At long, long last, the final part of Politics of the Westerlands!
The Once and Future Hand
While Tywin son of Tytos became the first Lannister Hand since Tywald largely due to a combination of the old boy network – “Aerys and Tywin had known each other since childhood…he and Prince Aerys …had become inseparable” – and Aerys’ desire to distinguish his court from his father’s by appointing “lords of his own generation” as opposed to the “older, seasoned men” whose caution might get in the way of his “wish to be the greatest king in the history of the Seven Kingdoms,” the plan worked out better than one might have imagined. For a good many years, the “unlikely partnership” of Aerys II and Tywin Lannister worked, as the king’s fickle embrace of “grand schemes” was counter-balanced by his Hand’s steadiness:
“And yet the Seven Kingdoms prospered greatly during the first decade of his reign, for the King’s Hand was all that the king himself was not—diligent, decisive, tireless, fiercely intelligent, just, and stern. “The gods made and shaped this man to rule,” Grand Maester Pycelle wrote of Tywin Lannister in a letter to the Citadel after serving with him on the small council for two years. And rule he did. As the king’s own behavior grew increasingly erratic, more and more the day-today running of the realm fell to his Hand. The realm prospered under Tywin Lannister’s stewardship – so much so that King Aerys’s endless caprices did not seem so portentous. Many Targaryens before him had exhibited similar behavior without great cause for concern. From Oldtown to the Wall, men began to say that Aerys might wear the crown, but it was Tywin Lannister who ruled the realm.” (WOIAF)
I have discussed Tywin’s policies as Hand in some detail here and here, so in this essay I’ll focus instead on how this period shaped House Lannister’s position in national politics. Tywin’s chief strength was as an administrator and his control over the “day-to-day running of the realm,” and it’s notable that when Tywin’s coalition is mentioned in WOIAF, it’s always in the context of delivering policy outcomes:
“Tywin won the approbation of many great lords by repealing what remained of the laws Aegon V had enacted to curb their powers. Tywin reduced tariffs and taxes on shipping going in and out of the cities of King’s Landing, Lannisport, and Oldtown, winning the support of many wealthy merchants.” (WOIAF)
By contrast, Tywin was not a particularly charismatic politician, “little loved,” with “none could truly be named his friends.” A Freudian psychologist might point to Tywin’s complicated mix of shame and disdain towards his father as the reason why he was so unwilling to be sociable, but it meant that his political coalition remained a narrow one, largely composed of his own family members and bannermen who he sought to prefer. (Notably, when Aerys broke with Tywin, “many westermen found themselves dismissed.”) Here, Tywin broke with his family’s traditional practice of dynastic alliances, and wouldn’t reach out to any other Great House until 281, when he sought to make a marriage alliance with House Tully (and perhaps through them with the Southron Ambitions coalition). As Thomas Cromwell might have told him, it’s no easy thing to say “I am a man whose only friend is the King.”
Indeed, while WOIAF remains rather vague about who exactly they were, Tywin picked up “rivals” from very early on, who “charged that he was humorless, unforgiving, unbending, proud, and cruel.” No doubt some of these were Aerys’ sycophantic followers like Lord Owen Merryweather, Lord Qarlton Chelsted, Lord Lucerys Velaryon, and Lord Symond Staunton, given Tywin’s somewhat monopolistic approach to doling out offices and privileges, it’s likely that no small number of lords from outside the Westerlands were motivated by a desire to gain access to royal favor and honors.
This unstable status quo nonetheless seems to have lasted from 262 to 268 AC, when it reached its logical limit when Tywin took up the mantle of Lord of Casterly Rock, and
“King Aerys decided to accompany him…he took their eight-year-old son Rhaegar, Prince of Dragonstone, and more than half the court. For the better part of the next year, the Seven Kingdoms were ruled from Lannisport and Casterly Rock, where both the king and his Hand were in residence.” (WOIAF)
Unfortunately, we don’t really know what transpired in this half year to break the relationship between Tywin and Aerys (it would be dramatically neat if this is when Tywin broached the idea of a marriage pact, but that wouldn’t happen until 276 AC), but nevertheless something happened to set the two in political opposition – and what’s fascinating is how little the opposition had to do with actual policy as opposed to personality, as Aerys sought to put his “overmighty servant…back in his place.”
When we look at their arguments over the “trade war between the Free Cities of Myr and Tyrosh on the one hand and Volantis,” or the “border dispute between House Blackwood and House Bracken in favor of the Blackwoods,” and especially on the issue of the port fees, it’s pretty clear that Aerys didn’t really care about the underlying policy issues and took the opposite position than Tywin out of spite and indeed, was happy to conspicuously reverse himself if so doing would lead to “much acclaim for himself…leaving Tywin Lannister the opprobrium.” Indeed, the only bit of consistent conflict in this whole mess was the “matter of appointments,” where Aerys was clearly intent on replacing Tywin’s men with “his own favorites” – which inadvertently ended up saving Viserys and Daenerys’ lives when Ser Willem Darry was named as master-at-arms over Ser Tygett Lannister.
The period between 270 AC and 277 AC were a confused bureaucratic war between the Hand’s faction and the King’s where each side sidled crabwise in the direction of a permanent break without being willing to fully step over the line. Thus, Tywin would host a tourney in honor of the 10th anniversary of Viserys’ reign in a conciliatory step, only for Aerys to publicly humiliate his wife, leading Tywin to resign, only to be refused out of some strange co-dependent impulse; thus, Illyn Payne would be mutilated on the King’s orders as a display that Tywin could not protect his own. And yet Tywin stuck it out, hoping somehow that his dreams of a dynastic union could be achieved:
“Later that same year, Lord Tywin Lannister, perhaps unwisely, held a great tournament at Lannisport in honor of Viserys’s birth. Mayhaps it was meant to be a gesture toward reconciliation. There the wealth and power of House Lannister was displayed for all the realm to see. King Aerys at first refused to attend, then relented, but the queen and her new son were kept under confinement back at King’s Landing.”
“There, seated on his throne amongst hundreds of notables in the shadow of Casterly Rock, the king cheered lustily as his son Prince Rhaegar, newly knighted, unhorsed both Tygett and Gerion Lannister, and even overcame the gallant Ser Barristan Selmy, before falling in the champion’s tilt to the renowned Kingsguard knight Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.”
