Wednesday, 29 January 2014

at the real red wedding

Have you read George RR Martin's Song of Ice and Fire series?  Or watched Game of Thrones?  If so, you'll be familiar with horrifying twists in the tales.  I LOVE The Song of Ice and Fire series, and Game of Thrones too.  I am generally a fan of big fantasy and it doesn't get bigger than this.  

I am also a fan of history, and there's a fair few things in the Song of Ice and Fire series which bring to mind historical events.   I'm trying to avoid spoilers here for anyone who hasn't read or watched it, and assuming that you'll know something about the Red Wedding already, but please tread with care.

The Lannisters remind me of The Borgias.  The relationship between Cersei and Jaime, echoing that between Lucrezia and Cesare.  Tywin aloof and blind to it all.  Ensuring his blinkers are intact.  And yet nowhere near stupid.  Joffrey shares a name with a younger brother of Lucrezia and Cesare; one who was married to a high born woman, to cement an alliance, while Cesare, and possibly another brother took the wife as a mistress.

Martin and has said that he loosely based his Red Wedding scene on the Black Dinner - a tale from C15 Scottish History.

King James II of Scotland
James II became a child King of Scotland in 1437, after his father had been murdered by a rival branch of the Stewart clan.  He was seven.  Rival factions were trying to control hiim, and he was rightly paranoid, but also hot-headed.  To avenge his father's death, his mother, Queen Joan, arranged the murder of the Stewarts responsible, but that was not the end.

James and his counsellors were particularly worried about the Lords of the Isles (in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland), and the Douglas clan (in the Borders to the South).  In 1440 the King, and his counsellors met with the Douglases for a dinner at Edinburgh castle.  At the end of the meal a black bull's head, signifying death, was brought in, and the Douglas chiefs were given a mock trial and then beheaded, before the ten year old king.  This was the Black Dinner.

Hostilities did not end there though.  The Douglas clan were still powerful, and the Black Dinner was echoed nine years later when King James II, now ruling in his own right, invited the then Earl of Douglas, William to dine at Stirling Castle.  William was rich, powerful, handsome, and charismatic.  He really, really annoyed James.  Add to that that William had recently made a friendship pact (a bit like friending on facebook now) with the Lord of the Isles.

For some reason, William didn't fancy going to dinner with the King.  The King sent him a letter, guaranteeing his safety, so William agreed to go.  Both men were edgy, and drinking commenced early.  Late in the day the King demanded that William end his alliance with the Lord of the Isles.  When William refused James attacked him with a knife.  His courtiers joined in.  After his body was found, dumped out of a window, it was found to have 26 stab wounds, and his head had been split open with an axe.  This was terrible, not just because of the murder, which there were plenty of, but because The King abandoned his honour to do this.  The Douglases fled to England, and King James took their territories, and their wealth.

James II died when he was 29.  Blowing himself up with a faulty gun when he attempted to fire a salute to his Queen.  His son, James III, followed his father in becoming a child king.

For more on this story, have a look here.

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