Fire & Blood, Volume I: A Time of Testing

This next chapter is thankfully rather short, but it’s got some interesting stuff in it.

  • Jaehaerys’ arrival in King’s Landing is quite dramatic in a “dark and stormy night” kind of way. Circling the city is quite smart symbolic politics.
  • I remain quite amused by the way in which GRRM is laying more groundwork for the Blackfyre theory by emphasizing how Blackfyre was “the sword of kings” and enough signifier of royal status for Jaehaerys,
  • I would have liked to have overheard the discussion between Alyssa and Jaehaerys, since we don’t get the clearest portrait of their relationship. (Also, I wonder how much his Edward III-like experience of her as his regent paved the way for his somewhat chauvinist attitudes later on.)

 

  • So let’s talk about the first formal small council. The members include:
    • Daemon Velaryon as Hand of the King. A smart mix of continuity and rewarding someone loyal to Jaehaerys himself.
    • Lord Corbray as Commander of the City Watch. Much the same situation, although further evidence that the Commander used to be on the Small Council. I’ll have to keep an eye out for when that position was demoted.
    • Albin Massey as Master of Laws. Here we see Prentys Tully paying the price for supporting Alyssa over the King, although it’s a good sign that Jaehaerys is picking quality as well as loyalty in choosing a half-maester for such a learned position.
    • Manfryd Redwyne as Master of Ships. The first non-Velaryon…possibly because Jaehaerys wanted to balance out Daemon’s power? In any case, the vector for Ryam to enter the story, although as I’ll discuss later we really don’t get much about one of the most famous Kingsguard and infamous Hands.
    • Rego Draz as Master of Coin. Ultimately one of the most controversial picks, Draz seems to be something of a mix of Edward III’s bankers the Bardi and the Peruzzi of Florence (maybe with a dash of Spinello Tolomei) and Thomas Cromwell. In the short run, however, picking a Pentoshi avoids the political entanglement with the Lannisters and Hightowers, and gives Jaehaerys the ability to reach out to Essos for loans to restart the economy without the need for Celtigar’s taxes, a good example of successful stimulative fiscal and monetary policy. More on this later.
  • What’s almost as interesting is the absences: there’s no Master of Whisperers, perhaps because of the memory of Tyanna of the Tower and the tyranny of Maegor; also, Grand Maester Benifer isn’t mentioned in relation to the Small Council, which is odd since we know he was still around at this time.
  • Perhaps because Septon Barth arrives on the scene as Jaehaerys’ librarian (not unlike Cardinal Wolsey’s start as confessor to Henry VII), so the Grand Maester no longer has as much of a monopoly on higher learning in the royal councils.
  • I also liked that Jaehaerys “made a clean sweep of dozens of lesser officers as well,” because often it’s the mid-level bureaucrats who do the bulk of the real decision-making by structuring the options presented to their superiors.

 

  • As I discussed last time, I’m less interested in his reconciliation with Rogar Baratheon. While the stage-managing is impressive – especially the bit with the dragon – I don’t really see much of a narrative purpose for the reconciliation. Rogar doesn’t do anything for the rest of the manuscript that he couldn’t have done in disgrace at Storm’s End.

 

  • Back to economic policy! Rego Draz’ three-way loan is quite clever, and kicks off a nice bit of public works stimulus, but more interesting is the bit where Jaehaerys decides to base the royal revenues on luxury taxes:
    • “Silk would be taxed, and samite; cloth-of-gold and cloth-of-silver; gemstones; Myrish lace and Myrish tapestries; Dornish wines (but not wines from the Arbor); Dornish sand steeds; gilded helms and filigreed armor from the craftsmen of Tyrosh, Lys, and Pentos. Spices would be taxed heaviest of all.”
  • This is pretty in-line with medieval taxation, which did tend to focus on import taxes (due to their ease of collection), although it borrows somewhat from sumptuary laws as well. Given the lesser incidence of taxation, this probably brought in less revenue than general port fees, although I think Jaehaerys is right that the Veblen good nature of these products would mean that demand wouldn’t decline in the face of higher taxes.
  • The tax on crenellations is a good pull from medieval history: one of the problems that crept up during medieval civil wars is that local lords would build so-called “adulterine” castles without royal license. After the Anarchy, the reforming king Henry II (not a bad parallel for J-man, btw) engaged in a massive process of “slighting” these castles, rendering them useless for defensive purposes. Similarly, Henry VII’s attempts to prevent any recurrance of the Wars of the Roses by heavily taxing lords who wished to maintain private retinues often went hand-in-hand with crackdowns on fortified manor houses.

