Loves of the Dragon, Mothers of Chaos: The Ladies of Aegon IV, Part 1

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.

With the death of Baelor I in 171 AC, the male line of Aegon III died out. A possibility existed, however, for the line of Aegon III to continue, as a few lords and smallfolk briefly considered Princess Daena for the vacant throne. Their arguments, however, fell on deaf ears; the wounds of the Dance were still too raw to allow a woman (especially a woman as wild as Daena) to take the crown.  Instead, Aegon’s plain gold circlet was placed on the brow of his younger brother, Viserys.  The realm looked set to prosper under the stable, mature prince – until Viserys’ death just a year after becoming king. The court of his son, Aegon IV, would be the polar opposite of that of Baelor: the ladies of Aegon’s court would earn favor not through stifling piety but through the embrace of immorality, with official mistresses being exalted and richly rewarded.  The lascivious court would set the tone for one of the most infamous periods of Targaryen history, but its lurid exterior hid dangerous consequences.  The same bastards whose mothers had been celebrated in turn in this new court would echo their mothers’ bitter rivalries, and their respective factions would nearly tear the realm apart in another brutal civil war.

Larra Rogare: The Lovely and Lonely Lyseni

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Larra Rogare with Aegon (image by Magali Villeneuve)

Aegon’s character faults cannot be excused, but one can see the foundations of at least some of those faults (especially with respect to women) in his early childhood.  His father Viserys had been taken prisoner during the Dance of the Dragons and held for years in the Free City of Lys.  At the age of 12, Viserys was married to the 19 year old Larra Rogare, the eldest daughter of a wealthy and powerful Lysene banking family.  Tall and beautiful, with the Valyrian looks prevalent in Lys, Larra returned with Viserys to Westeros in 134 AC.  Three children were born to them in rapid succession: Prince Aegon in 135, Prince Aemon in 136, and Princess Naerys in 138.   

Yet Larra, as Maester Yandel notes, was never a woman who felt comfortable in the Westerosi court, and she returned to Lys the year after Naerys’ birth.  Certainly, Westerosi customs and culture differ greatly from those in Essos (so much so that another bride from the Free Cities, Mellario of Norvos, would later abandon Dorne for her homeland after her consort insisted on fostering away their elder son).  Perhaps Larra also felt that other Westerosi ladies looked down on her background; while families like the Starks, Lannisters, and Arryns had been kings for thousands of years before Aegon’s Conquest, Larra’s family were “only” merchant princes, one of presumably several mercantile houses which influenced Lys’ ruling conclave of magisters.  The Rogare Bank might have waxed powerful in Essos, and Larra’s family been well respected in Lys, but without a sufficiently noble pedigree, Larra was open to criticism from her Westerosi ladies (indeed, it was as much her mother’s exalted French ancestry as her father’s banking wealth that would lead Catherine de’ Medici to marry the future Henry II of France).  Nor did the reputation of Lys assist Larra: famous around the known world for its luxurious brothels and beautiful courtesans, Larra’s native city would have been an easy target for mockery by her detractors. Moreover, without the natural allies that Westerosi brides have (from their houses’ traditional friends), a lady of the Free Cities can find herself a convenient scapegoat (as Larra actually did, when she was falsely implicated in her brothers’ largely nonexistent crimes and besieged in Maegor’s Holdfast for 18 days).  It is no mistake, for example, that the people of Duskendale still revile the Myrish Lady Serala Darklyn for her husband’s Defiance, even as they mourn Lord Denys and his fellow (native) Darklyns.  

Trapped in an alien land whose language she would have spoken only secondarily, virtually abandoned by her husband once he became old enough to assist in his brother’s government and possibly snubbed by her ladies for her “common” birth and Lysene origins, Lady Larra would have been a very lonely figure indeed.

Her departure, however, left Viserys with a broken heart and three children under four years of age.  With Aegon III so withdrawn and unwilling to treat with his vassals, it fell to Viserys to manage the feudal rapport normally left to the king. Being his brother’s Hand and essentially better half, Viserys had little time to raise children who likely only reminded him of his broken marriage.  Aegon, Aemon, and baby Naerys would have been handed to servants to be raised, never again seeing their beautiful Lysene mother (who died in 145 AC).  Aegon, as the eldest, would have had the best chance of retaining memories of his mother, and Larra’s departure would have taught her elder son a cruel early lesson: to link women to abandonment and hurt. To love a woman is to risk losing her, Aegon might have thought; with such a lesson, he would never be able to trust a woman completely again.

Falena Stokeworth: Aegon’s Girl Next Door

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Falena Stokeworth (image by Magali Villeneuve)

By the time Aegon entered his teens, he exhibited all the charm – and faults – that would come to define his personality.  Handsome, witty, and athletic in his youth, the prince was also capricious, selfish, and lustful.  With this dangerous combination of characteristics, it would not take long for him to embark on the lifelong campaign of sexual escapades that would become his calling card.

In 149 AC, Aegon began the first of these escapades.  Lady Falena Stokeworth was 24 years old, a full ten years the prince’s elder, when she made her first appearance in Aegon’s life. Presumably, Falena had come to court with her Stokeworth family – an easy trip, given Castle Stokeworth’s closeness to the capital. The reason for the trip is unknown, but may have been connected to Falena’s marriage prospects; Lady Falena was still unmarried in her mid-twenties, an unusually late age for a Westerosi noblewoman. Certainly, although the Stokeworths were never considered particularly rich or dynastically important, they were regarded as suitable brides for the respected Darklyns of Duskendale; a Stokeworth had even served as Hand, to Aenys I, and Lady Maia Stokeworth had been influential enough to start the rumors that Baelor had been poisoned by his uncle and Hand, Aegon’s father Viserys.   

