Brides of War: Ladies of the Blackfyre Rebellion

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.

Aegon IV had never adopted a personal sigil, but for a personal motto he might have taken Madame de Pompadour’s declaration: “Après nous, le déluge” (after us, the deluge).  His reign had seen the encouragement of gross excesses and extravagant immorality as ladies, backed by powerful families, surrendered themselves to the king’s pleasure. Yet as a direct consequence of the king’s capriciousness, Westeros would fall into civil war again. Instead of fighting directly, as had happened in the last civil war, the ladies involved would take a supporting role, through the traditional places for women in Westerosi society – as wives, mothers, and dynastic marriage pawns.  The threat of war and the necessities of politics would nudge these ladies and princesses into advantageous places across the great cyvasse board of Westeros until the board was set for the rise of the Black Dragon.

Mariah Martell: A Princess for a Peace

Long before Daemon Blackfyre ever raised his ancestors’ sword in war, however, a far more happy event occurred. This was the wedding of Prince Daeron Targaryen and Princess Mariah Martell of Dorne.

The bridegroom was born in 153 AC, the only son of Prince Aegon Targaryen and his sister-wife Naerys. As a grand-nephew of Aegon III, young Daeron was fifth in line to the throne at the time of his birth.  A prince so far down in the line of succession was no great match on face (Daeron’s grandson Aegon would later be able to marry a noblewoman from the Riverlands in a love match because of his low place in the succession), but it would be almost assured that this newborn prince would nevertheless find himself a pawn in a dynastic marriage scheme at some point in his life.

After the baby prince’s namesake, King Daeron I, was murdered in a Dornish ambush in 161 AC, the devout Baelor  succeeded his brother on the throne. The new king immediately set out to end his brother’s war in Dorne, personally walking barefoot to Sunspear.  Sympathetic histories would term his walk a miracle, but Baelor had at least some political motivation in mind. As part of the peace deal with Sunspear, Baelor arranged a betrothal for his nephew, Prince Daeron.  With Baelor unwilling to use his sisters in dynastic arrangements (their imprisonment in the Maidenvault would occur when Baelor returned to the capital), Prince Daeron was the only available unmarried Targaryen with whom to bargain.

Conveniently for Baelor, the Prince of Dorne had his own marriage pawn close in age to Daeron (or close enough that neither party complained): his daughter, Mariah. Baelor’s cousin and the Prince’s daughter were betrothed, with the wedding itself taking place after both had matured. Interestingly, however, Yandel notes that Mariah was the eldest child of the Prince of Dorne at the time of her birth. According to Dornish succession custom, her birth made Mariah the heiress to Dorne.

Mariah’s status is a more important point than Yandel chooses to acknowledge. Although Mariah would marry Daeron and become the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms in 184 AC, Daeron never made any move to claim Dorne on her behalf.  Nor was Mariah ever acknowledged as the rightful Princess of Dorne during her marriage, or her children acclaimed as the heirs to that southron princedom. Naturally, of course, Princess Mariah was too young to have any say in regards to her future; her political destiny was in the hands of her princely father.  The Prince of Dorne had at least one other child – Mariah’s brother, who eventually succeeded his father – and, despite his country’s relatively progressive attitude toward women in power, treated Mariah merely as a marriage pawn.  A daughter as Queen of Westeros and a half-Dornish heir to follow might ensure that the Seven Kingdoms would cease belligerent actions against Dorne – a fair trade, perhaps, for his daughter’s succession rights.

For Baelor and the Westerosi, the marriage of Daeron and Mariah could have provided a political advantage for the Seven Kingdoms as well. Although Mariah herself was never regarded the heiress of Dorne after her betrothal, she was still a potential successor to Dorne if the line of her brother (and perhaps other existing siblings) failed.  The same kind of concern spurred the War of the Spanish Succession, when the last Habsburg King of Spain died and left the succession in question; the throne was claimed by both the French prince Philip (grandson of Charles II’s half sister) and Archduke Charles of Austria (grandson of Charles II’s aunt).  Should Daeron’s goodbrother die without issue (and have no other siblings), Mariah would be the rightful heiress to Dorne, and Dorne could be incorporated into the Seven Kingdoms legally.  (Of course, it may have been the case that Mariah formally surrendered her rights before leaving Dorne, as Philip’s grandmother Maria Theresa did  – though in the French view, the nonpayment of the bride’s dowry made this promise void.)