 

  • So let’s talk about Jaehaerys’ plan to get the population to accept his marriage through a combination of weaponizing the draconic progresss and his Seven Speakers.
  • Septon Baldrick…I see what you did there, GRRM.
  • I’m surprised Mother Maris is a septa from the Vale, because thatname really suggests a syncretic tradition from the Reach.
  • As readers of my headcanon fanfic are probably unsurprised to learn, I’m a huge fan of Barth and Jaehaerys’ collaboration in framing the “Doctrine of Exceptionalism” as a doctrinal solution to the problem of Targaryen incest that emphasizes both hard power (dragons) and soft power (the mythology of Targaryen specialness).
  • I still would have liked the section from WOIAF where Barth negotiates with the High Septon though. Not letting that one go.

 

  • Finally, let’s discuss Rhaena. As I said last time, one of Rhaena’s major problems as a politician is that she either alienates or is too afraid of (political) capture all of her allies. If she had managed to keep the Lannisters, Marbrands, Reynes, Leffords, Vances, Pipers, etc. in her camp, that might have been a political constituency that she could have done some work with on behalf of her daughter’s claim. But pushing them away meant that she didn’t have any way to push her “better claim than your own, brother.”
  • Nevertheless, Jaehaerys giving her Dragonstone for her lifetime only is a good way to finesse the confrontation with a minimum of long-term consequences.,

 

  • Sadly, there’s not much Alysanne in this chapter. Really, she’s just settling in to both the Small Council room and the court, establishing herself as the patroness-in-chief in”tapestries and carpets…murals, statuary, and tilework” as well as the arts.
  • And most importantly from a dynastic perspective, Alysanne’s prodigious childbearing begins now. More on the next chapter.

 

  • What’s the point of the Orryn Baratheon footnote? Puzzling.

21 thoughts on “Fire & Blood, Volume I: A Time of Testing

  1. Tywin of the Hill says:

    While it’s from the previous chapter, I’d like to comment on something related to taxation.

    None of these measures had the desired effect of filling up the treasure vaults. Instead building slowed to a halt, the inns emptied, and trade declined notably as merchants diverted their ships from King’s Landing to Driftmark, Duskendale, Maidenpool, and other ports where they might evade taxation. (Lannisport and Oldtown, the other great cities of the realm, were also included in Lord Celtigar’s new taxes, but there the decrees had less effect, largely because Casterly Rock and the Hightower ignored them and made no effort to collect).

    It looks like Crown had no way of enforcing their taxes outside of the capital, even when the other ports, like Driftmark or Duskendale, where located in the Crownlands and the lord of Driftmark himself sat in the Small Council.
    Also, the customs system has really advanced by the time of ACOK, where Manderly says the officers in charge have been holding back silver for King’s Landing despite being in the middle of Northern territory.

    • Well… they may well have been sent North on the orders of Cersei, as Robert didn’t bother to do anything else? Appointed by LF, so not really loyal to anyone else? Or they are uncertain how things will turn out and are holding back silver just in case, in the hopes if the war goes south they can keep their positions. But you do raise a good point.

  2. Sean C. says:

    The narrative purpose of the reconciliation between Jaehaerys and Lord Robar is to highlight the king’s peacemaking qualifies. It’s also narratively necessary to get Alyssa back to Storm’s End so that she can have the two kids that she’s supposed to have (that bring the only remaining role she has in the story), and that really requires an accord if Jaehaerys isn’t going to come across like an asshole.

    Regarding the mention of Ryam Redwyne, while I agree (and previously commented) that the book doesn’t do much to establish his reputation as a knight, I think based on this book we have to stop using Maester Pylos’ little spiel in ASOS as a firm guide on the Hands’ conduct. Redwyne wasn’t an “infamous” Hand. Pylos was using rhetoric to puff up Davos’ confidence in his ability to do the job.

    Fully three of the four examples Pylos gives are, in this book, demonstrably not bad in any significant way, certainly not in a manner suggesting strong individual faults — Myles Smallwood and Ryam Redwyne were both soldiers who served the Old King but left the job after not being suited to the paperwork; Septon Murmison was a failure, but his failure is ultimately that of King Aenys, not something Murmison himself instigated or could have prevented (beyond refusing to take the job in the first place, perhaps). The only one of Pylos’ failed Hands who really demonstrates bad individual character is Otto Hightower, who did more than anyone else to instigate the civil war to aggrandize more power for himself and his family.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      Also because he genuinely feared and mistrusted Prince Daemon Targaryen – who would have exercised excessive influence under any “Black” Administration headed by Queen Rhaenyra – very possibly because the man at one point either raped or made violent advances upon The Hand’s own daughter.