Yet Falena remained unmarried at the late age of 24. Perhaps Falena’s family had brought her to court as a last effort of finding her a husband.  With the most important lords in the realm secure in council and court positions, Lord Stokeworth might have hoped one of their unmarried relations or noble members of their households would look to his pretty maiden daughter as a potential bride.  

Whatever her nominal reason for being at court, Falena soon found a new mission: an affair with the 14-year-old Prince Aegon.

Aegon was only fourth in line to the throne in 149 AC, with two male cousins who would have been expected to have heirs of their own in the future.  Though he could not give the sort of lavish rewards he would later bestow on his royal mistresses, Aegon could still boast the beautiful Valyrian features only found in the royal family, making him an attractive partner. Indeed, despite his young age, he was a great prize for any woman who could become his favorite.  The “dragonseed” Targaryen bastards on Dragonstone had been well-favored by their fathers; Falena or her family, perhaps, saw no reason why another royal bastard should not be likewise feted and the mother rewarded. In that ambition, Falena’s status would have worked to her advantage: without a husband (who would have a legal claim to any child of hers), Falena could assure that any bastard she had at court would be undoubtedly the prince’s.

The affair of Aegon and Falena lasted for two years.  While Aegon might have taken other women during that time, Falena was certainly his first lover.  Undoubtedly pretty (Aegon was a man addicted to female beauty), Falena’s convenience to the capital and seeming maturity (even if she herself was still a maiden) would have made her attractive to a prince just beginning a career of licentiousness.  For her part, Falena saw a quickly maturing prince who, in his prime, would be described as the handsomest and most dashing royal of his generation, both witty and athletically gifted.  As a woman who had no known romantic prospects, Falena might have been flattered to receive the attentions of a handsome member of the royal family (despite his youth).  Her family might have pushed her forward, but Falena would have had, at least aesthetically, a better experience with Aegon than some of her mistress successors.

The prince might have been pleased with his choice of lover, but his father Viserys was absolutely not. The Hand’s own father Daemon had earned a dark reputation partially through his many paramours, and the scandals around the supposed bastards of his mother Rhaenyra were only too well known. Falena was a noblewoman, and the crown risked the enmity of her Stokeworth relations and allies (assuming they had not pushed her forward to begin with) by Aegon’s continued affair.  Viserys swiftly separated the lovers and married Falena to Lucas Lothston, his master-at-arms.  It was a step down, perhaps, from what Falena might have gotten in a marriage partner, but for Viserys, the match was adequate for a deflowered noblewoman in scandal (Delena Florent would later be married to one of her father’s household knights after bearing a bastard to Robert Baratheon).  

Yet Falena would not leave the prince completely empty-handed.  Viserys persuaded his royal brother to give Lucas Lothston the vacant seat of Harrenhal (in one of the amusing coincidences of history, the last family to hold Harrenhal was House Strong, whose son Harwin had been known for his very well-known affair with another royal, Rhaenyra).  The move fulfilled Viserys’ short-term desire – to remove Falena from his son  – but gave Falena an unexpected boon. Harrenhal was one of the greatest prizes a lord could be awarded, with fertile lands and the largest castle in the Seven Kingdoms.  Lucas had been just a master-of-arms; now he would be an influential lord, and Falena a far greater lady than even her Stokeworth name could have earned her.  Unintentionally, Viserys had taught Aegon’s future lovers a lesson: a liaison with the prince could bring great rewards.

Viserys had more immediate concerns in mind. His son had shown himself too licentious and open to the favors of ambitious courtly ladies.  Marriage may have seemed the perfect means of calming his wayward son, settling him into the happy domesticity which he himself so lacked.  Indeed, Viserys thought he had just the right woman in mind for Aegon.

Naerys Targaryen: Princess-Bride, Princess-Martyr

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Naerys Targaryen (image credit to Amok)

The year 153 AC may arguably be called the Targaryens’ annus horribilis.  The year marked not only the death of the last dragon – a twisted, stunted female whose passing laid the first nail in the coffin of the dynasty – but the marriage of Aegon and Naerys, perhaps the most spectacularly unsuccessful royal marriage in the history of the Seven Kingdoms.

The two could not have had more divergent characters.  While Aegon was a courtly, dashing, and thoroughly amoral prince, Naerys was one of the most pious and delicate ladies of the entire dynasty.  Aegon and Aemon were both robust, athletic boys from their childhoods, but Naerys was frail from an early age, and drawn to feminine pursuits: sewing, embroidery, and music (being an accomplished harpist).  She had something of the Valyrian beauty common to her House – silver-gold hair and large, deep purple eyes – but with an almost ethereal touch; her skin was so pale it seemed translucent, and her frame was small and frail.  She had only two pleasures in life: a deep devotion to the Seven and a close relationship with her likewise pious (if not as committed) brother Aemon.  The soon-to-be Dragonknight was, according to the princess, the only person who could make her laugh – an important quality for this lonely only daughter, who had lost her mother at such an early age.  Like Oberyn and Elia a little more than a century later, Aemon and Naerys were a complementary pair: he, the supremely skilled warrior and devoted brother; she, the delicate and feminine princess.

Had Naerys been one of Jaehaerys’ many daughters, her wish to become a septa may have been fulfilled, even encouraged; her naturally pious attitude, together with her delicate health (weakening her appeal as a dynastic match), would have made her an ideal candidate for his conciliatory scheme with the Faith.  As it happened, however, Naerys was Viserys’ only daughter, and her fate was altogether less kind.  Why Viserys insisted on marrying his elder son and only daughter together is unclear, but not unreasonable. Perhaps Viserys wished to emphasize their “Targaryen-ness” to downplay criticisms of his own marriage.  Having wed the very wealthy but lower-born (by Westerosi standards) Larra Rogare, Viserys may not have wished to encourage further questioning as to the legitimacy of his line.  Like the marriage of Aegon II to his sister Helaena – used by Alicent Hightower and the green faction to show Aegon’s adherence to Targaryen tradition and, thus, fitness for the throne – the marriage of Aegon and Naerys would remind everyone that Viserys’ children were true Targaryens, whatever their mother’s pedigree.

