Tyrion, Bran, Joffrey, and the Princes in the Tower


Image of Tyrion Lannister (as portrayed by Peter Dinklage)  © HBO

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.


Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury in the Tower of London by Paul Delaroche

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, as well as a traditional lodging before coronations and a prison. Meanwhile the boys’ mother, Queen Elizabeth Woodville, had fled into sanctuary. Nonetheless, shortly thereafter she would give Gloucester custody of her second son. In the past, Gloucester had proven exceptionally loyal to his brother King Edward.

Richard III edwardiv-face elizabeth-woodville-close
Richard III
(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. They attribute 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

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Images: © HBO

Breaking his promise to his mother, Bran climbs the nerve-rackingly high stone tower, as his pup, Summer, waits below. Once at the top, Bran hears noises and peers into a 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 (or meets his downfall at the tower).


Jaime Lannister, as a son of a “duke,” is a prince. He leads to Bran’s (down)fall from a Tower © HBO.


Prince Gruffyd falls

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 shimmying down a make-shift rope made of sheets. Unlike Bran, however, Prince Gruffyd died a terrible death. When the Yeoman of the Guard found Gruffyd’s body the next morning, his head and neck were crushed between his shoulders.


After Bran falls from the tower, as he lies recovering at home, a fire breaks out. While everyone is away fighting the fire, an assassin breaks into Bran’s room, intending to stab him. Catelyn fights off the would-be killer 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 discovered. While at Littlefinger’s brothel, she learns that the assassin had Tyrion Lannister’s dagger.

Branandcat dagger-game-of-thrones-bran
bran-summer Game-of-Thrones-TV-Show-Promo-1
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 Sky_Cells
The Eyrie at the Vale is a cluster of seven
white towers
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.

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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-iii1 tyrion-lannister-tyrion-lannister
Richard III Tyrion fidgets with his rings a la
Richard III © HBO

Also, 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, both men 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.

Continued here.

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 April 27, 2014


    Great article. Just to clarify something you wrote, the ‘great lords’ wouldn’t be dukes, they would be earls. Dukes (in England) were created by Edward III as positions for his sons. Dukes, therefor, are royal. Earls, on the other hand, were lower than dukes and marquess in the peerage. Most likely Ned Stark was either a marquess or earl as there is no indication that he was royal unlike Richard of Gloucester who was royal because he was descended directly from Edward III and a duke.

    • Reply April 27, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      Thanks for reading and posting! I actually beg to differ on this one.:) I think Westerosi high lords *could* (theoretically) be dukes — of course, this is very much in theory. Here’s why:

      1. In the history of the seven kingdoms, the different regions (Kingdom of the North, Kingdom of the Mountain and the Vale, etc.) were actually ruled by kings until Aegon the Conqueror conquered them. See http://gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Seven_Kingdoms

      2. The high lords have significant power in their regions – granted earls and (esp.) marquess would have a lot of power too — but the high lords are descended from men who were once kings. There is no reason the high lords couldn’t be dukes given they have royal blood. (Not that royal blood is required to become a duke.)

      3. Maybe I don’t understand your point about descent from Edward III. But, I’m aware of the introduction of the title of duke and the hierarchy/ranks (duke, marquess, earl, baron, etc). However, Henry VIII also made people dukes who were not his family (e.g., Charles Brandon). Richard Duke of Gloucester was made a duke by his brother, Edward IV. Edward chose to make both of his brothers dukes. Richard III/Gloucester wasn’t born a duke, and he didn’t become a duke become a duke because of his ancestry from Edward III.

      Although I would argue that each of the high lords is a duke, given the Ned Stark’s relationship with the North, the Wall and the border a marquess wouldn’t be a bad choice. Marquesses were traditionally earls given extra powers and men to guard the marches/borders. (However, AFAIK the title marquess didn’t really come into being until after the Wars of the Roses – not sure when exactly- although Anne Boleyn was made a marquess and GRRM draws on Tudor stuff.) I believe they used “Marcher Lord” or “earl” to describe the Percys and Nevilles in this capacity during the Wars of the Roses.

      All of this is theoretical, of course, because GRRM did not make any of his high lords dukes or give them titles that set them apart from other lords. Anyway, thanks for posting. Even though I don’t personally agree, it is still a great comment! Thanks for reading and commenting!!

  • Reply April 30, 2014


    You probably are aware that the English King John has been alleged to have had something to do with the death of his nephew Prince Arthur – that if he didn’t do it personally, he ordered what would nowadays be called a “hit” on his nephew. I don’t think his complicity has ever been proven,just strongly suspected.

    • Reply April 30, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      I loved this comment, BTW. There is a whole thing with Henry I (?) (William the Conqueror’s son (?)) killing off his rival claimants to the throne in hunting “accidents” – which is the same type of thing. I did not know anything about King John and his nephew, but I’ll have to read up on it for my own curiosity.

      With Richard, they probably won’t ever prove or disprove it. Even the DNA evidence from the bones they found in the Tower doesn’t necessarily prove or disprove anything about *who* killed them.

  • So curious to know who would be the other historical figure that Tyrion might be based on! I read the books, but I am still having a hard time figuring it out…

    • Reply June 23, 2014

      Jamie Adair

      It is actually on one of the comments threads on this site. I believe K Wolf suggested it. I don’t know the historical figure’s name off-hand. But, it does create a historical spoiler for the books. I’ll try to find it when i’m feeling a bit better. BTW. your website http://www.falacultura.com looks really great. Anyone reading this thread can read the site by browsing with Chrome, which has Google Translator integrated.

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