The Silken Glove and the Iron Gauntlet: The Troubled Reigns of Aenys and Maegor

Aegon had two sons. Aenys was his son with Rhaenys. Maegor with Visenya. One was a well meaning weakling. The other was a brutally violent tyrant who seized power by murdering his nephews.

The Two Sons of Aegon the Conqueror, by Hubsher

Aegon I would rule the Seven Kingdoms for thirty-seven years. After the conclusion of the First Dornish War in 13 AC, the realm enjoyed peace and prosperity for almost twenty-five years. Yet it would be foolish to mistake the calm exterior for genuine peace. None of Aegon’s new-formed vassals could contend with the dragon-king because of his incredible war prowess, his dragon, and a lack of support that could tilt the scales in a campaign.

Still, the appearance of peace might have eventually led to real peace, especially if Aegon’s sons could fulfill the father’s promise.  Both seemed poised to do so.  Though Aenys himself was not a particularly skilled warrior, he rode the dragon Quicksilver, and all of Westeros knew the power of dragons, even young ones. His brother Maegor was a skilled warrior, earning a knighthood at a young age and routinely defeating men with many times his experience in matters of the blade. The two together could be everything that Aegon was, perhaps even greater.  So, when Aegon died in his early to mid sixties, Aenys ascended the throne. Everything was, if not perfect, at least manageable.

Yet both Aenys and Maegor would learn, through a series of political blunders, that manageable would soon become anything but.

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Aenys the Dreamer, by Amok

Aenys the Dreamer: Weakness at the Top

“Aenys remained a dreamer, a dabbler in alchemy, a patron of singers and mummers and mimes.” –The World of Ice and Fire, Aenys I

Aenys himself was every bit Rhaenys’s son. Like his mother, he was a patron of arts and music. However, Aenys’s mother would die soon after he was born, and he would be raised in an environment dominated by warriors: Aegon, Visenya, and Aenys’s own brother Maegor. This was likely crucial to Aenys’s development, and much of his later failings can likely find their inceptions in his upbringing.

As the elder (and for a while, only) son of the king, Aenys might have expected to be praised and adored as the heir to the throne.  Yet – thanks in large part to his good-mother Visenya – rumors of bastardy hounded Aenys almost from his birth.  With the witty mummers and singers who regularly filled Queen Rhaenys’ apartments, King Aegon may not have fathered the child at all – and an un-legitimized bastard could not claim the throne. (There is a cruel irony here, if what Visenya alleged was actually true.  Like Catherine the Great, whose son Paul was almost certainly not the child of her marriage to the weak Peter III of Russia, Rhaenys may have guaranteed that all the royal Targaryens would not be true Targaryens at all.)

Nor was the situation aided by the arrival of his half-brother Maegor. Aenys’s good-mother was never shy about advancing Maegor over Aenys, and his brother Maegor was noted to be a sadist and bully, notably cruel to animals. Aegon’s love of Rhaenys likely kept Aenys safe from any harm, but in the wake of such strong personalities, Aenys probably evolved to be accommodating as a response to the other side of his family. This would prove to be catastrophic later in his reign when he faced the threat of rebellion, and would spiral out of control. This early upbringing, where his every action could be scrutinized and pounced upon by his good-mother, helps contextualize a lot of his actions. Key among them, of course, being his desire to please others to avoid conflict. Conflict aversion would be one of Aenys’s defining characteristics, and in many ways, it would be the doom of his reign.

That wasn’t to say that Aenys had no merits. In fact, Aenys made great strides to win over the smallfolk. Aenys was not dull-witted by any stretch of the imagination, he could understand that the smallfolk had helped Dorne resist his father, and where Balerion could fail, perhaps the arts and music could succeed. Rhaenys Targaryen was beloved of the smallfolk for her patronage of the arts, and if Aenys could emulate that, he could help keep his reign a largely conflict-free one, hearkening back to his long-dead mother to help attach a symbol of adoration to his reign. In sitting the throne, Aenys’s vision was simple; his father had won the war, and now it was his job to keep the peace.

Aenys also boasted the distinction of being the first monarch to attempt to convene a Great Council. When rebellions plagued the land, Aenys attempted to summon the nobility of the realm to address the threat, demonstrating that he was willing to listen to his vassals for advice on how to handle these rebellions. After the rebellions were quashed, Aenys was sure to reward those who performed great service to the realm publically. This would continue the recipient’s investment in the realm (as they received a greater stake) and offer incentives for on-the-fence lords to remain loyal.

This would be a positive lesson in rulership that Aenys learned from his father: the value of finding ways to satisfy vassals. It’s worth mentioning that for all the problems Aenys faced in his realm, Aenys never faced a rebel noble coalition the way later kings like Aerys II, Daeron II, or even his own brother Maegor, at least until the final waning days of his rule. The worst he faced was the Faith Militant, which, while terrible, did not bespeak to the same level of wide vassal unrest that later kings of the Targaryen dynasty would face.

“…he hungered too much for approval, and this led him to dither and hesitate over his decisions for fear of disappointing one side or another.” –The World of Ice and Fire, Aenys I

Unfortunately for Aenys, he went too far in seeking support from nobles. By calling for a great Council instead of making swift action, he projected weakness, that rebels would not be dealt with as traitors to the realm. When Aenys first heard of Jonos Arryn’s rebellion, he dispatched a naval task force to handle the matter, which was the right call. But almost as soon as he issued it, he recalled it out of fear of Harren the Red’s revolt in the Riverlands. Now, not only was Aenys projecting weakness, but indecision and fear. That rebels could frighten the king so much to cause him to refuse to fulfill his primary obligations emboldened rebels and caused loyalists to question why they were following such a meek and ineffective ruler.

To make matters even worse, these traits would cost Lord Ronnel Arryn, a longtime Targaryen vassal and Lord of the Vale, a trip out the Moon Door at the hands of his brother Jonos. The Greyjoys, the Baratheons, the Tarlys, the Royces, even the Stokeworths would march forth to protect the realm while Aenys dithered. That a principal vassal would die as Aenys sat wringing his hands on the Iron Throne speaks to an endemic weakness in the monarchy, and an unwillingness to fulfill the obligations demanded of a feudal overlord.

