Dark portents aligned to make Catelyn, Robb, and Edmure’s trip to the Frey’s castle ominous, including the endless rain and Robb’s direwolf’s jumping in his cage. Catelyn Stark mistrusts Lord Frey and frets he is leading them to a trap. But, did historical events inspire George RR Martin when he envisioned the Red Wedding?
To pen the Red Wedding Martin takes a page from a real-life event in medieval Scottish history known as the Black Dinner and may also have been inspired by the Skirmish at Heworth Moor, which I’ll cover in the next blog post.
The Black DinnerLike England, the 1400s were a turbulent period in Scottish history. James I had trouble containing the nobles. After he died suspiciously in February 1437, his six-year old son, James II, inherited the throne. Red haired with a port-wine birthmark on his cheek, contemporaries assumed he was hot tempered and dubbed him “James the Fiery Face.”
Naturally, regents ruled for the boy king. Originally, the Earl of Douglas, Archibald Douglas, governed for the boy. But, after Douglas died from the plague, few high-status nobles existed to take his place – James I had decimated most of the nobility. Instead, two rough opportunistic men uneasily shared control between them: Sir William Crichton and Sir Alexander Livingston. But these men feared that Archibald Douglas’ sons would destroy their dominance.
Archibald Douglas’ heir was his fifteen-year old son, William. A handsome ambitious and haughty youth, the young earl was about to become Scotland’s greatest magnate with a force of 5000 knights and spearmen. Worse, the boy-king James idolized William, who returned the adoration. Crichton and Livingston knew this potentially overmighty earl could easily topple their rule, so they joined forces to extinguish this threat.
While historians differ on whether or not what happens next is legend or fact, one account similar to the Game of Thrones is the one in Victorian history The Black Douglas by Samuel Rutherford Crocket.
Crichton and Livingston invited Earl William and his younger brother, David, to feast with the king at Edinburgh Castle on November 24, 1440.
When Earl William and his brother arrived, they were treated with the utmost courtesy, almost too much in fact. Laid out in the banqueting hall, an oblong chamber with oak ceilings with enormous gilt-silver moldings, the boys dined in the French style.
According to The Black Douglas, Crichton drank frequently to the earl and his brother’s health. Suddenly, bagpipes, then an instrument of war, began to play. Dark armored soldiers carrying Lochaber axes blocked both doors of the hall. Two servants carried in a massive silver platter with a black bull’s head upon it. In medieval Scotland, the black bull’s head was a symbol of death. Robert Sewell writes a black bull’s head “presaged the death of the principal guest(s) at a dinner.”
The soldiers seized the earl and his brother. Despite the boy-king James’ protests, a hasty kangaroo court condemned the boys of treason. Soldiers forced the boys into the courtyard where an execution block was already in placed. The Earl William begged for his life and that of his brother David. Then, when this was refused, William requested his younger brother be executed first so that he did not have the wrenching experience of witnessing his elder brother die before him. James I wept as his friends were beheaded, but he was helpless to stop it.
The macabre dinner is immortalized in a little rhyme:
‘Edinburgh castle, toun, and tower,
God grant ye sink for sin;
And that even for the black-dinner,
Earl Douglas gat therein.’
Learn More, Explore More
The Black Douglases by Michael Brown
Scotland: the Story of a Nation by Magnus Magnuson
I Never Knew That About the Scottish by Christopher Wren
“Livingston of Callend”