“I love Richard III” — GRRM

George-RR-MartinOn the Game of Thrones Season 5 DVD’s segment “The Real History Behind Game of Thrones,” George RR Martin admitted something that nibbles at the edge of his stories: he LOVES Richard III. And, Martin admitted his passion with such a nice smile.

I’ve wondered for years whether GRRM is a closet Ricardian. After all, some of his storylines present a very kind interpretation of the man formerly known as Gloucester.

You see traces of GRRM’s love for Richard III everywhere in his work, especially in Tyrion. And, GRRM has even admitted he loves Tyrion the bestest.

Tyrion & Richard

Tyrion, of course, shares many traits with Richard III. Both were supposedly diminutive and could be described as a “cripple” in a manner of speaking. (Remember when Tyrion says “I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things” and his sympathy for “bastards and broken things”?) Like Richard, Tyrion is a brave warrior, despite his physical disadvantages.

tyrion-princes2

Hints of Richard III, the falsely accused slayer of the Princes in the Tower, shape Tyrion’s story. Depending on how you define “prince,” Tyrion is accused of killing not one but two princes. The most obvious is Joffrey. But, Catelyn Stark also accuses Tyrion of attempting to kill Bran way back in Season 1 (A Game of Thrones).

Although Bran isn’t a titular prince, you could argue Osha’s “little lord”  is one in a manner of speaking. Ned Stark is a high lord. And, although Martin doesn’t use the title, this effectively makes Ned Stark a duke. And, the son of a duke (truthfully, a royal duke) is a prince. (Bran’s fall also replays the defenestration of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, the Welsh prince who tumbled to his death trying to escape from the tower in 1244.)

Owain_Goch_ap_Gruffydd

Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, the defenestrated prince who fell from the Tower of London in 1244, tried to escape by shimmying down a rope made of sheets.

Ultimately, Tyrion becomes one of the Princes in the Tower himself, even being imprisoned in a “tower” twice — if you count the towering Sky Cells and his black cell in the Red Keep.

tyrion-skycells-mord

Tyrion was a prince in the tower when Lysa Arryn imprisoned in the Sky Cells in the Eyrie. © HBO.

Does Martin play with historical controversies?

Does Martin think Richard is innocent? Does he love Richard III as a noble king? Or, does he love Richard III as a villain the way we might relish Tywin and Ramsay?

Like many of the greyer people you might know in your everyday life, folks can never quite agree on who Richard III is. For some, he is a saint. For others, he is the most probable slayer of the princes.

haters-gonna-hate-richard-iii-lelia-alvarez

Richard III ©Lelia Alvarez.

Frankly, there is no more divisive topic in medieval history than Richard III. You wanna break up a dinner party of medievalists?  Bring up the car-park king.

Perhaps it is the mystery of the late Plantagenets – with their paucity of primary sources – but Richard continues to fascinate us. Did Tudor propaganda blacken his name? Has he been vilified and falsely accused? Were the older sources that see him as a villain right after all? (These are rhetorical questions – really I don’t need flaming comments.)

History lovers feud about Richard as though he was a real-life friend or enemy. (Is it possible to get a restraining order against him?) To some, he is kind, literate, pious, a great general, a loyal brother, and a hero in the North. To others, he is a child killer, the thief of his mother-in-law’s property, a mediocre military leader, and a relative newcomer with an overstated Northern affinity.

RIII special ed 2

The cover of BBC’s tribute to the Car Park King (or car-parking). © BBC. (How did it take me three years to figure out that is a pun? 🙂  )

Martin recreates some of the many divergent interpretations of Richard III and theories about the Princes in the Tower — perhaps to tease history buffs or just for his own amusement.

One such example is when Martin alludes to the alternative theory that the princes were not killed in the tower but escaped, which he does when Tyrion flees his prison by boat. Theon even replays the prince who slaughters the innocent boys — as well as the changeling/lost princes theory — when Theon kills the farmer’s sons instead of Bran and Rickon when he seizes Winterfell.

theon-greyjoy-memoir

Martin also dangles some of the theories about Richard’s guilt and innocence.