Maester Yandel does not specify exactly when the wedding took place, though Baelor would have had to wait at least until 166 AC, when Daeron would be 13 and old enough for marriage.  With their first child born in 170 AC, a marriage around 168-169 AC seems plausible. As a bride, Mariah more than fulfilled her first dynastic requirement.  In quick succession, Mariah gave Daeron four sons – Baelor, Aerys, Rhaegel, and Maekar.  Though Rhaegal was weak, sickly, and touched by madness and Aerys grew up spindly and stooped, all four boys grew to adulthood.  While  the succession had looked potentially in crisis, with the sons of Aegon III dying childless and only Daeron securing the Targaryen male line from Viserys II, these four sons would more than ensure the Targaryen line would survive – or so it seemed.

Wedding the Realm: The Marriages of the Princes

Four sons surviving to adulthood is a commendable legacy for any lord or king in Westeros, and Daeron II was no exception.  If the succession was to remain so secure, however, at least the eldest of those boys would have to produce male heirs of his own.  

Daeron, of course, had already experienced the power of dynastic marriages.  As he had learned, being linked to the Prince of Dorne had its advantages, especially in finding an ally to address his suspicious, capricious father.  Aegon IV had openly loathed his sister Naerys, the woman he had been forced to marry by his father, and especially despised the close relationship Naerys shared with their brother Aemon, the heroic Dragonknight. Accordingly, Aegon encouraged rumors that Daeron was not truly his son, but the result of his wife’s extramarital affair with their brother, Prince Aemon the Dragonknight. Such calumnies could have fatally jeopardized Daeron’s chance of succession, yet Daeron nevertheless managed to survive as Prince of Dragonstone. How?

Certainly, Daeron won those lords disaffected by Aegon’s capriciousness and subtle cruelties in his pursuit of pleasure.  Yet his supporters went beyond mere discontent lords. Daeron, in fact, had a much more powerful ally – one who could give his father’s scurrilous rumors more than pause:   

Accounts differ as to why: some suggest that some shriveled part of Aegon still knew honor, or at least shame. The likeliest cause, however, was that he knew that such an act would bring war to the realm, for Daeron’s allies—chief among them the Prince of Dorne, whose sister Daeron had wed—would defend his rights. (The Targaryen Kings: Aegon IV”, The World of Ice and Fire)

Dorne was the only remaining independent kingdom on the Westerosi continent; the Dornish and the rest of Westeros had fought two major wars and any number of unofficial conflicts during the Targaryens’ rule (and countless of both before the Targaryens’ arrival).  Aegon could not afford to have the Prince of Dorne as his enemy; his cousin Daeron’s short-term victory but long-term bloody failure in Dorne would make the woefully unmartial Aegon IV wary of antagonizing the Dornish.

Daeron had learned the power of dynastic alliances to defend himself; it is little surprising, therefore, that he would seek similar dynastic alliances to secure and defend his realm.

Not  that Daeron was able – or even willing – to countenance traditionally Targaryen incestuous marriages for his sons. He would have seen as he grew the spectacular failure of his parents’ marriage, forced by his grandfather Viserys possibly as a reminder of his children’s true Targaryen pedigree.  Willful ignorance of wildly disparate personalities, however, had resulted in a husband who loathed his frail wife and took dozens of lovers while forcing her to continue her marital duties. With no daughters of his own, of course, Daeron could not marry his sons to their sisters and preserve this Targaryen tradition.  Even without this practical concern, however, Daeron had more important alliances on his mind than the purity of the blood of the dragon; the dragons were three decades dead and more than half a century had passed since their effective extinction during the Dance, but the lords of the realm were still a potent force. The king’s only female relations – his much younger sister, Daenerys, and his cousin Elaena, three years his elder and once a widow – would be pawns in his realm-wide dynastic schemes rather than upholders of Valyrian heritage.

