Editor’s Note: This post contains (very!) minor spoilers for The Winds of Winter
In Part 1, we discussed the problems of marriage, love, and prophecy that both preceded and presaged the life of Rhaegar Targaryen, Prince of Dragonstone. In Part 2, we investigated the marriage and relationship of Rhaegar and his wife, Elia of Dorne. In Part 3, we examined Lyanna Stark, and her place in the “southron ambitions” of her father Rickard. As the only daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, Lyanna was a fair prize for any man; Rickard, however, broke the internal marriage tradition prevalent throughout Westeros and betrothed her to Robert Baratheon, the young and vigorous Lord of Storm’s End.
To what extent Rhaegar, and his father King Aerys, were aware of this betrothal (and the other pacts made among Lords Stark, Tully, Arryn, and possibly Lannister) is speculative at best. Married himself, the Prince of Dragonstone certainly had no obvious political desire in the daughters of his future lords bannermen. Yet apart from his future political inheritance, Rhaegar nursed a lifelong obsession with prophecy, and especially the identity of the foretold prince that was promised.
In 281 AC, the political and the prophetic collided at a great event known as the Tourney of Harrenhal. The tourney would draw together virtually all of the important players in Westeros, and the actions undertaken – by Rhaegar and others – would change the fates of Westeros and House Targaryen forever.
“The Greatest Tourney of Them All”: The Great Gathering at Harrenhal
The Golden Jubilee Tourney of Jaehaerys I (credit to Marc Simonetti – website here)
Dany did not want to hear about Rhaegar being unhorsed. “But what tourneys did my brother win?”
“Your Grace.” The old man hesitated. “He won the greatest tourney of them all.”
“Which was that?” Dany demanded.
“The tourney Lord Whent staged at Harrenhal beside the Gods Eye, in the year of the false spring. A notable event. Besides the jousting, there was a melee in the old style fought between seven teams of knights, as well as archery and axe-throwing, a horse race, a tournament of singers, a mummer show, and many feasts and frolics. Lord Whent was as open handed as he was rich. The lavish purses he proclaimed drew hundreds of challengers. Even your royal father came to Harrenhal, when he had not left the Red Keep for long years. The greatest lords and mightiest champions of the Seven Kingdoms rode in that tourney, and the Prince of Dragonstone bested them all.” (Barristan Selmy, to Daenerys Targaryen, “Daenerys IV”, A Storm of Swords)
Tourneys have long played an important part in the (southron) culture of Westeros. Indeed, a tale from the Age of Heroes speaks to the first Westerosi tourney being held among fifty lords for the hand of Maris, daughter of the legendary Garth Greenhand. While the legend is just that, a legend, its place among the tales told to and among Westerosi for thousands of years highlights the significant place tourneys hold in Westerosi society.
Certainly, tourneys could be – and often were – splendid events. The golden jubilee tourney of Jaehaerys I, for example, saw the entire, extended royal family gather in King’s Landing, where two Kingsguard knights (including the legendary Ryam Redwyne) broke thirty lances against each other – the finest display of jousting ever proclaimed in Westeros. More recently, to celebrate Eddard Stark accepting the position of Hand to King Robert Baratheon, the crown hosted a splendid tourney, with competitors from all across the realm and 90,000 gold dragons allocated in total prizes. Even a non-royal tourney, however, could attract significant attendees; when Lord Ashford threw a tourney to celebrate his maiden daughter’s thirteenth nameday, competitors included Lords Tyrell and Tully, the heirs to Lords Lannister and Hightower, and two Targaryen princes (with another four in attendance).
The story of Maris also shows another element of tourneys which came into play at Harrenhal in 281 AC. When so many members of the nobility gather together at a single event, the tourney can provide a backdrop – and opportunity – for political scheming and machinations. In 111 AC, for example, King Viserys I threw a tourney in King’s Landing to celebrate the fifth anniversary of his marriage to Alicent Hightower. Present at the tourney were not only the king and queen, but Viserys’ named heir, Princess Rhaenyra. The princess dressed in House Targaryen’s colors, red and black, while the queen adopted a green dress; from that time forward, the factions supporting each royal lady took the names of the “blacks” and the “greens”, respectively.
A more dramatic example of the political potential of a tourney can be found at the Whitewalls tourney of 212 AC. The tourney, ostensibly thrown to celebrate the marriage of Lord Butterwell and his Frey bride, was in fact a cover for the nascent Second Blackfyre Rebellion. Organized by two Blackfyre loyalists, the tourney was designed to award Lord Butterwell’s dragon egg prize to the disguised Daemon II Blackfyre, who had dreamed of it hatching at the castle. Only the intervention of Brynden Rivers, leading armed forces against the castle, halted the Rebellion before it had begun.
