The true story that inspired House of the Dragon

House of the Dragon is clearly fictional (dragons aren't real, sorry) but George RR Martin based the TV series on a very real historical event

The true story that inspired House of the Dragon

It may sound silly to suggest that House of the Dragon is based on a true story. After all, the fantasy series is set in a magical world where the Targaryen family used dragons to conquer the land, and, as far as we know, these mythical fire-breathing behemoths never really existed.

Of course, the TV series and the books they’re based on aren’t really about dragons (they’re basically window-dressing). No, House of the Dragon is a show about ambition. More specifically, it’s a series about how ambition corrupts everything it touches, from friends to family, and few relationships are strong enough to endure the corrosive touch of desire.

And unfortunately, ambition, and the ruthless pursuit of one’s goals over the wishes of another, are very real human emotions. Medieval history is full of stories of betrayal, usurpers, and general ruthlessness but did you know that George RR Martin based his books, Fire and Blood and The Princess and the Queen — which were adapted into House of the Dragon— that tell the story of the Targaryen civil war on a very real English historical event?

It’s known as The Anarchy, and it’s a chaotic period in English history which between 1138 and 1153. During this 15-year civil war, the land was torn apart, and all law and order broke down as the lords of England fought for the throne.

Like The Dance, The Anarchy has its roots in historical sexism. You see, the country at the time was ruled by King Henry I, who couldn’t have been further from Viserys. A hard man, history has remembered Henry for his clever manipulation of the barons and lords who held his kingdom together.

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However, Henry only had one son, William Adelin, and poor Will (he probably didn’t go by that name) didn’t live very long. When he was 17, William drowned when his ship, the White Man, hit a rock while crossing the English Channel, leaving Henry without an heir.

Before a succession crisis could engulf the land, Henry remarried and tried to have another son, but this didn’t work out. Thankfully the king did have another child, his daughter Matilda, and when it became clear he couldn’t produce another son, he named her heir to his kingdom.

The true story that inspired House of the Dragon

Much like Viserys, Henry had the lords and ladies of the land swear fealty to his daughter, and for the most part, they recognised her as his heir, swearing loyalty to Matilda and her heirs. Yet, with the benefit of hindsight, we can assume many of these oaths were false, and the various lords of the land never intended to be ruled by a woman.

Unsurprisingly when Henry popped his clogs, there was a coup. Stephen of Blois, a relative of Norman the Conqueror, moved to seize the throne before Matilda could be crowned and claimed himself the new King of England. An extended period of conflict followed where neither side could gain an advantage, and the common folk suffered horribly.

The true story that inspired House of the Dragon

This is basically what happens during the Dance in the Riverlands. The verdant fields are turned to muddy battlefields as the two sides wage war, with neither side able to gain an advantage. Eventually, Matilda got so sick of the war she left for Normandy (then part of England) and left the fighting to her son Henry (Henrys are the Aegon’s of the English monarchy).

As the war dragged on, everyone became tired of the fighting, and when Stephen tried to have his son Eustace named heir, the church said, “Nah, not happening,” and refused to recognise him as the next king. The whole thing was moot anyway, as Eustace died soon after leaving Stephen without an heir (just like Aegon Targaryen II), and the church negotiated peace between the two factions.

The true story that inspired House of the Dragon

Henry was named Stephen’s heir, and when Stephen died of an illness soon after the war was over, he became Henry II of England. This is pretty much how the Dance ends. Aegon II names his rival heir before dying, although the Targaryen king is poisoned by, well, everyone, apparently.

If you want to know more about the fictional world of Westeros, then check out our guide to House of the Dragon season 2. If that’s not enough, we have articles on all your favourite House of the Dragon characters, including Daemon Targaryenthe White Worm, Larys Strong, Alicent Hightower, and Ser Criston Cole.