Daeron the Good, by Amok
Daeron the Good is held up as one of the best Targaryen monarchs in the 300-year dynasty by in-universe actors and the fandom alike. His commitment to just rule undoing the corruption of his father Aegon the Unworthy and ability to peacefully incorporate Dorne into the Seven Kingdoms hold him both in-universe and out as a great man, and a great king. Free from the warmongering of his more martial counterparts, Daeron the Good improved the lot of the people under his wing, and the Great Spring Sickness would cut down a king on the cusp of building a golden age the equal of Jaehaerys the Wise. Or so the conventional wisdom would teach us.
Yet under Daeron the Good, Westeros faced the largest civil war of its time. While the Dance of the Dragons was arguably more destructive, no Westerosi war would involve as many houses as the First Blackfyre Rebellion, and five generations would see the Black Dragon pitted against the Red. What caused the Blackfyre Rebellion? What part did Daeron have in its creation? Was he truly as good as the fandom believes?
Welcome to the next installment of the Three Heads of the Dragons essay series, the first multi-author essay series for the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire site. This series looks at the kings, pretenders, and famous ladies of the storied Targaryen dynasty from fiery beginnings to bloody end. For my part, I examine who history defines as the true kings of the Targaryen dynasty, the men who wore the crown and sat the Iron Throne. There are only 100 years left in the Targaryen dynasty, and twenty-five of them belong to Daeron II.
Daeron the Prince – Auspicious Beginnings in an Inauspicious Time
Daeron was born in the last day of 153 AC, and his would not be an easy childhood. His father, at that point an idle royal far from the line of succession, despised his mother for their unhappy relationship, and continued to impregnate her despite significant health risks. Aegon IV’s shadow would haunt Daeron for the rest of the former’s life, but it would be a distant, absent shadow. After Aegon nearly killed Naerys with another pregnancy in 161 AC, King Baelor and his own father Viserys would send him to Braavos as a diplomatic envoy. While the prince most certainly returned to Westeros sporadically (Daemon Blackfyre was not sired from the ether), Aegon was not a significant presence in Daeron’s later childhood and teenage years.
Daeron’s most significant role models, then, were his uncle Prince Aemon the Dragonknight and his grandfather, the eventual Viserys II. Their influence on young Daeron are easily seen in his manner, and later, in his approach to government during his tenure as Crown Prince. Aemon the Dragonknight was the finest swordfighter that Westeros had ever seen yet he was calm, dutiful, and humble; similarly, despite having a larger-than-life, bombastic father, Daeron was rather subdued in personality. Daeron, after he reached the age of majority late during Aegon’s unofficial exile, likely assisted Hand of the King Viserys in managing the bureaucracy of the realm that was increasingly strained under King Baelor the Blessed. Viserys’s focus on efficient, orderly government stuck with Daeron, and it’s no surprise that many of Aegon IV’s moves against this sort of model would be opposed or countermanded by Viserys’s studious pupil, Daeron.
This dedication to serious, studious work complemented Daeron’s physical weakness. Inheriting his mother’s slight frame and constitution, Daeron was not as physically robust as was expected of a Westerosi noble, and he was never known to pursue the traditional knightly pursuits of horse, lance, and blade. This was unusual, as no Targaryen monarch before him was considered poor with a blade (even slender, reedy Aenys, was considered adequate enough to avoid shame); a few, like Aegon I, Maegor, and Daeron I, were even considered warriors of exceptional renown. While martial prowess is certainly no indicator of governmental prowess, Westerosi society looked upon martial virtue as a traditional function of leadership. This is not mere personal preference; lords and kings were expected to be military officers, present on the battlefield, and if Vietnam was any judge, officers that couldn’t hack the job (as well as glory hounds) found themselves hated by enlisted men and subordinate officers alike.
