This series of articles takes a close look at George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series from the perspective of a Ph.D. in Medieval history and literature. Each book in the series will be analyzed against actual historical events in the Dark and Middle Ages along with literature, factual or fictional, from that time. This is the first time the author is reading the novels, so keep in mind that she’s unaware of major spoilers but that spoilers will be revealed as she progresses through the material.
By Catherine Smith-Akel, Ph.D.
H? hæfde g?d geþanc
þ? hwile þe h? mid handum healdan mihte
bord and br?d swurd; b?ot h? gelæste
þ? h? æforan his fr?an feohtan sceolde.
The Battle of Maldon
About a third of the way through Game of Thrones, a tournament is held in the Hand’s honor, a tournament that Eddard Stark wanted no part of. The tournament, however, forwards the plot in several ways, but in particular, with the death of the young knight, Hugh of the Vale, and King Robert’s insistence on taking part in the mêlée.
On the second day of the event, Ned Stark points out to Sansa that the knights are fighting with blunted lances that are supposed to splinter on impact. However, he is inwardly reflecting on Hugh’s horrific death the previous day. In England, King Henry II (1154-1189) forbade tournaments. His third son, Geoffrey of Brittany, was trampled to death in a jousting tournament. This actually changed the history of England—it was Geoffrey’s son, Arthur, who was, named by Richard the Lionheart to succeed him (Richard had no legitimate children). Evil King John (remember him from the Robin Hood stories?) had poor Arthur murdered so he, John, could be king; Arthur was about 15 at the time.
On this second day, Ned must also dissuade Robert from taking part in the mêlée. The eunuch Varys points out how easily it would have been for Robert to have been “accidentally” killed. The only king killed in a tournament was King Henry II (1519-1599) of France. He loved jousting tournaments. Similar to what happened to Hugh in Game of Thrones, King Henry’s eye was pierced by a sliver from a broken lance. The sliver of wood went through to his brain; he died about ten days later. His death, too, had an impact on the succession of the French throne.
A mêlée, however, which Robert Baratheon wanted to join, would have been a perfect way for a knight to kill the king “accidentally.” Mêlées were mock re-enactments of battles. Sometimes as many as 100 knights on each side would participate. King Edward III of England (founder of the Order of the Garter) actually challenged the King of France to a mêlée “au outrance,” meaning to the death of those who participated. The knights would not use blunted tips. King Philippe declined. Read More...