Innocent as a Babe

Rickon Stark, possibly named after Richard III, may be a signal Martin thinks Richard is innocent or just be an homage to the various interpretations of the late king.

Rickon_Stark

Is Martin implying Richard “Dickon” III is innocent as a babe? Rickon looks older in the series, but in the novels he was only three at the beginning of A Game of Thrones.

The Stark/Greyjoy boys form two trios of brothers whose destinies somewhat echo the brothers York. The first group – Robb, Theon, and Jon – parallels Edward IV, George Duke of Clarence, and Richard III respectively. (GRRM links “bastard” Jon to “cripple” Richard when Tyrion equates criples, bastards, and broken things – and notes that all dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes.)

But, there is a second Stark trio, one comprising Ned’s blood sons – Robb, Bran, and Rickon. Rickon is a clearer variation of the medieval nickname for Richard from Shakespeare’s Richard III.

During the night, somebody pinned a warning on the tent of Richard’s close friend, Norfolk. It read “Jockey of Norfolk be not too bold,/ For Dickon thy master is bought and sold.”

jockey-of-norfolk

John “Jack” Howard, Duke of Norfolk, was a close friend of Richard III.

Dubbing the youngest Stark “Rickon,” creates a parallel with Richard III, but it also carries a message. In the books, we first meet Rickon when he was only a three-year old toddler, basically a baby.

The message? Like his namesake, Richard III is as innocent as a babe.

It seems like there is a bit of historiographical intertextuality in GRRM’s work. For history buffs who are aware of the parallels with Richard III, maybe Martin recreates the historical controversy surrounding the car-park king: there is an innocent Richard embodied in Rickon and Tyrion and a “guilty” Richard.

Dark Richard

Traditionally, Tudor adherents, including Shakespeare, depicted Richard as an ambitious, murdering hunchback. Is this accurate? Many today would tell you no, but a fair number of traditional historians argue that “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

richard3-tshirt

Shakespearean Richard’s infamy lives on. Apparently, this is from a Richard III t-shirt.

Again, this is not polite dinner-table conversation. Martin weaves characters and events into his work that hint at the more traditional Richard seen darkly. Here are a few examples:

  • Stannis Baratheon, the younger brother of the Edward IV-esque Robert, shares Richard III’s concern with justice and his military prowess. (Thanks Amy Bean for reminding me!) But, Stannis is generally a hated character, although you can certainly argue that he has his good points. Stannis’ drive to punish is darkly drawn. While Davos respects and admires him, I think most readers find it hard to warm up to him.
  • Stannis’ ambition leads him to kill his brother Renly. Over the years, Richard III has been accused of everything from orchestrating his brother Clarence’s death to not supporting him sufficiently at his trial. Some have even argued that Richard III was the chief beneficiary of Clarence’s death. (Before you leave nasty comments, I’m not saying this is true.)
  • Tyrion marries his almost niece-in-law (Sansa) in a parallel to the way in which Richard III almost marries his niece Elizabeth of York.

Given GRRM’s revelation, you’ve gotta wonder, is he a secret member of the Richard III Society? Did Martin go to Ricardian conferences before he became famous? How does he feel about publicly admitting his affinity?

Now, we finally know the truth. Well, some of it. For you see GRRM is, at the very least unofficially, a closeted Ricardian. Or is he? Love is such an indefinable thing.

 

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."

23 Comments

  • Bit of a quibble, though- Richard never almost married Elizabeth of York. After his wife passed away, he was negotiating a marriage to Joanna of Portugal, and a marriage for Elizabeth to Manuel of Beja. Excellent post, though- I like GRRM even more now:)

    • Reply April 13, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Ha. Well, I know about Joanna of Portugal, but I’m not even going to debate with about Elizabeth of York. 🙂 Maybe I put the hedge word in there too quickly and in the wrong spot. Oh well. I think the evidence on that point isn’t necessarily reputable. Your comment about GRRM made me smile and laugh. It’s pretty cool that he likes Richard, eh? 😀 I was tickled pink when I heard him say it on the DVD segment.

