being one of Ramsay’s tricks. That’s a terrible thought isn’t it. I think you’re right. We didn’t actually see Brienne tell the innkeeper that Sansa should light the lantern, did we? I think she just said she had a message. (BTW, the title of this article might be wrong. Last night it was a candle they mentioned. I’m not sure where I got the lantern idea, unless that is just what I mentioned when the woman brought her the message.)

  • Reply May 25, 2015


    it bothers us because it’s a part of an idiotic, nonsensical storyline, which broke all rules of logic and had characters acting completely irrationally, just to put Sansa in the position to be raped by Ramsay.

    It bothers us because it’s done entirely for shock value and has no merit in terms of storytelling or character.

    it bothers us because it’s terrible, lazy and repetitive storytelling. Oh, Sophie Turner does suffering so well – so let’s just do a retread of Sansa’s King’s Landing storyline, only make it worse!

    It bothers us because they have decided that all female characters are interchangeable, and that a storyline of a main female character, a character arc that makes sense, in which she goes through a terrible experience of being an abused prisoner and hostage, escapes and starts finding power and growing into a political player, a story in which the issue of sexual agency is crucial, was completely thrown away, and her character development derailed, so they could turn her into a victim again and pointlessly give us some more torture porn with the actress they like to see in torture porn scenes.

    It bothers us because they expect us to believe that a girl who finally escaped a terrible experience of a helpless hostage abused by a psychopath and forced into a marriage into the family of her family’s murderers, after having finally gained some agency, would throw away all her safety, agency and a position of relative power, and willingly marry into another family of her family’s murderers and put herself at their mercy, after an unconvincing two minute persuasion/manipulation by a man she doesn’t even trust (that was established last season, or did they forget what they wrote last season already?).

    It bothers us because the entire plot, apart from being nonsensical, is based on the offensive idea that the value of every woman who does not fight with weapons is only in her body, and that the only way she could get anywhere is through sex. So, somehow we’re to think that Sansa really believed her best chance of revenge against the Boltons was to marry Ramsay Bolton. Whatever.

    It bothers us because they decided that the arc and development of a main female character is unimportant compared to an arc of two supporting male characters (and they aren’t even doing that right).

    It bothers us because they genuinely seem to think that Sansa being raped and abused by Ramsay is just this cool little filler story that they can throw Sansa in until they got to her real story, because “she only has a few chapters in A Feast for Crows”. Because being raped is a minor thing just like breaking a nail, surely it doesn’t affect people!

    It bothers us because they seem to think that Sansa needed to be raped to hate the Boltons and want revenge on them. Because the murder of her mother and brother was not enough!

    It bothers us because the whole trashy storyline feels like a bad joke. Like they were trolling their audience. “Oh, Sansa is going to be totally empowered now! Look at her black dress… isn’t she empowered! Now she’s going to do stuff… She has leverage over Littlefinger… So, now Littlefinger is going to sell her some story about how she’s going to do great stuff and avenge her family by… marrying Ramsay Bolton! Huh? Wait, we assure you, there’s a plan! … PSYCH! Ha ha ha, of course not, Sansa is such an idiot, were you idiots too to believe in that empowerment crap we were selling you last season? No, now she’s going to be a victim again, but this time, it’s gonna be much worse! Her entire role this season is to be repeatedly raped and beaten!”

    It bothers us because the show runners have admitted they had wanted to do this since season 2, i.e. they were planning a rape scene featuring Sophie Turner since she was 15.

    It bothers us because it feels like they were providing fanservice to everyone who wants to see Sansa raped and abused (and we know there have been people like that for ages), and to call Sansa an idiot and to claim that she “had it coming” (after all, now they can say she chose to marry Ramsay).

    It bothers us because it feels like they enjoy punishing Sansa for being a pretty girl and for rejecting a male character they like, Tyrion, and not rewarding him with sex and love when he did the oh so heroic act of… not raping her after she had been forced to marry him.

    It bothers us because the show has been sexist and terrible in its writing of female characters in general. The cheap, exploitative and offensive way they continue to use sexual violence against women as plot device (in the latest episode, attempted rape of a female character – a sexual abuse victim – by Bad Dudes is used as device to get her into bed with a Good Dude!).

    Let’s stop with the argument that people are bothered by the very fact that the show portrays rape, rather than the way it does that. People have voiced their actual complaints many times. The storyline is insulting in so many ways, among other things, it insults the viewers’ intelligence.

