In 1440, the 10-year-old King James II invited the 6th Earl of Douglas, then 16, and his younger brother David to a feast at Edinburgh Castle, in Scotland. Once there, the story goes, a servant entered with a black bull’s head on a platter, a symbol of death. Sir William Crichton, the king’s chancellor who had arranged the whole thing, accused the siblings of plotting against the king. They were dragged away, tried in a kangaroo court, and beheaded.
Did that really happen? It’s hard to know for sure, but it’s a good story, right? It’s so good that it inspired George R.R. Martin to dream up the Red Wedding, the infamous party where Walder Frey has Robb Stark, Catelyn Stark, and most of their army slaughtered over dinner.
Martin admits as much as part of the audio guide for the real-life Edinburgh Castle, in David’s Tower. “Scottish history is amazingly bloody and dark and twisted and full of betrayals and battles, so it’s been a great source of inspiration,” his voice tells tourists. “The Red Wedding, which is perhaps the most infamous scene in my book, was inspired in large part by two events in Scottish history – the Black Dinner here in Edinburgh, when the Earl of Douglas and his brother were murdered at a dinner given by the King, and the Glencoe Massacre, when the Campbells slaughtered the MacDonalds. I combined the two of those and threw in a wedding and you get the Red Wedding.”
I’ve never been to Edinburgh Castle specifically, but I’ve been on my share of audio tours of museums and crumbling palaces, and I would definitely perk right up if Martin’s distinctive New Jersey-tinged voice started telling me about what happened there.
This was also a savvy move by Historic Environment Scotland, since by this point George R.R. Martin is close to being a household name. “Edinburgh Castle is Scotland’s top paid-for visitor attraction, and we are committed to investing in the site and finding new and inventive ways of engaging a wide range of people with its history,” said Alex Paterson, chief executive for Historic Environment Scotland.
Anyway, if you’re planning a vacation anytime soon, this might give you a couple ideas!