If the four boys would not marry Targaryens, however, which houses would receive the great honor of mingling their bloodlines with that of the dragonkings? Daeron had four ideal noble maidens in mind – ladies whose families fit his dynastic needs and would, hopefully, set House Targaryen on a path to a stable, glorious future.

Jena Dondarrion: Soothing the Marcher Pride

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House Dondarrion

On its face, a marriage between a Prince of Dragonstone and a Dondarrion of Blackhaven may not have seemed the most natural match.  If a crown prince expected a wife from an anciently exalted bloodline, he might have looked elsewhere than House Dondarrion.  Though the Dondarrions are indeed old (although not the oldest of the marcher houses; the Carons of Nightsong and the Swanns of Stonehelm both claim that distinction), they were never petty kings in the stormlands, as the Tarths of Evenfall Hall and the Masseys of Stonedance were.  The very origin story of House Dondarrion, in fact, underlines their vassal role; the first Dondarrion was raised to his lordship after delivering a message to the Storm King, giving him victory over the Dornish. For centuries and perhaps millennia afterward, the Dondarrions served the Durrendons faithfully, keeping a watchful eye over their part of the Dornish Marches; the rise of the Baratheons in the ancient Durrendon seat did nothing to alter this allegiance.

That allegiance took a very particular form for the Dondarrions and their neighbors.  Collectively called the marcher lords, those whose seats lie in the Dornish Marches swear themselves to martial service virtually from birth.  Yandel acknowledges that the scions of the Dornish Marches are famed for their fighting prowess – a skill honed over many centuries of defense. The worst enemies of the marcher lords are the Dornish to the south, for good reason; after the treacherous passes through the Red Mountains, the Dornish Marches are the last gateway from Dorne into the Reach and Stormlands. With raids from Dorne a common occurrence over the centuries, the castles of the marcher lords have become famed for their strength throughout the Seven Kingdoms.

Daeron, of course, had been notable – and notorious – for his strong pro-Dornish sentiment.  His marriage had not been his decision, yet he had welcomed the support his dynastic friendship with the Prince of Dorne gave in his struggles against his father.  When he came into his throne, Daeron filled his court with Dornish lords.  These actions would have been watched by the marcher lords with distrust, even disdain. Nor would they have appreciated the appearance of Daeron and Mariah’s first son, Prince Baelor:

Yet too many men looked upon Baelor’s dark hair and eyes and muttered that he was more Martell than Targaryen, even though he proved a man who could win respect with ease and was as open-handed and just as his father. Knights and lords of the Dornish Marches came to mistrust Daeron, and Baelor as well, and began to look more and more to the old days, when Dornishmen were the enemy to fight, not rivals for the king’s attention or largesse. (The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II”, The World of Ice and Fire)

A Dornish queen, a Dornish-packed court, a half-Dornish heir who had inherited his mother’s Dornish features – the marcher lords might have defended the Marches with their stout keeps and martial skill, but Dorne itself had slipped by their defenses and infiltrated their royal liege lord. If Alys Karstark showed frustration that her father had been executed for killing Lannisters in the context of a war against the Lannisters, the marcher lords were likely just as confused by their situation. Their mission for centuries (even millennia) had been to protect their king from the Dornish. Daeron’s own namesake the Young Dragon had been murdered by the Dornish. Yet now the King ordered them to swear fealty to a court riddled with Dornishmen.

Murmurs of discontent began bubbling among the marcher lords – murmurs which reached the ears of Daeron in the Red Keep.  A dangerous insurrection was brewing to the south, and if the King did not act soon, the marcher lords might rise up against his pro-Dornish regime.  Daemon Waters, as always, remained an easy figure around which to rally in defiance of Daeron’s court (even if he himself did not yet covet royal ambitions); Daeron needed to remind the marcher lords, gently but firmly, that his was the only true royal authority. His ancestors had done that with dragons; Daeron would use a marriage.

