(credit to ser other-in-law)
The Last Storm
Through a combination of inept diplomacy and his raging temper, Argilac Durrandon had turned an offer of alliance with into a war against House Targaryen. But to give the last of the Storm Kings credit, he put up a hell of a fight against Aegon the Conqueror, far better than his old rival Harren, or arguably even the Great Western Alliance.
“Lords Errol, Fell, and Buckler, bannermen to Storm’s End, surprised the advance elements of Orys Baratheon’s host as they were crossing the Wendwater, cutting down more than a thousand men before fading back into the trees…
South and east, the Storm King’s bannermen proved considerably more loyal than King Harren’s. Argilac the Arrogant gathered a great host about him at Storm’s End. The seat of the Durrandons was a mighty fastness, its great curtain wall even thicker than the walls of Harrenhal.” (WOIAF)
Engaging in irregular warfare in the Kingswoord provided several advantages: first, as seen at the Battle of the Wailing Willows and as we will see to devastating effect in the First Dornish War, the Targaryen’s armies historically proved vulnerable to guerrilla warfare, allowing the Stormlanders to inflict disproportionate casualties on their enemy. Second and more importantly, it allowed Argilac enough time to pull the rest of his forces together. Given that you don’t need a “great host” to garrison a castle against a siege, my guess is that Argilac wanted the Targaryens to exhaust themselves in assaults on the impregnable fortress and then sally forth to crush them between his army and the castle walls.
Unfortunately for Argilac, as indeed was the case for almost all of Aegon’s rivals, seemingly no amount of preparation could overcome the sheer firepower of the dragons. The Stormlanders might be far better at irregular warfare in the forests, but “Lords Errol, Fell, and Buckler hid in their familiar forests until Queen Rhaenys unleashed Meraxes and a wall of fire swept through the woods, turning the trees to torches.” (Interestingly, the Conqueror and his sisters don’t seem to have remembered this lesson of coordination between their dragons and their armies when it came to the First Dornish War, which might have saved the Boneway column or Lord Harlan Tyrell’s doomed army.) Moreover, such preparations could do little to overcome the Stormlands’ geostrategic weaknesses, hence “…as Argilac the Arrogant gathered his swords at Storm’s End… Dornish raiding parties came boiling out of the Red Mountains to sweep across the marches.” (WOIAF) Even in the face of seemingly existential danger, the rules of the Great Game still held sway.
And so with Plan A in tatters, Argilac the Arrogant turned to Plan B: rather than wait until his position got even worse, he would go on the offensive and try to win a victory in the field:
“Word of King Harren’s end soon reached the ears of his old enemy King Argilac, however. Lords Fell and Buckler, falling back before the approaching host (Lord Errol had been killed), had sent him word of Queen Rhaenys and her dragon. The old warrior king roared that he did not intend to die as Harren had, cooked inside his own castle like a suckling pig with an apple in his mouth. No stranger to battle, he would decide his own fate, sword in hand. So Argilac the Arrogant rode forth from Storm’s End one last time, to meet his foes in the open field.” (WOIAF)
Even if Fire and Blood is ever published, I doubt we’ll ever find out whether Argilac the Arrogant genuinely believed that he could win the Battle of the Last Storm, or whether he preferred a glorious death on the battlefield than the humiliation of defeat (since I doubt Aegon would be magnanimous to the man who had mutilated his messengers). What’s surprising therefore, is how much of a close-run thing the Last Storm turned out to be, although that’s largely due to a combination of complicated factors of terrain, weather, and manpower:
“The Storm King’s approach was no surprise to Orys Baratheon and his men; Queen Rhaenys, flying Meraxes, had witnessed Argilac’s departure from Storm’s End and was able to give the Hand a full accounting of the enemy’s numbers and dispositions. Orys took up a strong position on the hills south of Bronzegate, and dug in there on the high ground to await the coming of the stormlanders.