      • Sean C. says:

        Otto’s factional effort to put his own family ahead of Rhaenyra began well before Rhaenyra was married to Daemon.

        • Abbey Battle says:

          A fair point, but it should also be noted that Princess Rhaenyra showed Prince Daemon the very highest favour long before the two of them married – consider their conspiracy following the King of the Narrow Sea’s reconciliation with the Lord of the Seven Kingdoms in particular – so it’s easy to imagine Lord Otto becoming convinced that the Rogue Prince would wield an even stronger influence over Queen Rhaenyra than he did over King Viserys long before the former two Targaryens were actually married.

          Given that Lord Otto’s hostility for Prince Daemon appears to predate his opposition to Princess Rhaenyra, there has to be at least some possibility that the latter stemmed in part from the former (though the birth of his Hightower-Targaryen grandchildren cannot have helped relations).

  3. Murc says:

    Much the same situation, although further evidence that the Commander used to be on the Small Council. I’ll have to keep an eye out for when that position was demoted.

    It has always seemed to me that the small council (and I don’t capitalize it, not as part of linguistic pedantry, but because I think it not being a proper noun is important) is considerably more loosey-goosey than a modern cabinet or even the office of Hand of the King. Membership doesn’t automatically attach to an office (although it would certainly be a weird small council that did not include, say, the Master of Coin) in the sense that it is a value- add “comes with,” but rather the small council is “whoever the king says it is.”

    Example: Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Jaehaery’s LC isn’t on the above list, you’ll note. Barristan Selmy was on Robert’s small council… but Jaime Lannister was NOT on Tommens, or if he was it never comes up when Jaime is in King’s Landing during AFFC and Cersei’s Regency. (I’m prepared to be wrong here.)

    It seems like Gerold Hightower, Barristan’s predecessor, was likely not on Aerys’ council… but it seems hard to imagine a world where Duncan the Tall wasn’t a member of Aegon V’s small council.

    So it seems like whether the Lord Commander gets a place is entirely the whim of the monarch, which to me implies that the small council is deliberately fluid and informal and that no office necessarily guarantees membership. The Commander of the City Watch likely falls into this category.

    But pushing them away meant that she didn’t have any way to push her “better claim than your own, brother.”

    Rhaena reminds me a bit of a less crazy version of Gwynesse Harlaw. Rhaena has a dragon, and so her freedom was always much less circumscribed (and this is probably one of the things that kept her on a relatively even keel) by the parallels of aging women increasingly bitter and unstable that their younger brothers have usurped seats that are “theirs by rights” seems pretty obvious.

    It’s very… convenient… that Rhaena’s line died out. Indeed, up until the Blackfyre Pretenders, House Targaryen’s various succession disputes all conveniently end up without any extant pretender lines to muddy the waters; everyone dies or is married back into the main line.

    • Abbey Battle says:

      Only on a narrative level certainly – on the level of pure History a (subtly*) dysfunctional personality such as Rhaena Targaryen producing a dynasty that sputters out in the first generation is less than surprising.

      *I respectfully submit that the horrors of Princess Rhaena’s young adulthood fundamentally warped her personality, possibly through what we might diagnose as PTSD, with a basically shy personality increasingly turning outright introverted; of nothing else The (Dowager) Queen on Dragonstone appears to have become painfully self-centred, even neglectful to a Tragic degree.

    • JG says:

      “Example: Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Jaehaery’s LC isn’t on the above list, you’ll note. Barristan Selmy was on Robert’s small council… but Jaime Lannister was NOT on Tommens, or if he was it never comes up when Jaime is in King’s Landing during AFFC and Cersei’s Regency. (I’m prepared to be wrong here.)”

      That’s Jaime’s decision since he laughs at Cersei’s offer to be Hand and Cersei wasn’t gonna offer him a seat after that, nor would Jaime likely want one anyway.

    • JG says:

      It’s not really “convenient” since that type of situation in history was often deliberately solved by marrying back in or uhhh other means…

  4. Abbey Battle says:

    I wonder if King Jaehaerys decision to spare Lord Rogar public condemnation & disgrace was more self-serving than truly lenient?

    After all, if the extent of this man’s perfidy (and frankly poor decision making) were to become public it would undermine faith in his fitness to govern both the Seven Kingdoms & the Stormlands – and just possibly throw his choice of King into question to boot.

