Tyrion Pushes Dany to Name a Successor & Elizabeth I’s Succession Troubles


In a cozy fireside chat, Tyrion ponders, if not frets, about how dangerous it will be for Daenerys to negotiate with Cersei in King’s Landing. But, then he makes the mistake of bringing up her succession.  The Dragon Queen already has her scales ruffled; Tyrion just criticized her for incinerating the Tarlys. So, perhaps, this isn’t the best time for him to bring up Daenerys’ death.

Daenerys responds as you might expect – annoyed that Tyrion is already contemplating her death. But, perhaps he has good reason. Likely, in addition to his own safety, he doesn’t want to lose the good work they’ve done.

“How do we ensure your vision endures? After you break the wheel, how do we make sure that it stays broken?”

Daenerys practically hisses back her reply: “You want to know who sits on the Iron Throne after I’m dead? Is that it?”

“You say you can’t have children. But there are other ways of choosing a successor. The Night’s Watch has one way. The ironborn, for all their many flaws, have another,” Tyrion replies.


What’s a medieval queen to do, when she has no heirs?

In the real world, this was the very situation Elizabeth I faced — and her councilors, parliament, and subjects feared war would ultimately result if she did not name an heir.


This season Dany’s story parallels that of Elizabeth I.

Despite Elizabeth I’s official status as a bastard – she never had her 1536 bastardization repealed – and her predecessor Mary I’s fierce objections, Elizabeth ascended to throne easily. Her father, Henry VIII enshrined the order of succession in a parliamentary act — the third Succession Act of 1544 – and this encoded Elizabeth’s right to the throne.

Yet succession problems dogged Elizabeth throughout her reign: no sooner had she ascended than her parliaments and subjects began to demand that she name an heir.

Because Elizabeth had no clear, everyone feared England would revert to the terrible days of the Wars of the Roses after she died, as everyone with an army and a ghost of a claim clamored to wear the crown.

Initially, this “succession anxiety” focused on who Elizabeth would marry. When Elizabeth became queen, everyone assumed she’d marry and produce an heir. The bigger question was who Elizabeth would marry.

Nobody wanted her to repeat Mary I’s disastrous choice in mate. When Mary wed Spanish king, Philip II, the English feared becoming a Habsburg colony and England’s Protestants rightfully, it turns out, worried about their fate under such a fiercely Catholic couple.


Philip II of Spain and Mary I of England.

Elizabeth, however, knew the score. Marrying could potential place her in a vulnerable position if her husband became more powerful. And, she knew well from personal experience that even queens did not always fare well in marriages. One can only assume that the fate of her mother (Queen Anne Boleyn) must have haunted her.


This locket ring, presumed to have belonged to Elizabeth I, contained a portrait of her mother Anne Boleyn. Although Elizabeth never spoke of mother publicly, she must have thought of her often to have a secret portrait of her in such an intimate object.

As it became increasingly clear that Elizabeth had no intention of marrying, the succession issue came to the fore.

When Tyrion was begging Daenerys to name a successor on Game of Thrones, it was reminiscent of Elizabeth I’s reluctance to do so in the real world. Elizabeth knew firsthand what being the next in line to throne was like from her experience in Mary’s reign.


The plots that arose around Elizabeth nearly cost the princess her life.

Elizabeth was all too aware that plots would arise around her successor.  “The inconstancy of the people of England,” she once explained. “How they mislike government and have their eyes fixed upon the person that is next to succeed.”

In October 1562, at twenty-nine years old, Elizabeth came down with a terrible fever at Hampton Court palace, developed smallpox and nearly died. The young queen named Robert Dudley, her great love, as lord protector of the realm. Many feared that Elizabeth might die young like her brother Edward VI, her father’s brother Arthur, and other short-lived Tudors.


