In part 1, we examined Hoster Tully’s actions before the A Song of Ice and Fire series began. 3 years before the beginning of A Game of Thrones, Hoster Tully became bedridden with a serious illness to the stomach. Despite this infirmity, Hoster was sitting comfortably, having married his two daughters to the Starks and the Arryns. Even more than this, he had the gratitude of the sitting king, Robert Baratheon. But like the wasting disease threatening his life, trouble on the horizon threatened to erode the successes that Hoster had worked so hard to achieve.
Threats were nothing new to the Lord Paramount of the Riverlands. During the Greyjoy Rebellion, Rodrik Greyjoy invaded the Riverlands at Seagard, but Jason Mallister contained the threat before it could establish any position on the Westerosi continent. Later, the Greyjoys would bear witness to a united Westeros that completely crushed the Ironborn, despite Balon Greyjoy’s confidence that the new Baratheon regime was not secure in its authority.
“He (Balon) believed that Robert, as a usurper, might not have the strong support of the other lords the way that a Targaryen king would have. He also thought he could defeat Robert at sea.” (So Spake Martin, July 27, 2008)
The victory over the Ironborn demonstrated the power of the ruling coalition of Westeros, of which the Tullys were deeply entrenched. The Arryn-Baratheon-Lannister-Stark-Tully power bloc was far and away the most powerful force in Westeros. Politically, it included the Throne and five of the eight Lords Paramount, including master diplomat Jon Arryn. Economically, the gold-rich Westerlands and four of the five economic centers of Westeros (King’s Landing, Lannisport, Gulltown, and White Harbor) were either under the control of the ruling houses directly, or administered by sworn vassals. Militarily, the combined regions could field over 100,000 levies and included veteran commanders like Brynden Tully and Eddard Stark, talented fighters like Jaime Lannister and Barristan Selmy, and Westeros’ own warrior-king, Robert Baratheon. The coalition was a juggernaut and nigh-impervious to any external threats.
For Hoster specifically, his daughters tied him to the Starks and Arryns, and at the outset of A Game of Thrones, his granddaughter Sansa was betrothed to the heir-apparent, Joffrey Baratheon, a union which would hopefully produce a child that was equal parts Baratheon, Lannister, Stark, and Tully. This was a triumph for a house which never ruled lands of its own as a king, as the Lannisters and Starks did 300 years prior.
Grey-Green Eyes That Did Not Smile
However, there was an unseen threat that threatened to destroy this seemingly-invincible power bloc: Petyr Baelish. Petyr Baelish was the son of a minor Vale lord who fought alongside of Hoster during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. Petyr was fostered in Riverrun as a result of his father’s friendship with Hoster and grew up with the Tully children. There, he would become enamored of Catelyn, and Lysa, in turn, would grow enamored of Petyr himself. However, Petyr was too low in station to ever be considered a marriageable match for a Tully, and when Catelyn was betrothed to Brandon Stark, Petyr would foolishly challenge Brandon to a duel that nearly killed him. Later, Lysa would bed him while he was drunk, and become pregnant from that union. Hoster, upon learning who the father was, forced Lysa to abort her pregnancy, and evicted Baelish from Riverrun rather than have Petyr wed Lysa.
Petyr would carry grudges borne of these events for his entire life. He despised higher nobility for looking down on him as someone of low birth. In addition, he bore specific grudges against those involved in these events. One against Ned Stark, who wed the woman he loved, and another against Hoster Tully for killing his unborn son and marrying both women to other men.
Setting the Stage
Petyr Baelish understood that the ruling coalition of Westeros was far too powerful to assault using an external force. While we’ll examine Littlefinger’s entire role in part 3 of this feature, his base motive was a desire to instigate chaos and instability in Westeros and the Riverlands specifically. To accomplish this, Baelish would need to break the ruling coalition from the inside.