Yet tourneys are not merely scenes of political tension; they can also provide the pretext for more positive displays of power politics. In 276 AC, for example, Tywin Lannister hosted a tourney in Lannisport, ostensibly to celebrate the birth of Prince Viserys. The event had clearly been designed to show off Tywin’s power over his realm: the competitors included not only a dozen of the finest knights of the West, but two of Tywin’s brothers as well. This design went towards Tywin’s secret purpose: to convince King Aerys to betroth his son Rhaegar to his own daughter Cersei, the announcement being made at the closing feast. Although the tourney was well-attended, its true purpose was a failure: Aerys coldly dismissed the idea of his heir marrying a “servant’s daughter”, and the closing feast was cancelled.
Tourneys, therefore, serve two purposes in Westeros: as brilliant displays of the power and wealth of their hosts, and as backdrops against which the gathered nobility can engage in political schemes.
How, then, does the Tourney at Harrenhal fit into this history? Certainly, even from its inception the Tourney was known to be one of the most lavish events ever thrown in Westeros:
That this would be an event of unrivaled magnificence was clear from the first, for Lord Whent was offering prizes thrice as large as those given at the great Lannisport tourney of 272 AC … (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
It is not surprising that Lord Whent would throw a tourney simply to show off the magnificence of Harrenhal’s overlords; though tourneys in the past usually had given reasons for being held (within a great range – from births and marriages to political appointments and regal anniversaries), the only real requirement for a tourney is the funding necessary to throw it to the level of magnificence the organizer wants. But the question of money comes to a point of contention. According to Maester Yandel, there were rumors at the time of the tourney that a “shadow host” provided the funding necessary for Lord Whent to throw such a great tourney:
His lordship lacked the funds to pay such munificent prizes, they argued; someone else must surely have stood behind him, someone who did not lack for gold but preferred to remain in the shadows whilst allowing the Lord of Harrenhal to claim the glory for hosting this magnificent event. (“The Year of the False Spring, The World of Ice and Fire)
Harrenhal is a great seat, but are the Whents so incredibly wealthy as to outdo the famously rich Tywin Lannister, and in so fantastic a manner? If Lord Whent indeed was not, then there is a strong candidate for who the “shadow host” of Harrenhal was: Prince Rhaegar.
From a purely practical standpoint, Rhaegar likely had the means to fund the Harrenhal tourney; as crown prince of a realm with a surplus in the treasury, Rhaegar would have had access to the kind of money Whent would need to post such great prizes. However, would paranoid Aerys have allowed the son he distrusted to draw on the crown treasury, especially to give to the lord of the greatest castle in Westeros? Probably not – but another man might: Tywin Lannister. The powerful Hand of the King had almost total control over the government, and had since the Defiance of Duskendale been hated and feared by the king. Tywin had much to gain by supporting Rhaegar over Aerys, and had enough control to do so.
So what was Rhaegar’s plan, if indeed he had one? Maester Yandel speculates:
The prince, it is said, had no interest in the tourney as a tourney; his intent was to gather the great lords of the realm together in what amounted to an informal Great Council, in order to discuss ways and means of dealing with the madness of his father, King Aerys II, possibly by means of a regency or a forced abdication (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
It was not a bad scheme on face. Harrenhal was the seat of both of the succession-related Great Councils, for good reason; only Harrenhal was large enough to hold all of the great lords who would have a say in any pan-realm matter. Like so many crown princes in our own world, Rhaegar had little to do but bide his time until his father passed and he could assume the crown; unlike most crown princes, Rhaegar’s father was increasingly paranoid and disturbed. With Prince Viserys’ birth in 276 AC – and Aerys’ fierce possession of him – Rhaegar had an actual rival, another Targaryen Aerys could name as heir (and thus displace Rhaegar). If Rhaegar could assemble the high lords of Westeros and convince them of the need to remove Aerys, Rhaegar could take power for himself (as George IV did for his father, George III, in our own world). The informal Great Council would give an air of legitimacy to the potentially treasonous proceeding.
Moreover, to assist him, Rhaegar had one of the sworn knights of the Kingsguard: Ser Oswell Whent, brother of Lord Whent. Rhaegar certainly trusted Ser Oswell, at least after the tourney; he was one of the three Kingsguard who guarded the Tower of Joy and Lyanna Stark, when Rhaegar left them for the war. Already having one ally on the Kingsguard – his close friend, Ser Arthur Dayne – Rhaegar would likely have been willing to use another white knight to further his scheme. Certainly, Lord Whent announced the tourney soon after a visit from his Kingsguard brother; the timing may be coincidental, but the universe is rarely so lazy.
