Game of Thrones (2011)

The Real Bloody History That Inspired Game of Thrones' 'Red Wedding'

By: Domonique Salberg

Ice zombies, dragons, and blood magic—would have most think these features steal the show. Not in George R.R. Martin’s intricate world. Medieval inspired warfare and the human desire for power, status, and wealth exceed all the mythical creatures and sorcerer combined. Moments like Blackwater, Battle of the Bastards, The Purple Wedding, and most importantly, The Red Wedding highlight human malice in way magic never could and give us truly unforgettable stories. 

It sticks with us because it is plausible to meet people who would stop at nothing to attain power. Therefore, it is ever more fitting that George R.R. Martin’s inspiration for the most disturbing massacre in Game of Thrones comes from real battles within human history.

George R.R. Martins Interest in The British Isles

Facts about the houses of Lancaster and York, who fought the decades-long Wars of the Roses - HistoryExtra
Wars of the Roses

A keen student of the British Isles gory past, George R.R. Martin’s Westeros featured some of its most historic battles. Everything from Wars of the Roses to Hadrian’s Wall has left their mark on Westeros. However, one bloody Scottish battle can take a good chunk of the story’s credit, known as The Black Dinner.

The Black Dinner

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The Black Dinner

Like the Starks and most of their supporters who meet a violent, harrowing end in ‘honor’ of marriage to House Frey, the same fate befell a real-life Scottish nobleman. Named William Douglas, the young nobleman in 1440, had a powerful clan that was seen as a threat to stability by their rivals and some of those close to the boy-king James II. They were even viewed as the most powerful army behind the royal Stewart family. Thus, it is believed that the teenage Earl and William Douglas were invited to a dinner with King James, organized by Sir William Crichton and Alexander Livingston. During this lovely feast turned violent, a black bull’s head—a symbol of death—was presented to William. Subsequently, he and his brother were seized, taken from the hall, and immediately beheaded.

Grey Wind | Game of Thrones Wiki | Fandom
Game of Thrones, Robb Stark’s death.

How they were killed is reminiscent of that sorrowful scene when Aria watches Robb’s headless body replaced with his direwolf’s head go past on a horse. As for James II, he was no Joffrey. He is remembered to have pleaded for the Douglases’ lives.

Additionally, some still argue that heroic, headless William’s uncle James the Gross, was in on the slaughter as he was made 7th Earl of Douglas, even after his clan laid a failed siege on Edinburgh Castle. Although, some historians dispute whether this happened or not and suggests the details of the ‘Black Dinner’ are mere legend. Either way, the Douglases were indeed arrested and executed in sketchy conditions—resulting in their army besieging Edinburgh soon after.

Glorious Revolution of William & Mary, 1692

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The Glorious Revolution, 1692

The other more infamous slaughter, which inspired Game of Thrones’ Red Wedding, came in 1692, ensuing The Glorious Revolution of William, again in the British Isles. Following the rise of a Protestant prince, the Catholic Scots loyal to an ousted Catholic, which brought upon a failed Jacobite uprising of the previous several years. Among the other rebelling were the Mclain’s of Glencoe (Clan MacDonald) and the Glengarry family. So, legend has it that during the sparring, they stole the livestock and property of one Capt. Robert Campbell, who swore out appeals for compensation against the Glengarry men while excusing the Mclain’s of Glencoe for the injustice. Whether it was true or not, at the end of 1691, King William allowed a pardon to all Scottish clans for their failed uprising if they swore allegiance to his crown by New Year.

Alasdair Maclain hesitated until the last day when it became clear that Catholics would not return to power. When it came to December, he traveled to his English governor, Lt. Col. John Hill, to swear allegiance. Confusion ensued, and Alasdair Maclain missed the governor or decided to wait until after January to meet with the MacDonald man and take his oath. At the very least, Sir Colin Campbell did take Alasdair’s oath on Jan. 6, 1692. Nevertheless, the deadline being missed was enough for John Campbell, the senior leader of the Campbell Clan, to pursue revenge against alleged slights. Conspiring with his brother Archibald Campbell and the crown’s anti-clan secretary of state over Scotland, the three sent their captains to gather them. Then, for two weeks, the Campbell leader dined with MacDonald and Maclain’s until Robert could enact his revenge.

A letter during the feud stated, “And put all to the world under seventy.”

Battle Ended

Finally, by the morning of Feb. 13, 1692, Capt. Campbell and his men massacred the families whose hospitality had sheltered them for 12 days. Under this planned slaughter, 38 men were murdered in their beds or as they attempted to flee, and an additional 40 women and children died from the snow as a result of their homes being torched. To this day, it is remembered as the Campbellian mass slaughter of MacDonalds over a petty slight.

Why Martin Used These Battles: Worse Than FictionThe Reynes of Castamere: The History Behind the Dreaded 'Game Of Thrones' Song

George R.R. Martin has stated he drew inspiration from these two cases for the raw violence and shock-value for The Red Wedding. He then suggests that it is the violation of hospitality that leaves a lasting impression. Ending with Martin saying, “No matter how much I make up,” he said, “there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.”

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