The Origin of Sansa May Lie in Elizabeth of York


Sansa Stark is lovely: everything you’d imagine a medieval princess to be. Beautiful, poised, graceful, soft-spoken, and mannerly, Sansa studies the feminine arts and tries to stay composed. She isn’t the sort of girl who would upstage her prince. Instead, she would remain quietly waiting in the background, smiling sweetly, as she ties a favor to his lance or kisses his sword before battle.

Yet, Sansa is quite possibly the most annoying character on Game of Thrones. Why is that?

Through our twenty-first century eyes, the contrast with her sister Arya is unflattering. Sansa seems stupid, selfish, and spineless next to Arya. Whereas Arya defends Mycah the butcher’s boy when Joffrey slices his face, Sansa lies and claims she doesn’t know what happened. And, worst of all, the Lannisters trick the naïve Sansa into leading her father to his death.

Contrasted with Arya, our image of the idealized medieval princess begins to fray. Sansa conforms to a now-decaying feminine ideal of the constrained and the ladylike. Should our fairy-tale princesses be so passive?

Perhaps, symbolically, George RR Martin is telling us they should not.

Joffrey forcing Sansa to look at her father’s head on a spike on Traiter’s Walk. Via Wikia. © HBO

Fortune’s Wheel quickly turns on Sansa. The haughty girl, proud to be becoming queen one day, soon realizes she struck a woeful bargain. Her prince is a sadistic tyrant who lives to humiliate, torment, and torture.

Joffrey forces Sansa to see her father’s head on a spike, publicly whips her, and makes her watch as he orders his guards to force-feed a man a barrel of wine. We want Sansa to stand up to Joffrey, secretly plot against Queen Cersei, or at least run away. Instead, we watch her gratefully accept being downgraded from queen-in-waiting.

But, really, am I being unfair? The Starks and the Lannisters have swapped her about more readily than a designer handbag on eBay. First she was to marry Joffrey. Then, Tywin forced her to marry Tyrion, whose diminutive stature (and, in the books, missing nose) clearly repulsed her. For the Lannisters, Sansa was nothing more than a pawn on a diplomatic chessboard, and, after the Red Wedding, a ticket to a Northern inheritance.

While Sansa is annoying, she may be like the prototypical medieval princess. At first blush, Sansa has a lot in common with a typical noble’s daughter in the Middle Ages, and, quite possibly Elizabeth of York. Whereas Sansa is the daughter of the metaphorical Cecily (aka Catelyn Stark), Elizabeth of York was Cecily Neville’s granddaughter. (GRRM likes to switch things around, but Game of Thrones often loosely mirrors the House of York family structure.)

Sansa and Elizabeth resembled each other and their lives took somewhat parallel courses. Both bounced around various diplomatic marriage proposals. Both wanted to be queens. And, both married or almost married their uncles (or near uncles).

Who was Elizabeth of York?

Elizabeth of York, known to Tudor history fans as Henry VIII’s mother, was also Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville’s eldest daughter and lived from 1466 to 1503. Legend had it that Elizabeth of York was the inspiration for the image on the Queen of Hearts playing card.

“Her purpose from birth had been to supply the needed alliance through marriage. She may have been a princess, may have carried royal blood in her veins, but she was to be bought and sold to the most important bidder.”  — Nancy Lenz Harvey one of Elizabeth of York’s biographers, describing her subject

After Richard III overthrew her family and became king, her prospects for queenship or an elevated position were limited. Eventually, as the heir to the House of York, Henry VII married her to bolster his claim to the throne. Although arguably queen-by-right, Elizabeth did not rule as queen regnant. However, all English monarch to this day descended from her and she co-founded the Tudor Dynasty.


Elizabeth of York is at the top of the Tudor family tree. Click to enlarge. Source: Wikimedia/Creative Commons.

While Elizabeth appears to have been ambitious and perhaps haughty as a child and teenaged princess, her extreme reversal of fortune may have taken a toll. By the time she married Henry VII, Elizabeth’s mother-in-law had her under her thumb: Elizabeth adopted the motto “Humble and Reverent.”

Henry VII tightly controlled her finances and left his queen constantly stretched. She wore tin buckles on her shoes and had her gowns mended and re-mended. Elizabeth may have scrimped to give her sisters money for meager dowries since it was her duty was to arrange good marriages for her siblings. However, Henry and Elizabeth’s marriage was supposedly happy and, by contemporary accounts, Henry loved her.

Elizabeth died on her 38th birthday, shortly after childbirth. After her eldest son had died in his teens, heart-broken, she had suggested to her husband they try for another child to secure the succession.


Sansa Cast to Look Like Elizabeth of York?

Comparing Elizabeth of York and Sansa side-by-side it seems quite possible that Sophie Turner was deliberately cast for the resemblance.

Sophie Turner (R.) may have been cast as Sansa for her resemblance to Elizabeth of York. Image of Sophie Turner via Wikia © HBO

Both Elizabeth and Sansa were tall women with long red hair or red-gold hair. Sure, there were other red-haired women in the Middle Ages. Elizabeth I, Anne Mowbray, possibly Cecily and Anne Neville, and even, arguably, Catherine of Aragon all were “gingers.” However, when you look at a portrait of Elizabeth of York beside Sophie Turner, the resemblance is striking.

Desire to Be Queen, Marriage

At the beginning of Game of Thrones, Sansa pleads her mother persuade Ned to accept Robert Baratheon’s proposal: “I’d be queen someday. Please make father say yes! Please please! It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted.” She desperately wants Ned to agree to be Hand so she can marry Joffrey.


In the first episode, Catelyn Stark styles Sansa’s hair before the feast while Sansa tells her mother that all she ever wanted was to be queen. (c) HBO.

Like Sansa, Elizabeth likely harbored a deep desire to be queen. In an age when few women had any power, even personal, becoming a queen would give both Sansa and Elizabeth much more autonomy and authority than most women. Queens had their own households, lands, and income. Sometimes they even ruled when their husbands were absent.

Becoming a queen like her mother would be as natural a goal for Elizabeth of York as it would be for us to want to follow in our parent’s footsteps. (The historian Alison Weir characterizes Elizabeth of York, after she missed her first chance to marry Henry Tudor in 1484, as “ambitious like her mother, and she had recently had been thwarted of her chance of a crown as the wife of Henry Tudor.” )

Linked via Wikia. © HBO.

Plus Elizabeth’s father arranged, no exaggeration, the wedding of the century between his sister Margaret and the insanely wealthy Charles, Duke of Burgundy. Margaret of Burgundy’s wedding was so lavish that nothing topped it for at least a hundred years.

Because Bruges was the cloth-trading capital of Western Europe and the wedding a vehicle for Charles to display his massive wealth, seemingly every gathering place, feast hall, horse, was decorated in insanely expensive cloth ranging from velvet damask to cloth-of-gold. The only wedding today that would rival it would be that of  Vanisha Mittal and Amit Bhatia, a $70 million six-day extravaganza held at Versailles in 2004.

The unheard of expense stunned the English party who accompanied Margaret. Undoubtedly, Edward and his court boasted of the wedding for years. Given that Elizabeth’s father arranged this union, she likely expected to marry a king or duke just as grand—even as a little girl.

Elizabeth’s marriage prospects, however, flip-flopped as Edward’s strategies changed.

In 1470, while Edward was attempting to regain his throne (after Warwick revolted), he proposed Elizabeth marry Warwick’s nephew (George Neville, Duke of Bedford). Edward did this to provide an outlet for Warwick’s ambitions by letting him hope his heir would be king someday. After Warwick died, Edward threw out this betrothal.

As part of the 1475 French peace agreement, Elizabeth was betrothed to the Dauphin Charles, the heir of King Louis XI. Elizabeth learned French and had her own household partially funded by France. Elizabeth was dressed in the French style, was treated her like a queen-in-waiting, and greeted as “Madame la Dauphine.” However, Louis XI backed out of this agreement in 1483 much to Edward’s fury and possibly his daughter’s humiliation.



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 July 30, 2013

    Brian M.

    Interesting post…I always thought of Sansa as an Anne Neville expy (father a close friend of his king but later named a traitor, betrothed/married to a borderline psychotic prince), but you’re right…there are a lot of parallels between Sansa and Elizabeth as well. (I’m a bit of an English history buff, in particular with the Wars of the Roses). Great post and I’m looking forward to the continuance!

    • Reply July 30, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      Thanks!! Well, truth be told I think there are parallels with a lot of the women in the period. I can certainly see what you mean about Anne Neville. The thing is that unless George RR Martin comes out and says, “I based this character on so-and-so,” it is hard to know what he was thinking – especially because many people in that period faced similar problems.

      The other thing is that the historical figure that you (or one) thinks is the basis for a GoT is almost like an inkblot or Rorschach test for your interpretation of history. Because the Wars of the Roses can be interpreted so many different ways (e.g., was Richard III a villain or a hero), you will see different people in characters based on how you interpret the period. E.g., a Ricardian who thinks Richard III was a good guy will see Richard III in Tyrion.

      It is kind of cool actually because, as I write these posts, I find myself thinking, “Oh, George RR Martin must be a Ricardian” or “Oh, GRRM must think Clarence is guilty of all they said he was because of what is happening to Theon.”

      • Reply August 1, 2013


        Can not you see similarities between Richard III and Stannis Baratheon? Two men faithful and loyal to their older siblings – that young rebelled against a mad king and seized power – and his family – House of York and House Baratheon – , two tragic figures, controversial and defamed in life and after death, who killed their brothers middle – George, Duke of Clarence and Renly – and that after death sus older brothers proclaim themselves the rightful kings declaring the illegitimacy his supposed nephews to prevent thethe seizure of power by the family of the queens of dead kings – Edward IV and Robert Baratheon -. Anyway, I think can make an analogy between the three brothers York and the three Baratheon brothers.

