Bran Stark is Hosed – A Reasonable Prediction From the End of Game of Thrones


The Kingdoms of Bran the Broken is neither a Kingdom nor is it Bran’s. Discuss.

This analysis, from A Collection of Unmitigated Pedantry, argues that the introduction of Elective Monarchy to Westeros, and especially the election of Bran Stark as its first elected king, is doomed to failure. The reasons are as follows:

  1. With the exception of the Iron Islands, which are at best inconsistent with the practice, nowhere in Westeros has ever practiced elective monarchy. Indeed, every one of the Six Kingdoms has a tradition of primogeniture (the eldest son of the king is the next king, girls only succeed in Dorne), with families that have held power for 300 years at the shortest, and some of them go back to pre-history. These constituent kingdoms will all have more power than Bran, and will have every incentive to keep the central monarchy weakened.
  2. In pulling out of the Seven Kingdoms, Sansa Stark left her brother with no power base to fall back on. Had Gendry Baratheon been elected king, he would have one of the Seven Kingdoms, the Stormlands, in his pocket, providing him with an army he could call upon at will. Had Tyrion been elected, he would have the Westerlands, Edmure Tully, the Riverlands, Robert Arryn, the Vale, etc. But now that the North has backed out, Bran has nothing but the lands around Kings Landing – the Crown Lands – which aren’t much.
  3. Bran is unable to fulfill several of the expectations of being a king in Westeros. He cannot be a fighter; he has shown no interest in leading armies, and has been a character people find more off-putting than admirable.

The article includes a discussion of how the Holy Roman Empire and Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, two historical elective monarchies, worked (and didn’t work). Read the Whole Thing.

No, Islamic Spain was Not Tolerant

So sayeth this review of The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise. (h/t Vox Populi)

And yes, the reviewer is an Orthodox priest, if you want to ready your ad hominems, and he is positively scathing regarding the myth, even working in a Gone With the Wind reference.

As Fernandez-Morera’s book points out, the picture of a tolerant Islam can only be drawn by selecting among the facts and zeroing in on a few of the upper classes, while conveniently ignoring the mass of people and suppressing certain other facts—even facts about those upper classes.

Now, the fact that medieval Muslims forcibly oppressed Christians in their lands does not and should not surprise. Religions, if they’re worth anything, are totalizing, thus religious tolerance always has the tendency to border on being a contradiction in terms. So the status of Christian dhimmis in Muslim Spain as fifth-class subjects should not really be a revelation.

But it is, and this indicaes a broader problem, of a spiritual cancer at the heart of the West. There are those among us who are prepared to believe, and repeat, anything, if it makes our own culture look bad. The same people who tut derisively about the Crusades train themselves not to notice the wars of conquest by which Arab Muslims destroyed Christian Visigothic Spain in the eighth century. Their stunted ideology requires them to deplore the first thing and attack anyone who mentions the second thing as a racist (because, you know, Islam is a race. Oh, we know that it isn’t, but you’re too dumb to make that distinction). Attacking your own culture makes you virtuous, you see.

Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair climbed on the bandwagon, saying in 2007, “The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones”.

Given that the early Middle Ages were the time when Muslims attacked other lands specifically in the name of their religion, this statement beggars belief. I’d be hard pressed to think that Tony Blair even really thought this was true. It’s just the sort of thing we’re expected to say, a reading from the Catechism of the Blessed Dictatorship of Post-Cultural Relativism.

Baby Prince Louis Dredges Up Old Memories of 1215

This post at Catholic Herald uses the announcement of Prince William’s new son’s name to remind us that the Hundred Years War was but one phase of a series of struggles between the French and English Crown that went on from the days of William the Conqueror until the English were run out of Calais 500 years later.

However, it’s little known that England was once ruled by a King Louis. After King John had gone back on all his promises made to the barons in 1215 (an agreement later known as Magna Carta) a number of them had invited the king of France’s son Louis to become king, who claimed the throne through his wife, a granddaughter of Henry II. While John was in the north Louis arrived in Kent unopposed and at St Paul’s was proclaimed king, had the backing of most of the barons and controlled two-thirds of the country.

