Defamed by History: The Isabella and Cersei Connection

In my previous blog, I quickly explained the aspects of Isabella of France’s life that were sensationalized by her contemporaries and historians and could have led to those around her mischaracterizing her motives and actions. But as the apparent inspiration behind Cersei Lannister, one of the most disagreeable characters I’ve ever seen on television, I had to reevaluate.

Isabella of France, known as the She-wolf by many historians is always described as a manipulative, conniving, ruthless killer. Nothing stands in her way and no one is safe – at least according to the hundreds of male historians throughout the centuries.

However, women were often cast aside as nothing more than decoration and men have spent a lot of time and energy to keep women uneducated and out of power. More men did their best to erase all records of women in power and to ignore their contributions or give credit to the men around them. If the victors write history, then women who failed, are the losers historians love to hate.

Historians, like news outlets today, were swayed by who paid their bills, laws in the countries they were writing in, and generally were sexist, bigoted, racist human beings. The way they wrote about women can never be trusted and therefore the old narratives about women must be rethought.

Isabella of France, by all accounts was intelligent, charismatic, and bold. She spoke her mind, followed through with her plans, and was able to convince people to follow her. I am sure she scared the living heck out of a lot of men in her day and I am even more sure a lot of men said very nasty things about her – some of which are still pervasive today.

Her arranged marriage to King Edward II was not a love match. Edward, may or may not have been a homosexual and this matters only because he spent so much time with his favorites, first Piers Gaveston and then Hugh Despenser. By all accounts he mistreated his wife and at best ignored her. The marriage was successful in that they produced children and heirs but not relationship existed between them. Edward forced his wife to submit a lot of the power she should have had as queen to his favorites. His last favorite, Hugh Despenser, had bewitched him so much that Edward demanded she pledge her allegiance to him.

When she refused to pledge her allegiance to Despenser, Edward seized all of her property and money and would not allow her access to the children. We will never know the long-term plans Edward or the Despenser family had for Isabella’s property or children but it isn’t a stretch to say they were positioning themselves to usurp the throne. Isabella, an intelligent human being and probably cool under pressure, a trait she may have inherited from her father (Philip IV was renowned for not showing emotion. Ever.) realized what was happening and put wheels in motion to stop it.

Her actions were not done out of wickedness or were part of some grand plan – she was trying to protect her children and their legacy. One could even argue that she was trying to save England from generations of war over the inheritance of the throne.

The Cersei Lannister Connection

(I am referencing the HBO series only. I have not read the books yet.)

First, I want to like Cersei Lannister. She has had moments where I think, “She isn’t so bad,” which are always followed by something that makes me think, “Yes she is that bad.” Nevertheless, I’ve always been a sort of silent cheerleader for her. Desperate for her to change her ways, I was thrilled when my husband shared his (and probably a lot of other people’s) theories about Cersei Lannister.

This is not a theory about whether or not she lives or dies because any Game of Thrones fan can tell you it is almost impossible to predict that. But rather, this theory hinges on another characters survival.

Samwell Tarly.

Samwell Tarly needs to live for this theory to work. (Sure, it could in theory work for any number of unnamed and unknown characters but that isn’t fun or interesting. This is a work of fiction we are discussing here.)

My theory is that Samwell Tarly will live in the end and that he is the voice of George R.R. Martin and he is the narrator, if you will, of Game of Thrones. In other words, we are seeing the history of Westeros through the eyes of an aligned Stark supporter. As of the last episode he is clearly a Targaryen supporter as well.

How would historians aligned with the Starks or the Targaryen’s portray Cersei Lannister? What if her entire existence is fictionalized and dramatized and we are now mixing opinion/viewpoint with factual history?

What narrative would Sam create to explain Cersei and the actions around her? She loved her brother, had his children, and passed them off as the heirs of the throne. She hated her other brother Tyrion. But what if that was it? What if Cersei was simply the surviving member of the losing side? Historians like Samwell would need to explain how Cersei went from queen consort of Robert Baratheon to queen regent.

If Cersei loses the entire game of thrones, historians will be quite nasty about her regardless of the truth. Maybe she didn’t actually have her husband killed but reveled in his death. Many queens hated their husbands and did not mourn their untimely deaths.

It was no secret that she didn’t like Margaery Tyrell but what if Cersei was only framed as the mastermind of Margaery’s troubles and it was in fact someone else who wanted Margaery dead? Remember, I am not suggesting that what we have seen on the show is a lie but rather the entire story was sensationalized or even fictionalized by Samwell Tarly as he wrote the histories of Westeros.

Only time will tell. Enjoy the final season.


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