Taming the She-Dragons: The Ladies of Aegon III

Hello and welcome once again to The Three Heads of the Dragon: Kings, Pretenders, and the Ladies of Fire, the first multi-author series for Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire.  In this series, SomethingLikeaLawyer, MilitantPenguin, and I will explore the Targaryen dynasty from its rise in the Conquest to its fall in Robert’s Rebellion.  My pieces, the Ladies of Fire, will analyze the queens and princesses of House Targaryen, as well as those ladies who had a substantial impact on the dynasty itself.

The Dance of the Dragons had closed the first great chapter of the she-dragons during the dynasty’s reign in Westeros. Rhaenyra’s vaulting ambition had been crushed; the dragons, her means of asserting that ambition, were hurtling toward extinction.  The Dance had scarred its survivors, literally and psychologically, and the ladies who remained would need to reconcile the tragedies of their past with the new world order.  For the princesses of the next generation, however, the Dance was not a tragic memory but a crisis of identity. Left only with the Westerosi model of innocent maidenhood and dynastically advantageous marriage, but possessing all the fire of their predecessors, these women would attempt to maintain that spirit in a newly dragonless age.

Grief and Beauty: The Queens of Aegon III

After the death of Rhaenyra Targaryen in 130 AC, the Targaryen dynasty was a shadow of what it had been before the Dance.  Only five Targaryens remained in Westeros: the resumed-king Aegon II; Princess Jaehaera, Aegon II’s only child to survive the war; Prince Aegon, called the Younger, the elder son of Rhaenyra by her second husband Daemon Targaryen; and Baela and Rhaena Targaryen, the twin daughters of Daemon by his second wife, Laena Velaryon. With only a daughter left to Aegon II, the succession was once again potentially in crisis.  Even as Aegon retook his capital, a black-loyalist army felled Lord Borros Baratheon; riverlords and northmen still loyal to the princess’ cause had whole or nearly-whole armies threatening King’s Landing.  Aegon had no love for his half-nephew (even planning to remove an ear as a warning to his supporters), but his options were few; having just fought a bloody war against female succession, he could not justly claim his daughter Jaehaera as his heir.

King Aegon might have tried to marry again, to provide a new heir to the throne.  Whom he would have taken to wife can only be speculated; even for those houses which had “wonthe Dance (being on Aegon’s side by the time he resumed his rule), the toll the civil war had taken was grievous.  Lords Hightower, Baratheon, and Lannister – the three most prominent green backers – had all perished in battle; their daughters and maiden relations would hardly relish being married to the man who had effectively ordered them to the slaughter.  Nor was Aegon still the lascivious prince who had fathered two bastards the same year he married his sister Helaena.  Severely burned and broken after the Battle of Rook’s Rest, suffering shattered legs and yet more injuries after his dragonback duel with Lady Baela, the post-Dance Aegon was permanently crippled and likely had few years left to him (as well as a doubtful prospect of fathering another child at all).  

In any event, all questions of re-marriage were rendered moot with Aegon’s death by poisoning in 131 AC. His young nephew Aegon, now Aegon III, was the new Lord of the Seven Kingdoms.

No one could doubt Aegon the Younger’s right to succeed based on the decision of the Great Council of 101 AC. Aegon was the eldest legitimate male child of Daemon Targaryen, younger brother of King Viserys I; with Viserys dead and his male line extinct, the throne passed to the (deceased) Daemon and his legitimate sons, the only male Targaryens left. Still, to ensure that no one questioned Aegon III’s succession, he was married in the same year to his first cousin Princess Jaehaera Targaryen.  The bride was eight, the groom 11; the marriage would last for two years.

Jaehaera had been born as one of Aegon II’s first trueborn children, along with her twin Jaehaerys; their birth had been grandly celebrated in the Red Keep, with the greens (led by Jaehaera’s grandmother Alicent Hightower) boasting about the surety of the Hightower-Targaryen line.  A small infant, slow to grow and seemingly emotionless (according to Gyldayn’s account), Jaehaera and her twin may have been ominous signs of the genetic instability within the heavily inbred Targaryen house (Jaehaerys having six fingers and toes on each hand and foot).  Nevertheless, sometime during her early years, Jaehaera bonded with her hatchling dragon, Morghul (though she never flew).

This peaceful Targaryen royal existence was permanently shattered for Jaehaera in 129 AC.  Taken by her mother Helaena to visit her grandmother, Jaehaera was seized by black agents, Blood and Cheese, and threatened with rape if her mother did not choose a son of hers to die.  Though Helaena tearfully named her second son Maelor, Blood instead beheaded Jaehaera’s twin Jaehaerys while the assembled royals watched.  Jaehaera was soon after forced to flee King’s Landing with the Kingsguard knight Ser Willis Fell; with Rhaenyra’s six dragons poised to take the city, Larys Strong suggested that the remaining son and daughter of Aegon be spirited to Oldtown and Storm’s End, respectively.  Jaehaera presumably made it to the Baratheons’ holdfast, though two-year-old Prince Maelor was torn apart by a mob in Bitterbridge. Nothing more is noted of Jaehaera during the Dance; the princess may have accompanied Lord Borros Baratheon as he retook the capital toward the end of the war, or returned when her father resumed the kingship. In either event, Jaehaera remained at court after her father’s death, a princess under her cousin Aegon’s rule.