Daeron, in neglecting his martial training, jeopardized this sort of prestige among his future vassals, critically impacting his eventual ability to rule. In doing so, he drew unwelcome comparisons to indecisive and meek Aenys I Targaryen, who fretted and dithered while rebels murdered loyal lords (including Ronnel Arryn, the first Lord Paramount of the Vale). His lack of martial prowess and subsequent command projected weakness from his position; much like Aegon III in his unwillingness to court his vassals. Capable subordinates can only exercise so much of the authority which ought, by rights, belong to the king. As Protector of the Realm, one of Daeron’s duties was exclusively martial, and his unwillingness to do what was required of him suggested weakness and failure to perform one of his primary duties. This lack of martial prowess seems confusing for many modernist observers, but in the realities of feudalism, where a king was a senior military commander and all vassals under his military jurisdiction, lack of martial know-how is a real and credible danger to a young nation. In English history, Æthelred the Unready and King John the Softsword speak to military failure leading the central monarchy to ruin. While it seems bizarre, feudal governments suffered a genuine threat with an unmartial king, and Daeron’s willful neglect of martial training spoke to an endemic weakness in the monarchy.
Yet the moment that almost assuredly had the most impact on Daeron II during his childhood was his betrothal to Mariah Martell to seal a peace deal. Daeron’s betrothal (at eight years old) to end a war meant that the greatest impression he would get of his namesake’s great campaign was the pointlessness of Daeron’s war. The pardoning of the Dornish hostages, the grand barefoot walk down the Boneway – these over-the-top gestures of peace would be seen by the future Daeron II as the laudable and important actions of a king, a lesson he would take to heart when combatting his warmongering father.
After Viserys, that great champion of good governance, would die incredibly early in his reign, Aegon IV became King of the Seven Kingdoms. The Unworthy’s own inadequacies have already been discussed at length, but Crown Prince Daeron, 18 years old at the time of his father’s ascension, would quickly become his father’s most powerful political opponent. As Prince of Dragonstone and heir-apparent, he would almost certainly have political clout, not just among the vassals sworn to Dragonstone but with any who wished to form an early, productive relationship with the future King of Westeros. Any who opposed Aegon’s arbitrary rule would also almost certainly look to Daeron to oppose Aegon’s dangerously capricious measures. While it’s impossible to know exactly who fell in on Daeron’s side, it’s likely that he counted one or more Lords Paramount in his faction. The Lords Paramount have little to gain in standing, and had a great deal to lose to Aegon’s meddling. Even their fundamental autocratic power within their domains was jeopardized by the King; while Lady Jeyne Arryn had been well within her rights to decide the Runestone inheritance, Aegon IV had appropriated the Plumm inheritances for himself without bothering with the Lord of Casterly Rock.
Daeron was fortunate to count on Aemon the Dragonknight as his most reliable and capable ally. As Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Aemon would have an automatic seat on the small council (giving him political influence to match and complement Daeron’s own), and his combat prowess and legendary deeds (taking a poisoned arrow meant for King Daeron I, rescuing King Baelor from the viper pit, displaying amazing combat prowess) would give Daeron badly-needed popularity among the more traditionally-minded nobles. When allegations of Daeron’s baseborn nature first surfaced, Aemon was able to challenge Morgil Hastwyck to a duel to prove them false, much in the same vein as trials by combat. Had Daeron no such ally to call upon, those rumors might have continued to plague him for far longer, potentially jeopardizing his claim or his rule.
Aegon, of course, looked to oppose Daeron, and in his bastard son Daemon Waters, the king found a fighter worthy to rival Aemon the Dragonknight. Daemon was young, quick-witted, handsome, charming, and a daring fighter capable of tremendous feats with both sword and lance. Aegon made no secret of Daemon’s favor by gifting him Blackfyre, the traditional Valyrian steel blade of the Targaryen kings. With the loss of the dragons and the crown of Aegon I, the sword Blackfyre was the last true link to Aegon the Conqueror that the Targaryen dynasty possessed. While conferment of the sword did not constitute an official naming of an heir, the sword would become a potent symbol used in the Blackfyre Rebellion’s political narrative. Daeron, however, could not protest the move, as he was no warrior himself, nor was the sword legally obliged to him.
