Nerd School: The Winter of Our Discontent is Coming- Tyrion vs. Richard III

by Joe on March 29, 2013


Previously in the series : The Greyjoy Rebellion, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.1, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.2, Robert’s Rebellion Pt. 3, The Religions of Westeros, The Races of Westeros, The War of Conquest

“Now is the winter of our discontent. Made glorious summer by this sun of Stag…”~a fan with too much time on his hands

As an American I make no excuses for the lack of knowledge of European history amongst my fellow countrymen. That is unless we were directly involved. However amongst those who lean towards reading stories of knights and kings (and dragons) we find a select few who delve deep into the true roots of where our beloved fantasy stems.

Take 1 England and flip it, and you get a Westeros

Take 1 England and flip it, and you get a Westeros


J.R.R. Tolkien famously stated “I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned…”, and nowhere is history more present than in “Game of Thrones”. Though spiraling wildly into the world of magic and mythic beasts, the initial plot bears many similarities to an epic historical event. More importantly however are the parallels between one of the primary actors in each, the imp and the hunchback.

One is described as “little of statue, ill featured of limbs, crook-backed, his left shoulder much higher than his right, hard favored of visage”, while the other is a dwarf with stubby legs, a jutting forehead, mismatched eyes of green and black, and lank, white-blonde hair. Both of these men were at the center of a civil war which raged across their respective kingdoms, and both were cold and logical in their Machiavellian schemes.

Richard III with his hunchback

Richard III with his hunchback

If you haven’t guessed by now, the two we are speaking of are Tyrion Lannister and Richard III. But how much of Richard is in Tyrion? Let’s examine their “circumstances”. For that we would have to compare The War of the Roses to The War of the Five Kings.

The Wars of the Roses were a series of dynastic wars fought between supporters of two rival houses of England for the throne. These were the houses of Lancaster and York (whose heraldic symbols were the red and the white rose, respectively). They were fought in several sporadic episodes between 1455 and 1485. During the 14th century in England, King Edward III, of the House Plantagent, sired thirteen children, including five sons who grew to maturity. Edward arranged strong marriages for them with English heiresses and created the first ever English dukedoms: Cornwall,Clarence, Lancaster, York and Gloucester.

Can anyone say Tyrell?

Can anyone say Tyrell?


Edward III died in 1377 and was succeeded by his nine-year-old grandson Richard II, of House Cornwall. This was because Edward III’s first son had already dies making Richard the heir to the throne. Richard was young and had no children of his own which made his cousin Phillipa, daughter of Edward’s second son Lionel of House Clarence his heir. However here’s where things get sticky. Philippa married Edmund Mortimer, and they both died within a month of each other in 1381. The childless Richard II named their son Roger Mortimer as his heir presumptive, but Roger Mortimer died in 1398, leaving a young son Edmund. When Richard II left the throne, the crown should have passed by law of primogeniture to Edmund Mortimer, as the descendant of Lionel of Antwerp. However the crown went to Henry IV of House Lancaster, the first born son of Edward III’s third surviving son.

This is getting out of hand

How did this happen? Well Rich was very unpopular, and he actually banished Henry, but Henry came back and with the help of the nobles who were sick of Richard staged a coup leaving the Lancasters on the throne.

This is all fine, but how does this get us to Richard III and Tyrion. Just like in the “A Song of Ice and Fire” universe genealogy was just as  an important tool in the War of the Roses. After Henry IV came the popular Henry V (who had an awesome movie), and


enbiggen for battle details

then the less popular mad king Henry VI (starting to see more parallels?). While  the mad king was campaigning in the north of England, Edward of York with his cousin Richard Neville seized the throne, and staged several crushing defeats to the Lancaster armies. This started the short lived York dynasty.