In our own world, another princess would bear witness to a terrible reversal of fortune – and, like Jaehaera, marry into a restored royal branch. Marie Thérèse was the only surviving daughter of Louis XVI of France and his queen, Marie Antoinette. Serious and haughty, Marie Thérèse was not quite 11 when the royal family was forced to move out of Versailles as the French Revolution accelerated.  Though the family attempted to escape (much like the flights of the Hightower-Targaryens, though the family of Louis XVI stayed as one unit), they were instead captured.  In August 1792, at the age of 13, Marie Thérèse was imprisoned with the rest of her deposed royal family.  The king was executed the following January; six months later, Marie Thérèse’s only surviving brother was forcibly removed from the family, followed a month later by their mother.  Her remaining fellow royal prisoner, her aunt Elisabeth, was taken away and executed nine months later.  Left alone of her family for almost two years, imprisoned and ignorant of the fates of her mother, brother, and aunt – much like Jaehaera would have been at Storm’s End – Marie Thérèse was eventually traded to her cousin, the Holy Roman Emperor.  Directed by her uncle, the self-styled Louis XVIII, Marie Thérèse married her cousin Louis-Antoine, eldest son of Louis XVIII’s brother and heir, Charles. For six years, under the restored monarchy, Marie Thérèse was Dauphine of France, until another reversal of fortune drove the Bourbons off the French throne forever.

Jaehaera had fulfilled her destiny and become queen (albeit with a different king), but if she expected her happiness to increase with her status, the idea would prove short-lived.  The new Aegon III was an extraordinarily melancholy child, taciturn and grimly dressed, burdened by the memory of Aegon II’s Sunfyre burning and devouring his mother.  The lives of Aegon and Jaehaera during the Dance shared several tragic parallels: both had been separated from now-lost younger brothers, both had endured harrowing flights in fear for their lives, both had watched a loved one be murdered in front of their eyes, and both were now the last survivors of their families in Westeros (though Aegon had his half-sisters). Husband and wife might have taken comfort in one another as fellow victims of disaster (the way Jaehaerys and Alysanne might have grown close during their shared exile in Maegor’s reign), but neither did so.  Aegon was too withdrawn to reach out to his young queen, and Jaehaera (whatever her emotional stunting) was likely too burdened by all she had undergone at such a young age to work with as unmalleable a personality as Aegon’s.

So when Jaehaera died on the spikes in the moat of Maegor’s Holdfast, aged just 10, king and court reasonably accepted that the queen had committed suicide.  The death mirrored that of Jaehaera’s mother Helaena during the Dance; Helaena – a woman openly acknowledged to have been broken by tragedy – had found in suicide an escape from the guilt and grief she bore ever since the Blood and Cheese affair.  Perhaps young Jaehaera, likewise grieving, likewise alone, wished in her death to find that familial closeness which the Dance had denied her.

Yet soon a sinister rumor emerged.  Like her mother, Jaehaera was rumored not to have committed suicide, but to have been pushed to her death.  The prime suspect was Lord Unwin Peake, a former green and Caltrops who had received “royal” assent (that of Aegon II’s youngest brother Prince Daeron) to the murders of the black dragonriders Hard Hugh Hammer and Ulf the White.  After the Dance, Unwin became a regent for Aegon III, taking the place of Corlys Velaryon after the latter’s death. Unwin used his position to be appointed Hand of the King, advance his relations, and undermine his enemies, but the peak of his ambition came when he tried to marry his daughter to the newly widower king.

A royal marriage would have been the greatest coup of all Lord Peake’s schemes, but Unwin would have needed Jaehaera to be removed first. Certainly, the Peakes were never an overly scrupulous lot: it had been the Peakes who had driven House Manderly from the Reach many centuries before, and House Peake would in the near future be one of the most dedicated supporters of Daemon Blackfyre. With his House’s deviously ambitious background and his own potential for murder, Unwin likely had few qualms about removing the young tragic queen.  Using his own bastard brother, Ser Mervyn Flowers of the Kingsguard (whose position ensured he could be near the queen without suspicion), or the sellsword Tessario the Tiger, Unwin could murder Jaehaera while keeping his own hands clean – a necessary requirement for subsequently arranging a royal marriage for his house. Even Yandel acknowledges the high probability that Peake was involved in the death of Queen Jaehaera, a telling revelation and a further underscore on the Peakes’ inglorious reputation:

Though we will never know the truth of the events that day, it now seems likely that Jaehaera’s death was somehow instigated by Lord Peake. (“The Targaryen Kings: Aegon III”, The World of Ice and Fire)

Aegon III had lost his queen, though the loss likely little affected him.  Young as he was, however, the realm needed an heir, and so in 133 AC his Hand (the same Unwin Peake, who had been stopped by his fellow regents in his own marriage scheme for the boy-king) threw a magnificent ball.  Yandel gives little attention to the ball other than its eventual result:

A surpassingly beautiful child, Daenaera was but six when the princesses Rhaena and Baela presented her to the king—the last of a thousand maids who had been presented him at the great ball of 133 AC. (“The Targaryen Kings: Aegon III”, The World of Ice and Fire)

Though the event may seem closer to a fairy tale – the king who picks the most beautiful maiden at a ball for his bride – the few details we have of the ball suggest something much more politically important.  

