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“With malice toward none, with charity for all…let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds.” – Abraham Lincoln, Second Inaugural Address – March 4, 1865
When we last left Jon Arryn, his rebel coalition stood victorious against the Targaryen dynasty, but at a cost. Tywin Lannister ruthlessly sacked the capital city and butchered two child-aged rival claimants to the Throne, earning the ire of Eddard Stark and the horror of the nobility and smallfolk alike. Furthermore, Lyanna Stark, the love of Robert’s life and Westeros’s own Helen of Troy, died in Dorne. Where Eddard and Robert saw sorrow in the death of a beloved figure, Jon saw an opportunity to create a political, economic, and military hegemony for his new regime.
To Forgive and Forget
The death of Lyanna Stark meant that Robert was still unmarried. The actions of the Lannisters had infuriated Eddard Stark, but Lyanna’s death saddened him, and repaired his relationship with Robert Baratheon. Lyanna’s death was a tragedy, but for Jon, the political pragmatist, this meant that the practical option to secure Robert Baratheon on his throne was made open. The Lannisters were loosely tied to the Baratheons by their sack of King’s Landing and killing of Aerys II Targaryen, and this alliance needed to be strengthened to secure Robert on the Iron Throne. What better way to strengthen this marriage of convenience than with an actual marriage? Lord Tywin had a beautiful unwed daughter: Cersei Lannister, and if Jon Arryn could arrange a marriage between Robert and Cersei, security and stability could return to Westeros, and perhaps peace soon after. Not only that, this would tie the Lannisters into the regime, and forced them to be invested in its success, rather than wait for an opportunity to come along much as they had done during Robert’s Rebellion.
“And Cersei… I have Jon Arryn to thank for her. I had no wish to marry after Lyanna was taken from me, but Jon said the realm needed an heir. Cersei Lannister would be a good match, he told me, she would bind Lord Tywin to me should Viserys Targaryen ever try to win back his father’s throne.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard VII)
Much like Arryn’s own marriage to Lysa Tully, this marriage was a political move that was the norm of medieval marriages both in the real world and Westeros. Robert was already a desirable bachelor: wealthy, gregarious, and attractive, but as the new sitting king, Cersei Lannister was more than willing to enter into the marriage… until Robert mentioned the name Lyanna on her wedding night. A different woman might have shrugged it off, but proud Cersei of House Lannister hated the notion that she was wed to a man who carried a torch for another woman. However, the move was made, Cersei was wed to Robert as a means to bring the Lannisters into the regime, not to make Robert or Cersei happy.
Jon’s move emphasizes the nature of the realpolitik school of thought. Jon dealt with political realities in a pragmatic fashion. While Robert’s rage at Targaryens was personal, and Tywin may have had personal motives as well, Jon’s motives were different, ones that didn’t involve the Targaryens in the slightest. The regime needed the Lannisters to ensure their ruling plurality. The gold mines of the Westerlands and the economic hub of Lannisport would help ensure economic strength, and the Riverlands, Stormlands, and Westerlands surrounded the Reach, the largest region to supply the Targaryens with troops and supplies. The Lannisters may have been late to the war, but they didn’t actively oppose the regime like the Tyrells and Martells, nor were they as notoriously untrustworthy as House Greyjoy. This practical eye led Jon to pick what he ultimately saw as the best course of action, not for Robert Baratheon, Eddard Stark, or even Tywin Lannister, but for Westeros as a whole.
This same logic is what guided Jon Arryn in his decision to counsel a pardon for Jaime Lannister. The knight had violated his sacred trust and slew King Aerys. His true motives, stopping Aerys from incinerating King’s Landing and the citizens within it, were unknown, so there was no “necessity defense” ever raised. Eddard opposed Jaime’s actions of principle, and desired him to either be sent to the Wall or the block. Jon counseled leniency instead, as executing or exiling Jaime Lannister, favored son of Lord Tywin, would no doubt enrage him.
“At the least, Robert should have stripped the white cloak from Jaime and sent him to the Wall, as Lord Stark urged. He listened to Jon Arryn instead.” (A Storm of Sword, Davos IV)
Practicality won out over idealism, and Jon counseled Robert to pardon both Jaime, permitting him to remain in the Kingsguard.
