We all know Wyman Manderly, Lord of White Harbor, keeper of a number of titles, baker of tasty pies and deliverer of rallying speeches. We know he is a pronounced Stark loyalist, despite his seeming ingratiation into the Bolton regime, and that what he desires most is to place a Stark in Winterfell again – a noble sentiment from the Manderlys’ continued devotion to the Starks.
At least, this is what Manderly appears to be on the surface. What I want to explore in this essay is what is going on beneath the surface. Specifically, I want to suggest that Manderly is not simply “the North remembers” or the public face for righteous vengeance , but a canny and politically ambitious man. Indeed, Manderly is interested in a Stark restoration not for the symbolic gain of the North, but for the political and material gain of House Manderly.
The Cunning Merman
Wyman Manderly (image credit to Cecilia Latella – DeviantArt here)
From the very first moment we meet Wyman Manderly in the story, his ambitions in the North are already palpable:
As windy as he was vast, he began by asking Winterfell to confirm the new customs officers he had appointed for White Harbor. The old ones had been holding back silver for King’s Landing rather than paying it over to the new King in the North. “King Robb needs his own coinage as well,” he declared, “and White Harbor is the very place to mint it.” He offered to take charge of the matter, as it please the king, and went from that to speak of how he had strengthened the port’s defenses, detailing the cost of every improvement. (“Bran II”, A Clash of Kings)
Bran Stark and his Winterfell household might have thrown the harvest feast in celebration of the first autumn for the independent North, but Wyman Manderly was no mere party guest. The suggestion that White Harbor should be established as the royal mint is a clear power move on Lord Manderly’s part. Establishing himself as the master of coinage for the new kingdom would have placed Manderly at the very heart of the new king’s government. While Robb had not yet built a small council to match that of King’s Landing, Manderly had already moved to secure himself a place at the nonexistent table; before Robb could even name someone to the important executive office of Hand, Manderly had claimed the effective position of master of coin.
Indeed, Manderly was offering not simply to mint coins with Robb’s visage; he wished no less than total control over the finances of the new kingdom. These coins would become the lifeblood of the new regime, as lords and smallfolk alike not only traded these coins for goods, but also paid their new royal taxes. If he had his way, Lord Manderly would have complete control over this vital part of the new government, with the ability to create and control the only legitimate currency the new king’s subjects would accept. Like Daemon Blackfyre authorizing the Reynes of Castamere to provide the gold necessary for his coin minting during his rebellion, granting the Manderlys the right to coin money would establish the house as a preeminent force within the kingdom, greatly exalting their already considerable power. Certainly, Manderly had the gold necessary to back such a venture, with the wealth of White Harbor well known in the North:
“Turnips are not like to appease Salladhor Saan. I require gold or silver.”
“For that, you need White Harbor. The city cannot compare to Oldtown or King’s Landing, but it is still a thriving port. Lord Manderly is the richest of my lord father’s bannermen.” (“Jon I”, A Dance with Dragons)
Moreover, Manderly would have been well aware that the North knew of his uniquely rich position within the new kingdom. He had made what he must have considered a convincing argument, while knowing that, practically, the King in the North had few options otherwise.
Nor did Manderly confine himself to financial matters when treating with the young Prince in Winterfell:
In addition to a mint, Lord Manderly also proposed to build Robb a warfleet. “We have had no strength at sea for hundreds of years, since Brandon the Burner put the torch to his father’s ships. Grant me the gold and within the year I will float you sufficient galleys to take Dragonstone and King’s Landing both.” (“Bran II”, A Clash of Kings)
It is small wonder that Manderly would propose to build the new king’s fleet at White Harbor. As the only port the North can claim, and one of the largest port cities on the Westerosi side of the Narrow Sea, White Harbor was the prime location for a royal fleet. Yet here again, Lord Manderly seems to have wanted an as-yet-nonexistent council seat for himself and his house. Manderly would not stop at master of coin; he wished to become master of ships as well, as as with his financial ventures, he knew that the king (and his bannermen) would know that only Lord Manderly could realistically take control of the admiralty.