  • Reply April 14, 2016

    Martine

    I’m not giving my opinion on Richard here, not even engaging in even a teeny weeny debate with others.
    ( LOL… Jamie I think you may know my particular R III standpoint….)

    Just posting here to say this is a truly stunning article with masses of wonderful points. Thank you Jamie, this is one to read, re read. ( and re re read..!)

    You delight me with this news about GRRM – the publicly stated Ricardian, It doesn’t surprise me, GRRM is far too wise and clever to be anything else!

    • Reply April 14, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks, Martine!! I’m glad you liked the article. Isn’t it great about GRRM loving Richard III? 😀 I couldn’t get over it. I should really take a screen cap of the smile on his face when he said it. It was lovely. In a way, come to think of it, given Tyrion’s central role in the stories, you could argue that ASOIAF is an ode to Richard III — or certainly parts of it are. Anyway, it was almost a little validating to hear somebody of GRRM’s stature talk about his feelings for Richard.

  • Reply April 14, 2016

    Jun

    Like Martine said, this article is too dense to read once or twice. I have many thoughts and need more than one replies to sort them out.

    First, “Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, the Welsh prince who tumbled to his death trying to escape from the tower in 1244” gave me a chill. I saw Shakespeare’s King John last summer, which in many ways parallel his later play on Richard III. In this play, Prince Arthur, who is the usurper John’s nephew, is imprisoned by John. When the boy escapes, he falls from the prison wall and dies, creating an ironic situation for John who had planned to murder him but then changed his mind. This device is of course later used in King Lear.

    Anyway, I’m shocked to find that there really was a prince in history who fell to his death when escaping from the Tower. So the way Shakespeare messes around with real history is exactly the same way GRRM does it. OMG.

    Second, I think it’s safe to consider Bran and other Stark boys “princes” because the North was of a different race of people from the Andals (with implication for future events). They used to be a kingdom, and Robb’s rebellion seeks to restore the independent kingdom. Therefore, he’s called “King in the North.”

    Third, I am also tickled by GRRM’s declaration that he loves Richard III. It could be that he loves Richard III as a wronged hero and good guy. Or it could be that he loves Richard III as a complicated and conflicted villain. Or, I am more inclined to believe, he loves Richard III as a historical character who offers endless possibilities and incredibly rich human drama. Look how extensively GRRM has mined the events in the series over and over in various ways.

    It’s not just about Richard himself. We can reflect on so many different issues about viewpoints, biases, appearances, the nature of truth, and the color of history. It’s the best Rashomon. It’s catnip to writers like GRRM … or Shakespeare.

  • Reply April 15, 2016

    Martine

    Just to to be clear Jun – I didn’t say the article was ‘too dense’. I said that I would enjoy reading and re reading the article purely because I loved it so much.

    Well done again Jamie! I wonder if you’ll invited onto the ‘Thronecast’ programme they do on Sky Atlantic to accompany the main show. You’d be great! Linda and Elio from Westeros.org used to do a regular spot on that before they altered the format of the show.

    • Reply April 18, 2016

      Jun

      Sorry, Martine. I was probably projecting my own feelings onto what you said.

    • Reply April 19, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks! Lovely of you to say that about Thronecast!! From your lips to God’s Ears! 🙂

  • Reply April 15, 2016

    Doug Folkins

    Wonderful article Jamie 🙂 I love all your stuff, but this is one of my favs.

    • Reply April 16, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks! I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for commenting.

  • Reply April 16, 2016

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    I have said before that I am on the fence regarding Richard III. The parallels with Tyrion are interesting as Tyrion (especially book Tyrion) is not particularly a goody-goody (well even show Tyrion has murdered Shae and Tywin – though it could be argued that in the case of Tywin he had been gravely provoked).

    Jaime, when I saw you on the DVD material I was a bit worried you had hurt your neck and thought you might have a plaster of Paris neck cast on but then I realised it was a winter weight sweater polo neck!!