So the 15-year-old Naerys was wed to her 18-year-old brother, and almost immediately the marriage began to disintegrate.  Yandel notes that Aemon quarreled with his brother during the wedding feast; though we do not know the cause of their argument, the fight probably centered around shaming the new bride (by Aegon flirting with other ladies, perhaps, or by an overemphasis on the already humiliating bedding traditions).  Certainly, Naerys would be said to have wept during her bedding – little wonder, having been publicly shamed by the wedding guests and finally separated from her beloved brother-protector. Her marriage would bring her one joy (her son Daeron, born the same year) but much more sorrow.

The newly married prince seems not merely to have disliked his wife, but to have vehemently loathed her from the first; their marriage would see many petty cruelties from husband to wife.  Daeron’s birth nearly killed the frail Naerys, and even the Grand Maester warned that another pregnancy would kill her.  Naerys begged Aegon to live in chastity with her as brother and sister, having fulfilled her wifely obligations by providing him a son and heir. Aegon – in a rare insight into his famous wit – merely reminded Naerys that a “brother-sister” relationship was what they currently enjoyed, and forced Naerys to continue their marital relationship.  Bowing to Aegon’s command, Naerys conceived at least three more times, and her last experience proved fatal.

Nor did Aegon’s cruelty end there. While at a tourney some time during his reign, Aegon intended to present the crown of the Queen of Love and Beauty to his then-current mistress (her identity is unknown, though the timing and nature of the action suggests Barba Bracken more than any of the other official royal mistresses).  Such an act would have defied every chivalric convention in Westeros; while the crown certainly carries romantic overtones (totally lacking in the royal marriage), the rules of chivalry demand that a married man present the crown to his wife (if she is present), as a testament to his devotion toward her.  Moreover, Naerys, as Queen of Westeros, was undoubtedly the highest ranking woman present; to bypass her and award the crown to a lower-ranking woman would be to insult her supreme royal rank (consider Barristan Selmy, who when considering his own intended recipient of the crown he failed to win at Harrenhal mentally sorted his choice after Rhaella and Elia, the queen and crown princess). Unwilling to watch his beloved sister be abused further by the brother he despised, Prince Aemon (now on the Kingsguard) entered the tourney disguised as a mystery knight, the Knight of Tears, and won. Aemon was free to present Naerys with the crown – a symbol of his Kingsguard devotion to his queen or a proper sign of love from brother to sister, but in either case a testament of his protective desire to spare her shame by any means within his power.

Yet Aemon’s actions – at the tourney and in his continued devotion to his sister – would form the foundation of ugly rumors about his and Naerys’ relationship.  Songs and stories in the modern age of Westeros seem universally to portray Aemon and Naerys as representative of a perfect – and entirely romantic – love.  Certainly, Aemon’s action at the tourney did not help his own cause; of the three other examples of awarding crowns to ladies at tourneys, all were from men to their romantic interests (Ser Bonifer Hasty to Princess Rhaella, Jorah Mormont to Lynesse Hightower, and Rhaegar Targaryen to Lyanna Stark).  Nor could it be doubted that Aemon and Naerys were very close, and that Naerys would likely have spent – and enjoyed – more time in Aemon’s company than in that of her frequently straying husband (indeed, Aemon is said to have joined the Kingsguard the year after Naerys’ marriage, perhaps as a way of ensuring he stayed by her side always).   With such clear devotion, scurrilous rumors emerged (though only after the deaths of Aegon’s brother and queen, with the exception of Ser Morgil Hastwyck) that Prince Daeron was not the king’s son, but Aemon’s – a rumor that would lead to much bloodshed and grief in years to come.

Of course, even if Naerys and Aemon truly loved one another romantically, it may still be reasonably doubted whether the queen would then commit adultery with her beloved brother.  One of Naerys’ key defining characteristics was her devotion to the Faith, which preaches marital fidelity as pleasing to the Father and Mother above and stigmatizes bastards as born of lust and shame.  Aemon himself, while not as pious as his sister, certainly shared her faith at least in part; more importantly, perhaps, Aemon took his Kingsguard vows very seriously, protecting the brother he hated even at the cost of his life.  Engaging in a sexual relationship would have put Naerys and Aemon on the same consummately immoral level as Aegon himself; abandonment of faith, duty, and dignity seems too great a price for either of these siblings to have paid, even for their mutual love.

For the moment, of course, Naerys was simply Aegon’s wife.  No woman could likely have kept Aegon in marital fidelity; the king was simply too capricious and unpredictable.  Yet Naerys, of all women, was the least likely candidate to do so.  She embodied everything Aegon despised – piety, seriousness, frailty, and attachment to the schemes of his hated father. Though it would be two years before Aegon would meet the second of his nine favorites, one cannot doubt that he became unfaithful to Naerys almost immediately after their wedding – a pattern that would continue for their entire unhappy marriage.

Megette: A Merry Little Wife

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Megette (image by Magali Villeneuve)

After two years of marriage, Aegon had secured himself an heir, but Daeron was the only positive product of his parent’s union. Prince Aegon had grown only less inclined to fidelity with his nuptial experiences, his already-weak attachment to his sister-wife deteriorating rapidly. It would not be long before he sought another mistress to take Falena Stokeworth’s vacant place.

Enter Megette, known to history as Merry Meg.  Aegon took a number of lovers from the lower classes of Westerosi society (indeed, with 900 reported lovers, the vast majority of these women were likely peasants or commoners), yet Megette was the only one to earn the dubious distinction of being one of his “true loves”.  Megette was also the only one of these nine definitely to have been married when Aegon first pursued her (although Bellegere Otherys may have had “husbands” across Westeros and Essos). In 155 AC, while Aegon was riding near Fairmarket, his horse threw a shoe; the prince, in searching for a blacksmith, instead came across the smith’s pretty young wife, Megette.  Aegon purchased Meg from the blacksmith for seven gold dragons (an unromantic detail presumably left out of most stories about the pair) and subsequently established her in her own home in King’s Landing.

