It is widely known that George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire book series is loosely based on historical actors and events of England’s Wars of the Roses (a series of dynastic wars fought between two rival branches of the royal House of Plantagenet: the houses of Lancaster and York—sound familiar?). The extent to which specific characters or plot lines are actually derived from this period is debatable, and perhaps better saved for a later article, but one likeness in particular is difficult to ignore.
Perhaps it was just a casting coincidence but it’s noteworthy that British actress Natalie Dormer plays both a riveting rendition of Anne Boleyn during the first 2 seasons of Showtime’s The Tudors and an arguably enhanced version of Margaery Tyrell in Game of Thrones. The actress has made an intentional attempt to differentiate the two. In a recent interview Dormer had this to say:
“You’ll appreciate that I’m trying very, very hard as an actor to separate my characterizations. It was a concern for me when I took on the role [of Margaery] that I wanted to differentiate them as much as possible. So I aim to do that and I challenge myself to do that every single day. I want to create a completely independent character.”
I would argue, however, that she is fighting an up-hill battle given some pretty striking similarities between the lives and aspirations of the two women. It should be noted that these similarities could be purely coincidental and that George Martin perhaps drew no inspiration for Margaery from Anne. In fact, Anne Boleyn reigned alongside Henry VIII about 50 years after the period generally thought of as the Rose Wars. I also doubt that Martin would have approved the casting choice for Margaery had she been intentionally modeled after the real-life Anne. Regardless, let’s take a closer look:
Anne Boleyn was the daughter of Thomas Boleyn, a respected diplomat, and Lady Elizabeth Howard. On the Howard side, Anne was the grand-daughter and then niece of the Duke of Norfolk. This made Anne a member of one of the most powerful and influential English families of the time. Similarly, Margaery comes from the Tyrell family which is among the most influential families (aka Houses) in Westeros. Their power is evidenced by the fact that their support of the Lannisters in the Battle of the Blackwater made the difference in keeping Joffrey on his throne.
Anne Boleyn was especially close to her brother George Boleyn. And, at least as portrayed in The Tudors, George had some very personal interactions with other men. Similarly, Margaery is portrayed as very close with her brother Loras, who it’s widely known had a more-than-friends relationship with Renly Baratheon and at least one other male character so far.
Both Anne Boleyn and Margaery Tyrell are characterized as especially adept at maneuvering the political world of a royal court. The American historian Retha M. Warnicke writes that Anne was:
“The perfect woman courtier… her carriage was graceful and her French clothes were pleasing and stylish; she danced with ease, had a pleasant singing voice, played the lute and several other musical instruments well, and spoke French fluently… A remarkable, intelligent, quick-witted young noblewoman… that first drew people into conversation with her and then amused and entertained them. In short, her energy and vitality made her the center of attention in any social gathering.”
This seems like a pretty accurate description for Margaery, too. Margaery is portrayed in both the books and the show as among the Realm’s most beautiful and stylish young women, skilled in all the womanly charms expected of ladies in her station. In SHOWTIME’s The Tudors, Anne is (at least until her eventual demise) portrayed as having a great deal of influence and control over her man, King Henry VIII. She manages to oust the King’s most trusted advisor, the powerful Cardinol Wolsey, and is instrumental in ultimately persuading Henry to style himself as head of the Church of England. Margaery is adept at placating Joffrey, holds her own against both Littlefinger and Cersei, and demonstrates multiple times that she is highly skilled at the public relations of ruling a kingdom.
I would argue that both Anne Boleyn and Margaery Tyrell are extremely motivated by power. Both women desperately want to be Queen. Anne Boleyn waited for at least 6 years while Henry VIII petitioned the Pope for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, in the hopes that she would eventually be raised to take her place. This persistence did, eventually, earn her the Queenship she so coveted. It is impossible to tell where the real-life Anne derived this fiery ambition but in The Tudors, at least, it is partially inspired by her extremely ambitious family. Eventually her thirst for power seems to come purely from within. Similarly, Margaery Tyrell is driven by her family toward the highest position in the Realm. Her family first tries to interest King Robert Baratheon in Margaery, describing her beauty as similar to that of Robert’s true love Lyanna Stark. Upon his death, she marries Renly Baratheon. It is at this point that she tells Littlefinger of her true ambitions:
“I want to be the queen”.
Her ambition next brings her to King’s Landing and a betrothal to King Joffrey.
Fate (SPOILER ALERT!!)
We found out an interesting tidbit about Margaery in last night’s episode. She and Sansa have a sisterly walk & talk scene in which they discuss the subject of marital duty. Margaery overtly implies that she’s had her fair share of sexual experience. This was only speculated about in the books but is part of what contributes to her eventual fate. Anne Boleyn’s sexual experience before marrying Henry VIII was also much speculated about and contributed to her eventual downfall as well.
Even if you didn’t watch The Tudors, you probably know that Anne Boleyn met with a violent demise. Her luck ran out when she was famously beheaded, having fallen out of favor with her husband, Henry VIII. After several failed attempts at providing the King with his much-needed male heir, charges were brought against Anne that she had committed the treasonous sin of adultery. Anne was accused and convicted of having adulterous relations with not one but five men, including her brother George Boleyn. The first of her supposed lovers to be arrested and the only to confess, likely under torture, was Anne’s musician Mark Smeaton. All five men were also executed for their “crimes”.
It should be evident already to show-only Game of Thrones fans that Margaery and Cersei do not share a great affection for one another. Cersei fears Margaery’s influence over Joffrey and eventually Tommen. She’s also probably more than a little jealous of Margaery’s youth, beauty and attention at court. Book-readers know that Cersei will eventually plot Margaery’s downfall, accusing her of adultery and treason. Cersei lined up an impressive, but fictitious, list of lovers and conspirators, the first of which was Margaery’s personal musician, the Blue Bard. Under torture, he confessed to the crime–sound familiar?
Eventually, Margaery is released to await her trial, due to a lack of any strong evidence against her. Though Anne Boleyn was not so lucky, history now recognizes the trumped-up nature of her charges. We don’t know yet where fate will take Margaery next, but will definitely stay-tuned to find out!
Despite the above similarities, Margaery and Anne are not identical characters. Natalie Dormer offers an explanation of what she feels differentiates the two:
“Insofar as it’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” Anne Boleyn was fire and Margaery is ice. Margaery is a lot more practical, cool. She’s been trained for this sort of level of politics and machinations from an early age. She’s intellectual about it, whereas Anne Boleyn was very much a creature driven by passion an instinct and visceral qualities. So, in their roots, the characterizations come from two different places.”
Just as the rest of A Song of Ice and Fire is only loosely based on historical events, Margaery is a fictional character. So, while not necessarily modeled directly after Anne Boleyn, Margaery Tyrell is a similiarly confident, ambitious, and powerful young woman. And, let’s face it, these characteristics weren’t all that commonplace in either Tudor England or Westeros. Coincidence? Perhaps. Either way: you go girls!
Lili Klein loves both A Song of Ice and Fire and Tudors historical fiction. As a result, she’s a huge Natalie Dormer fan and even got a chance to meet up with her at a a GoT premiere event.
When not writing about TV, Lili enjoys painting (sometimes dabbling in GoT fan art) and hanging out with her Shiba Inu, Henry, who she named after Henry VIII because they’re both tyrannical red-heads. She uses Sling to stream Game of Thrones regularly.