A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation: the Great Councils of Westeros (Part I)

credit to Marc Simonetti

The “game of thrones” has become such a powerful symbol in the broader ASOIAF fandom that our perceptions of how Westerosi politics function have been distorted by it, resulting in an imaginary that is far too authoritarian and top-down. The King of Westeros is not an absolute monarch, nor is it normal for liege lords to wipe out entire houses for disloyalty. Rather, Westerosi politics is still characterized by the reciprocal and decentralized (if not precisely bottom-up) nature of feudal politics.

There is no better example of this than the simple fact of the existence of the Great Councils of Westeros. In these gatherings, national authority is exercises not by all-powerful monarchs issuing decrees, but by hue, sprawling assemblies of fiercely independent lords who act as both the representation of the will of the political class of the nation, and the ultimate source of authority for major changes to the fundamental laws of the kingdom.

In this essay, I will examine the structure of the Great Councils and the ways they parallel with or diverge from the development of aristocratic assemblies in Medieval Europe, then discuss the historical development of the great Councils, and then conclude by examining whether the Great Councils signify a future for parliamentary government in Westeros.

Comparative Structures

So how do the Great Councils compare to the aristocratic assemblies that developed in Medieval Europe prior to becoming the more Parliamentary systems of the Early Modern period?

First, the Great Councils seem to have originated as a vehicle for building support for a consensus candidate during disputed successions, whereas Parliament in England, the Estates General in France, the Cortes Generales in Spain, and so on, were almost all created as a means of gaining consent for (and thus allowing for the better collection of) taxes.

In a rather surprising departure from historical patterns, the Targaryen monarchy doesn’t seem to have run into conflicts with its vassals over taxation. Perhaps this was because the early monarchy relied on dragons rather than armies, or perhaps because the Iron Throne has an unusually well-developed fiscal apparatus given its weakness in other areas. Whichever was the case, it’s notable that Westerosi rebellions, both large (the Dance, the Blackfyre Rebellions) and small (the Vulture King, the Peake Uprising) almost always focus on questions of rulership and succession rather than financial issues.

Second, the Great Councils are unusual in that the lords of the realm sit as one undifferentiated mass. While the Sejm of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth followed this model, most other councils recognized the separate statuses of the various classes of medieval society, whether through a bicameral assembly that separated lords from commons or through the division of the Three Estates. The exclusion of the Faith of the Seven from the Great Councils makes some sense, since the weakened position of the Seven compared to the Catholic Church (especially in the wake of the Revolt of the Faithful) meant that there wasn’t as much of a need to conciliate the clergy. However, it is interesting that we don’t see any presence for the Westerosi merchant class, given the importance of the burghers of medieval Europe in providing finance for the monarch.

But while the Great Council is very much a council of lords only, it’s curious that there are no distinctions made between the Great Houses and the Lesser. Indeed, from the limited evidence we have it seems as if all Houses have an equal voice and vote in the Great Councils, and there is an ambiguity as to whether the Great Houses can actually deliver their vassals’ votes, limiting their ability to guide national policy through the creation of coherent majorities. For example, as we’ll discuss in more detail later, the Great Council of 101 AC ended with a 20:1 result, despite the Starks and Baratheons (and possibly the Arryns as well) supporting the losing side, which one would think would have resulted in something closer to a 3:1 outcome.

Third, the Great Councils meet less often than medieval assemblies. In no small part due to their incessant needs for funds, medieval monarchs tended to frequently call assemblies: in England, there were no less than 23 Parliaments called during the reign of Henry III (1207-1272 CE); Edward I outdid his father by calling some 46 Parliaments between 1275 and 1307. To me, this suggests some form of divergence from historical trends, and thus throughout this essay I will explore what factors might have led to a weaker presence for the Great Councils compared to their historical counterparts.

Historical Development of the Great Council                             

The origins of the Great Council are somewhat shrouded in mystery. For example, the earliest mention we have of the institution is that King Aenys intended to call a Great Council in 37 AC to solicit advice from the lords of the realm:

“More rebels soon appeared in the Vale and the Iron Islands, while a Dornishman naming himself the Vulture King gathered thousands of followers to stand against the Targaryens. Grand Maester Gawen wrote that the king was stunned by this news, for Aenys fancied himself beloved of the commons. And the king again acted indecisively…The king even determined to call a Great Council to discuss how to deal with these matters. Fortunately for the realm, others acted more swiftly.” (WOIAF)

What I find intriguing about this passage is that the term “Great Council” is used quite precisely and explicitly, despite the fact that the first Great Council proper wouldn’t take place for another 64 years. It’s possible that Maester Yandel is indulging in the same presentism he criticizes other scholars for, using a later term to describe a looser and more informal assembly of lords.

However, if that’s not the case, it suggests that the term “Great Council” was known in 37 AC, which raises the question of where it came from. It could be that King Aenys was simply extrapolating from the Small Council (although that’s unlikely, given that the term “small council” only came about in the reign of Jaehaerys I) , with the idea being to take soundings from a broader and more representative sample of the political class of the nation. This might explain why the proposed Great Council would have had a very different remit – debating royal policy – than all later Great Councils. However, it could also be the case that the term predated the Targaryen monarchy. Councils of various kinds are attested to in the records: the Ironborn’s kingsmoot are described as “great councils,” a council was called in the Westerlands to decide the succession of House Lannister following the death of Gerold III, and there are ruling councils of magisters, princes, priests, and other notables throughout Essos.

101 AC

Whichever is the case, the first Great Council came about in 101 AC, in circumstances that couldn’t be more different than those of 37 AC: in 101 AC, the Targaryen dynasty was led by a superlative monarch and the realm was at peace. Instead, Jaehaerys I seems to have called the Great Council of 101 to deal with the crucial issue of the succession in a hands-off fashion (indeed, Jaeherys is said to have been “not present for final deliberations”), in order to avoid a repetition of the clash between himself and Queen Alysanne as happened in 92 AC. The Great Council of 101 is the best documented of all the councils, which allows us to learn much about the structure and practices of this assembly:

“To resolve the matter of his heir once and for all, Jaehaerys called the first Great Council in the year 101 AC, to put the matter before the lords of the realm. And from all corners of the realm the lords came. No castle could hold so many save for Harrenhal, so it was there that they gathered. The lords, great and small, came with their trains of bannermen, knights, squires, grooms, and servants. And behind them came yet more—the camp followers and washerwomen, the hawkers and smiths and carters. Thousands of tents sprang up over the moons, until the castle town of Harrenton was accounted the fourth largest city of the Realm.” (WOIAF)

This passage gives us something of a sense of the scale of the proceedings: if Harrenton became the fourth-largest city in Westeros during the Great Council, that suggests that it had a population below 250,000 (the usual estimate given for the population of Lannisport, Westeros’ third-largest city) and above 50,000 (the usual estimate given for Gulltown and White Harbor). Since the 300-strong retinue of Tymond Lannister was considered exceptional, we can say that anywhere between 170 and 830 lords attended (which would explain why only Harrenhal of the Hall of a Hundred Hearths could hold them all).  Moreover, it raises an interesting issue – if the lords brought their bannermen with them as a matter of prestige, does this suggest that liege lords can call upon their bannermen to vote the way they want them to in a manner similar to the client system of Republican Rome? If so, how do we explain the lopsided outcome of the vote? If not, why go to the enormous expense and trouble for mere bragging rights?

Nor do the questions end there. We have very limited and often contradictory information as to how the Great Council of 101 conducted its business, even when it comes to the basic issue of how voting took place:

“The annals of the Great Council of 101 were brought forth and examined, and note was made of which lords had spoken for Viserys, and which for Rhaenys, Laena, or Laenor…”

“….the tide was against them, and though the maesters who counted the results never gave numbers…” (WOIAF)

The first quote, which at least tells us that the proceedings and debates of the Great Councils are minuted and preserved (most likely by the maesters who attended the event), suggests that there was no secret ballot, or at least that the preliminary debates between the partisans of the two main candidates were comprehensive enough to tell who voted which way. The second quote, by contrast, suggests that the Great Council operated by a secret ballot controlled by the maesters of the Citadel (what fertile ground for conspiracy theories!), who maintained the secrecy of the ballot to point of not actually providing vote totals but rather only the actual result of the balloting.