As the armies came together, the stormlands proved true to their name. A steady rain began to fall that morning, and by midday had turned into a howling gale. King Argilac’s lords bannermen urged him to delay his attack until the next day, in hopes the rain would pass, but the Storm King outnumbered the conquerors almost two to one and had almost four times as many knights and heavy horse. The sight of the Targaryen banners flapping sodden above his own hills enraged him, and the battle-seasoned old warrior did not fail to note that the rain was blowing from the south, into the faces of the Targaryen men on their hills. So Argilac the Arrogant gave the command to attack, and the battle known to history as the Last Storm began.” (WOIAF)
On the Targaryen side, Orys Baratheon placed his trust in terrain, seizing the high ground in advance so as to gain the maximal defensive multiplier (which makes sense, given his lesser numbers) and letting the enemy come to him, while using Rhaenys and her dragon not merely as a blunt weapon but also a nigh-peerless source of aerial military intelligence. On the other side, Argilac Durrandon favored manpower – a 2:1 advantage in overall numbers and a 4:1 advantage in heavy cavalry could potentially allow him either to outflank his enemy in a battle of position, outlast him in a battle of attrition, or break him through a shock charge – and weather. While the rain would hinder the enemy infantry, far more consequential is that the storm would ground Meraxes, preventing the Targaryens from using their aerial superiority.
No plan survives first contact with the enemy however, and the Last Storm was no exception, with each general making some major mistakes:
“The fighting lasted well into the night, a bloody business, and far less one-sided than Aegon’s conquest of Harrenhal. Thrice Argilac the Arrogant led his knights against the Baratheon positions, but the slopes were steep and the rains had turned the ground soft and muddy, so the warhorses struggled and foundered, and the charges lost all cohesion and momentum. The stormlanders fared better when they sent their spearmen up the hills on foot. Blinded by the rain, the invaders did not see them climbing until it was too late, and the wet bowstrings of the archers made their bows useless. One hill fell, then another, and the third and final charge of the Storm King and his knights broke through the Baratheon center …” (WOIAF)
Argilac clearly made one of the classic mistakes of cavalry commanders: forgetting that cavalry charges don’t work nearly as well uphill as they do on even ground, which is why if you have to fight cavalry as infantry you never abandon the high ground. Only when he sent in the infantry did his strength in numbers begin to tell, allowing Argilac to crush his enemy’s flanks and by the end of the day, it seemed like the Durrandons were on the verge of total victory, just like the Royces at the Battle of Seven Stars. By contrast, Orys Baratheon seems not to have had a plan for how to hold the high ground against a determined push by disciplined infantry. I say seems, because it’s possible that Orys’ unsuccessful defenses of the hills was part of a deliberate strategy to lure out Argilac himself for that last charge against the Targaryen center, so that he could bring to bear:
“…Queen Rhaenys and Meraxes. Even on the ground, the dragon proved formidable. Dickon Morrigen and the Bastard of Blackhaven, commanding the vanguard, were engulfed in dragonflame, along with the knights of King Argilac’s personal guard. The warhorses panicked and fled in terror, crashing into riders behind them and turning the charge into chaos. The Storm King himself was thrown from his saddle.
Yet still Argilac continued to battle. When Orys Baratheon came down the muddy hill with his own men, he found the old king holding off half a dozen men, with as many corpses at his feet.
“Stand aside,” Baratheon commanded. He dismounted, so as to meet the king on equal footing, and offered the Storm King one last chance to yield. Argilac cursed him instead. And so they fought, the old warrior king with his streaming white hair and Aegon’s fierce, black-bearded Hand. Each man took a wound from the other, it was said, but in the end the last of the Durrandon got his wish and died with a sword in his hand and a curse on his lips. The death of their king took all heart out of the stormlanders, and as the word spread that Argilac had fallen, his lords and knights threw down their swords and fled.”(WOIAF)
This was a huge risk: as we’ll see during the Dance, grounded dragons are far more vulnerable than on the wing, so it’s possible that even at a very high cost, the Storm Kings could have not only won the battle but extinguished one third of the Targaryen’s unique advantage. But luck was not on Argilac’s side that evening, and instead he found himself unhorsed, cut off from his men, and surrounded. But just to make Orys Baratheon’s difficult day that much more difficult, the stubborn Durrandon king insisted on inflicting one last wound before he went down to death, taking one of the most ancient dynasties in Westeros with him.