        • Reply August 1, 2013

          Jaime Adair

          Oh that’s an interesting comment. Beyond thinking of Robert Baratheon as the aging Edward IV, I hadn’t really thought about the Baratheon brothers very much. I did read one person say that he thought they were like the three brothers of Henry V (presumably John of Lancaster, Thomas of Lancaster, and Humphrey).

          So, I take your point – I do see the similarities between the Baratheon brothers and Edward IV, Richard III, and Clarence, but I don’t think they are mutually exclusive.

          This is why…
          I think George RR Martin repeats certain characters and motifs over and over throughout his work. He splits historical figures across multiple characters (e.g., Edward IV is split into young Edward in Robb Stark and old Edward in Robert Baratheon) and repeats variations of the events in these people’s lives.

          That’s where I was going with the “Second Sons” blog post series, which I still haven’t finished. GRRM, IMO, is borderline obsessed with the three brothers theme or motif. It appears over and over again. Perhaps, he emphasizes it because in medieval history second sons caused so many problems.

          But, back to your point…

          E.g., If you interpret Theon on as being partially inspired by Clarence, Theon has to choose between his “spiritual” or “emotional” brother (Robb Stark) and his biological father (Baelon Greyjoy). This is a very close to mirror to what happened to Clarence in real life – when he and Warwick revolted against Edward IV. Clarence had to choose between his biological brother (Edward IV) and Warwick (his father-in-law and perhaps an emotional uncle-type figure or father-type figure). Like Clarence, Theon opts for the father-type figure and is ultimately disappointed or even betrayed by him.

          However, to go with your theory, which also works and is why I think GRRM repeats motifs…
          In my opinion, GRRM plays with people’s interpretations of history. He is almost writing a symbolic history of the middle ages in a way. Some characters people think are inspired by Richard III (e.g., Tyrion) start off as good – this is the kinder more Ricardian interpretation of Richard III. Other characters like in your example Stannis, do evil deeds (the traditionalist interpretation of Richard).

          Not all historians believe Richard III had a hand in his brother Clarence’s death. However, historians who see Richard III as a dark figure do. So, in this example of maybe an evil manifestation of Richard III, Richard (aka Stannis) kills his brother (Renly).

          Anyway, Renatus thanks for your thought provoking comment – I both agree and disagree. But, I think what you wrote is very compelling. Thanks!!

          • August 1, 2013


            Thank you. I agree that George RR Martin mixes and matches various aspects and historical elements distinct in different characters. I see a double reference to Anthony Woodville on Tyrion and Jaime Lannister, the first sharing the spirit
            scholarly and love of reading and by voyages of Anthony, and the second the reputation of excellent soldier and knight. Regarding Stannis/Richard lll, I personally am in favor of them, not see them as evil and dark figures, consider the complex characters and ashes, controversial yes, but not bad, Stannis killed Renly because of his betrayal, the breaking of his duty to his older brother, Richard also as often moved by duty, both proclaimed themselves kings to prevent the seizure of power of ambitious families of queens of their deceased older brothers, whom were one of the greatest allies, Edward lV recognized the importance and value of Richard, wherefore appointed him Protector of the Realm before dying, Robert did not recognize the same importance that Stannis had for their cause, since his Rebellion to his service for a decade and a half in Small Council … I see many ironic reversals in the path of various characters in analogy to historical figures.

    • Reply July 30, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      Also, awesome to meet a Wars of the Roses buff! 🙂

  • Reply July 31, 2013


    Hmm, I really like the connection between Elizabeth and Sansa about the constant re-negotiation of marriages (although that could be true for most of them!) – but I’m not sure it’s true that the evidence means the historical Elizabeth’s finances were in bad shape. Most noblewomen mended their gowns (you’re not going to throw away a dress made from yards and yards of silk satin if it gets a tear!) and I’d actually argue that paying to have them mended was a bit of an extravagance, rather than a sign of thriftiness.

    • Reply July 31, 2013

      Jaime Adair

      That is a really good point about Elizabeth’s finances! I’ve read the comment about her finances in several books; however, it is always the same evidence they cite.

      Royal dresses were made of costly velvets and cloth-of-gold. Cecily Neville reputedly paid over £600 for a gown to wear to court – a staggering sum back then (£3,310,000.00 in today’s money, compared against average earnings). I can’t remember if this included jewels or not, but if it was made from cloth-of-gold the fabric alone could easily have comprised a fair chunk of that sum. Anyone who paid that type of money would have almost certainly mended their gowns multiple times.