For four years, Aegon and Merry Meg would live virtually as a married couple (a mummer even wedding the two in a secret ceremony).  Although Megette seems to have been almost constantly pregnant throughout their relationship – having four daughters in four years –  Aegon and Meg seem to have had a happy relationship. Megette represented everything Aegon did not enjoy in his relationship with his wife.  Pretty and buxom, Meg had all the earthiness, health, and fertility which Naerys so sorely lacked.  Her nickname also suggests that Megette was simply a fun personality, someone who could be a true friend to the king in a way that his quiet, ethereal sister-wife never could (indeed, Meg may be the inspiration for the bawdy song “Meggette [sic] Was a Merry Maid, a Merry Maid Was She”).  Perhaps Megette even gave Aegon some much-needed sense of family.  Having been abandoned by his mother early, with a hated father and a sister more septa than wife, Aegon could with Meg play at having a real family: a loving wife (a role for which Meg was uniquely suited among Aegon’s nine), a home of their own, and a multitude of children.

Aegon would doubtless have grown bored of Megette eventually, but how long the relationship might have lasted was not to be tested.  Prince Viserys, learning of his son’s relationship, separated the lovers immediately.  A common-born mistress may be common enough (if still shameful) for the lords of Westeros, but Viserys presumably had little patience for his son living openly with a married woman; trying to keep the realm together while Daeron I went to war, Viserys could not afford to have his son making a mockery of the Faith on the home front.  Megette was duly returned to her husband and the bastard girls sent to the Faith to be trained as septas – a conciliatory move, perhaps, on Viserys’ part, to ensure the Faith raised no loud objections to Aegon’s former conduct.  Megette herself had the most horrific end of Aegon’s nine: resuming her former life, Megette was within a year of her separation beaten to death by her husband.  We cannot know exactly why the nameless blacksmith murdered Merry Meg, but her death marked the end of the third-longest relationship Aegon would ever have.  His next mistress would not be an attempt to play house, but an altogether politically more dangerous affair.

Cassella Vaith: Devotion from the Dunes of Dorne

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Cassella Vaith (image by Magali Villeneuve)

158 AC was not simply the year Aegon’s last bastard by Megette was born.  Far more politically importantly, in that year Daeron the Young Dragon achieved the submission of Dorne, that great victory which had so frustratingly eluded his forebearers.  At the Martells’ seat of Sunspear, the Prince of Dorne and 40 of his lords did what Princess Meria (and the Martells’ own words) swore never to do: bend the knee to the dragons. Dorne had been brought into the realm, and Westeros was now truly a united kingdom; Aegon’s vision was complete.

Peace, however, did not come without costs. The following year, King Daeron sent 14 highborn men and women to the capital, to ensure Dorne’s future loyalty.  The taking of hostages is a common practice for victorious Westerosi conquerors.  From the ancient days of King Gerold “the Great” Lannister (who hanged one ironborn hostage every time their countrymen raided his shores) to the modern age of Daenerys Targaryen (who used the hostage children of the Meereenese nobility as her own royal pages and cupbearers), noble hostages have been used to keep their parents and relatives loyal to their captors.  The 14 sent to King’s Landing, of the greatest families of Dorne, would – it was hoped – keep the peace in Daeron’s great conquest.

Aegon himself appears to have done no fighting in the Dornish War of Conquest (unlike his brother Aemon).  Instead, the prince secured for himself the task of escorting the 14 hostages from Dorne to King’s Landing (rather easier, one might suppose, than the bloody combat which had necessitated it). One of those captives was a young woman named Cassella Vaith.  Her Vaith ancestors were Andal adventurers, settling on the border of Dorne’s deep sands by the river which shares their name.  The Lords of the Red Dunes were sworn bannermen to the Princes of Dorne and guardians of the River Vaith (a critical role in the arid Dornish landscape); that Cassella had been selected as one of the 14 speaks to her family’s relative importance in Dornish hierarchy.

Most likely, Aegon neither knew nor cared about the Dornish order of nobility.  He did, however, care a great deal about his pretty new captive.  Tall and willowy, with white-blond hair and green eyes, Cassella was a beauty by any standard.  Indeed, Cassella was the opposite of the king’s previous lover in every way.  Meg had been a commoner; Cassella was of the noblest blood of Dorne. Meg had been merely pretty, in a common way; Cassella boasted rare, obviously aristocratic features.  Meg had been a blacksmith’s wife; Cassella was a noble maiden.

So when the hostage party arrived in King’s Landing, Aegon wasted no time in installing Cassella in his own palatial apartments.  For around a year, no more than two, Lady Cassella owned Aegon’s heart.  Perhaps Aegon thought, by taking a Dornishwoman as his lover, he would be able to experience the freedoms Dornishwomen are said to pursue and enjoy in their amorous affairs.  Even if Cassella was not as sexually adventurous as some of her countrywomen, her dedication to Aegon would have tickled his vanity – for a time. Falena had been a (relatively) mature first adventure; Meg had been his play-wife, but both knew she had a very real husband at home. Cassella was both alone (far from home and family) and totally devoted to Aegon. The prince, for perhaps the first time in his life, was the subject of true, passionate, unadulterated adoration – a fact which doubtless fed his inherently massive ego.