Daeron had better luck with other political moves, especially when it came to enforcing the law over the royal whim. While there aren’t too many examples or names of people that Daeron protected from sticky royal fingers, there were enough occasions that Daeron began to craft for himself an image of just, fair rule to oppose his father. A key point of dissent between king and heir was how to handle the relationship between the Seven Kingdoms and Dorne. Baelor had forged an ‘eternal peace’ with Dorne, but eternal peaces often have a strikingly limited definition of eternity, as Tywin Lannister and the blacks and greens proved throughout Westeros’s history. Even though Daeron had long since wed Mariah Martell, Dorne was still a separate and independent land, with separate customs. Aegon, fixated on conquering Dorne, was opposed by Daeron, who was equally fixated on stopping the Seven Kingdoms from warring with his wife’s family (and with peacefully incorporating Dorne into the Seven Kingdoms, but there’s no indication that Daeron made strides to that end until he took up the crown).
For the last part of Aegon’s tenure, after Aemon the Dragonknight died at the hands of the Toynes, Daeron would retreat to Dragonstone. Conflict appeared inevitable, and Daeron found himself without his most capable and popular ally. Though Aegon’s health was failing, but he could still spit vitriol and make the barest of veiled references to Daeron’s alleged illegitimacy. As a last spiteful act, before he could formally disinherit Daeron, Aegon named his bastards as true Targaryens, a move that would almost certainly cause trouble, though perhaps even Aegon would not know exactly how much ruin it would bring to Westeros.
Daeron the Just, For Certain Definitions of Just
When Aegon IV’s body gave up after a lifetime of neglect, Crown Prince Daeron took his father’s heavy crown (hoping to silently cow rumors of his alleged baseborn nature by symbolically showing he was his father’s son) to become King Daeron II, amidst much political difficulty. The king had been widely corrupt, and while Daeron as Crown Prince could treat the symptoms, now he had to handle the disease itself. The royal court of Robert Baratheon had notable instances of corruption, with the appointments of Janos Slynt and Littlefinger as well as Cersei’s staffing of Lannister toadies in key positions. Robert however, wasn’t corrupt the way Aegon IV was, so Daeron had his work cut out for him in a way even Jon Arryn or Eddard Stark might give pause to handle.
Reform of the bureaucracy was all well and good, but Daeron also looked to incorporate Dorne into the Seven Kingdoms via treaty, now that he was no longer checked by his anti-Dornish father. Daeron immediately invited Prince Maron Martell, his brother-in-law, to the Red Keep to treaty negotiations to find a compromise that could bring Dorne under the Iron Throne,. According to Maester Yandel, there was a steep cost indeed. Princess Daenerys, Daeron’s much-younger sister, would be wed to the Martells, the laws of Dorne would remain in effect within the principality, and the titles of the native lords and even the Martell princes and princesses would be preserved. The Dornish also won significant tax incentives in the unification treaty, undoubtedly enraging the other Lords Paramount. Even the preservation of the Martell princely titles gave cause for discontent: though the Martells were now theoretically equal to the other Lords Paramount, their princely styling suggested a continued separation, a relative independence and standing which none of the other paramount lords enjoyed .
