The Anarchy: The real war that inspired House Of The Dragon

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

Author George R.R. Martin has always been happy to discuss the real world histories he’s used as inspiration for his work. The historical Scottish betrayals at the Black Dinner and The Massacre at Glencoe provided the framework of the Red Wedding. The fictional history of Old Valyria is based in part on the Roman Empire and the myth of Atlantis, and so on.

And now, we’re about watch a new show set in the Game of Thrones universe: House of the Dragon, based on Martin’s book Fire & Blood. Unsurprisingly, this story also has roots in history. “I get inspiration from history, then I take elements from history and turn it up to 11,” Martin said on the House of the Dragon panel at Comic-Con, per Entertainment Weekly. “Game of Thrones is, as many people have observed, very loosely based on The War of The Roses. [House of the Dragon] is based on an earlier period in history called “The Anarchy.”

The Anarchy was an English civil war that lasted from 1138 to 1153 AD. At its core, it was a war of succession, just like what we have in House of the Dragon. Let’s dig into some of the parallels.

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

The Anarchy

The catalyst of The Anarchy was the untimely death of King Henry I’s only legitimate son, William Adelin, who drowned when the White Ship sank while transporting many of the British nobility across the English Channel in 1120. The result was that King Henry had no surviving direct male heir upon his death in 1135.

King Henry wanted his daughter, Empress Matilda, to succeed him, and brought her to Normandy with the intention of marrying her to Geoffrey of Anjou in an effort to secure a lasting peace between England and Normandy. But Henry’s Anglo-Norman nobles at court disliked the idea of a female claiming the throne; in response, Henry made all of his barons swear an oath of fealty to Matilda.

House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO
House of the Dragon. Photograph by Ollie Upton / HBO /

When Henry died, many of the barons ignored their oaths and refused to support Matilda and Geoffrey; along with the English Church, they preferred the idea of male-only primogeniture and supported Henry I’s nephew, Stephen of Blois, who seized the throne.

War immediately broke out between the supporters of Matilda and Stephen. Though secure in London, Stephen was threatened by the powerful barons who supported Matilda and outside threats of invasion from Scotland and Wales. Matilda led an invading army into southern England in 1139, accompanied by her half-brother Robert of Gloucester and her uncle, King David of Scotland.

The war of The Anarchy dragged on for years, with various deaths, victories, defeats and stalemates. We’ll leave it in its opening stages to avoid spoiling too much of House of the Dragon.

Image: House of the Draogn/HBO
Image: House of the Draogn/HBO /

How the Anarchy inspired the Dance of the Dragons

At King’s Landing, King Viserys Targaryen I (King Henry I) worries about passing away without a son as his heir. He lobbies for the crown to be awarded to his eldest daughter Rhaenyra, which makes her our Empress Matilda. But just like King Henry, he faces resistance from many of his nobles, who prefer the idea of male-only Targaryen primogeniture.

Concerned for the future of Dragonstone and his kingdom, Viserys has all of his nobles swear an oath of loyalty to Rhaenyra, but upon his death, the court splits into two factions, called the “blacks” (supporters of Rhaenyra Targaryen), and the “greens” who support Aegon II, Viserys’ son by his second wife Alicent Hightower. So Aegon is our Stephen of Blois.

The “greens” seize the Iron Throne and King’s Landing, facilitated in part by Princess Rhaenrya being at Dragonstone on the night of King Viserys’ death, just as Empress Matilda was in Normandy when Henry I passed away. Chaos erupts across Westeros as the factions battle and the realm descends into a bloody civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons.

Matilda leads an invading army into southern England with the help of her uncle King David of Scotland. Later in the Dance — almost certainly not in the first season — Rhaenrya will take King’s Landing with the help of her uncle Daemon Targaryen.

Image: HBO, House of the Dragon/YouTube
Image: HBO, House of the Dragon/YouTube /

The similarities between The Anarchy and House of the Dragon are prominent. Expect a lot more parallels, but cranked all the way to to “11.”

Next. See gorgeous new images from House of the Dragon. dark

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