Like the great tourneys of Westeros, this ball was a chance for the lords of the realm (so recently at one another’s throats) to gather in a peaceful setting.  Though Aegon himself was melancholy and taciturn, wholly uninterested in courtly pleasures, the ball was a prime opportunity for his regents to begin restoring a sense of normalcy to the realm; the last peacetime king, Viserys I, had been well known for his love of feasts and court events. More than mere entertainment, however, the ball also allowed lords to present their eligible daughters and maiden female relations to the king.  As previously discussed in Rhaenyra’s betrothal progress, the supreme dynastic achievement for a Westerosi lord was to secure great matches for his children, and no match was greater than that of a daughter to the heir to the throne. No lord would pass up the opportunity for his relation to be paid homage by all other lords and for his line to sit the Iron Throne one day, and with the field open seemingly to all noble ladies, it can be little wondered why a thousand appeared.

Yet of these thousand maidens presented to the haunted boy-king, the winner was young Daenaera.  Certainly, the girl – though just six years old – was already beautiful, presumably with the silver-gold hair and light eyes of her Valyrian ancestry.  Daenaera was kin to both the king and – a little more closely – her two champions, Baela and Rhaena Targaryen; the elder princesses had previously schemed to save Corlys from trial and execution during the Hour of the Wolf, and their Velaryon allegiance likewise shone now. As a Velaryon, Daenaera was a traditional match for a Targaryen king, yet recent political events suggested the fitness of the choice as well.  Targaryen-Velaryon relations had soured during the Dance, with Rhaenyra imprisoning Corlys for his legitimated son’s nonexistent treason; Corlys had subsequently served in high office for Aegon II, though he had thereafter taken a place on the regency council for the boy king. By taking a Velaryon maiden to wife, Aegon could reaffirm the closeness between the two interwoven expatriate Valyrian lines.

Daenaera and Aegon did marry, although it would be many years – even after she had become a legal Westerosi adult – before the two had children of their own.  With two sons, Daeron (presumably named after Daenaera’s father and not the green prince whose mysterious death birthed many false pretenders) and Baelor, and three daughters – Daena, Rhaena, and Elaena – king and queen had ostensibly secured the Targaryen line.  Yet if Queen Daenaera hoped her eldest daughter would follow in her footsteps – making a good political match and staying devoted even to a difficult husband – she was destined to be severely disappointed.

Princess Daena: The Wild She-Dragon

Daena

Daena Targaryen (image credit to Amok)

When Aegon III finally died in 157 AC, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Daeron.  The Young Dragon’s reign was brief – just four years – but martially glorious, crowned as it was with the king’s conquest of Dorne. Nevertheless, Daeron failed one of his primary duties as a king – to continue the Targaryen line by fathering a legitimate son.

One woman, certainly, would have been delighted to be Daeron’s queen: his eldest sister, Daena.  Two years younger than the Young Dragon, Daena was the beau-ideal of a Targaryen she-dragon – a Valyrian-looking beauty, a fine archer and huntress, and an excellent horsewoman (much like her great-great-great grandmother Alysanne).  Daena worshipped her father Aegon and adored her elder brother Daeron.  The latter is unsurprising; with his ambition, energy, and great martial skill, the Young Dragon was the youthful personification of post-dragon Targaryen greatness. Why Daena so adored her father is less clear, but there are several possible explanations. Aegon had suffered great tragedies in his life, yet displayed a silent fortitude perhaps admired by his strong-willed daughter.  Additionally, Aegon was one of the last dragonriders left alive (along with Daena’s half-aunt Baela, and possibly Baela’s twin Rhaena); the notion of being daughter to a real dragonrider (no matter how little Aegon had actually flown) might have held a romantic, empowering appeal to the princess.

Indeed, the great tragedy of Daena’s life – especially as she herself saw it – was that the last dragon died when she was just eight years old.  Fond of saying that she “was born to ride a dragon”, Daena found herself in a court which had no outlet for a Targayen princess’ restless energy and ambition.  Of course, the Targaryen paradigm shift had not come overnight; the clever and energetic Alysanne and the gentle, quiet Helaena were much gentler, more Westerosi ladies than Rhaenys and Visenya had been, ruling not as  co-monarchs but as mere consorts.  The Dance, however, had greatly accelerated the decline in the Targaryen female. Rhaenyra’s utter failure to establish herself as a queen in her own right, combined with the soon total destruction of the Targaryen dragons, meant that no one was willing (or able) to trust a Targaryen lady with the kind of power the Conqueror’s sisters enjoyed.  The War of the Targaryen Succession had removed the greatest and most important distinction between the royal court and the courts of Westeros’ high lords; only in Valyrian coloring and incestual coupling could the royal family now be distinguished from its bannermen.  Becoming more Westerosi meant softening the royal ladies into docile, Maiden-like princesses – to Daena’s sorrow. The Death of the Dragons was her personal Doom.