Daeron continued crafting his political image as a man dedicated to sober and temperate rule. He ousted men who had achieved their positions thanks to sated Aegon’s endless lusts, reformed the goldcloaks (who under Aegon had abducted common women for his pleasure), and re-staffed the small council with men of his own choosing. Often these men would be of similarly scholarly disposition to Daeron himself. Many other court positions would be filled as well, with a large majority going to Dornish lords. With two Targaryen marriages, many domestic advantages, and a large representation in court besides, the Dornish saw overwhelming political favor – sure to cause great consternation among, not simply the marcher lords and other traditional Dornish enemies, but many members of court as well
Daeron’s track record of just rule was not spotless. In one notable example, the Red Keep’s master-of-arms, Quentyn Ball, nicknamed Fireball, had been promised an appointment to the Kingsguard by Aegon IV, yet Aegon died before a spot would open. Fireball had made his wife join the Silent Sisters and prepared everything for this appointment, and Fireball had dutifully trained King Daeron’s sons in the arts of war as befit his position, yet when the position came open, Daeron instead appointed Willem Wylde to the Kingsguard in lieu of Fireball. To Ser Quentyn, this decision was outrageous; his service and sacrifice were not being respected by Daeron II. Fireball had given up his wife for this position only to have Daeron II snatch it away. While this might not have been beyond the pale for capricious Aegon IV, Daeron had made his mark attempting to be just, and to rescind the Throne’s offer would not have been seen favorably. Similarly, his lopsided treaty and markedly imbalanced favor for Dorne do not suggest fair and impartial treatment. Vassals could rightly fear that if a conflict came between themselves and the Dornish, that Daeron would grant Dorne yet one more victory. Daeron had crafted himself an image of a just and fair ruler, committed to repairing the wrongs wrought by the caprices of Aegon IV, but his blatant political favoritism and disregard for the sacrifices of his other vassals suggested otherwise.
Tens of thousands of men died in Daeron I’s Dornish war, yet in giving the Dornish such consideration, Daeron II gave the impression that he did not hold those deaths in any regard. Despite his own personal misgivings about war, the soldiers that died in Dorne fought on behalf of the Crown, not under their own strategic or tactical imperative. Daeron put forth the idea that the Throne did not value their losses, and for a grieving family, few cuts are as deep as the disregard for a lost family member. Nor did he take an effort to attempt to rationalize or honor their deaths, or grant them meaning. Daeron instead repeated Baelor’s mistake, and amplified it, by favoring the Dornish to such an extent, he was stating, most callously, that he did not care for the deaths of the Westerosi bannermen that fought in Daeron I’s war.
Complicating this matter even more, Daeron’s unmartial nature plagued this notion that the Throne no longer valued its bannermen’s losses. Many nobles educated themselves, and their sons, in leading of troops as a part of noble duty. Daeron, however, had let men of learning keep his company and help shape his policies, which meant that for many families, the education that they had, and that their sons had, were now worthless. These nobles, especially those who were traditional enemies of the Dornish, were robbed of any hope to gain influence to counteract the overwhelming Dornish representation and thus, just treatment under the Throne, and so they began to seethe, and simmer. His disregard seemed tied into his fear and apprehension of war, and thus, his bannermen likely believed that not only did Daeron II disregard the losses of their fathers, brothers, and sons, but that Daeron II would never value them the way he valued his Dornish contemporaries. For a king to demonstrate a willful abandonment of his vassals was certainly galling, and thus, more discontent started to seethe.
It is important to note, however, that Daeron did take strides to include his other vassals. The Targaryen tree had numerous branches, and Daeron saw marriages as the way to keep vassals satisfied. He married his son and heir Baelor to Jena Dondarrion, a lesser marcher house, and his second son Aerys to Aelinor Penrose, attempting to keep the Stormlords placated. The Vale saw yet another marriage of Arryn to Targaryen with Daeron’s mad third son, Rhaegel. The Reach however, saw no such favor, and neither did the Riverlands or the Westerlands, to say nothing of the North. Yet if Daeron thought to project fairness and win friends to his coalition, he lost them with the marriage of his fourth son, Maekar, to Dyanna Dayne, yet another royal Dornish marriage in a family already saturated with them. Maekar was low in the succession, and as such, his marriage was of little political import, allowing Daeron to indulge yet another Dornish match. This royal match cemented Daeron’s reputation as a king who overly favored the Dornish to his other vassals’ detriment.
