In Episode Six of Season 6 (“Blood Brothers”), we caught a glimpse of the notorious Aerys Targaryen through the greensight of Bran – aka the incoming Three-Eyed Raven. We see flashes of the alchemists mixing the wildfire, a tunnel exploding, and King Aerys on his throne.
Some fans theorize that Bran caused Aerys’ madness by whispering at him through time.
The real-life Aerys-es’ madness had entirely different causes — one may have had paranoid schizophrenia and the other may have suffered from plain old stress. (Well, that might be a little generous.)
Aerys’ catchphrase – “Burn them all”—sounds an awful lot like “Burning Ball,” the name of a terrifying incendiary event in the fourteenth century. As described in this article, in January 1393, Charles the Mad and six of the highest nobility snuck into a widow’s send-off costume ball disguised as wood savages.
In January 1393, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria held a lavish party at the Hôtel Saint-Pol in Paris to fete the third marriage of her lady-in-waiting, Catherine de Fastaverin.
In those days, before widows remarried, their friends and families often held very wild masquerade parties or even charivari. These disorderly parties often had costumes, lewdness, and loud banging music. (At these events, sometimes communities would try to jeer the unwed couple into marrying early, parading them through town clanging cymbals.)
To add a note of pagan wildness to Isabeau’s party, the king and company donned costumes and masks made of wax (or pitch) covered linen rags. The costumes had a shaggy air, and the men may have even been chained together.
The wood savages danced in a wild frenzy before the party goers.
The French nobles weren’t stupid and guards at the door barred anyone with a torch from entering. But, perhaps they didn’t have enough clout to stop the king’s brother.
When the king’s brother, the Duke of Orleans, came in, he walked over to one of the wild men and held his torch near his face to see his identity. A spark fell and set the man’s leg on fire. (One contemporary claimed, however, that Orleans may have thrown the torch at the man.) Once the wild man was aflame, the other costumed men went up like, well, a wild fire.
The wild men screamed in agony as they caught on fire, and when the audience tried to rescue them, they too got burned and shrieked. Chaos broke out. Four of the dancers burned alive, their flaming genitals dropped to the floor and blood squirted everywhere1 .
Assuming her husband was burning, Queen Isabeau of Bavaria fainted.
Luckily, Charles was at the edge of the room and not yet on fire. A quick thinking 15-year old Joan Duchess of Berry threw her voluminous skirt over the king and protected his costume from igniting.
This was only lucky because it prevented a civil war over the succession. Charles was a terrible king, mainly because he was rarely lucid. He frequently suffered from an illusion he was made out of glass and ran howling down the halls of the palace.
(Quite intriguingly, J.R. Veenstra and Laurens Pignon, authors of Magic and Divination at the Courts of Burgundy and France, describe the event as between Christianity and latent pagan believes that still existed in fourteenth-century France.2 ) .
Charles the Mad’s insanity may have trickled down the family tree to his grandson Henry VI of England, who also shares a few traits with Aerys. Charles’ daughter Catherine of Valois married Agincourt-hero Henry VI. Their son Henry VI’s reputed madness, or at the very least instability, contributed to the Wars of the Roses.
King Aerys is an awful lot like the allegedly mad King of England – Henry VI – who suffered what appears to be a nervous breakdown or even catatonic break while he was on the throne. Given that Henry’s first break coincided with England’s loss of its last French province, it might not be solely heredity that contributed to his insanity. After all, Henry VI was under enormous stress.