“Perhaps seeking to gain advantage of His Grace’s high spirits, Lord Tywin chose that very night to suggest that it was past time the king’s heir wed and produced an heir of his own; he proposed his own daughter, Cersei, as wife for the crown prince. Aerys II rejected this proposal brusquely, informing Lord Tywin that he was a good and valuable servant, yet a servant nonetheless.” (WOIAF)
I don’t think it’s an accident that the Defiance of Duskendale happened the very next year; while the subtle and symbolic politics of Aerys’ whispering campaign against his own Hand were not in Tywin’s wheelhouse, the Defiance – focused as it was on issues of economic policy and rebellious vassals – was absolutely the kind of crisis Tywin understood the uses of. Hence my theory that Tywin probably led on Lord Darklyn and used reverse psychology on Aerys in order to set up a situation where he could take up an unimpeachable position of demanding “the complete and unconditional surrender of the town and castle and the release of the king,” and then threatening to “take the town by storm and put every man, woman, and child within to the sword,” while putting the onus on Lord Darklyn to kill King Aerys and put the very much unmarried Prince Rhaegar on the Iron Throne.
The remainder of Tywin’s term as Hand was nto a political partnership as much as an armed truce – with Aerys attempting to replace Tywin with Steffon Baratheon, seeing assassination plots in the wake of Steffon’s untimely death, and refusing to meet with Tywin “save in the presence of all seven Kingsguard.” And while Aerys’ clear signs of paranoia – at one point, Aerys believed that all of Westeros, “the smallfolk and lords” both “ were plotting against his life” – suggest much of the rumors swirling around this period are incorrect, the fact that Tywin did in fact betray Aerys and murder much of his family (or that he reached out to Hoster Tully of the Sothron Ambitions conspiracy a year before his resignation) suggests that Aerys might have been akin to one of those Marxist economists who predict ten out of the last two crises.
Robert’s Rebellion changed the relation between the Westerlands and the Iron Throne in violent and unpredictable ways – Tywin masterminded the destruction of much of House Targaryen and was rewarded for his change of loyalties with the supposed fulfillment of one of his life goals through the marriage of Cersei to the new King so that Robert’s heir would be at least half Lannister. And at least on the surface, Robert’s reign seemed to be an interesting blend of the new and old regimes, with Cersei taking the lead on securing as much royal patronage as possible for House Lannister (although their penetration of royal power was never as thorough as Eddard Stark believed) as quid pro quo for the Lannisters continuing to act as the Iron Throne’s bankers. At the same time, there was something of a continuation of some of Tywin’s old weaknesses, with the Lannisters making few friends or allies in the broader royal coalition – Renly and Stannis forming something of a Baratheon counterweight to Lannister influence (although never a united one), and Jon Arryn representing a third mediating force, and the Tullys and Starks keeping their distance.
As a result, the Lannister toehold on royal power would continue to be quite tenuous leading into the War of Five Kings…
When trying to understand the internal political dynamics of the Westerlands, one of the difficulties one encounters is that it is highly unlikely to be the case that the Rains of Castamere was the only instance of a civil war or a vassal challenging the preeminence of the Lannisters in the history of the Westerlands. For one thing, as we’ve seen in previous installments of this series, there’s no way that any house could have conquered a kingdom as large and prosperous as the Westerlands without creating some grievances and rivalries. For another, the way that not just the Lannisters and Reynes but the entirety of the nobility of the West responded to the crisis suggests an aristocracy responding to a crisis of authority by reverting to older behaviors, rather than a society grappling with unprecedented chaos.
After all, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan and its premise that peace and order can only be achieved under an absolute monarchy to which all are bound in submission cannot be understood without reference to the violence of the English Civil War and its surrounding conflicts (which killed roughly 3.8% of the population of England, 6% of the population of Scotland, and a staggering 41% of the population of Ireland), and the political conflicts between Parliament and the monarchy that lasted arguably from 1628 to 1688. For Tywin’s unprecedented brutality to be accepted and even lauded in some circles, therefore, we would have had to see much more (and a much longer period of) violence and disorder.
Indeed, the fact that the same two Houses – the Tarbecks of Tarbeck Hall and the Reynes of Castemere – were involved in both the 261 conflict and sided with the Blackfyres in the First Rebellion suggest a longer struggle for influence and authority that date back to more ancient struggles for power between the central authority of the Rock and its wealthier and more powerful vassals. Thus, I would argue that rather than the Rains being seen as an aberration, I think instead we have to see it as an example of how internal conflict in the Westerlands took place in earlier eras.
As I suggested in the Historical Development section, the dynastic alliances arranged by Gerold the Golden suggest an attempt to squash this struggle (and consolidate Housel Lannister’s position after a humiliating defeat) by merging the power of House Lannister with their closest rivals the Reynes. In one stroke, such an alliance would transform the Reynes from ambitious challengers to the most fervent supporters of the Rock, while strengthening the Lannister power bloc with additional riches (if my theory about Reyne gold financing the Blackfyre war effort is correct and manpower (if we take the figure that the Reyne coalition could muster some 8,000 men).
And after re-reading the discussion of the Rains of Castamere in both ASOIAF, the WOIAF, and the extended Westerlands section, I get a strong impression of a political coalition that didn’t quite coalesce, and the Rains of Castermere takes on an even stronger tragic implication because of the sheer waste of capable (often brilliant) people in the fighting. Consider the case of Ellyn Reyne. While her portrayal in the text is quite negative in a stereotypical way, if we look beneath the surface of sources written in the wake of the Rains, we see a “strong-willed and hot-tempered” woman of extraordinary ability who brought her gifts to bear to the benefit of Casterly Rock:
“As her good-father retreated to his books and his bedchamber, Lady Ellyn held a splendid court, staging a series of magnificent tourneys and balls and filling the Rock with artists, mummers, musicians … and Reynes. Her brothers Roger and Reynard were ever at her side, and offices, honors, and lands were showered upon them, and upon her uncles, cousins, and nephews and nieces as well. Lord Gerold’s aged fool, an acerbic hunchback called Lord Toad, was heard to say, “Lady Ellyn must surely be a sorceress, for she has made it rain inside the Rock all year.”
