Game of Thrones and the cut and thrust of warring women through the ages

Game of Thrones

“Enemies to the east, enemies to the west, enemies to the south, enemies to the north. Whatever stands in our way, we will defeat it.” So says Cersei Lannister to her brother Jamie, as she considers the various threats to her reign.

The trailers for season seven of Game of Thrones promise further epic battles to decide the fate of the Seven Kingdoms. One of the key struggles will almost certainly be between Cersei Lannister, recently crowned queen of Westeros, and Daenerys Targaryen, whose ownership of several dragons would appear to give her a distinct advantage on the battlefield. Her mantra: “I was born to rule the seven kingdoms and I will.”

One of the many sources of inspiration for Game of Thrones is the Wars of the Roses, which involved several ambitious women – principally Margaret of Anjou, wife of Henry VI, Elizabeth Woodville (who married Edward IV), and Margaret Beaufort, whose son Henry Tudor would eventually take the crown – who brought the civil war to an end. The Hollow Crown, the BBC’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s plays about the Wars of the Roses portrayed Margaret of Anjou wearing mail on the battlefield, but what role did women really play in warfare of the later medieval period?

This partially depends upon how we define warfare. Then, as now, it was unusual to find women on the battlefield – but not impossible, think of Joan of Arc or Joanna of Flanders who donned armour to attack her enemy on horseback. But, if we think of warfare more broadly – as being waged by one society against another – then women played a significant role in the war effort.

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