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The Real Story Behind Game of Thrones' 'Red Wedding'

18th Apr 2019
The Real Story Behind Game of Thrones' 'Red Wedding'

The final season of Game of Thrones has started and we thought we would celebrate by telling the true historical tale of one of the show’s most memorable scenes – The Red Wedding.  Viewers might remember the awful event that screened 5 years ago where Robb Stark met his end along with his mother and the majority of their supporters at a feast in honour of a marriage to House Frey.  The same tragic end met a real Scottish nobleman with the real event better known as the 'Black Dinner' and took place at Edinburgh Castle on November 22nd, 1440.

One of the problems facing historians of mediaeval Scottish history is that between the years 1329 and 1625, of the ten people who became the monarch, nine kings and one queen, eight of them came to the throne under the age of fourteen.  For example; Mary Queen of Scots was only 1 week old, her father James V was 1 year old, her son James VI was also 1 year old. The age of personal rule was officially 18. This meant that the country had to be ruled by ministers on the monarch’s behalf.

In 1440, the King was James II who was nine years of age. Governing Scotland on his behalf were Sir William Crichton and Sir Alexander Livingstone. Crichton was one of the most ruthless politicians in Scottish history. His great political enemy was the Earl of Douglas and so Crichton decided that he was going to deal with the Earl once and for all. He invited the Earl to Edinburgh Castle informing Douglas that they could easily settle their differences, they would treat him to a lavish banquet and of course he would meet the King. To reassure the Earl he would also issue him with a safe conduct.

On the 22nd November 1440 therefore the Earl and his younger brother came to the Castle and after an opening meeting went into the banqueting hall in David’s Tower. Halfway through the meeting the servant’s came into the hall carrying a large silver salver on which was a black bull’s head. In old Scots folklore this was a sign of certain and imminent death. At this point the soldiers broke in, dragged the Earl and his brother out into the courtyard (approximately under what is now the arch in Crown Square) and hacked off their heads. The safe conduct didn’t provide much safety!

Sound familiar? You'll remember in Season 3 that the massacre happened during the War of the Five Kings and was arranged by Lord Walder Frey as revenge against Robb Stark for breaking the marriage pact between House Stark and House Frey. We can see some definite similarities between the Black Dinner and the Red Wedding:
Firstly, William Douglas and Robb Stark (at least in the books) were both 16 years old. 
Secondly, both massacres had omens. A bull's head was dropped onto the table at the Black Dinner while the Lannister song Rains of Castamere plays. 
Lastly, the Douglasses were beheaded with the bull's head presented beforehand whereas once Robb Stark was beheaded it was replaced with that of his wolf.

If you want to visit the real location for this, you can in Edinburgh Castle! If you join us for our Secrets of the Royal Mile walking tour you can hear all about the true stories of Scotland’s capital and discover characters such as Mary Queen of Scots, Adam Smith and David Hume.
You can then skip the entrance line into Edinburgh Castle and discover the location of the Black Dinner for yourself!

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