During Robert’s Rebellion, Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon had a terrible argument over the actions of Tywin Lannister that nearly led to a falling out. Tywin sacked the city and ordered the killing of Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen, the young children of Rhaegar Targaryen. While Tywin and Robert believed that the action was necessary to avoid a succession crisis, Eddard Stark condemned the action as the horrific murder of innocent children. Tywin’s action created permanent bad blood between the Lannisters and the Starks.
While this was a definite advantage for anyone seeking to cause a divide between the Starks and Lannisters, it was hardly enough on its own. Eddard Stark rarely left the North, and the Lannisters had little compelling interest in acting against the Starks. However, Brandon “Bran” Stark, Eddard’s second son, spied Jaime Lannister having sex with his sister, Cersei Lannister. Not only was incest an abomination in the eyes of the Seven, but Cersei was wed to Robert Baratheon.When Bran was discovered, Jaime pushed him out of the window, hoping to silence him forever. That failed, and an unknown individual hired an assassin, paying him with a Valyrian steel dagger. This led the Starks to believe that someone was out to kill Brandon.
Petyr Baelish took advantage of the situation and Catelyn’s trust. When Catelyn came south to determine who had sent the dagger against her son, he manipulated her to believe that Tyrion Lannister, son of Tywin Lannister, had been responsible for the action, which in turn caused her to imprison Tyrion and make him stand justice for the action.
Jaime Lannister then decided to take vengeance in a personal fashion, attacking Stark on the streets of King’s Landing, which led to Eddard receiving a serious leg wound, and slaying Eddard’s guards who were escorting him, including his friend, Jory Cassel. While Jaime’s action was serious, it was Tywin’s action that was far more dangerous for the Riverlands, and for Westeros at large.
Avoiding the Trap
Tywin Lannister, far more methodical and cautious than his son Jaime, dispatching Gregor Clegane to attack the Riverlands to burn it as a punitive action to the Tullys. To avoid royal reprisal, he ordered Clegane not to fly any banners and act as a brigand, which the Mountain and his men did with unbridled enthusiasm.
Tywin and Jaime’s retribution were predictable for a family as proud as the Lannisters, but how the Riverlanders responded offers us a rare glimpse of Hoster at his most politically active, before the pain of his lingering illness and use of milk of the poppy left him muddled and confused. These actions would demonstrate Hoster’s brilliant political acumen, capable of foiling the plots of even the mighty Tywin Lannister.
“Edmure agrees, we must pay Gregor Clegane his bloody coin,” Ser Marq declared, “but old Lord Hoster commanded us to come here and beg the king’s leave before we strike.”
Thank the Gods for old Lord Hoster, then.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard XI)
When Tywin dispatched Gregor Clegane masked as a common brigand, Hoster Tully saw through the plot immediately, as did Eddard Stark. However, Hoster’s son, Edmure Tully, wished to counter Tywin’s provocation immediately with military action, but Hoster countermanded Edmure’s thirst for vengeance and dispatched his lords to King’s Landing to seek justice from Robert Baratheon. It was unlikely that Hoster knew that Robert would be on a hunting trip, as King’s Landing was still a few days’ ride from the Sherrer holdfast, and yet more days from Riverrun, where the assembled Riverlander lords met with Lord Tully.
“Should Riverrun strike back, Cersei and her father would insist that it had been the Tullys who broke the King’s peace, not the Lannisters.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard XI)
By dispatching his lords to Riverrun, Hoster sought to avoid Tywin’s trap entirely, placing Tywin in the exact position that he wished the Tullys themselves. While Tywin claims later that he was hoping for Ned Stark to ride, seeking to capture him and force an exchange of hostages, the truth was that Robert was still in court at the start of Gregor’s sack of the Riverlands.
“He planned for Lord Eddard to come west himself to deal with Gregor Clegane. If he had he would have been killed, or taken prisoner and traded for the Imp, who was your lady mother’s captive at the time.” (A Storm of Swords, Arya III)
While Eddard would have desired to ride with the party to enact justice on Gregor Clegane in accordance with his faith, Robert may have desired to ride as well, or possibly have dispatched many more men than Eddard’s 120.