    Let’s not pretend that the show did this because they wanted to honestly portray the suffering of women, the horrors of marital rape, or the suffering of smallfolk. If they wanted that, they would have done the actual ook bJeyne Poole storyline with Jeyne Poole.

    • Reply May 27, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Hi Bunny,
      I am not *pretending* that HBO did this because they wanted to portray the suffering of women. As I said in my article, I believe this is an aspect of the medieval world that HBO wanted to capture and I believe that the showrunners are sympathetic.
      I am getting tired of hearing you slag HBO. If you want to do that, go to ASOIAF Reddit or any number of other places. While I’m in favor of freedom of speech, this is a website primarily about the TV show. (The reason for that is because it is also a website about the history and the TV show provides the best visuals.) We do run articles about the books as well, but the focus is on the show. You need to reign it in about HBO, or I will ban you from commenting. Some criticism of HBO is okay – but this is too much. And, I’m sick of it. You are on the edge of being insulting to me – and I own this site.

      • Reply May 27, 2015


        It’s good of you to make that clear. You don’t have to worry about me posting any more comments here then, I’m not interested in participating in discussions on blogs that don’t allow the deserved criticism of the HBO show.

        • Reply May 27, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          Just to make it clear to anyone else who is reading this, some criticism is okay, healthy debate is okay, but this is not the right forum (quite literally) for extended rants about HBO.

          • June 2, 2015


            Jaime I really appreciate your article and I do believe this story was never intended to be Disney-friendly. Rape has been and is still used as a part of war, as you pointed out. I remember when I read Jerzy Kosinski’s The Painted Bird – a terrifyingly brutal account of atrocities in eastern europe during WWII. Some people were outraged, saying this couldn’t possibly be an account of what happened. HOWEVER others, who had lived in the region, who survived said atrocities, said the horror on the page could never equal the immensity of the horror that actually occurred.

            The problem is not GoT or other graphic descriptions of what happened to women in the past/present. The problem is when people romanticize it. GoT is NOT Fifty Shades of Grey. GoT is not intended as R rated “porn.” It is an epic story which allows its readers/viewers to dig deeper, to learn more, to imagine flying above what has come before.

  • Reply May 25, 2015


    Regarding the historical inspirations, neither Anne Neville nor Elizabeth of York were oft-betrothed by medieval standards. Anne was almost betrothed to Richard, Duke of Gloucester per her father’s wishes, but it didn’t work out, and then her father married her to Edward of Lancaster. Her second marriage was of her own choice. Elizabeth of York was betrothed two or three times, to dauphin Charles (future Charles VIII) by her father (it didn’t work out even while Edward was alive), to her future husband Henry Tudor and would have probably been betrothed to Manuel, Duke of Beja (future Manuel I) if Richard III hadn’t been killed (the negotiations for the double marriage with Portugal didn’t mention her by name, but she was by far the most likely subject). They just get mentioned because they both ended up being queen consorts, and because of the issue of the opposing sides in a civil war.

    Elizabeth’s younger sister Cecily had more betrothals and marriages, and it’s quite an interesting story- betrothed first to the younger brother of the Scottish king, by her father (the alliance didn’t work out); married during the reign of her uncle Richard III to Ralph Scrope, younger brother to Baron of Marsham (and later Baron of Marsham) – possibly a love match, since it’s hard to see what political value this marriage would have had for Richard III (as opposed to the betrothals negotiated for her sisters Elizabeth and Mary – the latter to the grandson and future heir of John Howard, Duke of Norfolk, one of Richard’s main supporters and close friends); marriage annulled on the grounds of alleged non-consummation by Henry VII, who married Cecily to his half-uncle John Welles, first Viscount Welles (20 years her elder), widowed after 15 years of marriage, had two daughters who died young; three years after being widowed, married a lowborn man of her own choice, Thomas Kymbe, a squire, which enraged her brother-in-law Henry VII, who banished her from court and took all her lands away from her; some of them were later restored to her when Henry’s mother Margaret Beaufort intervened in Cecily’s favor.

  • Reply May 25, 2015


    Thank you for this. You have made some excellent points, especially about the ongoing classism in historical studies, and the continuing neglect of women’s part in history.

