Mad Monarchs and Dragons: Is there Truth Behind the Fantasy World of George R. R. Martin?
There is a saying stating that books are written from other books. Keeping this in mind, new books draw on ideas, aspects and inspiration contained within the pages of other already existing books. In a way, this also applies to the fantasy realm created by George R. R. Martin which offered the world the highly successful TV series “ Game of Thrones " and the upcoming prequel series “ House of the Dragon ." And in both of these works we have more than a few examples of mad monarchs, male and female, and dragons that serve the good or the bad.
Thinking about the vast fictional mythology present in George R. R. Martin's fantasy world raises one major question: “Is there any real fact or actual truth behind it?” And if there is, then what is it? So, let the quest for truth begin!
When mad monarchs come to mind then Ludwig II of Bavaria is madder than mad. He had a compulsion of spending uncontrollably on opulent castles which led to an arrangement between his ministers and a panel of psychiatrists to declare him mentally insane and he died soon after at age 22 having built three amazing castles including the one that inspired the Disney logo. ( naumenkophoto / Adobe Stock)
The Real Mad Monarchs and Madness in Monarchs
This venture starts with a short mention regarding the real game of thrones . Historically, this defines the quest for obtaining political power or the power to rule and influence the world. And, yes, this is that kind of power which tempts and corrupts. Such power struggles have existed since the times of old.
To keep it short, many examples of mad monarchs can be found in the series of historical novels “ The Accursed Kings " by French author Maurice Druon. And those are just examples from the French monarchy during the 14th century. George R. R. Martin actually cited these novels as “the original game of thrones" which inspired his fantasy series “ A Song of Ice and Fire ." As mentioned previously, books are written by drawing inspiration from other books.
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What about real history? Well, throughout time, history has seen its share of mad monarchs. Some became twisted and corrupted by power sending them mad, while others were directly born that way.
Examples of mad kings include:
- Charles VI of France (nicknamed “Charles the Mad", he experienced bouts of psychosis, as well as glass delusion, a mental disorder making people to think that their bodies were made of glass and fearing that they might shatter into pieces at any time)
- Eric XIV of Sweden (he suffered from paranoia and irrational behavior which later in his life led to violent streaks and an erratic rule).
- George III of Great Britain and Ireland (he developed a form of mental disorder manifesting itself as logorrhea and depression)
- Christian VII of Denmark (he was emotionally and morally unstable)
- Ludwig II of Bavaria (he had a compulsion of spending uncontrollably on opulent castles which led to an arrangement between his ministers and a panel of psychiatrists to declare him mentally insane), etc.
Mad queens cannot be forgotten either. History has seen its share of these as well. Two excellent examples would be:
- Joanna I of Castile (historically named “Joanna the Mad," she suffered from melancholia and a form of psychosis or schizophrenia), and Maria I of Portugal (known as “Mary the Mad," she experienced severe anxieties which turned into delusions on religious themes).
What needs to be kept in mind in this regard is the fact that these are but a few examples of the numerous such instances which have existed throughout history. Also, while discussing mad monarchs, one should clarify what madness in monarchs actually refers to. Well, it refers to rulers who were not necessarily mad, but who indulged in trends or behaviors that were.
Philip II of Spain (reign: January 1556–September 1598 AD) was incredibly mad. He hated the heretic "virgin" Queen Elizabeth I. And he loved to collect ancient human bones which were used in great amounts as protection in royal beds for a long time. But he died young at age 42 . . . (Antonio Moro (1519-1575) / Public domain )
Obsessive Disorders, Magic and Madness
An example of such an extreme trend was the macabre passion of Spanish kings for holy remains from a few hundreds of years ago. Philip II of Spain had a real obsession in this regard. He spent absurd amounts of money in this sense, leading up to the point where he owned 12 full skeletons, 144 heads and thousands of bones and body parts, supposedly from almost all known saints.
And this is not the full story. The even stranger part is what these holy remains were used for by the members of the royal family . Over hundreds of years, whenever a member of the Spanish royal family got sick, his or her bed was filled with such holy remains and the ill royal had to sleep among them as there was the belief that these items were stronger than any kind of prayer and they could quickly cure the disease. Or at least this was the recommendation of the best doctors of the time…
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At the age of 18, Prince Carlos (who was the son of Philip II) got sick and became bedridden. His bed was immediately filled with bones which had belonged to saints, but these had no healing effect. Upon seeing this, Bernardo de Fresneda (one of the king's trusted advisors) remembered the story of Diego de Alcala (a priest known for having performed miracles). Even though the priest had not performed any miracles lately because he had been dead for over 100 years, this did not stop the king. He ordered for the priest to be exhumed and his remains to be brought to the palace. The order was immediately fulfilled and what was left of the dead body was placed in bed aside the sick prince. Apparently, the prince had a quick miraculous recovery. Had it been the shock of waking up to see the dead remains beside him? That is not mentioned.