But enough about structure and practice; what was the political question that the Great Council was called to answer? In 92 AC, Jaehaerys had “pass[ed] over his granddaughter Rhaenys – the daughter of his deceased eldest son and heir, Prince Aemon,” who had been “killed in battle against Myrish pirates hwo had seized the eastern side of Tarth,” in favor of “bestowing Dragonstone and the place of heir apparent on his next eldest son, Baelon the Brave.” While a brave soldier and admirable Hand, Prince Baelon unexpectedly “died within days of a burst belly” (mostly likely a perforated stomach ulcer) less than a decade later). Thus, the Council of 101 had to choose between the heirs of dead crown princes who never ascended to the throne:

“At this council, nine lesser claimants were heard and dismissed, leaving only two primary claimants to the throne: Laenor Velaryon, son of Princess Rhaenys—who was the eldest daughter of Jaehaerys’s eldest son, Aemon—and Prince Viserys, eldest son of Baelon the Brave and Princess Alyssa. Each had their merits, for primogeniture favored Laenor, while proximity favored Viserys, who was also the last Targaryen prince to ride Balerion before the dragon’s death in 94 AC. Laenor himself had recently acquired a dragon, a splendid creature that he named Seasmoke. But for many lords of the realm, what mattered most was that the male line take precedence over the female line— not to mention that Viserys was a prince of four-and-twenty while Laenor was just a boy of seven.” (WOIAF)

Who the nine lesser claimants might have been is something of a mystery: Goodqueenaly suggests that they may have been “various descendants of [Jaehaerys’ brother] Prince Aegon’s twins, Aerea and Rhalla,” and that’s as good an explanation as any other, or perhaps they might have been the natural offspring of Princess Viserra or Princess Saera, either of whom might have had offspring.

But as to the main two claimants, what was the issue between them? To elucidate these thorny legal issues somewhat: “primogeniture favored Laenor” because Laenor was the grandson of Jaehaerys’ oldest son Aemon, whereas “proximity favored Viserys” because his father had been named Crown Prince after the death of Aemon (which implies that the heir apparency had not been passed down to Aemon’s heirs, but rather regifted by King Jaehaerys’ in 92 AC).

Which of these were the stronger argument depends on how Westerosi inheritance law compares to say, English inheritance law during the disputed succession of the various sons of King Edward III that would later give rise of the Wars of the Roses. In the English case, the son of an elder brother (in this case, Edward the Black Prince, even though he died before he could succeed to the throne) was deemed to inherit over his uncles; likewise the conflicts between York and Lancaster centered on the legal point that Henry IV of Lancaster (who usurped the throne from Richard II) descended from John of Gaunt, the third son of Edward III, whereas the Yorkists could claim descent from the House of Mortimer (the designated heirs of Richard II) and from Lionel of Antwerp (the second son of Edward III) but only through the female line and only from the fourth son of Edward III (Edmund, Duke of York) on the male line. At various times, the Yorkists would succeed at getting Parliament to issue decrees recognizing their claim as superior, only to find the legal situation reversed when the Lancastrians gained the upper hand. The ultimate victor is a bit hard to parse, as the Tudors’ claim was highly dodgy and practically relied heavily on Henry VII’s marriage to Elizabeth of York.

The decisions of the Council of 101 were not ultimately decided by legal principles; this was, after all, a political gathering rather than a mere convocation of scholars. We know that “Boremund Baratheon…supported Laenor’s claim, as did Lord Ellard Stark,” who was joined by his bannermen “Dustin of Barrowton and Manderly of White Harbor.”[1] We also know that Laenor was also supported by “Lord Blackwood, Lord Bar Emmon, and Lord Celtigar,” as did “Lords…Massey…and Crabb most like, perhaps even the Evenstar of Tarth.” (WOIAF) These lords, however, acted very much for their own political reasons. As I’ve discussed before, Lord Boremund Baratheon’s support for Laenor stemmed from a long-term political project of the Baratheons to place one with their own blood on the Iron Throne. By contrast, the support of House Stark and their vassals largely had to do with settling scores with King Jaehaerys:

“Later still, it was said that the Starks were bitter at the Old King and Queen Alysanne for having forced them to carve away the New Gift and give it the Night’s Watch; this may be one reason for why Lord Ellard Stark sided with Corlys Velaryon and Princess Rhaenys at the Great Council of 101 AC.” (WOIAF)

As for the Lords Bar Emmon, Massey, Celtigar, and Crabb, their support for Laenor was almost certainly determined by the proximity of their wealthy and powerful neighbor, House Velaryon, and their politically influential leader Lord Corlys the Sea Snake. Money in politics was no less important in the Middle Ages (especially given their more lax attitude with regards to bribery), and Corlys had a lot of money to spend:

“But against all this, Laenor had one shining advantage: he was the son of Lord Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, the wealthiest man in the Seven Kingdoms.…his fame did not come from his skill with sword and lance and shield but for his voyages across the seas of the world, seeking new horizons…Lord Corlys traveled widely, both to the south and to the north… Many ships of Westeros had sailed as far as Qarth to trade for spices and silk, but he dared to go farther, reaching the fabled lands of Yi Ti and Leng, whose wealth doubled that of House Velaryon in a single voyage.

Nine great voyages were made upon the Sea Snake, and on the last, Corlys filled the ship’s hold with gold and bought twenty more ships at Qarth, loading them with spices, elephants, and the finest silk. Some were lost, and the elephants died at sea, according to Maester Mathis’s The Nine Voyages, but the wealth that remained made House Velaryon the richest in the realm—richer even than the Lannisters and Hightowers, for a time.” (WOIAF)

While Corlys’ support for his own son was never in doubt, his efforts on Laenor’s behalf were no doubt intensified by the fact that, despite being probably the closest House to House Targaryen by blood, Corlys had seen his wife passed over in 92 AC. And once again, despite the support of the Lords of Dragonstone and two out of the seven Lords Paramount, Corlys’ wealth turned out to be insufficient to win the vote for his son.[2]

While we don’t have a complete list of Viserys’ supporters, those that we have suggest some reasons why the future King was able to triumph in council. To begin with, as the husband of Aemma Arryn, he would have had the support of the lords of the Vale who would prosper if the Arryns continued to enjoy pre-eminence at the Red Keep. Moreover, Viserys seems to have had support from most of the Lords Paramount, although we only have specific evidence for two: Lord Grover Tully, who “spoke for Prince Viserys Targaryen over Laenor Velaryon as the successor to Jaehaerys I in the Great Council of 101 AC,” and Lord Lymond Lannister. This last is perhaps the most significant factor:

“Lord Tymond Lannister was present at the Great Council of 101 AC that decided the succession, famously arriving with a huge retinue of three hundred bannermen, men-at-arms, and servants … only to be outdone by Lord Matthos Tyrell of Highgarden, who counted five hundred in his retinue. The Lannisters chose to side with Prince Viserys in the deliberations—a choice remembered and rewarded some years later, when Viserys ascended the Iron Throne and made Lord Jason Lannister’s twin brother Ser Tyland his master of ships. Later, Ser Tyland became master of coin for King Aegon II, and his close association with the Iron Throne and favored position at court brought his brother, Lord Jason, into the Dance of the Dragons on Aegon’s side.” (WOIAF)

While Tymond’s bannermen no doubt delivered a substantial number of votes for Prince Viserys (although we still don’t know how Matthos Tyrell and his retinue voted), ultimately it was likely Lannister gold which was the most significant factor in putting the future King over the finish line, allowing Viserys’ faction to match Corlys’ financial inducements and cancelling out that advance. Hence why Tyland Lannister was so richly rewarded with multiple Small Council appointments when Viserys ascended to the Iron Throne.

At the same time, the Great Council of 101 strained the boundaries of “normal” politics. Prince Daemon Targaryen “had been among the brashest of Viserys’s supporters prior to the Great Council,” although “some said that Daemon’s support for his brother in the Great Council was motivated by the belief he would be his brother’s heir,” due to Viserys and Aemma’s fertility problems. The problem for the Great Council was that:

“Prince Daemon Targaryen. Daemon was mercurial and quick to take offense, but he was dashing, daring, and dangerous. He…had even gathered a small army of sworn swords and men-at-arms when rumors claimed that Corlys Velaryon was readying a fleet to defend the rights of his son, Laenor. King Jaehaerys avoided bloodshed, but many remembered that Daemon had been ready to come to blows over the matter.” (WOIAF)

While Daemon was something of an unusual bad actor in feudal politics (although to be fair, I wouldn’t be surprised if the ever-pragmatic Corlys had been preparing to meet force with force), I do think this example shows why it was so difficult for the Great Council to deal with something so weighty as the succession of the Iron Throne, where the stakes for the winners and losers are enormous, and where it’s very easy in a society governed by a warrior caste to appeal from the ballot to the bullet. Especially as a brand-new institution which could hardly lay claim to the loyalties of any armed men, let alone the full military forces of the kingdom, it would be impossible for the Great Council to enforce its monopoly on political legitimacy. No wonder that it took King Jaehaerys’ personal intervention, when he had previously been so careful to remain aloof from the proceedings, to ensure that the Council’s deliberations would not be tainted by bloodshed. Future Councils would not be so lucky.