Tywin was taking a significant risk with this plan. If Robert was in court, he risked Eddard Stark having Robert’s ear and advising him against the Lannisters. Eddard’s track record with Robert was not perfect, but they were still friends, and Robert often gave Eddard the chance to present an argument. He also risked having Robert ordering someone else to go instead of Lord Stark, such as young Loras Tyrell, darling son of the Tyrells of Highgarden.
But in all likelihood, King Robert, himself, would likely have wished confront Gregor Clegane. Robert detested the minutiae of ruling, and might have wished that Eddard remain in King’s Landing to deal with those matters rather than leave them to his other councilors, while Robert himself rode west to deal with the far simpler matter of bashing a head in with his warhammer, and he likely would not have ridden alone. The Riverlanders, Crownlanders, and Stormlanders would have been eager to join him, as would any member of the court eager for glory.
Hoster’s information was much more limited, given his illness, but he made full use of what he knew. Hoster knew that his son-in-law was Hand of the King, and understood the mindset of all of the principal actors in this drama, namely Robert and Tywin. Hoster probably believed that boisterous, battle-hungry Robert would likely have relished the chance to ride out and administer some of his own “King’s justice” on the wayward Gregor Clegane. Tywin, a cautious commander, rarely placed himself in battles where he had a significant chance of losing, and the Lannisters against the united Starks, Tullys, and Baratheons would have had more than a significant chance to inflict substantial losses against Tywin. Hoster’s maneuvering had the potential to place Tywin in an uneviable position where the Lannisters would be pitted against superior numbers from at least two fronts. Tywin could not reinforce Clegane with supplies or levies that tied him back to Casterly Rock or risk having his plot exposed. In that scenario, there was no beneficial action for Tywin. He would either be forced to cut ties and abandon his favorite attack dog Gregor Clegane, or go to war outmatched. This is one of the most prized moves in game theory, as every possibility afforded by the opponent denies any positive outcome. In effect, Hoster’s political maneuvering on Tywin on the eve of war was a masterstroke.
To Hoster’s credit, his ploy almost succeeded, and would have been devastating to the Lannister cause had Robert not received the deadly combination of strongwine and boar tusks to the gut. Meanwhile, back in the Riverlands, Gregor Clegane’s men attacked a party under the royal banner at the Mummer’s Ford. This action alone would have sent Robert (or any non-Lannister affiliated regent) into action, likely sending a war party numbering in the thousands to kill or capture Gregor Clegane. Despite the Lannister’s might, they had few alliances outside of Cersei’s marriage to Robert. Tywin could count on the Westerlands if it came to war, but the North, Crownlands, Stormlands, and Riverlands would march against him, and the Iron Islands likely would be more than happy to be let off the chain to raid and plunder Lannisport and other rich coastal towns and castles along the Westerlands’ coast. Oberyn Martell and Dorne would have eagerly jumped to administer justice for Elia Martell to both Clegane and Tywin Lannister. Lysa Arryn would have likely kept the Vale isolationist, so the Vale might have been a no-go, but more than half of the country would have jumped at the chance to take out Tywin, and as the Greyjoy Rebellion showed, one kingdom fared poorly against the rest of them put together.
That Robert would have been murdered was something that Hoster couldn’t foresee, and was the only thing that stopped Hoster’s plan from succeeding. Even then, it required the constant machinations of Varys and Littlefinger, both attempting to destabilize the Realm and locking it in a succession crisis and civil war.
There’s A War Coming, Ned
The political maneuverings in the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings offer us a rare glimpse of a head-to-head battle between two Lords Paramount: Tywin Lannister and Hoster Tully. Both executed precision moves designed to place the other in a position of weakness, and it demonstrates the cutthroat nature of Westerosi politics, and the too-fragile peaces left as a result. Despite Hoster Tully’s best efforts, war would come to the Riverlands soon enough in the wake of King Robert’s death. And another major death was coming.
In Part 3, we’ll examine the architects behind House Tully’s downfall, and how Hoster’s relationship with these myriad individuals tied into their actions.