We may not have dragons or wights in the real world, but we do have people - and as history shows, people are the strangest creatures of all. With that in mind, we really can’t be surprised that a main ingredient in George R.R. Martin's fantastical concoction is the medley of historical figures who inspired Game of Thrones. Throw in Martin’s intricate settings and unpredictable storylines, and voila! We’re given the delicious gift of a world that seems more deeply rooted in fact than imagination - because sometimes, it really is.
When Martin first started writing the A Song of Ice and Fire book series, he drew a lot of his inspiration from the people and events surrounding the War of the Roses. To make a long story short - or maybe just a little less long - England was divided in a civil war involving five prominent houses that all wanted to claim the throne. The two main houses were the Northern House of York (GoT's Starks) and the Southern House of Lancaster (GoT's Lannisters), and a whole lot of people perished trying to determine the rightful ruler. In Game of Thrones parlance, everyone was ready to win the game or die trying - especially the real people who inspired Game of Thrones characters.
Of course, Martin’s influences weren’t confined to that era, nor were his characters necessarily linked in the same ways as their historical counterparts - such things would be way too straightforward for any creative genius. Instead, Martin blended bits of history all around the Westerosi map, picking and choosing the traits he would use and discard from the historical figures who inspired Game of Thrones. He kept some of his comparisons general, like Brienne of Tarth and Joan of Arc both posing as men to fight or Tywin Lannister and Richard Neville both being known as “King Makers.” But Martin created other GoT characters based on real people who have too much in common to shrug off as coincidence.
Think of this list as a road map you can use to navigate your way between fact, fiction, and general pondering about the wild worlds of Westeros and Essos. Welcome to the realm where history and Martin’s imagination merge.