The Peaceweavers of Winterfell
The queens in Beowulf, the anonymous medieval Anglo-Saxon poem, and in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novel series are frequently thrust into the role of “peaceweaver,” noblewomen who secure peace between rival peoples through inter-marriage and children. When the Danish king Hrothgar wishes to adopt the foreign warrior Beowulf as his heir following Beowulf’s defeat of the monster Grendel, Hrothgar’s queen, Wealhtheow, averts the disinheriting of her own young sons with eloquent counsel and generous gift-giving. Yet the boys are eventually overthrown by their scheming cousin. Wealhtheow’s daughter Freawaru and the legendary Hildeburh, both peaceweaver brides, fail to stop the inter-tribal violence their marriages were fashioned to avert. Similar tragedies can be found in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, as peaceweaving queens frequently fall victim to “the game of thrones.” Catelyn Tully, who was given in a marriage alliance to the influential Starks of Winterfell, deflects a perceived rival for her sons’ inheritance when she persuades her husband to send his (presumed) bastard son, Jon Snow, away to the Night’s Watch. Yet Catelyn and her son Robb are overthrown when he breaks a marriage alliance she negotiated with another powerful family. The gentle Sansa Stark is also given in marriage to shore up alliances between rival families, yet this, too, fails to weave the peace in a world dominated by conquest and aggression. Arya Stark and Grendel’s mother employ revenge to settle their inter-tribal conflicts, but the “strife-weavers” are no more successful than the peaceweavers at ending violence. In Beowulf, King Offa’s wife, Thryth, is accounted the only successful peaceweaver, yet she also has men killed when necessary. Can Thryth’s strategy bring peace to Westeros and win the game of thrones? Examining the successes and failures of various peaceweaving strategies in Martin’s series through the lens of the medieval Beowulf illustrates the ephemeral power of female authority in societies dominated by men and war.
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