Even in the seemingly personal, Lord Wyman schemed to advance House Manderly’s fortunes:
Lord Wyman made polite inquiry after Lady Hornwood, who was a cousin of his. “She was born a Manderly, you know. Perhaps, when her grief has run its course, she would like to be a Manderly again, eh?” He took a bite from a wing, and smiled broadly. “As it happens, I am a widower these past eight years. Past time I took another wife, don’t you agree, my lords? A man does get lonely.” Tossing the bones aside, he reached for a leg. “Or if the lady fancies a younger lad, well, my son Wendel is unwed as well. He is off south guarding Lady Catelyn, but no doubt he will wish to take a bride on his return. A valiant boy, and jolly. Just the man to teach her to laugh again, eh?” (“Bran II”, A Clash of Kings)
Manderly knew, as much as any highborn Westerosi does, the power of marriages to seal alliances. The Hornwood lands lie directly between those of House Bolton and those of House Manderly; it seems likely Wyman Manderly (or his father) had once helped arranged the match between Donella Manderly and Halys Hornwood in order to strengthen Manderly presence in their neighboring territories. With Halys dead, however, Donella made a tempting prize in her own right. The widow of Hornwood may not have had a claim to the Hornwood lands herself, but whomever she married could exert great control over her holdings during her lifetime – and, provided he had enough martial strength, attempt to control them after her death. Consider how Nestor Royce partly legitimized Petyr Baelish’s rule of the Vale:
“I once hoped to wed Lady Lysa myself. As did Lord Hunter’s father and Lady Anya’s son. Corbray scarce left her side for half a year. Had she chosen any one of us, no man here would dispute his right to be the Lord Protector.” (“Alayne I”, A Feast for Crows)
With Donella Manderly at his (or his son’s) side, Wyman could exert his family’s influence even farther. As much as he might propose the matches in genial terms, Manderly’s scheme with the Hornwood widow was very serious. Expansion of Manderly influence could be done subtly, but Manderly was determined to secure himself in a high position in the new regime.
Unfortunately for Lord Manderly, at least in the last matter, he had been preempted by Ramsay Snow:
The old knight was off east, trying to set to rights the trouble there. Roose Bolton’s bastard had started it by seizing Lady Hornwood as she returned from the harvest feast, marrying her that very night even though he was young enough to be her son. Then Lord Manderly had taken her castle. To protect the Hornwood holdings from the Boltons, he had written, but Ser Rodrik had been almost as angry with him as with the bastard. (“Bran IV”, A Clash of Kings)
Small wonder Ser Rodrik was so wroth with both Snow and Manderly. With a Stark in Winterfell and war in the south, the old knight might have hoped that the petty internal politics of the North would be dropped while Robb campaigned. Yet Wyman Manderly could not let the Bastard of Bolton seize the lands he himself desired. Presumably, Lady Hornwood had her own forces and sworn bannermen who could “protect” her holdings from the Boltons. Manderly’s seemingly generous gesture, as Ser Rodrik clearly knew, was merely a cover to assert his own claim on the Hornwood lands; if Manderly could not win the lands by marriage, he would take on the appearance of a savior figure of the Hornwoods.
Manderly had schemed to place himself at the heart of Robb’s new government, and to increase his person land holdings as well. Yet while these schemes came to little, Manderly would have an even greater opportunity presented to him – and he would not be slow to take advantage.
With the execution of the Red Wedding, however, Manderly’s hopes for the advancement of his family in the North seemed dashed. The Frey-Bolton coalition had not only murdered the King himself, but also Wyman’s second son Wendel. Nor would the new Frey-Bolton regime look kindly on a man who had tried to attain such a high seat in the dead king’s government. Apart from avenging himself on the men who had murdered his son, Manderly seemed to have little opportunity to scheme.
Chance, however, would again stir Manderly’s political and familial ambitions. While Theon Greyjoy had publicly declared the two younger Stark boys executed at his own hand, Manderly learned that at least the youngest, Rickon, had been recently seen alive. With this information, Manderly dispatched Davos Seaworth on a furtive, but highly important, mission:
Davos understood. “You want the boy.”
