Artwork by Marc Simonetti
Hey guys and welcome once again to “Three Heads of the Dragon: Kings, Pretenders, and the Ladies of Fire”, our multi-author series exploring the Targaryen dynasty. As stated in my last post about Orys Baratheon, I will be covering the various pretenders of the dynasty, each of whom had their own parts to play within the family. In my first post, I discussed Orys Baratheon, the possible bastard half brother and best friend of Aegon the Conqueror.
However, in this post we will be discussing a rather unique pretender, or pretenders, this time around – The Great Council of 101.
What is a Great Council?
Before starting we should briefly discuss what a Great Council actually is. Strictly speaking, a Great Council is an event where all of the lords and ladies of Westerosi come together to select a new king or queen during times when issues about succession come about. It is a semi-democratic event that ultimately determines the new overlord for the entire country. During the Targaryen era of Westeros, there have been three Great Councils called by the lords of Westeros, with the potential for at least five more being called during very different eras of the Seven Kingdoms.
“…the Councils have traditionally had the authority to decide the succession. – Steven Atwell.”
The Prelude and Background of the Council
King Jaehaerys I’s son and heir, Prince Aemon, had died in 92 AC while fighting Myrish pirates in Tarth, which caused Jaehaerys to choose Aemon’s younger brother, Prince Baelon, as his heir, passing over Aemon’s daughter, Princess Rhaenys. This would not be the last time the princess would be passed over either. This would result in another fight and separation between Jaehaerys and his queen, Alysanne.
For forty-six years, the Old King and Good Queen Alysanne were wed, and for the most part it was a happy marriage, with children and grandchildren aplenty. Two estrangements are recorded, but they did not last more than a year or two before the pair resumed their customary friendship. The Second Quarrel, however, is of note, as it was due to Jaehaerys’s decision in 92 AC to pass over his granddaughter Rhaenys—the daughter of his deceased eldest son and heir, Prince Aemon—in favor of bestowing Dragonstone and the place of heir apparent on his next eldest son, Baelon the Brave. Alysanne saw no reason why a man should be favored over a woman … and if Jaehaerys thought women of less use, then he would have no need of her. – The World of Ice and Fire.
However, Prince Baelon later died tragically on a hunting trip of a burst belly.
Jaehaerys now needed a new heir once again. However, instead of having the King decide on his own, a Great Council was called together to settle the matter. This was the first Great Council to have ever been called and it was called by Jaehaerys himself. Although, why Jaehaerys himself called a council instead of just naming a successor who the crown and throne would pass to after his death is quite an interesting bit of behaviour. It might be that after his quarrel with his beloved wife the last time he chose Baelor over Princess Rhaenys possibly had something to do with it. Jaehaerys may have decided to leave the future succession of the Iron Throne in the hands of the lords of Westeros in order to honour her memory. Or this concept of a Great Council may have been borne out of Jaehaerys’ proto-populism and somewhat inspired by Aenys Targaryen’s attempt of a Great Council to help solve threats to the peace, security, and continuity of the realm. Succession issues effectively touch on and threaten all three of these areas and can be truly devastating if not dealt with in an effective and timely matter. I tend to believe that Jaehaerys called the Great Council in order to honour his late wife’s memory as well as to avoid making a concrete decision on the matter that may have disappointed or disrespected her. Jaehaerys loved Alysanne but he was a diplomat above all else. He had to make a decision that caused a deep conflict within him so he took the middle path; he would attempt to honour Alysanne as best he could but he would let the lords of Westeros choose the future heir of the Iron Throne.
The Calling of the Council
The Great Council of 101 AC was held at Harrenhal, a castle whose legacy is tied to the destruction of kings and houses would serve as the location for an event that would actually choose the next king or queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Lords from all over the realm would come to Harrenhal to be a part of this historical event.
