Carnival Row Universe, backstory and history

Carnival Row universe, back story and history

The latest TV show on Amazon Prime is Carnival Row, which manages to blur the lines between a period thriller and classic fantasy, with a fascinating universe, backstory and history built around it. While there isn’t any official documentation of this in any significant detail, we’ve managed to piece together everything we can find from the show itself to give you more on the origins of the different races and their place within the world.

It stars Cara Delevingne and Orlando Bloom as the central characters in the story, and they’re back history is interwoven with the universe that has been crafted for the show by the writers René Echevarria and Travis Beacham. We’ll cover both the historical setting and the history between the two characters and the rest of the people introduced as integral parts of the overall plot.

Carnival Row universe historical setting

The majority of the show takes place within the bustle of Carnival Row, a street that acts as a confluence for all the different races of people within the world around it. It’s located in The Burgue, which is the capital city of the Republic of the Burgue, one of the most prominent political powers.

Up until seven years ago, The Burgue had been fighting alongside the fae folk of Tirnanoc against the “iron fist” of The Pact – another empire of man that will stop at nothing to bring the rest of the world under its dominion. However, they retreated leaving the fae to the might and tyranny of The Pact, which overran Tirnanoc, slaughtering everyone in their way.

Many refugees of the war fled too, heading for the supposed protection of The Burgue. Instead they found simmering racial tension and a downtrodden life under the Republic of the Burgue. 

The lands of Tirnanoc had been peaceful and free for millennia, hidden away from the power-hungry empires of man. However, as soon as it was “discovered”, the powerful factions warred to take control of it. It’s a story that takes significant inspiration from our own history where the British, French and Spanish empires spread across the planet, forcibly taking countries and people under their control along the way.

The importance of the lands of the fae is that they are home to the winged faeries, the horned and hooved Pucks and a number of other creatures from our own mythology like the little kobolds. They also harbour magical elements with witches called Haruspex, and it’s this magic that is at the heart of the story, creating the killer threat that Philo is trying to hunt down.

Vignette and Philo’s backstory

Vignette Stonemoss and Rycroft “Philo” Philostrate met in the final year of the war against The Pact. Philo’s group of Burguish soldiers were stationed at a faery mimasery (holy place) where Vignette lived as a guardian for the library. The two went on to fall in love, but the war tore them apart when The Pact continued their destruction across Tirnanoc.

With words of warning from Vignette’s friend Tourmaline about slowing Vignette down and getting her killed by the advancing army, Philo fakes his own death and leaves with his retreating troops back to The Burgue. He goes on to become an inspector of the Burguish police, while she stays in Tirnanoc helping her fellow fae escape the tyranny of The Pact. However, when things get too close for comfort she’s eventually forced to flee to The Burgue too, which is when they’re reunited for the series.

There’s a little more to their backstory, though, but if you haven’t seen the opening series then you might want to come back afterwards to read the rest. There are a lot of mysteries bubbling beneath the surface of the Carnival Row universe and we don’t want to give anything away, so don’t read on if you don’t want to see any spoilers. You can check out Carnival Row on Amazon Prime at

Okay, so that’s the warnings out of the way, and in all fairness it’s a part of Philo’s backstory that comes to light in Episode 3. He’s essentially half fae and had his wings clipped off when he was born. His history is heavily linked to the murders that have besieged the city with his mum, his former headmaster and the coroner that cut off his wings as the main victims.

Later in the series it is confirmed that his father is none other than Chancellor of the Republic of the Burgue, Absalom Breakspear. This link is the reason for the presence of the Dark Asher beast, which Breakspear’s now wife Piety had summoned.

In her bid to safeguard the prophesy that Absamom’s son would go on to be even greater than his father, she sends out the monster to track Philo down. She essentially wants to kill him, ensuring that her own son, who’s father turns out not to be Breakspear, but his political enemy Longerbane, has the best chance of being the beneficiary of the prophecy. She reasons that if there is no rival son then the prophecy will fall to her own, despite his lack of actual lineage. It seems like she’s got a slightly tenuous grasp on the nature of prophecies, but it does make for an enjoyable fantasy thriller to watch.

You can follow the official Carnival Row Twitter page at to see more about the universe behind the show and you can check the theme song, trailer and music at