So a while back, JSLAL from Wars and Politics of ASOIAF got a really interesting question on Tumblr, asking him to come up with a character who could fill in some of the gaps in Westerosi history. I really liked his response, and so when I got the same question, I decided to see if I could do one better.
(Much thanks goes out to @hiddenhistoryofwesteros and @cynicalclassicist for their assistance in pre-reading and editing this document.)
Below the cut is part one of the life of Lewys Flowers, the most infamous High Septon of all time.
A Commentary on “The True Life of the High Spider”
It is difficult to write of the man known to history as the “High Spider” and to his enemies as “that cunning bastard” with any degree of precision, given our subject’s penchant for secrecy and deception and the obvious partisan biases of his contemporaries. The “True Life of the High Spider,” a secret history supposedly written by his personal scribe under the pseudonym “Precocious,” is no exception. While fascinated by his patron’s undeniable charisma, Precocious was clearly a follower of the Exclusionist Heresy of the Black Sept and thus sought to slander the High Septon at every turn. If the author is to be believed, practically every major political figure that died in the years around 2000 BC was assassinated by the “High Spider’s” poisons.
This much can be said, by correlating contemporary reports with the “True Life”: the man once known as Lewys Flowers was an adroit political manipulator who mastered the Great Game through a dazzling series of alliances and betrayals; a diplomat who brought all of the Kings south of the Neck together for the “Great Council of Eternal Peace” (the only time in recorded history where the monarchs of the South would meet in one place); a holy man who spent his reign in armor or Dornish silks rather than the vestments of his office; perhaps the most corrupt and debauched High Septon in history but also a brilliant theologian who ended the schism of the Black Sept; a man who aimed at nothing less than the unification of Westeros and yet lived to see all his work undone.
Early Life (2030-2010 BC)
Lewys Flowers was born the natural son of Lord Lymond Hightower, the result of a scandalous union between the then-heir to the High Tower and Fuchsia Peake, the youngest daughter of House Peake (a reason later given for that House’s steadfast support for their kinsman, and by others as an explanation for his cunning.) As his father’s marriage had proved childless, Lewys was raised as the heir apparent, made a squire to his uncle the master-of-arms of the High Tower and trained in the arts of knighthood at which he excelled, frequently taking the honors at squire’s tourneys throughout the southern Reach. To prepare him for statesmanship, Lord Lymond tasked seven maesters from the Citadel to tutor his son, who said of their charge that had he been an acolyte and not a lordling,he would have won the red gold link for history, the yellow gold for mathematics, and (most important to historians) the iron link for warcraft and the silver for medicine.
Thus, it must have been quite a shock when his father unexpectedly remarried shortly before Lewys was to attain his age of majority to Lynesse Beesbury, and promptly sired a legitimate son (Otto) and daughter (Maris) in rapid succession. To avoid any embarrassment, Lewys was suddenly sent to the Faith, to serve as cupbearer to his cousin the High Septon, known at the time as the “Lazy” High Septon, who seems to have spent the whole of his reign tending to his vineyards or sleeping off hangovers. With his religious duties clearly not taking up much of his time, the young man spent most of the next few years in the brothels and gambling dens of Oldtown, causing something of a minor scandal and forging a reputation for loose living that would follow him for the rest of his life.
In order to avoid further scandal, Lewys was packed off to Highgarden to serve as a minor functionary in the High Septon’s embassy. It was at the glittering court of Highgarden where now-Septon Lewys would begin his storied diplomatic career, mixing with ambassadors from all of the kingdoms of Westeros, as well as agents from the Valyrian Freehold, the principalities of the Rhoynar, and beyond. It was also at this court where he would make one of his most important life-long friendships with Gwayne Gardener, the heir to the Reach. While Precocious’ allegations that the two formed an “unnatural union” at this point can clearly be dismissed as muckraking (indeed, as the scribe had yet to enter into Septon Lewys’ service at this point, there can be no claim to first-hand knowledge here), it must be admitted that contemporaries later wondered at the mesmeric hold that Septon Lewys held over the young man, as later in life the future Gwayne VII would follow his friend’s every twist and turn loyally, even when it cost him personally. As Lord Alton “the Brown” Manderly was once heard to remark, Gwayne often seemed to forget “which was the sovereign and which the adviser.”