Orys and the Founding of House Baratheon
The story of Orys’ wooing of Argella is perhaps better suited to a Mills & Boon novel than a historical chronicle, but one thing that was historically vital was his decision that he would take “the arms and words of the Durrandon for his own. The crowned stag became his sigil, Storm’s End became his seat, and Lady Argella his wife.” (WOIAF) For the existing Stormlander elite, one could almost pretend that the Durrandons were still there in all but name – especially since Orys Baratheon shared much of the Durrandon’s stubborn temper and much of their geopolitical rivalries (more on this in a second). As a result, the Baratheons would be much more stable in their Lord Paramouncy in the Stormlands than the Tullys would be in the Riverlands or the Tyrells in the Reach, the other two “new” Great Houses under the Targaryen regime.
It also likely helped that Orys Baratheon stood much closer to the Iron Throne than any other lord in Westeros as Aegon I’s only “close friend” and “my shield, my stalwart, my strong right hand.” Unfortunately, in Orys’ lifetime this meant being handed the toughest jobs that Aegon needed done: as we’ve seen, the Stormlands campaign was probably the hardest of the entire Conquest. Only a few years later, Orys would be given the even more onerous duty of leading one of the main columns during the First Dornish War (something else that probably wouldn’t hurt his reputation among the Stormlanders):
“During Aegon’s invasion of Dorne in 4 AC, however, Lord Orys was taken captive whilst attempting to bring his forces through the Boneway. His captor was the Wyl of Wyl, known as the Widow-lover, who struck off Orys’s sword hand.
Lord Orys Baratheon’s assault up the Boneway proved a disaster. The canny Dornishmen rained rocks and arrows and spears from the heights, murdered men in the night, and in the end blocked the Boneway both before and behind. Lord Orys was captured by Lord Wyl, and many of his bannermen and knights besides. They remained captive for years before finally being ransomed for their weight in gold in 7 AC. And even then, each and every one of them returned lacking a sword hand, so that they might never take up arms against Dorne again.” (WOIAF)
It would have been bad enough if Lord Baratheon’s army had been surrounded and captured, held in captivity for three years, and ransomed at extremely high cost. But to be mutilated in the bargain was likely one sacrifice too many for his half-brother’s sake; no wonder therefore that by “all accounts say that Lord Orys became crabbed and bitter,” and resigned the Handship. Even this, however, didn’t end the Stormlands’ losses during the First Dornish War, as the Dornish sent “a force to Cape Wrath in 8 AC that left half the rainwood ablaze and sacked half a dozen towns and villages…a year later …a host under Lord Fowler…seized and burned the great Marcher castle of Nightsong and carried off its lords and defenders as hostages.” (WOIAF) Sadly, this probably also helped the Baratheons cement their bonds with their new subjects – even if Orys had not been born a Stormlander, he had suffered at the hands of their enemies as they had, and few things unite people as an in-group than a shared hatred of a particular out-group.
(credit to Magali Villeneuve)
In his later life, Orys Baratheon took up the traditional cause of his new subjects, as he “turned his attention to Dorne, obsessed with the idea of revenge.” And is quite fitting given the running themes of his life, Orys got the chance to wreak his revenge when the weak King Aenys I turned to the former hand to deal with “a Dornishman naming himself the Vulture King [who had] gathered thousands of followers to stand against the Targaryens.” With the King stalled and the Marcher lords struggling to deal with a host “some thirty thousand strong,” Orys acted:
“It was only when [the Vulture King] split this great host—both for lack of supplies to feed them and his confidence that each could defeat any foe that went against them—that his troubles began. Now they could be defeated piecemeal by the former Hand Orys Baratheon and the might of the Marcher lords—especially Savage Sam Tarly, whose sword, Heartsbane, was said to be red from hilt to point after the dozens of Dornishmen he cut down in the course of the Vulture Hunt, as the chase after the Vulture King became known.
Orys Baratheon, known now as Orys One-Hand, rode forth from Storm’s End one last time, to smash the Dornish beneath the walls of Stonehelm. When Walter Wyl was delivered into his hand, wounded but alive, Lord Orys said, “Your father took my hand. I claim yours as repayment.” So saying, he hacked off Lord Walter’s sword hand. Then he took his other hand, and both his feet as well, calling them his “usury.” Strange to say, Lord Baratheon died on the march back to Storm’s End, of the wounds he himself had taken during the battle, but his son Davos always said he died content, smiling at the rotting hands and feet that dangled in his tent like a string of onions.” (WOIAF)
And so in the end, Orys Baratheon gave the Stormlands the one thing that he was lacking – a successful campaign against the Stormlands’ traditional enemies, capped off by a brutal and disproportionate revenge-taking. Even the Marcher lords, steeped as they are in ancient vendettas and mountain warfare that knows no quarter, would have had to be impressed.