    I would add that despite it being illegal, marital rape still continues in many countries and is often a part of domestic violence or spousal abuse. Many people still believe that ‘marital rights’ including sexual intercourse are an entitlement, disgusting as that is.

    I can understand people being upset because Sansa is now a very put-upon character. I can also understand the point you are making here – this would not be uncommon in a parallel real world society.

    I could barely watch that scene, and it upset me a lot. I am going to judge the writers on how they use it to develop Sansa’s character.

    • Reply May 25, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      @Pandaemonaeum1 – You are absolutely right about marital rap continuing even in countries where it is illegal. I should have mentioned that. (Just because we have laws, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Frankly, I was shocked it took that long to pass laws.) I’ve been working on that article on and off for a week. (I work full time, so I only work on articles after work.) But, I noticed that The Guardian wrote an article making a similar point: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/may/24/game-of-thrones-rape-on-television-if-real-thing-upset-us-as-much (Their article is much less sympathetic to people’s distress over Sansa’s rape.)

      It’s interesting that you use the word “classism” – I hadn’t thought of it like that really but that’s certainly the effect. You make a good point with that word — especially given the tendency towards traditionalism in history (as an academic discipline) and the fact that, over the last 1.5 centuries, I believe many historians have come from the upper-middle classes.

      The American medievalist Philip Daileader discussed the problems with traditionalism (or resistance to intellectual change) in a lecture I heard once. I believe he was primarily referring to American medievalists, but he made the point that it is so difficult to get a PhD in medieval history and establish yourself in academia due to the technical requirements — in America I believe you often need reading fluency in 4-6 languages not mention skill in paleography — and then it is so hard to stay abreast of research in your chosen area that historians often have little time to explore newer intellectual trends, such as post-modernism or cultural studies.

      I think that social history isn’t as “sexy” as biography and dramatic political history. I have heard David Starkey speak quite disparagingly about his peers who studied social history on Five Minutes (is that the name of the show?). His point was that social history was trendy when he did his PhD, but social historians make no money (where as he used to have a chauffeur-driven Bentley or something (?) so he had the last laugh). Frankly, even though I really like some of David Starkey’s work, it was sickening.

      My superficial perspective is that social history can be infinitely harder and less lucrative. For example, it seems like American medievalists like Teofilo Ruiz and William Chester Jordan spend decades translating and tabulating land records and court cases just to try to make observations about trends. At the end of it, they publish one or two dry books that few read — yet make an enormous contribution to our knowledge about a specific region or event. (I’m thinking specifically about William Chester Jordan’s work on the Great Famine.) Popular historians can use such works to recontextualize their biographies, and perhaps should. But, it seems like that doesn’t happen enough. Instead they often seem to rely largely on primary sources from chroniclers, household accounts, or parliamentary rolls. That’s great, but if you don’t push yourself, you will only reflect the elite’s perspective in your narrative.

      We would never tolerate having newspaper coverage of events exclusively from the perspective of the elites. Yet this often how we “cover” the Middle Ages.

  • Reply May 26, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Pandaemonium’s comment actually makes me think of a documentary I saw over the Bank Holiday (in the UK) weekend. I won’t mention any names but it concerned a lady who had become inveigled in a controlling relationship and had been hit and raped within the relationship. She had broken away from him and the matter had been listed for trial. A judge granted her ex-partner bail and he murdered her quite viciously. The lady’s parents campaigned and the law has now been changed and an alleged rape victim can now appeal if they object to the alleged perpetrator being granted bail. This has strayed away from Sansa’s lantern but having seen the documentary so recently and then reading Pandaemonium’s comment struck a chord with me.

    Mr HB is quite right – the lantern could be one of Ramsay’s twisted tricks, although having seen the poor old lady’s body after Ramsay’s flaying it may have been a bona fide message.

  • Reply June 2, 2015

    Chas D.

    I wouldn’t blame Disney entirely, they are simply the ones still carrying the torch from the Victorian Era. Disney himself had a big nostalgia factor for the Turn of the Century (Late Victorian/Edwardian/Progressive Era) world view and part of that world view was a Romanticization of the Medieval and Renaissance world. Disney as a company has done such a great job of preserving that Turn of the Century Romanticizations (like tupperware–only for cultural ideas) that an entire half a century has gone by to the point where we have a large number of people willing to believe romanticizations over a century old as “real enough”.