Thus, King Daeron wed his eldest son Baelor to Jena Dondarrion, presumably the daughter of the Lord of Blackhaven.  It was a brilliant match for the Dondarrions in particular and the marcher lords in general; never kings in their own right, the Dondarrions would now be ancestors to the future glorious line of the dragonkings.  The marcher lords would have little opportunity for complaint; not only would one of their own be raised to the queenship, but the next Prince of Dragonstone after his father would be a descendant of the marcher lords, soothing their deep self-pride. Symbolically, Daeron reminded his noble marcher lords that he had not forgotten them; instead, he honored them with the first marriage of a Prince of Dragonstone to a non-Targaryen or Targaryen relation in the history of the dynasty.

The marriage did more than simply soothe hurt marcher lord relations, however.  Wedding Baelor to Jena also served as a signal to Daeron’s Dornish allies that allegiance with Dorne was not absolute.  Daeron was creating a single realm – not merely joining princely Dorne and the Targaryens’ kingdom of conquest, but forging a unified state. The child of Baelor and Jena would be a microcosm of the peace Daeron sought; Dornish blood and marcher blood, eternally spilled at the other’s expense, would mingle in a single person, a future king of the united state of Westeros.  It was a move that would be attempted again in the future, when Sansa Stark was betrothed to Joffrey Baratheon; the child of their union would have been (at least in theory) equal parts Stark, Tully, Lannister, and Baratheon – four of the five major victorious houses of Robert’s Rebellion, a fit king who would have embodied the newly-defined royal realm he would one day rule.

We have no details about Lady Jena beyond her marriage; her appearance, thoughts, and actions remain completely unknown. She may have disliked her intended husband on first appearance; as the daughter of a marcher lord, Jena would have been raised to think of the Dornish as her natural enemies, and may not have thought kindly of a very Dornish-looking fiance.  Nevertheless, Baelor was not for nothing called “the soul of chivalry”; his good nature won him the respect of commoners and noblemen alike.  More importantly, perhaps, for Lady Jena, Baelor was a virtually peerless warrior; descendant of a line of arguably the fiercest warriors in the Seven Kingdoms, Jena might have appreciated being married to a man who in the near future would be hailed as the victor of the Redgrass Field.

Together Baelor and Jena had two sons, Valarr and Matarys.  The hope of Daeron II was fulfilled in the appearance of Valarr; with his brown hair with its streak of Valyrian white-gold and his blue eyes, Valarr was a visible symbol of the new unification of the realm.   

Aelinor Penrose: A Cousin of Quills for a Prince of Books

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House Penrose

Daeron II knew, however, that even the security to the dynasty provided by the births of Princes Valarr and Matarys would not eliminate the potential for dynastic disaster.  Both of the sons of Aegon III died without issue, and he himself had been an only son.  All four sons would have to marry and provide heirs of their own if House Targaryen was to survive the generational disasters which had plagued it in the past.

As a bridegroom, Daeron’s second son Aerys made a less than prepossessing figure.  Far from being the dashing, chivalric heir his brother was, Prince Aerys was a spindly, bookish young man.  He had inherited his father’s love of literature along with his Valyrian coloring, but Aerys’ was a more obsessive love; the prince devoted most of his days to studying increasingly arcane texts.  Still, he was at least undoubtedly clever, and – far more importantly – he was the next heir should any ill befall Baelor and his line. A Targaryen prince, even a bookish one, was a prime catch for any noble maiden.

Which noble maiden that might be was a question for his kingly father.  A Dornish match was almost certainly out of the question. Even though he had given over his heir to the placating of the marcher lords, Daeron knew as well as any that Aerys was the next in line to the throne after Baelor; the potential for another half-Dornish heir might have tipped the anti-Dornish lords against him permanently.