The results of the Great Council of 101 AC were twofold. First, “the Great Council…voted twenty to one in favor of Prince Viserys,” who was then “named…the Prince of Dragonstone,” shortly thereafter. The dynastic split between the lines of Aemon and Baelon would ultimately be repaired through the betrothal of Viserys’ daughter Rhaenrya to Laenor Velaryon (although not before Viserys once again salted Corlys’ wounds by rejecting the hand of Laena Velaryon in favor of Alicent Hightower), although ultimately the disastrous career of that marriage would create future tensions between the Targaryens and the Velaryons.  Second, the Great Council had left its mark in Westerosi law:

“In the eyes of many, the Great Council of 101 AC thereby established an iron precedent on matters of succession: regardless of seniority, the Iron Throne of Westeros could not pass to a woman, nor through a woman to her male descendants.” (WOIAF)

One of the more contentious legal maxims amongst the ASOIAF fandom, this precedent would have significant implications for the future of Westerosi politics. Most obviously, it would disenfranchise many potential female claimants to the Iron Throne, from Rhaenrya (although in the case of Aegon III, it’s pretty clear that the victorious blacks decided to ignore the “nor through a woman to her male descendants” part, although there were no green Targaryens left to object), to Daena the Defiant and her sisters (thus bringing Viserys II and thus Aegon IV to the Iron Throne), to Vaella daughter of Daeron the Drunken (thus allowing Aegon the Unlikely to become king), shaping the course of Westerosi history. Beyond that, it further divided Westerosi law from Dornish law, exacerbating the cultural differences between the two kingdoms.

Still unresolved was whether among the results of the first Great Council was its establishment as a permanent part of Westerosi politics…

[1] This an example of the ambiguity of the Great Councils: the Starks clearly were able to rely on their bannermen’s votes, although it may well be that these were the only bannermen who made the trek from the North to Harrenhal, which suggests that geography might play a very restrictive role in how representative the Great Councils truly are. However, the same geographic pressures clearly wouldn’t have affected the Baratheons, so why aren’t any of Lord Boremund’s vassals mentioned as supporters of Laenor?

[2] Another way we can estimate attendance at the Council of 101 is the fact that Laenor’s faction numbered at least ten Houses, and yet were outvoted 20:1, which suggests that there were at least 210 Houses represented at the Council.

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63 thoughts on “A Parcel of Rogues in a Nation: the Great Councils of Westeros (Part I)

  1. Andrew says:

    1. Another example of a precursor to the Great Council besides the ones you mentioned is election of the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, which is the only one (besides kingsmoots) dedicated solely to choosing leaders.

    2. “No castle could hold so many save for Harrenhal, so it was there that they gathered. The lords, great and small, came with their trains of bannermen, knights, squires, grooms, and servants. And behind them came yet more—the camp followers and washerwomen, the hawkers and smiths and carters. Thousands of tents sprang up over the moons, until the castle town of Harrenton was accounted the fourth largest city of the Realm.”

    In other words, Harrenton briefly became the Hamptons.

    3. I get the feeling there will another Great Council at the end of the series. I don’t think Catelyn’s suggestion in ACoK will be left hanging, and after the Others are dealt with, that is what they’ll likely do.

    • Anas Abusalih says:

      Care to elaborate on Hampton? I don’t get it.

      • The Hamptons are a vacation destination for the rich on Long Island New York…the Great Gatsby is set on the Hamptons, for example.

        Anway, the Hamptons’ population changes dramatically depending whether it’s vacation season or not.

        • AJD says:

          The Great Gatsby is set in western Long Island, near New York City; the Hamptons are 75 miles away at the eastern end of Long Island.

      • Andrew says:

        The Hampons are a geroup of villages and hamlets in the towns of Southampton and East Hampton, which form the South Fork of Long Island, New York. The population of the Hamptons consists of many affluent residents from New York city and other nearby states. It has been a fashionable summer resort as well as enclave for high society since the 19th century.

    • 1. Technically that’s an election and not an assembly; I’ll be discussing elections by both the NW and the Kingsmoot in another essay.

      2. Yeah, pretty much.

      3. Mayhaps. It’ll be interesting to see.

  2. Hedrigal says:

    If I had to come up with a reason out of thin air, it would be that putting all lords on the same footing in terms of voting rights was beginning as a parliamentary maneuver by Jaehaerys to create a wedge between the Great Houses and their vassals, in order to both legitimize the council in the eyes of those lesser lords, and to weaken the authority of the great houses should they try and dispute the outcome with force. The lesser houses will almost certainly prefer this set up to whatever is proposed by the great houses, and the great houses arguing too hard against it would only serve to piss their bannermen off. Even if the Bannermen are inclined to side with the person their lord supports purely out of loyalty to that lord, they’re unlikely to approve of the argument they not have that option. And if they don’t support the same candidate it makes it much harder to justify opposition to the outcome to those Bannermen on the grounds of their authority as their liege lord, if the great council provides them the right to disagree on the candidate.

  3. medrawt says:

    Interesting stuff here and I’m looking forward to more. Stuff that piques my curiosity:

    (1) Why was Jaehaerys futzing about with his succession anyway? Was he trying to reconcile Westerosi norms with Valyrian traditions? Was he just trying to pick the individual he thought was best suited to leadership? Did he WANT to set some sort of precedent?

    (2) It is apparent, but perhaps poorly conveyed, that there’s nothing against having daughters inherit their fathers’ position, save the possibility of individual prejudice. We know the Dornish are an exception for throwing out precedence of sex over birth order, but Jon’s spiel about the Karstark succession makes clear that he thinks it’s understood as common law throughout the rest of Westeros that a daughter inherits ahead of her uncles. Yet the only examples I can think of outside Dorne with a ruling Lady are the Mormonts, the odd situation with Barbrey Dustin, and the female lead in that Dunk and Egg story I haven’t read. Did any of the pre-Targaryen Kingdoms have Queens mentioned in TWOIAF? Even with big families and sex taking precedence over birth order, I feel like Martin maybe underpopulated the ruling class with Ladies if he intended this to be clear.

    (3) Thanks for pointing out the immediate political dimensions of the Great Council; building off of (2), I’d been perplexed why the lords would have overwhelmingly voted to violate their own cultural precedent, unless there was some prejudice that a woman could rule as Lady but not as Queen. But they likely weren’t thinking about precedent at all, despite later claims to justify the Green position; Viserys obviously didn’t think so, and he was the victor of the process!

    • 1. As I said, he’d already gotten himself in trouble the first time when Aemon died unexpectedly, and then Baelon dies unexpectedly so he figures to stay hands-off.

      2. Well, here we have the counter example, medrawt: the lords of all of Westeros coming together to say the male line must be superior to the female. So I don’t think the custom could be that strong. But I’ll admit it’s an inconsistency of Martin’s.

      3. See above.

      • medrawt says:

        That apparent inconsistency is why this essay convinced me that the voting had more to do with immediate political machinations than it did with wanting to set a strong precedent. 🙂

        • Yes political machinations mattered more, but… “for many lords of the realm, what mattered most was that the male line take precedence over the female line.” Seems to have been a sticking point.

      • Well as I mention below, the Gardeners might have adopted Salic Law after Garth X. So there may already be a precedent that the royal line needs to pass through the male line. It could also make the Florent feelings that they should hold Highgarden more significant, they think they are appealing to the old laws of the Reach that rulership of the Reach goes through the male line.

    • Murc says:

      Did any of the pre-Targaryen Kingdoms have Queens mentioned in TWOIAF?

      There’s only one that immediately springs to mind; there was a Queen Gardener in the Reach. This is apparently so historically unusual that Maester Yandel calls it out specifically as an oddity.

    • Ruling ladies in ASOIAF: http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Category:Ruling_ladies — Outside of Dorne, some major examples include Rhea Royce, Jeyne Arryn, Danelle Lothston, Mary Mertyns, Arwyn Oakheart, and Anya Waynwood.

      • medrawt says:

        Thanks! A couple of those I should have recalled but honestly I’m always fuzzy on the events and personalities of the Targaryen Monarchy; for whatever reason I’ve never been that curious about it relative to, on the one hand, Robert’s Rebellion, and on the other, the deep pre-history of the story.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Eddara Tallhart in the North as well, despite her having male cousins and a surviving uncle.
        Also don’t forget Cerelle Lannister, who inherited over her uncle Gerion.

        Steven and I had a very long debate about this in the comments of Arya V Clash.

        • “Inherited,” “assassinated,” potato potatoe.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Do you mean to say that 3 year old Cerelle assassinated her father? The point is that when Tybolt Lannister died, CR and the Westerlands went to his infant daughter, instead of Gerold, and would have stayed hers had she not died herself. Gerold may or may not have assassinated her, but she still had to die before he could rule.

