It’s possible that the beginning of Joffrey Baratheon’s reign is not unlike a counter-factual version of what would happen if the son of Edward IV survived to become a dark and evil king. [This article is continued from here. ]
Shortly after Bran, the first “prince in the tower” falls and Catelyn falsely accuses Tyrion of attempted murder, Robert Baratheon draws up a deathbed will. He asks Ned to serve as “Lord Regent and Protector of the Realm” and rule in Robert’s “stead” until Joffrey comes of age. This is not unlike Edward IV’s will in which he appointed his brother Richard to serve as Lord Protector until his son was old enough to rule1 .
Robert Baratheon and Cersei bear some resemblance to an aging Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, as described in this article and this article. Bear in mind, they also resemble Henry VIII, Margaret of Anjou, Anne Boleyn, and others. (As George RR Martin himself has stated he likes to draw a little bit from multiple historical figures.)
After Edward IV died, the Woodvilles unsuccessfully attempted to have Edward V crowned and Richard’s Lord Protector status ignored. Likewise, Cersei dispenses with Ned’s appointment by simply ripping up the will Robert Baratheon wrote.
In contrast with the real Edward IV’s son, Joffrey ascends to throne for a while. He is not murdered (or “vanished”). Likewise, his uncle is not accused of killing him – yet. If anything, the young king murders the man in the Richard III role, Ned – who like Richard was appointed Lord Protector. Unlike the Woodvilles, the Lannisters are victorious in seizing power.
In this story line, Joffrey is in the Edward V role. He is the son of the Edward IV-esque Robert Baratheon. In fact, I would argue that Joffrey enacts a counterfactual version of what might have arisen had Edward V survived — or a very darkly imagined version. Now, before people start throwing virtual rotten eggs at me for comparing the evil Joffrey to the innocent and doomed prince in the tower, consider the nature of the medieval hereditary princeling (aka “young prince”).
The typical medieval heir to the throne grew up never hearing criticism, never being reprimanded or fearing consequences, having whipping boys, and being surrounded by sycophants. Also consider what children are like – their cruelty – before they learn compassion and self-control. Princes who inherit the throne – especially before adulthood – are quite often a recipe for sociopaths or, at the very least, malignant narcissists.
From 1066 to 1558, there is only one prince who inherited the throne – without fighting for it — who was successful and not walking on the cruel side of narcissism: Henry V. (Incidentally, few princes who inherited the throne were successful as medieval kings.)
Some choice examples of cruel princes who became king: the petty, spiteful, cruel, King John (of Robin Hood fame); the treacherous and despotic Richard II (who betrayed the peasants); Henry VIII who frequently employed judicial homicide to get his wishes. Henry’s wishes ranged from popularity (executing his father’s loyal servants, Empson and Dudley) to divorce (executing his wives and Thomas More); his daughter, Bloody Mary; and his son Edward VI, who one day in a fit of rage plucked all the feathers out of a live falcon and ripped it into four pieces with his hands.2 Henry VI was not a sociopath, but he was completely ineffective and the job basically gave him a nervous breakdown.
You could argue that, by nature, many medieval kings were what today we might consider to be sociopaths, but I don’t think this is fair. Certainly, there are two ways to look at many of these “bad” hereditary princes, but the story of Edward VI does make an impression.
Some historians3 have argued that Richard III might have feared for his life under a Woodville/Edward V. This is primarily because of Richard’s poor relationship with the Woodvilles. It certainly would not help, however, that Richard seized and executed Edward’s uncle with whom the boy was presumably close4. It would not be surprising if Richard feared the young king would seek vengeance if he had ever come to power.
While the princes in the tower are often depicted as innocent children – and they certainly were – there is no reason to assume that Edward V would have been a sweet and beneficent child king. Children can be cruel, and, medieval princelings, crueler still. Likewise, contemporaries may have seen the twelve-year old Edward as more adult than we do.
Children began to assume some adult responsibilities when they attained the “age of reason” — twelve years old. The age of reason was when children were old enough to determine the legality or illegality of their actions5 .
Dating back to the Anglo-Saxon period (at least 1035), after common boys attained the age of reason, they were bound into tithing groups of ten men responsible for monitoring and reporting each other’s crimes — a kind of medieval substitute for a police force that made the members mutually accountable for each the actions of each other’s households.6 By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the frankpledge system began to decline but the ideas about the age when maturity began may have lingered on.
Likewise, apprenticeships began by as young as eleven for orphans and, by London ordinance, no earlier than thirteen in the fourteenth century. In the fifteenth century, girls were old enough to consent to marriage at twelve and boys at fourteen. In the fifteenth century, however, the age people entered apprenticeships did creep up to sixteen.7
The ten-year-old Edward IV, as the young earl of March, led 10,000 men to march on London in 1452. Admittedly, his leadership might have just been nominal and symbolic. At thirteen, Edward led his father’s household troops (with his father).8 However, three centuries earlier, in 1147, the fourteen-year-old Henry II hired his own mercenaries and embarked on an unsuccessful invasion of England — a plan he hatched without his mother’s knowledge or approval — during which he ran out of money to pay his soldiers.
All of this is to say that it wouldn’t be unreasonable for Richard to believe that Edward V – quite independently of the Woodvilles — could be a threat to him all on his own. And, George RR Martin’s possible attempts to image Edward V from Richard Duke of Gloucester’s perspective, could have eventually led to a grim counterfactual version of the prince, which may have resulted in some parts of Joffrey.
Joffrey rules for a while before he is, in all likelihood, murdered and his uncle Tyrion falsely accused.
To be continued…
- In real life, Richard was not at Edward’s bedside; he was in the north when his brother died. [↩]
- Cruelty to animals is a modern concept, but I don’t think Edward VI should necessarily get a full pass: people still had pets in the Middle Ages and falcons were highly prized. For more discussion, see http://queryblog.tudorhistory.org/2009/04/question-from-alex-edward-vi-and.html [↩]
- See Alison Weir in her book The Princes in the Tower among others. [↩]
- Anthony Woodville was the governor of Edward V’s household at Ludlow (before he became king). [↩]
- See Barbara Hanawalt’s Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender and Social Control in Medieval England p. 3. [↩]
- Noble boys, their servants, and clergy boys were excluded from tithing groups. See Barbara Hanawalt’s Of Good and Ill Repute: Gender and Social Control in Medieval England p. 2-3. [↩]
- Barbara Hanawalt in Growing Up in Medieval London p. 112-113. [↩]
- See the London Chronicle cited in Charles Ross’ Edward IV p. 14. [↩]