    I don’t know that she has done any such interviews this year but in earlier years the lady behind “Flicks and the City” has interviewed various members of the GoT cast. In an interview with Joseph Gatt who played the Thenn Warg in season 4 she asked him who he emphasised with. He replied “Tyrion” because people looked at Tyrion and made assumptions about the kind of person he was without really knowing him and that this had happened to him in real life (though of course he is a different physical type to Tyrion).

    • Reply April 18, 2016

      Jun

      I think nearly every reader cannot help but identify with Tyrion somewhat because the author himself identifies with Tyrion the most. There is a universality to Tyrion’s issues and problems, ranging from a sense of inadequacy to Daddy problems. Who doesn’t have these?

      • Reply April 19, 2016

        Jamie Adair

        I think his poor treatment and humiliations make him that much more likeable.

    • Reply April 19, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Oh I’m glad you saw the video! That’s great. Thanks for watching.

      re: Tyrion
      I think we like Tyrion so much that we don’t always realize that he is a bit of a grey character, especially in the books. I thought he was on quite a dark arc when he became a slave. I love Tyrion, but to me he is pragmatic and human more than “good.” I think because he is such a likeable character or maybe just because he is such a strong point of view character, we can see a little of ourselves in him in so many different ways (physical, social, etc.). I don’t… I’m waxing philosophical I guess. 🙂

    • Reply April 30, 2016

      WATCHER ON THE COUCH

      Should have said “empathised”. Sorry for the schoolgirl howler’

  • Reply April 18, 2016

    Jun

    On the subject of Tyrion, The New Yorker recently put up a super-long article about the show. The analysis of Tyrion is at the very end of the article. It’s a good read.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/04/18/the-raw-appeal-of-game-of-thrones

  • Reply April 25, 2016

    Alayne Stone

    Excellent. But why do you think readers find it hard to warm up to Stannis? I may be a minority, but I find him quite sympathetic, Richard III parallels and all.

    • Reply April 25, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      Do you find him sympathetic because he reminds you of Richard III? I think many people find Stannis a bit stern, chilly, and merciless. (At least, I find him like that!) Maybe I’m projecting… 🙂

      • Reply April 30, 2016

        Alayne Stone

        That is one of the reasons, I am a Ricardian. I also like Stannis because I can relate to him in some ways.

        • Reply June 11, 2016

          Apocalyptic Queen

          I agree to an extent. Stannis has the potential to become a just and honourable leader. He is similar to Ned in some ways but is blinded by his fanatacism and ambition.

  • Reply April 25, 2016

    Jun

    I re-read this article a few times. One issue that sticks in my mind is the absence of overt parallel to Richard III’s (alleged) plot to murder his way to the crown. Tyrion is accused of murdering his nephew, but not for the throne and besides he didn’t do it. Stannis Baratheon does not closely resemble Richard III because he really is ahead of Renly in the line of succession. Rather, Renly takes Richard’s position, although his personality is closer to George.

    Then the truth dawned on me. Martin WAS going to use this plot, but then he changed his mind.

    In the original outline for the trilogy of ASOIAF he sent to his agent (you can find the entire text in this article: http://www.businessinsider.com/game-of-thrones-was-supposed-to-be-a-trilogy-2015-2), Martin wrote:

    “Tyrion will … finally remove Joffrey in disgust at the boy king’s brutality. Jaime Lannister will follow Joffrey on the throne by the simple expedient of killing everyone ahead of him in the line of succession and blame Tyrion for the murders.”

    Clearly his plan was to play both sides of the Richard III story, both the innocent side (Tyrion) and the guilty side (Jaime). But then he came up with something else that is less recognizable and more complex.

  • Reply May 7, 2016

    WATCHER ON THE COUCH

    I don’t know if I should mention this on a serious site but since Leicester City recently (I’m typing this on 7 May 2016) won the Premier League [soccer football] pictures of Richard III kicking a football have sprung up like a rash – in the UK at least.

  • Reply June 11, 2016

    Apocalyptic Queen

    Yes, can certainly see the inspiration for King Richard III – and the other brother – George, Duke of Clarence (who was allegedly drowned in a vat of wine) – in Game of Thrones through Tyrion, Stannis and to perhaps a lesser extent, Ned.

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