Like her expatriate Valyrian ancestors, Daena would try to bring the old world order into this new, strange era. Without a dragon to ride or a war to fight, Daena would find a different way to express her unbridled she-dragon energy.  Though no one was going to give Daena Dark Sister, or train her in swordplay as Aegon’s sister-queen had been, Daena nevertheless managed to imitate some of her beloved Daeron’s martial pursuits.  She was not allowed to go to Dorne, of course (though one can imagine she asked), but she became adept at firing the Dornish bow Daeron brought back from his conquest.  If she could not actually take part in her heroic brother’s martial victories, she could at least appropriate part of the culture of the defeated Dornish and place herself in the shoes of female warriors before her (notably the “black” Alysanne Blackwood, who had commanded her own archers at the Battle of the Kingsroad).  Daena even excelled at riding at rings – a crucial step in training a knight for the joust, and further proof of how talented a horsewoman Daena was (since jousting requires excellent riding skills).  To be sure, her prowess in the sport was a hollow victory; her uncle Viserys, ruling the realm while Daeron went to war, might have been too busy to bar his niece from the practice yard, but he absolutely refused to allow a princess to ride in a tourney, no matter how badly Daena begged. Still, even to the few courtiers who might have seen her piercing the ring with her lance, Daena was clearly determined to prove herself different. She was no mere retiring lady, but the blood of the dragon; her ancestresses had not recoiled from martial training, and neither would she.

Daena’s flair for the dramatic extended to her dress (much like her grandmother Rhaenyra).  Aegon had worn black every day, in testament to the many tragedies which haunted his life.  Daena took to doing the same – out of worshipful admiration, to be sure, but perhaps from other factors as well.  Black had been her grandmother’s color in the tourney of 111 AC, a reminder that its wearer was the rightful heiress of House Targaryen; when the Dance had erupted, Rhaenyra’s supporters were addressed as “blacks”.  Attired head to toe in black, Daena could show the world (even her limited world of the court) how she thought of herself. She was the daughter of the dragonriding Aegon III, who was bravely defiant in refusing to court his vassals (an incorrect, if earnest, assessment of her father). Yet she was also Rhaenyra’s granddaughter, a spirited woman who may have seen in her grandmother and the “black” she-dragons the same defiance and strong will she so valued in herself.

Her accessories, too, played into this crafting of Daena’s public she-dragon image. Daena inherited from her father a golden pendant in the shape of a three-headed dragon (if anyone raised an eyebrow at the potential parallel between Aegon II’s golden dragon banner and the golden pendant, history does not record it).  The princess would never pass up an opportunity to remind the world how Targaryen she was, and from the moment the pendant passed into her hands she wore it every day.  At court, Daena wore the pendant on a golden chain – an appropriate accessory for a lady proud of her house (Sybil Westerling would later be seen wearing a necklace of golden seashells, underlining her allegiance to her married house and downplaying her “upjumped” maiden family).   Yet while on her many adventures, disguised in wholly uncourtly costume, Daena still wore her pendant, hidden on a plain leather thong under her clothes.  Later stories would claim that Daena would never remove it, not even for bathing or sex; we cannot know how true these stories are, of course, but their very existence relates their point. The pendant was a symbol of Daena’s Targaryen identity, a gift from her adored father; to remove it was to remove a part of her Targaryen legacy from herself, something she would never do.  Daena may not have mastered a living dragon, but she would carry with her a golden one, to remind everyone – courtiers, servants, even lovers – that she was as much a descendant of the dragonlords as any of her dragonriding ancestors.

Even marriage could not curb Daena’s ceaseless defiance of convention. At “a young age”, Daena was wed to her second brother Baelor.  Why Daena did not marry her adored brother Daeron is unclear; Daeron spent much of his time in Dorne, of course, but when he acceded, the Young Dragon was 14 and Daena 12, old enough for Westerosi marriage. Perhaps Aegon and Daenaera wanted to curb the wildness of young Daena by wedding her to her extremely pious brother (leaving Daeron free potentially to make a Westerosi match).  If so, it was a hopeless cause.  Baelor was spectacularly unsuited to be a husband to any woman, most especially the restless, energetic Daena; only their cousins Aegon and Naerys could rival them in the sorry history of ill-matched royal couples. Daena, for her part, would never adopt traditional Westerosi wifely submission; her marriage to Baelor would only give her new opportunities to indulge her high spirits.

The first opportunity came very early into their union.  Baelor had taken his sister to wife, but his extreme piety prevented him from consummating the marriage.  Daena might have expected even this small comfort in her otherwise loveless union (Baelor would have known that, as the heir to the throne, he would need to continue the family line), but her husband’s dynastic failure gave her a new costume choice.  The princess soon abandoned her former black clothing for an all-white costume; even more clarifying her message, Daena proclaimed that she would not change her dress until her royal husband performed his full spousal duties. The princess’ new attire was a clear indication that the wife of the heir would not be providing heirs of her own any time soon. Adopting the dress color of a septa, Daena mocked that which Baelor held dear – more dear, she emphasized, than his duty to the realm. Perhaps Daena hoped that her public advertisement of the non-consummation of her marriage would encourage her royal father or uncle to dissolve it; non-consummation remained one of the few ways in our own world to annul noble and royal marriages. Unfortunately for Daena, this hope for annulment was not to be fulfilled; Baelor was even recorded to have liked seeing his wife in white, noting that it made her look more innocent (her lack of which had probably caused Baelor much distress already).

If Daena mourned the non-consummation of her marriage, however, she would have still more loathed what was to come. Her beloved brother’s murder in Dorne would lift her hated husband to the throne – but not Daena along with him. Stripped of her marriage, denied the queenship, Daena and her sisters were taken from the court of Westeros and banished to their own “Court of Beauty”, within a gilded prison known as the Maidenvault.