          • Sean C. says:

            Infants die all the time in Westeros, so I’ve never thought there was any basis to that.

          • Cerelle assassinated by Gerold could be seen as a “rough” way of asserting a claim of an uncle against a daughter. It’s happened historically; call it the Sforza way.

    • Sean C. says:

      It seems like there’s a fairly strong tradition in Westeros (outside of Dorne, obviously) that a woman cannot inherit the crown, even if they seem to be able to inherit a banner house without much difficulty.

      We know, in particular, that the North has never had a female ruler, even after they submitted to the Targaryens. The Reach had one queen, singular. The Westerlands declined to crown a woman, insteading crowning her husband, but later had an infant girl as Lady Paramount. The Vale had a Lady Paramount, no queens mentioned. We know of no female monarchs or paramount ladies in the Riverlands, Iron Islands (LOL), or the Stormlands — though in the last case, we don’t know who inherited Storm’s End after the death of Lord Borros, who is only mentioned as having had four daughters.

  4. Of course as GRRM has said Westerosi succession is subject to interpretation, rather like Medieval Succession disputes. Martin mentions the Great Cause in Scotland, which the Great Council seems based on. And Jaehaerys must have called this to avoid a repeat of the succession problems that occurred after his father’s death (and there’s the matter of his nieces being passed over, but hopefully we’ll find out what happened to them later). After all there was the potential for war to break out between the Velaryons and Baelon’s sons. This way the question could be solved in a relatively clear way, the Lords making a clear choice. I do have to wonder though how things would have turned out if Alysanne had still been alive. And I would like to know who the lesser claimants were, I presume Corlys would have been among them.

    Though male line succession may have already become a thing among the Gardeners, after the civil war that erupted on the death of Garth X, the King Lear of Westeros. We hear the female lines were passed over and a second cousin placed in power instead, meaning that the Gardener succession may have ended up becoming Salic. Considering that the Reach is Fantasy France that would sort of make sense.

    Anyway, an enjoyable essay.

    • It’s quite possible that you could have had a Salic change in the Reach, although we have ruling ladies of the Reach right now, so maybe not?

      My guess is that they simply attainted both female lines for having provoked a civil war.

      • Yeh, but in France you had ruling Ladies such as Mahaut even though the monarchy was male-line. Though she came into power before they established Salic Law… you get the point. Anyway it’s hard finding precedent for this in what we have of Westerosi history so far. For all we know it could have gone male line.

    • undercat says:

      I always thought the male second cousin succeeding Garth X had as much to do with the circumstances as desperately wanting a male king. The Peakes and Manderlys, each married to one of his daughters, apparently spent a decade fighting over which daughter should succeed him – I could see the male second cousin being a consensus candidate to end the fighting between the Reach’s verions of the Brackens and Blackwoods.

  5. Murc says:

    The King of Westeros is not an absolute monarch,

    This is a trickier question than it seems at first glance, I think, Steven, and I’m not sure you can simply assert it without defining terms.

    In practical terms, of course the King of Westeros wasn’t an absolute monarch, but in practical terms nobody ever has been an absolute monarch. Even systems in which the ruler of the nation is given an explicitly formal imprimatur to do as they will (China operated on this system for a long time) from a practical perspective every monarch has always had to deal with culture, politics, and people seriously impeding their ability to actually translate their will into action. Even the Sun King, who embodies the notion of an absolute monarch in the west, wasn’t one in this sense; Louis XIV was restrained in his desires by all kinds of domestic political realities.

    But I don’t think you’re talking strictly about practicalities here; after all, from a ruthlessly practical and boiled-down perspective, the authority of all the rulers of the Seven Kingdoms derives from Varys’ shadow on the wall, their ability to convince large numbers of armed men to use those arms as they say. I rather think, and correct me if I’m wrong, that you’re making a case that the culture, history, political realities, laws, and customs of the Seven Kingdoms speak against an absolutist form of monarchy both formally and informally.

    I’m gonna say that I’m not sure this is true. My own reading is that monarchy, and indeed lordship, while something of a mish-mash, is closer to absolutism than not. Call it absolute-adjacent.

    The big thing for me is that, although Westeros has a large body of law and custom (more the latter than the former really, it seems) sovereigns are sort of seen as… not above it per se, but as being an outside context question. The sovereign is the font of justice, not necessarily of law, and therefore is seen as existing somewhat outside the laws and traditional customs and having a certain amount of power to override them.

    We see this play out throughout the novels and the histories. Daenerys’ conception of what a king is for, the reason they exist, is to provide justice. Stannis Baratheon has a similar conception of it. And both of them see this responsibility as vesting in themselves not just the right, but the responsibility to tell the law to go fuck itself when they that it is necessary. (Although this is more a Daenerys characteristic than a Stannis one, but Stannis does do this.)

    Moreover, throughout the histories… TWOIAF often refers to criminals, lawbreakers, rogues, etc. of many sorts. But it seems deliberately unwilling to apply those terms to sovereigns even when they’re committing all kinds of monstrous crimes. Kings might be cruel, mad, unworthy, any one of a number of adjectives… but they don’t seem to be able to commit crimes in a legal sense, because they’re the source of law and aren’t bound to it except loosely. Rebellions and uprisings are also couched in moral terms and not legal ones; Cregan Stark asserts a moral right to kill a cruel and unjust (emphasis mine) in battle. Aerys is seen is being bugfuck insane and a threat to the whole Realm, but nobody ever presents a legal argument that he lacked the formal authority to do as he did, just that him doing so was so outrageous that he had to be stopped regardless of being king.

    This even carries over to Aegon V. Aegon tried to reform Westerosi law (and by extent custom) to be more smallfolk-friendly. Many of lords and bannermen denounced him as a tyrant for doing so, but they don’t seem to assert that he did not have the formal legal right to remake the law by waving his hand and declaring it to be so. When he’s forced to back down or buckle in the face of their defiance this seems rooted in practicality more than anything else.

    So I’m gong to tentatively assert that, traditionally, Westerosi monarchs have a long tradition of being near, but perhaps not actually, absolute, with their power being restrained more by the political reality of a heavily decentralized state than by actual laws and customs saying “even a King cannot do X.” Indeed, I would assert that this is necessary for them to retain any pretense to authority more legitimate than “accident of birth + dudes with swords.” Westeros doesn’t seem to have a strong “divine right of kings” tradition except in a few somewhat isolated incidences; there’s no tradition that the Seven or the Old Gods or the Drowned God MAKES you king and that your authority derives from an extrahuman divine source. Rather, it seems like the conception is that a king is a person who holds the scales of justice in their hands, and that providing this justice to all and sundry is what gives them the right to rule.

    Second, the Great Council had left its mark in Westerosi law:

    Mmm, did it?

    I think I agree with Medrawt that, whatever the intentions of “many” of the lords participating in it were, the Great Council of 101 was more widely perceived as having settled an immediate political question rather than being ironclad precedent.

    I mean… the very beneficiary of the Great Council overturned it a few decades later. Rhaenyra ruled as the first Targaryen Queen (fuck the maesters in this regard; regardless of her merits or competence, if Aegon II, the guy who lost and lost huge, was a king then Rhaenyra was a queen) with the enthusiastic support of a wide cross-section of the political class, and she passed the throne successfully to her son, the heir of her body.

    This says to me that quite a lot of the lords who rose for the blacks didn’t regard the Great Council as having established an ironclad precedent, but rather settled an immediate question. And then some years later there was an another immediate question of the succession, and Viserys settled it a different way (because, as I’ve said above, he’s the king and the font of law and justice, not subservient to it necessarily) and they regarded this as equally legitimate.

    Maester Yandel might try and imply otherwise… but while he’s solid on facts, Yandel’s analyses, I think, cannot be taken as gospel. This is especially true when he’s writing about people who are contemporaneous with him in the setting and, thus, can make his life hard if he writes shit they don’t like, but it’s also true in general.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      As Winnie would say, a great big WORD to everything you wrote. The Great Council of 101 may well have established an iron precedent specifically for the Iron Throne later on, but that wasn’t the intention of the lords voting.

    • Hedrigal says:

      That would also reflect the evolution of improvised solutions into precedent and law in many cases.

      • Murc says:

        Steven has written before, I believe, about how underdeveloped the Westerosi justice system is.

        They have laws, of course, although some of them (a lot of them) are more like customs and traditions. But for the most they operate on a system where justice flows from the king down through his lords, and is enacted either by the king in his own person, or by the lord acting as a stand-in for the royal person. They haven’t reached the point where they have a professional legal class who are thinking things like “maybe we should write all our decisions down so we can all be consistent all the time.” I might be wrong but I don’t think we’ve ever seen or heard of a single judge or magistrate or anyone whose entire job is simply “apply royal law.” It’s all handled by lords.