“Lady Ellyn remained, but her influence dwindled to nothing. No longer was she allowed access to the Lannister gold, nor called to council, nor included in decisions and deliberations, and though Lord Gerold permitted her to attend when he held court, she was not allowed to speak. Knights no longer begged tokens of her favor at tourneys, jewelers and dressmakers no longer lavished her with gifts in hopes of her patronage, petitioners no longer came to ask her to intercede for them before the court. And the singers who had once vied with one another to praise her face and form….” (WOIAF)
In these sources, these acts as depicted as signs of ambitious overreach, the flaws of a tragic villain whose never-ending desire for power undid her. But examined from a distance, we can see Ellyn Reyne as someone who deftly deployed the soft power (in the form of court entertainments, and patronage of the arts) normally allowed to noblewomen, but who was also able to exercise an extraordinary degree of hard power normally reserved for men: access to independent financial power, a regular position in council involved in all “decisions and deliberations,” a speaking role in court acting as a sort of public advocate, and even some form of military power in the form of the knights seeking her favor. Now, according to the sources, this departure from the patriarchial norm was because “Tion his heir loved his lady with a passion and refused her naught,” suggesting that Tion suffered from an excess of uxoriousness, a corruption born of womanly wiles (shades of the Lace Serpent, there). But perhaps Tion Lannister was simply being a good feminist ally, recognizing his wife’s evident abilities.
Ellyn Reyne’s abilities were matched by much of her kinfolk. Her older brother, “Roger Reyne, the Red Lion, was widely feared for his skill at arms; many considered him the deadliest sword in the Westerlands;” and would gain much renown during the War of Ninepenny Kings when “Ser Roger Reyne seized command of the remaining westermen and led them to several notable victories. By the war’s end, the Red Lion was counted amongst the heroes of the fighting.” Her younger brother “Ser Reynard, was as charming and cunning as Ser Roger was swift and strong.” (WOIAF) While her preferment of her relatives is seen post-facto as the grasping of an “overmighty vassal” that would later lead to chaos, looked at from another angle it’s simply the same kind of dynastic politics that House Lannister has practiced since the beginning of the Targaryen monarchy. And in the normal course of events, the preferment of the Reynes should have gone hand-in-hand with the harnessing of Ellyn and her “family business” to the support of Tion Lannister and a Lannister/Reyne heir.
In the interests of fairness, however, it does have to be noted that the enormous abilities of the Reynes were not necessarily matched by much in the way of compassion or restraint. When his father “Lord Robert Reyne” died during the storming of Starpike, “Roger Reyne (the Red Lion), his eldest son and heir, took a bloody vengeance after the battle, slaying seven captive Peakes before Prince Aegon arrived to halt the slaughter,” emblematic of Roger’s tendency to engage in acts of military valor and rash violence. Likewise, Ellyn Reyne was notably “proud and quick to anger,” to the point where she “commanded that Lord Toad be whipped” when the dwarf jester made fun of her, breaching the normal custom that “it is a fool’s privilege to make mock of the mighty, even lords and princes.” (WOIAF) (Incidentally, I’m really curious as to what Tywin’s relationship with Lord Toad was like, given Toad’s strong Marbrand and Lannister loyalties, Tywin’s bigotry towards the disabled, and his fear of laughter.)
On the other hand, given everything that would happen in the Rains of Castamere and afterwards, I’m not sure that a reckless tendency to violence and extreme touchiness is a good basis for a contrast between the Reynes and the Lannisters. Perhaps the intensity of the conflict between the red lion and the gold was driven not so much by their differences, but their similarities…
Regardless of what one thinks of the Reynes personally – and I’m definitely of the opinion that the story about Tion marrying Ellyn because “his brother had pleaded with him to “take care of Lady Ellyn” with his last words” and Gerold “opposed this match” but gave way out of grief is too presentist to be contemporary (after all, if Gerold was opposed to his heir marrying Ellyn Reyne, why did he make the betrothal with Tywald in the first place?) – it’s important to understand that the failure of this dynastic alliance to cohere was entirely an accident of history. As discussed in the Historical Development section above, the arrangement was first disturbed by Tywald’s death during the Peake Uprising, and second by Tion’s death during the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion:
“The “Reign of the Reynes” was at an end, Lord Toad the hunchback declared, rejoicing. Lady Ellyn made one final attempt to cling to her place, declaring that she was with child by Ser Tion, but when the moons turned and her belly failed to swell, she was seen to be a liar. Lord Toad, it is said, was merciless in his mockery, to the fury of the Red Lion, who soon departed Casterly Rock for Castamere, accompanied by his brother and many of the other Reynes. Lady Ellyn’s brothers soon departed Casterly Rock for Castamere, accompanied by many of the other Reynes.
Lady Ellyn remained, but her influence dwindled to nothing…the singers who had once vied with one another to praise her face and form now sang of Lord Tytos’s young wife Jeyne instead, for that solemn, shy, plain-faced child had blossomed into a great beauty.”
“…while that of Lady Jeyne grew. Soon, the rivalry between Ser Tion’s widow and Tytos’s wife became truly ugly, if the rumors set down by Maester Beldon can be believed. Beldon tells us that in 239 AC, Ellyn Reyne was accused of bedding Tytos Lannister, urging him to set aside his wife and marry her instead. However, young Tytos (then nineteen) found his brother’s widow so intimidating that he was unable to perform. Humiliated, he ran back to his wife to confess and beg her forgiveness.”
“Lady Jeyne was willing to pardon her young husband his fumbled infidelity but was less forgiving of her good-sister, and did not hesitate to inform Lord Gerold of the incident. Furious, his lordship resolved to rid Casterly Rock of Ellyn Reyne for good and all by finding her a new husband. Ravens flew, and a hasty match was made. Within the fortnight, Ellyn Reyne was wed to Walderan Tarbeck, Lord of Tarbeck Hall, the florid fifty-five-year-old widowed lord of an ancient, honorable, but impoverished house.” (WOIAF)
Similarly to Anne Boleyn, Ellyn Reyne’s ambitions were stymied by her inability to conceive a male Lannister heir who could have permanently cemented her position as the Lady of the Rock, although as we will see with the “War of the Wombs,” this time there is undeniable proof that any fertility problems were not Ellyn’s. (Incidentally, given Ellyn’s general ruthlessness, I’m quite surprised that she didn’t pull a Princess Elaena to ensure that a postmortem pregnancy would stick – which would have continued the theme of cuckoldry and dynastic replacement from the Casterlys and the First Men Lannisters – which makes me think that Ellyn’s phantom pregnancy was probably a miscarriage.) But as with both the “War of the Wombs” and her abortive attempt to go for a seduction hat-trick with Tytos, we see not only lines being drawn between the Lannisters and the Reynes, but also broader feudal conflict between a Marbrand-Lannister coalition and a Reyne-Tarbeck coalition that made the Rains inevitable.