Proving to be an able diplomat, Septon Lewys returned to his father’s court for the first time in a decade before setting off to his next embassy. Outwardly, Lewys was quite warm to his young half-brother Otto, although later events would prove his true intentions in that quarter. The more historically significant transformation was in his relationship with his half-sister Maris, who had supposedly driven off a number of tutors and septas due to various charges of “impertinence,” “unwomanly curiosity,” and unspecified “cheating.” Taking an unprecedented interest in his half-sibling, Lewys discreetly engaged his former tutors among the maesters to educate Maris under the guise of group symposia, and thereafter paid out of his own pocket for her to receive education from poor students in further subjects, including astronomy and the study of the higher mysteries.
Thereafter, Lewys departed for his mission to Lannisport, where he was to perform a rededication ceremony of the Golden Sept following its famous renovations, as well as to carry certain letters from his father as well as the aging King Mern IV. “This most secular of priests” as he was described in the diary of Queen Joan Lannister, proved to be a quick success at the Rock, dazzling that most glittering of all the courts of the Seven Kingdoms with his lively wit, his skill at the joust, his almost reckless daring at the gaming tables, and his prodigious capacity for wine. While King Leon II seemed quite charmed by the young man, his brother Lucamore the Blind (Master of Coin, Chief Assayer, and alleged alchemist) was less sanguine, warning that “it seems to me this Lewys has an endless appetite for our gold. If our table should prove wanting, he may turn to eating lions instead,” which Precocious proffers as proof for his accusation of several affairs with various Lannisters male and female, despite the comment being clearly more political than romantic in nature (although to be fair, Septon Lewys rarely engaged in one without the other).
The Winding Road to Ascension (2010-2000 BC)
More likely it seems that Lewys’ later-controversial closeness with the ancient rivals of House Gardener was due to a private alliance he had reached with King Leon. Returning to Highgarden in triumph, bearing letters that peacefully resolved a potential conflict over navigation rights on the upper reaches of the Silverhill River, Lewys unexpectedly threw a lavish banquet decadent enough to attract the interest of the legendarily gluttonous Most Devout Gustus of Highgarden. Ostentatiously serving the corpulent cleric tidbits from his own plate and sharing the same chalice, it was thus not immediately remarked upon when the senior prelate died of a seeming heart spasm two days later. (According to Precocious, Lewys was a devotee of the Mithridatist method that originated in Lys, and had simply poisoned the both of them. “The Spider does not perish from his own venom,” indeed.) What did surprise observers at the court was that Lewys was chosen in absentia by the council of Most Devout to be his replacement (although this was largely due to his youth rather than his qualifications or his blood) and in some corners rumors began to spread of Lannister gold dispatched by secret riders from the capitol.
When Lewys was invested as Most Devout in 2010, he was the youngest Most Devout in generations, a clear rising star in the Faith. His prominence was made clearer in 2005 when the superannuated King Garland VII, known as the “Hammer of the Westermen,” died “of an ague.” (According to Precocious, this once again was actually the work of Most Devout Lewys on behalf of his lover Prince Gwayne, who had grown tired of waiting to inherit the Oakenseat.) Certainly, Most Devout Lewys quickly became the dominant force in Highgarden’s court along with his cousin Mervyn Peake, the new castellan of Highgarden, conducting the anointment and coronation of the new King Gwayne VII. Perhaps lending credence to Precocious’ charges, Most Devout Lewys created much rumor when he dismissed the young men and women of the court so that he was the lone witness to the bedding of Gwayne VII and Shiraz Redwyne.