Edward  IV died on campaign leaving his 13 year old son king and his brother Richard his Lord Protector. After receiving the news of his father’s death,  the young king traveled to London, Richard met and escorted him to lodgings in the Tower of London where Edward V’s brother Richard joined him shortly afterwards. Before the young king could be crowned, his father’s marriage to his mother Elizabeth Woodville was declared invalid, making their children illegitimate and ineligible for the throne (sound familiar?). On 25 June, an assembly of lords and commoners endorsed the claims. The following day, Richard III began his reign, and he was crowned on 6 July 1483. The young princes were not seen in public after August, and a number of accusations circulated that the boys had been murdered on Richard’s orders, giving rise to the legend of the Princes in the Tower.

Richard subsequently lost the throne at the Battle of Bosworth Field to Henry Tudor, the last claimant to the throne. Because of the circumstances of his accession and in consequence of Henry VII’s victory, Richard III’s legacy has been marred. This of course was not helped by Shakespeare’s scathing portrayal of Richard in his self-named play.

In the play the scheming Richard is shown hunchbacked, not to mention later portrayals show him with a lame arm and club foot.  However even though he is physically deformed, the Richard of the play is an intellectual, a witty Machiavellian schemer who sees his way to the throne and manipulates his way past his own brother and nephews to get it.

a slight deformity

a slight deformity

The Tyrion in aSoIaF is not much different.  Tyrion’s family (House Lannister) supports  Robert Baratheon’s challenge  to the mad king Aerys for his throne. After the Baratheon’s win the throne,  The Lannisters find their way into court. After Robert’s sudden death his son, Tyrion’s nephew, Robert’s son, gains the throne. Here is where the two characters deviate.

Where, according to Shakespeare, Richard seeks the throne, Tyrion does not.  Tyrion seeks to improve his Joffrey’s rule. Tyrion mentions frequently that if Joffrey loses the war to Robb Stark all the Lannisters will suffer, however there are moments where Tyrion’s motivation is seemingly to gain the approval of his father.  Tyrion also unlike Richard prefers to remain “The Hand of the King/Royal Protector”, the power behind the throne.

So is Tyrion a good literary match for Richard III? The elements are there. Of course there are the royal houses thrown into disarray with kings overthrowing  kings. There are the illegitimacy of the heirs and the behind the scenes plays for power. However , the most important similarity is idea that brains are far more important than brawn.

Robert Baratheon and Edward V both achieved their power through their force of arms and strength. Even Tyrions’ own brother Jaime is known for his combat prowess and his sister Cersei is known for her beauty.  Both Richard and Tyrion are intellectuals in a world outwardly defined by strength.  This ended for Richard on the batllefield. In Shakespeare’s version he is broken and beaten lamenting “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!”.  However we have yet to see if Tyrion will meet a similar fate to Richard’s. Tyrion’s own intellectual scheming may propel him further than just the throne.

Read some other stuff from Joe, hear him on the Planet Arbitrary podcast, or follow him on Twitter @planetarbitrary

Read Joe’s other articles:

The Walking Dead: Off With Their Heads- Katanas in a Post-Walker World, If I Only Had a Brain- Biology and Headshots, Keep on Walking- How Walkers Get Their Groove Back, Big Smiles- The Dangers of the  Walker Bite

Doctor Who: Doctor Who Season 6 Round Up, An Alternate History of the DoctorDoctor Who Season 6 primer, Psychology, and Regeneration, The Pitfalls of Paradoxical Storytelling, The Missing Episodes

Game of Thrones: Casting Roundup 1 and 2, Game of Thrones Primer IIGame of Thrones Primer I, Inn at the Crossroads Interview, Season 1 recap, The Greyjoy Rebellion, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.1, Robert’s Rebellion Pt.2, Robert’s Rebellion Pt. 3, The Religions of Westeros, The Races of Westeros, The War of Conquest

Star Trek: Evening the OddsStar Trek Blu-rays 1 and 2 Trek in your Queue 1 and 2, Obama TrekStar Trek: A Different Generation, Failed Star Trek Spinoffs

Assassin’s Creed: How Accurate is Your Musket?, Assassin’s Creed Revelations  Primer

Misc: Sci-Fi ComposersThieving Sci-Fi, Paranormal Activi3The Walking Dead Primer, The Genre Problem, Conan Primer, Mutant Fatigue, Sci-Fi A-Team, A Love Letter to Natalie PortmanThor Primer

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