      Now, with that said, I don’t know what is in the back of the minds of the chroniclers or historians who originally made the observation. (I’d have do some digging to learn where historians sourced this evidence.) Meaning, there could have been comments contemporaries made or other evidence and people use this comment about the mending and the tin buckles as a “short hand” for the point in general. I don’t know. But, you make a really good point.

      Also, everyone, Kerry has a fantastic blog called “Planes, Trains, and Plantagenets.” Check it out at (She provided the link when she filled in the Comment form.) Kerry, I got a big kick out of your About page – the photos and text are very funny/cute. (I like a cocktail or two myself. 🙂 )

      • Reply August 5, 2013


        Thank you so much for the kind words about my blog! 🙂 I’ve only been going for a few months but I’m really happy to find so many fellow Wars of the Roses geeks.

        Also a good point about whether the people who noted Elizabeth of York’s expenditure may have been making a point about it – I suppose that could have gone either way too, as I still think paying to mend things instead of having them mended in-house might have been a little bit decadent!

  • Reply August 2, 2013


    Wow. Can I just say you saying things like Sansa is “annoying” etc is completely subjective. I don’t find her annoying at all. I far prefer her over her sister, for what it’s worth. Also, equating femininity with weakness is disturbing. There is nothing wrong if Sansa doesn’t want to act like a boy and likes feminine arts, etc. It in no way makes her lesser than her sister. And Sansa is a prisoner, she doesn’t gratefully accept anything, she has no choice, so she does the best with what she gets. And you completely skip over the times she, a prisoner herself, saved a mans life. You clearly remembered the incident with Joff and the barrel of wine, yet you did not mention how she tactfully saved the mans, Dontos life, even when she didn’t know him. That’s how compassionate she is. During the battle of blackwater, when Queen Cersei got drunk and ran away, who took care of the ladies, and maintained order? Sansa is never going to pick up a sword and fight with anyone, she is kind, gentle and averse to violence. To expect her to act like Arya is a disservice to her character. She is however learning, and will fight back in her own way. Arya and Sansa are both very very strong female characters, but if you can only appreciate the cliche, short hair tomboy warrior archetype, and not the steely feminine courage, then there is something wrong with you.

    • Reply February 17, 2014


      That Sansa is annoying is not just personal opinion on Jamie’s part (I don’t think)- it is clear from MANY comments on forums and boards across the www. Sansa is learning and growing but early on, as demonstrated in the incident with Mycah, she is selfish and weak; so hellbent on becoming Queen that she rubbed us up the wrong way. It’s difficult to come back from that!

      • Reply February 17, 2014


        Oh, and I think you were rather rude to Jamie!

        • Reply February 17, 2014

          Jaime Adair

          Lol! That’s okay I’ve got a thick skin – I can take it. (My pillow is almost dry. )

          Seriously though, it is great to hear people’s opinions, and Sansa does evoke strong feelings in people! The other day, I was just reflecting that you could *almost lay the entire war on Sansa’s doorstep, then I stumbled across this sweet video of Sophie Turner defending her:

          • November 22, 2015


            Ummm…were you really reflecting that the entire war could be laid on an eleven-year-old girl ‘s doorstep? An eleven-year-old girl who was sheltered and naive and spoon-fed tales of chivalry all her life? Like, that’s who you’re going to blame for the war? She might have revealed Ned’s travel plans, but she didn’t tell Joffrey to kill him. She didn’t whisper in Littlefinger’s ear to plot against the throne.

            It’s amazing how a character like Jaime can go from an incestuous villain who pushes a kid out of a window and instead become a complex antihero we root for while Sansa can apparently never be forgiven for at one time liking a handsome boy and not being forthcoming about what happened at the Trident (which was actually a very smart political maneuver on her part, as her father later points out. There’s a reason I think Sansa is perhaps the only Stark with any amount of game).

            I’m sorry, I know you made this comment about a year ago and that you say your opinion on Sansa is changing. And I’m very glad about that. I like that people are getting past their irrational, knee-jerk hatred/dismissal of teenage girls who dare to like feminine things. Because in the long run, there are much bigger monsters in ASOIAF and in real life than girls who like sewing and romantic stories.

          • December 17, 2015

            Jamie Adair

            That’s a very sweet way to end that comment. I think early Sansa — Sansa in her younger days — ellicited so much scorn because we want to like her and then she lets us down. Also, in some ways, for women, she is one of the most universal characters. I think many of us remember our first crushes and romantic daydreams. How it felt to be a girl entering puberty. If you don’t have children, characters like Cersei or Catelyn are slightly more distant; I’ve never been a queen or had kids. I still like these characters, but I have never been them. I’ve been Sansa in my own small way — the girl with the crush, the ambitions and the ill-timed menstrual period. (Sorry gents. 🙂 )

            In my experience, nothing gets people more upset or emotionally engaged than Sansa. As much as people may like Tyrion or Arya more, Sansa ellicits stronger feelings (anger, irritation, empathy, love) than anyone. People love Tyrion — he is the #1 character in all the polls — but they (well, womem at least) care about Sansa like she is their daughter or themselves. I’m sure the showrunners must have realized that raping Sansa would be like, match meet kerosene. I don’t know. Maybe they don’t read forums. Maybe they felt choosing such a beloved character honored the plight of women with war and rape (something that should be highlighted).