“Decide NOW to always be aggressive ENOUGH, quickly ENOUGH.” -SFC Frick’s rules for gun combat

In feudalism, one of the chief duties that a king owes his vassal is protection. The king is known as the Protector of the Realm, after all, and if the Protector offers no protection, the vassals become angry, as they are giving their loyalty without receiving what they are owed. This invites unrest, as Aerys I learns when he refuses to stop Dagon Greyjoy’s revolt and raids along the western coast of Westeros, leading many to preach for one of Daemon Blackfyre’s sons to take the throne over Aerys, this absentee sitting king. Even if Aenys had the best intent, by not acting aggressively enough, quickly enough, Aenys failed his duties to his charges, and that started to sour opinion on Aenys and his position as ruler.

In his eagerness to please his vassals, Aenys also made several political missteps, ones that arguably made more people angry than happy. The largest of these, the expulsion of the Faith of the Seven from the Iron Islands, was a political blunder from the beginning. Lord Paramount Goren Greyjoy, taking advantage of Aenys’s indecisive nature, resolved the revolt of the man who claimed the mantle of Lodos the Priest-King. Aenys, desiring to reward Goren, and committed one of the cardinal sins of negotiation: he gave Goren a blank check.  In negotiation strategy, nothing is more powerful than the ability to name any price, and typically, the phrase is used more for marketing purposes than reality. By doing so, one party gets an unbelievable advantage over the other, and Goren Greyjoy took the king to tack by expelling the Faith from the Islands, which Aenys was forced to acquiesce.

Despite the negative effects it would have on the realm, it’s hard not to appreciate the subtle brilliance of Goren Greyjoy’s plan. Evicting the Faith of the Seven was sure to enrage those faithful to it, and the Faith Militant was an incredibly powerful force in its own right. By couching his request as a royal boon for services rendered, Goren made sure the outrage would be felt not by his people, but by the royal institution itself. To rescind his boon, or to deny offering it to Goren in the first place, would be yet another stroke against the Throne. After all, now not only was the Crown not responding to threats, but not rewarding the ones who sought to end them as well. Such action would certainly stoke revolt among all of Aenys’s vassals.

This action would certainly enrage the Faith, and it was not the first time such matters had happened. In 25 AC, Dowager Queen Visenya would suggest wedding Maegor to Aenys’s eldest daughter in the Targaryen tradition, but the Faith looked upon uncle-niece weddings as abominations. To pacify the Faith, Maegor was wed to Ceryse Hightower. This seemed to satisfy the Faith, as even with the expulsion of the septons from the Iron Islands, the Faith remained at peace until 39 AC, when Maegor had a startling revelation.

Apparently not happy with not receiving a sacred incestuous marriage, Maegor revived the other Targaryen marriage tradition: polygamy. He took Alys Harroway to wife with his mother officiated the ceremony. This enraged the Faith one more time, and Aenys made great concessions to keep the peace, exiling Maegor across the Narrow Sea, stripping him of his office and title, and conferring the same upon a famed miracle worker and popular septon, Murmison. This would be the first time a septon would hold such a high secular office in Westeros, and it seemed to work. The next two years would be peaceful, but trouble was still simmering under the surface, waiting for the right provocation.

“From the Starry Sept came a denunciation such as no king had ever received before, addressed to “King Abomination” – and suddenly pious lords and even the smallfolk who had one loved Aenys turned against him.” –The World of Ice and Fire, Aenys I

Unfortunately, Aenys didn’t seem to learn his lesson, and arranged for a blasphemous marriage between his own children, pushing the Faith to the brink. In 41 AC, Aenys had Murmison wed Aegon, his firstborn son, to Rhaena, his firstborn daughter. For Aenys to perform this most sacrilegious act would be the final insult. The Faith would rise up, and tear Septon Murmison to pieces in a way that highlights the High Septon being killed in Tyrion’s chapters in A Clash of Kings. The Faith would take up arms and call for the ouster of this blasphemous king.

Understanding how Aenys’s reign fell apart requires understanding the greater political realities of Westeros. Aegon had invested significant power in his vassals and gave them a stake in the success of his kingdom, but many of his vassals remembered when there was no Valyrian dragonlord to call the supreme king of Westeros, and desired a Westeros free of Targaryen influence.

The Faith was a key pillar of support against the monarchy, and this is true for two complementary reasons. The first is that the Faith was one of the most powerful institutions in Westeros, one of the few common threads tying together even hated enemies like the Dornish and Reach. Much of the Andal conquest was religious in nature, and religion often becomes a comfort and a rationale in times of crisis, with many real-world comparisons even up to the present day. Much of the Catholic heresies in the Middle Ages were often founded in response to trappings of wealth and status found in religious offices, with notable examples being the Fraticelli and Waldensian movements. Impoverished individuals that saw wealthy and fat Catholics saw the trappings of the Church as distracting from serving the religious community, and rose in revolt, denouncing the system itself as corrupt. This would crop up time and again with the Shepherd in the reign of Aegon II, and with the High Sparrow in the current book’s timeline.

The Faith boasted two holy orders which supplied a large army and trained officer corps, and the Faith itself has a central bank that has the capital to make large loans, even to the royal treasury itself. It had the power to conduct trials and could spread messages to every Westerosi whoever attended services at a sept. Even the Wall and the Citadel could not boast so much power over the whole of Westeros.

This repeated trifling is what led to the second, and equally important point: Aenys’s repeated insults to the Faith. While Aenys kept trying to win back the Faith after the Throne performed blasphemous actions, each time it happened, the Faith’s patience grew a little shorter. Repeated transgressions suggest a pattern, and these transgressions were so against the grain of the Faith that ignorance could not be used as an excuse. Just like someone who makes the same mistakes time and time again, after a while, the apologies and excuses started to wear thin. After so many insults, the Faith would rise up against “King Abomination,” and the Faith Militant uprising would be up in arms.