The Hidden Court: Pious Imprisonment in the Maidenvault

Daeron the Young Dragon had been married only to war throughout his brief reign; he died in Dorne without either a consort or issue of his body to succeed him.  By law, his heir was his brother Baelor, but Baelor had even less motivation to continue the line of Aegon III.  Extremely devoted to the Faith of the Seven, Baelor dissolved his unhappy marriage to Princess Daena upon ascending to the throne.  Daena might have been happy to be rid of her husband, hopeful to be married to someone more amenable to her fiery personality; after all, her aunts Baela and Rhaena had been married to high Westerosi nobles, and Jaehaerys’ daughter Princess Viserra had been betrothed to Lord Manderly (though she died before her wedding).  Even in our own world, a woman whose royal marriage was dissolved was not forbidden to marry again; Anne of Cleves, amicably divorced from Henry VIII, had been given great estates by the grateful Henry and allowed to remarry (though she chose not to do so).

Yet Baelor would not let his maiden sisters (presuming Daena was still a maiden) escape the extreme piety he wanted for his court.  After making peace with the Dornish (a decision Daena likely despised) and returning to the capital with his cousin Aemon, Baelor ordered his sisters – Daena, Rhaena, and Elaena – into specially designated apartments in the Red Keep: the Maidenvault.

Why Baelor chose this route is unclear.  His ancestor Jaehaerys had cemented his peace with the Faith by promising two of his daughters, Saera and Maegelle, to be trained as septas (though Saera escaped to Essos instead). With Baelor’s piety totally eclipsing that of any Targaryen before him, including the Conciliator – even taking septon’s vows after dissolving his unhappy marriage – he may well have forced his sisters to don septas’ robes and hide themselves away from the world.  Yet even this strategy seems to have offended Baelor’s sense of propriety.  Certainly, according to the Faith (at least as professed by the High Sparrow), all women are wantons at heart, presumably even septas and silent sisters; even in the plain dress of a consecrated woman, the three Targaryen princesses may have appeared to Baelor too beautiful and tempting to the men of his realm.  Baelor’s experiences in married life may have also played a role in his decision; having watched his spirited sister-wife Daena act out masculine pursuits and demand consummation of their marriage, Baelor may have decided that all three of his sisters harbored dangerously unfeminine ambitions.  The only way to preserve their modesty, as Baelor decided, was imprisonment in the Red Keep; there, with only female companions and maidenly diversions, the three ladies could be kept safely away from men, preserving the realm in peaceful – if repressed – harmony.

So inside the Maidenvault the sisters were locked.  Prince Viserys, the king’s uncle and Hand, protested the imprisonment (though he may have been thinking less of the personal well-being of his three nieces than of their value as potential marriage pawns, to hold the realm together under Baelor’s capricious reign).  Other members of the court protested as well, but some worldly lords took advantage of Baelor’s decree, sending daughters into the Maidenvault as lady companions for the three princesses (Barba Bracken, one of Aegon IV’s future mistresses, began her “career” as a companion to the princesses).  Baelor might have been pleased – the more maidens whose virtue could be so “preserved”, the better – but the girls’ fathers realized that palatial imprisonment for their daughters was one of the few ways to curry favor with a king whose concerns were always more spiritual than practical.

Only Rhaena, of the three sisters, actually followed the spirit of Baelor’s plan. Fourteen at her confinement, the middle princess never complained at her palatial imprisonment.  Though she was as beautiful as Daena, with more feminine looks, Rhaena never attempted to duplicate Daena’s amorous affairs or daring adventures.  She was, in fact, the ideal of what Baelor had likely intended for his sisters: modest, pious, retiring ladies who hid from the world their unfortunate beauty. (One wonders whether Rhaena was close to her elder cousin Princess Naerys, with whom she seems to have shared a strong sense of feminine piety.)

Rhaena

Rhaena Targaryen (image credit to Amok)

Despite her marked differences from Daena, though, Rhaena shared her sister’s fondness for using clothing to convey messages. Rhaena loved to dress in white and gold – not, as Daena had, to mock and criticize her maidenly status but to revel in it. While Daena had apparently never taken up the traditionally feminine skills of embroidery and needlework, Rhaena excelled in these activities.  Typically, her embroidery on her clothing echoed her own genuine piety, including the Mother’s face (a somewhat ironic ideal for a princess whose confinement forbid motherhood, but a traditional symbol of worship for Westerosi ladies nonetheless) and the Maiden with a white hart (a symbol of rare purity and innocence in our own world as in Westeros, along with its accompanying goddess of chastity).  Daena might have exuded dramatics with her attire, but Rhaena showed the little world of the Maidenvault the pious feminine ideal her brother Baelor desired (indeed, her religious devotion went so deep that she became a septa after being freed from the Maidenvault).

Baelor might have praised Rhaena’s modesty and occupation with retiring feminine activities, yet neither Daena nor Elaena would have had much sympathy with Rhaena’s sentiment. Both would come to see their stay in the Maidenvault as a prison sentence rather than a peaceful hermitage.  The rest of their lives would be rebellions against the ideals Baelor so hoped to impress upon his she-dragon sisters.