Aegon IV’s deathbed decree was another lingering matter that Daeron attempted to manage. Daemon Waters could not be de-legitimized, but Daeron looked to keep him mollified. Daemon was allowed to keep the sword Blackfyre, and Daeron completed the marriage arrangements between Daemon and Rohanne of Tyrosh, granting him good lands and the permission to raise a castle upon them. Brynden Rivers, no stranger to court given the popularity of his mother, also found royal favor, earning a place on the small council and being granted the Targaryen Valyrian steel blade Dark Sister. While no reason is given for granting Dark Sister to Brynden instead of Baelor or Maekar, Daeron may have attempted to grant another Great Bastard a Valyrian steel blade as his father had, demonstrating that it was not the sword who made the king. Whatever the case, these two Great Bastards thrived under Daeron’s rulership, but all would not be well.
Let Slip the Dogs of War
There was no final insult, no great wrong that led Daemon Blackfyre to declare a war against Daeron. –The World of Ice and Fire, Daeron II
The defining moment of Daeron II’s reign, however, would be the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Save perhaps for the Great Spring Sickness, no event during his 25-year reign would impact Westeros as thoroughly. Unlike the Dance of the Dragons, where there was one key point of contention (who would succeed Viserys I), there was no single sticking point for the First Blackfyre Rebellion, and this is key to understanding the Blackfyre cause as a whole. As there were many different causes for the Blackfyre Rebellion, so too were there a multitude of reasons for nobles to support the Black Dragon over the Red.
It’s altogether too simple to dismiss the Blackfyre cause as a group of anti-intellectual warmongers and anti-Dornish racists. Daeron’s treatment of Fireball, for example, might alarm young, martially-skilled lords, as well as personal friends of Fireball and House Ball altogether. Daeron’s lopsided political support in favor of the Dornish too, suggested that far from being a just and fair monarch, he was a cronyist in the same vein as his father; not only did he empower the Dornish far in excess of other regions (giving them not only less oversight on taxation, but the rights to assess their lands themselves), but he gave them overwhelming representation at court. Dorne now represented not the chance for martial glory it had under Daeron I but a very real political threat made mighty by the crown itself, especially to the Reach, which saw little favor in Daeron’s Dornish-heavy court.
Of course, the anti-Dornish constituency did have a fair amount of warmongering to them as well, well past the point of reasonable grudge. Maester Yandel notes that many who had backed Aegon IV’s push for war resented Dorne being included as rivals for royal largesse. The glory days seemed to be just out of reach and slipping away fast, especially in the Reach, where the Warden of the South and his leal bannermen would ride to defend the Seven Kingdoms from Dorne. Only a generation ago, the Dornish lords had committed a grievous crime in murdering the Young Dragon, violating many of the same tenets that gave birth to guest right, and now they were easily the most powerful of the component regions of Westeros. To many anti-Dornish houses, this amounted to little more than a silent coup, a great reward for the basest of behavior.
The negative feelings of eventual Blackfyre supporters for the Dornish might be compared to the current animosity toward House Frey. In the novel’s original timeline, House Frey’s betrayal of guest right is looked upon by many in-universe actors, even among the Lannister-Tyrell alliance that ultimately benefitted from the killing of Robb Stark, as vile behavior undeserving of any reward. In a small council meeting, Cersei Lannister is even pushed to punish Walder Frey for his actions by her own coalition partners. While Baelor pardoned the murder of his predecessor in a royal act, few members of the honorable warrior culture so prevalent in Westeros would forgive such a vile deed, and rewarding the Dornish for such behavior could be seen as a slap in the face.
The Blackfyre cause found other justifications. Simple desire for war and advancement over others drove many of the rival houses of the Lords Paramount to support Daemon: House Reyne in the Westerlands and House Bracken in the Riverlands. Even the Yronwoods of Dorne, ever the belligerent rivals to the Martell Princes of Dorne, found cause to join the Black Dragon. Most of the Lords Paramount, by contrast, had sided with the Targaryens, as they were the most powerful vassals of their region and unlikely to advance further by supporting a rebellion. Distrust of Daeron’s intellectualism, too, was one of the base reasons, and while there is a point to be made about an entire generation of martial lords and heirs being kept from influencing policy as it was in centuries past, the peace between all continental rivals mandated an evolution in thinking that Daeron cannot be held at fault.