485px-Louis8lelionThat Louis – known as Louis the Lion – wasn’t just the son of the King of France, he was the heir to the French Throne. Which means if he’d pulled off his attempt to gain England, he would have been king of both realms, two centuries before Henry V of England tried it after his triumph at Agincourt. It’s one of history’s great “what-if’s”. Such would have altered almost the entire history of both countries.

And yet, I must point out that the key word is “if”. As in, that’s not what happened. John was still alive, and just because he’d been run out of London didn’t mean he’d been actually removed from power.

However, King John then died of dysentery and entrusted the great knight William Marshal to defend his nine-year-old son Henry and the now septuagenarian regent promised to carry the boy on his shoulders. People thought it unfair to blame the young boy for his father’s sins and besides which the French in London had made themselves unpopular, and as John Gillingham put it, “done nothing except drink all the wine in the city and then complain about the ale” when that ran out. Marshal defeated the French and their English supporters, and ‘King Louis’ was wiped from the historical record. (You can read all about this in 1215 and All That.)

So Louis the Lion never controlled the whole of the country, made no important acts, and left within a few years. He never claimed the English throne again, nor did his heirs claim it. To be fair, he didn’t have much time, reigning as Louis VIII of France for only three years, mostly spending it Crusading against the Cathars in Languedoc, before dying of dysentery and leaving the throne of France to his underage son, who became St. Louis. Still, that’s not what I would call “ruling as King of England”.

There were several “almost kings” of England. Some are fairly well-known, like Harald Hardraada (the also-ran of 1066) and Bonnie Prince Charlie, others, like Lady Jane Grey and James Scott, 1st Duke of Monmouth, are relatively obscure. Louis the Lion is both one of the most obscure, and most successful “almosts”. History often dances on the edge of a knife like that…


Richard III was Attacked All At Once, Died Swiftly

No horse was going to save him.

Read the whole thing, as it’s very interesting, and jibes with what accounts of Bosworth I have read.

Of course, it bears pointing out that Richard fought like a mad boar at Bosworth, killing Henry Tudor’s standard bearer and very nearly getting to Henry himself before he was surrounded. Also, no contemporary source records the “My kingdom for a horse” line. Some traditions declare his last words to be “Treason!” but it’s entirely possible that he was given no chance to say anything at all.


Game of Roses, or How George R.R. Martin Gave New Names to Historical Persons

I see my friends getting all excited for the new season of Game of Thrones. It almost makes me wish for HBO. But as I’ve said before, I’ve read the books, and as I’ve said before, Martin has drawn heavily on the actual history of 15th-century England in creating his saga. Sure, most people with a basic knowledge of the Wars of the Roses will see York and Lancaster in Stark and Lannister, but it goes deeper than that. Some of the key characters are practically reincarnated versions of real people who played the game of thrones in an England drenched in war.

To wit: (Spoiler-Free for anyone who has seen up to the end of Season 3 of the series, but hasn’t read the books) Read more

The Yuletime Haul of Books: Trenches, Emperors, and the Knave Doth Abide

Like a Bandit, I made out. Like a bandit.

“Hand over the Literature and No one Gets Hurt”

The list:

  1. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars – Still reading it, and while i detect clunky moments, when it’s on, it sizzles.
  2. Two Gentlemen of Lebowski – A friend of mine summed it up as “so much more spot-on than necessary.” I concur.
  3. World War One: A Short History – “In four years the world went from 1870 to 1940.” If anyone’s written a better sentence about this cataclysm, I have yet to read it.
  4. Poitiers 732: Charles Martel Turns the Islamic TideThe Dark Ages have always fascinated me. Still working on it, but the expansion of Odo of Aquitaine’s role in the conflict is refreshing.
  5. TiberiusAs part of the ongoing Caligula Project. It’s a quick read, and plausible. I always figured Tiberius got a bum rap, and it was nice to see a veering from Livia as the all-powerful Spider Queen.
  6. Camp of the SaintsControversial books that get translated into English? What’s not to love?
  7. And Another Thing… Well, I asked for it, didn’t I?

Medieval Dynastic Fail: The Normans

A while back, I jumped off an article about one of the world’s remaining functional monarchies, that of Morocco, to an argument that survival was the key to success for a monarch. I used the Capetians as an example.