“Ser Barristan once told me the rot in King Aerys’s reign began with Varys. The eunuch should never have been pardoned.” (A Storm of Swords, Davos IV)
In the same vein, Jon pardoned Lord Varys, the previous Master of Whispers, continuing his pattern of leniency toward former Targaryen loyalists. Varys was untrustworthy, Jon Arryn told Stannis Baratheon as much, but the institution of Westeros relied on intelligence and spycraft as much as it relied on swords and armor. As Steven Attwell argues in his column, holdovers from the previous regime were hardly unusual in the real world. Their presence gave the commonfolk a sense of continuity, as well utilizing the already established networks in place rather than wasting resources establishing new positions of power. Of course, Varys’s exceptional cunning and ability to play the long game helped significantly in his retention of both his position and his head.
Other loyalists were not so lucky. Tywin Lannister banished many of the defenders of King’s Landing to the Wall, such as Alliser Thorne, but this speaks to Tywin’s own personal politics rather than Jon Arryn’s, as the Lord of the Vale was not mentioned as even being involved in such matters.
This idea is reminiscent of Aegon I Targaryen’s own conquering moves in Westeros, 3 centuries prior. Aegon, by all respects, was rather merciful to his defeated enemies, allowing most of the former Kings of Westeros to keep rulership of their respective regions, only with him as the supreme ruler of Westeros. As Robert’s rebellion was less radical than Aegon’s (he was merely changing the ruler at the top rather than establishing the position), it is only natural that his transition would be smoother, but the principal ideology was simple. Westeros is simply too vast a continent to hold militarily. Alliances need to be made to ensure stability, and the way to do that in Westeros was to earn loyalty.
Turning Enemies Into Friends
“Do I not destroy my enemies, effectively, when I make them my friends?” – Quote attributed to Sigsmund, Holy Roman Emperor
“Jon Arryn sailed to Sunspear to return Prince Lewyn’s bones, sat down with Prince Doran, and ended all the talk of war.” (A Storm of Swords, Tyrion VI)
Bringing the Lannisters into the fold won Jon Arryn few friends, as Eddard Stark and Doran Martell were both incredibly displeased with the state of affairs. Oberyn Martell, hot-headed younger brother to both the murdered Elia and the Prince of Dorne Doran, was actively pushing for Dorne to support Viserys Targaryen, who was the principal Targayen claimant to the Throne. The surviving Targaryen claimant had few supporters and was a mere child, but Dorne, in conjunction with support from the Free Cities, could prolong the war and weaken the regime.
Once again, Jon provided a realpolitik answer to Dorne’s grievances. Arryn brought Lewyn Martell’s bones back to Dorne to be laid to rest, a traditional gesture of respect. However, he would not punish Gregor Clegane or Amory Lorch for their crimes, to say nothing of Tywin Lannister. Oberyn was silenced, and Dorne, for all appearances, appeared to be mollified, and this illusion was important for civil unity. Jon couldn’t inspire loyalty, but in true realpolitik fashion, Jon could generate the illusion of unity and security. Much as with Lyanna, Jon refused to consider the dead in any large capacity, focusing instead of living political actors.
This illusory peace turned into a calm for Westeros that lasted over a decade. Jon dealt in political realities to ensure stability, and it meant making moves that were unpopular, but necessary. In that same vein, Jon was likely the one who suggested wedding Stannis Baratheon to Selyse Florent to keep the Tyrells in check. The Florents, who long smouldered over their better blood claim to Highgarden and their position as vassals to historical stewards, ones who were appointed to a position as a reward for surrender. Any defiance from Highgarden would likely mean that the Tyrells would have their positions and titles revoked and granted to the Florents themselves, an effective way of curtailing a house with both the largest levies in Westeros and an ability to starve the realm through controlling the grain supply. This move showcased a cunning mind, not one restricted by honor, or bound up in the past at the expense of the present.
However illusory this peace was, it held for a long period of time, and ultimately would succumb not to the sword, but to finance, scheming, and hidden knives. Under Littlefinger, the crown quickly lost its money due to Robert’s spending and to the Master of Coin’s Ponzi scheme, enacted with the aim of destabilizing Westeros.