Daemon Blackfyre and Bittersteel too, had their own reasons for causing a rebellion, and much like the component houses that would lift them up, they had both reasonable and unreasonable reasons for rising in revolt against their half-brother. Daemon was known to resent being Aegon IV’s bastard for the status that he gave to him, and Daeron had denied him the chance to wed Princess Daenerys, instead wedding her to Maron Martell as part of his peace deal. Daemon received much from Daeron, but he would always be a bastard looking in, dependent upon his half-brother for approval.
Aegor Rivers, by contrast, received no largesses from the Throne thanks to his exile to Stone Hedge, and had been resentful of the Targaryen dynasty because of it. A martial yet intelligent man, Aegor saw his other half-brothers receive great favor and attention while he was left out in the cold. His mother and grandfather had openly advocated the replacement of Naerys for Barba Bracken, and were exiled from court because of it, largely by Daeron himself. Yet Aegor likely held himself blameless for such actions (to which he was correct; Aegor was an infant at the time of Barba’s dismissal and six years old when Bethany was executed by Aegon IV). Moreso, he saw his house’s hated rivals, the Blackwoods, with their royal bastard risen to high regard and given a Targaryen heirloom and a seat on the small council. Daemon himself received lands and a keep, but Aegor, legitimized just as the rest of them were, received nothing.
Daemon Waters being dubbed a knight by his father with Blackfyre, by Marc Simonetti
With the principal actors – Daemon, Bittersteel, and Fireball – all nursing grudges of varying degrees of legitimacy against the Iron Throne, talk began of appointing Daemon, the Unworthy’s obvious favored, as king. He was given the traditional sword of Targaryen kings, he had the best blood link to the Targaryens, and he fit the warrior-king ideal that many Westerosi honored: three strong links to the tradition of Aegon I. The talk eventually reached the ears of Brynden Rivers, though, and as a loyalist, he counseled Daeron to order Daemon’s arrest. Thanks to Fireball, however, Daemon evaded capture, fled to the Reach, and now had the casus belli he needed to declare war. Declaring Daeron the illegitimate product of Naerys and Aemon the Dragonknight, Daemon, with a large coalition of political outsiders behind him, raised their banners in revolt.
It seems altogether odd for modern readers to see things like royal bastardry to be such a major sticking point for rebellion. Why not rebel against Baelor’s equally humiliating peace? The answer lies couched in impetus for medieval rebellion. The king, anointed by the High Septon, is akin to godly. Duncan the Tall finds this out when he strikes Aerion the Monstrous. Striking a blood royal forfeits the limb responsible. Rebellion cannot be done simply in disagreement over an issue, but rather through a sense that the king has exceeded the scope of his power, or conversely, that a king did not have the power to begin with. This is why Aenys’s alleged bastardry, or Daeron II’s over 100 years later, is so important. By lacking legitimate inheritance, the king no longer becomes sacrosanct and thus, open for rebellion. Aegon’s allegations of royal bastardry is a real threat to Daeron, because it erodes his legitimacy to rule, just as his supposed anointment of Daemon via the sword to signify an heir is a real and credible threat. Daeron could not rest secure if the potential that he did not legitimately wield royal power was credible.
Unfortunately, currently existing text does not give a detailed description of the one-year-plus campaign of the Black Dragon. However, with so many regions involved, and with Bittersteel’s long efforts in building Daemon a coalition of political outcasts, it’s likely that small conflicts broke out in various regions of Westeros. Daemon, knowing that he was outnumbered, split his forces under key commanders to launch a defeat-in-detail strategy.