The Marbrands were hardly uninvolved in this process. Beyond just the fact that Lady Jeyne Lannister née Marbrand gave birth to Tywin, who would lead the faction to ultimate victory, she was not above the normal feudal politics of preferment either. We learn that that “chief amongst” those “lords of the westerlands…[who] did their best to support [Tytos], offering him sage counsel, and their swords when needed” was “Lord Denys Marbrand, Lady Jeyne’s father, who became a pillar of strength for his daughter and her lord husband.” (WOIAF) Likewise, in the coming test of wills between Tytos and his vassals, we know that the Marbrands formed a militant faction within House Lannister:
“His lordship’s wife, the Lady Jeyne, could see it too, as could her father. Time and again they urged Lord Tytos to be firm, and he would swear to do so…only to retreat, forgive, or procrastinate once more. When asked for pardon, he would grant such, no matter the crime. When threatened, he would yield, or offer some feeble compromise.” (WOIAF)
This context is crucial when we assess some of the reasons why the various combatants would do what they did – the various murders and massacres of the Rains were certainly horrific, but they were always directed to advance the interests of the House, or (sadly more often) to achieve revenge against the perpetrators of previous acts of violence.
In the Historical Development section above, I discussed the national implications of the disorder that occurred in the reign of Tytos Lannister. Here, I want to discuss the domestic implications of the “nadir” of “House Lannister… during the years that the Laughing Lion held court at Casterly Rock.” As I have talked about before, medieval government was highly personal in nature, such that the same institutional structures that seemingly allowed one monarch to govern successfully were seemingly unable to do so for their predecessor or successor. And this is especially true for the Westerlands, where Casterly Rock was not merely the political center and judicial authority, but also the financial capitol – Tytos’ characteristic weakness meant that there was a vacuum of power where authority had been, allowing vassals to regain power and influence they had lost millennia ago:
“Many saw in his weakness an opportunity to grasp power, wealth, and land for themselves. Some borrowed heavily from Casterly Rock, then failed to repay the loans…”
“Lord Tytos’s edicts were widely ignored whenever his lords found fault with them…as they did whenever those edicts interfered with their own rights and powers. Corruption became widespread, as offices and honors were bought and sold, and taxes and duties and levies due to Casterly Rock increasingly went astray…”
“As the power of House Lannister waned, other Houses grew stronger, more defiant, and more disorderly. Lord Farman of Fair Isle began to build a fleet of warships to defend his coasts against the ironmen, in defiance of Lord Tytos, who did not wish to give offense to the Greyjoys of Pyke…Lords Jast and Falwell, embroiled in a private quarrel, decided to settle the matter with a melee rather than seek a ruling from the Lion’s Mouth. Nine men were killed, twenty-seven maimed and wounded, and still the quarrel raged on. Lord Stackspear doubled the taxes on his smallfolk, though Lord Tytos forbade it, then hired a company of Volantene sellswords to enforce his onerous exactions.” (WOIAF)
There’s a lot that needs to be broken down here. First and most importantly, note that lots of houses were involved in the literal and figurative gold rush that followed the realization of Tytos’ weakness; the Reynes and Tarbecks get the majority of the blame for the Rains, but they were merely the most prominent of the majority of the nobility. Second, it’s interesting to note the specific ways in which disorder occurred – while there’s a lot of mention of simony, tax avoidance, and loan defaults (a kind of mass plundering of the state), the most significant and ubiquitous is the resumption of independence by vassals against their overlords. Whether it’s the flouting of edicts “whenever those edicts interfered with their own rights and powers,” House Farman’s drive to re-establish an independent navy so that they could defend themselves without the Lannisport fleet, Lord Stackspear’s mercenary-based oppression, or Lords Jast and Falwell resorting to private law over public judgements, the common theme here is the reversion to local autonomy of the nobility in the absence of a capable overlord, centuries if not millennia of centralization unraveling before one’s eyes.
It is this context of elite misbehavior resulting in general disorder that we need to understand what Houses Reyne and Tarbeck were doing in the run-up to the Rains. While definitely involved in profiting from Tytos’ misrule, I think we can also see the Reynes as building a state within a state:
“Old, rich, and powerful, the Reynes had prospered greatly from Lord Tytos’s misrule…As the Reynes rose, so too did their close allies, the Tarbecks of Tarbeck Hall. After centuries of slow decline, this poor but ancient house had begun to flourish, thanks in large part to the new Lady Tarbeck, the former Ellyn Reyne.”
“Though she herself remained unwelcome at the Rock, Lady Ellyn had contrived to extract large sums of gold from House Lannister through her brothers, for Lord Tytos found it very hard to refuse the Red Lion. Those funds she had used to restore the crumbling ruin that was Tarbeck Hall, rebuilding its curtain wall, strengthening its towers, and furnishing its keep in splendor to rival any castle in the west. At her urging, Lord Tarbeck expanded his domain by buying the lands of the lesser lords and landed knights about him…and taking by force the holdings of those who refused to sell.”