“Roose Bolton has Lord Eddard’s daughter. To thwart him White Harbor must have Ned’s son … and the direwolf. The wolf will prove the boy is who we say he is, should the Dreadfort attempt to deny him. That is my price, Lord Davos. Smuggle me back my liege lord, and I will take Stannis Baratheon as my king.” (“Davos IV”, A Dance with Dragons)
To be sure, Rickon has the better claim, even without the Boltons’ Arya being a fake. Yet Manderly also knew, as any ambitious man seeking royal or lordly favor does, the first rule of having a boy ruler: he who holds the king holds the power.
Certainly, this lesson is not unknown in Westeros. In fact, Renly Baratheon himself openly declares it, when advising Eddard Stark of his course of action at Robert’s death:
“Strike! Now, while the castle sleeps.” Renly looked back at Ser Boros again and dropped his voice to an urgent whisper. “We must get Joffrey away from his mother and take him in hand. Protector or no, the man who holds the king holds the kingdom. We should seize Myrcella and Tommen as well. Once we have her children, Cersei will not dare oppose us.” (“Eddard XIII”, A Game of Thrones)
Nor is Renly the only person who would act on such a lesson. During the Conquest, Visenya Targaryen flew her dragon to the Eyrie and took on her lap the boy-king of the Vale, Ronnel; though the queen and the boy’s regent mother exchanged no threats, Visenya’s holding of young Ronnel gave the clear message that resistance to the dragons would prove futile. Three centuries later, Littlefinger was able to seize power in the Vale partly by ensconcing himself and the boy-lord Robert in the unassailable Eyrie; he could even loftily censure the Lords Declarant when they instituted proto-siege tactics, pointing out that they deprived their own lord of food by doing so.
Of course, even one who holds the king can find himself in a dangerous position. In 1548, the boy-king Edward VI faced rebellion in his realm. While not the fault of Edward’s uncle Somerset, the Lord Protector, much of the blame for the revolt was laid at the Lord Protector’s feet. Fearing a coup, Somerset made a drastic decision and seized the one piece available to him: the boy-king himself. In 1549, Somerset took the king into his possession and secured himself and the boy in the fortified Windsor Castle. While the castle was indeed unassailable, Somerset had grossly miscalculated in terms of the boy-king himself, who showed open hostility to being held as a virtual prisoner by his uncle. Faced with the armed forces of the other regency councilors and the boy’king’s own ire, Somerset backed down and was eventually executed for treason.
Like Somerset, Manderly hopes to take possession of the young but legitimate ruler, yet Manderly has distinct advantages over his English counterpart. Edward VI was an immensely serious, and immensely intelligent, boy,with a clear understanding of his own royal authority even at the age of 12. Rickon is a boy of 5, one never raised with an understanding that he would ever rule. Deprived of both his mother and father at the age of three, Rickon remains desperate for the comforting presence of his parents and eldest brother. As wild as he can be, and as fearsome as his direwolf is, Rickon is still a very young boy, and someone perhaps vulnerable enough for Manderly to manipulate.
As with his financial and maritime interests at the harvest feast, Manderly’s argument to the rest of the North to be Rickon’s regent would be a strong one. Manderly remains the wealthiest lord in the North by a large margin, with vaults still “full of silver”. Militarily, Manderly commands more heavy horse than any other northern lord, even after the losses of the war, and has been building a secret fleet on the White Knife as well. Moreover, by bringing Rickon back to the North and helping to overthrow the Boltons, Manderly would display his loyalty to the Starks. Most importantly of all, should Davos succeed, Manderly would have in his possession Rickon Stark himself, only remaining trueborn son of Lord Eddard able to make a claim. The lords of the North – those still extant, at least – would be hard pressed to name a better candidate for overseeing Rickon’s regency – exactly as Manderly desires.
Manderly and Menshikov
To point to a real-world parallel to the potential Manderly regency, we can look to an extraordinary individual of imperial Russia: Alexander Menshikov. Born of modest origins, Menshikov rose through his wit and ambition to become the close confidante and strong executive of Peter the Great. Given princely titles and high administrative offices, Meshikov continually increased his powers during Peter’s reign (although falling out of favor multiple times for charges of corruption). Menshikov’s true parallel to Lord Manderly, however, began at the great Emperor’s death.
When he died, Peter was survived by four immediate family members: his wife, Catherine; his daughters, Elizabeth and Anne; and his grandson, Peter. Unfortunately for these individuals, Peter had left unclear who should wear the crown after his death. Organizing a coup among the guards regiments, which favored Catherine, he had Peter’s wife named Catherine I, Empress of All Russia, in 1725. However, when Catherine herself grew ill, the same succession question arose.