Daeron’s eye eventually fell on Lady Aelinor Penrose.  Her first name, with its “ae” diphthong, should alert the reader to her uniquely exalted ancestry.  Aelinor was in fact a cousin of her eventual husband Aerys; she was the only daughter-in-law of Daeron II to have known Targaryen ancestry.  Presumably, Aelinor was descended from one of the twin daughters of Daeron’s great-grandfather Daemon, who had both made dynastic matches; a marriage between a Penrose of Parchments and one of Rhaena Targaryen’s six Hightower daughters or Baela Targaryen’s Velaryon descendants would not have been impossible.  A Targaryen-blooded cousin would be an ideal way to keep the non-marcher stormlords on the side of the crown.

The marriage of Aerys and Aelinor, however, was not to succeed the way the marriage of Baelor and Jena did. Lady Aelinor was presumably fair enough, but even her charms could not win Aerys to her bed:

Wed to Aelinor Penrose, he never showed an interest in getting her with child, and rumor had it that he had even failed to consummate the marriage. (The Targaryen Kings: Aerys I”, The World of Ice and Fire)

True, the pressure for Aerys to produce sons of his own was not as heavy as it might have been; the Prince of Dragonstone would have two fine sons of his own, and both of his younger brothers would have respectably sized families as well.  Yet as with nearly all royal marriages, personal liking of the partners had no bearing on the necessity of consummation.  Any marriage which remained unconsummated could be put aside – a fact Tywin Lannister reminded his son of after his marriage to Sansa Stark:    

“She is old enough to be Lady of Winterfell once her brother is dead. Claim her maidenhood and you will be one step closer to claiming the north. Get her with child, and the prize is all but won. Do I need to remind you that a marriage that has not been consummated can be set aside?”

“By the High Septon or a Council of Faith …” (“Tyrion IV”, A Storm of Swords)

Any politically ambitious family could move to persuade the High Septon to separate the royal couple and send the maidenly Lady Aelinor back to Parchments (indeed, the Hightowers had once likely played a role in having the High Septon – a Hightower relation – marry Prince Maegor to Ceryse Hightower).  Aelinor would be personally humiliated, and the Penroses would be wroth to see the the daughter they had expected to be at least the second lady of the realm (after eventual Queen Jena) shamefully dismissed from royal favor.  It was a political disaster Daeron could not afford to have happen.  He could not force his second son to consummate the marriage, but he could ensure the Penroses stayed on his side with another Targaryen marriage – this time between Princess Elaena Targaryen and Lord Ronnel Penrose.

With the Penroses pacified, and Daeron himself solicitous of the Faith (installing septons at court and keeping a high moral tone in comparison to that of his father), the Aerys-Aelinor marriage could continue.  Aelinor would indeed become Queen, though her queenship would be no happier or fruitful than her earlier married life.

Alys Arryn: Honoring the Honorable

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House Arryn

With the stormlords sufficiently pacified against his own Dornish marriage and his son’s Dornish blood, Daeron could look to forming a new alliance with another great lord.  He still had two sons, and it was the elder of these two, Rhaegel, who now claimed his attention.

In some ways, however, Prince Rhaegel was an even more difficult figure than his elder brother Aerys had been.  Aerys was bookish, but the fault was not a damnable one; even Daeron himself was rightly accused of bookishness. Rhaegel, however, suffered from some sort of mental disorder  – madness, feeblemindedness, or some mixture thereof – on which no two Westerosi sources seem to agree.  The prince was, however, by many accounts sweet and gentle – both attractive qualities, and both qualities which would distinguish his madness from the violent mental instability of his nephew Aerion and his great-grand-nephew Aerys.  Mad or simply physically and mentally deficient, Prince Rhaegel remained in line to the Iron Throne; as long as his father refused to remove him from the succession, he would need to produce heirs of his own.

