Daenerys and Elizabeth I: Iconic Queens

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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

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Elizabeth I’s locket ring contains a miniature portrait of her mother, Anne Boleyn.

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.

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The Darnley portrait became the basis of all official portraits of Elizabeth I as she began to age and creating a “mask of youth.”

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.
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Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) on her last day as princess: her wedding day, and Elizabeth I as a princess.

Neither would ever have children:

  • mirri-maz-duur

    Mirri Maz Duur

    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.

Sibling Rivalry

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.

Viserys © HBO.

Viserys © HBO.

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Mary I

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.

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Edward VI

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.

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In show, the beginning of the fatal falling out of Dany and Viserys began when he attempted to steal her dragon’s eggs. © HBO.

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.

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Barristan Selmy

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William Cecil

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.

Robert_Dudley

Robert Dudley bears a curious resemblance to the actor who currently plays Daario (Micheal Huisman). However, Huisman does not look like Daario in the books, who has a golden mustache, blue hair, and a blue beard.

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.

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Daenerys and Daario. © HBO.

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.

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Daario Naharis © HBO.

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Robert Devereux

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.

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A quintessential example of the Cult of Elizabeth: Elizabeth I in ‘The Ditchley portrait’, which was painted to commemorate her visit. Artist: Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger

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.

 

  1. A Dance with Dragons, Ch 63, Victarion I []

Danielle Alesi recently completed a masters in Renaissance, Reformation, and Early Modern Studies at the University of Birmingham.

14 Comments

  • Reply October 9, 2014

    BoredMe

    What’s the possibility on book spoilers here? Because there is something more that can be said for the Daario/Essex comparison.

    • Reply October 9, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Yes, Watcher is right. (Thanks, Watcher.) Please preface spoilers with a line that says
      ===SPOILERS========
      and add some paragraph returns or white space so the text with the spoilers in it don’t jump out at people right away.

    • Reply October 9, 2014

      Jun

      I may be the only person who feels this way but I think the TV series got it wrong. Daenerys does not love Daario. He is a useful friend and no more.

      • Reply October 10, 2014

        Jamie Adair

        I agree about Dany’s feelings for Daario. But, I didn’t get the sense Dany loved Daario from the TV show. To me, the scene with Jorah – where she changes her mind about Daario’s orders – felt like an afterglow. E.g., the next day she is still spinning from having spent the night with him. But that could be love, lust, or an overwhelming night. I’d have to see the scene again: it has been a while and there might be details I’m forgetting.

      • Reply January 30, 2015

        TiddleLumps

        But Dany constantly thinks of, admires, fawns over, and sleeps with Daario in the books.

        • Reply February 10, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          I don’t know as these are mutually exclusive. 🙂 I think that Dany was walking on air the next day.

  • Reply October 9, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    I doubt GRRM would make the story play out eventually in a way for real life inspiration to turn out to be (unpublished) book spoilers as he doesn’t usually do this but writes counter-factually (the Red Wedding being inspired by the Black Dinner and the Massacre of Glencoe is an exception of course). I had not thought of the character of Daenerys being inspired by Elizabeth I (I had gone with the red hair rather than height and thought of Sansa). However, the above article does make several valid points. Boredme, if I have misunderstood your observation about book spoilers and you are saying that you can think of another similarity between Daario and Essex but are uncertain whether to post it, because it might be “spoilerish” what people usually do is leave a bit of space and put SPOILER or SPOILERS – sometimes centred if you wish – in capitals (or so that people will notice anyway) and then leave a few lines after the spoiler heading and then type what they have to say. Obviously this isn’t my site, but Jaime did say to do something like that on another thread and that has become the practice.

    My favourite TV depictions of Elizabeth I of recent years have been the ones by Helen Mirren and Anne-Marie Duff. I shall have to mull over the above article – as GRRM does not always use straightforward inspiration for his stories, it is possible that both Henry VII and his renowned daughter provided ideas for the characteristics of Daenerys.

  • Reply October 9, 2014

    Anonymous

    Hi Watcher!

    My thought process for this article was not necessarily that Daenerys was directly inspired by Elizabeth or any one character, but to illustrate the similarities between the two women in terms of their character and situations. I think that overall GRRM portrays a great variety of influences, whether intentionally or not, into his characters and stories and that this is one that continued to stick out to me, especially in terms of iconography and image portrayal. Also, I tried to keep the comparisons to pre-DWD for the most part to stay as close as possible to what has been shown in the series. I hope that helps!

    Danielle

  • Reply October 9, 2014

    Jun

    I think there is A LOT of overlap between Elizabeth I and Daenerys. In fact, I suspect that GRRM was imagining how Elizabeth I got through her early years when he wrote Daenerys’ court and thoughts about ruling.

    Regarding foreshadowing, I am remembering the prophecy of three treasons at the House of Undying (A Clash of Kings): Once for blood and once for gold and once for love. I will say no more.

  • Reply October 10, 2014

    Watcher on the Couch

    Danielle, when I said I had not thought of Elizabeth I in regard to Daenerys I was making an observation only (hope it didn’t come across as having a “dig”).

    Jun, I have tended to think of Daenerys’ feelings for Daario as being infatuation rather than love. I don’t think I’d even have had a schoolgirl crush on someone like book Daario when I was fourteen though…..and admittedly Daenerys was already a widow who had lost a child albeit a young widow when she met Daario.

    • Reply October 10, 2014

      Jun

      With Daario GRRM plays up the exoticism — perhaps more for world-building and contrast to Westeros “culture” than invoking our sympathies or identification. Nevertheless there seems to be some social commentary and gender politics relevant to our world. In our world (carrying the weight of thousands of years of patriarchy), women tend to prefer men with higher social status than themselves.

      The conventional wisdom believes that women value men’s social resource (status, power, money) more than they value their sex drive/physical appeal/virility (indicators of the quality of their genetic material), and that men value women’s sex appeal/fertility/genetic quality more than their social resources. Yes, that is a correct observation in the context of societies built upon uneven social positions of men and women, but it may be due to nurture rather than nature. Do women in power choose mates more like men do or do they stick to the female stereotype?

      The Dany-Daario relationship in the book has ruffled a lot of feathers. I don’t have any romantic notions about it, but I find it interesting that many male readers are mightily offended that Dany chooses to have sex with an ill-matched, all-muscle-and-no-brain guy like Daario, while the loyal and devoted and very helpful Jorah Mormont is not getting any.

  • Reply October 10, 2014

    Grant

    Very Minor Book Spoilers Present for A Dance With Dragons

    I wouldn’t be so sure, or at least that he’s just a useful friend. From the books we get multiple instances of Dany feeling attraction to Daario, thinking that she needs him present or wishing he was there, comparing how he would act to other men she’s been in romantic relationships with, and so on and so forth.

    Love? Hard to say. But there’s definitely that physical attraction and reliance on him.

    And if you mean the scene from the show where she and Daario sleep together, that is actually in the books. A Dance of Dragons, chapter 36, Daenarys. Specifically:

    “A hundred?” Daario chuckled through his purple beard. “I lied, sweet queen. It was a thousand. But never once a dragon.”

    She raised her lips to his. “What are you waiting for?”

    And just prior to that she tells him that she could never stand him betraying her.

  • Reply May 7, 2015

    Anonymous

    Helllloooo,
    I came across this article because I’m writing a paper for my Western Civ. class about the television series, and I just wanted to say that I really like this article. I can tell a lot of thought went into this, and I just thought someone should tell you that this is a really well done article. Maybe it’s because I’m in the middle of wiring an essay, but sometimes people don’t realize just how much goes into writing something that is worth while.

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