Joffrey, Bran, and the Lannister nephews — are these the “Princes in the Tower” of Westeros? Is Tyrion like a falsely accused Richard III? George RR Martin tends to repeat certain historic images almost like defining themes or motifs. One of these defining images is the Princes in the Tower – a catalyst for the events in Richard III’s reign. For people who love the history of Richard III , Martin’s treatment of these events raises an interesting question – is George RR Martin a “closet” Ricardian?
Who were the Princes in the Tower?
The mystery of the Princes in the Tower is perhaps one of the oldest and greatest whodunits in English history. The young heirs to the throne conveniently vanished from the Tower of London in the summer of 1483. Murder? Bones buried under the stairwell? Secret identities? Escape? Despite numerous theories, nobody has ever been able to prove definitely what became of them.
When the late medieval king Edward IV died unexpectedly after a fishing trip in April 1483, he left two sons: the proverbial “heir and the spare.” The eldest, Edward V, was twelve years old, and his younger brother, Richard of Shrewsbury, was only nine. While the eldest was en route from Ludlow Castle in Wales to London for his coronation, the now dead king’s brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, forcibly took the boy into his custody. (Edward’s will had designated Richard as the Lord Protector to rule until the monarch was old enough to rule.)
Gloucester installed Edward V in the Tower of London, which was a royal residence, a traditional lodging before coronations, and a prison. Meanwhile the boys’ mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, had fled into sanctuary but subsequently gave Gloucester custody of her second son. In the past, Gloucester had proven exceptionally loyal to his brother King Edward.
(former Duke of
|Edward IV||Elizabeth Woodville|
Shortly after Gloucester gained custody of both heirs, he had himself crowned Richard III and then both boys vanished from the Tower.
The fate of the princes, including if they died or escaped, and Richard’s guilt or innocence of their murders is extremely controversial. Many believe that Richard is innocent and attribute to his maligned reputation to Tudor propaganda and Shakespeare’s hatchet job in his eponymous Richard III.
Bran: The Prince Who Met His (Down)fall from the Tower
|Images: © HBO|
Breaking his promise to his mother, Bran climbs the nerve-wrackingly high stone highest tower, as his pup, Summer, waits below. At the very top, Bran hears noises and peers into the window to see the queen and her brother having sex. Stunned Bran stays there long enough for Jaime to grab his arm. Cersei, terrified the boy will reveal her secret, commands Jaime to stop Bran, which he does by pushing him out the window. And, so Bran, who is essentially the son of a duke, becomes the prince who falls down from the tower.
Although Westeros does not have the concept of a duke, arguably each of the nine regions of Westeros’ high lords — Stark, Lannister, Arryn, Baratheon, Tully, etc. — are roughly equivalent to dukes. Each high lords’ vassals — for example, the Freys and the Boltons — are roughly equal to barons.
Incidentally, Bran falling from the tower also parallels the 1244 death of Welsh prince, Gruffydd ap Llywelyn Fawr, who plunged 90 feet (27 meters) to his death at the Tower of London. Gruffydd tried to escape from his top floor apartment where he was imprisoned at the White Tower by shimming down a make-shift rope made of sheets. Unlike Bran, however, he died a terrible death. When the Yeoman of the Guard, found his body the next morning — his head and neck were crushed between his shoulders.
After Bran falls from the tower, as he lies recovering, a fire breaks out. While everyone is away putting out the tower, an assassin breaks into his room, intending to stab him. Catelyn fights off the assassin and Bran’s direwolf, Summer, rips his throat out.
The next day, Catelyn visits the tower from which Bran fell and discovers a blonde hair, which makes her suspect the Lannisters tried to murder Bran. Choosing a measured approach over war, Catelyn journeys to King’s Landing to tell Ned what she has learned. While at Littlefinger’s brothel, she learns that the assassin had Tyrion Lannister’s dagger.
|Images: © HBO|
Tyrion Falsely Accused of Murdering 1st Prince in the Tower
Assuming that Richard III is innocent of the murder of the Princes in the Tower, the next parallel comes when Tyrion is falsely accused of (attempting to) murder Bran – the first “prince” in a Tower.
After Catelyn learns the dagger belongs to Tyrion, she believes he hired the assassin to kill Bran. When Catelyn encounters Tyrion at the Crossroads Inn, she persuades her father’s vassals to seize him. She proceeds to take him to the Vale to stand trial for Bran’s attempted murder.
|The Eyrie at the Vale is a cluster of seven
|The site of Tyrion’s imprisonment
in a tower: the Eyrie’s Sky Cells © HBO
In a rather ironic turn-about, Tyrion – another (effective) duke’s son and therefore prince – himself becomes a prince imprisoned in a (very very) high tower and almost meets his downfall. At the fittingly named Eyrie – with its double meaning of eagle’s nest and medieval place of judgment – Tyrion is imprisoned in a Sky Cell.
Again the duke leading a prince to his downfall at a tower motif is repeated. The Vale’s new duke – Robin “Sweetrobin” Arryn – wants to see Tyrion “the bad man” fly.
|The High Hall at the Eyrie||Tyrion in a Sky Cell||The Moon Door © HBO|
Bronn successfully defends Tyrion in a trial by combat; otherwise, the “duke” of Arryn would have gotten his wish and Tyrion would have gone flying out the moon door – and met his (down)fall at a tower.
It’s worth mentioning that Tyrion has a lot of similarities with the “innocent interpretation” of Richard III. They are both cripples; Tyrion equates “cripples, bastards and broken things” as being synonymous and notes “all dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes.” Both Richard and Tyrion are somewhat bookish men.
|Richard III||Tyrion fidgets with his rings a la
Richard III © HBO
Both Richard III and Tyrion are known for good judgment — in Richard’s case in his role delivering justice as a duke in the North. And, most significantly, they are both falsely accused of murdering princes. (It’s also worth mentioning that, in my opinion, George RR Martin’s major characters are typically based on multiple historical figures — not just one. There’s at least one other historical figure Tyrion may be based on, but it creates a historical spoiler.)
The “Princes in the Tower” story arc continues. It picks up in King’s Landing with a what-if version of what could have happened if Edward V had lived.