The Early Baratheons
And so House Baratheon began its trajectory under the Targaryen monarchy as one of the closet Houses to the Iron Throne, with a Handship already under its belt from the outset. Orys’ grandson, Lord Robar, would take the next step by making a canny choice to back the young Prince Jaehaerys against King Maegor; while Lord Lyman Lannister had sheltered Jaehaerys’ brother and sister before Jaehaerys had declared himself, Robar cleverly outflanked him to become “the first great lord to openly proclaim for Prince Jaehaerys against his uncle.” In exchange for his support for the young prince, Robar found himself named both Hand and Protector of the Realm and “during the remainder of King Jaehaerys’s minority, Lord Robar shared the rule of the realm with the king’s mother, the Dowager Queen Alyssa. Half a year later the two wed.” (WOIAF) Three generations into the new monarchy, and the Baratheons were already ruling as regents, had gained their first Targaryen marriage – from now on, House Baratheon would carry legitimate royal blood in its veins.
From such lofty beginnings, no wonder then that the Baratheons waxed ambitious. Through the marriage of Lady Jocelyn Baratheon to Prince Aemon Targaryen, the House gained its candidate for the monarchy in the person of Princess Rhaenys. At the Great Council of 101 AC, Jocelyn’s brother Lord Boremund would be one of the major supporters of his niece, along with the Velaryons (Rhaenys’ in-laws), and the Starks and their bannermen (out of sheer spite). Boremund fell short, however, and saw House Arryn overtake him through Aemma Arryn’s marriage to now-Crown Prince Viserys. The dream of House Baratheon to take the Iron Throne through normal politics had seemingly hit a brick wall…until Prince Viserys’ marriage to Aemma ended with only a female child (Rhaenrya) and Viserys then remarried into House Hightower, producing a new dynastic line.
“Lord Boremund was stone, hard and strong and unmoving. Lord Borros was the wind, which rages and howls and blows this way and that.” (WOIAF)
Ascending to the Lordship of Storm’s End on the eve of the Dance of the Dragons, Borros sought to use the competition between the blacks and greens to achieve his family’s thwarted ambitions. Aemond Targaryen, representing the greens, was willing to marry a Baratheon daughter to secure Storm’s End support, while Lucerys’ demurral and the “unseemly arrogance” of Princess Rhaenrya’s letter commanding his support doomed the blacks’ petition. Where the narrative breaks down here is that despite marrying his house into the greens, the ambitious lord Borros then fails to seize the opportunity, even when Aegon II’s wounding at Rook’s Rest made his son-in-law the Protector of the Realm – most likely because GRRM needed King’s Landing to be empty of all but the gold cloaks in order to fall to Daemon and Rhaenrya. Most egregiously, we don’t see Borros taking action when the green army led by Ormund Hightower stalled at Tumbleton or when that army was attacked at Second Tumbleton, when that battle took place right on his own borders.
Instead, Borros waits to act until Aegon II kills Rhaenrya at Dragonstone – at which point he has no more dynastic link to the greens, Aemond having died at the Godseye – seizes King’s Landing from the various smallfolk pretender kings, gaining in the process “promises that his eldest daughter would become the new queen of the widowed King Aegon II.” Beyond this minor mopping up operation, Lord Borros’ only other contribution to the Dance of the Dragons is to engage in an egregious bit of jobbing. Despite having an entirely fresh army and the forces of the Riverlands having just fought a grueling series of battles (Burning Mill, Stone Hedge, the Red Fork, the Fishfeed, the Butcher’s Ball, Second Tumbleton), and thus having less than 4,000 men, the battle turned out to be the greatest disaster for the Baratheons since the First Dornish War:
“Lord Borros…boldly led the last of the royalist host against the approaching riverlanders, who were commanded by the young Lord Kermit Tully, the even younger Benjicot Blackwood, and Blackwood’s sister Alysanne. When the Lord of Storm’s End learned that the host was led by boys and women, he grew confident in his victory, but Bloody Ben Blackwood, as he was remembered after, broke his flank, while Black Aly Blackwood led the archers who brought down his knights. Lord Borros was defiant to the end, and the accounts claim he killed a dozen knights and slew Lords Darry and Mallister before he himself was slain by Kermit Tully.” (WOIAF)
However unconvincing it might be from a military or literary perspective, the “Muddy Mess” om the Kingsroad had clear political implications. As the WOIAF puts it, “House Baratheon had gambled greatly in supporting King Aegon II, and it was a choice that brought them nothing but ill during the reign of King Aegon III (the Dragonbane) and the regency preceding it.” (WOIAF) Thus, as a matter of periodization, we can say that the Dance of the Dragons ended the first period of Baratheon history by decisively ejecting the House from the inner circles of royal politics.