Aenys handled the uprising with his characteristic indecisiveness, frightened at the conflict and confused, and here Aenys shows his unique unfitness to be a leader. When the Poor Fellows attacked Aenys, he fled in terror from his capital city, leaving it largely in the hands of the Faith Militant. When his children would be held under siege at Castle Crakehall, Aenys would suffer an anxiety attack and his health would suffer. To abandon your capital city to a hostile army a foolish move, especially as the Faith Militant uprising barely had begun. A rebel movement depends upon the quick seizure of assets, whether battlefield victories or tangible realities, in order to give their movement the necessary tacit approval to fuel its continued success, which is why rebel movements often founder out when they stop achieving successes and start having to defend their territory. Aenys’s fear gave the Faith Militant the capital city that Aegon the Conqueror built himself. This would lend the Faith all the support it would need to ensure that it would neither be a short nor bloodless war.

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Queen Visenya, by Sara Manca

A Woman’s Hands are Warm (With Blood): Maegor and Visenya During Aenys’s Reign

“The histories tell us that he enjoyed war and battle, but it is clear that it was violence he most craved.” –The World of Ice and Fire, Maegor I

While Aenys was indecisive and meek, the same could not be said for Maegor (no matter how many other faults he had). The son of Aegon and Visenya, Maegor cut an impressive figure. Riding Balerion the Black Dread, armed with the sword Blackfyre, and showing such skill that he was defeating men at melee at the tender age of thirteen, Maegor almost appeared to be a chip off Aegon the Conqueror’s block, a warrior without equal. Unlike Aegon, however, Maegor was sadistic and cruel, noted to have tortured and killed small animals even at a young age. He was said to enjoy jousts and melees, but his true love was the infliction of violence and domination. That exercise of power would be one of Maegor’s predominant characteristics, and his constant exercise of this would earn him the epithet ‘the Cruel.’

Maegor was born after the death of Rhaenys, which most certainly had an influence both on Maegor and his mother, Queen Visenya. Slender, dreamy Aenys was Aegon’s heir by virtue of age, and was much more likely to be conceived given that Aegon spent ten nights with Rhaenys for every single night with Visenya. In 21 AC, Visenya suggested betrothing Maegor to Aenys’s daughter Rhaena, a chance to place her blood on the throne and keep the Targaryen bloodline pure, but Aenys appeased the Faith by wedding Maegor to Ceryse Hightower. By 26 AC, Aenys would have a male heir that would further push Maegor away from the throne. In 28, Aenys would father Viserys. Maegor, who could never sire an heir on Ceryse Hightower despite all his best efforts, would never take the throne without assistance.

For the early parts of Aenys’s reign, Maegor acted as the principal enforcer of the Throne, handling military matters with surprising ease. With Balerion and Blackfyre, Maegor made short work of the rebel Jonos Arryn, cribbing a page from his mother’s playbook through bypassing the Eyrie’s defenses on dragonback to hang the rebels one and all, for which Maegor was rewarded by being named Hand of the King.

For all of Maegor’s brutality, this is one time where he handled the matter appropriately. Jonos Arryn had killed his brother Ronnel, sending him out the Moon Door and cruelly twisting his title of ‘The King Who Flew.’ Jonos Arryn had not simply become a kinslayer, accursed in the eyes of the Westerosi; he had murdered the man who had specifically surrendered his crown to the Targaryen dynasty and pledged to be their man. Ronnel was the Warden of the East and one of the Targaryen’s principal vassals. That someone could seize them without royal action spoke to endemic weakness at the top. That someone could get away with rebellion long enough to murder a Lord Paramount…that shouts it from the Giant’s Lance with a bullhorn.

For all of this, Maegor seemed uninterested in taking the Throne for himself, which suggests that he was content with being Hand of the King and in handling brutal matters rather than rule. While his marriage was not fruitful with Ceryse Hightower, he did not put her aside until 39 AC, when he wed Alys Harroway in secret in a ceremony officiated by Visenya for lack of a septon willing to officiate the ceremony. That Visenya would do this largely fingers her as the culprit prompting Maegor’s actions which led to his ascension. Visenya had tried to place Maegor on the throne by wedding him to Aenys’ daughter Rhaena, at the time of the betrothal his only child; now, with the plural marriage to Alys Harroway, Visenya had shifted her attention to getting Maegor an heir.

Aenys exiled Maegor to keep the peace with the Faith along with Alys, and for a while, it seemed that all would be well. Then, Aenys disastrously wed his two eldest children, to massive uproar with the Faith. This move seems so boneheaded that some believe that Visenya was behind the idea, that exposes the entire Targaryen institution to danger, not just Aenys himself. After all, Maegor had already enraged the Faith with his plural marriage to Alys Harroway.

Certainly, Aenys could have made the move himself. The Targaryen tradition was to wed brother to sister, and Aenys could have been influenced by the move his father made, but given his opposition to Maegor’s betrothal to Rhaena and the plural marriage, Targaryen traditions did not run as strong in Aenys as it did for Aegon. If Visenya did suggest the marriage, she was counting on Maegor and her herself to pacify the Faith Militant after taking out the king, but that’s a very risky gamble considering she had better ways of eliminating Aenys, and ones that she could have taken not so long after Aegon died.

“In later days, after Visenya’s death, it was suggested that King Aenys’s sudden demise was Visenya’s doing, and some spoke of her as a kinslayer and kingslayer.” -The World of Ice and Fire, Aenys I

When Aenys fell ill upon hearing his son Aegon’s fate, it would be Queen Visenya who would take over his care, and he would start to recover, but then, rather mysteriously, he would die, leaving one of the great mysteries of the early Targaryen dynasty: did Visenya murder her nephew Aenys in order to place her son Maegor on the Throne?