    Such revelations would also throw Dowager Queen Alyssa’s judgement into question (consider the attitude of Maester Gyldayne to that great Lady and then consider how much dangerous such responses would have been before the Great Achievements of King Jaehaerys & Queen Alysanne truly consolidated the Dynasty’s grip on the Seven Kingdoms).

    Quite frankly I think King Jaehaerys wanted his reign to look Perfect from the first and was willing to downplay Lord Rogar’s failings to support the Iconic Image he hoped to present the World (and more especially his rivals) in the interests of Exceptionalism.

    I would also like to suggest that the footnote of Orrin Baratheon helps add to the picture that, while Lord Rogar Baratheon could go disastrously wrong, his brothers were Worse – which might also help explain why King Jaehaerys held back from weakening The Lord of Storm’s End at a time when those brothers were his only heirs and an unruly rabble to govern.

  5. Steven Xue says:

    I wonder what were some of the lesser offices Jaehaerys got rid of? Having 12 offices on top of the key positions would make the Small Council pretty bloated, its better to axe some of these jobs or consolidate them under the more essential ones. Still I wonder if one of these lesser officers may have been something similar to the minister of foreign affairs? Despite the fact there is a lot of contact between Westeros and the Free Cities with the Crown playing a part in affairs abroad, there is no position that’s responsible for handling diplomatic relations with foreign governments. This I find strange considering how later in his reign Jaehaerys took center stage in settling a dispute between Tyrosh and Pentos. I would have thought having a foreign minister around would have been really helpful in keeping an eye on the two cities states, coming up with the best middle ground that would suit both nations and be there to give him helpful advice when needed.

  6. KrimzonStriker says:

    Oh c’mon Steven, cut him some slack. Is it chauvinist when Jaeharys own claim basically rests on male precedent over females? I certainly don’t believe he had any personal bias against a female ruler or heir, but practically speaking this always represented a threat to undermine his whole reign and I knew that the moment the existence of his nieces were revealed back in WOIAF. Hell it WAS a threat to his reign on a few occasions… <_<

    • Abbey Battle says:

      I think that the problem is that King Jaehaerys is no more innocent of the ingrained cultural chauvinism to be found in the Seven Kingdoms than any other man; even leaving aside the issue of succession (where he has strong reasons to favour Male preference primogeniture), he is visibly disinterested in the problems of his daughters to the point of clear frustration when called upon to consider their needs and interests (in a fashion nowhere reflected in the treatment of his sons).

      It’s relatively subtle, but also quite clear, that King Jaehaerys isn’t really INTERESTED in females beyond Good Queen Alysanne – at least as anything beyond political actors – an attitude which clearly came back to bite the King and his Family one more than one occasion (Princess Daella, Princess Saera, Princess Viserra and very probably Princess Gael too; one could make a fair argument for Queen Alyssa & Princess Aerea suffering from this attitude too).

  7. So I take it that you were satisfied with how Martin explained why Targaryen incest was a realm-rending issue under Aenys but not under Jaehaerys? Though I’d tend to defer to your judgement and expertise, I must say that I personally found it quite unconvincing, and thought that Alyssa’s concerns seemed quite reasonable.

    I just find it really hard to believe that the sizable number of Westerosi who were sufficiently outraged by incest under Aenys’ rule, perhaps because of the kind of moral dynamics that Jonathan Haidt talks about in The Righteous Mind, to join or lend support to a violent revolt against the Targaryens are so cowed/decimated by the time of Jaehaerys’ ascension that it basically seems to become a non-issue within 10-15 years.

    I get that Maegor did a lot of work crushing Faith Militant forces, but I feel like a pretty consistent experience in historical counter-insurgencies is that they don’t tend to go away by dropping bodies as long the fundamental grievance motivating the insurgents is unresolved. (Which, incidentally, is usually not “we want you to provide more development aid” but “we want you to just leave our country.”) Losses can bring a party in a conflict to the negotiating table, but they can also lead them to dig in their heels on the emotionally powerful illogic of the sunk cost fallacy.

    So I just feel that Jaehaerys and Alysanne’s marriage would come across as an extremely painful symbolic slap in the face to the supporters of the Faith Militant revolt. After years of vicious fighting, in which many Westerosi would have had to bury family or community members, the Faith’s leadership caves on the cause that so many died for. There’s a profound sense in which virtually all wars are “fought for nothing,” but this seems like it would be a really painfully explicit reminder that all of this suffering accomplished nothing and the rebels’ enemies won anyway.

