In part 1, we examined how Hoster Tully’s penchant for making alliances secured House Tully as one of the preeminent houses in Westeros at the outset of the War of the Five Kings, and in part 2, we examined Hoster’s political talents. In Part 3, we turn to more personal matters. While Hoster had a talented hand at politics, his downfall and the downfall of his house would come from the hands of those who were closest to him. The personal relationships that Hoster would cultivate would ultimately lead to the ruin of his House.
When we last left House Tully, war was looming on the horizon. Catelyn Tully had abducted Tyrion Lannister, and the Lannisters had retaliated by dispatching Gregor Clegane in the guise of a marauding bandit to lure Eddard Stark west. This attempt would fail, and Tywin Lannister would march a host of Westermen, approximately 35,000 in total, to attack the Tullys. Robert Baratheon would later die from an unrelated plot initiated by Cersei Lannister, and Eddard Stark would be manipulated by Littlefinger and end up imprisoned by the Iron Throne. In response, Eddard’s son, Robb Stark, mobilized his own host numbering approximately 22,000 and march south along the Kingsroad with the objective of freeing his father. Seeing the Stark host on the march, Tywin ordered Jaime Lannister to attack Riverrun in order to continue his reprisal against Catelyn Tully, assigning him 15,000 men with which to do so, while Tywin himself marched to block Robb’s southward march with a force of 20,000 men.
In a remarkable feat of daring, Robb Stark outmaneuvered Tywin Lannister, made an alliance with House Frey, the owners of the only river crossing of the Green Fork, placed the fast-moving river between Tywin and himself, marched south, and decimated Jaime Lannister’s army, almost completely eliminating them from the field, killing several important sub-commanders, and capturing Jaime Lannister himself. Unfortunately, Joffrey would execute Eddard Stark and the war would commence in earnest.
The war would not end on account of being defeated in the field, but rather due to several people, with intentions benign and otherwise. Given that the House words are Family, Duty, Honor, it is altogether fitting that we first start with family.
“The things we love destroy us every time, lad. Remember that.” (A Game of Thrones, Jon VII)
Hands of Gold are Cold, But a Woman’s Hands Are (Colder Still)
When she touched him, Lord Hoster moaned. “Forgive me,” he said, so softly she could scarcely hear the words. “Tansy… blood… the blood… gods be kind…” (A Storm of Swords, Catelyn I)
One of the most prominent conspirators against House Tully was someone whom Hoster never expected. Hoster spent his entire life advancing the status and station of his family, so it probably would have come as a surprise that Hoster’s second daughter, Lysa, would conspire against him. If you’ll recall from part 1, Lysa had been married off to Jon Arryn shortly after she was found with child. After the rebel victory and Robert’s ascension to the throne, Jon Arryn along with Lysa entered the royal court. Jon brought his political brilliance and cunning with him. Unfortunately for Lysa, who craved affection, Jon would not give her the warmth she wanted. Jon Arryn was dutiful, kind-hearted, and politically powerful, but not loving. As before in Riverrun, Lysa would turn to Petyr Baelish to satisfy her desires. Trapped in a cold marriage, Petyr would provide the warmth that Jon Arryn lacked, and this in turn led Lysa to do whatever Petyr wished. Hoster, having aborted Lysa’s first child with Petyr, inadvertently caused his own daughter to work with the man working to undermine and destroy. It was almost poetic that Hoster’s focus on family would cause his own family to turn against him.
Lysa loved Petyr Baelish as much as Petyr himself loved Catelyn. When Lysa seduced him when they were younger in Riverrun, Petyr had believed that she was Catelyn; this misunderstanding bore much grief. After becoming pregnant from their union, Hoster forced Lysa to abort the child. The loss of her child destabilized Lysa, and as a coping mechanism, she latched on to Petyr Baelish and had appointed as a customs master for Gulltown, the Vale’s largest economic center. Petyr, in turn, recognized Lysa’s dependency upon him, and turned her into his perfect catspaw. After all, Lysa was the Lady Paramount of the Vale, a prestigious position which afforded him many opportunities to wreak his chaotic plans upon an unsuspecting Westeros.
