On 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.