Rhaegar had the means, motive, and opportunity to organize a gathering of the highest nobility in Westeros; the best way to do so was a great tourney at Harrenhal.
If Rhaegar had planned to turn the Harrenhal tourney into his own Great Council, however, he was destined to be disappointed. First, his royal father deigned to attend, removing himself from the safety of the Red Keep for the first time since the Defiance of Duskendale. The king’s attendance had come as a direct consequence of his paranoia, fed by the lords who surrounded him (and stood to gain much as regents if Viserys were to be named heir in Rhaegar’s place):
In such a climate, it was scarce surprising that Lord Whent’s great tournament excited much suspicion. Lord Chelsted urged His Grace to forbid it, and Lord Staunton went even further, suggesting a prohibition against all tourneys. (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
Yet even Aerys recognized an important facet of tourneys – namely, their appeal to the masses. Allowing Rhaegar to attend the tourney alone would remind the hordes of smallfolk who would doubtless attend the tourney of the great divide between the handsome, dashing young heir and the reclusive, almost monstrous king. Aerys could ill-afford such praise to be heaped on the son he deeply mistrusted, and decided to remind the assembled lords and smallfolk of Harrenhal that their king was alive and (relatively) well. Yet the father’s plan was doomed to fail alongside the son’s:
Whilst his attendance made the Harrenhal tourney even grander and more prestigious than it already was, drawing lords and knights from every corner of the realm, many of those who came were shocked and appalled when they saw what had become of their monarch. His long yellow fingernails, tangled beard, and ropes of unwashed, matted hair made the extent of the king’s madness plain to all. Nor was his behavior that of a sane man, for Aerys could go from mirth to melancholy in the blink of an eye, and many of the accounts written of Harrenhal speak of his hysterical laughter, long silences, bouts of weeping, and sudden rages. (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
Two other, interrelated events would have even more dire consequences, for Rhaegar and his realm. Perhaps unsurprisingly, both of these were highly characteristic aspects of tourneys: the appearance of a mystery knight and the victor’s crowning of a queen of love and beauty.
The Mystery Knight of Harrenhal: Rhaegar and the Knight of the Laughing Tree
The Knight of the Laughing Tree’s Shield (credit to East-of-Essos – DeviantArt here)
The first of these occurred early in the tourney’s seven day course. On the second day of jousting, a mystery knight appeared in the lists:
The first was the appearance of a mystery knight, a slight young man in ill-fitting armor whose device was a carved white weirwood tree, its features twisted in mirth. The Knight of the Laughing Tree, as this challenger was called, unhorsed three men in successive tilts, to the delight of the commons. (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
Mystery knights are a well-known feature of stories about tourneys:
Mystery knights would oft appear at tourneys, with helms concealing their faces, and shields that were either blank or bore some strange device. Sometimes they were famous champions in disguise. (“Bran II”, A Storm of Swords)
Indeed, some of the most famous knights in Westerosi history donned mystery knight disguises during tourneys. Prince Aemon the Dragonknight once won a tourney disguised as the Knight of Tears, so that he could give the victor’s crown to his sister Queen Naerys instead of to the king’s mistress. Ser Barristan Selmy earned his nickname “the Bold” when, aged only 10, he challenged Prince Duncan at a tourney at Blackhaven (although he was quickly unhorsed and unmasked). Barristan himself later unmasked a mystery knight at a tourney at Storm’s End, who proved to be the outlaw Simon Toyne.
At a great tourney like Harrenhal, therefore, it would have been unsurprising that a mystery knight would appear in the lists. But there are several characteristics of this mystery knight which differ the Harrenhal situation from these earlier examples.
For one, whoever the mystery knight was, he was plainly not a knight, or at the very least not a knight who came prepared to joust at Harrenhal:
“The mystery knight was short of stature, and clad in ill-fitting armor made up of bits and pieces” (Meera Reed, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords)
Any knight who came to tilt at Harrenhal would have brought his own armor to wear; even borrowing another’s armor could lead to insufficient protection in what is ultimately a dangerous sport. Consider how awfully Ser Hugh of the Vale died in the Tourney of the Hand, and that in armor specially made for the occasion:
The most terrifying moment of the day came during Ser Gregor’s second joust, when his lance rode up and struck a young knight from the Vale under the gorget with such force that it drove through his throat, killing him instantly. The youth fell not ten feet from where Sansa was seated. The point of Ser Gregor’s lance had snapped off in his neck, and his life’s blood flowed out in slow pulses, each weaker than the one before. His armor was shiny new; a bright streak of fire ran down his outstretched arm, as the steel caught the light. (“Sansa II”, A Game of Thrones)
Moreover, the mystery knight’s size also speaks to his likely identity as a non-knight. While Loras Tyrell is known as both a slender young man and an excellent jouster, the description of the mystery knight more recalls Ser Barristan’s childhood exploits rather than the adult men who would have been competing in the great tourney.
