Truth or Fiction?

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Fray Bentos is one of the most important port cities in Uruguay.  The name is a Spanish version of “Friar Benedict” a local mendicant who lived in the area.  In the 19th Century Uruguay was the Beef Capital of the world.  Beef exporting made Uruguay a boom economy.  Fray Bentos was perfectly positioned to capitalise on its position as a harbour on the Rio Negro, and the good times rolled.

In the mid 19th Century  a German Chemist named Justus von Liebig perfected a process for extracting flavour from meat.  He invented the OXO cube.  His company opened a plant in Fray Bentos to make the meat extract product.  Over the years they expanded into tinned corned beef under the Fray Bentos brand.

When the British Army included Fray Bentos tinned meats in their ration packs in the Boer Wars and subsequently in WW1 the brand became a household name.  The company flourished during WW2.  After that war they moved upmarket and released the round tinned oven ready puff pastry pies in the photo above.  As a child I remember cooking one of these in a clay oven on a boyscout camp in County Wicklow.

In the 1960s the brand was damaged by an outbreak of typhoid in Aberdeen which was traced back to the Rio Negro.  The company was cooling their tinned meats in river water contaminated by excrement.  Since then the brand has gone largely downhill.  It is associated with working class diets, red meat and saturated fats.  The products have traded between food companies ever since.

Then Game of Thrones arrived on the scene.  G.R.R. Martin is a fan of history and I suspect he has delved into ancient greek history and myths.  There are many myths in the Greek Pantheon of parents eating children, but my favourite comes from Herodotus.  It is related as true history.

King Astyages of the Medes had a dream about his daughter, Mandané, where a flood of water flowed from her that drowned his capital. He feared her child, Cyrus, would overthrow him. So he sent his general Harpagus to slay the child.

Harpagus gave the baby to a shepherd, Mitradates, replacing the child with the stillborn corpse taken from the shepherds wife, which he showed to the King.

Astyagus found out many years later that Cyrus was alive. The King invited Harpagus to a banquet. At the conclusion of the feast Harpagus was asked if he had enjoyed his meal. Astyagus then asked that Harpagus be shown the head and feet of the beast he had eaten, a tradition of the country for truly excellent food. When the basket was brought Harpagus saw that he had eaten his own son.

Fast forward to Game of Thrones and Arya Stark’s revenge on Walder Frey for his actions at the red wedding.  It was one thing for Frey to kill his enemies, but a far worse crime to breach the laws of hospitality by killing them under his roof as they ate his food.

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Pie of Frey must be a breach of the Fray Bentos brandname.  The pie of the TV series itself is very similar to that served to the hapless Harpagus.  Inside the pie crust Walder Frey finds the digits of his missing sons.  You may need to use the pause button on the TV to capture the moment.

Truly there is nothing new under the sun!

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Nyköping Banquet

Walder Frey

Walder Frey from Game of Thrones

That which has been is what will be,
That which is done is what will be done,
And there is nothing new under the sun.

These prophetic words appear in the Bible:  Ecclesiastes 1:9

I am always amused by fans of Cinema and TV who are astounded by shocking and horrific events, especially those who wonder what kind of sick minds the writers must possess to think up such cruelty.

In truth they are probably just good students of history.  While not as immediately bloody, the events of the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones remind me of the events in Sweden called the Håtuna games and their dreadful conclusion, the Nyköping Banquet.

I don’t want to give you a detailed lesson in the History of Sweden in the 13th and 14th Centuries.  You can check out the details yourselves with the aid of some online searching.

Suffice to say that King Birger of Sweden was imprisoned in Nyköping dungeon for two years by his brothers the Dukes Valdemar and Eric who visited on their way back from a wedding in 1306 AD.  This coup d’etat was called the Håtuna games.

Birger was reinstated due to intervention from the Kings of Norway and Denmark.  He held a banquet for Christmas 1317 AD on the night of the 10th of December.  There was not enough room in the castle for all the Dukes’ retinues so they were lodged outside the castle in the nearby town.  Fans of the Game of Thrones “Red Wedding” are now putting the pieces together.

That night the Dukes were woken up after their drunken revelry by squads of Crossbow men and were escorted to the dungeon.  Birger is said to have thrown the key of the dungeon into the river (and such a key was found in the river many years later).  He starved his two brothers to death.

Breaking the laws of hospitality appears to reap divine vengance.  Fans of Game of Thrones know what happened Walder Frey.  King Birger did not meet so dramatic an end but his actions led to a rebellion that deposed him.  He had to flee Sweden and died in exile in Denmark.

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Frey crossbow-men disguised as musicians.