            With Sansa, it is hard to step back and remember that she is just a girl. There are other characters that grate just as much as early Sansa. I really don’t like Theon that much — although, of course, he is growing on me as he redeems himself. But you (one) can complain about Theon. There is no other character who draws as many defenders as Sansa. Why is that? Is she our daughter? Our sister? Ourselves?

  • Reply August 3, 2013


    Equating femininity with weakness is exactly what they did in medieval times (and up until the last century and even now to be frank). The entire point of Sansa’s character is to give us some conflict between her and all of the strong, awesome women George has written. George is displaying the fact that women had no control over their own destinies and were literally the property of men. Even being a queen didn’t guarantee any power, something Jamie’s article goes on to illustrate. That is why George gave us a Sansa among women like Arya, Brienne, Daeny, Margaery, Asha, really I could go on and on.
    But we only have one Sansa. She annoys fans because we are emotionally invested in her and we are sick of seeing her in the “damsel in distress” situation. It’s got nothing to do with stereotypes, and I wouldn’t call any of George’s strong female characters an “archetype” either. Most of us are just waiting for Sansa to come into her own, being the potential heir to the North.

    • Reply August 16, 2017


      I’m relatively new to GOT and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I like strong female characters like Arya (backing the Hound) and Brianne (backing Jamie) or even Dany (riding a flying Godzilla). On the other, I have an easier time believing that a little 5’2” teen can ride a flying Godzilla than believing Brianne is dominant in single combat.

      Brianne beating the Hound and everyone else is typical of this – yes she is tall – but she is still a woman. She might be able to match strength with a man much smaller than she is but some of her exploits are laughable. Sort of like Scarlett Johansen in the Avengers shooting giant aliens with her cute lil Glock 26s and knocking out dozens of guys twice her size with her cute little girl hands. It is absurd – but it sells – because – girl power!!

      Arya is most likeable because she has integrity. She wins by dexterity and cunning – she isn’t knocking grown men unconscious with one punch. She has been through hell and still maintains her integrity. She has more backbone than anyone else in the series. Of course, apart from the Bravosi training environment, she has never really been hurt or broken physically. A bunch of stuff that would normally happen to a girl in her circumstances in that time has not happened to her.

      We are told to pretend that girl-power was a thing in mideval times – it wasn’t. Most women were basically property from the dawn of recorded history until 60 or 70 years ago – even decades after the 19th amendment.

      Sansa is far more realistic (now and most certainly then). She lied, she gave away key information, she is clueless and naive, she is selfish, vain, silly, and more concerned with appearances and clothes and being a princess / queen than in doing what is right or maintaining integrity or doing what is best for her people. In short – she is like 95% of teenage girls. She wants what she wants and doesn’t think beyond that.

      When bad things happen to her, she eventually learns – through pain. She will win the game – because most won’t expect her to. She won’t win fighting with a sword – she’ll win by subtle backstabbing, playing games, and drama – sort of like many women in the moden work environment.

  • Reply August 4, 2013

    Jaime Adair

    Ouch! Well, apart from the minor personal slam, Sylvia you make some great points about when Sansa has saved the day. It just seems like the overall picture is one of complacency.
    One of my points was that perhaps we’re being unfair expecting Sansa to behave like the more powerful characters. To be honest, during Season 1 (Game of Thrones book), I half expected Arya to run up on the scaffold and rescue Ned, slashing guards out of the way with Needle. That’s how unrealistic our expectations have become. With Sansa, we might expect more of her because in a different (not as well written book) she might fly out of the Red Keep on rope made of curtains and escape.

    Perhaps, it is a reflection of our culture that we want our heroines to be masculinized women? I hate the thought of this, but when you look at heroines like Lara Croft and a lot the female leads in action movies they seem to have super human strength and fight like men. Thoughts?

