Is House of the Dragon Based on a True Story or a Book?

Image Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

Created by Ryan J. Condal and George R. R. Martin, ‘House of the Dragon is an HBO fantasy action series. Set in the continent of Westeros, the story revolves around the conflict between the two factions of the ruling Targaryen dynasty. The series begins during the reign of Viserys I Targaryen (Paddy Considine). After his wife’s death during childbirth and with none of his male children surviving infancy, Viserys names his daughter Rhaenyra (Emma D’Arcy as the adult and Milly Alcock as the young) as his heir, putting her ahead of his brother Daemon (Matt Smith) in the line of succession. However, Viserys subsequently remarries, and he and his second wife, Alicent Hightower (Olivia Cooke as the adult and Emily Carey as the young), proceed to have four children together, three sons and one daughter. After Viserys’ death, a Targaryen civil war breaks out with Rhaenyra on one side and Viserys’ children with Alicent on the other.

If the political intrigue and unflinching depiction of war and violence in ‘House of the Dragon’ have made you wonder whether it is inspired by historical events, we got you covered.

Is House of the Dragon Inspired by a True Story or a Book?

‘House of the Dragon’ is based on certain sections of Martin’s 2018 book ‘Fire & Blood,’ which serves as a prequel to Martin’s ongoing epic fantasy series, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire,’ on which HBO’s immensely popular television series ‘Game of Thrones‘ is based. So, ‘House of the Dragon’ is effectively a prequel to ‘Game of Thrones.’ With the presence of dragons, magic, and other supernatural elements, the sprawling ‘Game of Thrones’ universe is obviously not based on a true story.

However, when Martin developed various elements of the story, he drew from real history. For instance, ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ is loosely inspired by the Wars of the Roses, the 15th-century civil war fought to ascertain the next ruler of England between House Lancaster and House York, both of which are cadet branches of royal House of Plantagenet. The Targaryen civil war depicted in ‘House of the Dragon’ would be known in history as the “dance of the dragons,” and more ominously, “the dying of the dragons.” Martin revealed at the 2022 San Diego Comic-Con that he drew some inspiration from a period in English history known as the Anarchy.

“My books are fantasies, obviously, but I do follow history a lot,” Martin stated. “I get inspirations from history. And then I take elements from history, and I turn up to eleven, or obligatory ‘Spinal Tap’ reference, or to 111.” The Anarchy is yet another English civil war, though this one encompassed Normandy as well. This particular war of succession was fought between Empress Matilda, the daughter of King Henry I, and Stephen of Blois, Henry’s nephew, between 1138 and 1153. It derives its name from the complete undoing of law and order that happened during this period.

Asked by an audience member about why the world of ‘Game of Thrones‘ seems anti-queen, Martin briefly spoke about the connection between ‘Game of Thrones’ and the Wars of the Roses before explaining how the Anarchy influenced ‘House of the Dragon’ in detail.

“This show [House of the Dragon] was based on an earlier period in history called The Anarchy when Henry I, then the King of England, when his only legitimate son drowned while trying to cross the English Channel, he was left with only one legitimate heir, his daughter Matilda,” said the co-creator. “He named her his heir, made all the Lords of the kingdom swear their fealty to her, and then some years later he died, and most of the Lords in the kingdom forgot about that. Here comes her cousin Stephen who crosses the Channel, steals the Treasury, and gets himself crowned king, and you entered a period called The Anarchy where Matilda, or Maude as she was known, and cousin Stephen fought for two decades. It was horrible and bloody.”

Martin continued, “That was the inspiration there; I don’t think Westeros is particularly more anti-woman or more misogynistic than real life and what we call history.”

Unlike the books in ‘The Song of Ice and Fire’ series, ‘Fire & Blood’ is more descriptive than narrative. Martin wrote it like an in-world history book from the perspective of Archmaester Gyldayn of the Citadel of Oldtown. In the ‘Game of Thrones’ universe, Archmaester Gyldayn wrote the unfinished history book, ‘Fire & Blood, Being a History of the Targaryen Kings of Westeros.’ The first volume of it covers the years from Aegon I’s conquest to the regency of Aegon III. Semi-canon sources state that Archmaester Gyldayn lives during the reign of Robert I Baratheon. This was previously not so, but Martin retconned it as he wanted to cover the rest of the Targaryen dynasty in volume 2.

Image Credit: Ollie Upton / HBO

In his book, Archmaester Gyldayn draws from four major sources when he writes about the dance of the dragons: the accounts of Grand Maester Orwyle, Grand Maester Munkun, Septon Eustace, and court jester Mushroom. Grand Maester Orwyle served King Aegon II Targaryen (the eldest son of Viserys I and Alicent Hightower) and was later imprisoned by the people loyal to Queen Rhaenyra. He wrote his accounts while he was imprisoned in the black cells. Grand Maester Munkun heavily drew from Orwyle’s work while writing his ‘The Dance of the Dragons, A True Telling.’ Septon Eustace wrote a sober and somewhat ponderous history in his ‘The Reign of King Viserys, First of His Name, and the Dance of the Dragons That Came After,’ though it is biased toward Aegon II over Rhaenyra.

Mushroom, who was a little person, performed for amusements of Viserys, Rhaenyra, Aegon II, and Aegon III. His testimony (recorded by an unknown scribe) is filled with “little but ribald tales and gossip, piling stabbings, betrayals, seductions, and debaucheries one atop the other.” So, while Martin drew from real history to write his book, ‘House of the Dragon’ is ultimately not a true story.

Read More: Where is House of the Dragon Filmed?