Few English would have tolerated Elizabeth’s most likely successor, her Catholic cousin Mary Stuart. Not only was Mary Stuart’s faith a reminder of Mary I’s attacks on Protestants, but Mary Stuart was a foreigner married to the king of the much-hated France.

When the January 1563 Parliament met, Elizabeth’s near death loomed large in the minds of parliamentarians who petitioned the queen to marry and nominate an heir. While Parliament had declared a successor in Henry VIII’s reign, such action had never been taken without it being the monarch’s initiative.

Their demands continued until April, when unable to reply either way, the queen prorogued Parliament. Parliament would stay prorogued until 1566 when Elizabeth needed money during peacetime.

Meanwhile, the succession question became so heated that a pamphlet war erupted, aiming to sway public and parliamentary opinion.


Elizabeth’s parliament in 1571.

By October 1566, the succession battle began with renewed vigor in Parliament with the Commons threatening to withhold supplies until a settlement was reached. The queen dealt with this problem by saying it was “not convenient” to deal with the succession and then announcing she would marry.

While this silenced the Lords, Elizabeth had to command the Commons to be quiet.

Elizabeth refused parliament dictate her choice of successor. Even united, parliament could not put a candidate forward — something Elizabeth recognized and used to defuse their attempts.

The two main potential successors to the throne — Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots and Lady Catherine Grey – had equally strong claims. Catherine Grey was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Mary and Charles Brandon (Duke of Suffolk).


Lady Katherine Grey with her son. After her first marriage was annulled, she married Edward Seymour, 1st Earl of Hertford without royal approval in a secret ceremony with only one witness. This cast doubt on the legitimacy of her children.

Mary, Queen of Scots, had the strongest hereditary claim. The law, however, prohibited foreigners from inheriting the throne, as did Henry VIII’s will. By the line of succession in Henry VIII’s will, Lady Catherine Grey ought to have been the heir. But questions lingered concerning her children’s legitimacy and her religious inclinations.


As the fifteen-year old king lay dying, Edward VI named Catherine’s elder sister, Jane Grey, as his successor in his will in attempt to prevent England from returning to Catholicism.

By the end of 1567, parliament no longer found Mary Stuart to be an acceptable candidate. Mary had been forced to abdicate the Scottish throne after having been caught up in a scandal surrounding her marriage to the earl of Bothwell, her previous husband Darnley’s alleged assassin.


Mary Stuart with her second husband James Darnley. Darnley was the father of James VI of Scotland who would one day become Elizabeth’s successor as James I of England.


James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was accused of murdering Mary Stuart’s second husband Darnley. Although James was acquitted of the charge and later married Mary Stuart, the stain of impropriety lingered.

Just as a Suffolk succession was looking very favorable, Catherine Grey died on January 27, 1568, leaving only essentially illegitimate sons too young to ascend and a sister who had married too far beneath her to be considered.

Other candidates were equally problematic. The junior Suffolk line of Lady Margaret Strange was unacceptable for Protestants as Lady Margaret was Catholic. The only other two possible candidates were the unwilling Puritan Earl of Huntingdon and the foreign James VI. Eventually Elizabeth would somewhat succumb to Parliamentary pressure and agree to the Treasons Act of 1571.

The Treasons Act made it high treason during Elizabeth’s lifetime to denounce her right “with and by the authority of the Parliament of England” to settle the succession.

This act didn’t necessarily mean that Elizabeth could determine the succession by herself. Rather the act did mean that it was better to settle it with parliament’s help. At last, Elizabeth subscribed to her father’s way of settling the succession. Still, this didn’t mean she would name an successor; Elizabeth feared that if she did, assassination plots would arise to replace her with the heir.

In the fall of 1569, the Northern Rebellion arose; the rebels planned to free Mary Stuart. Once Elizabeth crushed this insurrection, it ended the possibility that a feudal war could determine the succession.

In May 1568, Mary Stuart escaped from her Scottish imprisonment. Soon she recovered in popularity with the English.