The Defiance of Daena: Escaping the Maidenvault

Typically, Daena was the first to rebel. On no fewer than three separate occasions, the eldest princess escaped from her chambers in the Maidenvault – and, once again, Daena resorted to costume to express her feelings.  Disguised as a peasant or serving girl, Daena imitated the freedom that these lowborn women enjoyed far more that their royal superiors. If her actions seem a tired trope to us – the princess disguised as a peasant, longing for freedom – these adventures would have been laced with danger for Daena (which no doubt made them more appealing).  Any of the servants or other individuals who likely helped her escape could have as easily betrayed her to King Baelor or his Hand, her uncle Viserys. Daena may not have feared her royal husband (whose usual response to the failings of his subjects was self-punishment), or her powerful uncle (who was kept extremely busy managing the realm), but either one could have punished Daena with forced religious vows (such as would be meted out to the Tarbeck maidens in later years) or permanent exile. Moreover, for all her disguises, Daena still boasted the purple eyes and silver-gold hair that marked her for a princess of the blood royal; had she been captured, the political repercussions could have disrupted the fragile peace Viserys was attempting to create under his nephew’s rule.

More troublingly, Daena once escaped her pampered imprisonment with the assistance of her cousin Aegon, Viserys’ elder son.  Aegon – not yet King Aegon IV – was ten years older than the princess, and still had the handsome Valyrian looks which would eventually disappear into corpulence. Like Daena, Aegon enjoyed traditional noble athletic pursuits – hunting, hawking, even dancing – and, like Daena, possessed some skill with a lance (though – much to Daena’s probable jealousy – Aegon excelled at swordplay as well).  In a court whose princes included the largely absentee Daeron, the excessively pious Baelor, and the brave but unshowy Aemon, Aegon naturally dominated with his wit, good looks, and charm.

Indeed, Daena might have seen in Aegon her male counterpart.  They were the two most sparkling Targaryens of their generation – handsome, vigorous royals with too little to do and too much energy to stay confined. Both had serious, focused fathers, and both had been trapped in spectacularly ill-matched marriages (Aegon having married his sister, the pious and frail Naerys, in 153 AC). Best of all, for Daena, Aegon was a prince of the blood, second in line to the throne after his father Viserys; he might not have been permitted into the Maidenvault itself, but Baelor could not drive Aegon out of his own home in the Red Keep, and the maidens’ keepers would likely deny little to a royal prince.

However much or little time Daena spent with her wild cousin is unclear.  Aegon was never known to keep to one bed long; indeed, Daena did not earn the dubious honor of being one of Aegon’s nine most favored mistresses throughout his life.  Only once was the prince supposed to have helped his cousin escape the Maidenvault; perhaps Aegon, characteristically fickle, ignored Daena after their tryst together.  Perhaps Daena also grew tired of Aegon; with his selfish and capricious attitudes, Aegon would have been a trial for even the most dedicated of his mistresses.  

Whatever the length of their relationship, one result is certain: in 170 AC, Daena gave birth to a bastard son, Daemon.  The choice of the baby’s name underlined Daena’s fierce spirit and romantic attachment to the dragon age of her grandparents. Prince Daemon, her grandfather (and Aegon’s), had been a renowned, deadly warrior in his day, even a king for some time, and his heroic final battle on dragonback over the Gods Eye would have been the stuff of legends to the young Targaryen royals.  Daena refused to name the father, only adding to her defiant reputation; indeed, partly because of this birthing a bastard (much like her Targaryen grandmother had), Daena would be considered too wild and thus ineligible to inherit the throne after her sometime husband Baelor died.

Strangely, Daena seems to disappear from the historical record after the birth of Daemon. In her day, she was the most famous (and infamous) Targaryen princess, loved for both her beauty and her fierce spirit. She had come closer than any other Targaryen would to representing the Valyrian female model after the dragons died out. History may have had little to say of Daena after her son’s birth, but the same would not be true of her youngest sister, the clever Princess Elaena.

Princess Elaena: The Imitation Game

Elaena

Elaena Targaryen (image credit to Amok)

If Princess Daena had hero-worshipped her father and brother, her youngest sister Elaena – just 11 at the start of their confinement  – hero-worshipped Daena.   As much as Rhaena rejected Daena and her dramatic costumes, Elaena followed her; she even took to wearing black, simply because Daena had sported the color (an innocent emulation of what was already an imperfect display of admiration).  Daena had once used her appearance to goad Baelor into action – dressing in white to shame him into bedding her – and Elaena was determined to use the same dramatics for herself. At the start of her imprisonment, Elaena cut off her braid – platinum white with a gold streak, an unusual color even for Targaryens – and sent it to Baelor, hoping to prove that without her “crowning beauty” she was too ugly to tempt any man and could be allowed back into court life.  Baelor, typically, ignored his youngest sister (and may have even misread Elaena’s gesture as a noble rejection of worldly vanity, much as he had misread Daena’s “innocent” clothing).