  • Reply February 21, 2014

    Kyle Nutt

    If anything I would say she is more like Elizabeth Tudor, particularly if theories about her turning over a new leaf and becoming a strong character come through. Elizabeth the first as a girl was pious and studious. She was abused by a courtier and the Queen. She was accused of attempted murder of the King (her half brother) and then of attempted murder of the Queen (her half sister). She learned the hard way not to trust anyone at court…

    • Reply June 18, 2016

      Apocalyptic Queen

      I love the comparison between a young Elizabeth and Sansa. Like Elizabeth, a lot of men have wanted to marry her – for her beauty, her power & inheritance. Like Elizabeth, Sansa is becoming a leader. However, the Elizabeth analogy could equally apply to Daenerys…

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Annette Smith

    I’m inclined to agree with Kyle Nutt above, but now that the books are being left behind by the TV series it will be interesting to see where TV Sansa’s story goes. I think perhaps she would be embodying a number of influential ladies. Every time I see Petyr Baelish playing the uncle to her I’m reminded of ‘Creepy Uncle Richard’ from The White Queen and as you have mentioned, Sansa’s resemblance to Elizabeth of York in at least her youth is noticeable. In the new chapter released by GRRM I see the accomplished and popular Anne Boleyn who was Elizabeth Tudor’s mother, and certainly Sansa has been inferred to have received some tutelage from Margery on the subject of feminine power.

    Now that we are at Season 5, episode 3 I am wondering, who then, is Ramsay Bolton?

  • Reply April 28, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    First of all, thanks for reading Annette and commenting. I definitely agree there are similarities between Elizabeth I and Sansa as well as Anne Neville and a few others. (I think most of GRRM’s major characters are based on multiple historical figures.) Yes, that’s interesting about Sansa’s arc and Anne Boleyn I think you might be right.
    re: Ramsay
    I was just thinking about writing an article about him, but I need to do some more research first. I think Ramsay and Roose might be partially based on Hugh Despenser Jr and Sr respectively. I spotted something a while back that made me think they had common traits, but I don’t remember exactly what.

  • Reply April 29, 2015


    This is fascinating. I loved the original article and the comments are all so interesting.
    I’ve always been drawn to any of the historical sources or inspirations GRRM has drawn on for Sansa.
    As you rightly say Jamie: “….most of GRRM’s major characters are based on multiple historical figures.” which is a great joy to all of us here who love and revel in history. That game of ‘spot the source/sources ‘ never gets old! I see the Elizabeth of York comparisons too, and agree.

    I remember rambling on to you ages ago, Jamie, about how the scene of the cloaked Sansa with her beautiful long red hair, being rowed in the boat by Ser Dontas, visually struck a chord for me – of the young Elizabeth the 1st being rowed into the Tower of London as a prisoner. That was just a fleeting physical reminder of course.

    But I also find another resonance with Sansa and Elizabeth the 1st. The ‘creepy uncle’ figure for example. In Elizabeth’s case, that being Sir Thomas Seymour and his rather disturbing interactions with the young Princess Elizabeth. We all know how that eventually ended for Seymour!
    As Elizabeth is later said to have commented on him: “This day died a man of much wit, but very little judgement”
    In which case perhaps we should say….. look out, Baelish!

    I find your point about the Despenser/Bolton connection interesting. I was also thinking about another rather terrifying historical figure, that of Sir John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester – a real paradox of a man. On the one hand, cultured, scholarly , Constable of England to Edward IV, Papal emissary etc. On the other, a man so hideously brutal ( even for his times) that he was known as “The Butcher of England”. I won’t detail any of his ‘methods’ here, but I’m sure he would have found some kinship with Ramsay Bolton!

    • Reply May 3, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      Wasn’t Tiptoft the one who introduced torture in England? Specifically the rack? Am I remembering that correctly?

      • Reply May 4, 2015


        Jamie, I hadn’t heard that particular description or rack reference.
        However,without trying to curdle anyone’s blood too much, Tiptoft was rather known for his impaling methods. Many reports stress that he did this after hanging and/or beheading ( there was a famous incident with the mass execution of Lancastrian prisoners)
        Another of Tiptoft’s favourites was rolling prisoners downhill in barrels which were spiked on the inside.

        • Reply May 4, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          Yikes! Those are pretty awful — especially the impaling. 🙁

          • May 4, 2015


            That was me with the gruesome Tiptoft update Jamie- as you may have worked out!
            I rather like the ‘Anonymous’ thing, though it’s a little cool. Far less cool of course, is not realising I’d forgotten to fill out the form. …

            My last word on ‘Creepy Historical Sadists Who May Have Inspired Ramsay’, I promise- but I have to mention Gilles De Rais of course.

          • May 6, 2015

            Jamie Adair

            Oh yes! Gilles de Rais — I was just watching Luc Beson’s Joan of Arc movie (The Messenger); I didn’t realize that Gilles de Rais is one of the major characters in it. He seems so nice in the movie. It was quite disturbing or incongruous with everything else I’ve read about him. I found myself thinking, “Was he falsely accused?” “Is the movie just glossing over his serial killer ways?”