If Aegon was enjoying his dalliance with Cassella, though, his father Viserys would most certainly not have been as pleased.  Cassella was not intended to be Aegon’s plaything; she was a hostage, and at any moment could be summoned for execution should the Dornish prove faithless. Having his son grow too attached to one of the hostages could jeopardize the entire conqueror-conquered relationship between the crown and its new vassal state. If Viserys, as Hand, showed any refusal to execute one of the hostages simply for being his son’s paramour, the Dornish would have no reason to respect their new overlords, and the fragile peace would be shattered completely.

As it happened, Viserys need not have worried.  When Daeron I was murdered in a Dornish ambush in 160 AC, the forms of Westerosi diplomacy mandated that the 14 Dornish hostages be executed – including Cassella. Lady Cassella might have thought herself safe under the protection of her royal lover, but Aegon – in his characteristically cruel manner – returned Cassella to her place among the other prisoners to await execution. Perhaps Aegon selfishly did not wish to risk his place in the succession (and his own neck) by trying to protect his Vaith lover when the law condemned her to die; perhaps, as Yandel states, Aegon was simply bored of her and childishly did not care what happened to her after he discarded her.  If Cassella had borne him a child, Aegon might have been more invested in her survival and their future; as it was, she was simply not worth the saving.

Whatever the reason, the cruel separation seems to have broken something permanently in Cassella.  The accession of King Baelor meant that the Dornish hostages were returned to their homeland, rather than executed, and Cassella – escorted by the new king – left King’s Landing forever. Heartbroken over the loss of her prince, Cassella never married, convinced instead that her true love Aegon would send for her again.  Lady Cassella ended her days as the old and “mad” Lady Vaith whom Ser Duncan the Tall and Prince Aegon met on their Dornish travels.

Aegon had now taken a Westerosi commoner and two noble ladies into his bed. Falena and Megette had been taken away from him, but the relationship with Cassella was the first time Aegon himself put a lover aside. Her beauty had initially attracted him, but her clingy devotion had ultimately prevented her from becoming his long-term mistress. The same would not be said of the next of Aegon’s nine.

Bellegere Otherys: Not a Pirate, a Pirate Queen

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Bellegere Otherys (image by Magali Villeneuve)

By 161 AC, Aegon was 26 years old – still handsome, still charming, and still utterly addicted to worldly pleasures. Though he had had three official mistresses and any number of unofficial affairs, Aegon had not forgotten his marriage (however much Princess Naerys might have wished he had). Yet Naerys had grown no stronger after the birth of Daeron, in 153 AC.  When she fell pregnant in 161 AC and nearly died from it, therefore, intervention became necessary.  Naerys needed time to recover – impossible so long as Prince Aegon stayed and insisted his wife perform her full marital duties. The only way to remove Aegon was to send him for an extended period out of the capital.  Aegon had proved himself no soldier (and had already squandered any chances for Dornish positions with the Cassella Vaith affair), but perhaps (or so Viserys must have hoped) he could be a diplomat.

Thus was Prince Aegon sent, on his cousin Baelor’s orders, to the Free City of Braavos. (Lys, which would later be used as an unofficial exile for Prince Maekar’s troublesome second son Aerion, was naturally out of the question; not only was Lys infamous for its brothels – to which Aegon needed no encouragement – but it was also the home of the Rogares, family of Aegon’s abandoning mother.)  Perhaps Baelor (and Viserys) thought the sober industry and cooler climate of Braavos would temper Aegon’s fiery nature and inspire him to maturity.  If so, it was a hopeless idea. We have no record of Aegon actually doing anything on his mission (giving further credence that Aegon was dispatched merely to keep him away from Westeros). Instead, he treated his diplomatic venture as a pleasurable vacation, conducting yet another affair.

Bellegere Otherys was perhaps the most unusual of Aegon’s nine.  She and Serenei of Lys were the only two non-Westerosi ladies among his official mistresses, but only Bellegere was truly free from Westerosi culture. The daughter of a Summer Islands envoy and granddaughter of a Braavosi merchant, Bellegere seems to have inherited the progressive, independent attitudes of her father’s people and the pragmatic business sense of her mother’s Braavosi antecedents.  While the rest of Aegon’s nine (save Megette) were ladies who had never worked a day in their lives – women who had been born and bred to be courtly ornaments – Bellegere was a professional trader and occasional smuggler and pirate.  Captain of her own ship, the Widow Wind, Bellegere was a mature, shrewd personality by the time Aegon sailed into her life.

Indeed, that personality may be what so attracted the prince.  In two of his three previous affairs, Aegon had been the unquestionably dominant member of the pair; Meg had played his dutiful wife in a cozy mock-up of home, and Cassella had clung to her lover with tireless, and eventually wearisome, devotion. (Falena had been the prince’s elder, but even she bowed to Westerosi convention and married when commanded by the Hand of the King to do so.)  Bellegere was the first – and only – truly independent woman Aegon would make his mistress.  Neither tied to Braavos (indeed, her profession ensured that she would spend weeks and perhaps even months away from the city) nor dependent on the prince for favor, Bellegere could enjoy the prince for who he was: a handsome occasional distraction from what was undoubtedly a busy, stressful work life.  That their affair lasted for ten years can be attributed not to some sudden feelings of fidelity on Aegon’s part but to the irregular course of the affair itself.  Left alone in Braavos, with no way of knowing when (or even if) Bellegere would return, the ordinarily capricious Aegon had no opportunity to become bored of his mysterious lover.

Bellegere’s independence manifested even beyond her trading profession. Yandel notes that Bellegere was rumored to have had a dozen lovers in as many ports around Essos and Westeros, and considered Aegon simply one of the many.  Perhaps Bellegere, in taking a multitude of lovers, drew upon the traditions of her Summer Islands ancestors, who considered sexual relations both a high form of worship and an expression of art, or perhaps she merely took the lovers she desired when she desired them (much like Aegon himself, though she was presumably less ruled by lust).  Certainly, having made her own way in the world by her wit and hard work, Bellegere would have had no need – or great desire – to rely on any man, including a selfish (if handsome) prince in her home city. Her emotional investment in the relationship was low; though Bellegere gave Aegon two children (possibly three, though Yandel is doubtful of her son Balerion’s paternity), her non-attachment to Aegon allowed her to enjoy other men when she left him, and continue to enjoy them after he abandoned her and Braavos forever.  