Defeat in detail is a military strategy where a force with a smaller global majority but local force majority uses terrain and speed to do battle with smaller chunks of an enemy force, defeating them as quickly as possible before the enemy can rally into one large army too powerful to overthrow. Daeron was fortunate enough to count most of the Lords Paramount as his allies, but Daemon had most of the large and well-populated Reach and a significant portion of the Riverlands. The Lannisters would be separated from Kings Landing, and threatened from the east, the Grey Lion could not sail around Dorne to rally with the King and add Lannister funds and equipment to his disposal.
Steven Attewell of Race for the Iron Throne does an excellent job in theorizing a rebel sweep of kingdom to kingdom, using well-timed betrayals and the martial excellence that characterized Daemon’s campaign from the beginning, and I shall not merely repeat his words on the subject. Where I differ is that I believe that Daemon himself threatened the southern Riverlands and southwestern Crownlands while Fireball took to the Westerlands. Daemon’s show of martial force kept morale high and the Stormlanders in check, fitting with his defeat in detail strategy. Once Fireball united with Bittersteel, the two marched their large army south, around the western side of the God’s Eye, to unite with Daemon Blackfyre and march north to King’s Landing. While it is a longer strategy than simply taking to the Kingsroad, Fireball and Bittersteel risked the rear of their column attacked by the Vale forces (poetically, they would fall to the same tactic, save from Baelor Breakspear rather than Lord Arryn). With the Yronwoods holding the Dornish in the south, approaching King’s Landing from the Roseroad would be slightly safer, as the Penroses had been trounced by Fireball very early during the war. Approaching from the south also gives the Blacks an easier time of supply from the fertile Reach, with less rivers and more roads for larger wagon trains.
Whatever the reason, the Battle of the Redgrass Field would decide the fate of the Blackfyre Rebellion. Daemon’s forces, both his van on the left and the center under Lord Peake, advanced dramatically. Daemon achieved a tremendous victory, breaking Lord Arryn’s forces on the right and scattering them. Lord Peake also achieved success by having his knights slay Hand of the King Lord Hayford, yet The Sworn Sword does not give us a similar account of Hayford’s forces breaking the way Lord Arryn’s did. However, at some point, Daemon was intercepted by Ser Gwayne Corbray of the Kingsguard, and there he was delayed for nearly an hour dueling, their Valyrian swords flashing in the sun. When Daemon finally defeated Corbray, he chivalrously commanded that Gwayne be taken to the maesters lest he be trampled in the dirt. Both in the duel and in Daemon being so touched that he commanded Gwayne to be carried from the field to spare him further injury in recognition of his prowess suggest a sort of chivalric political narrative. Fireball too, would spare the youngest Penrose son as a favor so that he might not deprive a mother of all of her children. While Daemon’s move was certainly a celebrated gesture of gallantry, it also took time away from the battle. This delay allowed Brynden Bloodraven, not at all a chivalric sort, to seize a local high ridge and rain arrows upon Daemon and his sons, slaying all three and breaking the rebel cause.
To turn a bad day worse for the Black Dragon, Baelor Breakspear appeared with Dornish and Stormlander reinforcements, and there they charged upon Bittersteel and Peake’s forces, arresting their forward movement and forcing them to deal with an unexpected rear attack. With the pressure momentarily relieved, Maekar rallied Lord Arryn’s forces to form a hardened line of infantry, forming a hammer-and-anvil formation with his older brother to crush the rebels between them.
“It’s like Baelor Breakspear and Prince Maekar. We have them! We have them!” -The Winds of Winter, Barristan Sample Chapter
Hammer-and-anvil techniques have been used since maneuver warfare, almost since the development of horseback riding gave rise to the mounted warrior. An infantry force would engage an enemy in straight battle, with the goal being to pin the enemy in place. A cavalry force would use their superior mobility to circle around the pinned infantry and strike on the rear, sandwiching the battle lines between attacks from two sides. When done correctly, this technique is extraordinarily devastating. The Battle of Cannae, the archetypical battle of destruction, the battle that cemented Hannibal Barca’s reputation as a legendary general and strategist, would obliterate the largest legion force the Romans had ever mustered up to that point, and this would be due to Hannibal’s well-disciplined Carthaginian infantry forming an anvil with his Numidian cavalry forming a hammer. In the text, the Redgrass Field is held up as a sort of pinnacle of tactics; Westerosi generals aspire toward achieving their own Redgrass Field to win both victory and everlasting fame. In Meereen, during the Battle of Fire, Barristan the Bold, upon seeing the Ironborn landing with their amphibious force, rallies up and forms an anvil, proudly exhorting the victorious tactics, much the same way generals even up to Robert E. Lee in the 1860’s would strive and seek their own ‘Cannae.’ Though Bittersteel would live to fight another day, the standard of the Black Dragon would trouble Daeron II no longer.