    • Reply June 18, 2016

      Apocalyptic Queen

      A year late but a fantastic post. I love the historical parallel of Petyr Baelish and Thomas Seymour. Like Baelish, Seymour was ambitious (possibly having his eyes on the throne through a powerful match) and was charismatic. Can also see a parallel between Lysa and Catherine Parr…

  • Reply April 30, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Interesting comment, Martine. I can’t think offhand about the “exploits” of Sir John Tiptoft and from what you say I am scared to “google” them. I can’t remember the details but I seem to recall the Despensers took estates off widow women which could perhaps be considered slightly akin with (book) Ramsay’s


    having married a widow and then having left her to die while he appropriated her lands. King John is reputed to have had Maud de Braose and her eldest son imprisoned in Corfe Castle and left so that they starved to death (for allegedly accusing him of being complicit in the murder of his nephew, Arthur) – that is slow torture of course, not actually taking instruments of torture to people. William I (the Conqueror) could be very brutal too (though I have tended to think of him as an inspiration for Aegon the Conqueror, minus the dragons).

    • Reply May 6, 2015

      Watcher on the Couch

      Oh, I hadn’t thought of Gilles de Rais. DIdn’t he inspire the “Bluebeard” legend? Oddly enough, some little while ago I saw a YouTube of a retelling of the tale for children (Shoo Rayner’s “Bluebeard’s Cat” – it was a bit scarey for me,never mind kids though obviously a lot milder than the real Bluebeard story – or a horror story for adults) but I am getting off topic. A female person who was alleged to have tortured and killed younger women, apparently to try and hang on to a youthful appearance, of course was Elizabeth Bathory, though there is one school of thought that her accusers might have over-egged the pudding because she was protestant.

      Thinking of Bluebeard, that always made me think of the folksong “Reynardine” though some people seem to think that Reynardine was a werefox (of course wolves, except in captivity were killled off in the UK way back when). Although I suppose wolves are more akin with the Starks.

  • Reply July 30, 2015


    Sansa is possibly my favorite character in the entire series, I don’t think she’s annoying at all. In fact I think she is the most realistic character in the whole series and that’s why so many people relate to her. The comparisons between her and Elizabeth are very similar though, I’m sure she inspired G.R.R.M in some way.

  • Reply September 8, 2015


    I agree with Olga. Sansa is the typical woman from nobility, a simple object, only useful to build political alliances and make babies, heirs. That was all they had to do: sing, sew, smile, have children, obey, be pretty.
    in the 14th century, King Peter the First of Castille, also known as The Cruel, and also as the Justice maker, got Married with Blanca de Borbon, a french princess. But France did not make its part of the deal, and did not pay the dowry. So Peter put Blanca in prison, a very confortable castle, but she was a prisoner. she was only 13. She was a prisoner for 10 years. she was killed at 23 by an order of her husband. Of course, all that caused a war between Castile and France. But i think of her, and I see Sansa, coming from France to be a queen… Maybe falling in love with Fadrique, the bastard brother of Peter, who was killed also by the men of the king in his palace…they said that the king ordered lunch and ate it in front of his step brother corpse.
    Most of this happened in the Alcazar of Seville, the set for Dorne in the last season of HBO Game of thrones.

    • Reply September 17, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      >>re: Peter & Blanca
      How awful! But, this is a great example of the problems with arranged marriages. I’ve never heard this story before. Thanks for sharing.

    • Reply June 18, 2016

      Apocalyptic Queen

      Brilliant post. Wonder if Peter of Castille and Blanca de Borbon’s situation is also similar to that of Elia Martell? Being the “forgotten” discarded wife who is eventually killed by her husband’s victors. I think this event will also partially contribute to imminent war in King’s Landing.

  • Reply December 28, 2016

    Rebeca Keener

    I actually think otherwise.

    Sansa is probably the most empowering character in the whole series, based on the fact that she’s so realistic. And, despite what other articles in this site may say, I think she, not Daenarys, is based on Elizabeth I.

    In this whole analysis, you forget that when the show started, she was a 13 year old (11 in the books) girl with dreams that suit her social standing. She was the daughter of a Lord and Lady of two of the Great Houses (I usually relate the Lords and Ladies of the Great Houses as Dukes and Duchesses which are the highest ranks below the monarchy); I say wanting to marry a Prince and wanting to be Queen was not so wrong for her to dream.

    And, arguing that Arya was not like her sister despite being younger is honestly the weakest defense anyone might say.

    At the start of the series, Arya has always been brash, harsh and unnecessarily honorable. You forget that the whole problem with Lady was her and Joffrey’s fault, not Sansa’s. In fact, Sansa did the right thing. What should she have said, “The Prince lied! He is a liar and my nine year old sister who has been nothing but rude to the royal party is telling the truth! You should punish the Prince for being an asshole because well, I say so!” Arya has always been the selfish one. She could not conform to the standards of medieval ladies for a few days, at least for her father, and got herself, her sister and a direwolf in trouble. She could not act appropriately in front of the royal family, knowing that it would cause her father embarrassment and isolation in court. In fact, in the books, Sansa was never even mean to Arya, just frustrated on why she couldn’t give up a few of her wants for the name of her family. It was Sansa’s friend who always called Arya “horseface” simply because she was related to Sansa and was afraid to be outshined by another potentially beautiful Stark.