It is appropriate at this point to briefly discuss religious politics in the Second Millenia. At this time, the Faith was badly divided between several factions:
- The Exclusionism of the Black Sept of the Vale rejected the formation of “the old gods and the new” as set down by the “Peacemaker” High Septon in the last year of the 5th millennia BC, and insisted that the Seven were the only true gods in existence, a formulation which caused great difficulty in restoring North-Vale relations in the wake of the Worthless War, as well as in trade and commerce with Essos.
- The Heptariarianists, who held that the Seven were but the face of One, and who held that the Old Gods and even gods from abroad could be “but more faces of the All-Divine.” Based on a rather academic interpretation of the Seven-Pointed Star popular among septons from Oldtown where the Citadel and the Faith had been close since the time of Lord Triston the Dutiful, the Heptarians were called by their opponents “Univeralists” and charged with worshipping foreign gods.
- And the harried Moderate faction, strongest in the Westerlands and the future Crownlands, which held to the formulation of “the old gods and the new” and attempted to fudge the question of other gods than the Seven by vaguely conceding that there might be other gods, but the Seven were clearly the best and most powerful of all the divinities.
From the time of his investiture, Lewys was considered to be one of the leading Heptarians among the Most Devout, and thus became an instant figure of controversy, although it probably didn’t help that at this time the Most Devout took on the first of his paramours to achieve fame, a certain Septa Sibyl, formerly of House Allyrion, with whom he would sire three children (a boy named Uthor, and two girls named Florys and Ellyn). In a corrupt and decadent era, it was only a moderate scandal that two theoretical celebates had formed a romantic connexion. More problematic was the rumor spread by Exclusionists that Septa Sibyl was a sorceress who practiced the Dornish Rite, a schismatic practice where the Father was pictured as holding the lightning bolts of the Storm God, and the Mother the billows of the Goddess of the Winds, and were depicted on equal footing (whereas in all orthodox septs, the Father is always shown as standing or sitting above the Mother).
Thus when the “Lazy” High Septon died quite suddenly in 2001 BC, officially of a burst spleen (and according to Precocious stabbed to death by knives hired by Lewys on the pretext of gambling debts gone bad) the stage was set for one of the most contested elections in Westerosi history. As expected, the Black Sept of the Vale sent forth Most Devout Volkmar to be their champion, and the Stormlands sent Most Devout Durran, the younger brother of the Storm King, as another leading contender who hoped to end the long streak of Hightower men holding the Starry Sept. As was their unfortunate custom, the Riverlands were unable to agree on a single candidate and sent three instead. The real surprise came when the Westerlands sent not the Septon of the Rock or the Most Devout of Lannisport, but a nonentity from Cornfield with a suspiciously long baggage, which in the hindsight of history we can see as the Lannisters’ part of their alliance with Most Devout Lewys. And the Dornish sent none at all.
In early rounds of balloting, Most Devouts Durran and Lewys came in first and second respectively, with the Cornfield Septon coming in third and Volkmar coming in fourth (while considered an impeccably pious man, Volkmar was infamous for having the personality of a scourge), although no candidate had attained a majority due in large part to the three candidates from the Riverlands and the missing Dornish votes. Amid heavy bribery, threats of war, and a carnivalesque atmosphere in the streets of Oldtown, this state of affairs continued for some weeks (by tradition, only one ballot may be taken every week to allow the Seven to speak to the voters).
In what Volkmar alleged was open proof of corruption, the Cornfield Septon withdrew and threw his support behind Lewys, at which point he passed ahead of Durran, although still below the majority. Exhausted from the repeated balloting, Durran dramatically withdrew his candidacy and threw his support behind Volkmar as the “only honest man here,” despite having taken a fair bit of Lannister gold.