        • Not so much underdeveloped as weirdly inconsistent: there’s a royal legal code, there are maesters trained in law, there’s a royal Master of Laws, but there are no royal judges and lords have the right to try cases in their jurisdictions.

          How the hell that works is a major question I have for GRRM if I ever get to meet him.

          • Murc says:

            My personal headcanon is that this has its roots in the political maneuvering of Jaehaerys I.

            Jaehaery’s most famous reform was adopting a nationwide code of laws to supplant the various separate legal codes that formally controlled things. One realm, one law, that’s what he wanted. This would have probably been an extraordinarily heavy lift; you’re asking people to give up the customs and laws that have governed them for in some cases thousands of years, and some of the people you’re making that ask of remember that they used to be kings and aren’t anymore, and they also remember that Aegon the Conqueror told them not long ago they’d get to keep their ancient laws. That’s a big, big ask.

            So what I’m thinking is, Jaehaerys made a compromise: there will be a unified legal code for the realm, from the Arbor to the Wall, from Lannisport to Massey’s Hook… but it will be administered by and through the lords. They get to try cases and judge guilt and innocence, they have the right of pit and gallows, their ancient privilege to mete out justice is maintained. It’s just that now it is the king’s justice, not their own. He promised them no royal judge or appointed flunky would come into their demesnes and undercut them, although Jaehaerys reserves the right for the throne itself in the person of the king to reprimand and upbraid them.

            I have absolutely not evidence for this beyond logic and reason. It seems like a logical way we’d have ended up with the inconsistencies.

          • Sure, but how that works in practice I don’t understand. Are copies of the legal code sent out to every lord in Westeros? Or do they expect the maesters to train the heirs in the Code Jaehaerys as part of their education? Who keeps the records of judicial decisions? How are conflicting decisions between different jurisdictions reconciled? Etc.

    • I did write a whole essay series explaining why I don’t think the Kings of Westeros are absolute monarchs, Murc…

      And I would point to the reaction against Aegon V’s reforms as strong evidence that the rights and privileges of the nobility vis-a-vis their king are quite strong indeed.

      It may be something of a reading backwards, but certainly all examples post-Dance suggest that the precedent was confirmed after the war. And I would note that Rhaenrya is not counted as a ruling queen of Westeros.

      • Murc says:

        I did write a whole essay series explaining why I don’t think the Kings of Westeros are absolute monarchs, Murc…

        And I read and love them! But like I said, the taxonomy depends on how we’re defining “absolute” here. Like, you refer to Louis XIV as an absolute monarch… but Louis XIV was, in practical terms, constrained in what he could do domestically. He might have been the state, but a legal formality doesn’t make it so. How absolute does your power need to be in real terms for you to fall into that category? Do you need both formal AND practical absolute power, or will just one do, and if so, which one? Since getting to practical absolute power is impossible, how close do you need to get to “count?”

        As you wrote, the Westerosi monarchy has characteristics of a bunch of different kinds. But I think that informally and conceptually, they’re close to, but not identical to, a functional definition of absolute. It bleeds in along the edges, which is why I used the term absolute-adjacent. I think the Westerosi simultaneously conceive of their sovereigns as wielding near-absolute power and being the source of law and justice, but simultaneously expect them not to violate certain traditions, rights, and cultural shibboleths and taboos even if they have a technical right to do so. Although of course the books are somewhat inconsistent on this; you have stuff like the Lannisters keeping an army in the field for over a year without any apparent problems, and then you have Catelyn Stark worried that after calling his banners Robb’s army will disperse and go home.

        And I would point to the reaction against Aegon V’s reforms as strong evidence that the rights and privileges of the nobility vis-a-vis their king are quite strong indeed.

        Right, but again, is this a formal or practical thing? My reading is that Aegon V had a formal right to unilaterally institute his reforms without buy-in from his lords, which speaks to an absolutism model of monarchy, but that in practical terms without that buy-in he was often forced to back down and compromise due to the decentralized nature of Westeros and the facts on the ground.

        As I said… even when it comes to the monstrous kings, the books and the ancillary materiel tend not to talk about them in terms as if they were lawbreakers. They tend to make moral arguments about how what they were doing was wrong and armed rebellion was justified, not legal ones.

        It may be something of a reading backwards, but certainly all examples post-Dance suggest that the precedent was confirmed after the war.

        Except, of course, for Aegon III, from whom all future Targaryen monarchs claim descent and thus legitimacy. Aegon III, in turn, can only claim legitimacy through his mother. Literally every single Targaryen monarch from him on represents a violation of this precedent. And Robert Baratheon’s claim to the throne at least nominally rests on his connection through Rhaelle.

        And of course there’s Daenerys Stormborn, who does not give a shit about this precedent and has three giant murdersaurs to back this viewpoint up.

        And I would note that Rhaenrya is not counted as a ruling queen of Westeros.

        Yeah, and like I said: fuck the maesters when it comes to this. There’s no logically consistent way to declare that Aegon II and Aegon III were ruling kings but that Rhaenyra was never a ruling queen. Regardless of her flaws as a person or as a ruler, which were legion, I can’t help but view this as an act of rank misogyny.

        As far as I’m concerned, Rhaenyra was a queen. There were eighteen Targaryen monarchs, not seventeen. Daenerys will be the nineteenth if she ever makes her claim stick.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          “Except, of course, for Aegon III, from whom all future Targaryen monarchs claim descent and thus legitimacy.”

          I agree with the larger point you’re making, but this is untrue. Aegon III’s two sons were Daeron I, and Baelor I, who both died childless. Ironically, the only Iron Throne claimants today descended from him are the Blackfyres, through Daena the Defiant.

          Dany, Rhaegar, Jon, and the rest are descended from Aegon III’s younger brother Viserys I, who was still a son of Rhaenyra so your larger point stands.

        • Ser Friendzone says:

          I concur that Rhaenyra’s reign should count, but didn’t the crown come to Aegon III as Aegon II nearest male relative (nephew,) rather than having anything to do with Rhaenyra’s claim?

          Either way, the real departure point for a true legitimist (am I using that term correctly, Steven?) would be when Princess Rhaenys was passed over; “the rights of a daughter come before an uncle, by all the laws I know.”

          • Murc says:

            I concur that Rhaenyra’s reign should count, but didn’t the crown come to Aegon III as Aegon II nearest male relative (nephew,) rather than having anything to do with Rhaenyra’s claim?

            Aegon III is only related to Aegon II via a woman, tho, which is supposedly prohibited by “the Iron Throne of Westeros could not pass to a woman, nor through a woman to her male descendants.”

          • That’s not true. Aegon III’s father was Daemon Targaryen, eldest brother to Aegon II. So following 101 AC, after Aegon II’s last son dies, Daemon becomes his heir, and Aegon III is Daemon’s heir.

        • 1. I don’t agree that “Westerosi simultaneously conceive of their sovereigns as wielding near-absolute power and being the source of law and justice.” They are certainly considered a source of law and justice, but the reaction to Aegon V’s reforms suggests that the nobles’ right of pit and gallows is another source of law and justice, and therefore the king is not absolute in matters of justice.

          As for the formal/practical, I disagree that it’s just practical – the nobility wouldn’t have been able to claim that Aegon was a tyrant attacking their liberties if Aegon had the formal right.

          Ultimately, the Westerosi monarchy lacks the capacity of an absolute monarchy: it doesn’t have the bureaucracy to rule by decree, it doesn’t have a standing army let alone a monopoly on armed violence, and it doesn’t have the fiscal resources to pay for the previous two (even with Littlefinger’s “innovations”).

          2. As stated elsewhere, Aegon III can claim legitimacy from his father Daemon as well as through his mother. And notably did not act to add his mother to the rolls of monarchs or overrule Aegon II’s decree regarding women, likely to avoid antagonizing the remaining Greens.

          3. I understand your opinion, but given that the underlying question is whether the Great Council of 101 AC established a precedent, it’s not what we think that matters, but what the Westerosi think.

          • Murc says:

            I don’t agree that “Westerosi simultaneously conceive of their sovereigns as wielding near-absolute power and being the source of law and justice.” They are certainly considered a source of law and justice, but the reaction to Aegon V’s reforms suggests that the nobles’ right of pit and gallows is another source of law and justice, and therefore the king is not absolute in matters of justice.

            Well, my question here is, what source is seen as overriding the other? You can have multiple sources of law and justice, but if one trumps the other then it is supreme.