Visenya certainly had the killer instinct to kill Aenys, and perhaps had a simmering resentment of Rhaenys being Aegon’s favored sister-wife. With Aenys having a healthy crop of heirs, installing Maegor forcefully would be the only chance of her bloodline sitting the throne. Raised in a Valyrian household, the prohibition against kinslaying wasn’t known to be as particularly pressing as it is to Westerosi houses. Will we ever know? Probably not. Was it likely? Definitely.
Thus with a decisive stroke, the reign of the most indecisive king of Westeros came to an end. A man terrified of conflict was ended when conflict was all there was, and a king who tried hard to be loved by his subjects ended his life as one of the most despised kings at the time of his death. In the end, Aenys the Weak is a tragic lesson on the need for a ruler to act when action is needed, and a stark testament to the fact that ruling is full of difficult situations, and by being a ruler, you surrender your ability to run away from the problems of your nation.

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Maegor Targaryen wielding Blackfyre, by Amok

The Blood-Soaked Reign of Maegor the Cruel

“His reign began in blood and ended in blood as well.” –The World of Ice and Fire, Maegor I

Though Maegor would have many faults, indecisiveness was not one of them. As soon as Aenys was dead and buried, Maegor would be summoned from Essos by his mother, and he went to work pacifying the rebellion. He was crowned by his mother on Dragonstone with his father’s Valyrian steel crown, symbolically receiving the same coronation that Aegon first received in the Aegonfort and linking him to the success of Aegon the Conqueror, not the meekness and troubles that characterized Maegor’s brother Aenys. When Grand Maester Gawen protested the illegality of the move, Maegor slew him with Blackfyre and silenced dissenters.

This move is largely echoed by Renly for his claim on the Iron Throne during the War of the Five Kings. For all his protestations of a meritocratic model of government, his willingness to bypass succession with armed force sounds largely like Maegor’s initial move, with the more politically-able Renly couching the move in far more palatable terms which he himself does not believe, as he admits to Catelyn when he admits that his claim is largely the force he is able to bring to bear against all who oppose him.

Now wearing the mantle of kingship, Maegor went quickly to address the Faith Militant problem brewing in King’s Landing, and the way he close it was simultaneously one of the most clever and most foolhardy moves that Maegor made during his six-year tenure on the Throne. He elected to challenge the Warrior’s Sons to a trial by seven, an ancient tradition of the Faith to serve as the official verdict for Maegor’s fitness to rule.

The Warrior’s Sons weren’t really able to deny this sort of request, as the Faith of the Seven holds trials by Seven to be particularly blessed. To deny this challenge would make Maegor, of all people, the proponent of religious tradition while the Warrior’s Sons would be the ones contradicting the Faith. As for the foolishness, Maegor exposed himself to great risk. He had the largest and strongest dragon in the realm, and exposing himself to a fair fight left the very real chance that he would be injured or killed, even if his side won. Khal Drogo can testify to the power that infection can bring down even a healthy warlord, and for Maegor to risk the same would risk the throne passing to Aenys’s eldest son Aegon, then sixteen years old with a much smaller dragon, his father’s own Quicksilver.

The trial by seven ended with Maegor’s victory, as he alone was victorious. However, Maegor suffered a vicious head wound that left him comatose for a month. Afterwards, he rode his dragon to the Sept of Rememberance, a sept dedicated to the deceased Queen Rhaenys where the Faith Militant were gathered, and there he burnt the entire sept to the ground. Men who attempted to flee were brought down by archers as they ran, and Maegor’s campaign of brutality would begin in fire and blood.

Men were butchered by the wagonloads. His campaign was so intense that it renamed a castle, and made rivers run red for leagues. To offer incentives for men to join his crusade, he offered a princely bounty of a golden dragon for any Warrior’s Son, and a silver stag for that of a Poor Fellow, earning Maegor his epithet: the Cruel.

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Maegor defeats Aegon and Quicksilver, by Michael Komarck

Maegor was even a kinslayer, a position held is special contempt in Westeros. His nephew, Aegon, would not stand for Maegor usurping the crown that he saw as his, and raised an army of Westerlanders to oust Maegor and restore the bloodline of Rhaenys to the Throne. However, Aegon did not have many supporters, as his army is mentioned to have been completely surrounded by Maegor, and Aegon would be killed by Maegor in a fiery dragon battle.

Maegor kept ramping up the cruelty in an attempt to pacify the Faith Militant. Maegor dropped two thousand skulls in King’s Landing claiming they were members of the Faith Militant (suggesting that his campaign included propaganda as well as violence), but even the peaceful urgings of a new High Septon could not quell the fires of the Faith’s armies. Much like his father, Maegor suffered from a strategic and tactical inflexibility that confounded his efforts to eradicate his enemies.

Even his domestic and administrative agendas were filled with violence. When the Red Keep was at last constructed in 45 AC, it was filled with secret passages and other twists and turns at the hands of many common builders. To celebrate this, Maegor threw these masons and carpenters a great feast, and after three days of revelry, Maegor had all of them slain to the man, deeming their knowledge of the secret passages a security concern, and now only he alone would know the full mysteries of the keep. When he built a dragon stable out of the ruined and burned-out husk of the Sept of Remembrance (something that would have made Visenya jump for joy, had she been alive), he was forced to use prison labor and hired help from Essos, as no Westerosi builder would work for him. Harrenhal was awarded in a battle-royale brutal slog through Lord Harroway’s Town. For Maegor, violence and brutality were the methods du jour, and the realm bled from a thousand wounds.

My Kingdom For An Heir

One of the highlights of Maegor’s reign is his constant taking of wives. This was not due to an appetite for women like Aegon IV, but rather his desire to father an heir. His first wife, Ceryse Hightower, did not produce an heir for twenty years of marriage, though unlike his other marriages, Ceryse didn’t even become pregnant, suggesting that she had a fertility problem. This would not be the case for Maegor’s other wives.

Marrying Alys Harroway in 39 AC, fourteen years after his marriage to Ceryse, appears to have been at Visenya’s prompting, as she was the one who urged Maegor and Rhaena to be wed in the Targaryen tradition. The plural marriage is something that Visenya was accustomed to, and her desire to place Maegor on the Throne requires that Maegor sire an heir to inherit the throne after his own death. That Visenya officiated the ceremony strongly hints that she had a part in orchestrating the idea to begin with, but Alys would produce only a stillborn, deformed fetus in 44 AC. Maegor, enraged, murdered all of her family members killed, along with her maids and Grand Maester Desmond who had assisted the birthing process.