Of course, Aegon almost certainly did not spend his days in Braavos pining for Bellegere.  In a city famed for its colorful, witty courtesans, the prince cannot be thought to have abstained. With these women, Aegon might have found a pleasant combination of characteristics kept distinct in Westeros.  Free women (unlike the bed slaves of Lys and Volantis), the courtesans of Braavos displayed all the wit and graceful bearing of any well-bred Westerosi lady.  More refined than the whores of King’s Landing, yet open with their favors to the wealthy and powerful men who could afford them, these women could be both cultured intimates and physical lovers.  Desired by the greatest merchants and princes, dueled over by flamboyant and deadly bravos, Braavos’ courtesans were well-trained to handle the passions of their admirers with cool composure – in short, a perfect outlet for Aegon as he awaited Bellegere’s return, or his own return to Westeros.  

The fate of Bellegere herself was connected to these very women; it may well have been the happiest of any of Aegon’s nine.  At some point, almost certainly after her affair with Aegon had ended, Bellegere became a courtesan, the first Black Pearl of Braavos. The greatest Braavosi courtesans invent poetic and highly themed identities for themselves to add to their allure – the Merling Queen, for example, who is always attended by her four young Mermaids, or the Poetess, who is never seen without a book in hand.  Bellegere was no exception.  Doubtless Bellegere emphasized her “pirate queen” background (lending her an air of dangerous appeal) as well as her affair with a dragon prince; Braavos may have had no love for old Valyria, but the dragonlords’ descendants who ruled in Westeros were nevertheless inhumanly beautiful enough to make Bellegere the envy of her peers. Her elder daughter with Aegon, the extremely beautiful Bellenora, became the Black Pearl after her mother retired, beginning a dynasty of courtesans reigning in Braavos to much acclaim to this day. Bellegere had profited immensely, using Aegon for pleasure during their affair and mining his reputation for her own – and her descendants’ – fame and fortune for generations after his departure.

That Aegon returned to Westeros intermittently during his Braavosi adventure may be presumed.  Not only was ten years a long time for the second in line to the Iron Throne to spend away from the governance and ceremonies of the Westerosi court, but Aegon himself is known to have conducted another affair during this time.  Around 170 AC, Aegon began an affair with his cousin Daena, eldest daughter of his uncle Aegon III.  The tryst was likely brief – Daena was still imprisoned in the Maidenvault at this time, and both parties seem to have enjoyed the danger of sneaking Daena out of her apartments more than each other – but resulted in Aegon’s most famous bastard, Daemon.  The boy would not be acknowledged as Aegon’s for twelve years, but even from his birth Aegon’s involvement was suspected. In defiance of the pious King Baelor, the baby was raised in the Red Keep; as he grew older, the boy who so resembled the Conqueror was educated in schoolroom and yard by the castle’s own maesters and master-at-arms.  

Young Daemon’s upbringing might have amused Aegon – his first undisputed bastard son being raised as though a legitimate royal prince, doubtless to the dismay and exasperation of his father Viserys – but such a childhood would have dire consequences in years to come. Yet for Aegon, a man who delighted in the novel and fell bored just as quickly, consequences were someone else’s problem; his eldest boy would be his delight and, much later, the realm’s sorrow.

Thanks for reading! This is the end of Part 1 of Loves of the Dragon, Mothers of Chaos; Part 2 will be coming in the not-too-distant future. 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!

37 Comments

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

37 responses to “Loves of the Dragon, Mothers of Chaos: The Ladies of Aegon IV, Part 1

  1. ACVG

    Great read, any insight as to why Yandel doubts Bellegeres son to be Aegons?

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!

      Yandel offers no explanation as to why he thinks Balerion was not really Aegon’s son. It may be because the boy didn’t look “Valyrian” enough. It may stem from Bellergere’s well-rumored keeping of many lovers across the two continents. It may relate to Balerion’s apparently never seeking out royal favors, despite being probably the king’s oldest bastard son (Daemon was not born until 170, but Aegon’s affair with Bellegere had gone on from 160). It may be a combination of all of these.

      Of course, keep in mind Yandel is kind of random about what rumors he believes. He seems very on board, for example, about Jeyne Lothston being Aegon’s daughter, despite there being little apparent evidence either way.

      • Crystal

        I like to think that Balerion followed Mom in the maritime biz and steered well clear of Westeros. If he was like his sister, he might have thought that Braavos was the better place to be – and I don’t blame him.

  2. Sir Theodred of Pennytree

    Great essay, but i alwais had the idea that aegon had fought in dorne,maybe briefly, but he was energetic and athletic and i think is mencioned that he was pretty good with sword and lance in his youth, at least in the practice yard.

    • Thanks! Glad you enjoyed the essay!

      Nothing in TWOIAF notes that Aegon actually did any fighting in Dorne – in contrast to his brother Aemon, who is mentioned several times as being wounded and eventually captured and held prisoner by the Wyls. Aegon was certainly well trained, as virtually all young noblemen are, in swordplay, but the extent to which he actually fought seems minor or even nonexistent. Perhaps Viserys was more willing to overlook Aegon not fighting if he had his brave second son making a name for himself martially (especially if Aegon wheedled out this “diplomatic” position of escorting the king’s hostages – Viserys might have though he had the makings of a politician, in his own image). Aegon was also involved at this time with Megette, and she conceived on a seemingly regular basis, having four girls between 155 and 158.

  3. Lecen

    Excellent essay!