“The senior branch of House Royce was close to open revolt over her aunt’s failure to aid Robb in his war, and the Waynwoods, Redforts, Belmores, and Templetons were giving them every support.” (A Storm of Swords, Sansa VII)
Lysa’s instability would work to lengthen the war and further cause chaos in Westeros. Most of the noble houses of the Vale, the most prominent of which were the Royces of Runestone were loyal to the memory of Jon Arryn, who was a guardian and very close friend of Ned Stark, and recognized their alliance by marriage to the Tullys of Riverrun. Several other noble houses had distant relations with the North as well, the Royces were distantly related to the Starks, and House Redfort fostered Domeric Bolton, Roose Bolton’s first son. With the Vale able to field close to 30,000 troops, and having a sizable enough navy to pressure King’s Landing, the Vale could easily sway the War of the Five Kings firmly in Robb’s direction. Lysa, however, would keep the Vale out of the war at Petyr’s behest. While Lysa’s relationship with Baelish certainly played a significant part in forming Lysa into Petyr’s perfect dupe, the relationship between Lysa and Hoster was, if anything, even more critical. By aborting her child and arranging her to marry Jon Arryn, Hoster heaped two great indignities upon Lysa, and this in turn, shattered her sense of self, leaving her broken enough for Petyr to manipulate her emotionally (a trademark style of Baelish, as Steven Attwell points out in his column Race For the Iron Throne). Lysa would end up working against the ruling coalition of Westeros that Hoster worked so diligently to establish, which is almost poetic, given how essential Lysa Tully was to its very formation.
The Son is not the Father
Edmure Tully, the young heir of Riverrun, looked up to his father greatly, and it isn’t hard to see why. Hoster was a successful rebel lord and military hero. He had been born before Robert’s Rebellion, and was about 10 years old when the rebellion concluded with a decisive victory for his father, so Edmure grew up seeing both the efforts of his father to advance House Tully, and the after-effects. Edmure understood that the Riverlands were absolutely essential to the success of the rebellion, and Hoster’s apparent willingness to jump in with both feet likely led to Edmure’s brash nature, as Edmure likely was not aware of the framework behind the Stark-Tully alliance, especially if the Southron Ambitions theory, written by Tower of the Hand columnist Stefan Sasse, holds true.
Hoster had achieved the greatest advance in position of House Tully since Lord Edmyn joined with King Aegon to throw off Harren Hoare, and Edmure desired to make himself worthy of being called Lord Hoster’s successor. Unfortunately, while Edmure had a heart to make him beloved by his smallfolk, he did not have the command experience to handle the situation he was given.
“His wife’s brother was young, and more gallant than wise. He would try to hold every inch of his soil, to defend every man, woman, and child who named him lord, and Tywin Lannister was shrewd enough to know that.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard XI)
Edmure’s mistakes in the War of the Five Kings have been argued countless times, but the context behind them have not been examined in the same amount of detail. Unlike many lordlings, Edmure was never squired or fostered with a different family. Instead, Edmure was raised by Hoster Tully in Riverrun, and so Edmure’s two role models were Hoster and his brother Brynden. Edmure’s overriding resolve to not give even an “inch of his soil” makes sense when taking all of this into consideration. Brynden Tully was a decorated war hero in the War of the Ninepenny Kings, and Hoster was undefeated in Robert’s Rebellion. True, he was wounded during the Battle of the Bells, but it was a war wound received in a victorious battle, a battle that undoubtedly saved Robert’s life from Jon Connington, and Westeros was a culture that prided war wounds as badges of honor. Edmure honestly believed that he had a duty to be as bold a commander as his father, so that he might be worthy of being the heir to his father’s legacy. His first two forays were disastrous, and Edmure was captured by Jaime Lannister’s army.