His next wife was his lover from his time in exile, Tyanna of the Tower. A terrifying torturer and ferreter of secrets, Tyanna would serve as Master of Whisperers. Tyanna was rumored to practice sorcery, and somewhat puzzlingly, was permitted to care for Maegor in his comatose state after his trial by seven. Later, she would torture Maegor’s nephew Viserys to death as vengeance for Alyssa Velayron stealing Jaehaerys and Alysanne Targaryen as well as Dark Sister, the sword of Maegor’s recently-deceased mother. Tyanna would not bear Maegor any children either, and later confessed to poisoning all of Maegor’s other brides so that their children would be born deformed. This would seem to be open-and-shut, Tyanna was almost as brutal as Maegor himself, but the Targaryen lineage has a history of stillbirth and deformed children, many with characteristics similar to dragons. Tyanna’s skill in poisons or sorcery may have influenced this, but it is just as likely that Maegor himself was the reason behind the deaths, and Tyanna’s confession was extracted by torture to sate Maegor’s bloodlust, and to find a scapegoat to blame for his inability to sire an heir.

The Black Brides of Maegor are a particularly sad case. Maegor took widows of men he killed who had borne children in the past, forced them to wife, and attempted to impregnate them to sire an heir. Ladies Elinor Costayne, Jeyne Westerling, and Rhaena Targaryen were forced to wed Maegor at once. The first two would both become pregnant by Maegor, but both babies were as deformed as the other of Maegor’s siring. Jeyne Westerling would die on the birthing bed, but the other two would survive their cruel captor.

This overwhelming desire to create an heir likely left a massive feeling of inferiority in Maegor’s psyche, particularly galling for a man who was driven to dominate all before him. In many cultures even up to the present day, virility is seen as a key determiner of masculinity and strength. Maegor, a warrior without peer and master of a mighty dragon, could father no children while his slender, weak brother fathered six children, a metaphorical slap in the face for Maegor.

The importance of a male heir and clear succession was important in our real world. Henry VIII, that infamous king of history, went so far in trying to sire an heir that he had women killed, bankrupted his country multiple times, started wars, and even created a schism in the Church, forming the Anglican Church, to permit his divorce.

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Maegor Targaryen found dead upon the Iron Throne, by Michael Komarck

Achieving Peace: It Is A Matter of Want

“It seems this series of betrayals – and perhaps even the loss of his mother’s guidance – had left (Maegor), in his own way, as broken as Aenys.” The World of Ice and Fire, Maegor I

As might be expected, a sustained campaign of brutality did little to pacify resistance given how badly Maegor was outnumbered. Day by day, the kingdom would turn against their bloody tyrant. In 44 AC, his mother died of age, and the confusion allowed Dowager Queen Alyssa Velaryon, Aenys’s widow, to steal Dark Sister as well as Jaehaerys and Alyssane Targaryen. Viserys Targaryen, their older brother, would suffer eight days of torture and be left out to rot to taunt the Dowager Queen. The three would escape to Storm’s End, where Robar Baratheon offered them guest right and shielded them from Maegor (likely by hiding them away and feigning ignorance).

The campaign against Maegor picked up steam once Jaehaerys announced himself publicly, however. He had won the Stormlands to his cause, and Alyssa’s safe escape from Dragonstone meant House Velaryon was free to avenge the atrocities committed against their blood relations. Their lord, Daemon Velaryon, stole the greater portion of the royal navy and many seafaring noble houses joined them. Ser Jeffrey Dogget and the commoner Septon Moon won over most of the Riverlands, included House Tully. Many of the Westerlanders who had lost men to the previous succession crisis joined Jaehaerys as well, including the mighty House Lannister. Rhaena Targaryen, a prisoner and unwilling wife of Maegor, took Blackfyre and stole away in the night with the help of two of Maegor’s Kingsguard, who also deserted him.

These systematic series of abandonments and betrayals left Maegor confused as only someone who has had repeated setbacks fall upon them could be. Jaehaerys, the rival claimant, had half of the kingdom openly clamoring for his ascension, and Maegor had only the support of a few Crownlander houses that were likely cowed into submission by proximity. By the end, Maegor found that he had a problem that he couldn’t solve. His systematic brutality throughout his reign had been wrong, and now he was left with nothing, not even hope of victory. Thus, it was no surprise when he was found dead in the Throne Room the next morning, his wrists slashed on the Iron Throne. A reign that was drenched in the blood of many was quenched in the blood of one.

When looking at his campaign, Maegor’s chief failing was that his constant brutality caused others to abandon his cause. At the beginning of his campaign, he had thousands of supporters in King’s Landing ready to fight under his banner with almost no notice. His campaign against his nephew gave him the support of House Tully. Slowly, however, houses abandoned his cause as they soured on the man in charge, and the loss of support would eventually make the rebel armies too large for even Maegor and Balerion to handle.

His other failure was his inability to offer palatable peace conditions for his opponents, and this is where Maegor differed chiefly from his father Aegon. Aegon left an out for his opponents with his commitment to the Aegon doctrine, but Maegor’s offer of a royal bounty, the destruction of the Warrior’s Sons at prayer, and the obliteration of the Sept of Remembrance gave the idea that for Maegor’s enemies, there would be no place in his world for the defeated. When the only choices are to die or fight, it isn’t astonishing that they would choose to fight. When a credible alternative emerged in Jaehaerys, half of the kingdom rose up against Maegor, with most of the rest refusing the royal call to arms, leaving Maegor alone and isolated, finally broken when he realized at long last, that his tenure as king was up.

Of course, being able to produce a credible offensive is one of the key ways to force enemies to the bargaining table, as Aenys I learned to his sorrow during his short reign as King of Westeros. His inability to project decisive action and firm leadership left his enemies largely with free reign to do whatever they pleased, and his inability to fulfill his feudal obligations as overlord left his vassals wondering why on Planetos would they needed to owe homage to his weak would-be king who offered nothing of his own. Where Maegor offered nothing but ceaseless war, Aenys offered only impotent action, rolling over in defeat in moments of crisis and abandoning his charges to his enemies. Aenys wanted everyone to be his friend, and found too many willing to be his enemy for the lack of benefit that his friendship offered.