Balloting was neck and neck between the two fiercest partisans in the Faith, as the moderate plurality had been sidelined either out of monetary and political considerations. Behind for the majority of the balloting, Volkmar pulled ahead when two of the Riverlanders threw their votes to him after weeks of futily voting for themselves and the third (who had been supporting Lewys) died of extreme old age. (For once, a sudden death not attributed to Lewys by his chronicler…) Volkmar rejoiced, gloating that he would soon be the Voice of the Seven “in name as well as in fact.” And it was at this point that Lewys merely crooked an eyebrow and stepped over to a sidedoor, which he opened to reveal…the Dornish Most Devouts, who had arrived weeks earlier, and whose votes (swayed, it was said, by the eloquent letters of Septa Sybil) provided Lewys the necessary margin of victory.
When asked later why he had delayed the reveal of his Dornish supporters, the man who was soon to be called the High Spider responded “why defeat an opponent today, when you can crush him utterly tomorrow?”
The High Spider Cometh (2000-1995)
The coronation of the High Septon who was already being whispered of as the “High Spider” (much to his evident pleasure; according to Precocious, when he heard what the court wits were calling him, the new pontifex paid minstrels and bards to spread the moniker far and wide) was a lavish affair that set the standard for his new reign. Seven choruses of highborn pages to sign hymns of thanksgiving, seven times seven lords and ladies from across the south to attend the main ceremony (Precocious notes that the High Spider carefully arranged the seating chart so that his father would be sitting at the aisle of the front row, where he would be obliged to be the first to kiss the signet ring of the Gods’ voice on earth), seven days of almsgiving and free bread distributed by the Faith, and best of all, seven weeks of festivities. Beginning a long career of patronage of the arts, it is said that the High Spider introduced mummery to Westeros through a series of holy pageants meant to illustrate the crowning of Hugor of the Hill, the voyage across the Narrow Sea (although notably the Battle of Seven Stars was left out), the Battle of Bitter River of the 777 knights and the seven septons, and most prominently, the peacemaking kings of the Rock, the Reach (with a pageant alone for the Hightowers and the founding of the Starry Sept), and the Stormlands who assimilated into the Faith.
Amidst the free flow of wine and coin, all was ostentatious reform. “I am Robeson reborn!” the High Spider was heard to declare to the council of Most Devout. To commemorate the two thousandth year since the Andal Invasion, the Starry Sept would be renovated from top-to-bottom rather than the usual patch job, and no expense spared. (Precocious notes that the Spider’s first master of accounts quickly retired, the second died of a brain spasm, and the third of suicide.) The rest of the Holy Quarter was not spared the attentions of his architects: two orphanages would be built to take in unwanted bastards from across the Reach, as well as a Maidenhouse for reformed prostitutes. (Precocious describes this last building bluntly as the “Holy Whorehouse,” and describes in lurid detail the particular ministering the High Septon was supposed to have provided.)
The festivities concluded with the Sevenfold Tourney, which the High Spider staged with the explicit intent to increase the ranks of the Warrior’s Sons to seven thousand men. Second sons and older men with adult heirs flocked to the lists to prove themselves, although Precocious notes that by far the largest number of new recruits were hedge knights and freeriders looking for meat and mead. This move more than any other raised hackles all across Westeros, for as Most Devout Volkmar wrote to Storm King Durran XXX, “no man gathers swords save that he planneth to use them.” Even more worrying was that, having named his bastard son Uthor Flowers the Lord Commander of the Warrior’s Sons after his son had triumphed in the seventh and last tourney, the Spider somehow persuaded King Gwayne VII Gardener to name the young knight the High Marshal of the Reach, a post which had hitherto been limited only to the Blood of the Greenhand.