    If anything though, I would blame the Victorians in general. If there is even a blame game to be had. They looked back upon the Medieval world and saw a “Pre-Industrial Age of Innocence”, where the horrors of Industrialization hadn’t yet occurred, and by comparison the problems of the actual Medieval World seemed so trivial to them, that it came to the point of ignoring them. I mean, why complain of rape and pillaging when the Victorians were aiming to solve that problem by creating an everlasting peace or by getting rid of war altogether (through technology)? After all, get rid of the war, and that messy problem goes away on its own, doesn’t it? That was the victorian mindset on how they were going to forge an everlasting peace… a notion we haven’t completely abandoned I’m sad to say.

    But in general, the Victorians created a fake sense of the Medieval & Renaissance era–first in an attempt at preserving elements which tied them to that world, but later in an attempt to create a nostalgic ideal as a way to enforce their own morals and values which they then inserted into the past and thereby “white washing” the past.

    Start by looking at fairy tales themselves. When the Grimm brothers began collecting them, they were doing it with the inherent purpose of trying to collect the last fragment of peasant culture before it was lost to them entirely through death and the advancement of the Industrial Revolution wiped out that way of life and folk memory entirely. They published the fairy tales as an academic collection with intent to study them. Unknowingly they soon realized . That’s when wicked mothers turned into wicked stepmothers (yes, most wicked stepmothers in fairy tales are supposed to be plain old mothers–and the Grimm brothers weren’t the first to make this edit–Charles Perault did much the same a few centuries earlier), morally ambiguous fairies or sprites suddenly turn into decidedly evil witches (where the morally ambiguous nature is dropped in favor of playing them as completely evil from the start), and many other edits that upset the emerging Bourgeoisie (Middle Class) sensibilities were done.

    What originally concerned the Grimm brothers is that they had been collecting the tales faithfully as a way to preserve history before it became lost to them, and they were subsequently horrified to find out that Bourgeoisie parents were unwittingly buying their academic collection to read to their children. Really, the first nostalgia-fad was the peasant fad that everyone had in the 19th Century, where the peasant was upheld as this kind of simple ideal–especially after the Napoleonic era during the Biedermeier period in Central Europe. There you could find a whole ton of art devoted to the domestic and showing the simple ideal life that was the peasant (and even some paintings that risked the line by showing how hectic life as a peasant could truly be in order to critique this mindset while evading censors who could do some pretty nasty stuff to your family if the line wasn’t held). that knew nothing of the horrors of modern industrialization–a simpler, easier way of life that grandpa or great-grandpa led, and the fairy tales were simply one aspect of keeping old ties to that culture to many upjumped former peasants, now bourgeoisie. Other tendencies include the introduction of peasant shirts (aka poet shirts) and peasant dresses that became more fashionable later on in the 19th Century (especially in the 1890s) as well as anything with the label of being “Bohemian” which was still considered a “peasant” or at least a peasant-like society long into the 19th Century. So really there was a market for this sort of thing, and the Brothers’ Grimm had unwittingly discovered it and got in on the ground floor without realizing it.

    Returning to the Brothers Grimm and their edits made for Bourgeoisie though, one example that sticks out in the mind and touches exactly upon this article’s subject matter is the transformation of the story of Rapunzel. In the original story of Rapunzel not only was the witch a morally ambiguous fairy, but Rapunzel was found out to have the Prince as a visitor not because she accidentially saying the fairy is heavier than the Prince–but instead she’s pregnant, with twins. In fact Rapunzel is asking the fairy what it means that her stomach is swelling and her dress doesn’t fit right anymore–which should clue the reader in to just how young and sheltered Rapunzel has been. She’s then banished from the tower, sent to wander a desert where she gives birth to the twins, eventually coming across her Prince (who had been made to fall into a briar bush and been blinded by the fairy–which comes off far differently when you realize that the Prince is morally ambiguous as much as the fairy and the fairy is acting as a protective mother figure), there Rapunzel cries tears which restore his vision and the two marry and rejoice at being reunited. In the revision the Grimms kept the being banished to a desert and even the whole Prince is blinded plot point. However they moved the twins to a single mention at the end of the story as a reward for the Prince and Rapunzel’s marriage.

    That right there shows how from the beginning the 19th Century was going to clean previous eras view on sexuality and moral ambiguoity to match their own. Disney simply is the current cultural icon to have kept the banners flying, but they were hardly the first and it’s a long standing tradition going back to the beginning.

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