The Later Baratheons
After the Dance, we get another peculiar gap in the history of the Stormlands. Despite the fact that Daeron I marched his armies down through the Dornish Marches into the Boneway, we hear nothing about the political involvement of the Marcher Lords or the Stormlands more generally, when one would think that the Baratheons would have jumped at the chance to redeem themselves through leal military service against the hated Dornish. We know that the Stormlands’ major port was where Daeron’s body passed, but we don’t know about how many or which Stormlanders died with Daeron; we know that Baelor I stayed at Storm’s End for a half-year, but little enough about what the Baratheons thought of their royal charge. We might guess that the Baratheons would be bitterly disappointed when the Targaryens reached down past them to make marriage alliances with the Penroses and Dondarrions, to say nothing of the Martells, but there’s no textual basis for our surmises.
The next time when the Stormlands comes up is during the reigns of Aegon IV and Daeron II, which I’ll mostly discuss in the Internal Divisions section. I will say, however, that it’s remarkably strange that the Baratheons aren’t mentioned as part of Aegon IV’s anti-Dornish faction, or their reaction to the disaster of Aegon IV’s wooden dragons that burnt a quarter of the Kingswood. All of this leads up to a significant mystery that I’ve talked about before: why House Baratheon, which had seemingly little to gain from an alliance with Daeron II and much to gain from Daemon I, ultimately decided to follow Baelor Breakspear at the Battle of Redgrass Field, even when that meant fighting side-by-side against their hereditary enemies. Perhaps the Lord Paramount of the Stormlands balked the idea of backing another usurper after what had happened last time, or perhaps (as I’ll talk about later) he feared that the Marcher Lords who supported Daemon had designs on Storm’s End.
Whoever this nameless Lord Baratheon was, he did accomplish one thing, siring the famous Lyonel Baratheon. It is fitting that a tourney was held to celebrate his birth, as for most of his life “the Laughing Storm” was chiefly famous as a tourney knight, where a chance encounter at the Tourney of Ashford Meadow made him one of “King Aegon’s most leal supporters.” This unexpected friendship with the most unlikely of Targaryen monarchs (and I would be greatly surprised if Lyonel hadn’t been one of the loudest voices for Aegon at the Great Council of 233) restored House Baratheon to royal favor: “so firm was their friendship that His Grace gladly agreed to betroth his eldest son and heir to Lord Lyonel’s daughter.” (WOIAF)
Once again, House Baratheon saw its old dream within arm’s reach – Prince Duncan being the Crown Prince, his heir would be half a Baratheon and all the kings to follow. Unfortunately, tragic love suddenly changed the course of history:
“The love between Jenny of Oldstones (“with flowers in her hair”) and Duncan, Prince of Dragonflies, is beloved of singers, storytellers, and young maids even to this day, but it caused great grief to Lord Lyonel’s daughter and brought shame and dishonor to House Baratheon. So great was the wroth of the Laughing Storm that he swore a bloody oath of vengeance, renounced allegiance to the Iron Throne, and had himself crowned as a new Storm King. Peace was restored only after the Kingsguard knight Ser Duncan the Tall faced Lord Lyonel in a trial by battle, Prince Duncan renounced his claim to crown and throne, and King Aegon V agreed that his youngest daughter, the Princess Rhaelle, would wed Lord Lyonel’s heir.” (WOIAF)
This new betrothal, which must have seemed something more akin to an exchange of hostages, with “Princess Rhaelle…sent to Storm’s End to serve as Lord Lyonel’s cupbearer and companion to his lady wife” and Steffon Baratheon later sent to King’s Landing as a page, nevertheless made a vitally important dynastic change. Instead of having Baratheon blood introduced into the royal bloodline, instead it was now the Baratheons who were the next in line dynastically should the male line of House Targaryen fail. From the union of Rhaelle and Ormund Baratheon came Steffon Baratheon, who would in turn sire Robert Baratheon.