“Some of those thus dispossessed went to Casterly Rock for justice, but Lord Tytos shrugged off their complaints, or else refused to see them. Meanwhile, Lord and Lady Tarbeck built roads and septs and holdfasts, and brought ever more knights, archers, and men-at-arms into their service. Walderan Tarbeck had supported twenty household knights before his marriage to Ellyn Reyne; by 255 AC, that number had swollen to five hundred. Closely bound by bonds of blood and marriage, the Reynes of Castamere and the Tarbecks of Tarbeck Hall would soon constitute the most serious threat to Lannister rule in the west since Lann the Clever has winkled the Casterlys out of Casterly Rock.”(WOIAF)
The seizure of land and the growth of military power is simultaneously necessary for the creation of a state-within-a-state and not sufficient. What made the actions of the Reynes different from that of Lord Stackspear is that Ellyn Reyne went in for institution-building, not merely rebuilding Tarbeck Hall but also building roads (a page out of Jaehaerys I’s playbook), sponsoring the Faith of the Seven, and also building new castles to hold onto their gains permanently. This made them a far greater threat to House Lannister than the Jasts, Falwells, Farmans, and Stackspears, because the latter weren’t trying to replace the Lannisters.
A combination of the Reynes’ domestic threat and Aegon V’s national pressure led to a confrontation between the two houses that turned a mere political clash into an irrepressible conflict. Up until this moment, there was still a possibility for another path. Indeed, it’s noteworthy that the description of Genna Lannister’s engagement to a Frey in AFFC states that “the Red Lion went angry from the hall,” which suggests that as late at 254 AC Roger Reyne still held out hope for some form of merger (or leveraged buyout, given the history of the Lannisters and the Casterlys) between their Houses. But once blood was spilled, there was no turning back:
“Spurred by the royal command, his lordship sent his grieving good-father, Lord Denys Marbrand, to ride in strength to Tarbeck Hall and deliver Lord and Lady Tarbeck to Casterly Rock, that they might be made to answer for their crimes. “Sweet words,” that old warrior is reported to have said upon hearing the command, “and long have I yearned to hear your lordship speak them.”
“The outcome was less sweet. The Tarbecks had friends even within Casterly Rock, and knew of Lord Marbrand’s coming even before he set out. Lord Tytos had commanded his good-father sternly not to involve the Reynes “for we have no quarrel with Castamere,” but that did not stop Lady Tarbeck from sending to her brothers. Denys Marbrand and his knights were still two days ride from Tarbeck Hall when the Red Lion fell upon his camp in the night, slaying hundreds, amongst them old Marbrand himself. When word reached Casterly Rock, loud cries went out for war, and Maester Belden tells us that Lord Tytos “turned as purple as a plum, and could not speak for his wroth.”
“Yet even before the banners could be called, Ser Reynard Reyne appeared at court with his easy smile and sly tongue, to make obesience before the Lion’s Mouth. Lord Marbrand’s death had been a “tragic misunderstanding,” Ser Reynard said; his brother had believed he was attacking a band of outlaws and robber knights. He offered sincere apologies and a blood price to House Marbrand…whereupon Tytos Lannister pardoned the Red Lion and the men who rode with him, and for good measure, absolved Lord and Lady Tarbeck as well, “for Lord Walderan has written us, foreswearing his past wrongdoing, and declaring that henceforth he shall be our most leal bannerman and servant.” (WOIAF)
It’s noticeable that when first blood was shed in the Rains, it’s the Marbrands and the Reynes, rather than the Lannisters directly, who are involved, which makes sense as clearly Lord Marbrand was itching for a chance to bring force down on his daughter’s rival, and his militant stance is further implied by Tytos’ orders trying to limit the conflict to just the Tarbecks and Roger Reyne’s decision to target someone he considered an enemy. This incident is also a good example of the strengths and weaknesses of House Reyne as an institution: as before, we see Roger acting as the muscle, making good use of his skill at lightning ambushes, but we also get a sense of his recklessness in that Lord Marbrand was slain instead of captured when the latter would have given them more leverage and a ransom. By contrast, Ser Reynard is definitely the brains of the operation, working out a plausible cover story to keep the family this side of being declared rebels and outlaws, and successfully working the referee until the whole family is officially pardoned for all present and past crimes. At the same time, we also see Ellyn as the overall leader of the family business, dispatching her two brothers to act in her interests where she can’t act directly.
For the Marbrand-Lannister faction, this was a complete debacle. As I’ve written about previously, one of the worst things that a feudal overlord can do is to show that their decrees can be flouted without penalty, and Tytos had shown that any show of force could get him to reverse himself even when the King was behind him. Even worse was that Tytos had essentially demonstrated that attacks on his family could be made with impunity – suggesting some of the roots of Tywin’s later doctrine of disproportionate response when it comes to Tyrion. The result of this mishandling was the metastasization of disorder throughout the kingdom:
“The years that followed were as dismal as any in the long history of the westerlands. Even those houses that had hitherto remained leal to Casterly Rock went their own way now, for Lord Tytos had proved himself unwilling or unable to enforce justice or punish malefactors, even those who slew men in his service. A score of private wars broke out across the west, as rival lords strove for land, gold, and power. Outlaws, broken men, and robber knights became a plague upon the land… Apprentices rioted in Lannisport…septons and begging brothers began to preach openly against House Lannister and “the Lord of Misrule,” and all the while the Reynes and Tarbecks grew ever richer and more powerful.“ (WOIAF)
Once again, we see that the Rains were a more widespread crisis than just a conflict between two families – here we see dozens of houses reverting to a Hobbesian war of all-against-all, with even the ones who would have preferred to remain under the old system forced to compete with the lowest common denominator. And as was the case during the reign of Henry VI, elite conflict spills out into a crime wave that embraces highborn and low alike, with robber knights and outlaws (who given Reynard’s cover story seem to be a common problem in the Westerlands, given the prevalence of precious metals and rough terrain) emulating their betters. It’s also interesting to see the smallfolk of Lannisport both in their guilds and their religious sodalities adding their voice to the political debate (link), something we don’t often get to see in the politics of the Westerlands. (Perhaps another reason why Tywin was so strictly elitist in his own politics?)
And so ended the first phase of the Rains of Castamere, one marked by the failed merger of Houses Reyne and Castamere and the contest of wills between Tytos Lannister and Ellyn Reyne. The second phase would see Tywin Lannister violently re-establish the authority of House Lannister, often in conflict with both the Reyne-Tarbeck coalition and the putative head of House Lannister:
“Ser Tywin began by demanding repayment of all the gold Lord Tytos had lent out. Those who could not pay were required to send hostages to Casterly Rock. All those lords who had engaged in private wars during the previous decade were summoned to court, to have their disputes adjudicated by their liege lord. Five hundred knights, blooded and seasoned veterans of the Stepstones, were formed into a new company under the command of Ser Tywin’s brother Ser Kevan, and charged with ridding the west of robber knights and outlaws, and “assisting in the collection of unpaid debts due to his lordship, my sire.” Moreover, the lords of the west were commanded to feed and shelter Ser Kevan’s “collectors” as they made their way from castle to castle.”