            My reading of Westerosi history is that many, many times a king has decided “yeah… no. The way we’ve been doing it sucks. We’re gonna do it this way now instead.” And while making that decision has occasionally gotten the king in question hacked into small pieces, it always seems like there was broad agreement that they in general had a legal right to make it; it’s just that morally it was sometimes found repugnant enough to justify armed revolt or other extreme measures.

            I’m thinking specifically of the Iron Islands and the Old Way/New Way pendulum here as an example. The various ironborn kings and lords paramount appear to have extreme powers to dictate things like “reavers are outlaws” or “reavers are heroes” or “you can take salt wives and have salt sons” to “your salt sons are actually bastards with no standing at all.” Sometimes attempting to implement these decisions provokes a backlash, but they’re not seen as lawless acts the kings lack the authority to make. Quellon did things one way; then Balon did them another. Etc.

            As for the formal/practical, I disagree that it’s just practical – the nobility wouldn’t have been able to claim that Aegon was a tyrant attacking their liberties if Aegon had the formal right.

            Uh.

            Steven, no snark, this is an honest question: how do you figure?

            Right now in the present world, there’s an entire economic and political industry dedicated to labeling all manner of perfectly ordinary things that governments have the formal right to do, like levying taxes, as unacceptable acts of tyranny that attack our basic liberties. And we exist under a government type that has stupendously more legitimacy than anything Westeros has ever thrown up.

            You can claim anything you want. That doesn’t make it correct.

            It seemed very, very obvious to me that the nobility was claiming Aegon was a tyrant in a “we find this morally and ideologically outrageous” sense rather than in an “the king is acting lawlessly and has no legal right, as a king, to change these laws he’s changed” sense. From a meta perspective, that whole section of TWOIAF seemed like pretty direct commentary on privileged, wealthy people who cry “tyranny!” at the drop of a hat the second that privilege and wealth is questioned.

            Ultimately, the Westerosi monarchy lacks the capacity of an absolute monarchy: it doesn’t have the bureaucracy to rule by decree, it doesn’t have a standing army let alone a monopoly on armed violence, and it doesn’t have the fiscal resources to pay for the previous two

            Hrm.

            I absolutely agree with all of this… but I’m just not sure that capacity is a dispositive metric of whether a monarchy is absolute or not. It’s an excellent practical measure for the power of the central state, which isn’t irrelevant, but… hmm.

            Gonna have to roll this over in my head some.

            As stated elsewhere, Aegon III can claim legitimacy from his father Daemon as well as through his mother.

            Ah, dang it. Well, when I’m wrong I’m wrong. I hadn’t even really considered that aspect of it. I keep forgetting about Daemon. That’s my bad. Yeah, that works out neatly, doesn’t it?

            Can we at least agree that the precedent was abolished with the end of the first Targaryen dynasty, and that if Daenerys Targaryen establishes a second Targaryen dynasty (or is seen as re-establishing the first one) she’ll likely keep it that way? Both she and Robert need that precedent to be null for their reigns to be legitimate, although of course what makes their reigns legitimate in a practical sense was “my warhammer crunching through Rhaegar’s chest” and will be “I can burn all y’all alive” respectively.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Wrong, actually, and Murc was right. You’ll recall that Aegon II had attainted both Daemon and Aegon III, and in his last days named his heir as being, wait for it,…. his daughter Jaehaera.

          • No, Aegon II *wanted* to do that, but was dissuaded by his council and so “the king gave way reluctantly.”

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            He was dissuaded from cutting off Aegon III’s ear, not from attainting him and making Jaehaera heir.
            At least, that’s how I remember it, it’s been a while since I read TPatQ, and I don’t have it to hand. It’s possible I’m wrong.

          • I went through asearchoficeandfire and that was the only mention of attainting I could find.

          • Murc says:

            It might be accurate to say the Viserys I and others (the latest and most hilarious inept attempt being Arianne Martells) have tried to undo the precedent, but none of them succeeded to the actual extent of putting a Queen on the Iron Throne?

  6. fjallstrom says:

    Good article.

    A point of order, though: I think the Sejm had two chambers, the Senate – Upper House – and the lower house, the Sejm. Apart from confusing nomenclature, I also believe they were all nobility, just upper and lower nobility.

    Another interesting tidbit, is that when the Sejm solved royal inheritance disputes, they took the opportunity to demand more power for the Sejm. In effect, if you wanted to be elected king, you better strengthen the Sejm more than your no-good cousin is promising to do. The Westerosi nobility doesn’t seem to have figured that part out.

  7. artihcus022 says:

    Notes about the Great Council that I have.

    1) Is it likely that Queen Alysanne may have tried in her own way to machinate during the Great Councils, because the record is unusually silent about what role she might or might not have had during that time. We know Jaehaerys intervened against Daemon Rogue Prince but I find it unlikely that Alysanne in the same time kept quiet.

    2) The Great Councils seem to be unusually committed to preserving patriarchy it seems to me. As is the Kingsmoot. Almost any mention of it is about moving the goalposts first for Prince Rhaenys, then the precedent for Rhaenyra, then poor Daena, Vaella (though Bloodraven probably poisoned that well by casually presenting that Blackfyre’s guy head) and in the case of the Kingsmoot you have Aeron summoning the Kingsmoot precisely because he didn’t want to back Balon’s choice of Asha as heir. All that makes it interesting that in ASOIAF, Catelyn Stark proposed calling for it to Renly. And that makes me wonder why the most legalist of all Kings, Stannis, has not made his views on Great Councils a matter of public record.

    3) That leads me to wonder what Prince Rhaegar’s proposed Council would have decided. Because if precedent was everything then Robert would not be considered King since his claim came from a female Targaryen heir, as per the GC precedents. On the other hand, Rhaegar to hold that council would have had to defeat Robert at the trident, either killing and/or capturing him and company, which would have made that a rump council…and if he truly brought in a consensus like say vassals from both sides…then it would still raise doubts if the rebel voters could have agency to vote against their generous and benevolent Prince.

    • Murc says:

      I sort of got the distinct impression that Rhaegar’s proposed Great Council wasn’t going to be about the succession like the prior two were.

      Or, rather, it was, but… how to put this. I think what Rhaegar wanted was a “soft” coup. That his plan was to sort of quietly gather the lords together, and arrange to remove his father and install himself with a minimum of bloodshed, because Aerys was fucking bugnuts insane and the whole realm knew it. So his idea was “call a Great Council, publicly or otherwise (he tried to do some of this in secret, remember) and get buy-in from the lords. Then when I tell the old man he’s out and I’m in, and he calls for support to put down my ‘rebellion,’ all he hears are crickets.”

      In order to do this after the Rebellion, tho, he first needed to put down Robert and be the conquering hero. Because Robert was out for blood because of Lyanna, and Rhaegar didn’t have much of a choice but to fight.

    • 1. It’s quite possible; she was very active in politics elsewhere. However, it might also have been the case that Alysanne stayed out to keep Jaehaerys out and avoid a repeat of 92 AC.

      2. Well, these are the ruling lords of Westeros, with ruling ladies being highly in the minority. And to an extent, GRRM is following from history here: there were very loud misogynist arguments against the Empress Matilda during the Anarchy despite the fact that she was the chosen heir of Henry I of England. In fact, there were even arguments made that Matilda had to be kept off the throne to keep her notoriously ambitious, warlike, and hot-tempered husband Geoffrey Plantagenet, away from power…

      3. I’m pretty sure Rhaegar’s proposed Council would have been to depose Aerys II for reasons of mental unfitness, proclaim Rhaegar King, and then some sort of attempt at reconciliation with the rebels.

  8. artihcus022 says:

    This makes me lose respect for Prince Rhaegar. I mean I always try and give that guy the benefit of the doubt, but there’s just no way the Great Council he was planning would have had any constituency. Let’s assume that Rhaegar wins, that Lyanna lives, and that she gives birth to his child. What is the legal status of that kid going to be, what is Lyanna’s situation going to be…Aegon Unworthy style designated Mistress, or neo-polygamy? Because somehow I doubt having two wives, from two different Lord Paramount houses with their own children is going to resolve dynastic disputes. Does the First marriage have more legitimacy than the second? Aegon I had polygamous marriages to his sisters so that still kept that within the Targaryens…

    Even if he deposes Aerys II, which is a big if, he would have to deal with the Martells, who would wonder about him dishonoring Elia and her children, and by taking out Aerys II, you can be sure that there would be calls for Elia and her children to come to Dorne, by which the Dornish would make Rhaenys and/or the Real Aegon VI, and charge against him because Prince Daddy just set a precedent for Ottoman/Mughal style inter-family war. There will be contenders calling for Viserys to move against Rhaeghar.