Taking this into account, Edmure’s frequent desire for glory in battle makes more sense. Edmure desire to be of use to Robb Stark comes from a desire to take up the legacy of Hoster Tully. Edmure’s desire wasn’t for personal glory or fame, but to feel worthy of being a member of his generation’s rebellion, and to have others hold him in esteem and pride as a worthy successor of House Tully. Edmure desired to be seen as a man cut from the same cloth as his father and uncle. Much as how Edmure believed that he had to do right by the smallfolk and allow them safety behind Riverrun’s walls, Edmure believed he had to do right by his chosen king and deliver him a victorious battle.
To accomplish this, Edmure looked at the victories that his side had achieved. Robb Stark was able to defeat Jaime Lannister by taking advantage of the ground and the mobility of his horse, and Edmure took that lesson to the Battle of the Fords, taking advantage of the high riverbanks and tree cover, and keeping his reserve mounted to quickly address any situation that would require them. In the ensuing battle, Edmure pushed Tywin Lannister back despite being outnumbered 20,000 to 11,000 men.
Unfortunately for Edmure, he did not pursue in order to destroy Tywin, and the wily lord of Lannister remained free in the Riverlands with a credible host, which gave him the ability to ally with the Tyrells. Edmure Tully was not a simple man, in fact, his tactical acumen at the Battle of the Fords showed that he very clearly learned from his tactical mistakes, but he didn’t learn to pursue the greater strategic objective. In this case, it was to obliterate the enemy from the field, which required killing or capturing Tywin Lannister, and ending organized resistance against the North/Riverlands alliance. Edmure had both an earnest desire to be the best lord of Riverrun he could, and an honest motivation to help his nephew and chosen king, but in the end, the disaster at the Battle of the Fords was a huge blow for House Tully.
However, Edmure did not despair, and was eager to make amends to his king, showcasing his loyalty and commitment to the cause. When Edmure sought to make amends for his actions at the Fords, his first impulse was to gain glory on the field, much as his father did, and much as Robb Stark has done in the War of the Five Kings. When Catelyn suggested marrying Roslin Frey, Edmure seemed flabbergasted.
“I never meant … never, Robb, you must let me make amends. I will lead the van in the next battle!” (A Storm of Swords, Catelyn II)
“I had in mind a different sort of amends. Single combat with the Kingslayer. Seven years of penance as a begging brother. Swimming the Sunset Sea with my legs tied. . .The Others take you all! Very well, I’ll wed the wench. As amends.” (A Storm of Swords, Catelyn IV)
Certainly, Edmure was speaking in hyperbole, but the examples used all have one thing in common: they are all physical feats of extraordinary difficulty, likely to result in grievous injury or death. Edmure wished to make amends for his action, and he did not wish to do it in an easy fashion. Viewing this in light of Hoster’s conduct during Robert’s Rebellion and especially in light of Hoster’s injury in the Battle of the Bells, the intent is plain. Edmure wanted to shed his own blood on the field for the sake of furthering the cause, a hero in the vein that he sees his father. This heroic ideal that Edmure saw in his father prevented him from using his own strengths, and led his House to the path of ruin, with Edmure all the while trying to help.
Family, Then We’ll See About Duty and Honor
What were the Tully words again?”
Her (Catelyn’s) throat was dry. “Family, Duty, Honor.” (A Game of Thrones, Catelyn IV)
By contrast, Catelyn, Hoster’s oldest daughter, did not share the pure motives of her brother Edmure. After the outset of the War of the Five Kings, Catelyn had five children. Robb was the King in the North, and Bran and Rickon were safe in Winterfell under the guardianship of Rodrik Cassel and Maester Luwin. However, her two daughters Sansa and Arya were in dire peril. Catelyn believed them to be imprisoned by the Lannisters in King’s Landing. When Robb Stark captured Jaime Lannister, Catelyn was relieved, as the threat of reciprocal harm to Jaime Lannister would keep Sansa and Arya relatively safe from harm, as the politics of Westeros demanded.