    Continuing to stay in Court despite multiple attempts to say her is honestly understandable. We, as readers and watchers, know that the people who come to her have good intentions, but does she? For example, how could she go with the Hound when from the moment Sansa met him, he’s been a lapdog for the Lannisters, the family who killed her own. And, even though he was nice to her, he was terrifying and she had no reason to trust him.

    She’s learning to play the game and unlike Arya and the rest of the Starks (yes, including everyone’s hero Jon Snow) would be able to last a day in politics. She knows how to hide her feelings, she’s been doing it since she learned how to speak. That’s what a lady does afterall. She’s not reckless and thinks before she speaks, although sometimes what she thinks may not be necessarily right, but that will change since she’s been trained by Littlefinger.

    She is meek, afraid, feminine and compassionate. But, that’s what makes her strong. She, like Elizabeth the First, will be great.

    • Reply December 28, 2016

      Jamie Adair

      I wrote the original article a few years ago and my views on Sansa have changed somewhat. You’re right. She does grow up as the novels and show progress.

      By the end of last season, I was very much on Team Sansa. Well, until the last episode that is.

      So far, we have been watching Sansa mature into a strong, brave woman. But, the couple of episodes made me wonder — is Sansa about to embark on a dark character arc? Has everything that has happened to her — her rape, loss of parents, treatment as marital chattel, etc. — turned her into a remorseless player?

      I fear that she will turn against Jon Snow and use and discard Petyr Baelish in a quest for power. Thoughts?

  • Reply January 2, 2017

    Rebeca Keener

    I don’t think she’s going to succumb to Littlefinger but she will be, without a doubt, ruthless. She doesn’t hold the same moral compass as the rest of her family (given the ease of her lying straight from the first season), and that’s what will make her such a great player. She has already stated that she didn’t trust Littlefinger, it would be a huge mistake (and a stupid one) for D&D to just forget that. She won’t turn against Jon, but she may act on things without his permission. The worst thing that the show producers could do is make Sansa betray her family again (and this time with full intention of betraying them), especially when in the books all she wanted was to go back home. She and Jon WILL have disagreements when it comes to ruling, but that’s just because Jon wouldn’t be able to understand that doing the good might not be the best way to keep you and your people safe.

  • Reply August 7, 2017


    Sansa is my favourite character. I find her the most interesting because she has such compassion it’s overwhelming sometimes. This is true in the films, but also the books. She is a character full of forgiveness, who has fascinating internal monologues that are sometimes almost humbling to read – she reminds me in some ways of some of the nuns who brought me up who were so good, but were constantly trying to make themselves “better” (perhaps at the terrible expense of feeling guilt when they should not have). She pities Joffrey after his death and feels sorrow over the fact he suffered. When facing her husband on his wedding night she (a thirteen year old girl facing marital rape) remembers her Septa told her to look for the good in people and she actively tries to – while lying naked and terrified on a bed. There are so many countless examples of this. Her care and pity for Robin (her putrid cousin) is also touching. Her interaction with the Hound is another example. She actually feels guilt for being afraid of a cold-blooded killer she thinks she should feel gratitude towards even though he’s one of her jailers. I think of Sansa as someone with high standards for herself and a type of incredible compassion. She is never focused on revenge. Again, it stands out far more in the books. And believe me, that kind of emotional restraint and introspection is not easy. It is in no way the easy way out of situations. Her high standards make life difficult for herself – again, rather the way a lot of Catholics feel a lot of the time.

    I never understand how femininity is weakness, sorry. I am never weak and I am very feminine – it’s just a different way of behaving that we perceive of as weak because we think of women as weak. What makes Sansa’s femininity and tact and manners so fascinating is how often they save her life. She is perceived as non-threatening (rather the way you perceived her when you wrote this years ago) because people don’t think of feminine women as having any power or influence. Her perfect manners however, get her out of difficult, humiliating and distressing circumstances. They give her an awareness of when she is being manipulated. It makes her clever and observant about people. She is a child (even in the series – she’s probably about 16 by this point, maybe 15 or younger in the books – Tyrion remembers her as his “child bride” when he muses on how much he misses her in the fifth book).

    Finally, she is the least entitled character. I am sometimes astounded by her restraint when dealing with her husband, for example. Leave aside the pity she feels for him – she holds back so much. She is the antithesis of a bratty teenager. She does not complain or mope. She cries behind closed doors when her family is killed. She has actually almost no apparent “teenager” qualities of the kind we stereotype them with. She is not selfish, she thinks of others, she has incredible emotional restraint.

    Finally, don’t use the word annoying to describe women. It’s very gendered. I’m guilty of it myself, but mosquitoes are annoying, not women.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.