Walder Frey, Weddings, and Warwick: the first humiliation (Part 2)

With both Game of Thrones’  Walder Frey and his possible real-life counterpart Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, it always seems to come back around to marriages. Marriages define the men, could enrich them, and did lead them to betray the leader to whom they had sworn fealty and switch sides.

Most of Frey’s energy is concentrated around marriages for his children and himself. When he chooses to betray Robb, he does so at a wedding. George RR Martin appears to deliberately drive home the association between Frey and weddings—perhaps, he does so with Warwick on his mind. When you look at Warwick from an extremely high-level perspective, marriage issues often fatefully changed his course of action.

There is certainly overlap between Warwick and Walder Frey’s stories. Both men had a restless ambition that propelled them to betray their lords. Both Walder Frey and Warwick had children they wanted to wed at any cost. Ultimately, both men became furious by broken promises, humiliations, and marriage agreements. This post, which continues from the first in this series, focuses on the first in a chain of marriage issues that culminated in Warwick betraying Edward IV and switching sides.


Walder Frey negotiates the fateful marriage pact with Catelyn Stark. Via Wikia, (c) HBO.

A Valuable Hand for Warwick to Play


Warwick the Kingmaker

When Robb Stark became King of the North, his hand in marriage became a valuable commodity. For example, after Edmure dismisses Catelyn’s concerns that Lord Frey will take their delay arriving at the wedding as a slight, Catelyn notes “He’s getting a wedding. It was a king he wanted” (S3, E7, ~5:00)).

Warwick was also keenly aware that the young King Edward’s marriage was a priceless diplomatic negotiating chip. Warwick shrewdly surmised he could profit by exploiting England’s troubled international relations.

English relations with France had never been good, but they were particularly precarious after Edward overthrew the “mad king” Henry VI and his suspiciously French bride, Margaret of Anjou. The Hundred Years’ War had only ended eleven years earlier. After 116 years of war with France, the average Englishman took a dim view of France.

Shortly after Edward took the throne, France got a new king. Louis XI was a subtle, calculating, dangerously clever adversary with a swarm of spies. Louis would cause the House of York many problems. However, at this point, nobody was aware just how well this scheming king could spin his web.

How Louis Seduced Warwick into Allying with Him

Eager to prevent England from allying with powerful adversaries like Burgundy and Aragon, in early 1464, the devious French spider king waged a successful “charm-offensive.” Louis won Warwick over to his side by what was essentially a medieval letter-writing campaign. Louis sent Warwick many subtly flattering messages that divided Warwick from Edward and bonded Warwick to Louis.

Both Louis XI and Varys were nicknamed “the Spider.”
Image of Varys via Wikia, © HBO.

Louis played to Warwick’s ego by addressing him like a friend and a peer—not a subject. He wrote of Louis and Warwick as having common goals and problems. Eventually Louis’ letters softened up the anti-French Warwick; Louis convinced the earl that the only hope for English peace and stability was a French alliance cemented by marriage.

However, the prospect of peace alone probably wouldn’t have been enough to sway Warwick. Medieval nobles were essentially warlords, after all, and Warwick personally had profited from war. Louis likely got Warwick’s support by appealing to something far more powerful: Warwick’s ego.

In the 1450s, when Warwick was still a young man, he was a lauded naval and military commander. He became the toast of England after he reinvigorated the Calais Garrison and had some dazzling military victories. (Warwick successfully fended off an invading Spanish fleet of twenty-eight ships even though he only had five ships.)

Now, seven years later, his fame faded. Warwick missed his glory days and had, perhaps, become insecure about his legacy—something Tywin Lannister would understand only too well. Warwick deduced brokering a French marriage could lead to Louis not only giving him a hefty reward but also, possibly, an increased role on the European stage. Now tempted by these tantalizing prospects, Warwick charted a dangerous course.

Warwick met Louis’ diplomatic envoy in London and quietly began arranging a marriage pact between Edward IV and the King of France’s sister-in-law. With this act, according to historian Paul Murray Kendall, Warwick began tending to his own ambitions rather than acting as the king’s agent.

For the first time, began to keep secrets from Edward. Warwick did not tell Edward he was working with the French. He hoped to play Edward, to sway him gradually towards the match. Warwick realized marriage to England’s traditional enemy was unpalatable.

Edward Chooses an Unsuitable Bride and Humiliates Warwick


Elizabeth Woodville

By October 1464, Warwick believed he had convinced Edward to take a French bride. Just before Warwick was to go to France to finalize the treaty, he attended the king’s council in Reading. It was here a secret marriage – with consequences just as disastrous as that of Robb Stark – was revealed.

When the council pressed Edward to tell them whom he wanted to marry, the king smiled and replied his choice might not please everyone.

Assuming he was joking, Edward’s councilors pushed him for a name.

Edward told them he wanted to marry Elizabeth Woodville.

According to Kendall, the council sat stunned and silent. Finally, the Archbishop of Canterbury meekly ventured that although Elizabeth was beautiful and virtuous, she was too humble to be a queen.

Edward then dropped the bombshell: he was already married to Elizabeth Woodville.

Somewhat similar to the way in which Walder Frey was outraged, at least in the books, that Robb married somebody he perceived as being from a house inferior to House Frey, Warwick was furious he would have to tell Louis Edward chose a widowed commoner over the king’s sister-in-law.