Second was the device the knight adopted: a white weirwood tree, carved to have a laughing face. Weirwoods are not totally unknown in the south of Westeros – the godswoods of Riverrun, Storm’s End, and Casterly Rock all boast (or did, until recently) weirwood heart trees – but they grow wild only on the Isle of Faces.
But the fact remains: weirwood trees are much more prominently connected with the North, both for their greater abundance there and their importance in the worship of the old gods. Yet both above and below the Neck, the carved faces of weirwoods do not smile; they can look terrible, or sad, or solemn, but never laughing. Thus, the device of the mystery knight did not reflect any one weirwood in any particular castle; instead, the knight’s origin was likely connected in some way with the North and the old gods.
Third, the mystery knight apparently had no desire to enter the lists for his own glory, challenging only three knights and disappearing after winning those tilts:
“Perhaps they did. The mystery knight dipped his lance before the king and rode to the end of the lists, where the five champions had their pavilions. You know the three he challenged.”
“Whoever he was, the old gods gave strength to his arm. The porcupine knight fell first, then the pitchfork knight, and lastly the knight of the two towers.”
“No,” said Meera. “That night at the great castle, the storm lord and the knight of skulls and kisses each swore they would unmask him, and the king himself urged men to challenge him, declaring that the face behind that helm was no friend of his. But the next morning, when the heralds blew their trumpets and the king took his seat, only two champions appeared. The Knight of the Laughing Tree had vanished.” (Meera Reed, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords)
While the three knights – Blount, Haigh, and Frey – were indeed all champions by the end of the first day, the mystery knight apparently did not care about their position in the lists. Instead of reveling in the glory of defeating three champions and taking on more seasoned knights, the Knight of the Laughing Tree instead seemed to have considered his role over once his tilts had ended. This is strange behavior for a knight; after all, tourneys – especially fabulous tourneys like that at Harrenhal – are one of the best places to be seen and gain notoriety. Doubtless Simon Toyne, the infamous outlaw who faced Barristan Selmy at Storm’s End, hoped to be noticed when he donned a mystery knight’s disguise.
An individual both physically and materially unprepared for jousting, sporting a northern device (a place without a great jousting tradition), disappearing after beating the three knights he challenged – the mystery knight of Harrenhal was rather unlike the mystery knights of stories and songs. So the question of his identity became a cause for thought, and some concern, among the attendees of the tourney.
King Aerys, for one, had formed his own opinion on who the mystery knight was:
His Grace became convinced that the tree on the mystery knight’s shield was laughing at him, and—with no more proof than that—decided that the mystery knight was Ser Jaime Lannister. His newest Kingsguard had defied him and returned to the tourney, he told every man who would listen. (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
But the evidence for Jaime is scant at best. Jaime, a westerman and follower of the Seven, would have had little reason to take as his mystery device a weirwood tree. Nor would Jaime have likely dared mock Aerys so openly. Though Jaime had only been made a Kingsguard at the tourney itself, he would likely have been familiar with the king’s paranoia and distrust (and Tywin himself had already reacted violently and absolutely to mockery, when it came in the form of the Reynes and Tarbecks). Aegon IV had had his own Kingsguard, Terence Toyne, painfully executed for sleeping with his mistress; Aerys, being even more paranoid than Aegon, would probably not hesitate to exact a punishment on a Kingsguard he already distrusted. Jaime might have been only 15, but he was likely not so foolish as that.
A much more likely candidate is Lyanna Stark. For evidence to that conclusion, we must look to the most detailed account we have of the tourney of Harrenhal: the story Meera Reed tells Bran Stark, presumably passed down to her by her father Howland. Naturally, as with any source, we can never be completely sure what we are presented with is straight fact; Howland had indeed attended the tourney, but what we hear is a secondhand story presented as a tale (with clear heroes and villains, characters with nicknames instead of real names, and potential use of magic) instead of as a history lesson. Yet as we know the major details of the story match the history of a maester – a slight young mystery knight in ill-fitting armor beat three knights and disappeared – it seems plausible that most, if not all, of the story happened as presented.