However, Catelyn desired to free her daughters, and Robb refused to release Jaime Lannister in exchange for two girls, even if they were his own sisters. After all, Jaime Lannister was a talented swordsman that could lead another army to plague him, while Sansa and Arya were underaged girls whose marriages would be difficult to arrange while the kingdom was already engaged in a pitched civil war. However, with Bran and Rickon safe, Catelyn was partially mollified.
However, when Theon Greyjoy seized Winterfell and “executed” Bran and Rickon, that changed. Much like her sister Lysa, Catelyn rushed into action, sometimes disastrously, when her children were concerned. With Bran and Rickon dead, and Robb leading a war from the front and in constant danger, Catelyn’s mindset evolved from justifiable worry and fear to something resembling obsession. Against the orders of her son, Catelyn freed Jaime Lannister and charged him with the return of her two daughters, charging her own sworn sword Brienne of Tarth to accompany him.
“If I could wish the Kingslayer back in chains I would. You freed him without my knowledge or consent… but what you did, I know you did for love. For Arya and Sansa, and out of grief for Bran and Rickon. Love’s not always wise, I’ve learned. It can lead us to great folly, but we follow our hearts… wherever they take us. Don’t we, Mother?” (A Storm of Swords, Catelyn II)
Catelyn’s actions have been analyzed before, but Hoster’s relationship with Catelyn had a great deal to do with her decision-making process. During Robert’s Rebellion, House Tully was not threatened by war, but her betrothed Brandon Stark was murdered on orders of Aerys II Targaryen. Not long after, Aerys called for the head of Robert Baratheon, pledged to wed Lyanna Stark. It isn’t altogether far-fetched to believe that Catelyn viewed House Tully’s participation in Robert’s Rebellion almost entirely for her sake. After all, Catelyn was in as much danger as Robert Baratheon, being betrothed to a ‘traitor’ much as Robert’s betrothal to Lyanna Stark endangered him. Catelyn’s actions make more sense when viewed in this psychological context. Hoster Tully was willing to endure war, treason, and horror for the sake of his daughter, and as a Lady of House Tully, it was in her to do the same as well for her own blood.
Much like her brother Edmure, Catelyn attempted to live up to the ideals that Hoster Tully exemplified in his life. Edmure tried to be the war hero that he always viewed his father, and Catelyn would do anything for her beloved children, much as she always felt her father did toward her. In the end, the two idealizations of Hoster Tully ended up hurting the House greatly.
But Lord Hoster was gone, or near enough. Her Ned as well. Bran and Rickon too, and Mother, and Brandon so long ago. Only Robb remained to her, Robb and the fading hope of her daughters. (A Storm of Swords, Catelyn II)
The Late Lord Frey
Every liege lord has unruly bannermen. The Lannisters had the Reynes and Tarbecks. The Starks fought the Boltons since the times of the ancient Kings in the North. Hoster Tully’s unruly bannermen was Walder Frey.
“Walder Frey is a peevish old man who lives to fondle his young wife and brood over all the slights he’s suffered.” (A Storm of Swords, Tyrion VI)
“Frey only takes the field when the scent of victory is in the air, and all he smells now is ruin.” (A Game of Thrones, Tyrion VII)
Mocked as the Late Lord Frey, due to his reluctance to support either side of Robert’s Rebellion while the outcome was still in doubt, Walder Frey was a man despised by his subjects, peers, and family members alike, as well as his liege lord: Hoster Tully. Lord Frey was slow to render aid in accord with his oaths of fealty, notably averse of anything resembling risk, and quick to demand things in return. His house was looked down upon by older houses because they had grown into power so quickly by monopolizing the only crossing of the Green Fork for hundreds of miles. The combination of disdain for both his person and his house led Walder to be an incredibly vindictive man, one who never forgot an insult, no matter how minor. Even when Hoster was dying and abed with illness, Walder felt slighted when Hoster did not attend his wedding to Joyeuse Erenford. A notoriously cautious and dishonorable man, Walder routinely broke his oaths of fealty when the price was right or when victory wasn’t assured to those whom he swore fealty to. As the Lord of a House who made its living understanding the value of a toll, Walder was a master at extracting a heavy price when the buyer was desperate enough, much like Lord Hoster himself was able to extract a hefty price for his allegiance for Robert’s Rebellion.