This is not to say that the revolt of the Laughing Storm made Robert’s Rebellion an inevitability or whether one could even count it as a cause of the Rebellion. What is indisputable is that, without Lyonel’s wrathful actions, the rebel alliance would not have much reason to turn to Robert Baratheon as their choice for a new king in 283 AC. And with that, the history of the Stormlands throughout the course of ASOIAF would be entirely different.
In part because of the dismemberment of the Stormlands after the Conquest, a lot of the historical rivalries of the Stormlands – the oft-rebellious Houses Massey and Bar Emmon, for example – are no longer an internal issue, since the internal rivals were transferred out of the kingdom. As a result, we don’t get a good sense of the agency, character, and local rivalries of the lesser Houses of the Stormlands – compared to say the Boltons and the Manderlys in the North, the Brackens and Blackwoods in the Riverlands, or the Reynes and the Tarbecks in the Westerlands.
This omission is slightly strange, because we’re told that in general, “the people of the stormlands are like unto their weather, it has oft been said: tumultuous, violent, implacable.” (WOIAF) You would expect, for example, that the history of the proud and independent Marcher Lords would be riven with rivalries, feuds, and vendettas – I’d be very surprised if the Swanns have much patience for the lofty claims to preeminence of the Carons, for example.
Instead, most of the internal divisions of the Stormlands since the coming of the Targaryens have had to do with national politics.
For example, we know that in the lead-up to the First Blackfyre Rebellion that the Stormlanders were part of the anti-Dornish party of Aegon IV, as “Aegon turned his attention to Dorne, using the hatred for the Dornishmen that still burned in the marches, the stormlands,” and that “Knights and lords of the Dornish Marches came to mistrust Daeron, and Baelor as well,” and some of the warmest admirers of Daemon Blackfyre. But when the war came, the Marches saw the Carons declaring for the blacks and the Dondarrions for the reds, while the Penroses sallied forth to fight the Fireball’s armies while their liege lords the Baratheons stayed at home until Baelor Breaksprear came to fetch them.
Likewise, during Robert’s Rebellion, the Cafferens, Fells, Grandisons, and Conningtons all took up arms against their liege lord, although many were won over after the Battle of Summerhall. Lingering Targaryen loyalties might yet explain why so many Stormlords sat out the War of Five Kings, and perhaps might swell the ranks of Aegon VI Targaryen now that he has landed on Cape Wrath.
This “nationalization” of internal politics is quite unusual in Westeros: while certainly previous civil wars have divided kingdoms, we usually see the pre-existing divisions within the kingdom expressed in those civil wars: hence the Boltons siding with the Lannisters against the Starks and the Manderlys intriguing against them in the name of the Starks, or the Brackens and Blackwoods on opposite sides of any number of civil wars.
Whether this just comes down to a lack of world-building on the level of the lesser Hosues or has some more concrete cause will unfortunately remain a mystery.
Strengths and Weaknesses:
As to the strengths and weaknesses of the Stormlands, they are essentially one and the same – stubborn defiance. At various times, they have inspired the people of their kingdom to defy the odds and hold off invasions by much larger and more powerful kingdoms, or to build a mighty empire spanning the width of the continent. Yet at the same time, there is a persistence sense that the same quality has led the Stormlands to fight among themselves rather than compromise and cooperate, or to keep throwing good money after bad rather than admit they’ve made a mistake.
 One interesting open question in the world of ASOIAF is that we don’t have any indications as to whether Storm’s End’s magical protections would have protected the castle against dragonfire in the same way as Casterly Rock’s sheer geological bulk – potentially allowing Argilac to have held out for longer against the Targaryens a la the Martells – or whether it would have suffered the same fate as Harrenhal if Argilac had maintained his original plans.