  4. Space Oddity

    Let me first state I’m enjoying this series. And having said that, I have to mention a personal theory about the Seven Kingdoms’ own Henry VIII, which is that he is not simply Henry VIII. While England’s most notorious monarch is definitely the primary source, I’d argue that Saxony and Poland’s own Augustus the Strong is another–like Aegon the Unworthy, his womanizing verged on the erotomaniacal, like Aegon he numbered amongst his mistresses a black woman, and quite possibly his own daughter, and like Aegon, he had only one legitimate child, a son, and included among his acknowledged bastards one famed for his military ability.

    Obviously, it’s not a perfect match–Martin blends and mixes–but there’s more than a passing resemblance there…

  5. Crystal

    Poor Naerys. She’s one of the Westerosi women I feel most sorry for; same for Megette. Both these women seem to be the biggest *victims* of Aegon’s callous philandering. Bellegere, (and later Missy Blackwood) seem to have come out of the whole mess unscathed. Bellegere, in particular, was not in a position to be victimized, as you pointed out – she earned her own living and was too formidable to be dicked around (ha ha) by Aegon or any other Westerosi. It helped that Braavos had a place for independent women that Westeros, outside of Dorne and Bear Island (and probably the Neck as well, if Meera is typical of her region) did not.

    Viserys putting Megette’s daughters into motherhouses made a lot of sense outside of placating the Faith, as well – it ensured that they couldn’t acquire husbands, and, later, sons, who might want to put in a claim against the Iron Throne. Look at the awful mess that Aegon’s legitimization of his Great Bastards wrought. If Aegon was playing at being married to Megette, then a son of Alysanne or Lily or whoever might make a case that Aegon really *was* married to Megette (given Targ polygamy precedents), therefore their daughters were legitimate, and that could come back to bite the trueborn Targs in the butt – as, in fact, the claim of the Blackfyre line did. Even if a woman couldn’t hold the Iron Throne, her son could claim rights via descent, as Aegon III and later Robert Baratheon did. So making sure those daughters had no (legitimate) children was a smart move dynastically.

    • Space Oddity

      Don’t forget poor Jeyne Lothston, who was probably sexually abused by at least one, and quite possibly by both of her parents. And got the pox from Aegon the Ever-charming on top of that.

      Honestly, I find Falena Stokeworth to be the least likable mistress by… a significant margin.

      • Crystal

        Agreed. Falena does not win Mother of the Year awards. Nor does Barba Bracken and her father, for pimping out sister Bethany to King Charmless. Poor Bethany didn’t meet a good end, either. (I think she was intended as an expy of Catherine Howard, Henry VIII’s fifth wife.)

        If Jeyne was indeed Aegon’s daughter, then the Unworthy one is right up there with Craster as Worst Dad In Westeros. (Tywin is definitely in the running, but at least he didn’t rape any of his children. Though what he did to Tyrion and Tysha is an equivalent.) As it is, having a three-way with some fat old guy, who may or may not be your dad, and YOUR OWN MOTHER is just…ick. Ick ick ick. Too bad Jeyne couldn’t high-tail it to the nearest motherhouse.

        Team Bellegere all the way! (And Missy Blackwood seems to have been a genuinely good person.)

      • Oh boy are you going to enjoy Part 2! I go into detail on Barba and Bethany and Jeyne (and you’re right on the nose with Katherine Howard)

    • You’re right about Viserys’ move. It’s no secret that the Faith has been used multiple times in House Targaryen (as well as other houses) to trim excessive branches. Jaehaerys and Alysanne gave two of their daughters to be trained as septas – a nice conciliatory move, of course, for a king who wished peace between crown and Faith, but an additionally beneficial way to ensure potentially troublesome branches create no succession problems in the future. Likewise Corlys Velaryon suggested placing Dowager Queen Alicent and Queen Helaena with the Faith during the Dance, to remove them from political power.

      Hope you enjoyed the essay!

  6. Space Oddity

    If Maergery Tyrell is the best parts of Anne Boleyn, Barba is apparently a combination of the worst parts and almost every nasty rumor written about her afterwards.

    Except the extra nipples and sixth finger.

    • Space Oddity

      And having said that–she’s still less… creepy than Lady Sexual Predator.

    • Barba is very much her presumable namesake Barbara Palmer, mistress of Charles II. Both were dark haired beauties who had no love lost between themselves and their lovers’ queens, and both were eventually put aside for gentler rivals who were respectful of their respective queens

      • Space Oddity

        Ahh. Mix and matching. (Such as Bethany’s clear Catherine Howard stand-in status.)

        Should I mention I see a dash of Diane de Poitiers in Falena Stokeworth/Lothston? Mixed of course with the gothic creepiness that seems to tie in with Harrenhal…

      • Ser Friendzone

        If Barba Bracken is Barbara Palmer, does that make Missy Blackwood Nell “Pray, good people, be civil! I am the Protestant whore” Gwyn?

        Great job to all of you on this series. I’m so excited for all the Blackfyre goodness coming up soon!

      • Melissa is to me a little Louise de Kerouaille (I may have misspelled that), but a little more (strangely enough) Jane Seymour.

        Thanks for the praise as well! It’s glad to know you’re liking the series!

  7. KrimzonStriker

    There really isn’t much to Naerys to really hate, I mean she’s such a passive presence he might as well be angry at the breeze. I can see her attitude annoying Aegon IV but I generally attribute whatever abuse he inflicted on her as a way to twist the knife against Aemon primarily, and later Daeron.

    • What I think Aegon hated about Naerys – because I think you’re right, Naerys is such a meek personality that she is herself not really hate-worthy – is what she represented. She was piety – something the consummately amoral Aegon loathed. She was frailty – something he, a vigorous young man, disdained (it’s no coincidence his first mistress after his marriage was Megette, a woman who bore him four children and presumably had what Marie Antoinette once called “rude peasant health”). She was the embodiment of his hated father’s forcing him to do something.