In the middle of this question was Menshikov. A great favorite of Catherine’s as well as Peter’s, Menshikov had held a powerful role in the Empress’ government, being the virtual dictator of the Russian state. Aware that Russia would more likely follow the male-line heir Peter over either of Peter and Catherine’s daughters, he convinced Catherine to name the young Peter as his heir. Conveniently for Menshikov, young Peter was only 12 when his step-grandmother died, and Menshikov named himself as regent. He had total control not only of the government, but of the young Emperor personally, even issuing orders to the young autocrat. Menshikov also arranged the betrothal of his daughter Maria to young Peter, but he could not control Peter’s own feelings. Like Edward VI, Peter had grown tired of his dictatorial governor, and with a coalition of the old nobility ousted the prince from power and sent him into exile.
This, in essence, is what I believe Manderly will attempt. No matter what the will of Robb Stark reads – if the lords of the North even read the document – Manderly will push for young Rickon to succeed to the seat of his ancestors. Then, because of the boy’s very young age, Manderly will call for a regency, and himself as regent. He may even attempt to betroth Rickon to one of his own family, to cement even further the Manderlys’ hold on power. (The most obvious candidate would be his granddaughter Wylla, though she is at least nine years older than the boy lord. Still, the age difference may not stop Lord Manderly; Queen Alicent had suggested betrothing her son Aegon to Princess Rhaenyra though the princess was 10 years the prince’s elder, and Katherine of Aragon married Henry VIII despite being five years older than the king.)
One major criticism of Manderly’s supposed pure ambition for his own house is the declaration his granddaughter Wylla makes when Davos Seaworth visits the Merman’s Court:
“I know about the promise ,” insisted the girl. “Maester Theomore, tell them! A thousand years before the Conquest, a promise was made, and oaths were sworn in the Wolf’s Den before the old gods and the new. When we were sore beset and friendless, hounded from our homes and in peril of our lives, the wolves took us in and nourished us and protected us against our enemies. The city is built upon the land they gave us. In return we swore that we should always be their men. Stark men!” (“Davos III”, A Dance with Dragons)
The problem with investing this passage with too much meaning is that, as Manderly reveals later, the entire scene in the Merman’s Court was an act:
“My lord, I bear you no ill will. The rancor I showed you in the Merman’s Court was a mummer’s farce put on to please our friends of Frey … [N]ot every woman can be as brave as my Wylla and her sister Wynafryd … who did know, yet played her own part fearlessly. (“Davos IV”, A Dance with Dragons)
True, Wylla does not seem to have known that Lord Manderly was putting on an act for their “friends of Frey”. Nevertheless, the unwitting Wylla had played her part well. A lone dissenting voice, especially presented by a child – and especially given the passion of truth which Wylla undoubtedly had at that moment, firmly believing what she was saying – further underscores the seeming loyalty Manderly professes to the Freys.
Certainly, I think it is truthful to say that Manderly is, at heart, a Stark loyalist, and no mere opportunist:
“Wylla.” Lord Wyman smiled. “Did you see how brave she was? Even when I threatened to have her tongue out, she reminded me of the debt White Harbor owes to the Starks of Winterfell, a debt that can never be repaid. (“Davos IV”, A Dance with Dragons)
Nevertheless, Lord Manderly is a clever, cunning man, and one whose ambitions have not been hidden throughout A Song of Ice and Fire. Restoration of a Stark in Winterfell means not simply a continued repayment of the “debt” House Manderly owes to the Starks, but an increase of Lord Manderly’s personal power. With the boy in his possession and his wealth and armies at his back, Manderly can assert himself as the perfect regent for the new Stark lord – a fitting move for the cunning, ambitious merman.
Thanks for reading! I know I’ve been writing about the Targaryen ladies for the past several weeks, which essays I hope you’ve been enjoying (despite my tendency to be, well, a little verbose), but I thought today I might share a little idea that’s been in my head for a while. Questions? Comments? Find me on Twitter, and follow the blog while you’re there! Remember you can also find the blog on Facebook and Tumblr as well!