The Wars Of the Roses: A Real-Life Game Of Thrones

How often does art imitate life masterfully? Maybe not as often, but George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire (ASOIF) is an exception. The literary series ASIOF, and its  television counterpart, Game of Thrones, derived inspiration from the blood-soaked pages of history that tell an epic conflict between two noble houses vying for the English throne. The Wars of the Roses were a series of wars that lasted for over three decades and remain one of the most defining and complex power struggles in English history. 

Photo by Unsplash

The Seeds of War

It all started in 1377, when King Edward III died and his young grandson, Richard II, succeeded to the throne. Richard’s ascension to the throne ahead of Edward’s three surviving sons sowed the seeds for a power struggle that lasted for generations. The tense situation crystallized when Henry IV, Richard’s cousin, finally deposed him in 1399, and it left lasting claims to the throne that set the stage for the outbreak of war.

The Red and White Roses

The name ‘Wars of the Roses’ comes from the symbols associated with the two noble families, the Lancaster’s red rose and the York’s white rose. The Lancasters first gained the throne when Richard II was deposed and his cousin Henry IV took control. Nevertheless, the reign of the Lancaster’s remained secure until 1422, when Henry V died in a military campaign, leaving an infant Henry VI as king.

The Rise of Margaret of Anjou

It was said that Henry VI was a weak leader and had to be married to Margaret of Anjou to gain French support. Margaret is described as ambitious and ruthless, and she distrusted Richard of York, the King’s close advisor and loyal general, most of all. York criticized the inept handling of the war against France led by the Earl of Somerset, but his criticism fell on deaf ears, and he was increasingly sidelined.

York’s Reforms and the Return to Power

As the country’s mood shifted to discontent and mounting military failures, Richard of York left Ireland with an army to arrest Somerset and reform the court. Although initially unsuccessful, he was soon appointed Protector of the Realm, and he implemented needed reforms in the country. However, his chance was short-lived, and he was ousted by the Queen, who convinced Henry to reverse York’s reforms. 

York raised the army once more, dealing the Queen a blow by being reinstated as Protector and having himself and his heirs designated to succeed Henry. In the end, York was killed in battle, and his young son took up the claim and was crowned Edward IV.

The Tragic Mistake

Although Edward IV enjoyed great military success against the Lancasters, he made a tragic political mistake by backing out of his arranged marriage with a French princess to secretly marry the widow of a minor noble. This act alienated his most powerful ally, the Earl of Warwick, and ultimately caused a split in the York faction.

The Downfall of Richard III

After Edward IV’s death in 1483, his younger brother Richard III declared his nephews illegitimate, assumed the regency, and imprisoned the boys. The fate of the two princes remains unknown, but Richard III’s power was about to crumble. Henry Tudor, a direct descendant of the first Duke of Lancaster, raised an army in France and crossed the Channel in 1485, quickly defeating Richard’s forces. And by marrying Elizabeth of York, elder sister of the disappeared princes, the newly crowned Henry VII finally joined the two roses, ending almost a century of war.

Photo by Unsplash

Other Real-Life References to Game of Thrones

The Wars of the Roses isn’t the only historical event that Game of Thrones draws on. Many real-life parallels can be found in the show’s storyline.

For example, the Wall, which separates the Seven Kingdoms from the Wildlings, was inspired by Hadrian’s Wall in England, built by the Roman Empire to keep the Scottish people out. 

The series also draws on Medieval Europe’s political intrigues, with elements of the Catholic Church, the Renaissance, and the French Court under Louis XIV. 

Lessons Learned from Game of Thrones and Real-Life History

The story of the Wars of the Roses is one of shifting loyalties, unpredictable alliances, and uncertain victories. These themes are echoed in Game of Thrones, and they provide essential lessons that can be applied to our lives today, even in poker.

One of the most critical lessons is that power is fleeting, and nothing lasts forever. Alliances can be broken, and friends can turn into enemies. The skills necessary to navigate these challenges successfully are critical to success in life, whether leading a business or leading a revolution.

Another valuable lesson is that decisions have consequences that can be far-reaching and unpredictable. The consequences of Edward IV’s marriage decisions reverberated throughout England, leading to a split in the York faction and ultimately paving the way for the Tudors to seize power. 

Photo by Unsplash

Last Thoughts

While historical wars are generally perceived as decisive conflicts with clear winners and losers, this was often not the case. The Wars of the Roses were a fascinating and convoluted power struggle that ended with uncertain victories. The alliances were unstable, and the power of kings was as fleeting as seasons, leaving behind a politically charged legacy that vividly embodies England’s tumultuous past.

Author Profile

Lee Clarke
Lee Clarke
Business And Features Writer


Leave a Reply