Ironically, the High Spider’s attentions were initially drawn inwards, rather than outwards. In 1998 BC, Lord Lymond died of a chill (although once again Precocious sees the High Spider’s venom at work…) and so the succession passed to the Spider’s half-brother Otto. In the same year, the High Spider convinced his ambitious young relative to respond to a spate of sheep-raiding near Uplands with an attack on the High Hermitage, promising the support of his Warrior’s Sons. According to Precocious (who claims to have transcribed the letter in his own hand), the Spider sent word to the King of the Torrentine in verse alluding to the location and timing of the attack. When the expedition was ambushed, the Warrior’s Sons under Lord Commander Uthor won much renown for their daring counter-charges that allowed the column to retreat safely, and indeed the Spider himself was unexpectedly courageous in his defense of Lord Otto, who was wounded by three arrows, carrying his brother on his shoulder back to the horse train and riding with him back to Oldtown, where he insisted on ministering to his brother himself. Less than a fortnight later, the Lord of the High Tower (and the direct male line of House Hightower) was dead.
As various collateral male relatives streamed to Oldtown to vie for the richest open seat in all of the Seven Kingdoms, it is appropriate at this time to discuss the character of Lady Maris Hightower. Already at this time widely acknowledged as the best-educated lady in Westeros whose salons were called the “intellectual lighthouse” of the Seven Kingdoms, she was also considered in her day one of the most beautiful. Praised by her ever-more-numerous suitors for her willowy height, her pale blond hair worn in a braid that reached the floor, Maris habitually wore gleaming white linen and refused all ornamentation save for the maester’s chain which she had won in a bet over an obscure matter of academic trivia with Archmaester Pedantus. In temperament, Maris was even more secretive than her half-brother, very much the cautious cyvasse player to the Spider’s reckless gambler.
Given the competition for her title and her hand in marriage, it was something of a shock when the High Septon used the dedication ceremony of a memorial to their father in the Starry Sept to anoint his sister as Lady of the High Tower. Shock turned to disbelieving rage when Lady Maris refused all offers for her hand in marriage and announced her intent to rule Oldtown in her own right. And rather than merely serve as a figurehead for a council of advisors, Maris was responsible for her own set of renovations, as extensive as those of her half-brother: the waterwheel-driven elevator that is one of the hidden wonders of the High Tower dates from her reign, as do the public lamplighting system and the tax on dumping refuse anywhere but in the sewers that make Oldtown one of the safest and least odiferous cities in Westeros.
Naturally, all of these reforms were immediately denounced by her male collateral relations and most of her former suitors as the unwarranted meddling of a giddy female whose mind had been addled by the over-reading of books. Imagine, therefore, the scandal when the famously unwed Lady Maris became pregnant. While isolation on Battle Isle was able to keep the rumors unconfirmed, speculation as to the father of the child ran rampant. In his most scandalous accusation, Precocious claimed that the High Spider himself was the father, arguing that the deaths of Lords Lymond and Otto were all part of a murderous conspiracy to supplant the august line of Hightowers. More sober observers have pointed to the thoroughly-married Tristane Dayne (Crown Prince of the Torrentine) who had been a frequent guest at the Oldtown court throughout Lord Lymond’s tenure (which makes the death of Lord Otto even more tragic or seedy depending on one’s perspective) and who had returned to court looking to restore commercial relations after the recent conflict, or to a certain Maester Symon who was her former tutor in rhetoric and a favorite of her salon.
Those hoping for the lady’s public disgrace were exasperated, when once more the High Spider put on a public performance that mixed exquisite showmanship with a breathtaking display of facetious piety. At the Mother’s Day celebration in 1996 BC, the High Spider produced the child in question and proclaimed that the spirit of Maris the Maid had interceded with the Mother in her Heaven to produce a virgin birth, and presented the child as Peremore Hightower. The scheme was perfectly judged: while no one in all the courts of the Seven Kingdoms actually believed this mummer’s trick, no one was willing to state publicly that the Mother did not perform such miracles, especially when barren women (both noble and merchant alike) began making pilgrimages to the Mother’s state in the Starry Sept bringing heavy sacks of coin for offerings. Thus, while the Lady’s sobriquet of “Maris Maiden-Blessed” may have been used ironically by mant, it was the title they used – and not some salacious slur.