    Furthermore, the specific doctrine of “Exceptionalism,” and its 7 traveling propagandists, doesn’t cut the Gordian knot of the issue for me. It’s a doctrine of shockingly naked racial and class superiority—this practice is a horrible crime against nature if a worthless peasant like /you/ does it, but for our lordly superiors, what with their magic blood and all, it’s as natural as the rising of the sun. It’s not even “The law in its majestic equality…,” it’s “Well, when the president does it, that means that it’s not illegal.” I feel like the history of colonialism suggests that even if a conquering society has “superior” industrial, scientific, commercial, cultural and/or military accomplishments, it doesn’t mean that the people on the other end of the sword think that they deserve to be subjugated. Humans are tribal creatures, and it’s really painful and frustrating when someone openly insults your tribe.

    So I feel that, if Jaehaerys had just married outside the family, at least initially, and given the impression that the rebels had achieved one of their goals, it would have given a lot of people a plausible emotional “excuse” to stop compounding the bloodshed. And then maybe Targaryen propagandists launch a decades’ long cultural campaign to normalize royal incest, maybe under a theory emphasizing /difference/ as opposed to /superiority/. I would just personally find that more convincing than the actual resolution of the issue in Fire and Blood.

    Anyway, excellent analysis as always, of course.

    • Sean C. says:

      Purely given Westeros’ size, the king’s remedy is a bit small in scale (admittedly nothing new for ASOIAF), but I think the Exceptionalism thing is plausible as something that could gain wide acceptance — given that the Targaryens do in fact have magic blood that allows them to ride dragons and resist most (though not all, as is subsequently shown) illness.

      Incidentally, there has always been to me a fascinating seeming contradiction between the egalitarian messaging GRRM builds into the political stories in the series and the fundamentally royalist character of the magical stories where almost all of his main protagonists (and maybe all, if you believe a certain theory about Tyrion’s origins) have magical abilities directly derived from their magical royal bloodlines.

      • nathanaelgreene says:

        “Purely given Westeros’ size, the king’s remedy is a bit small in scale (admittedly nothing new for ASOIAF)”

        Yeah, for sure, but I’d be willing to write that kind of thing off as poetic license if I found the ideological/political dynamics more compelling.

        “I think the Exceptionalism thing is plausible as something that could gain wide acceptance — given that the Targaryens do in fact have magic blood that allows them to ride dragons and resist most (though not all, as is subsequently shown) illness.”

        I agree that Targaryens are genuinely superior in many senses to common Westerosi, but I still don’t find the doctrine of Exceptionalism very convincing. Generally, it’s not fun to be ruled over by people who constantly and obnoxiously remind you that they’re better than you are, even—especially—if it’s true. Given the violent opposition to Targaryen incest in Westeros that began under Aenys, I find it hard to believe that the solution to this ideological/religious divide is to just say “Well, we get to do it because we have dragons [i.e. overwhelming military power] and you don’t.”

        “Incidentally, there has always been to me a fascinating seeming contradiction between the egalitarian messaging GRRM builds into the political stories in the series and the fundamentally royalist character of the magical stories where almost all of his main protagonists (and maybe all, if you believe a certain theory about Tyrion’s origins) have magical abilities directly derived from their magical royal bloodlines.”

        Yes, that’s an excellent point. This is also true of, for instance, the Harry Potter novels, which nominally have an egalitarian worldview, in terms of the conflict over muggle vs. pure-born wizards, but on a deeper and subtler level have an extremely reactionary message about the power of bloodlines and the right of genetic elites to wield power.

        • JG says:

          It doesn’t fit with HP at all, though, since magic powers and specific talent levels to wield it can come from anywhere and the wizard class are the ones hiding from the Muggles. Hard to call them an elite class when they have to hide.

    • JG says:

      The Exceptionalism argument is hard for a modern person to swallow but it shouldn’t be hard for people already accustomed to an extreme class system. The nobility, especially the ex-king class, are the ones who would probably have the hardest time accepting there is a class above them but they are also the ones who can benefit from royal favor, get charmed by royal access, and can lose their dynasty, castle, and treasures by dragonfire.

      It’s also hard to argue that the Targaryens are wrong given the evidence.

  8. Hedrigal says:

    One factor I think would be significant to the inclusion of the Captain of the city guard on the small council would be whether or not a period of time was seen as a time where the cities population could be a conceivable threat to the monarchy. The times we know about it are during Maegors rule, in the early years of Jaehaerys’ rule, and under Joffrey. All times where significant civil unrest in the capital was likely, and where the loyalty of the captain of the guard would be incredibly important.

  9. […] and the Red Keep combined.” On the other, Jaehaerys doesn’t want to follow-up his crenellation tax with using the progresses to gently bankrupt his subjects as his grandfather did…thus […]

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