Daenerys Targaryen, arguably one of the most popular and iconic of the Game of Thrones characters, has been often compared to the least popular Tudor monarch Henry VII. Her removal from the center of the story, her connection to dragons, and the implied dark horse victory that the majority of fans are anticipating at the end of the series, certainly make this comparison plausible. Despite this, Daenerys exhibits, many of the personal characteristics and story arcs of another, and much more conspicuous, Tudor: Elizabeth I.
Similarities At A Glance
Both were the last of their dynasty:
- Daenerys is widely reputed to be “the last Targaryen”.
- Elizabeth was the last Tudor monarch, though not the last to be born.
Both had mothers that died when they were infants:
- Daenerys’ mother, Rhaella, died in childbirth, while a storm raged over Dragonstone, causing Dany to often be referred to as Daenerys Stormborn.
- Elizabeth’s mother, the notorious Anne Boleyn, was executed on charges of adultery and incest, which historians now largely accept to have been false. As far as we know, Elizabeth never spoke of her mother, though evidence suggests she was deeply affected by the early loss.
Both have famous characteristics of their dynasty:
- Daenerys has the silver hair and the violet eyes famously attributed to the Targaryen line.
- Elizabeth had the same red-gold hair her father, Henry VIII, had been known for, and was indicative of the Tudor dynasty.
Described as small of stature and famously beautiful:
- Rumors of Daenerys’ inconceivable beauty had spread across the ASOIAF world by the start of Dance With Dragons. She has, more than once, been referred to as “the most beautiful woman in the world”.1
- Elizabeth I, as a young girl, was widely renown for her looks. However, as she grew older and her youth and beauty faded, her reputation became more carefully constructed. Propaganda of her physical embodiment of the perfect Renaissance queen was spread far and wide across Europe. The purposeful portrayal of Elizabeth as a great beauty served not just her own vanity, but had political motivations as well. To be represented in such a way furthered her diplomatic relations and stressed the legitimacy of her reign.
While readers are aware that Daenerys is truly physically beautiful, whereas the reality of Elizabeth’s appearance of slightly more ambiguous, the result of the two queen’s reputations are the same. Daenerys’ reputation as the most beautiful woman in the world increase her desirability as a political partner with many of the ASOIAF characters, enforce unwavering loyalty in the men that serve her for love as well as duty, and enhance her as a cult-like figure for her people to worship and follow.
Both experienced exile and difficulties during childhood:
- Daenerys spent her childhood in exile and on the run in the free cities with her brother, Viserys, after the fall of their family. While traveling Essos, relying on the charity of Targaryen sympathizers, and attempting to amass support to retake the throne, Viserys became known as “the beggar king” a mocking title that perpetuated his bitterness and cruelty.
- After the death of her mother, Elizabeth fell out of favor with King Henry. She was declared illegitimate and went from Princess Elizabeth to Lady Elizabeth overnight. Her household became neglected and her governess, Lady Margaret Bryan, had to write to Cromwell and beg for money because Elizabeth had outgrown her clothes and could not afford new gowns. Elizabeth spent the majority of her youth falling in and out of favor with her father.
Neither would ever have children:
When Daenerys unwittingly paid Mirri Maz Duur, the Maegi, with the life of her unborn son in exchange for the life of Khal Drogo, she is told that she will never again be able to bear a living child. Instead, Daenerys “births” her three dragons, earning her the title of “Mother of Dragons”. Later in the series, Daenerys becomes the Mysa, or Mother, to the thousands of people that she has freed from slavery and have chosen to follow her. Although she will never have children, Dany still embodies a mother role to her people.
- Although Elizabeth publically entertained diplomatic proposals for marriage, she never accepted any of them. Historians disagree as to whether or not she ever intended to accept a proposal at all, though the likelihood is that she had at some point made up her mind to never relinquish her personal and monarchial power by becoming someone’s wife. By refusing to marry she eliminated any possibility that she would have children and provide another Tudor heir. Instead, she declared herself a mother to the English people, and shaped her identity to encompass themes of the Virgin Mary, combining virginity and motherhood. Though unlike Daenerys, the decision to not marry and therefore not bear children was in her hands, the two are similar in that they both fashioned themselves as mothers to their people.
Daenerys was the youngest child of the Mad King and Elizabeth was Henry VIII’s second born, however, both had two other siblings that bore striking similarities to one another.
Mary Tudor, the eldest, bears some resemblance to Viserys. She was certainly traumatized by the loss of her inheritance and legitimacy when her father divorced her mother. She blamed Elizabeth for her mother’s downfall and death, and she was often cruel to Elizabeth, whom she was forced to care for at a young age. The relationship between the two half sisters was complicated, much like Dany and Viserys, and Elizabeth often found herself in a much more precarious state of favor during her sister’s reign than even that of her father’s. Towards the end of Mary’s unpopular five-year rule, Elizabeth, who was often the subject of plots to depose Mary, was imprisoned either in the Tower of London or under house arrest. Mary’s death represented the literal release from her sister’s imprisonment, whereas Daenerys was metaphorically freed from her brother’s cruelty at his death.
Though Rhaegar Targaryen, Dany’s eldest brother who died at the Battle of Trident, can be more aptly compared to other medieval princes, in the greater comparison of Daenerys to Elizabeth, he exhibits certain relevant characteristics with Elizabeth’s brother Edward VI. Rhaegar believed that he was the “Prince that was promised” and Edward certainly was that for his father who was so desperate to have a male heir. They were their father’s heirs apparent that died too young for Rhaegar to fulfill his destiny and for Edward to marry and produce an heir. Both Rhaegar and Edward also appeared to have similar personality traits, being exceptionally scholarly, serious, and spiritual.
