“Burn them! Burn them all!”

Before Game of Thrones begins, Robert’s Rebellion sends King’s Landing into chaos. While Lannister soldiers sack King’s Landing, the Mad King (Aerys Targaryen) sits on the Iron Throne ordering “Burn them! Burn them all!” over and over again. Finally, Jaime stops the cruelty by slaughtering the king he swore to protect – and permanently earning himself the epithet “the Kingslayer.”  (Somehow I picture the Mad King burning men in the throne room, but I could be wrong about this.)

Given how much George RR Martin draws from the Wars of the Roses and the Hundred Years’ War, I assumed that he might have borrowed the Mad King concept from Henry VI. After all, Henry VI was the predecessor of Edward IV – a possible source for Robert Baratheon. Henry VI, however, was never known to be violent. In fact, he had quite the opposite reputation. He was known as a man of peace, piety, and scholarship.

Tonight I stumbled across a very interesting painting and story while doing some research on the House of Valois. It’s called “Le Bal des Ardents,” which translates into the “Ball of the Burning Men.”

mad-king-burning-men

A 1470 depiction of the Ball of the Burning Men. The men in the greenish costumes are actually on fire – the red spirals are supposed to be flames – as chaos breaks out as shown by the dog barking at their feet. Source: “Le Bal des Ardent” an illuminated miniature from Jean Froissart’s Chroniques, BL Harley 4380. From the British Library, in the public domain through Wikimedia.

Before I explain this shocking painting – yes, those are flames coming off of the four men in the center of the floor! – a bit of background.

Henry VI probably inherited his insanity from his grandfather, King Charles VI of France, who was definitely more violent. People referred to Charles as “Charles the Beloved” or, probably when he wasn’t around, “Charles the Mad.” At some points, Charles believed he was made of glass so he had to protect himself so he wouldn’t break. (This is a sort of mirror of Aerys’ sort-of delusion he won’t burn.)

In January 1393, a ball was held for the marriage of one of the queen’s ladies-in-waiting. Charles VI and some lords put on “wildmen” costumes and danced. Unfortunately, these costumes were made of linen and wax or pitch. After arriving late, the king’s brother walked over to one of the men and held a torch up to him to see his identity. The man’s costume caught on fire and the other wax costumes quickly ignited!

Some men escaped, including one who is pictured in the right corner of the painting, who extinguished himself using a dishwater tub. Others were not so fortunate and died.

 

 

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."

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