First, the three knights the Knight of the Laughing Tree challenged happened to be the very same knights whose squires had attacked Howland Reed when the latter had arrived at Harrenhal:
“Amidst all this merriment, the little crannogman spied the three squires who’d attacked him. One served a pitchfork knight, one a porcupine, while the last attended a knight with two towers on his surcoat, a sigil all crannogmen know well.”
The Freys,” said Bran. “The Freys of the Crossing.”
“Then, as now,” she agreed. “The wolf maid saw them too, and pointed them out to her brothers.” (Meera Reed, to Bran Stark, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords)
Only five people knew about the crannogman and the squires, according to the story: Howland and the four Starks. Yet it was Lyanna who had the closest connection to this incident (besides Howland himself). The “she-wolf” had herself defended Howland against these sequires, beating them enough that they fled:
‘That’s my father’s man you’re kicking,’ howled the she-wolf.”
“A wolf on four legs, or two?”
“Two,” said Meera. “The she-wolf laid into the squires with a tourney sword, scattering them all.”
Second, the Knight of the Laughing Tree explicitly chastises the beaten knights for their squires’ behavior:
“When his fallen foes sought to ransom horse and armor, the Knight of the Laughing Tree spoke in a booming voice through his helm, saying, ‘Teach your squires honor, that shall be ransom enough.’” (Meera Reed, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords)
The statement suggests that the Knight knew about the squires’ misconduct, and unless the squires had been bullying other individuals at Harrenhal (and anyone cared), the misconduct was almost certainly that against Howland Reed.
Third, Lyanna likely has the skills necessary to beat the Frey, Haigh, and Blount knights. It is true that as a highborn woman, Lyanna would certainly not have been formally trained in jousting. Yet Lyanna had developed that most important skill for jousting: excellent horsemanship.
“Not even Lord Rickard’s daughter could outrace him, and that one was half a horse herself. Redfort said he showed great promise in the lists. A great jouster must be a great horseman first.” (Roose Bolton, to Theon Greyjoy, “Reek II”, A Dance with Dragons)
Jaime Lannister, a strong jouster himself, acknowledged the importance of horsemanship in the lists (especially concerning Loras Tyrell, a slight young man who nevertheless had unhorsed Jaime himself):
Jousting was three-quarters horsemanship, Jaime had always believed. Ser Loras rode superbly, and handled a lance as if he’d been born holding one … (“Jaime II”, A Feast for Crows)
Moreover, Lyanna was sometimes accompanied in her rides by her brother Brandon, another great rider and himself a trained jouster:
“Brandon was fostered at Barrowton with old Lord Dustin, the father of the one I’d later wed, but he spent most of his time riding the Rills. He loved to ride. His little sister took after him in that. A pair of centaurs, those two” (Barbrey Dustin, to Theon Greyjoy, “The Turncloak” A Dance with Dragons)
While speculative, it is not impossible that during these rides Brandon taught Lyanna the rudiments of jousting. Lyanna had already engaged one brother in defiance of her father – dueling Benjen with a stick sword in the Winterfell godswood – and Brandon was, like Lyanna, wild and headstrong.
For proof of a 14 year old being able to handle a lance, we need look only to Oberyn Martells’s 14 year old bastard daughter, Elia Sand:
“I’m Elia,” the girl announced. “Lady Lance.”
“The girl jouster,” Valena said. “Yes, I’ve heard of you. (Elia Sand, to Valena Toland, “Arianne I”, The Winds of Winter)
Needless to say, Lyanna would not have had armor of her own at Harrenhal. Additionally, as a 14 year old girl (and described at her death at 16 as a “child-woman”), Lyanna would certainly have been seen as small and slight. The weirwood device fits her northern background, and its laughing face fits what was presumably her goal: the idea of these three knights getting soundly beaten by a girl after their squires had attacked a man half their size is a funny lesson, after all. Physically and thematically, the Knight seems to have been Lyanna.
Yet this explanation would be meaningless (if charmingly characteristic of Lyanna) if the story ended when the Knight of the Laughing Tree disappeared. What makes the Knight of the Laughing Tree important to the story of Rhaegar is the Prince of Dragonstone’s part in the affair:
“The king was wroth, and even sent his son the dragon prince to seek the man, but all they ever found was his painted shield, hanging abandoned in a tree.” (Meera Reed, “Bran II”, A Storm of Swords)
Rhaegar certainly found the shield; the language suggests he may have brought back the shield as proof to his suspicious father that he did indeed search for the mystery knight. Yet did he really not find the Knight him (or her) self? After all, Lyanna could not have gone far; she had to come back, after all, since the assembled nobility of Westeros (including her fiance Robert) would soon wonder where the daughter of Winterfell had gone. No matter how good of a rider Lyanna is, she has every chance of getting caught when she’s fenced in by both Harrenhal’s (albeit vast) confines and her own need to return.
