History and legends of Game of Thrones: The Field of Fire

So this is probably going to be my shortest post ever in this series.  For this article we’re going to look at one specific event in the Game of Thrones universe, the Field of Fire, and it’s historical counterpart the Battle of Hastings.

So after Aegon landed in Westeros he set about the daunting challenge of conquering the Seven Andal kingdoms.  While the Seven Kingdoms were divided each one of them had larger armies than his own.  Thankfully, their constant bickering meant that they couldn’t unite against Aegon and he could take them on piecemeal.  His greatest challenge would arise when two of the biggest kings of Westeros: King Lorren Lannister of the Rock ( from whom the Lannisters from the show trace their ancestry) and King Mern XI of the Reach (the place where the Tyrells would eventually rule, but that’s later).  Both kings realized that this foreign invader would have to be crushed and they united to form the biggest army Westeros had ever seen.

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All told the two kings had an army numbering over 50,000 including 5,000 heavy cavalry while Aegon could only field an army one fifth that size.  In the end it didn’t really matter though because Aegon had an ace in the hole: his three dragons.

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The battle went about as well as anyone would expect with a total rout of the Andals and complete victory for Aegon.  King Mern would perish in the fire and King Loren realized that he rather liked living and decided to yield to Aegon and submit to his rule.  The victory meant that Aegon controlled most of the South of Westeros and while there was still plenty of fighting to do, the Field of Fire showed that final victory was all but inevitable.

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The closet historical equivalent to the Field of Fire in real life history is the Battle of Hastings, fought in 1066 near the town of Battle in Essex England between the forces of the Anglo Saxon/Andal Harold II and the Norman/Targareyen army of William of Normandy.  You can visit the site to this day, it’s actually quite nice.

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Like Aegon, William had just landed his Norman Army and was facing the daunting task of subjugating an entire country with a comparatively small force.  Harold meanwhile had just finished fighting off another threat to his crown at the Battle of Stamford Bridge against a Norwegian king named Harald III (you see this a lot in history, not a whole lot of original names) and was unable to oppose William from landing safely.  However, once both sides were ready, a battle was set at Hastings that would decide the fate of Britain forever.

The battle itself does not share a whole lot of similarities with its fantasy counterpart.  While William had a unique weapon at his disposal in the form of the first mounted knights to ever be used on British soil they did not have the dramatic impact that Aegon’s dragons had in the Field of Fire.

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While it is interesting to think of a line of armored warriors moving quickly on horseback being similar to a dragon the Saxon army was actually quite resilient and even almost won the day.  Harold was not a stupid man, he understood the strengths of his army and weaknesses of his enemy.  Harold was able to seize the high ground at Hastings and formed a Saxon shield wall made up of his best warriors and a collection of local militia.

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Despite what people might think, horses actually have a very strong will to live and are usually not keen on riding into a tightly packed wall of shields and spears.  What William was able to do though was to slowly break the Saxon army apart and defeat them piecemeal until only Harold and his elite bodyguard remained.  Harold was eventually cut down and while it is unclear exactly how he died, popular accounts say he was slain by an arrow in the eye.

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A quick note: the image above is from the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the most well known sources of William’s invasion and the battle itself.

While the Field of Fire and the Battle of Hastings do not share many details the most important thing is that they had the same impact on both their worlds.  The Field of Fire cemented the foreign Aegon as a major ruler in Westeros while the Battle of Hastings settled the dispute over who should rule England and placed William the Conqueror firmly in control over most of the island.  Both these men were huge figures in their respective histories and both of them would go on to found ruling dynasties that would last for centuries.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Aegon the Conqueror

Welcome to the post in this blog that is about one specific person.  The one man who united all of Westeros under his sole rule and shaped the modern day events of the book and show more than any one individual: Aegon I Targaryen more commonly known as Aegon the Conqueror.

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Aegon was not a native of Westeros and did not claim to be a descendant of any ethnic group that made up the population of Westeros.  He was from the neighboring continent of Essos and, unlike the Andals, he claimed to be one of the last surviving members of one of the continent’s last great superpowers, The Freehold of Valyria.  We’ll talk about Valyria and Essos later but for now all we have to know is that Aegon saw that his homeland was dying and there was a large continent to the west that was divided among seven squabbling kingdoms and was ripe for conquering.  With his two sister wives, Visenya and Rhaynes, Aegon looked west and headed towards Westeros.

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After successfully sailing his army across the sea and making landfall at the spot that would eventually become the city of King’s Landing (the people of Westeros are many things but creative naming is not one of their forte) Aegon would set about the daunting task of subjugating and ruling the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.  It would not be easy.  Even though the Seven Kingdoms were not united and were fighting among each other they still possessed armies and resources that were vastly superior to his own and Aegon was a foreign king in a strange land who didn’t even speak the language of the people.  However, he did have one distinct advantage over everyone else, one that would prove to be so successful and complete that it allowed him to conquer a continent and establish a legacy that would last for thousands of years: dragons.

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After the Viking invasion of Britain, and their eventual assimilation into British culture, the cultural hodgepodge that was the British Islands would experience one final invasion that would forever change their culture and way of life: the invasion of William the Conqueror.

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Now, while there are several parallels between Aegon and William there are several key differences.  First and foremost, Aegon was Valyrian, a group of people who were ethnically and culturally different from the people of Westeros while William was the Duke of Normandy, a kingdom in Northern France that was founded by Viking settlers at the point of a spear.  Fun fact: the name “Normandy” literally means “land of the Northmen”

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Also, William had loose familial ties to the kings of England, and in fact the reason he invaded was over a dispute over who should hold the title of King of England while Aegon was completely separated from the culture and ruling class of Westeros.  He was a foreign invader in every sense of the word.

That being said, there are still many similarities between the two.  For example, while the Norman invaders of England did share the same ethnic background they had spent enough time apart to develop their own distinct culture and language.  The Normans spoke an early version of French and had developed many ideas that we would later associate with the Medieval Ages.  Ideas like chivalry, reverence for the sword as the weapon of choice, and the use of plate and mail armor.  However, the biggest similarity is that both Aegon and William had a secret weapon up their sleeve.  A weapon that would allow a comparatively small fighting force to conquer a large collection of many different kingdoms under their rule.  While Aegon had his dragons William brought a new style of fighting from his home that would prove very effective: armored cavalry.

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We’ll talk about how both rulers would use their innovations on Wednesday.