And so the greatest problem of the later years of Jaehaerys’s reign was the fact that there were simply too many Targaryens, and too many possible successors. Ill fate had left Jaehaerys lacking a clear heir not once but twice, following the death of Baelon the Brave in 101 AC. To resolve the matter of his heir once and for all, Jaehaerys called the first Great Council in the year 101 AC, to put the matter before the lords of the realm. And from all corners of the realm the lords came. No castle could hold so many save for Harrenhal, so it was there that they gathered. The lords, great and small, came with their trains of bannermen, knights, squires, grooms, and servants. And behind them came yet more—the camp followers and washerwomen, the hawkers and smiths and carters. Thousands of tents sprang up over the moons, until the castle town of Harrenton was accounted the fourth largest city of the Realm. – The World of Ice and Fire.
This would be an event for the ages and required every lord in Westeros to bear witness and take part in it.
The Attendants and Claimants
At this council, nine lesser claimants were heard and dismissed, leaving only two primary claimants to the throne: Laenor Velaryon, son of Princess Rhaenys—who was the eldest daughter of Jaehaerys’s eldest son, Aemon—and Prince Viserys, eldest son of Baelon the Brave and Princess Alyssa. Each had their merits, for primogeniture favored Laenor, while proximity favored Viserys, who was also the last Targaryen prince to ride Balerion before the dragon’s death in 94 AC. Laenor himself had recently acquired a dragon, a splendid creature that he named Seasmoke. But for many lords of the realm, what mattered most was that the male line take precedence over the female line—not to mention that Viserys was a prince of four-and-twenty while Laenor was just a boy of seven. – The World of Ice and Fire.
The fact that the Great Council had to whittle down eleven candidates to two showed the kind of issue they were dealing with. There were simply too many claimants for this to be a simple matter of succession and given how the king’s previous choices had met unfortunate circumstances there remains the chance that Jaehaerys simply wanted to avoid making the decision for himself for two reasons; his previous heirs died possibly making him gun shy about choosing the next person to inherit the seemingly cursed position of heir and the fact that he and Alysanne fought about succession possibly made him more willing to be open to a female successor in order to honour his late wife but his diplomatic nature prevented him from fully committing to this idea without the backing of the lords of Westeros. Likely conflicted and ever the diplomat, Jaehaerys likely did the only thing he thought he could – he turned to his lords and councillors. However, thankfully, the Great Council did manage to come down to Laenor Velayron and Viserys Targaryen;
- Laenor Velaryon, grandson of Prince Aemon Targaryen and son of Princess Rhaenys Targaryen and Lord Corlys Velaryon
- Viserys I Targaryen, son of Prince Baelon Targaryen and Princess Alyssa Targaryen
Of the noble houses, the following representatives attended to speak on behalf of the candidate that they felt should succeed the Old King:
- Lord Ellard Stark and several northern houses (including the House Dustin and House Manderly) stood for Laenor.
- Lord Tymond Lannister spoke for Viserys I.
- Lord Boremund Baratheon was the maternal uncle of Princess Rhaenys and stood staunchly for his great nephew, Laenor.
- Lord Matthos Tyrell attended but the details of who he spoke for are not known.
- Lord Yorbert Royce represented the Vale as Lady Jeyne Arryn was very young at the time. It is said “they played little part” in the deliberation.
- Lord Grover Tully stood for Viserys I.
- Houses Blackwood, Bar Emmon, and Celtigar stood for Laenor.
- It is not known whether the Iron Islands sent a representative.
Credit to Cassius Gren for the list.
The laws of succession definitely supported Laenor’s claim as his mother, Princess Rhaenys, was the daughter of Prince Aemon, who had been the eldest living son of King Jaehaerys. Legally speaking, the crown should have passed to Laenor despite his young age of just 7 years old. However, Viserys had four distinct advantages over Laenor, he was a man grown, he had proximity, he was from the male line of House Targaryen, and he was the final rider Balerion the Black Dread, the dragon of the Conqueror himself. However, Laenor had his own dragon, Seasmoke and he was the son of Lord Corlys Velaryon, the Sea Snake, the wealthiest man of the Seven Kingdoms whose fame definitely supported Laenor’s claim.
The Sea Snake, the wealthiest man in the Seven Kingdoms. The Sea Snake was named for Ser Corlys Velaryon, the first Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, but his fame did not come from his skill with sword and lance and shield but for his voyages across the seas of the world, seeking new horizons. He was a scion of House Velaryon: a family of old and storied Valyrian heritage who had come to Westeros before the Targaryens, as the histories agree, and who often provided the bulk of the royal fleet. So many Velaryons served as lord admiral and master of ships that it was, at times, almost considered a hereditary office.