By contrast, successful conquerors like Aegon I and Robert Baratheon were able to combine overwhelming force and open-handedness. Tywin Lannister had a clever maxim that stated: “When your enemies defy you, you must serve them steel and fire. When they go to their knees, however, you must help them back to their feet. Elsewise no man will ever bend the knee to you.” (A Storm of Swords, Tyrion VI). Offering credible and meaningful peace while projecting the force needed to prove annihilation are both important facets to the peace-making process. Even bitter enemies howling for vengeance like Dorne were pacified by Jon Arryn’s peace. We learn in A Feast For Crows that Doran Martell made a secret marriage pact with the Sealord, but given the lack of support the Targaryens had among other Westerosi houses and Essos, and the fact that only the scheming of the Lannisters, Littlefinger, and Varys (none of which Doran had plotted with) weakened the Baratheons enough for a Targaryen restoration to even become credible. For all of Doran’s supposed genius, he depended on a lot of lucky breaks. With only Dornish support, the plan for restoring Targaryen rule would have withered on the vine if Robert had remained hale and healthy.

Even in our own world, peace treaties are a complicated business requiring investment and willingness to be at peace. Following World War I, the war reparations and rebuilding of Germany was proceeding apace, with financial support from Allied nations including the United States. However, when the Great Depression hit and the world stopped be able to support the reconstruction efforts, a rise of nationalism swept the German nation. Some Germans looked to the abandonment of rebuilding efforts as yet another slap in the face following the already punitive Treaty of Versailles. This would help set the stage for anger, resentment, and a return to war.

Negotiation, whether contracts or war, is about making concessions to come to a compromise. Aenys didn’t appear to be able to offer anything, and Maegor appeared to not desire to offer anything, so peace with these two monarchs was impossible. To solve the Faith Militant war and the lingering problems of the realm, Westeros would need a top-notch negotiator. Coming to sit the Throne was a man who, at the tender age of fifteen, forged an alliance of Faith-followers and a coalition of three Great Houses. They needed a negotiator. What they got was a genius.

26 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF History, ASOIAF Political Analysis, The Three Heads of the Dragon

26 responses to “The Silken Glove and the Iron Gauntlet: The Troubled Reigns of Aenys and Maegor

  1. Mark Andrew Edwards

    Good essay, thanks.

    I think another failing of Maegor was the failure to create and maintain a power base. You touched on this, but brutality can work but you have to back it up with manpower. If he’d had clear partisans he’d favored, he might have been able to consolidate his rule. I’m reminded of Stalin who far out-classed Maegor for cruelty but who died in his bed, peacefully. Maegor’s inability to create and sustain a faction seems to have doomed him.

    I wonder if his harshness might have brought the Faith to the negotiating table after he was done. He certainly reaped a harvest of skulls and the Faith did give up the Sons and Poor Fellows, if not to him.

  2. Megalo

    About Jaehaerys being a genius,

    Rhaenys and the Starks would like words with you.

    • King Former

      This opinion is a bit unfair. When Aemon died, Jaehaerys was 58 years old. He knew that his time was finishing (he couldn’t know that he still had 11 years) and probably he thought that the Seven Kingdoms needed an heir adult and competent like Baelon and not an eighteen years old girl. And when Baelon died, he was too ill for give his opinion and was the council who took the decision of choose between Laenor and Viserys.

      • Megalo

        Not unfair at all, it was a stupid move, because it essentially ignored the laws of Westeros, where the child of the first child comes before the second. This indirectly led to the Dance of Dragons. If people are gonna criticize Daeron for his policies, you have to blame Jahaerys too for this.

        Plus an 18-year old girl? That’s adulthood by the laws of Westeros. And I didn’t hear anybody protest when a 14-year old Daeron took the throne.

      • somethinglikealawyer

        I must contest this allegation. In Westeros, the precedent is a male-preference primogeniture model for succession, except in Dorne, even before the Great Council that elected Viserys over Rhaenrya. Even Asha Greyjoy states that a a daughter comes before a brother, not a son.

        Now, the North matter of the New Gift is a matter of debate, though it fits with Jaehaerys’s pattern, as he and the Good Queen Alysanne seem to be fans of the Night’s Watch. But as far as preferring Viserys over the Queen-Who-Never-Was? I have to say, that’s seems to fit with Westerosi precedent. Given that Jaehaerys was responsible for the legal consolidation of Westeros, I’d say that, our own enlightened philosophies of feminism aside, this is not a move out-of-line with the rest of Westeros.

      • Megalo

        “this is not a move out-of-line with the rest of Westeros”

        Which doesn’t make it any less stupid, if you think about it.

    • Winterfell is Burning

      Should be noticed that if the traditional laws of succession of Westeros were followed for the Iron Throne, Jaehaerys would not be King in the first place, but one of Aegon’s daughters instead. This insistence that he HAD to follow Westeros’ traditional laws of succession really doesn’t make sense.

      And if he put Rhaenys in the Iron Throne, then Laenor would be King eventually. Can you honestly say with a straight face that there wouldn’t be a Dance of the Dragons with Laenor as King?

      • somethinglikealawyer

        The son of the firstborn son come before their aunt.

        As for Laenor as a king, I’d say that unless Daemon Targaryen died on the Stepstones, no matter who was king, Daemon would have ended up causing a Dance.

  3. King Former

    Is a bit unfair because Jaehaerys couldn’t know that most of Baelon’s descendants would be so inadequate. And yes, he changed the traditions, but he was the King, he had enough power for do it and he could do it.

    We don’t know the circumstances and the personality of Jaehaerys and his family (could exist the possibility of the king would be male chauvinist or that Rhaenys wasn’t a too mature person in those days), but I can understand why a very old monarch who probably thought that he had the Death near the bed preferred an adult and contrasted heir and not a young woman.