So presuming Rhaegar found Lyanna after her tilting stint (and found her alone – a likely probability, since no one else is mentioned in the Reed story as being sent with him and the prince would hardly have needed a guard within the walls of Harrenhal), what would the Prince of Dragonstone have thought? Recall from Part 2 that Rhaegar was determined to get another child, to complete the “three heads of the dragon”, and that he knew he would not father another on Elia without her, and possibly the child’s, death. Remember also that Rhaegar had proclaimed his son Aegon’s song as “the song of ice and fire”. Now, confronted with a healthy, high-spirited, generous girl – utterly unlike Elia – Rhaegar surely would have been at least intrigued.
The biggest evidence, however, that Rhaegar discovered Lyanna’s gambit as the Knight came from the prince’s action several days later: the crowning of Lyanna as Queen of Love and Beauty.
Declare, I Dare: The Crowning of Lyanna
Rhaegar Offering the Crown of Winter Roses to Lyanna Stark (image credit to Paolo Puggioni – website here)
At the end of the five days of jousting, two competitors remained: Prince Rhaegar himself and Ser Barristan Selmy. Both were premier jousters, but at the end of their match Prince Rhaegar emerged as the ultimate victor. An important moment had arrived: the time when Rhaegar would choose which lady would receive the crown of winter roses, to be named the tourney’s Queen of Love and Beauty.
Only four ladies have ever be specifically noted to have received the honor: Naerys Targaryen, Rhaella Targaryen, Lynesse Hightower, and Lyanna Stark. Naerys’ situation has already been noted; her valiant brother Prince Aemon won a tourney in disguise so that she, and not Aegon IV’s mistress, would receive the honor. Rhaella’s crown came from the adoring landed knight Ser Bonifer Hasty, while Lynesse won her favor from the equally adoring Jorah Mormont at the tourney of Lannisport.
What should be noted from each of these cases is the strong sense of romantic attraction attached to the awarding of the crown. Ser Barristan speaks of Ser Bonifer as having a “passion” for Princess Rhaella, while the princess herself was “infatuated” with him. Ser Jorah recalls thinking of Lynesse as “a goddess come to earth” and begged for her hand the very night after he had crowned her at the tourney. Prince Aemon and Naerys’ relationship, meanwhile, has passed into story and song as an example of perfect love; there were enough rumors, and strong, of their passion for one another to throw Daeron II’s claim into doubt and pave the way for the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Thus, the crowning of a tourney’s queen is not merely a gesture of courtesy, but a sign of love and devotion from the victor to his lady.
Yet there is nevertheless a measure of courtly tradition in the act. Barristan Selmy recounts whom he would have chosen had he, and not Rhaegar, won the final tilt:
Barristan Selmy would have made a different choice. Not the queen, who was not present. Nor Elia of Dorne, though she was good and gentle; had she been chosen, much war and woe might have been avoided. His choice would have been a young maiden not long at court, one of Elia’s companions … (“The Kingbreaker”, A Dance with Dragons)
Barristan’s first reaction (in comparison to choosing Lyanna) is not to jump to his own beloved, Ashara Dayne. Rather, Barristan first dismisses Queen Rhaella and Princess Elia as potential recipients of the rose crown. These were not any two women; Rhaella was Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, Elia the crown princess – in sum, the two highest ranking women in the country. Awarding either of them (although only Elia was actually eligible to receive it, with Rhaella in the capital) the crown would have been a clear fulfillment of chivalric rules – a sign of courtly devotion to a lady who was, by definition, absolutely unavailable.
Yet Barristan’s choice of Ashara over Princess Elia would have meant little. As a knight of the Kingsguard, Barristan ostensibly has no romantic attachment to any woman. His awarding of the crown would have been seen as harmless, a purely courtly praise of Ashara’s well-known beauty. Not so for Prince Rhaegar. Princess Elia was not only beautiful – more so than the maid of Harrenhal who had been originally defended – and the highest ranking woman at the tourney, but also Prince Rhaegar’s wife. The correct move would have been to award her the crown, displaying a proper sort of devotion to his one day queen.