Elizabeth had grown up close with her brother Edward and was likely deeply affected by his death, if for no other reason than that it drastically changed the course of her life. Her sister, Mary, who alternated between loving and hating her, had helped to raise her since infancy, only to turn on her and have her locked away out of fear and jealousy. Elizabeth came to her throne having learned many valuable lessons from watching her siblings’ reigns. She was aware of the sensitivity of religious policies, the importance of public image, and the risk of marrying a foreigner and relinquishing her throne. Though we will never know how much of her actions were conscious decisions resulting from her brother and sister, she certainly did not make their same mistakes.
Daenerys’ character was also heavily influenced by her siblings. Viserys, who often acted malicious and violent towards Dany, played a significant role in her character development. His treatment of her helped to transform her from a helpless child into a formidable woman and Khaleesi. In the case of Rhaegar, who she never knew, Daenerys grew up on stories of him and by Dance With Dragons she has become particularly reliant on Barristan Selmy to tell her about her brother. She was certainly influenced by the image she had created of him, acknowledging him in the names she chose for both her unborn child, Rhaego, and one of her dragons, Rhaegal.
Politics, Propaganda, and Iconography
The rules of these two queens also bear striking similarities. Upon the birth of her dragons, which could be categorized as the official beginning of her reign, Daenerys appointed Jorah Mormont, Aggo, Jhoggo, and Rakharo, to her Queensguard, fashioning her own Khalasar. The council of trusted male advisors that Dany surrounds herself with changed throughout the series, yet remains a constant in her rule.
Elizabeth also surrounded herself with a council of deeply trusted men, headed by her chief advisor William Cecil, to help her rule. Cecil can plausibly be compared to Barristan Selmy, both being older advisors wholeheartedly loyal to their queens.
Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was Elizabeth’s famous royal favorite. The two were very likely in love with each other, though historians disagree as to how far the relationship went. Dudley was certainly infatuated with Elizabeth, for both herself and her crown, and was desperate to get out of his marriage to Amy Robsart, who mysteriously died, causing a scandal that prevented any possibility of marriage between Dudley and Elizabeth.
Jorah Mormont may represent a Dudley-like figure, being desperately in love with Daenerys and yet unable to obtain her. Though Dany loves Jorah, she can never love him the way he wants her to, and ultimately she banished him after learning he had betrayed her to Robert Baratheon.
Later in life Elizabeth replaced Dudley as her court favorite with a younger, dashingly handsome and roguish courtier Robert Devereux, the Early of Essex. Elizabeth was besotted with Essex, much like Daenerys is with Daario. Essex later falls out of favor with Elizabeth by overstepping the boundaries of a courtier and failing as Lieutenant of Ireland. He later amasses a rebellion against her and is executed for treason.
Although we do not yet know from the series what the eventual outcome of Daenerys’ relationship with Daario will be, he has many characteristics similar to Essex. He is young, good looking, Daenerys is sexually attracted to him, he is a rogue that has great confidence in himself, and has been deployed to regain control of her conquered cities, reminiscent of Essex in Ireland. Perhaps these similarities should make a reader or viewer wary of Daario’s future loyalty to Daenerys.
Both Elizabeth and Daenerys bear similarities to each other in that they have devised intricate courts around themselves and councils for which they rely heavily upon for advice over policy. However, the most persuasive similarities are in the propaganda and iconography used, whether intentionally or not, to legitimize their rules.
In the absence of the themes and icons worshipped in the Catholic faith, Elizabeth’s Protestant England filled the void by “worshipping” royal figures instead, a trend encouraged by her administration. With the removal of saints, objects, shrines, and other physical representations of religious faith, the English people turned instead to exhibit such ardent devotion to Elizabeth. In many ways she replaced the Virgin Mary, representing a virgin mother figure sent to guide a nation. Thus, the Cult of Elizabeth was born.
In much the same way Daenerys’ rule is strengthened by the mysticism that surrounds her. It is no coincidence that Missandei announces her string of titles when she is being introduced—Stormborn, the Unburnt, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains, and Mother of Dragons—for it creates an aura around her, reminding those that would doubt her of her power and regality. It is crucial for Daenerys’ position as queen and conqueror, as it was for Elizabeth, to establish a widespread image of her accomplishments and her capability, so that she may distract and hide from others that she is just a young woman thrusting herself into a male role, while she conquers cities and persuades men to follow her and accept her as their ruler.
Daenerys and Elizabeth share many of the same characteristics: they are forgotten and motherless as children, abused and imprisoned as siblings, disappointed in love, intelligent and determined in character, sole survivors of their families, and childless mothers to kingdoms. Yet their greatest similarity is that they are two women at odds with their own gender in the attempt to fulfill their birthright, a struggle they successfully navigate by fashioning images of themselves that are larger than life, impressive, memorable, and visibly strong enough to lead a nation. Theirs are the faces that come to mind when one thinks of the Tudors or Game of Thrones and theirs are the faces on the books or the promotional posters. Though they are extraordinary women and characters in their own right, it is their image that transcends the person, making Daenerys Targaryen and Elizabeth I two of the most iconic queens.
All images from Game of Thrones are copyright HBO.
- A Dance with Dragons, Ch 63, Victarion I [↩]