To secure his son a bride, Daeron looked to a familiar source of non-Valyrian consorts for the royal family: the Vale of Arryn. Though Houses Baratheon and Velaryon can boast actual blood descent from the Targaryens, House Arryn had by the time of Daeron II been honored twice with royal marriages: Princess Daella Targaryen wed Lord Rodrik Arryn, and her daughter Aemma Arryn wed the eventual King Viserys I. Nor had the Arryns’ bannermen been forgotten: Prince Daemon Targaryen had been (unhappily) wed to the Lady of Runestone, Rhea Royce, while his daughter Rhaena married Ser Corwyn Corbray.  The rich, defensible Vale had provided more marriages for House Targaryen than any other single pre-Conquest realm – a factor that might have played into Daeron’s decision.

Political necessities may have also weighed on Daeron’s mind.  The Vale had been one of the most stalwart defenders of Princess Rhaenyra and the blacks during the Dance of the Dragons, with Lady Jeyne Arryn providing ships and forces to aid her cousin.  After the war, Lady Jeyne had become one of the regents for young Aegon III (as was Lady Rhaena’s husband Corwyn) until she died of a fever in 134 AC. Yet while the Arryns had shown themselves eminently faithful to the crown, they had received no particular signs of royal favor in return. Instead, the Targaryens had married into the Martells and made peace with Dorne – the very country where so many sons of the kingdom had perished (including, presumably, some of the sons of the Vale).  The proud and prickly Arryns might have resented such a slight, and with the fertility and strength of the Vale well known throughout Westeros, Daeron could not afford to lose them.

Despite the prince’s apparent mental and physical disabilities, Rhaegel and Alys had three children together: twins Aelor and Aelora and a younger daughter, Daenora.  Rhaegel served as his brother’s heir for six years, between 209 and 215 AC; Alys may well have been acclaimed Princess of Dragonstone at this time.  It was quite a dynastic feat: marrying the third son of the king to being one step away from queenship in her own right.  Yet Rhaegel’s death in 215 AC robbed her of these hopes, and her son Aelor’s death in 217 dispelled any further hope that she might wield influence as queen dowager and potential regent. Only her daughter Daenora managed to make a (relatively) successful marriage, wedding her first cousin Aerion, yet even this ambition represented personal dynastic failure. While Daenora produced a son, Maegor, before her husband’s death, the baby prince was passed over at the Great Council of 233 AC for his uncle, Aerion’s younger brother Aegon.  Alys (presuming she had not died already) saw only her line dispossessed and eventually disappear into obscurity.

Dyanna Dayne: A Dornish Match of “Love”

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House Dayne

Three of his four boys were married; each of Daeron’s three sons had entered into dynastic arrangements designed to secure the Targaryen legacy in the future. That his youngest son Maekar would also secure a dynastically suitable partner would not be in doubt.  Yet Lady Dyanna Dayne may have been both less and more than a simple pawn in the complex game of pan-realm marriage alliance.

Despite her importance as ancestress to the only extant line (or lines) of House Targaryen, Dyanna Dayne is a great mystery. Only slightly better known is her house.  The Daynes of Starfall are among the oldest houses of Westeros, tracing their line back to the Dawn Age.  Once kings in their own right, the Daynes ruled the Torrentine River and their seat of Starfall until the coming of Princess Nymeria and her Rhoynar.  Faithful supporters of Nymeria after they were unseated, the Daynes were considered exalted enough to secure a marriage with the Rhoynar princess. More notably than their political history, however, the Daynes are known for their ancestral sword Dawn, a blade of near-mythical proportions forged from a falling star.

Queen Mariah Martell, of all people, would have known the prominence and prestige of House Dayne in Dorne.  Indeed, she partially used her queenship to bring noble Dornishmen to court.  As a princess bride,  Mariah would be expected to bring a retinue of Dornishmen with her to court to attend her; one of these Dornishmen was Ser Michael Manwoody, the cultured knight whom Princess Elaena would eventually marry.  In her patronage of her countrymen at court, Mariah was following the strongly pro-Dornish sentiment of her husband:  

Dissatisfaction at these concessions was one of the seeds from which the first Blackfyre Rebellion sprang, as was the belief that Dorne held too much influence over the king—for Daeron II brought many Dornishmen to his court, some of whom were granted offices of note. (The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II”, The World of Ice and Fire)