Rhaegar would have known this, of course. As an exemplary and perfectly able knight, Rhaegar would have been well versed in the southron culture of chivalry. This knowledge only serves to make his conduct all the more shocking, for as Ned remembers:
Ned remembered the moment when all the smiles died, when Prince Rhaegar Targaryen urged his horse past his own wife, the Dornish princess Elia Martell, to lay the queen of beauty’s laurel in Lyanna’s lap (“Eddard XV”, A Game of Thrones)
Small wonder why Ned considers the crowning the “moment when all the smiles died”. Such action would have been no less than shocking to the assembled courtiers. The offering of the crown from the prince to the lady of Winterfell was an insult both personal and political. Personally, Rhaegar had shown that his wife meant little enough to him that he could honor another girl in front of her. Aegon IV had shown a similar attitude toward his sister-wife Naerys; his current mistress had been the intended recipient of the crown Prince Aemon won for his sister. Certainly, at least some of the lords assembled recognized his action as an insult to Elia:
Why would the prince have thus given insult to his own wife, the Princess Elia Martell of Dorne (who was present), unless it was to help him gain the Iron Throne? (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
The personal insult also extended to Lyanna. Both Brandon Stark and Robert Baratheon reacted to Rhaegar’s action with anger:
Brandon Stark, the heir to Winterfell, had to be restrained from confronting Rhaegar at what he took as a slight upon his sister’s honor, for Lyanna Stark had long been betrothed to Robert Baratheon, Lord of Storm’s End … As for Robert Baratheon himself, some say he laughed at the prince’s gesture, claiming that Rhaegar had done no more than pay Lyanna her due . . . but those who knew him better say the young lord brooded on the insult, and that his heart hardened toward the Prince of Dragonstone from that day forth. (“The Year of the False Spring”, The World of Ice and Fire)
Why such a strong reaction? First, and most easily, both Brandon and Robert were hotheaded individuals, men who were not shy about hiding their passions and opinions even in dangerous situations. Yet even more influential on their reactions than their personalities was how they likely interpreted what Rhaegar had done. Recall that the crowning of a Queen of Love and Beauty virtually always carries a measure of romantic attraction from victor to recipient. Rhaegar’s action could easily be taken as declaring his interest in Lyanna – not courting her as a wife, but claiming her as a mistress.
Honoring a mistress at a tournament was not unknown in our own world. At a joust in 1522 Henry VIII rode with the motto elle mon Coeur a navera (“she has wounded my heart”), along with the device of a wounded heart. As Henry had been carrying on an affair with Mary Boleyn since around 1521, the motto likely referred to his relationship with the elder Boleyn.
This was not the last time Henry used a joust to advertise his love affairs. In February 1526, Henry VIII staged a tournament at Greenwich. Apart from Sir Francis Bryan losing an eye, the most significant part of the tournament came when the king entered the list bearing the motto “Declare je nos” (Declare, I dare not), along with the image of a heart wreathed in flames. The motto and device would have been easily recognized by the Tudor courtiers as symbolic of a love affair. Having finished his affair with Mary Boleyn, Henry was declaring that he had a new mistress, and had chosen this symbolic – and highly public – way to do it.
So by honoring Lyanna, Rhaegar could have been perceived as establishing a new romantic relationship, naming a new mistress. His father had been well known for having mistresses, and his ancestor Aegon IV had been infamous for his omnivorous appetite for women. Nor had Aegon hesitated to claim highborn women; indeed, seven of Aegon’s nine favorite mistresses were noblewomen. A Stark was nobler than any of them, to be sure, but Lyanna’s rank would only serve to underscore Rhaegar’s insulting ambition.
The problem – among many – was that by taking Lyanna as a mistress, Rhaegar would have ruined her value on the marriage market. Once Lyanna was no longer a maiden, her chances of making a good marriage would decrease substantially. Consider Margaery Tyrell, whose value as a three-time royal bride depended on her supposed virginity despite her previous marriages. Unlike Jon Arryn, who took the non-maiden Lysa Tully to wife partly because he needed a wife known to be fertile, Robert Baratheon had already fathered at least one bastard; he had no need to take a discarded mistress when he could have any number of maidens from the stormlands and elsewhere. Nor had Aegon IV provided for his mistresses after he tired of them; indeed, only Falena Stokeworth is reported to have been visited by Aegon after the two of them separated, and then for only two years, before Aegon moved on to his next mistress. So at best, Lyanna could look forward to a brief reign as mistress before being discarded, with few if any prospects for an honorable marriage.
Intertwined with this personal insult was the political insult Rhaegar’s move conveyed. This was not simply the case of a man in love, a jealous fiance and brother, and a woman in the middle. Lyanna was the sister of one of Rhaegar’s future lords bannermen, the betrothed of another. To claim the girl as a romantic interest – in front of essentially the entire assembled nobility of Westeros, no less – indicates that Rhaegar so little considered the importance of two of his future lords paramount that he could publicly insult them. Moreover, Rhaegar’s actions threw the whole scheme of “southron ambitions” into jeopardy. Rhaegar’s seizing Lyanna for his own would have removed one of Lord Rickard’s valuable pawns, broken the North-Stormlands alliance, and even possibly threatened the Stark-Tully alliance (if Hoster Tully no longer wanted to be associated with a family that would allow the crown prince to insult themselves publicly). The Dornish might also find themselves implicated in this insult; Elia was a princess of Dorne, and Rhaegar’s seeking out a new romantic interest from another house could lead to the displacement of Dornish favor at court.