      • KrimzonStriker

        Piety and fragility would all be extremely annoying for someone who emobides the exact opposite, but only that. At the same time if he resented his forced marriage then him constantly demanding she fulfill his right to her as her husband seems like the opposite of demonstrating that, which is why I think the underlying factors point toward his jealousy of Aemon and later resentment of Daeron. Aegon IV might never have liked Naerys, but his outright abuse of her speaks to a hatred that I don’t think Naery’s can generate on her own.

      • Crystal

        I think this is all true, and I also agree that Aegon abused Naerys to get back at Aemon – who could never be nicknamed “Unworthy,” and was respected and admired by all. And it was a way to get back at Daeron, who Aegon could never *prove* was not his son so he was kind of stuck with the guy.

        But I also think it was to be sadistic in the way some people are cruel to kittens or puppies – who could hurt something small and defenseless? There are people who love to hurt the defenseless and I think Aegon was one of them.

        What stands out about Aegon, to me, is how utterly selfish and petty he was. Maegor was cruel, but Aegon was *pettily* cruel. The biggest instance was how he didn’t honor Aemon’s memory – Aemon who DIED DEFENDING HIM and Aegon couldn’t bring himself to be grateful.

        And the selfishness – not just legitimizing his bastards, and to hell with the kingdom! Or trying to disinherit his legitimate son, even though that son was a perfectly capable and good man. It was stuff like, “I know – I’ll take a Bracken mistress, have a child by her, and then dump her for a Blackwood and have a child by HER! Never mind that those Houses are feuding enemies from way back and this will just throw fuel on the fire!” No clue that being a King meant doing what’s best for the KINGDOM, not doing what’s best for his peen.

      • Space Oddity

        Don’t forget the “wash her, and send her to my bed”ing around Westeros.

        Which by the way, has given me a nasty idea for ANOTHER reason why Lord Lucas Lothston, a man who Aegon was apparently in the habit of dropping in on over the years, was known as “the Pander”.

  8. Mikron

    Bellegere Otherys, also known as the Black Pearl of Braavos, was a smuggler, trader, sometime pirate, and the captain of the Widow Wind. She was born of a union between a Braavosi merchant’s daughter and an envoy from the Summer Isles.
    Brown Ben Plumm says he is part Braavosi, Summer Islander, Ibbenese, Qohorik, Dornish, Dothraki, and Westerosi. He claims to have a drop of Targaryen blood, which must be why dragons, particularly Viserion, have an affinity for him. He states an old member of House Plumm married a “dragon princess”. He vaguely says that the wedding took place in the reign of Aegon Targaryen. Daenerys points out that there were five Aegons who reigned in Westeros and asks which one, but Ben fails to remember the regnal number requested. Tyrion believes him to have “two drops of dragon blood”, which would imply Targaryen ancestry by some other way as well. Maybe his ancestors, his second “drop of dragon blood” are Aegon IV Targaryen and Bellegere Otherys.

    How does it fit in Moqorros visions? Tyrion ask Moqorro what he sees in the flames, to which he replies dragons, old and young, true and false, bright and dark, with Tyrion in the middle of it all. Is Brown Ben Plumm one of the dragons?

    • The “two drops of dragon blood” comes from a salacious rumor around the time of Princess Elaena Targaryen’s wedding to Lord Ossifer Plumm. Plumm was said to have died on his wedding night, but Elaena still had a child surnamed Plumm. But it was rumored that Ossifer had been too long dead to have fathered baby Viserys, and that the true father was then-Prince (later King) Aegon. That’s the “two drops” – one from Elaena, one from Aegon.

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  11. Just a tiny correction to an otherwise excellent essay — Bellegere Otherys was never a courtesan; that was her daughter with Aegon, Bellenora.

    • Bellegere was most certainly the first Black Pearl; Yandel says that “Aegon’s affair with the Black Pearl lasted ten years”, and in the Mercy chapter, Daena says “”The first Black Pearl was black as a pot of ink,” said Daena. “She was a pirate queen, fathered by a Sealord’s son on a princess from the Summer Isles. A dragon king from Westeros took her for his lover.”

      • Bellegere was named the Black Pearl of Braavos, no one disputes that. But she wasn’t a courtesan — the first courtesan called the Black Pearl was her daughter. TWOIAF never calls her a courtesan (“Smuggler, trader, sometime pirate, captain of the Widow Wind, born of a union between a Braavosi merchant’s daughter and an envoy from the Summer Isles”), and the quote I linked says she was a pirate queen whose daughter grew up to be a courtesan. The text is consistent on this point.

      • I find it odd that Daena would refer to “the first Black Pearl” as Bellegere, but specifically not consider her a courtesan, when the current Black Pearl clearly is a courtesan. What did the Black Pearl of Braavos mean then? She had a title, that was exactly the title every courtesan of her line had, but she herself was not a courtesan? That doesn’t make sense to me

      • Ugh, didn’t close my italics. Further in TWOIAF: “The first woman to bear that name was the captain and pirate queen Bellegere Otherys, who reigned briefly as one of the nine paramours of King Aegon IV Targaryen, and bore him a bastard daughter, Bellenora, the second Black Pearl, a famous courtesan acclaimed by the singers of her day as the most beautiful woman in all the world. Her descendants became courtesans as well, each in turn known as the Black Pearl, and each having in her veins some measure of the blood of the dragon to this very day.” This distinguishes the first Black Pearl Bellegere from the courtesans of that line.

      • We are at an impasse and I will not argue this anymore.

      • As for the title — since Bellegere was a Braavosi merchant’s granddaughter (although the story told in AFFC says her father was a Braavosi prince and the mother was a Summer Isle princess — probably a romanticization of the true story), she was probably called the “Black Pearl” because she was, well, black, and beautiful, and prized. She made the name famous as a pirate queen, and her daughter took the famous name and used it as her courtesan title.

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