    And of course, Ned Stark would be confused. If Rhaegar defeats or kills Robert…and let’s Ned live, he will have to choose between backing Stannis and Renly and continue the Rebellion, or support Lyanna and her spawn, or Prince Rhaegar…It’s a succession dispute even more absurd and mindboggling than any in the books which is still relatively straightforward.

    The only way to salvage this, i.e. For Rhaegar not to be a total moron and detached from reality, was if Rhaegar’s Great Council would be grounded towards some permanent continuing parliament…which would work with Southron Ambitions I think. Because if he thinks the Council can depose Aerys II and then make him King, then he’s plainly crazy.

    • Murc says:

      What other choices does he have at that point?

      That’s a serious question. Sure, running off with Lyanna was a mistake, although it might in fact have absolutely been necessary to, you know, save the world if Jon is one of the three heads. (I’d really like to get a goddamn look at some of the prophecy Rhaegar and others were working off of, by the way.)

      But once the die is cast, what other choices does he have? He can’t just let Robert win, Robert is gonna try and kill him and everyone he loves with the possible exception of Elia; Targaryen eliminationism is one of his platform planks, as it were, and Ned Stark and Jon Arryn have limited ability to reign that in. He can’t join the rebellion himself, they won’t have him because of Lyanna. He could try and crush it and… then let his father continue ruling, growing increasingly mad with each passing year?

      What other options did he have beyond “win, then try and peaceably deal with dad in an politically equitable fashion” that are actually superior to what he did? He could try and murder Aerys, I suppose, just “oh, he’s died in his sleep, how unfortunate, guess I’m king now.” But man, that’s extreme in a lot of ways.

      Let’s assume that Rhaegar wins, that Lyanna lives, and that she gives birth to his child. What is the legal status of that kid going to be, what is Lyanna’s situation going to be…Aegon Unworthy style designated Mistress, or neo-polygamy? Because somehow I doubt having two wives, from two different Lord Paramount houses with their own children is going to resolve dynastic disputes. Does the First marriage have more legitimacy than the second?

      You’re making a lot of assumptions here. Many of these questions have very, very easy answers: the legal status of the child is that of a bastard. What’s so hard about that? Kings and lords have been fathering bastards on women for centuries. Rickard, his sons, and Robert aren’t gonna be too happy about that, but in this hypothetical situation Rhaegar has won. The Martells may not like that Rhaegar has fathered a bastard, but Robert fathered enough bastards to start a baseball team and Tywin Lannister didn’t consider that sufficient cause to break off the alliance sealed with a marriage, so why would the Martells feel differently?

      • artihcus022 says:

        ”You’re making a lot of assumptions here. Many of these questions have very, very easy answers: the legal status of the child is that of a bastard. What’s so hard about that? ”

        Two words: Daemon Blackfyre. As Steven noted before, the Arthurian romance and resonance, him getting a sword from the King, being a great knight and so on…is a powerful ideological symbol. So now consider this, Prince Rhaegar in what many consider the “Greatest Tourney of All Time!” gives Lyanna the Crown of Beauty against his own wife…then spirits that same girl away and knocks her up, and then after being celebrated in his own lifetime for being the ultimate dreamboat and being the ultimate guy-who-makes-you-believes-in-chivalry…you expect people to just treat that kid as just-another-bastard.

        Nope. Never mind that the mother of the kid is the daughter of a Lord Paramount and betrothed to another, rather than one of Robert’s many one-night-stands. Edric Storm is a bastard of two noble houses and has a lot of perks…Rhaegar’s kid in that situation and context would more or less have to be “Special Kid”.

        ”What other choices does he have at that point?”

        Well if Rhaegar’s gonna decide, “Gonna keep Lyanna and the Kid, Not gonna insult Elia and Aegon I, still want to keep the Kingdom in one piece, and Build Peace”…goals which are obviously contradictory…then assuming there’s a future where he gets to be King is out of the question.

        What he should do (in my view), is declare a permanent grand council and empower Jon, Ned, Robert and/or their successors and heirs if they survive battle of the Trident…then dethrone Aerys II, then say that he’s going to join the Night’s Watch (and place himself hostage to House Stark or someone in the North as a token of good faith) and insist that Aegon VI become King. That would not heal all tensions but it would be more or less what he could do to walk out of that alive…

        …Lyanna and the Kid would be bastards but more or less confined to the North as “damaged goods” and Rhaegar would walk out of politics in the same way Duncan Dragonflies/Jenny Oldstones did. Rhaegar joining the Night’s Watch out of love would also make his and Lyanna’s romance a Abelard/Heloise thing and add to that arc. He and Lyanna being confined to the North being close but apart, driven apart by vows out of peace…and so on…

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          I’d like to put forward something that I think was factoring into Rhaegar’s decision making here- Jon was supposed to be a girl. He’d named his elder two kids Rhaenys and Aegon, but Elia couldn’t give him the third head of the dragon that he needed. He needed Visenya. I have no doubt that what was supposed to happen was Rhaenys and “Visenya” were both supposed to marry Aegon, their kids would both be Targaryens, and there’d be no question as to who Rhaegar’s heir was.

        • Murc says:

          So now consider this, Prince Rhaegar in what many consider the “Greatest Tourney of All Time!”

          Do you have a cite here? The 281 tourney at Harrenhal was a grand and glorious affair, but I don’t think anyone anywhere considers it to be the greatest tourney of all time. It would be very, very hard to argue with a straight face that it was a greater event than Jaehaerys’ golden jubilee tourney in 98 AC.

          and then after being celebrated in his own lifetime for being the ultimate dreamboat and being the ultimate guy-who-makes-you-believes-in-chivalry…

          … do you have a cite here? Who was celebrating Rhaegar in his own lifetime as the “ultimate dreamboat” and “ultimate guy-who-makes-you-believe-in-chivalry?”

          Are you sure you’re not conflating him with Baelor Breakspear or Arthur Dayne?

          you expect people to just treat that kid as just-another-bastard.

          As just another royal bastard who is wellborn on both sides, yes. The same as Edric Storm or any of the many, many Targaryen bastards were treated. Why not?

          Well if Rhaegar’s gonna decide, “Gonna keep Lyanna and the Kid, Not gonna insult Elia and Aegon I, still want to keep the Kingdom in one piece, and Build Peace”…goals which are obviously contradictory…then assuming there’s a future where he gets to be King is out of the question.

          Why?

          All Rhaegar has to do is, you know… win. He came close to doing that! If he’d won at the Trident then he probably wins the war. Once he’s put down the rebellion by force of arms he can offer generous terms. Even with Aerys in the depths of madness, House Targaryen had many, many, many supporters; it had Dorne, it had the Reach, it had the Crownlands, and many of the Storm Lords, Valemen, and Riverlords refused to rise for Robert, Jon Arryn, and Hoster Tully. Indeed, at the time of the Trident Robert didn’t even control much of his own demesne! The Tyrells had Storm’s End under siege on land and the Redwyne fleets were controlling the seas.

          If Rhaegar wins at the Trident then the ironborn probably come in on his side, and Tywin either continues to sit out or decides, grudgingly, to throw back in the the Targaryens. The Freys probably throw in with Rhaegar as well. He’ll have smashed most opposition and established himself as the warrior-prince who saved the realm and his house from the greatest threat since Daemon Blackfyre.

          From this position, Rhaegar could very easily assemble the political coalition he needs to have father declared incompetent and have himself declared king. It’s a sound plan with a high chance of working.

          • artihcus022 says:

            Who was celebrating Rhaegar in his own lifetime as the “ultimate dreamboat” and “ultimate guy-who-makes-you-believe-in-chivalry?””

            Jon Con, Ser Barristan, and even cynical Cersei Lannister sees the Silver Prince as the one who got away and as a kid drew pictures of her and Rhaegar flying on dragons…as does Jaime. And even Ned Stark in AGOT notes cryptically, that unlike Robert, Rhaegar wasn’t the kind to visit prostitutes. The fact that Jon Con, after everything he’s lost, after all that failure, still thinks well of Rhaegar means that the guy “had” something.