Richard Woodville

Of all the “common” families Edward could have chosen, the Woodvilles may have been the worst possible choice. Elizabeth’s father, Richard Woodville, was born a commoner—even though  he was a baron by this time.  However, it seems unlikely this was the real issue. Warwick had a history with Richard Woodville.

Well before Edward ever met Elizabeth, Warwick and Richard Woodville clashed when Richard refused to his post as the captain of the Calais garrison until parliament give the soldiers their long-awaited pay. As a result, it was nine months until Warwick could assume control of the garrison much to his impatience and fury. When Warwick arrived, he had to win over troops who, due to Woodville’s tough stance,  now likely saw Warwick as the man against the man who was trying to help them get paid.

After Warwick left Calais, the Henry VI asked Woodville to chair a tribunal at Woodville’s castle (Rochester) to determine if Warwick was guilty of piracy. Appointing Woodville to the tribunal outraged Warwick, who deemed Woodville far too lowly to judge him. Consequently, by the time Edward married Elizabeth, Warwick had already nursing a grudge against Woodville for years. After the marriage, increased contact with Woodville and his family no doubt just fueled Warwick’s hatred.

Ultimately, like in the Robb Stark/Lord Frey storyline, Edward’s poor choice of bride led to his downfall. Like the insult Lord Frey felt when Robb spurned his daughters led him to betray Robb, the sting of Edward choosing a Woodville bride led Warwick to change sides, betray Edward, and rebel against him in 1469. The proud earl did not forget the humiliation he suffered because of Edward’s marriage.

To be continued…


Season 1, Episode 9: “Baelor”; Season 3, Episode 7 “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”; Season 3, Episode 9: “Rains of Castamere”


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 July 12, 2013


    I don'[t see anything on this site (but I just discovered it) that the Red Wedding is also based on the Glencoe Massacre (my family’s clan is linked to the Campbells);
    from Wikipedia: George R.R. Martin based the Red Wedding from A Storm of Swords partly on the Glencoe massacre and partly on the Black Dinner of 1440 when members of Scotland’s Clan Douglas were killed after being invited to a feast at Edinburgh Castle.[13]

    • Reply July 12, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      Also, Debbie, thanks for sharing this info because a) it let me know about my lousy linking job and b) it would have been a real shame if I had missed those posts. The Black Dinner and Glencoe Massacre are fascinating pieces of history. Really great and colourful! Thanks again!

  • Reply July 12, 2013

    Walder Frey

    Debbie pls

  • Reply July 12, 2013

    Jaime Adair

    lol. I’m laughing at Walder Frey’s post. That’s great. 🙂

    Debbie, thanks for your comment. I do actually have a few posts (five?) on the Red Wedding. But, I did a lousy job of linking them up to this particular post though. Here they are:

    I talk about the Glencoe Massacre and the Black Dinner in a few of those posts. Let me know what you think.

    I’ll also try to fix this post up so the links are a bit clearer. (BTW, I took the categories out of the sidebar because they don’t work well with this WP theme, so the Tag Cloud in the sidebar is now one way to find topics.)

  • Reply April 18, 2014


    I am slowly making my way from first post to present in my spare time. Having little of that rather explains why I’m still so far back, lol.

    The cumulative effect of everything I’ve read here regarding Warwick is to put me very much in mind mind of Lord Tywin.

    Also, I am curious about his father as applicable to real world history. The story about Lord Tytos’s mistress wearing his wife’s jewelry, and what Tywin did about it,just strikes me as something Martin may have gleaned, and embellished from our own world.

    • Reply April 23, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      re: your question about Lord Tytos’ mistress.
      Great question! Very interesting. I think the answer might be a blend of the stories of Edward III and Edward IV’s mistresses.

      The first name that popped into my head is Alice Perrers – Edward III’s mistress.
      *If* memory serves, here’s the story:
      Edward III grew to love his first wife, Philippa of Hainault, a great deal. After she became ill, however, he took a mistress – a 15-year old lady-in-waiting to his wife named Alice Perrers. The king was besotted and starting to get somewhat senile (or at least in ill health). When Philippa died, he gave Alice her choice of the queen’s jewels. Although, if I remember correctly some critics thought she may have stolen them. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Perrers And, in the Victorian period, there is a painting of Alice pulling the rings off the king’s fingers. (http://www.anneobrienbooks.com/uploads/blog/10/Alice_Perrers_at_the_Deathbed_of_Edward_Iii_Giclee_Print.jpg)

      Alice also came to hold enormous amounts of power over the king and at court and was eventually banished after being convicted in the Good Parliament. To give Alice her due, she was a 15-year old girl who would have had in all likelihood no choice but to go along with the king’s wishes in becoming his mistress. She did get considerable wealth from the king, but she was an extremely shrewd business woman and made a huge fortune with what she was given. (AFAIK, Edward III never became fat.)

      As for Tywin’s punishment of his father’s mistress, well, that sounds a bit like Richard III’s punishment of Edward IV’s mistress, Jane Shore. He forced her to do penance walking barefoot through the streets of London (yuck!) in nothing but her chemise, carrying a taper. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jane_Shore#Prison.2C_second_marriage_and_later_life. The idea was to atone for her being a harlot, but many people think Jane angered Richard by acting as a go-between between Hastings and Elizabeth Woodville.
      BTW, Eleanor of Gloucester – Henry VI’s aunt by marriage – had to do a similar penance for alleged (albeit convicted) witchcraft: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleanor,_Duchess_of_Gloucester
      (BTW, Edward IV did grow fat as he aged.)

      Anyway, great question and thanks for reading!

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