Peace at Any Price (Even War)
In the aftermath, King Daeron showed a sternness few expected. –The World of Ice and Fire, Daeron II
Following the victory of the Targaryen loyalists at Redgrass Field, Daeron exacted a strict toll from those who had supported Daemon, though this was to be expected of rebel lords. Daeron’s son, Baelor, was named the Hand of the King and continued the policies of capable governance. Baelor, as a decorated war hero, smoothed over much of the suspicion of King Daeron’s unmartial nature and appealed more to the Westerosi traditionalist mindset (his appointment after the war suggests that Daeron learned the value of having martial advisers as well as bookish ones). Having the devotion to solid governance of his father with an appealing martial prowess, Baelor represented a joining of the two dichotomies of Westeros, the martial tradition of the noble with the new peaceful reality of a relatively integrated continent. Baelor’s advocating for peace and leniency during the Blackfyre Rebellion, combined with the dwindling political capital that Daemon’s third son and Bittersteel possessed, won him some lukewarm support among the houses that supported the Black Dragon. Baelor seemed poised to become a great king, perhaps even a new Jaehaerys.
Yet Baelor would tragically die during a trial by seven in Ashford by his own brother Maekar. The succession was not yet in crisis: celebrated tourney knight Valarr Targaryen, Baelor’s eldest, was next in line to succeed him. But the Great Spring Sickness would come, and Valarr, gentle Matarys, and Daeron II himself would succumb to the deadly plague. The 25-year reign of Daeron II would die amidst the greatest natural disaster perhaps since the Long Night, and that disaster would give new life to the Black Dragon’s cause.
How then, can we rate Daeron II when it comes to others of his dynasty? He reigned during two long eras of peace, integrated Dorne successfully into the Seven Kingdoms, and undid much of the corruption that had become increasingly commonplace under his father’s reign. Yet he also precipitated one of Westeros’s most devastating civil wars, and how much of the war was caused by Daeron’s political appointments is a question of no small debate.
Daeron’s anti-corruption stance rightly elevates his early reign, and his attempts to block a Westerosi breach of the Dornish peace treaty are the mark of good government. However, he was marred by his careless political appointments, his completely lopsided treaty with Dorne, and his unwillingness to honor the sacrifices his vassals laid for his crown. His failures are largely ignored in-universe because he ultimately won the First Blackfyre Rebellion, and his resemblance to a more modern ruler gives him fan support. In truth, Daeron II lucked out by following one of the worst kings, much as Viserys I lucked out by riding the coattails of the best. Daeron sought peace, but in the end, crafted an even greater war. He sought justice, but in the end, created an imbalanced court. He did well enough in the end, learning from his mistakes, and truly does deserve to be thought of as a decent king, but his failures caused much turmoil and strife. These failures are Daeron’s, and thus, he cannot be considered among the likes of Jaehaerys the Wise and Viserys the Thankless.
Thanks for reading. Can you not get enough of the Blackfyre Rebellions and Daeron II? Then check out as two of the fandom’s best give their take on it. Steven Attewell and Aziz of History of Westeros discuss Daeron the Good in the History of Westeros podcast here. Or, if essays are more your thing, check out Attewell’s Blacks and Reds essay series on all five Blackfyre Rebellions at Tower of the Hand.