Given everything above, what would drive the seemingly intelligent and well-mannered Rhaegar to make such a terribly momentous decision? Recall from Parts 1 and 2 that the driving force in Rhaegar’s life was prophecy; he owed his existence to prophecy, and was burdened throughout his life with trying to fulfill prophecies. Through some prophetic means, Rhaegar had come to believe that his children were three heads of a dragon – a reborn Conquest generation, destined to save humanity and House Targaryen. But Rhaegar was lacking a third child:
He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. “There must be one more,” he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in bed she could not say. “The dragon has three heads.” (“Daenerys IV”, A Clash of Kings)
While Rhaegar could have fathered another child on virtually any woman, his statement that “there must be another” at the birth of Aegon seems to indicate that Rhaegar wanted his three children to be legitimate.
It is unlikely Rhaegar knew much if anything of Lyanna before the tourney; Lyanna had presumably never gone to court, and Rhaegar had likewise never traveled to the North. Yet having sought out (and probably found) the Knight of the Laughing Tree, Rhaegar had acquainted himself with Lyanna. Did he love her? Perhaps. More likely, and not necessarily in opposition, he desired Lyanna for how she would fit into his prophetic scheme.
That Lyanna represented “ice” is not a great leap of a conclusion; the Starks were Kings of Winter, after all, and their family greatsword is even called “Ice”. Historically, Jacaerys Velaryon had promised the Starks a Targaryen bride in what was known as the “Pact of Ice and Fire”. The language recalls Rhaegar’s declaration that baby Aegon’s song would be “the song of ice and fire”. The prince already had two children who could said to be the “children of fire”; not only are they the offspring of a Targaryen, whose sigil is the “fire made flesh” dragon, but their mother’s house boasted as a sigil a fiery sun. To have a child by Lyanna is to provide “ice” alongside the “fire” – a neat fulfillment of prophecy that would have appealed to the prophetically minded Rhaegar.
Of course, neither Rhaegar nor Lyanna were free to marry. Only two Targaryens had ever taken multiple wives: Aegon the Dragon and Maegor the Cruel. Moreover, Aegon’s marriage had been considered somewhat unusual even by his fellow Valyrian expatriates, and the dark history of Maegor’s reign hardly provides a model example of a Targaryen king. Even with these examples, however, the extinction of the Targaryen dragons severely undermined the ability of Targaryens to impose highly out-of-culture decisions; the Faith barely tolerated the historically Valyrian brother-sister marriages, but anything more unusual simply could not be enforced.
Moreover, even if Rhaegar did decide to seek out another bride, he would jeopardize one of the key pillars of the crown’s support: the High Septon and Faith of the Seven. If Rhaegar tried to execute a plural marriage – especially with Lyanna, not even a follower of the Seven – he would invite the High Septon’s criticism, and maybe even a refusal of blessing once he became king. The example of King Tommen shows that a king who does not enjoy the blessing of the Faith can easily lose support of the faith-Believing people as well
At best, then, Lyanna would be considered the nominally legitimate second wife of the prince, loathed by at least the Dornish, with a likely cause for war on the part of the North and Stormlands. Internal court conflict would likely arise as well. Any child Rhaegar would have by Lyanna – especially a son – would recall the circumstances of the First Blackfyre Rebellion: a potential popular royal bastard with a highborn mother as a rival to Elia and her legitimate heir. A modicum of ambition on that child’s part has the potential to tear apart the realm.
Again, Rhaegar would have known this history, and would have been more foolish than is reported of him not to have considered the potential impact. That Rhaegar proceeded anyway – not only (dis)honoring Lyanna at the tourney but subsequently absconding with her – shows just how desperate Rhaegar was to satisfy prophecy.
What happened to the relationship of Rhaegar and Lyanna can only be speculated. Yet the circlet of winter roses Lyanna received from the tip of Rhaegar’s lance would be the only crown Lyanna would ever earn. Lyanna, like, Elia, would never be Rhaegar’s formal queen. The eventual Queen of the Seven Kingdoms would be another woman – not at Rhaegar’s side, as she had dreamed, but in altogether different, more tragic circumstances.