Littlefinger gave a shrug. “The master of coin finds the money. The king and the Hand spend it.”
“I will not believe that Jon Arryn allowed Robert to beggar the realm,” Ned said hotly.
Grand Maester Pycelle shook his great bald head, his chains clinking softly. “Lord Arryn was a prudent man, but I fear that His Grace does not always listen to wise counsel.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard IV)
Varys made plans with his partner-in-crime Illyrio Moptais of Pentos to restore a Targaryen candidate to the Throne. Doran Martell did likewise, making a bargain in Braavos regarding the ousted Targaryen claimant, Viserys. Cersei Lannister manipulated Lannister family members and cronies into positions of power to isolate Robert, plotting to murder him once her son came of age out of vengeance for their loveless marriage and his constant insults. At the center, only Jon Arryn could have been considered loyal, so it came as no surprise that the Baratheon regime relied on Jon Arryn as much as it did.
Despite all this unrest, there was only one major outbreak of rebellion, by Balon Greyjoy, and it was swiftly contained, first by Jason Mallister, then by Robert Baratheon himself. Balon’s rebellion was ultimately doomed to failure, as the Greyjoys were actively despised by all of Westeros, and the Ironborn had few friends on the continent, because of their active history of raiding coastal villages and their foreign religion, and Robert commanded the loyalty of a force almost ten times the size of Balon’s own. Jon Arryn wasn’t known to have participated in any battle, and it was likely that he stood in to execute the king’s duties while Robert personally took to the field of battle. The war was over quickly, and Jon returned to shepherding the realm he had spent the better portion of his life shaping and guiding.
With so many problems and simmering treachery, with the king actively disinterested in ruling and all ranking advisors treacherously working against the regime, Jon Arryn did an impressive job making his peace last as long as he had, and he owed it not to his honor, but to his ability to make decisions based on the circumstances instead of by cognitive biases. Where Tywin Lannister was a brutal, fearful Hand, and Robb Stark a honor-bound idealist, Jon found a middle ground devoted to the notion that a pretty peace is impossible, but a serviceable peace can satisfy enough to last.
Image by Jacqui Davis
The Last Dragons – Sparing the Spawn
“The matter seems simple enough to me. We ought to have had Viserys and his sister killed years ago, but His Grace my brother made the mistake of listening to Jon Arryn.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard VIII)
During Robert’s tenure as King, Jon served admirably as Hand, which absent a single act of rebellion, was very peaceful for Westeros. Robert was a very personable and popular king, and he was famed for turning his enemies into his friends. He pardoned many men that fought against him, including Mace Tyrell, Randyll Tarly, and Paxter Redwyne, who nearly starved his brother Stannis to death. However, there was one group of people that Robert would never forgive, nor show any mercy toward: House Targaryen.
Robert’s Rebellion left every adult member of House Targaryen dead. Rhaegar died in single combat against Robert Baratheon and Jaime Lannister slew Aerys Targaryen. Tywin Lannister’s bannermen slew Rhaenys and Aegon Targaryen, but Viserys Targaryen and his infant sister Daenerys escaped Westeros to Essos.
Robert despised the Targaryens, but there was a practical consideration as well. Viserys was the de jure claimant of the Iron Throne for the Targaryen dynasty after his the death of his father, older brother, and infant nephew, and the natural choice for rallying figure for any opponents to his new regime. The Targaryen dynasty had an almost 300-year reign as Kings of Westeros, and their ancestor was the one who unified the Seven Kingdoms into a single nation, and these ideas were powerful symbols of legitimacy. As mentioned in part 1, Robert was a king whose successful rebel cause consisted of many powerful symbols, and Viserys had access to many of these same weapons that could be used against the Baratheon regime.
Jon Arryn thought differently. Many Targaryen loyalists had died, but many more were pardoned by the regime. This popular move won Robert much popular support, and this in turn meant that many Targaryen loyalists decided against supporting Viserys. Viserys’s only large supporter was Dorne, which notably could not field many spearman to his cause. In Essos, where the Targaryen dynasty had supporters, many decided against supporting Viserys when he had no money, titles, or other incentives to offer. Viserys traveled from Free City to Free City, openly mocked as the Beggar King, with barely enough money to feed himself and his sister. The evidence was plain, Viserys commanded very little support, and certainly not enough to threaten Westeros, even if Dorne ultimately decided to support him.