“Some hastened to obey. “The lion has awoken,” said Ser Harys Swyft, the Knight of Cornfield, when the collectors arrived at his castle gates. Unable to repay his debt, he turned his daughter over to Ser Kevan as a hostage instead. But elsewhere, the collectors were met with sullen resistance and open defiance. Lord Reyne reportedly laughed when his maester read him Ser Tywin’s edicts and counseled his friends and vassals to do nothing. “The cub will soon grow weary of chasing his own tail,” he said…yet he set about strengthening the defenses of Castamere as well.”
“Lord Walderan Tarbeck unwisely chose a different course. He rode to Casterly Rock to protest, confident in his ability to cow Lord Tytos and force him to rescind his son’s edicts. At Casterly Rock, however, Lord Tarbeck was denied an audience with Lord Tytos, and found himself facing his son instead. Ser Tywin allowed him to bluster and threaten and make his demands, then had him consigned to a dungeon “until such time as you give up the lands you have stolen, and repay every speck of gold my lord father lent you.” (WOIAF)
When we look at the Rains in totality, many of Tywin’s actions such as these are a big part of what gives the event such a complex moral ambiguity. On the one hand, one could say that Tywin’s ends were largely lawful – enforcing repayment of loans and taxes unlawfully withheld and restoring law and order by going after lawbreakers both small and large. On the other hand, his means arguably matched the Reynes in their violation of both the letter and spirit of the law: without any formal legal authority and indeed acting against the rightful lord who “protested but feebly,” Tywin had amassed a private army which he was not only using as armed leg breakers but also to deliberately weaken the finances of the various houses by quartering his soldiers at their expense (an unpopular and abusive practice which historically gave rise to the Third Amendment of the U.S Bill of Rights), and was arresting and jailing lords (or their hostages) without due process. Given his undeniably brilliant mind, I have no doubt that Tywin was unaware that his edicts, lacking formal legal authority, would be resisted and thus give him an excuse to take revenge.
For all that Tywin is often thought of as an undefeated strategist, it must be admitted that Tywin’s initial gambit proved to be largely unsuccessful. Even if Tywin had more nerve than his father, neither Ellyn nor her brothers were lacking in that camp and they were perfectly willing to meet like with like:
“With Lord Walderan in chains, Tywin Lannister no doubt expected the Tarbecks to yield. But Lady Tarbeck was quick to disabuse him of that notion. Instead that redoubtable woman sent forth her own knights and captured three Lannisters (along with two sons of Lord Prester, and half a dozen common girls who had met them in the wood by Feastfires for purposes of dalliance). Two of the captives were Lannisters of Lannisport, distant kin to the Lannisters of Casterly Rock, but the third was a young squire, Stafford Lannister, the eldest son and heir of Lord Tytos’s late brother, Ser Jason. “Send back my lord and love, or these three shall answer for any harm that may come to him,” Lady Ellyn wrote to Casterly Rock. Wiser than her lord, she knew better than to come herself.”
“The resulting crisis drew Lord Tytos away from his wet nurse long enough to overrule his strong-willed heir. Ser Tywin urged his lord father to comply with Lady Tarbeck’s request by returning Lord Walderan in three pieces, a suggestion that left Lord Tytos aghast. “Lady Ellyn holds my nephew’s life in her hands,” he told his son. His lordship not only commanded that Lord Tarbeck be released, unharmed, but also went so far as to apologize to him and forgive him his debts.”
“To safeguard the exchange of hostages, Lord Tytos turned to Lady Tarbeck’s younger brother, Ser Reynard Reyne, who was pleased to oblige. The Red Lion’s formidable seat at Castamere was chosen to host the meet. Ser Tywin refused to attend, so it was Ser Kevan who returned Lord Walderan, whilst Lady Tarbeck herself delivered Stafford and his cousins. Lord Reyne feasted all the parties, and a great show of amity was staged, with Lannisters and Tarbecks toasting one another, exchanging gifts and kisses, and vowing to remain each other’s leal friends “through all eternity.” (WOIAF)
One more time, Ellyn Reyne had gambled on the failure of Tytos’ nerve in a situation in which a Lannister was in danger. Last time, it had been Kevan Lannister serving as squire to Lord Roger; this time, she kidnapped Stafford Lannister. And the result was a resounding success – not only was Lord Walderan returned unharmed (it’s always fascinated me how callous Tywin was about sacrificing his kinsmen if necessary; one wonders what his childhood associations with Stafford or Ser Jason were like) but she even got Tytos to annul House Tarbeck’s debts to House Lannister.
This eternal peace signed between House Lannister and Houses Reyne and Tarbeck is a deliberate allusion to the “Love Day” accords signed on March 25th 1458 between the Lancastrians and Yorkists at the very outset of the Wars of the Roses, a year after the Battle of St. Albans which had seen the first open warfare between the two sides. Despite the outward show of Lancastrians and Yorkists holding hands in a processor to St. Paul’s Cathedral where the Archbishop of Canterbury blessed the accord, all knew that the amity could not last; by September of 1459, fighting would break out again.
In this case, the fighting would break out again in a clear act of provocation. As Pycelle records, “Tywin Lannister…had never weakened in his resolve to bring these overmighty vassals to heel,” and that when in 261 AC he sent his letter “to Castamere and Tarbeck Hall, demanding that Roger and Reynard Reyne and Lord and Lady Tarbeck present themselves at Casterly Rock “to answer for your crimes,”” he did so again without legal authority to do so, hoping to push them into an overreaction. So when the Reynes and Tarbecks “rose in open revolt, renouncing their fealty to Casterly Rock, even Pycelle admits that “Ser Tywin surely knew they would” and had acted primarily to “erase years of humiliation” rather than any pretense of upholding the law. Indeed,
“…,he did not seek his lord father’s leave, nor even inform him of his intent, but rode forth himself with five hundred knights and three thousand men-at-arms and crossbowmen behind him. His brothers Kevan and Tygett went with him, one as a knight, one a squire. Lord Marbrand of Ashmark, Lord Prester of Feastfives, and a dozen lesser lords joined him on the march with their own levies, swelling his numbers.”