To his credit, Walder Frey remained committed to the cause up until the marriage pact was broken, as various Freys are mentioned both participating in battle, and being wounded and dying in service to Robb Stark’s cause in the Whispering Wood, Oxcross, and the Crag. Unlike Walder, however, Hoster is remembered for answering his oaths, as evidenced in the War of the Ninepenny Kings when Hoster committed the Riverlands to the royal cause. Walder, in stark contrast, is remembered for forgetting his oaths, until someone had something he wanted.
The Second Most Devious Man in the Seven Kingdoms.
“Is this your own scheme,” he (Eddard) gasped out at Varys, “or are you in league with Littlefinger?”
That seemed to amuse the eunuch. “I would sooner wed the Black Goat of Qohor. Littlefinger is the second most devious man in the Seven Kingdoms.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard XV)
In part 2, we discussed how Baelish worked to undermine Hoster. Today, I’ll detail the full extent of his actions and his motives, and how disastrous they were for House Tully.
Petyr Baelish was banished from Riverrun, and with Hoster bedridden with illness, there was little Baelish could do directly. Littlefinger’s manipulations against Hoster Tully would be carried out through his daughters, and they would begin at the series’s outset. Petyr manipulated Lysa into poisoning Jon Arryn, using the (true) idea that her son Robert was going to be fostered away from the Eyrie. With Jon Arryn, the diplomatic mastermind that held the Seven Kingdoms together following Robert’s Rebellion, out of the picture and the current Lord of the Eyrie far too young to rule, the Vale was firmly in the hands of Lysa Tully, and by extension, Petyr Baelish. In a single stroke, Baelish reduced the ruling coalition from five Houses to four.
Of the remaining four houses, Stark and Tully were the closest, given Eddard and Catelyn’s five children, and setting Stark against Tully would be an involved process; one that would require Baelish to make many supporting plays. Even a master player like Petyr Baelish could not undermine the close friendship between Eddard and Robert Baratheon, especially given Eddard’s psychological fixation on oaths and honor, making it unlikely that Eddard would ever foment rebellion. However, the Lannisters, whom Eddard Stark viewed as murderous snakes tainting Robert’s moral victory over the mad Targaryens, were the natural choice, and Littlefinger worked to put the Houses of Stark and Lannister at odds with each other.
Eddard naturally distrusted Baelish, but fate would conspire to give him an opportunity when Catelyn Stark arrived in King’s Landing, attempting to inform Eddard about the attempt on his son’s life. Improvising on the spot, and seeking to worm his way into the Starks’ trust, Littlefinger lied to Catelyn about the identity of the dagger’s owner, seeking to pit the Starks against the Lannisters. In this, Littlefinger could count on Catelyn, a woman who would do anything for her children, to react in a fashion as to enrage Tywin Lannister, a man notorious for delivering brutal retribution to those who slighted him.
As with Lysa, Baelish’s emotional manipulation of Catelyn compelled her to act against the ruling coalition, further weakening the power structure of Westeros. As predicted, Tywin Lannister retaliated in his typical fashion, sacking the Riverlands as retaliation, in hopes of acquiring a prisoner to force Tyrion’s release.
When Robert Baratheon died, the realm entered a succession crisis. Littlefinger knew that Stannis knew that Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen were all born of incest, and Stannis had the true claim to the throne. But Littlefinger could not let Stannis take the throne. Baelish, after all, had spent years running Westeros’s economy into the dirt through a Ponzi scheme to enrich himself and undermine the status quo. Stannis, for all his faults, was a driven commander and zealous disciple to the cause of justice. The court would be purged of Stannis’s enemies, and Littlefinger would be lucky to escape with his life. Littlefinger’s long-term plans, however, required a weak king on the Iron Throne and a divided realm. In a stroke of luck, Eddard Stark, now trusting Baelish thanks to Petyr’s manipulation of Catelyn, came seeking his help to secure Stannis’s claims. Seizing the opportunity, Littlefinger ensured that Eddard Stark is arrested and held by Joffrey Baratheon, ensuring that a weak king would sit the Throne and his position would be secured.