    Nobody can doubt that Jaehaerys was a great king, the best Targaryen king, even a genius in many situations, but he was a man, of course, and a man can take wrong decisions sometimes (although were others who worsened the problem after). But he couldn’t know how big was is error and we don’t know if a dynasty borned from Rhaenys would be better or worse, because the DNA is the same.

    • King Former

      somethinglikealawyer)

      A question about the succession. I remember that if a Lord have a 16 years old daughter, a 11 years old son, a 2 years old son, a brother and a 10 years old nephew and a 20 years old niece, the order is the next: son 11, son 2, daughter, brother, nephew and niece.

      Son before daughter, daughter before uncle.

      In this case, Rhaenys probably should be the new heir, but Jaehaerys decided that the new prince was Baelon. Why? Male chauvinism? Preference for an adult and expert heir? We don’t know.

      But a thing is clear. Jaehaerys wanted to change a rule, had enough support and he did it. He didn’t try to make happy both sides of his divided family (his wife abandoned him during a long time but he didn’t changed his decision). Jaehaerys had a purpose and he won the party.

      Viserys is another case. He wanted to change the new tradition of Jaehaerys and also the ancient tradition, creating an egalitarian succession where his “gold child” Rhaenyra could be the queen. And he won the party because a lot of people hated his brother Daemon. But then he married Alicent and he had three boys.

      And what did he? He forced his polarized relatives into a tense peace, didn’t change his opinion officially but he didn’t strengthen the position of his daughter and didn’t take measures to solve definitely the problem, thinking that when he died, nothing happened.

      This is the difference between a good king and a mediocre king.

      • somethinglikealawyer

        Male-preference primogeniture suggests that a viable male will inherit before a female. Also, in Westeros, there seems to be a precedent where the sitting king names the heir (evidence exists with threats of Viserys being named over Rhaegar, Maegor naming females ahead of Jaehaerys, and the threat of Daemon being un-named the heir in favor of Daemon).

        As for Baelon over the Queen-Who-Never-Was, we don’t have anything to hint Jaehaerys’s reasons for his choice, but given the relative infrequence of female rulers among the non-Dornish, I’d suggest that there’s a strong cultural imperative for a viable male over a female. While Queen Alysanne didn’t like it, the voting turnout of Viserys over Laenor Velaryon suggest that Westerosi lords favor the male line over the female.

        And I will be the first to say that Viserys I was, at best, a mediocre king, and in all honesty, barely merits even that lackluster praise. He inherited a land in prosperity and managed to bungle political factions enough to cause the Dance of Dragons.

  4. King Former

    I’m not completely agree with that the “Male-preference primogeniture suggests that a viable male will inherit before a female”. At least in Westeros. I think that depends of the moment, the situation and the actors.

    Certainly, a daughter can be priority over an uncle or a nephew in the succession. Jon Snow said this words when the Karstark Case and we have some examples about it. The most important is Cerelle Lannister, only daughter of Tybolt Lannister. When her father died she was 3-years-old and had an adult uncle, Gerold, but she was the Lady of Casterly Rock. She died one year later and Gerold took the power, but the resolution is clear: a woman without brothers can be successor over his uncles or cousins.

    Of course, one thing is the theory and another thing is the practical: in other cases the women are ignored, in other cases they are married to her relatives and her husbands take the titles and the effective government… but without abnormal or tenses situations or enormous ambitions, a woman can be heir.

    About the Targaryen monarchy, the question is a bit different.

    They followed the rule “a son can overpass a daughter” (Visenya was older than Aegon but he was the heir – and they were married after – and Rhaena was older than Aegon but he was the heir – and they were married after -). But when Aenys died, Maegor took the throne and Aegon died fighting against him. The future Wise King was the figurehead against his uncle and the very young daughters of Aegon were ignored by both of them most of the time (and we don’t know what happened with they).

    As you said, seem that the females are 100% overpassed by the males (maybe a valyrian tradition?). Or was a decision of Maegor change the previous succession, similar to the westerosi because he was a warrior and a female heir was the last option for him? Or Jaehaerys was the King because the opposition needed a male not too young and not two little girls who, moreover, were prisoners? I don’t know. If the rules of royal succession had been clear, the decision to Jaehaerys had not brought many complications, I think.

    This question is really complicated if you try to find a definitive explanation, but I’m 100% agree with you in one thing: Viserys was a clumsy gullible.

    • somethinglikealawyer

      Certainly, it’s dependent upon the actors, but the Great Council of 101 sets the precedent (and was voted on 20-to-1) that the male line should come before the female line when it comes to the Iron Throne. Given the overwhelming majority of votes, it’s safe to say that for the vast majority of nobles, they prefer male lines over female ones.

      As for Maegor, the Grand Maester even out-and-out said Aegon the Younger came before Maegor, to which Maegor’s response was Blackfyre.

      I think my biggest beef with Viserys I is that he was so lazy on the Throne. He was the type to say: “Everything’s great, let’s just relax.” Then he lets the kingdom go to crap because of it. This is a guy who rode Balerion, who was the grandson of one of the all-time greatest kings in the world, and then he turned it into the Dance.

      Not only did the Dance signal the (temporary) end of the dragons, but the Targaryen dynasty lost a fair amount of its own, including actually decent candidates in their own right, like Daeron the Daring and Baela the Bold, to say nothing of the Queen-Who-Never-Was.

      • King Former

        I guess that the lords of Westeros probably gave their support to the total primacy of the man and the male line in the Iron Throne because the idea of being ruled by a woman was too for them.

        But the tradition of “a daughter can overpass to an uncle or a cousin” was tolerated because these hypothetical daughters could be their daughters (the possibility of not have a son exists) and, if these women were their nieces or cousins and were an obstacle is their way, they could collect power and catch the government by the force, the assassination or the marriage.

        Since Viserys, the Targaryen House went downhill. He was a great deception for me when I read “The prince and the queen” and “The Rogue Prince”. He inherited Aenys’s character, prone to creating problems and later not solve them or not wanting to know nothing about it. Was the Aenys of a peaceful time.