Nine great voyages were made upon the Sea Snake, and on the last, Corlys filled the ship’s hold with gold and bought twenty more ships at Qarth, loading them with spices, elephants, and the finest silk. Some were lost, and the elephants died at sea, according to Maester Mathis’s The Nine Voyages, but the wealth that remained made House Velaryon the richest in the realm—richer even than the Lannisters and Hightowers, for a time. – The World of Ice and Fire.
However, it seems apparent that what mattered most for the many lords in the realm, was that the male line had to dominate over the female line and, the actual votes remain unknown, it was rumoured that Prince Viserys won by twenty to one votes so he was ultimately chosen by the assembled nobility and he became the new heir to the Iron Throne. Although, given how the maesters have been implicated in various other political conspiracies, one has to wonder whether this vote was as legitimate as it was thought to be. Plus, there is the whole legal issue regarding succession law that outright states that Laenor should have inherited the Iron Throne. The Master of Laws, Ironrod, even went to his death screaming about males over females. Did Viserys I actually have that much of a voting majority or did the maesters interfere? Just some tinfoil conspiracy theories for you all to grasp at. I’ll be very disappointed if no one takes it any further than that. Election rigging is a largely untouched area for you tin miners after all. Or is it possible that despite the legalities and the backing of the Sea Snake, the lords of Westeros simply backed Viserys’ claim over Laenor’s because they feared the precedent it would set in inheritance law or because they felt that Viserys would make for the better king. There may even be another factor at play. Jaehaerys had picked a male heir over a female before and despite him possibly calling the Great Council to possibly honour his late wife in some way, perhaps the voters picked up on the possibility that Jaehaerys didn’t want a female line inheritor at all but wasn’t willing to outright deny it and set a precedent because he felt that would dishonour and disrespect his wife’s memory. The lords of Westeros may have known what the king truly wanted but saw that he was conflicted about doing so and thus made the decision he wanted for him thereby relieving him of his burden. Just another possibility we could entertain. However, despite all of this, the outcome remains the same. Viserys was chosen by the Great Council to become the new heir to the Iron Throne and the future king of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.
According to Archmaester Gyldayn, in the eyes of many, the council of 101 AC established an iron precedent on matters of succession: that the Iron Throne could not pass to a woman, or to a male descendant of a woman. – The World of Ice and Fire.
When Jaehaerys died, King Viserys I Targaryen inherited a secure throne, a full treasury and a legacy of goodwill from his grandfather. Viserys ruled well, and continued the prosperous peace and legacy of his grandsire, however the seeds for a terrifying civil war that would much later engulf the realm were inadvertently sown in his reign; the Dance of the Dragons. King Viserys I Targaryen would later name his daughter, Princess Rhaenyra, his heir after the death of his second born son, Prince Baelon. After his new marriage and the birth of another three sons, the issue of succession would be raised again. Oddly enough, Viserys chose to ignore the precedents of 101 AC, the very same Great Council that made him king over another, and kept Rhaenyra as his heir apparent and even went so far as to call in the lords of Westeros to hear him make this intentions and had them swear to support them after his death. The fact that he went so far as to proclaim his daughter as his heir implies that, if there was any wrongdoing during the Great Council of 101, he had nothing to do with it and sincerely believed that he should be king. Conclusion While not a pretender in a strictly obvious sense, much like the case of Orys’ Baratheon, the Great Council of 101 AC helped determine the future political and royal future of Westeros. The Great Council pretended at kingship, with the acceptance of King Jaehaerys himself of course, and ultimately passed over what some argued was the true line of succession, which I do, and selected Viserys Targaryen to be the new heir apparent for the Iron Throne and, for better or worse, the events of this council were felt for decades to come and likely influenced the future Great Councils. Whether or not this Great Council was as ‘clean’ remains to be seen. The council played and pretended at kingship and the outcome was a rather strange result indeed. Thanks for reading and feel free to leave your comments below.