“House Tarbeck was the first to feel Ser Tywin’s wroth. Secure in his own strength, and that of his numerous friends and allies, Lord Walderan had oft been heard to boast that he had “no fear of lion cubs,” but the Lannister host descended so quickly that Lord Walderan’s vassals and supporters had no time to gather. Foolishly his lordship rode forth to meet Ser Tywin’s host with only his household knights beside him. In a short, brutal battle, the Tarbecks were broken and butchered.”
Lord Walderan Tarbeck was wounded and taken alive, with two of his sons from his second marriage (the only surviving son from his first marriage had died during the battle). “Well, you have us, boy,” Lord Tarbeck told Ser Tywin when he was led before him. “We’re worth a good ransom, as I am sure you know. Ask what you will, my lady wife will pay.”
“With our own gold,” Ser Tywin reportedly replied. “No, my lord. I think not.” Whereupon he gave a command, and watched cold-eyed as Lord Walderan Tarbeck and his sons were beheaded, together with his nephews and cousins, his daughters’ husbands, and any man who displayed the seven-pointed blue-and-silver star upon his shield or surcoat to boast of Tarbeck blood.” (WOIAF)
Tywin’s punitive expedition hardly qualified as a “police action” of a state acting to enforce the law; Tywin had no authority to levy troops, and the composition of his forces – the Marbrands looking to revenge themselves for the murder of Lord Denys, the Presters for the kidnapping of Lord Prester’s two sons – resembles far more a rival gang looking to settle a score. Even more importantly, this battle represents Tywin’s first war crime, not only murdering defenseless prisoners but already beginning a deliberate, “cold-eyed” process of familicide. Prior to this moment, there was little to separate Tywin’s actions from those of any overlord against a rebellious vassal; everything that followed would be infamy.
The next stage – the siege of Tarbeck Hall – is where the sources begin to contradict. We know, for example, that it was Lady Ellyn who gave the Rains of Castamere its dominant imagery, telling Kevan Lannister that “you are not the only lions in the west, ser. My brothers are coming, and their claws are just as long and sharp as yours,” which distinction the singers have seen fit to take from her. After that, things get messy. In the first account from the Extended Westerlands section, “Ser Tywin sent his men-at-arms surging forward with ladders and grappling hooks and battering rams instead,” and stormed the castle aided by “some of those within had been suborned by Lannister gold.” (WOIAF) In this version, Ellyn Tarbeck is hanged from “the castle’s tallest tower,” while her children and grandchildren die in the fighting, are murdered (the first appearance of Ser Amory Lorch as Tywin’s chosen child-murderer), or are sent to the silent sisters.
In the second account, Tywin puts Tarbeck Hall under siege, and by happenstance “one great stone…brought down the castle’s aged keep. Lady Ellyn and her son Tion the Red died in the keep’s sudden collapse,” leading to the castle’s surrender and burning. The poetic nature of this account – that Ellyn is killed by the very ancient castle which she spent all of her purloined gold to restore, and the way in which it makes her death a matter of random chance rather than malicious intent – makes me doubt its accuracy. It suggests a later retelling of the event by minstrels to paint Tywin in a more flattering light; after all, slaying a warrior like Roger Reyne or even his destruction of Castamere has a certain dramatic grandeur to it but murdering defenseless women and children is cowardly.
Regardless of which account one believes, what came next was the only real battle of the Rains of Castamere. As I’ve discussed with the Dance of the Dragons, I’m not a huge fan of curb-stomp wars, and I do think it’s something of a pity that we only get one battle where the Reynes are actively trying to bring down the Lannisters:
“The Red Lion arrived in time to see the flames. Two thousand men rode with him—all he had been able to gather in the short time available. Only one in ten was a knight. Given time, Lord Roger could have assembled a much larger host, for House Reyne had many friends in the west, and his own repute as a warrior would surely have drawn many freeriders, hedge knights, and sellswords to his side. In his haste to respond to his sister’s peril, however, his lordship had set forth with less than a quarter of his full strength, and driven them hard over long leagues, only to arrive at Tarbeck Hall hungry, exhausted, and too late.”
“Tywin Lannister had three times his strength, most accounts agree; some insist the Lannisters outnumbered the Reynes five to one. A more prudent commander would surely have fallen back rather than face such odds, but the Red Lion of Castamere had never been prudent. Hoping that surprise might carry the day, Roger Reyne commanded his trumpets to sound the attack and charged headlong toward Ser Tywin’s camp. The battle that ensued was a closer thing than might have been expected, for the Lannisters had not formed up and the suddenness of the attack took them by surprise. If Lord Reyne had only had more heavy horse, his knights might well have been able to cut their way through to where Ser Tywin’s banner flew above his command tent. But there was too much distance to cover and too many men between them. After the first shock, the Lannisters recovered quickly and their numbers soon began to tell. His charge blunted, Lord Reyne had no choice but to wheel and flee, leaving near half his men dead upon the field. A rain of crossbow bolts chased his riders from the camp; one took Lord Reyne between the shoulders, punching through his backplate. The Red Lion rode on, only to fall from his horse less than a half a league farther on; he had to be carried back to Castamere.”
“The Lannister host swollen to twice its original size by the arrival of the Lords Westerling, Banefort, Plumm, and Stackspear with their levies, arrived at Castamere three days later. Lord Reyne had sent forth ravens to his own friends, allies, and vassals, but few had turned up; the lesson of Tarbeck Hall had not been lost on them.” (WOIAF)
At the same time, there is a lot we can learn about the larger dimensions of the conflict through the details in this passage. First, there’s the issue of numbers: in this passage, we learn that the Reynes have 2,000 men he could call up at a moment’s notice compared to the 3,500 that Tywin could mobilize in a hurry; this gives us a baseline of the relative balance of power between the Reynes and the Lannisters. We also learn, that their larger coalitions were more extended: with the Reynes’ “friends in the west” and the “freeriders, hedge knights, and sellswords” he could have attracted, Roger could have mobilized more than 8,000 men – which is far beyond any detailed figures of a Lesser Houses. Whereas Tywin’s total coalition numbered some 6,000-7,000 men, which really does suggest a situation in which the Lannisters might have been overpowered by their vassals had things gone the other way.