This trend did not end here. Fifty-seven years later, in the year 1619, another king, Philip III went on a voyage during which he got sick. The famous filling the bed with holy remains treatment was applied. There was no healing result. This time, the doctors remembered the story of Isidor the Farmer (a farmer who had once performed miracles). He had been dead, for over 500 years by that time.
Of course, he was exhumed and placed in the king's bed. Now, the treatment worked, but one little funny aspect is the fact that, at that time, Isidor was not considered a saint. In reality, he was sanctified later, in the year 1622.
And one more thing: in 1381, Queen Juana Manuel had ripped off a hand from the remains because she had wanted a souvenir. Also, around 100 years later, a servant woman of Queen Isabela pretended to kiss the feet of the remains and bit off a toe, because she also wanted a souvenir.
There are two kinds of dragon and the kind we are interested in here are those that help the people to overthrow mad monarchs. These creatures do not breathe fire and are a force of good. In Game of Thrones there were both kinds of dragons: good and evil. ( Mohsen / Adobe Stock)
Dragons that Are Not Exactly Dragons
On the globe, there are two very different visions regarding dragons. According to the European version, dragons are regarded as being forces of evil. The Asian vision is quite the opposite, presenting dragons as forces of good. How are the dragons of “Game of Thrones”? Well, they are both good and evil. They feed on whatever they like (including humans) and they constitute destructive forces. Still, when used wisely, they can change the world for the better. They are very loyal and they can be used to remove tyrants from power. Yet, in fact, they are not dragons.
If they are not dragons, then what are they? Well, they are wyverns. In mythology, wyverns are a type of legendary bipedal winged creatures. Unlike the depiction on “Game of Thrones”, wyverns cannot breathe fire. They appear as symbols in heraldry and their name comes from the Anglo-French “wivre” meaning “viper.” Even though, sometimes, wyverns are regarded as a type of dragon, usually a distinction is made between the two types of creatures.
And what of actual dragons? In Europe, they are regarded as a symbol of evil, the Devil being represented as such a creature when he is slain by Saint George . However, this view is not universal. For example, Ljubljana is the capital as well as the largest city in Slovenia. This city was said to have had a dragon as its protector and there is even a famous statue of this creature.
In China, dragons are associated with the element of water. In Chinese depictions, dragons do not have wings. The Chinese dragon with five claws was an imperial symbol of power which represented the emperor. The empress was represented by the phoenix. While the phoenix as a mythical creature was thought to rule over all beings with feathers, the dragon was said to be the ruler of all scaled creatures. There is also a belief stating that green eyes are dragon eyes.
In Chinese popular religion, dragons are associated with water and weather. The Dragon God is the one who dispenses rain as well as the representation of the masculine Yang power of generation. As a result of this imagery, dragons are thought to be in charge of water-related weather phenomena. For this reason, in times of drought or flooding, sacrifices were offered, and religious rites were conducted in order to appease the dragon causing the phenomenon. Still, there is one other version of the myth…
This legend comes from the land of Count Dracula , Romania. In this country, in the times of old, mythology and witchcraft spoke of certain wizards with supernatural powers. They were called “solomonari.” Such wizards had power over the elements, and they could influence weather. They could make rain fall or stop. They could bring about thunderstorms. They possessed Black Books with great knowledge of witchcraft. And they rode dragons! They would fly to the heavens on the back of winged dragons called “balauri.” While on “Game of Thrones” it is said that brave men did not kill dragons, they rode them, such wizards constituted the actual dragon riders of mythology.
This is a poster for the television series called House of the Dragon was imagined by world famous writer George R. R. Martin whose A Song of Ice and Fire became Game of Thrones. The rights to the House of the Dragon TV series and this poster art copyright belong to HBO and the graphic artist who made this poster. ( HBO)
What the Future Holds
Up until the present day, “Game of Thrones” has been the most expensive, the most watched and the most pirated TV series in history.
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After the success of “ Game of Thrones ," a prequel series entitled “ House of the Dragon " has been developed. This is based on George R. R. Martin's “ Fire & Blood " novel which chronicles the history of House Targaryen.
Look for it and learn more about how our ancient ancestors viewed power and flying reptiles.
Top image: Mad monarchs usually battled themselves, but internal struggles often led to unforeseen encounters with other powerful forces like dragons! Source: Dusan Kostic / Adobe Stock
By Phoenix Vald
Maurice Druon. 2013. The Iron King . HarperCollins Publishers.
Vivian Green. 2005. The Madness of Kings . The History Press.
George R. R. Martin. 2018. Fire and Blood: A History of the Targaryen Kings from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III . HarperCollins.
George R. R. Martin. 2012. A Song of Ice and Fire . HarperCollins Publishers.
Russel Tingley. 2015. Historic Dinosaurs: Evidence that Dragons Are Not Mythological Beasts . Russel Tingley.