Guest Essay on Tower of the Hand – Hollow Crowns, Part III


Over on Tower of the Hand, I’ve published the third piece in my series on the Kings of Westeros. In this part, I examine how the monarchy tried and ultimately failed to adapt to a new paradigm in which royal power was no longer backed up by dragons – how Daeron I’s conquests and Baelor’s piety destabilized the monarchy, how Aegon IV screwed up the succession, the impact of the Blackfyre Rebellion, and the rise of a radical new idea that perhaps monarchs should be chosen by a representative body rather than based on birth alone.

Check it out!


16 thoughts on “Guest Essay on Tower of the Hand – Hollow Crowns, Part III

  1. Andrew says:

    Nice essay as always.

    Just a few pointers, I don’t think Aegon IV truly loved Daena, otherwise she would have been the only one he bedded and fathered a bastard on.

    The original rulers of Highgarden was House Gardner whose sigil was a green hand.

    Also Daenerys was the second Targaryen to wed the Dornish, not the third. The third was Rhaegar.

  2. axrendale says:

    Steven, your essays about this series keep getting better the more that you write them. Hats off for the great work!


    Some of the thoughts I had while reading:

    – The Great Council that raised Aegon the Unlikely to the throne, and the possible influence that the precedent it set had on the actions and intentions of Rhaegar Targaryen and the lords of Southron Ambition are definitely a fascinating aspect of the series backstory – and one that makes a brief but notable appearance in the narrative of the War of the Five Kings. During the parlay between Stannis and Renly in ACOK, Catelyn at one point makes an impassioned suggestion that both Baratheon brothers (as well as Robb) should lay aside their crowns in order to unite and defeat the Lannisters, with the expectation that once the war is won, the lords of the realm can convene to hold a new Great Council, that will settle the question of who has the proper claim to the throne. What seems notable to me is that both Stannis and Renly dismiss the suggestion out of hand in a way that indicates neither man has much regard for right of such a council to arbitrate the succession: they respectively hold that Stannis’s status as Robert’s heir by traditional law, and Renly’s superior military force and popularity with the smallfolk are more important factors in determining who has the right to rule (I am guessing that this will be an important part for your next HC&DT essay).

    This sort of attitude in potential claimants to the throne leads to the question of the perspective(s) of the royal family regarding the rising counciliarism that you detail in the essay. My guess is that apart from a few outliers like Rhaegar, for the most part the Westerosi royals have regarded the precedent of the Great Council with a sort of begrudging ambivalence similar to the attitudes of the post-1215 kings of England toward the Runnymede Charter (Magna Carta). Given the circumstances surrounding the succession of Maekar, and the need to avoid another calamity commensurate with the Dance of Dragons, it is probable that even the most die-hard Targaryen absolutists at the time recognized that it was preferable to allow the lords of the realm to meddle in the succession to ensure its success. Afterwards, the fact that the innovations associated with the GC were permitted to stand probably owed more than anything else to the recognition that any attempt to undo them would entail too many hazardous consequences to be worth it (just as kings after John recognized that the Runnymede Charter had become a third rail). The contracting power-base of the Targaryen dynasty was certainly a tremendous spur for the family’s persistent efforts to hatch new dragons from their remaining eggs – something that ironically culminated in the Tragedy of Summerhall, which seems to have done more to damage the hold of the Targaryens over the realm than any event since the Dance of Dragons. It’s actually somewhat surprising that they didn’t face more open opposition after this event – it seems likely that such opposition was averted mainly through the alliance that they formed with the Lannisters after Aerys ascended to the throne (it is almost certainly not a coincidence that the rise of the Southron Ambitions conspiracy seems to parallel the development of the feud between Tywin and Aerys).

    – Regarding your question about why we don’t hear much about the history of mages and magic-workers in this post-conquest history of Westeros, I would say that the answer is fairly simple: the decline and death of the dragons was matched by a general weakening of most forms of magic throughout the region of Westeros (though interestingly not in other parts of the world, if we are to believe certain rumors and stories), leading to the rapid marginalization of magic workers in the Seven Kingdoms (though wargs and skin-changers seem to have retained a lot of their staying power in the lands beyond the Wall). The fate of the Alchemists’ Guild seems to be highly illustrative: once a powerful and respected organization that enjoyed considerable prestige and royal patronage, by the time of the events in the series they have declined considerably – and it is hinted that the Maesters had a hand in purposefully supplanting them (suggesting a broader anti-magic agenda within the Citadel than just involvement in the extinction of the dragons – something that is also backed by Luwin’s stories about how rare the study of magic has become).

    – The strong roots of support for the Blackfyres in the Reach is an important point of relevance for the ongoing narrative, as it is suggested in ADWD that Aegon and the Golden Company are hoping to attract support from the lords of that region (“The strength of Highgarden may not be as great as Mace Tyrell imagines it to be”). Also, it is interesting to note the historical roots of the enmity between the Lannisters and the Reynes of Castamere.


    A question for you – do you know where it is possible to find the Dunk & Egg tales? I have been hoping to read them for some time, but have not been able to locate a source for them.

    • stevenattewell says:

      1. That’s a very good point, and my next essay is all about Stannis vs. Renly. I think the reason both men reject it is, in addition to the points you mention: 1. Joffrey’s on the Iron Throne – which probably means he’d have to be executed for legitimacy’s sake. Which would complicate the fact that you’d need the Westerlands to participate in the election. 2. the Great Council happened at a time when the succession was massively in doubt; both Stannis and Renly know that by law Stannis is the rightful heir (Renly knows that Joffrey’s not Robert’s kid, he just doesn’t care), and the Great Council would find it really difficult to ignore that.