By the end of the year, the former Scottish queen was a strong and dangerous contender for the throne. Mary Stuart had been involved in plots to remove or murder Elizabeth.

In February 1571, with papal approval, Mary endorsed a plot by a wealthy Florentine banker and Catholic named Roberto Ridolfi. If it had succeeded, this plot would have replaced Elizabeth with Mary as queen and raised Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, to be the king consort. (The exceptionally wealthy and Catholic Norfolk would have married Mary and agreed to the plot because he felt Elizabeth underappreciated him.)

In the spring of 1572, Elizabeth’s chief advisor William Cecil uncovered the Ridolfi plot. Norfolk was found guilty of high treason. Still, Elizabeth did nothing to exclude Mary from the succession, until she was found to have given approval for a plot which, with the aid of the Spanish army, would murder Elizabeth.

Elizabeth would never name a successor. Instead, before she fell fatally ill, Cecil secretly wrote to James VI of Scotland for twelve days to negotiate the transition.


Mary Queen of Scots with her son James VI. The two were separated when James was a baby so this portrait is a product of the artist’s imagination.

These negotiations dictated that James was not to attempt to seize power or have parliament recognize his title until after Elizabeth was dead. (While it has been said Elizabeth named James on her deathbed, there is no firm support for this view.)

When Elizabeth I died on March 24, 1603, James VI succeeded smoothly because of Cecil’s advance work. There was no civil war. Ultimately, James was the most realistic candidate, so fifteen councilors and noblemen agreed to sign the warrant he drafted proclaiming himself king.





Editor’s Note: This article is based on an essay I wrote when I was a student.



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."


  • Reply August 23, 2017


    Jamie, did you see the Wolf Hall miniseries that came out a couple of years ago? That covers the early years of Henry 8th’s reign. I am not sure I believe the attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of Thomas Cromwell that it undertakes, although he certainly deserves more credit than he received in A Man for All Seasons. I am not convinced he was some kind of proto-liberal as the show seemed to suggest. I am not convinced he was even relatively liberal. He was as willing to enforce religious conformity as those he opposed: it was just a different form of the religion. In the end his downfall was the question of succession anyway…

    • Reply August 28, 2017

      Jamie Adair

      Pat, I meant to reply to this a while ago, but it’s been a little hectic. Yes, I’ve seen Wolf Hall and I loved it. I also started reading the novel before it came out. I loved the novel as well — especially that dazzling opening scene — but I never finished it.

      Given everything that happened as a side effect of his Great Matter, I can only believe that Henry VIII truly feared being without an heir. I think people underestimate the psychological impact of the Wars of the Roses on the Tudors — and possibly the 1470 overthrow of Edward IV.

      At a minimum, I believe Henry was driven by a massive sense of responsibility, shared with most medieval kings, about who would rule when he was gone.

      I think I’ve only read one or two books about Thomas More, but I have a dim view of him. I think trying to rehabilitate his reputation in an increasingly secular age would be a tough hill to climb.

  • Reply August 23, 2017


    “When Tyrion was begging Elizabeth to name a successor on Game of Thrones, it was reminiscent of Elizabeth I’s reluctance to do so.” A very understandable typo.

    Legal polygamy gave Chinese emperors less concern for succession, but more problems among numerous possible successors to murder each other, which occurred all the time, turning the royal family into a snake pit. I guess neither system is built for smooth transitions. In a pinch, a son-less emperor or empress could “adopt” a nephew or a boy relative to establish a legitimate successor. (Empress Dowager Cixi of the Qing Dynasty is a famous example.)

    Mahabharata documented an even more unusual approach by the ancient Indian kings in certain regions. If a king is infertile, his wife can be impregnated by other men in the same tribe, and the sons are regarded as legal offspring of the father in name.

