It is a well-known fact that George R. R. Martin has taken much of his inspiration for the books that inspired the Game of Thrones series from history itself. A huge chunk of that history comes from the Hundred Years War between France and England, The War of the Roses over the British Crown, and a plethora of unforgettable characters from Greek and Roman times. Much of what makes his storytelling so addictive is that it follows history over classic story structure, and history is full of some mind-blowing plot twists. For those of you who don’t have enough time to become an amateur history buff, but desperately need something to fill your evenings before the sixth season of GoT premieres on April 24, here are 10 historical fictions shows (with similar royal intrigue) that you should start watching.
Julius Caesar led Rome away from an oligarchy and toward an autocracy. Rome’s first season covers everything from his epic rise to his tragic fall, wherein senators and close friends all took a stab at him. If only Jon Snow has been able to hear the story of the Ides of March, perhaps he would have been able to read the writing on the wall. Like GoT, this fellow HBO series is rife with nudity, but it’s kind of nice that they didn’t have the budget for all that explicit violence.
Network: Acorn TV
Caesar’s death in 44 BC left Rome with a leader’s seat to fill, and his nephew/adopted son, Augustus, stepped in. Augustus bore no sons, and after his death, his various relatives eyed the throne, pushing aside anyone who got in their way. This series, based on Robert Graves’ book, boasts some incredible actors, including Patrick Stewart in pre-captain Picard days. Sian Phillips plays Livia, Augustus’ wife, who will do anything (steal, frame, blackmail, bribe, kill, etc.) to get the son from her first marriage on the throne… Sound familiar?
Network: France 2
The book series, Les rois maudits (translation: The Cursed Kings), has been described by GRRM as “the original game of thrones.” The story is so nice, they filmed it twice (1972 and 2005), and the saga takes place in the late 1300s, and follows the beginning of the 100 Years War between France and England. In the second version of the series, iconic French actress Jeanne Moreau plays Mahaut D’Artois, the King’s plotting sister.
Much of Game of Thrones is based on the War of the Roses, the battle for the throne of England that took place when the House of York rose against the House of Lancaster to unseat the Mad King. Based on Philippa Gregory’s novel by the same name, The White Queen picks up the story in the mid-1400s. After overthrowing the Mad King, Edward IV of York, the newly minted King of England, marries commoner Elizabeth Woodville for true love, instead sealing his fledgling kingship with a political marriage (this should also sound familiar). While the duration of Elizabeth and Edward’s marriage underwent continuous betrayals and attempted coups, they, luckily, did not end up like Robb Stark and his wife Talisa at the Red Wedding. Pointing out the many other connections would lead to spoiling The White Queen, but make sure to look out for Queen Margaret of Anjou and her son, who bear many similarities with Cersei and Joff.
Since The White Queen wrapped in 2013, fans have been anxiously awaiting the announcement of its sequel, The White Princess. After years of waiting, prayers have been answered, and Starz announced that The White Princess will air in 2017. For those who can’t wait that long, try reading the book, which covers the story of Elizabeth and Edward’s Daughter (also named Elizabeth) and the marriage she was forced into with King Henry VII. Her mother-in-law, Margaret Beaufort, is probably the worst mother-in-law in the history of mother-in-laws, which means she gives Cersei a serious run for her money.
This series starts off in the mid-1500s with a young, kind, and tenacious Isabel following her quest to take her rightful throne of Castile. To strengthen her forces, she makes a political marriage to Ferdinand of Aragon. Though it was a marriage of convenience/necessity, they end up falling truly in love, much like Daenerys and Drogo. Together, they have a daughter, Catherine of Aragon, who becomes Queen Consort of England when she marries Henry the VIII in 1509. Which leads us to the next show—
“Divorced, beheaded, died. Divorced, beheaded, survived.” This cozy little rhyme helps us all remember the poor women who married King Henry the VIII, every one (practically) meeting with an unpleasant end. He divorced his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, for a younger woman, and Catherine spent her remaining days destitute and imprisoned in a castle. Natalie Dormer (Margaery Tyrell on GoT) plays Anne Boleyn, Henry’s second wife. Proving that karma is indeed a bitch, she was framed by her nemeses to make it seem like she had cheated on the king, and was beheaded. (Hopefully Margaery will be able to clear her name better than Anne did.) While Anne died young, her legacy did continue with her daughter, Elizabeth and The Tudors continues to tell her story, as well as those inhabiting the various thrones around her.
Before Elizabeth became the famous queen, she had to deal with her difficult half-sister, Mary, better known as Bloody Mary. Mary was Catherine of Aragon’s daughter, and Elizabeth was Anne Boleyn’s daughter. While the two got along as children, as adults, their different religions and shared desire to be queen brought tensions between them. The series begins with Queen Mary (Joanne Whalley) imprisoning Elizabeth (Anne-Marie Duff) in the Tower of London, then placing her under house arrest in Woodstock Manor. Like Daenerys, Elizabeth found ways around her controlling older sibling. And like Viserys, Queen Mary is known for her cruelty—so much so that she is better known by her tenderhearted nickname, Bloody Mary, which she earned for burning people who did not follow Catholicism. As we’ve also seen on GoT, horrific burnings in the name of religion is, sadly, totally a thing.
While it’s true that Reign strays from historical facts quite a bit, the sets, costumes, and performances are delightful. Through her marriage, Mary, Queen of Scots (Adelaide Kane), also becomes Queen Consort of France in 1542. But she, and many others, feel that Mary is the rightful Queen of England, not Elizabeth. Two heads, one crown. Spoiler alert for Reign fans who are not history nerds: when you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die… and let’s just say Mary does not become Queen of England.
Helen Mirren has played both of the most famous Queen Elizabeths. In this series, she plays Elizabeth the Great in her later years, which centers on the incredible amount of pressure she was under to marry. Much like the Mother of Dragons, everything seems to depend on when she’s getting hitched. In addition to Mirren, this miniseries boasts an incredible cast, rounded out by Hugh Dancy, Jeremy Irons and Toby Jones.
Madina Papadopoulos is a New York-based freelance writer, author, and regular contributor to Paste. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter.