Over the next few weeks, in honor of Anne Boleyn and some of the Game of Thrones characters she may have inspired –we will be running a series of articles and interviews with historians about her.
George RR Martin appears to have taken threads of factual — and counterfactual (the opposite of historical events) — aspects of Anne’s story and woven them into various Game of Thrones characters like Cersei, Margaery, and Melisandre. Each character represents a different facet of Anne’s reputed personality or story.
Despite her blonde appearance, scheming Cersei has a couple of drops of Anne Boleyn in her. First, Cersei was married to Robert Baratheon, who resembles Henry VIII among others. Second, Cersei’s incestuous relationship with Jaime is like a counterfactual (“what if?”) version of the incest allegations against Anne and George Boleyn. (Anne did not sleep with her brother.)
The parallels between Anne Boleyn and the sexy Margaery Tyrell have ignited lots of chatter among Game of Thrones fan communities – not to mention anxiety that Margaery will not survive the next novel. Showrunners Dan Weiss and David Benioff deliberately decided to go in a different direction for TV Margaery. When she was cast, Natalie Dormer asked them “…shall I read the books?” And they replied, “By all means, read the books for your own recreation, but in regards toward your characterization of Margaery, it’s not so necessary, because we’re going to flesh her out and do something different with her.” TV Margaery is the queen of public relations. Like one interpretation of Anne, Margaery is skilled at court politics and blindingly charismatic. The two women share a close relationship with their brothers, a daring fashion sense, and a mysterious sexual history (in which it’s unclear if they are “knowing” or virginal). Their stories have a few other similarities, some of which create spoilers.
Given some of the obvious parallels between Margaery and Anne, it seems highly unlikely that the HBO showrunners cast Natalie Dormer — famed for her portrayal of Anne Boleyn in The Tudors — by accident. To borrow a term from semiotics, there is an unspoken cotext (similar to intertextuality) signaled by this casting choice: the showrunners want us to notice the parallels. (Tellingly, Natalie Dormer felt the need to declare Margaery is a distinct character from her portrayal of Anne Boleyn.)
Melisandre, the fiery and fanatical Red Priestess, may be a manifestation of Anne’s burning desire for religious reformation. The mysterious and enigmatic Melisandre is having an emotional, if not occasionally literal, affair with the mirthless and heirless King Stannis Baratheon. In this case, Stannis Baratheon’s poor wife is like a phantasmagoric, even monstrous, version of the nearly-barren Catherine of Aragon.
None of these characters are exclusively based on Anne Boleyn. All of them appear to be influenced by other historical figures.
Through out this series, we will have articles drawing the parallels between these characters and Anne and examine various aspects of Anne’s history and cultural significance. We’re also going to have interviews with historians about Anne and find out more about the latest research. Join us for our Anne Boleyn series as we explore this fascinating queen and the Game of Thrones characters she may have inspired.