With the Realm in a state of civil war, Baelish did his part to ensure that his position would be maintained by brokering an alliance with the Tyrells, as Stannis Baratheon would likely have cut his head off as soon as the two were in the same room. Robb Stark was an even worse case, as he was the representation of the union that Littlefinger could never have with Catelyn. Robb, hot-blooded and eager to avenge the dishonor done to his family, likely reminded Baelish of Brandon Stark, the man who won Catelyn’s heart.
All of his Littlefinger’s actions can be traced back to Hoster Tully. Hoster represented the established nobility, who drew status from their ancient titles. This concept was a primary reason for Hoster to deny Baelish a betrothal to Catelyn or Lysa, as his young family was only two generation ennobled. His father was lord of paltry holdings, and such a low-status family could never hope to marry into the Tullys, at least, not while Hoster Tully was Lord of Riverrun. Hoster also evicted Petyr from Riverrun when he was found to have impregnated Lysa Tully, refusing to wed her to Baelish and aborting the child from that union. While Baelish does not make any mention in the text that he cared about the child, and is rather explicit that he did not care for Lysa Tully, Baelish was a very proud man, and the notion that someone would kill his own unborn child due to his low birth would be particularly hateful for a man like Baelish.
Much like Walder Frey, Littlefinger took the condescension of others incredibly personally, to the point where he obsessed over every minor slight. It is altogether fitting that the chief architects in House Tully’s demise were both men driven to murder for the slights done to them. While Tywin Lannister saw it as removing a threat, Walder and Petyr both had personal stakes in removing the Tullys from their position, and ensuring that they were in place to scoop up what remained in the Lannister’s wake.
To The River They Returned
Let the kings of winter have their cold crypt under the earth, Catelyn thought. The Tullys drew their strength from the river, and it was to the river they returned when their lives had run their course. (A Storm of Swords, Catelyn IV)
Hoster would have few political actions after attempting to politically outmaneuver Tywin in A Game of Thrones. He would grow so weak that he couldn’t leave his solar, and his mind would be clouded with milk of the poppy. Edmure would take over as regent, and Hoster would die in the middle of the War of the Five Kings. Later, Hoster would be followed shortly in death by both of his daughters as well as his grandson and king. The Tully family would lose their ancestral seat and capital, and Lord Edmure would be made a prisoner of Casterly Rock at the hands of Walder Frey and the ruthless Lannisters.
Hoster was a brilliant politician and a capable general, and the large shoes he left proved difficult for both Catelyn and Edmure to fill. In the end, Hoster Tully’s story was very similar to Tywin Lannister’s. Both men focused on improving their family’s position, and both caused members of their own family to undermine them, and in the end, they were the only thing holding their dysfunctional family together. Both even had a bit of a ruthless streak. Tywin’s ruthlessness to House Reyne and Tarbeck was well-known, but Hoster Tully was nearly as ruthless; he put Lord Goodbrook to the sword when the eponymous house did not answer their oaths during Robert’s Rebellion.
“When Riverrun declared for Robert, Goodbrook stayed loyal to the king, so Lord Tully came down on him with fire and sword. After the Trident, Goodbrook’s son made his peace with Robert and Lord Hoster, but that didn’t help the dead none.” (A Storm of Swords, Arya VII)
The similarities even continued in death, as the Tullys fell to ruin not long after Hoster died, and in the wake of Tywin’s murder, the Lannisters were steadily losing their own power and prestige in court. Westeros was in upheaval, and for good or ill, Hoster Tully was one of the men who started it all.
Thanks for reading!