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HBO's 'House Of The Dragon' Was Inspired By Medieval Dynastic Struggle Over A Female Ruler
The story through the lens of fantasy, reflects a slice of the English medieval experience.
By: The Conversation
In three decades of teaching medieval European history, I've noticed my students are especially curious about the intersection of the stories told in class and the depictions of the Middle Ages they see in movies and television.
Judged by their historical accuracy, cinematic portrayals are a mixed bag.
However, popular fantasy, unencumbered by the competing priority of "getting it right," can, in broad strokes, reflect the values of the medieval society that inspires it.
"House of the Dragon" is one of those TV shows. A king, lacking a male heir to his throne, elevates his teenage daughter to be his named successor, and a complex dynastic drama ensues.
This storyline reflects the real obstacles facing women who aspired to exercise royal authority in medieval society.
The queen as a conduit to power
George R. R. Martin, whose novels were the foundation for the HBO series "Game of Thrones," has made no secret of his inspiration for "House of the Dragon": the Anarchy, a two-decade period, from 1135 to 1154, when a man and a woman vied with each other for the English throne.
The story went like this: Henry I sired two dozen or more children out of wedlock. But with his queen, Matilda, he had only a daughter, the future "Empress" Matilda, and a son, William. With William's birth, the foremost responsibility of medieval queenship was fulfilled: There would be a male heir.
Then tragedy struck. In 1120, a drunken 17-year-old William attempted a nighttime channel crossing. When his also-inebriated helmsmen hit a rock, the prince drowned.
The queen had died two years earlier, so Henry I remarried – Adeliza of Louvain – but they had no children together. The cradle sat empty and the sands in Henry I's hourglass ran low, so he resolved that his lone legitimate child, Matilda, would have the throne as a ruling queen.
The move was unprecedented in medieval England. A queen could exert influence in her husband's physical absence or when, after a king's death, their son was a minor. Her role, moreover, as an intimate confidant and counselor could be consequential.
But a queen was not expected to swing a sword or lead troops into battle and forge the personal loyalties on which kingship rested, to say nothing of the misogyny inherent to medieval English society. The queen was the conduit through which power was transferred by marriage and childbirth, not its exclusive wielder.
The Conversation is a nonprofit,
independent news organization.