            There is such a thing as “the tenor of the times” which is underrated but which Steven mentions well in the first Blackfyre essay. Daemon Blackfyre, a bastard of two Targaryens appealed to those who lost men, land, and glory in Dorne, and did not like Daeron Falseborn’s peace. The tenor of the times on the eve of Robert’s Rebellion was a kind of high chivalry…it was a time of peace…the Blackfyres were gone, the Lords had their rights over peasants secured by Tywin after the chaos of Summerhall, and there was a turn inwards among the nobility…towards fantasy, towards chivalry. In that context, Rhaegar with his harp and his skill with swordplay could form a cult around him. He could convince people into investing in romance and chivalry, and once that cult of chivalry is in place, it creates a handy narrative to support and enable even the kidnapping of Lyanna and the clash between Robert and Rhaegar as a fight over a girl. The tenor of the times at the start of ASOIAF is of course legitimacy…since you have a new young dynasty in charge…and that makes it less romantic and so on. Like Sansa’s beliefs in songs and stories and so on, would probably not have been subject to mockery in Rhaegar’s age…similar to have fashions and trends in the real world come and go. So I can imagine that Rhaegar would have had enough clout to make his actions a grand romantic gesture for people to project on, and out of that many would insist that Rhaegar’s kid with the girl he risked his kingdom, throne, legacy for, who he chose on a tourney, be made King…would it be unchallenged…no, but I can imagine that if Rhaegar surrounded himself with such chivalric types as Arthur Dayne, Ser Barristan, Myles Mooton, good men and true such as Ser Willem Darry…then people will accept it.

            God I am starting to sound like Ser Eustace…

            All Rhaegar has to do is, you know… win.

            Did victory at the Redgrass field end the Blackfyre Rebellion? Did victory over Robb at the Red Wedding ended the Starks or his cause forever? I don’t think the people who fight or die for King Robert, the man who won three-battles-in-a-day at Summerhall will be forgotten in a short order simply because he lost in what would in any case be a very close battle at the Trident. Heck in OTL, Rhaegar is still seen as a hero by many characters even after he lost badly…people don’t think of him In-Universe the way a lot of ASOIAF fans do, i.e. Emo Teen moron who threw his dynasty away. Making Rhaegar King more or less says that a any match made between two Lord Paramounts and the alliance it builds can be voided if the crown prince ogles their daughter. It also means that a marriage to the Crown isn’t worth anything by itself, since the Prince will trade Wife #1 for a younger model and give the perks to the new girl. In living memory, Prince Duncan of Dragonflies had to sacrifice his claim to the throne for Jenny of Oldstones, after that provoked a rebellion with Robert’s Great Grandpa (or is it Grandpa)…so I just don’t see Rhaegar being King in any sustainable fashion in an AU where he wins at the Trident.

            The Great Council that Rhaegar was planning would not be of any meaning or consequence if it merely removed Aerys II and replaced the Mad King with him, especially not if he follows through after kidnapping and impregnating Lyanna, not after provoking the Rebellion and not after crushing Robert at the Trident.

          • Murc says:

            Jon Con, Ser Barristan, and even cynical Cersei Lannister sees the Silver Prince as the one who got away and as a kid drew pictures of her and Rhaegar flying on dragons…as does Jaime. And even Ned Stark in AGOT notes cryptically, that unlike Robert, Rhaegar wasn’t the kind to visit prostitutes. The fact that Jon Con, after everything he’s lost, after all that failure, still thinks well of Rhaegar means that the guy “had” something.

            The fact that Rhaegar had many friends and allies in no way indicates there was a widespread opinion that he was an “ultimate dreamboat” and “ultimate guy-who-makes-you-believe-in-chivalry” tho. It merely means he had loyal friends and staunch allies and was generally regarded as a good prince and potentially a good king. Lots of people have that. Robert had that, Stannis, Renly, Ned Stark, even Balon Greyjoy.

            The tenor of the times on the eve of Robert’s Rebellion was a kind of high chivalry…it was a time of peace…the Blackfyres were gone, the Lords had their rights over peasants secured by Tywin after the chaos of Summerhall, and there was a turn inwards among the nobility…towards fantasy, towards chivalry.

            This seems poorly justified. At best.

            The tenor of the times on the eve of Robert’s Rebellion was of instability, uncertainty, and corruption. A clearly mentally unstable king was sitting on the Iron Throne, literally wallowing in his own filth with foot-long fingernails and filthy hair, seeing suspected traitors everywhere and burning them to death on a whim. He was surrounded by flatterers and fools. There had been a violent rebellion of a major city and said king had nearly died during it.

            This is not an environment conducive to romance and chivalry. It is an environment conducive to fear and mistrust, where every man eyes his brother uncertainly.

            In that context, Rhaegar with his harp and his skill with swordplay could form a cult around him. He could convince people into investing in romance and chivalry, and once that cult of chivalry is in place, it creates a handy narrative to support and enable even the kidnapping of Lyanna and the clash between Robert and Rhaegar as a fight over a girl.

            Even if I accept that Rhaegar could have done this, which is a huge ask… he didn’t do this. This isn’t what happened. The precipitating event of Robert’s Rebellion was not the kidnapping/elopement of Lyanna Stark; it was Aerys burning Rickard to death, having Brandon strangled, and demanding the heads of Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark.

            Right up until that point people still thought things would be settled peacefully. Nobody had called their banners, and Rickard Stark went confidently to King’s Landing expecting to find peace and sanity. But there was no peace and sanity to be found at the court of the Mad King.

            Rhaegar didn’t form some sort of giant cult around himself. That just… that didn’t happen.

            So I can imagine that Rhaegar would have had enough clout to make his actions a grand romantic gesture for people to project on, and out of that many would insist that Rhaegar’s kid with the girl he risked his kingdom, throne, legacy for, who he chose on a tourney, be made King

            Why? Why on earth would they insist on this especially if Rhaegar himself isn’t insisting on it? You really think there’s going to be some kind of mass, spontaneous outpouring of opinion among the political classes of Westeros that an infant bastard boy whose own father isn’t pushing to legitimate him any time soon be made king?

            …would it be unchallenged…no, but I can imagine that if Rhaegar surrounded himself with such chivalric types as Arthur Dayne, Ser Barristan, Myles Mooton, good men and true such as Ser Willem Darry…then people will accept it.

            They might, but what if Rhaegar doesn’t do this? Why would he invest all that time and effort into making Jon his heir, which gains him jack shit and costs him a lot, when he could simply maintain faith with the Martells and his wife, which gains him a lot and costs nothing?

            Did victory at the Redgrass field end the Blackfyre Rebellion?

            … yes! Yes, it did! The histories are pretty definitive about that.

            Did victory over Robb at the Red Wedding ended the Starks or his cause forever?

            It may not have ended the Starks forever, but yes, it did, in fact, end Robb Stark’s cause forever. Unless you think that the series will end with the Kingdom of the North and the Riverlands ruled by the King in the North. This seems… dubious, at best.

            I don’t think the people who fight or die for King Robert, the man who won three-battles-in-a-day at Summerhall will be forgotten in a short order simply because he lost in what would in any case be a very close battle at the Trident.

            What does it matter how many of those people remember Robert if his army is defeated in the field and he is either killed or forced to bend the knee?

            Rhaegar was perfectly capable of crushing the Rebellion with military force and forcing a surrender. This didn’t happen but it could have happened. You keep framing it as some kind of impossibility. It was not. It was very possible. A decisive victory at the Trident could been the death knell of the Rebellion in the same way it was for House Targaryen.

            Heck in OTL, Rhaegar is still seen as a hero by many characters even after he lost badly…

            Yes, but he still lost. He’s a dead hero and the political order he was fighting for imploded.

            It also means that a marriage to the Crown isn’t worth anything by itself, since the Prince will trade Wife #1 for a younger model and give the perks to the new girl.

            You keep asserting, with no evidence, that Rhaegar was going to toss Elia aside and make Jon his heir and Lyanna his queen. What do you base this assertion on? This would be a very dumb move for a hypothetically victorious Rhaegar to make! The purpose of Jon, for Rhaegar, isn’t to replace Aegon. The purpose of Jon is to be the third head of the dragon. He doesn’t need to be an heir or even a prince to fulfill that role. He can simply be Rhaegar’s bastard son.

            In living memory, Prince Duncan of Dragonflies had to sacrifice his claim to the throne for Jenny of Oldstones

            Only because he wanted to marry her and she was a commoner. If Duncan had simply wanted to make Jenny his lover and father children on her, there would have been… I’m not going to say no problem, but he’d not have had to renounce his claim.

            after that provoked a rebellion with Robert’s Great Grandpa (or is it Grandpa)…so I just don’t see Rhaegar being King in any sustainable fashion in an AU where he wins at the Trident.

            Why not? What on earth is wrong with “Rhaegar crushes the Rebellion, and uses the political leverage of that to force his father off the throne?” You keep bringing in all these complications caused by Rhaegar throwing Elia aside and trying to promote Jon and yes, all those things would cause problems, but what if he just doesn’t do any of that at all?

            The Great Council that Rhaegar was planning would not be of any meaning or consequence if it merely removed Aerys II and replaced the Mad King with him,

            It would have a great deal of consequence. It would remove the Mad King. Aerys was a terribly monstrous king! Rhaegar would not have been. That’s a huge consequence.

  9. […] Still no new info about the great council…sigh. […]

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