    • Reply August 24, 2017


      That’s interesting, Jun, didn’t Julius Caesar adopt his nephew Octavius Ceasar as his heir? I seem to have a dim and distant memory of the Mahabharata method being used (unofficially) in the West, though it would be somebody in the same family (I suppose that included extended family). I can’t find anything on the internet to verify that though, so please don’t anybody take it as gospel.

      Thinking of Mary, Qeen of Scots, the site of Tixall Hall (the building no longer stands) is not so far from me http://www.tixall-ingestre-andrews.me.uk/tixall/tixhall.html (It’s a bus ride rather than a walk though). Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned there temporarily after her arrest. The Gatehouse of the hall was a ruin during my childhood though it has been restored and functions as a hotel. I read a historical novel some years ago which tangentially mentioned the hall and Mary (Hugh Walpole’s “The Bright Pavilions” – I don’t know if anyone reads Hugh Walpole’s works anymore; in my lifetime some of the authors who used to feature in the public library seem to be represented less). I’m going a little off point there.

      Jaime, I don’t think you need to apologise for plagiarising your own work! I did the same with an article for a one of every two monthly (amateur) “magazine” that some friends and acquaintances who are shorthand enthusiasts pass among ourselves. The lady who co-ordinates it (we live in different parts of the country) is ill at the moment so it’s on hold.

    • Reply August 25, 2017


      I believe the Picts practiced a form of matrilineality in that they had Kings, but supposedly the kingship passed down through a female line. I think it was probably an approach that many ancient cultures adopted. After all, you can be sure who a man’s mother is, but being sure who his father might have been in olden times was more fraught. How the matrilineal line would have gotten started in the first place is another question. I presume the sister of the leader of whatever clan had risen to preeminence would have been the progenitress….

      • Reply August 25, 2017


        That’s food for thought, Pat. GRRM has said that one of the writers he read in his younger days was Rosemary Sutcliff – she wrote a novel “Song for a Dark Queen” about Boudicca and that book is written from the perspective that the Iceni (Boudicca’s tribe) traced their royal lineage through the female line. I didn’t think about this when I commented before but 20 or more years before the TV show “Rome” there was a pretty dreadful BBC show called “The Cleopatras” * but I remember that Cleopatra (the one that was involved with Julius Caesar and Marcus Antonius) said something about her brother ruling through her, not her through him (the Ptolemys “keeping it in the family” like the Targaryens did).

        * There are some clips of the show on YouTube but if anybody looks it up don’t expect it to be great art – it might be so bad it’s good in a make ’em laugh way!

    • Reply September 21, 2017


      ”Legal polygamy gave Chinese emperors less concern for succession, but more problems among numerous possible successors to murder each other, which occurred all the time”

      Sounds like the Freys. But speaking of China, I’d be interested to explore the history of China being allegorised in ASOIAF, and whether anyone thinks there’s a Chinese influence. I was thinking because Westeros is a continent, which creates problems with being an allegory of England; and it’s markedly more homogenous than Medieval Europe: remember that the Five Kings was the first time since Aegon’s conquest that two ‘countries’ went to war.

      Given GRRM’s talent for creating multiple analogues of characters (I could probably doodle a chart of who in I&F characters on one side, and real people on the other, and join up who’s who) it’s worth exploring different cultures. Like the Wall is most often taken to be Hadrian’s wall, but it could also be compared to the Great Wall. Also a patchwork of seven petty kingdoms unified by a Dragon King sounds kinda Chinese

  • Reply August 28, 2017


    It just occurred to me that the TV series never clearly established the rule of succession in Westeros. If we go by the rule in the novels, Cersei has no claim whatsoever to the throne under any circumstance. So I’d say anything goes in this world.

  • Reply August 28, 2017

    Jamie Adair

    So, by the way, I was getting a little worried that this succession push was a bit of foreshadowing and Dany would bite the dust in the season finale. I’m relieved to know that wasn’t the case.

    • Reply August 31, 2017


      While I did not expect Dany to bite the dust this season, I do think she will before the series is over…

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