To that end, Jon dissuaded Robert from paying to have the two Targaryens eliminated.
“I should have had them both killed years ago, when it was easy to get at them, but Jon was as bad as you. More fool I, I listened to him.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard II)
Jon dealt in the present situation, in that Viserys and Daenerys were of little threat, and the murder of the two children would stain the honor and prestige of the court, hearkening back to the mad paranoia of Aerys II’s reign, when he exterminated the entirety of House Darklyn, root and stem, and would have done the same for House Hollard had Ser Barristan Selmy, hero of the realm, not personally begged for mercy.
Final Years – The Thorn in the Lion’s Paw
Late in Robert’s reign, Stannis Baratheon approached Lord Arryn with a serious problem: he believed that Robert’s children were not his own issue, and that Cersei Lannister had cuckolded the king and fathered the children with her twin brother, Ser Jaime Lannister. This act violated nearly every social more of Westeros to an almost comical degree. Incest was abomination in the eyes of the Seven, Jaime Lannister was forbidden to father children in his position in the Kingsguard, the laws of blood inheritance invalidated the three children, and the list continues. From the context of a primogeniture-based model of government succession, this amounted to a silent coup. Lord Arryn knew that such matters had to be investigated, and needed to be done quickly, as Robert would be in danger as soon as Joffrey reached the age of majority.
In the absence of genetic testing, Jon needed strong evidence to ensure that he was believed. Such an accusation was a grave one, that would result in Jaime, Cersei, and all three children put to death, and almost certainly would mean open war with House Lannister. In order to find this evidence, Jon studied the breeding patterns of dogs, as well as gathering personal evidence by directly observing Robert’s numerous bastards, whom Jon had taken to looking after financially. It was understood that certain traits were inherited in a medieval society, but the notion of dominant and recessive genetics was not a concept in that particular time period, so Jon took his time to establish as much evidence as possible.
While many readers state that Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen all having blond hair is clear evidence, the Starks provide the perfect counter-argument. Eddard Stark fathered five children with Catelyn Tully, and of those five, four resembled their mother, with only Arya resembling her father. And so, Jon and Stannis were forced to observe many of Robert’s royal bastards, including Gendry Waters, Edric Storm, and Mya Stone. In all of these baseborn children, the Baratheon look was always dominant. Not content with merely a dozen children, Jon took to studying history books, observing matters when House Baratheon wed other houses, noting that all of the children of these unions were ‘dark of hair.’ With both history and direct observation on his side, Lord Arryn knew that the claim was genuine, and he needed to act. This would continue Jon Arryn’s political pattern, ignoring the past and focusing on the realities of the situation.
O Where, O Where, Will Sweetrobin Go?
“She has taken the boy back to the Eyrie. Against my wishes. I had hoped to foster him with Tywin Lannister at Casterly Rock. Jon had no brothers, no other sons. Was I supposed to leave him to be raised by women?” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard I)
One of the earliest mysteries in the series follows shortly after Jon Arryn’s untimely death. With the truth of Cersei’s children known to him, Jon began to make moves to prepare Westeros for an ugly war to rid themselves of the Lannisters, and part of his plans involved his son, Robert Arryn. A pale, sickly boy of six, Robert was Jon’s only issue of his union with Lysa Tully. Over the course of the series, there were many conflicting accounts of where Robert Arryn was to be fostered. Several, including Cersei Lannister, Brynden Tully, and king Robert himself, mentioned that Robert promised the boy to be fostered at Casterly Rock under the stewardship of Lord Tywin. Others, including Walder Frey, Grand Maester Pycelle, and several members of Jon Arryn’s own household believed that he was to be fostered at Dragonstone with Lord Stannis. Neither of these accounts are mutually exclusive, of course, as Robert made the promise to Tywin as a result of Cersei’s urging, and Jon Arryn made the offer to Stannis. Given this information, decrypting this sequence of events is tricky, but not impossible.