Today I’m going to unsay a little of that, and use as an example a dynasty contemporary to the Capetians, who, though they made about as big a mark on history as can be imagined, they survived less than 100 years: The Normans.

William the Conqueror is one of history’s more interesting characters: the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy and a tanner’s daughter, William overcame his bastardy (a serious mark against him in those days) to not only succeed to his father’s dukedom, but maintain it’s independence against all the other lords of France. Whereupon he took an almost pitiable claim to the English throne and, in a turn of events that would be laughable in fiction, conquered England almost at one blow. And unlike other fearsome warrior kings, he did not maintain a bevy of courtesans, but remained almost touchingly devoted to his wife. Having worn the title “Bastard” for much of his life, he seems to have made a conscious decision not to bring any into the world. He died a magnificent success, in his saddle (according to one source, by his saddle) as he had lived.

Greater than the romantic color of this life is the significance of it. The Norman Conquest of England changed forever the culture of the conquered land. The English language, hitherto but one of many Germanic tongues of the North Sea, took on a French/Latin tinge that gave it the size and flexibility it enjoys today as the world’s first diplomatic language. England ceased to be a peripheral power and became one of the chief realms of Medieval Europe. Politically, the personal union of Normandy and other French territories to the English throne led to 500 years of conflict with French kings, culminating in the bloodshed of the Hundred Years War. Few men of the Middle Ages made as great a mark on the times as did this illegitimate orphan, who lost his father at the age of seven.

Yet his dynasty was gone almost within a century of his birth. Why?

Read more

Arabia Before Islam at Medieval Musings

Medieval Musings is the kind of blog that I would like to write, if it didn’t already exist. The Middle Ages continues to fascinate, both for its seeming atavistic structure (men who work, men who fight, men who pray!) and the constant, chaotic change. Western Civilization went from seeming collapse to being poised to take over the world in those thousand years. Multitudes of things to be learned remain, even for the amateur medievalist.

There’s a similarly evocative post there about pre-Islamic Arabia, which points out some interesting, if not entirely surprising things:

It is evident from these finds that ancient Arabia was not only politically and linguistically, but also religiously diverse. Artefacts such as the al-Hamra cube (perhaps a pedestal or an altar) display religious motifs shared with Egypt and Mesopotamia, such as the bull-god Apis, while a large number of incense burners and altars evoke the sacrificial spirituality which characterises the old Testament. This plurality continued well into the Christian era, with the Byzantines exerting their influence from the north and a number of Jewish communities noted throughout the peninsula.

Like many places on the fringes of more powerful civilizations, Arabia was a mishmash. Which parts of that mishmash influenced and survived Mohammed is a damned interesting question to nerds like me.


With Monarchy, the Name of the Game is Longevity.

At present time, Queen Elizabeth II has been on the English throne for 61 years. If she lasts another three, she’ll tie the record for the longest reign by a British monarch (my money’s on her doing it. She’s only in her 80’s, and her mother lived to be 100). There’s a reason that The King’s Speech was such a big hit: very few people are old enough to remember anyone else being on the throne. There’s a level of legitimacy in that all its own.

The nature of the monarch is sacral, traditional. Aristotle wrote of the earliest kind of Greek monarchy, that “was exercised over voluntary subjects, but limited to certain functions; the king was a general and judge, and had control of religion.” (Politics, III.xiv) They “embody the law.” This is more or less the role that Elizabeth, as a constitutional monarch, has; she decides not a single political question, but all political action occurs under her crown. Her authority is non-existent, her legitimacy, absolute. She is a sacral figure, quasi-mystical. And thus, the longer a monarch hangs around, the greater that legitimacy grows.

There are places where monarchs do more than that. Michael Totten just posted a dispatch from one such place, Morocco, where the King, Mohammad VI, is a real king, a giver of laws and settler of causes. One would have to be an American to be surprised that Morocco is one of the more liberal and tolerant places in the Arab world. Mohammad VI has been the beaux ideal of an enlightened monarch: liberalising institutions, permitting a modicum of free press, setting free the political prisoners of his father Hassan II. He does this without fear, because, like Elizabeth, his legitimacy is without question: his family has ruled Morocco since the 17th century, and his people believe him a stabilizing force: Read more