The History Behind the Story, Part I

~posted by Emily

You may not think of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones (GoT) as historical fiction, but even if you take away the dragons and zombies, much of the drama of the novels and TV series is just as strange as the truth. Martin combines elements of fantasy and folklore with actual events from Medieval English history to create the complicated storylines and web of characters caught up in the battle for the Iron Throne. So if you enjoy the intrigue, scheming, backstabbing and beheadings of GoT, check out these nonfiction titles and learn about the true stories that inspired the series.

In Medieval England, a series of wars were fought between two families battling for the throne: the Yorks and the Lancasters. If those names sound similar to the Starks and the Lannisters, it’s because the Wars of the Roses, as these wars were called, were among many historical inspirations for Martin’s stories. Alison Weir’s The Wars of the Roses is a great place to start if you want to learn more. Battles for the crown of England did not stop there; read The Last Days of Henry VII by Robert Hutchinson, and you might find that the “Conspiracies, Treason, and Heresy at the Court of the Dying Tyrant” were pretty comparable to the fictitious drama of GoT. Another book that should satisfy any GoT fan is the aptly titled Clash of Crowns by Mary Sperling McAuliffe, which promises “the Story of Bloodshed, Betrayal and Revenge.” The subtitles of these books alone give the impression of HBO-worthy drama. For more books on the history that inspired Game of Thrones, check out this list.

Lacking in fantastical elements, it is much easier to view the popular BBC series Downton Abbey as historical fiction, and thanks to the show’s massive popularity, several books have been published about the real palace used as a backdrop for the show, Highclere Castle, and the actual family who lived there. Two such books are The Real Downton Abbey: An Unofficial Guide to the Period Which Inspired the Hit TV Show by Jackie Hyams, and Upstairs & Downstairs: The Illustrated Guide to the Real World of Downton Abbey by Sarah Warwick. Two great picks for fans of the Crawley women in particular are Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey: The Lost Legacy of Highclere Castle, and Lady Catherine, the Earl, and the Real Downton Abbey, both written by Fiona Carnarvon, the real-life Countess of Carnarvon and current resident of Highclere castle. These elegant ladies provided much inspiration for the characters of Lady Cora Crawley and her daughters.

Downton Abbey also gives the viewer a great sense of the upstairs/downstairs culture of Edwardian England, providing a glimpse into the lives of both the nobility and those who served them, as well as a look at life in a classic country house and village. We also see the characters experience historical events from the sinking of the Titanic through World War I on into the Jazz Age, and see how these events affected Brits of different social stations.  Check out this list to find more books on the place, time, and events depicted in the series.

For even more titles, check out the display on Level 9 of the Central Library!

Stay tuned for more True History behind your favorite shows, coming soon!

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