The true trick is discovering which actor moved first, Jon Arryn or Cersei Lannister. Jon Arryn being the initiator makes less sense, as while Dragonstone is an island fortress, the Eyrie is far safer and far more secure. There would be no need to foster Sweetrobin unless it was to stop him from moving. It is far more likely that Cersei made the first move, as she was aware of Jon’s investigation and sought to pre-emptively stop him from speaking out against her by holding his son hostage at Casterly Rock under the guise of fostership. Jon, learning of this action, made arrangements to foster the child with Stannis during their investigations, as if Stannis fostered Robert Arryn, it would be impossible for Tywin to receive the same honor. By disguising their actions in the guise of fostership, Jon ensured that his actions couldn’t be seen as directly in opposition to the Lannisters, as there were many Lannister loyalists in court.
Last Flight of the Falcon
“I need good men about me. Men like Jon Arryn. He served as Lord of the Eyrie, as Warden of the East, as the Hand of the King. He will not be easy to replace.” (A Game of Thrones, Eddard I)
Arryn’s slow pace could possibly be a point of criticism, but without a definite method to confirm the parentage of Joffrey, Myrcella, and Tommen, Jon required a large amount of evidence, as his accusation was going to tear the Realm apart. Unfortunately for Arryn, his inquiries gained the attention of many of the high-ranking counselors in King’s Landing, who as mentioned previously, were very disloyal.
Littlefinger, whose schemes worked toward the destabilization of Westeros, wanted Cersei’s scheme to supplant Robert with Joffrey to succeed. Robert and Stannis, for all of their numerous faults, were veteran military commanders and strong candidates to sit the Iron Throne. It’s also worth mentioning that Stannis would have likely executed Littlefinger as soon as he saw him, or at the very least, dismissed him from his position and any chance of gaining influence in the capital. As far as Arryn personally, Littlefinger resented Arryn’s ancient lineage and prestige offering him status and influence, and his presence prevented Littlefinger from taking control of the Vale in a more complete fashion through Lysa Arryn.
Varys too, would have preferred that Stannis not succeed the throne, as his scheme to invade Westeros with the Dothraki would succeed easier with the impulsive Robert or inexperienced Joffrey sitting the Throne. For Arryn himself, the Hand was a veteran statesman and beloved by many both in King’s Landing and in his home region of the Vale. For Varys’s plot to succeed, anti-Targaryen leaders for the people to rally around needed to be eliminated.
Ultimately, Littlefinger made the move to poison Jon Arryn, working through Lysa Arryn to deflect suspicion, advancing his own goals of destabilizing Westeros to seize power. Arryn was close to uncovering the truth, and the truth coming to light would have meant a civil war. However, it wouldn’t have been the war that Littlefinger or Varys would have wanted. The Arryns, Baratheons, Starks, and Tullys would have all been united against the Lannisters. The Crownlands would have likely answered the king’s call, the Martells would have been pleased to avenge themselves against the Lannisters, the Tyrells would have moved to supplant the vacuum of power and influence that the Lannisters would leave behind, and the ironborn houses likely would have been pleased to raid the Westerlands and Lannisport, especially if Balon could use the action as “proof of loyalty” to demand the return of his son. The war likely would have been over in a few weeks, Robert would take a new wife, and Westeros would much stronger without the insanely paranoid Cersei Lannister in court.
Jon Arryn was many things, a successful conspirator, a noble guardian, but most importantly, he was an eminently practical politician who believed in dealing with present realities, instead of letting the past cloud his judgment. While Jon had his blind spots in Littlefinger, Jon was able to craft a successful rebel uprising, and from there negotiate the rocks and shoals of diplomacy with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. The Robert Baratheon-era of Westeros was largely peaceful despite Littlefinger’s rampant embezzlement and ministerial apathy, and Jon Arryn was largely to credit for it. Jon neither ignored the problems as Robert did, nor was he so staunchly opposed to compromise as Stannis. The actors on the political stage simply were who they were, and Arryn balanced competing desires in the greater service of the realm, keeping the country united. As long as Jon Arryn lived, the simmering tensions of Westeros were contained, and only after his murder were the dogs of war truly unleashed on Westeros.