The comparison between the defiant eldest sister and the admiring youngest did not end in their outer appearance. Just as Daena valued as her prize possession her three-headed dragon pendant, Elaena also treasured a symbol of her Targaryen heritage. Though the last dragon died when Elaena was just three, the Targaryens never surrendered either the hope that more dragons would be born or the tradition that accompanied that hope; every new Targaryen prince and princess received at birth a dragon egg. Accordingly, Elaena cherished her egg, whose cream and gold coloring mirrored her own unusual hair.  Even if the egg would not hatch for her (though this may have been the egg of Daenerys’ Viserion), her very possession of it was significant. With no dragons left to produce them, eggs were supremely precious, and by right given only to members of House Targaryen. There could be no surer way for a Targaryen princess to remind onlookers of her draconic ancestry – and, if the egg would actually hatch, her potential power.

For the 10 years that the Targaryen princesses spent in the Maidenvault, Elaena watched – and girlishly imitated – her eldest sister carefully.  She would have witnessed Daena’s escapist dramatics, including her tryst with Prince Aegon.  It may be little wondered, then, that Elaena would also follow her elder sister in that far more rebellious – and dangerous – adventure, a romantic affair. Yet for once, Elaena’s actions would be not simply a repetition of what Daena had done, but an independent, self-defining movement.  Daena’s affair had been the escapism of two bright, young, and restless Targaryens; Elaena’s would be a post-imprisonment love match.

Alyn Velaryon – Lord of Driftmark, popularly called “the Oakenfist” – might have legally been the legitimized bastard son of Laenor Velaryon, but in character and action he much more closely resembled his probable father, Corlys Velaryon.  Though as a youth he had attempted to tame the dragon Sheepstealer – with near-fatal results and resulting lifelong burns – Alyn, like the Sea Snake, found his true calling on the waves. As master of ships for his royal cousin Daeron, Alyn had helped plan the invasion of Dorne; his breaking of the Planky Town with his fleet was one of the Targaryens’ key victories during the campaign. Nor did Alyn lack diplomatic skill: during the reign of Aegon III, the Lord of the Tides had negotiated the release of the king’s brother Viserys from his Lysene captivity.

We cannot know exactly when Elaena fell in love with Lord Alyn. Certainly, the Oakenfist would likely have been a common sight at court: not only was Alyn a cousin of the royal family, and the admirable master of ships, but he was married to Lady Baela Targaryen.  Baela was Aegon III’s half sister, a former dragonrider and familiar presence in Aegon’s court. By the time Elaena was born, Alyn was 35, his lady wife 34, high ranking members of the Westerosi aristocracy with an unknown number of children.

So what drew Elaena to this much older cousin?  Like Daena’s hero-worship of their father Aegon, Elaena might have admired Alyn for being of the dragonriding age.  He had the scars to prove that he had courted a dragon; his heroic elder brother Addam had actually perished on dragonback during one of the Dance’s last battles.  Nor was Alyn merely a relic of the Targaryens’ lost glory.  As the dashing admiral who sailed up the Greenblood, the Oakenfist had been one of the great heroes of the Dornish campaign.  Thousands might have been lost holding Dorne – not the least of whom the Young Dragon himself – but Daeron’s war of conquest remained fixed as a shining moment of glory for the dynasty and realm, including the Targaryen princesses trapped in the Maidenvault. Alyn had lived a life of adventure for which Elaena could only dream.

Their affair began sometime after Elaena’s release from captivity in 171 AC.  Of the romance itself, almost nothing is known.  Elaena hoped to wed Alyn, suggesting that Lady Baela died sometime before or during the affair (or that Elaena, in an uncharacteristically cruel streak, hoped Alyn would set aside his wife of roughly three decades for her).  Certainly, even if Baela were alive for the early part of their romance, she would have been expected not to censure her husband, at least publicly; the Faith might teach the importance of marital fidelity as pleasing to the Father and Mother Above, but Westerosi society largely forgives husbands who seek pleasure outside of their politically arranged unions.  Yet Baela was also the granddaughter of Rhaenys Targaryen, the fiery Queen Who Never Was, from whom Corlys had hidden his bastard sons; such a woman would not likely spare her husband for his adultery, even if such conduct went against the conventions of proper female behavior.

Only one detail can be noted with certainty about the Alyn-Elaena affair: the birth of their bastard twins. Called Jon and Jeyne, the babies were surnamed Waters in testament to their crownlands birth.  The age of Aegon IV’s very public bastards had not reached full swing (and Aegon himself had had no part in their begetting), so it is unlikely the babies were kept at court long after their birth. Even in Aegon’s permissive court, the bastard children of a royal princess would cause a great scandal; it was not so long since Princess Rhaenyra’s bastards had helped start the destructive Dance of the Dragons, and a lady known not to be a maiden lost much value on the marriage market (important for the newly freed Elaena).  The princess might not have cared about that last part if Alyn were still alive (and could legitimize them by marrying her), yet if the children were born after Alyn had disappeared Elaena would have lost all standing by keeping them. What happened to Jeyne is unknown; Jon himself became a famous knight (though his deeds are still undescribed), with his descendants becoming the Longwaters of King’s Landing.

