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‘House of the Dragon’: The Parallels of Rhaenyra Targaryen’s Real-Life Historical Counterpart

Paddy Considine and Milly Alcock in House of the Dragon (2022)

Time for a Westeros and British History lesson.

On the first episode of HBO’s House of the Dragon, we saw the Princess Rhaenyra named as the future Queen of Westeros by her father, King Viserys I. This marks the first time that a woman has been named heir apparent for the Iron Throne. George R.R. Martin has been vocal about pulling from historical events for his work on the Game of Thrones source material, and the coming events in House of the Dragon are no different.

William the Conqueror became the first Norman King of England in 1066, setting the foundation for the British Monarchy as we know it today. He had two sons follow him into kingship: William II and Henry I of England. While Henry was king, his only male heir, his son William, drowned in an event known as the White Ship disaster of 1120.

A group of nobles were on a boat in the Channel during a trip from France to England. They were drunk and hit a rock. Out of the three hundred people on board, only one, a butcher, survived. England was then stuck in a succession crisis. Henry took a second wife, Adeliza of Louvain, but they were childless. He then decided to declare his daughter, Matilda, his heir and married her off to Geoffrey of Anjou.

He called in his nobles to declare their loyalty to Matilda. When Henry died, however, the nobles decided that a male heir was better and attempted to replace Matilda with the King’s nephew, Stephen of Blois. This led to the Anarchy. From 1138 and 1153, a total breakdown of a new monarchy led to one of the most destructive, even by medieval standards, periods of warfare. Now imagine that plus dragons.

Rhaenyra is very clearly a stand-in for Empress Matilda and her own quest to become the first crowed Queen of England. The creators of House of the Dragon have been making it brutally clear that Westeros is a patriarchy and that, despite being a dragon rider and young enough to be geared to rule, Rhaenyra will face hardship in her ascent to Queen. What is compelling about both the decision of Henry I and Viserys I is that both, early on in the reigns of their monarchy, were willing to shake up the gender norms of the time—slightly.

The ability to see their daughters as potential queens would have shaken the foundation for years to come. Henry VIII wouldn’t have had to go through so many wives and caused so much trauma to his living children. Dany would not have been inherently seen as an outsider and wouldn’t have had to feel so insecure about the potential claim of male heirs.

Right now, I am rooting for Rhaenyra despite everything, because I support women’s wrongs, and after seeing the horrible death of Queen Aemma, we need the win.

(featured image: HBO)

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Princess (she/her-bisexual) is a Brooklyn born Megan Fox truther, who loves Sailor Moon, mythology, and diversity within sci-fi/fantasy. Still lives in Brooklyn with her over 500 Pokémon that she has Eevee trained into a mighty army. Team Zutara forever.