      2. True, although it’s odd that they’re going first for House Martell’s support, who were staunch Targaryen loyalists.

      Re: Dunk and Egg –
      Look on for Warriors 1 [Mass Market Paperback]George R.R. Martin (Editor)
      Legends: Stories By The Masters of Modern Fantasy [Paperback]Robert Silverberg (Editor)
      Legends II: Dragon, Sword, and King [Mass Market Paperback]
      Robert Silverberg (Editor)

      And if you’d go through Race for the Iron Throne’s amazon portal, it would be much appreciated.

      • axrendale says:

        1. Those are good points, but to me this makes Stannis’s rough dismissal of Catelyn’s suggestion all the more puzzling. Since he knows that he has the best claim to the throne, then one would think that he would welcome the chance to make his case for the succession in a forum where he would hold a strong advantage. Renly has obvious reasons to avoid a formal arbitration of his claim by the lords of the realm, but it seems to me that Stannis would have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such a situation. That he spurns this option regardless indicates that he has an attitude towards his right to the throne that is so rigid that he will not even tolerate the indignity of it being discussed, and/or is so insecure after a lifetime of being slighted and cheated by those around him that he wouldn’t trust a Great Council to reach the right decision even if one was convened.

        2. Thanks very much for the tip! I’ll make sure to use that portal. 🙂

        • stevenattewell says:

          Stannis knows that he’s not popular, and that he is the rightful king by right of blood. There’s nothing for the Great Council to adjudicate.

  3. Andrew says:

    The conflict between Daemon and Daeron has some overtones of the conflict between Aenys and his line and Maegor. Aenys and Maegor turn out their mothers’ sons like Daemon and Daeron. With a mother like Daena who liked to hunt and ride, Daemon was the energetic, strong warrior while with a mother like Daenys, who was frail and liked to sit knitting and other sedentary things, Daeron was the bookish scholar.

    Yet like Aenys, it was Daeron’s side that seemed to win. The Targaryens did manage to reach the height of their power without dragons when Dorne was added to the realm. Men who followed Daemon would have had less problem following Baelor. It comes down to what Mance Rayder said: They follow the man.

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s a recurrent theme in the series: Rhaenys vs. Visenya, the Hightowers vs. the Arryns, etc.

      Height…eh. Geographical extent, sure.

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, I would like to once again belatedly congratulate you on producing a fine essay regarding the period of the series back-history which I take the greatest interest in (particularly the sequence of events leading up to, including and following the Blackfyre Rebellion).

    One thought that occurred to me when you mentioned that Daemon probably set up a Capital is that one of the possible candidates for this centre of operations would be Summerhall – admittedly it never was a Great Castle, but it WAS a Royal Palace (moreover one constructed by Daeron II himself: the symbolism of taking this symbol of Daeron’s rule and remaking it as the rebel capitol would make for some excellent propaganda), one at the very least well-suited to acting as the rallying point for an army able to strike into the Stormlands, Dorne or the Crownlands (all loyalist) or interdict forces marching from any of those regions into The Reach.

    Admittedly there are other, probably better candidates (Oldtown for one), but none which I feel suit Daemon’s personality as we know it – Summerhall would represent a good forward base for the army Daemon would muster AND a thumb in the eye for Daeron.

    I doubt Daemon spent much time there though, even if he did make it his Capital.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Summerhall is a good candidate, but it’s pretty far to the east of his main body of support. I still think somewhere in the Reach is more likely.

  5. Abbey Battle says:

    Good point, although given Oldtown kept a foot in both camps and – unless I’m much mistaken – given the senior branch of House Tyrell (like most of the Great Houses most unlikely to favour the claim of a legitimised bastard, no matter how great, to the Iron Throne) would almost certainly not have given Daemon the run of Highgarden, I cannot really work out what the most logical alternative would be.

    Perhaps Brightwater Keep?

    In any case one suspects that this is all rather moot speculation; we know that Daemon wanted to make Kings Landing his capital, I suspect that most of his ‘reign’ was therefore spent on campaign or preparing for the campaign that culminated in the Battle of Redgrass field – so I’d be astonished if the rebel capitol was anything more than a placeholder, somewhere Daemon Blackfyre could raise his standard and assemble his host.

    On another topic it’s interesting to speculate on where Daemon might have minted his coinage – possibly Oldtown – because it raises the interesting question of whether or not The Iron Throne would be required to keep subsidiary mints to cope with demand, given the sheer SIZE of Westeros relative to the European feudal kingdoms on which the sunset kingdom is based.

    • stevenattewell says:

      Brightwater Keep is a good bet. The Tyrells wouldn’t side with Daemon, in part because they owe everything to being Targaryen loyalists and uprooting the succession could call attention to their own weak claim. And if the Tyrells are on one side, the Florents would probably be on the other.

      And Brightwater Keep is pretty close to Oldtown.

  6. Abbey Battle says:

    Good point – I really should have considered that and did not (which rather explains why you’re the Maester and I’m just a nuisance – on the topic of which, I hope you don’t mind my addressing you as ‘Maester Steven’ and if you do then please feel free to tell me so. I might not always be able to take a hint, but I CAN take orders!).

    • stevenattewell says:

      It’s fine. I like Maester Steven, because honestly outside of becoming a maester, I’d be pretty screwed if I found myself in Westeros.

  7. Abbey Battle says:

    As would we all be, I suspect (except GRR Martin, because you just KNOW authors wield Phenomenal Cosmic Power over their creations – or at least that’s what I assume to be the case!).

  8. […] had to look for another foundation or their regime, much as the Targaryens would later do when they lost their dragons. The foundation that Humfrey I hit on was […]

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