Elaena would eventually be married – not to her beloved Alyn Velaryon, but to three different husbands.  Ossifer Plumm and Ronnel Penrose were political arrangements, by Aegon IV and Daeron II, respectively.  The Plumm marriage led only to a quick widowhood; rumors that their son Viserys was actually fathered by the king remain in Westeros to this day (another imitation, however unintended, of her elder sister). Her Penrose marriage was slightly more fulfilling, leading as it did to her becoming unofficial master of coin in place of her good but ineffectual husband; Elaena’s role was the closest any woman had gotten to true political power since Rhaenyra sat the Iron Throne, and would not be repeated while the dynasty lived.  In her third marriage, however, Elaena finally achieved that rarest distinction for princesses: a love match. Michael Manwoody was not Alyn Velaryon, but he was intelligent and cultured, and his love of music captivated a princess who had spent her formative years in a prison of suffocating piety.  Like Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom, who married the politically unimportant Prince Henry of Battenburg for love, Elaena waited until circumstances would allow her to have a man she herself desired – if not the love of her life.

Conclusion: She-Dragons in a Post-Dragon World

The reigns of Aegon III and his sons were the first test of Targaryen authority in a post-dragon world. Thanks to the sober, solemn rule of Aegon and the canny administration of the soon-to-be Viserys II, the Targaryen monarchy survived. The dynasty may have been on an unalterable descent into destruction the moment the last dragon died, yet it had weathered its first great challenge and paved the way for the future.  The kings and princes could now take as their models the best Westerosi kings before them – heroic warlords, careful administrators, and serious statesmen (and if Baelor was a little odd for his extreme piety, doubtless many of the Westerosi courts had hosted a mad lord or two in their ancient genealogies).

For the ladies, of course, the situation was rather more complicated. The gulf between female Valyrians – trained to fly dragons and wield swords specially fitted to their smaller hands – and Westerosi maidens had existed since the first hours of the Conquest; Rhaenys and Visenya even ruled for themselves atop the monstrous throne they had helped to establish.  For the roughly sesquicentury of dragon dominance after, an uneasy balance arose: princesses trained in maidenly propriety and Westerosi mores yet possessing large and fearsome beasts of war.  Princess Rhaenys might have been neatly and legally swept off the succession, but it would be her niece Rhaenyra who would attempt to fix the dichotomy once and for all.  Were the she-dragons truly the equals of their male counterparts?

The failure of Rhaenyra, followed by (and partially causing) the extinction of the Targaryen dragons, settled the question.  Stripped of their draconic trump card, the Targaryen ladies were firmly relegated to a docile secondary position: they would be dynastic marriage pawns, sister-queens, and mothers of the next male heirs, but never again would they be rulers in their own right.  Only their silver-gold hair and purple eyes would set them apart from their native Westerosi sisters; Maiden and Mother would now guide where Rhaenys and Visenya once had.

The ambition, drive, and energy of these early ladies did not disappear overnight, of course (even if some, like Rhaena, eagerly adapted to this new way of life).  For Daena, the death of the dragons was a tragedy to be avenged; for Elaena, early imitator of her bold eldest sister, life was the pursuit of something far greater than what the walls of the Maidenvault could provide.  They were the last gasps of the she-dragon spirit, the burning fire of adventure and power that dimmed to a flicker when Rhaenyra died. Never again would a Targaryen lady exert such political influence, as Elaena had; never again would one be considered for the throne, as Daena briefly was at Baelor’s death.  The she-dragons had been tamed, as no true dragon could be; only in Daena’s ill-fated descendants would some of that same spirit survive.

Thanks for reading! 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! Look forward to the next piece in the Ladies of Fire series: “Loves of the Dragon, Mothers of Chaos: The Ladies of Aegon IV, Part 1”

3 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Character Analysis, ASOIAF History, ASOIAF Meta, Ladies of Fire, The Three Heads of the Dragon

3 responses to “Taming the She-Dragons: The Ladies of Aegon III

  1. Crystal

    I recall a So Spake Martin that went along with the Amok portraits of the three princesses, that Elaena lived “much longer” than Daena, so I conclude that Daena died while her son Daemon was still quite young. There doesn’t seem to be any mention of her when Aegon gave Daemon Blackfyre.

    Elaena, meanwhile, lived into her 70’s according to this SSM. I think of the sisters, she would have made the best Queen – she appears to have been the smartest and most calculating of them all.

    It really goes to show the double standard, specifically the *sexual* double standard, of Westeros outside of Dorne (and Bear Island). Daena never did anything really malicious or hurtful, but because of her sexual escapades and “wild” behavior was judged unfit for the throne. And what seems to have undermined Rhaenyra’s claim at first was the allegation that her sons were not legitimate.

    It is a sad comedown for the Targ queens – Rhaenys and Visenya seem to have been equal to their brother, and even though Alysanne was only a consort and did fulfill conventional ideals, she was intelligent and powerful in her own right – she was her brother/husband’s most trusted councilor, after all, and was the force behind the abolition of first-night rights and the strengthening of the Watch. Helaena was much more a conventional Andal-ish consort type (out of temperament as much as anything).

  2. Excellent essay. The loss of Dragons hurt the female line so much more than the male line of the Targaryens. Also if Daena had lived long enough to mentor Daemon, Westeros might have been quite different.

    By the way who guarded the legendary Maiden vault of Baelor. Was it Kingsguard or just normal Guards ? Both ways the possibility of Kettleback/margaery type allegations or actual trysts are quite high. Don’t know about western europe but in the Mughal empire of India and the Ottomans, the Zenana (female Quarters) were regulated as well as protected by Eunuchs.

  3. Pingback: Loves of the Dragon, Mothers of Chaos: The Ladies of Aegon IV, Part 2 | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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