The reckless abandon of the Oldtown siblings did not end there, however. With the assistance of High Steward Grymas Tyrell, the High Spider somehow managed to persuade King Gwayne VII to set aside his wife – who was to become a Septa serving in the Maidenhouse in Oldtown – in favor of his own daughter, Ellyn Flowers. (Oddly enough, Queen Shiraz did not seem to mind her change of station and became a constant fixture of the High Spider’s court on quite friendly terms with her deposer, perhaps lending weight to Precocious’ accusations…or perhaps simply that her childless marriage to Gwayne VII was not the happiest.) Grymas was betrayed himself in turn, when the Spider reneged on his promise that Ellyn’s firstborn son would marry a Tyrell daughter, when instead he sought to appease the Redwynes by arranging a betrothal to the infant heir of House Hightower.
Showing no limits to his ambition, the High Spider went so far as to float a betrothal between his second daughter and Crown Prince Lancel of Casterly Rock, only to be curtly refused by King Leon II, who groused to his unsympathetic wife and brother that “I paid one price for the bastard’s service, I will not pay another.”
This public insult was to prove quite disastrous for House Lannister in ways that no one at the time could scarce imagine.
To be continued…
 As with other matters of historiography of the pre-Conquest period, there is a good deal of debate as to the precise periodization. Documents from the pre-Conquest period obviously did not use our modern dating system of Before and After Conquest; instead, scholars and chroniclers used a bewildering variety of systems, dating events from “since the Conquest” (most commonly) or “since the reign of” various monarchs (which differs by kingdom and by period), which would be rather imprecise even if the historical record was not so fragmentary.
Precisely because the precise dating of the Andal Invasion is up for debate, and the rolls of kings are usually ordered in reference to the Conquest, scholars disagree as to how to interpret these documents – a document describing an event as taking place “a thousand years since the Andals came” would obviously be placed at different points in the timeline if one believed that the Andal Invasion took place six, four, or even two thousand years prior to Aegon’s Conquest.
 Due to the scandal, Lady Fuchsia Peake was hurriedly married off to one Ser Osmund Roxton, the third son of a junior branch of the Lords of the Ring, who had few prospects otherwise. Even so, the Roxtons demanded a hefty dowry and a regular pension before they would agree to the match. When Lord Lymond inherited the Hightower, he bribed the Costaynes into accepting Ser Osmund into service as the master-of-arms at the Three Towers. For their part, the Peakes never seemed to resent the actions of Lord Lymond and remained quite close to his son, their bastard kinsman, as their man in Oldtown.
 A quiet critic of Septon Lewys, Lord Alton Manderly is perhaps best known to readers in the present as one of the most influential gastronomes in Westerosi history and arguably as the father of Reach cuisine, sending out scribes and maesters throughout the kingdom to collect and record traditional recipes and instituting a yearly challenge to all cooks in the Seven Kingdoms to compete for his patronage, for Alton was known both for his lavish patronage and his discerning palate.
In political matters, Alton’s ire was raised when Septon Lewys influenced King Gwayne VII to award a disputed village (which was particularly dear to the Manderlys, as Lord Gunthor Manderly had been buried in the sept there after a bridge collapse during a heavy flood) to House Peake. Although he took no action at the time (which in addition to his notorious disinterest in women and his overmuch reading, gave him something of a reputation as a weakling), Alton began to reach out to some of the other major Houses who had been wronged by the Spider…
 In his youth, Garland VII had captured Crakehall and Cornfield and even put Lannisport itself under siege for a brief period, although he was forced to abandon his campaign when the King of Stone and Sky invaded the Reach and put Stonebridge under siege.
 Alton Manderly was heard to ask “who is the bride, who the groom, and who the one who stands aside?” Clearly a different theory of the event than that of Precocious…
 Or one thousandth, if you adhere to the extreme hermeneutics of suspicion in Maester Denestan’s Questions, although the adherents of the True History and those who credit the historical record’s claims only disagree as to how many years have passed since the High Spider’s time.