Second, there is the issue of tactics. As we have seen throughout this essay, from his impulsive murder of prisoners at the fall of Starpike to his seizure of command during the War of Ninepenny Kings to his killing of Denys Marbrand, Roger Reyne’s career had risen on speed and aggression, and it fell on the same lines. By comparison, Tywin’s tactics are built around the judicious use of superior numbers as was the case in the Battle of the Green Fork, the Battle of the Fords, Duskendale and the Ruby Ford, and ultimately the Red Wedding itself. In this way, we get a nice contrast between our two war leaders. The clash between these two styles ended in what the Duke of Wellington (or Henry VII) would have called “a close-run thing” in which any number of factors could have made the difference – the distribution of Roger’s cavalry, the relative reaction time of the two armies, and so forth. Indeed, it seems to me that the battle may well have been decided by subtler factors of manpower and morale: there have been many cases in which a smaller force has been able to overwhelm a larger force, but it’s not a good start to arrive “hungry, exhausted, and too late.” As a result of both his numerical inferiority and the weaker condition of his men, Roger simply didn’t have the steam to make his Bosworth-style charge pay off in the only way it could have, with the death of Tywin Lannister.
Instead, the Reynes were forced into a headlong retreat, and the Rains of Castemere reached its final act and found its central imagery. One final horrific detail from the extended Westerlands readings actually managed to make the ne plus ultra of the whole affair that much worse:
“It was to those deep chambers that the Reynes retreated now. Feverish and weak from loss of blood, the Red Lion was in no fit state to lead. Ser Reynard, his brother, assumed command in his stead. Less headstrong but more cunning than his brother, Reynard knew he did not have the men to defend the castle walls, so he abandoned the surface entirely to the foe and fell back beneath the earth. Designed for defense, the mines at Castamere had never been taken. There were only three ways down into them, all cramped, narrow, twisting, and studded with deadfalls, pits, and murder holes. Two armored knights, standing side by side, could hold the largest tunnel against a thousand, for attackers had no way around, and if they tried to cut their way past, defenders would be pouring boiling oil and pitch down on them from murder holes above as they fought. Once all his folk were safe inside the tunnels, Ser Reynard sent word to Ser Tywin above, offering terms. “You cannot fight your way in, and we have food and water sufficient for three years,” he wrote, “but grant us full pardon for any past offenses, and send your brothers down to us as hostages against deceit, and we shall once again be your true and leal servants.”
“This time, however, his glib words fell upon deaf ears.”
“But Tywin Lannister did not honor Ser Reynard’s offer with a reply. Instead he commanded that the mines be sealed. With pick and axe and torch, his own miners brought down tons of stone and soil, burying the great gates to the mines until there was no way in and no way out. Once that was done, he turned his attention to the small, swift stream that fed the crystalline blue pool beside the castle from which Castamere took its name. It took less than a day to dam the stream and only two to divert it to the nearest mine entrance.”
“The earth and stone that sealed the mine had no gaps large enough to allow a squirrel to pass, let alone a man…but the water found its way down. Ser Reynard had taken more than three hundred men, women, and children into the mines, it is said. Not a one emerged. A few of the guards assigned to the smallest and most distant of the mine entrances reported hearing faint screams and shouts coming from beneath the earth one night, but by daybreak the stones had gone silent once again.”
We already knew that the Rains of Castamere involved the total familicide of House Reyne, but here we learn that Tywin committed this terrible act while engaged in negotiations for surrender – adding a second level of violation of the norms of war. Now, the published and extended Westerlands section characterize the tone of this negotiation in very different ways – the published version doesn’t characterize Ser Reynard’s terms, but the extended version portrays Ser Reynald as engaged in one last desperate, overreaching attempt to avoid any repercussions for the Reynes’ actions.
Regardless of which version one believes, the nature of Tywin’s actions are the same: an unprecedented war crime – the clinical, scientific, and considered killing of thousands of women, children, injured soldiers, and surrendering combatants – embarked on for purely political purposes. As military necessity went, the Lannisters had beaten the Reynes repeatedly and they were left with no support throughout the kingdom; they no longer posed a threat to his House or the peace of the Realm. And Tywin had alternatives: with his wealth and determination, he could have organized a supply chain to keep a largely-civilian force trapped underground, or suborned a defender as he did at Tarbeck Hall. Moreover, as we see above, Tywin had clearly already decided on a noyade for its political symbolism.
And yet, and yet…there was no backlash to this monstrosity. No less than eighteen Houses bore witness (and moral responsibility) for the massacre, and they would continue to follow Tywin’s lead for the rest of his life. Were they driven by fear of a similar reprisal should they speak up? Was the chaos of the Rains so bad that they were willing to support any Leviathan who could maintain internal security, no matter what the cost? (And how long will that last without Tywin himself at the helm?) My guess is that it has something to do with the symbolics of fascism, as Joanna Lannister will soon explore: that Tywin’s stage-managed pageant of destruction was so ostentatious in scope and dramatic, so much more reminiscent of divine wrath rather than human action, that it lifted him above the realm of human judgement. This was aided by the way that Tywin leaned into the event in his symbolic politics – commissioning the song Rains of Castamere to reflect his vision of himself and his history, deploying that song to intimidate his enemies and rivals alike.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
This essay is one of the longest things I’ve ever written on ASOIAF, so I’m not going to go into depth in this section. Indeed, I would argue that what there is to say in this section is relatively straightforward. The strengths and weaknesses of the Westerlands can be boiled down to power and pride – this has always been a region too rich and powerful not to believe that it should exert dominance over the rest of Westeros, whether during the era of the Great Game or during Tywin’s tenure as Hand and definitely during the reigns of King Joffrey and King Tommen.
Out of pride, therefore, the Westerlands overreaches again and again, paying the price when over-extending their lines leaves the homeland vulnerable to invasion from the north, the east, or the south. And because their overweening pride makes them so bad at distributing political rewards evenly, eventually the rest of the realm gets fed up with their greedy and bullying ways.
The question is, what happens if the Westerlands ever develops a sense of proportion and limit?