      • somethinglikealawyer

        That doesn’t speak highly of Aenys, and proves that you really need to be active as a leader lest the realm become complacent and decadent.

        There’s evidence that Valyrians tended to favor females more than Westeros, which makes sense, given that their claim to fame was dragonriding, which mattered much more than the plumbing of the dragonrider. Dark Sister was made for a woman’s hand, after all.

      • King Former

        I guess that the lords of Westeros probably gave their support to the total primacy of the man and the male line in the Iron Throne because the idea of being ruled by a woman was too for them.

        But the tradition of “a daughter can overpass to an uncle or a cousin” was tolerated because these hypothetical daughters could be their daughters (the possibility of not have a son exists) and, if these women were their nieces or cousins and were an obstacle is their way, they could collect power and catch the government by the force, the assassination or the marriage.

        Since Viserys, the Targaryen House went downhill. He was a great deception for me when I read “The prince and the queen” and “The Rogue Prince”. He inherited Aenys’s character, prone to creating problems and later not solve them or not wanting to know nothing about it. Was the Aenys of a peaceful time.

  5. Grant

    Doran’s choice isn’t necessarily so foolishly optimistic. Given the balance of power between the great houses and Robert’s own ability at ruling, it’s not much of a leap to predict that sooner or later something is likely to happen to send the realm into instability again.

    Perhaps not in Robert’s lifetime since then he’d have the Lannisters, the Tullys, the Arryns and the Starks (and the Ironborn rebellion was just Balon being stupid), but after Robert? Well, we saw what happened and there were probably dozens of other ways war could have broken out that didn’t need two critically-placed manipulators* who wanted it.

    To be sure, what Doran desires has a good deal of risk, but at this time in this place patience would sooner or later give him the conflict he needed.

    *And remember that unlike Varys and Baelish, the Lannisters are pretty open about their efforts to increase their power, with the Tyrells being only slightly less open in their plotting with Renly.

    • somethinglikealawyer

      I have to disagree here. Doran’s choices depend upon a lot of lucky breaks. He only has Dorne, and that’s not enough troops to put a king on the Iron Throne, not against the Lannister or Tyrell bankrolls and the royal fleet able to drop troops in your home territories.

      In the Blackfyre rebellions, we see that as the years go on, the Blackfyre name loses a lot of legitimacy and support from Westeros. The third has a few battles, the fourth has one, and the fifth died before it ever made it to Westeros.

      • Grant

        He doesn’t have to try this himself, he can wait until the already ongoing power struggle between the Tyrells and Lannisters leads to open war. Once Robert and Jon Arryn were gone the realm lost its unifying king and the political figure that had kept the system from breaking down. Notice that even without Varys and Baelish, things were already moving towards some kind of clash, those two really were just adding fuel to the fire. So once that war happens, there are a number of different alliances he might make, depending on the fortunes of war.

        Now waiting for people to die takes a heck of a lot of patience, but patience is a virtue that Doran truly practices. Also, if one theory about Oberyn and Tywin is correct, the deaths of inconvenient people could be hastened and make Doran’s preferred route firmer.

        And Doran has another possibility. It isn’t really necessary for Viserys (since that’s who the original plan was based on) to rally mass support when there’s the possibility of making him the compromise candidate should politics in Westeros lead to stalemates and other candidates unacceptable. It seems clear that his nature wasn’t really known in Westeros or Doran would have given up on the idea of marrying him to Arriane, and Daenarys would be available as a marriage candidate to a number of young lords.

        Doran isn’t a mastermind, but he’s not an idiot either.

  6. somethinglikealawyer

    The thing is, it’s not just Robert and Jon that would need to go. Eddard would fight to protect his friend (or the legacy thereof). Renly and Stannis would both fight to defend their brother, since if he’s ousted, neither one gets the Throne either. Robert and Jon established a five Great House coalition to protect the sitting dynasty. Doran did nothing to undermine any of it.

    Not to mention that waiting for Robert and Eddard to die would be difficult. Doran is a full fifteen years or so older than Robert and Eddard. Waiting for them to die would be nothing short of foolish.

    Viserys can’t really be a compromise candidate either. Who would back him? Certainly not the ones who stand to lose politically (the Starks, Baratheons, Arryns, Lannisters, or Tullys). Sorry, I can’t see that as being very feasible.

    Doran and Viserys have next-to-no Westerosi support, his plan wasn’t going to get off the ground without help. It so happened that Doran got it, but not through any efforts of his own. Had he made overtures to even one of the many candidates looking to destabilize Robert, that was one thing. But Doran was content to let Viserys tool around Essos with little support, letting Targaryen loyalty wither on the vine, until Varys and Littlefinger made their moves (for different reasons).

    Doran’s a patient guy, willing to let things pass by until he’s ready. The problem is that he takes no strides to get ready.

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  9. maybethecat

    in your essay you state:

    “thanks in large part to his good-mother Visenya – rumors of bastardy hounded Aenys almost from his birth.”

    and

    in regards to Aenys marrying Aegon to Rhaena:

    “This move seems so boneheaded that some believe that Visenya was behind the idea, that exposes the entire Targaryen institution to danger, not just Aenys himself.”

    i cant find anything in the text or even semi-canon that implies that Visenya propagated the rumors about Aenys legitimacy nor anything remotely suggesting that “some believe” Visenya had a hand in the marriage between Aenys kids.

    perhaps i am mistaken so i would love for some citations that would back these statements up.

    btw, i definitely agree with you about Jaehaerys

  10. Might one suggest that The Old King might have preferred Prince Baelon the Brave over Princess Rhaenys might be due to the fact that he had living heirs of his body, thereby guaranteeing the succession of House Targaryen not only with one heir, but an heir and TWO spares?

    Given the surprisingly modest number of grandchildren descended from The Old King and the Good Queen, this might well have been the crucial factor that persuaded His Grace to opt for The Spring Prince (the fact that one of those two ‘spares’ rode the Black Dread cannot have hurt their case).

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