Mariah would also have been aware that, as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms, part of her duty was to provide places in her court for maidens of noble families.  This duty manifested itself later, when young Joanna Lannister came to court to serve as a lady in waiting to Rhaella Targaryen, then Princess of Dragonstone.  The courts of royal ladies would in part serve as finishing schools for these maidens, preparing them for their intended roles as well-bred noble wives (true as well in our own world; both Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, Queens of England wed to Henry VIII, held positions as maids of honor in the household of Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife).  Such a role was a natural step in a young noblewoman’s education, as much as becoming a squire was for young noblemen; both roles taught their students the skills they would need to be effective leaders of the nobility as appropriate to their gender. Additionally, the roles were political boons as well, given to specially chosen noble families as a sign of royal favor.   

With the strong Dornish presence at court, and her own role as mistress of a court of noble ladies, Mariah may well have brought Dornish maidens to court – including, perhaps, young Dyanna Dayne.  Having already used dynastic marriages to forge crucial political alliances with his lords, Daeron may have welcomed using another courtly tool – in this case, appointment to a royal household, which as king was in his power – to show favor to his Dornish allies. Dyanna Dayne was certainly well-born enough to deserve a courtly position, given her family’s high standing in Dorne; with a Martell as queen and Dornishmen given courtly offices, Dyanna would find herself in both a familiar and exalted position, perfectly suited to making a good marriage.

Appointment to the queen’s household, of course, would have given Lady Dyanna access not simply to these noblemen but to the royal family itself – including, presumably, Prince Maekar.  The queen’s fourth son had inherited his father’s Targaryen coloring but little else from Daeron. Cold, hard, and martial, Maekar could not have known that he would eventually succeed to the Iron Throne; fourth son of the King, he has little in the way of dynastic prospects.  With Maekar’s relative political unimportance, Mariah might have imagined that her unmarried fourth son would taken a Dornishwoman – and specifically this Dornishwoman – to wife.

The decision might have seemed a simple reaffirmation of the amity between Dorne and the realm in Mariah’s mind, but for her royal husband it was a far more complex question.  By favoring the Dornish at court with his attention and, more importantly, his offices and favors, Daeron had, in the eyes of many of his lords, shown himself to favor too highly the country whose sons had spilled so much Westerosi blood (including that of the heroic – or seemingly heroic – Daeron I).  The king had mollified his staunchest enemies, the marcher lords, with his heir’s Dondarrion marriage, yet the balance of power was precarious. Another Dornish match could exhume the issue again, with bloody results.  Daeron might have been solicitous to his queen, and himself encouraging of a match between his youngest son and a well-born Dornish lady, but he would need to be careful in how the betrothal would be presented.

Daeron might have taken inspiration from royals of our own world.  Queen Victoria and her Prince Consort, Prince Albert, had nine children; it was no question that their eldest daughter, also called Victoria, would make a dynastic match.  Prince Albert had a strong image of a united, liberal Germany, and thought matching his star pupil Vicky to the liberal-minded Crown Prince Frederick of Prussia would be an ideal step toward this goal. The royal couple knew, however, that another reminder of the German-ness of the British royal family would be deeply unpopular at home. Accordingly, the Queen and her husband played the engagement as a love match instead of an expression of pro-German sentiment.

So for Daeron, a similar course of action might have been appealing. As a fourth son, Prince Maekar was politically unimportant; far back in the line of succession (and eternally pushed farther as two of his brothers had sons of their own), the prince had no need to make a great alliance. If Daeron desired another Dornish match, he could well have framed the issue in these such terms – the indulgent father allowing his unimportant fourth son to wed for love – and neatly side-stepped the thorny Dornish question. Indeed, Maekar’s own fourth son Aegon would himself later make a love match, allowed specifically because of how low he was in the succession; the king’s cousin Princess Elaena, having wed twice for political reasons, took the Dornish Ser Michael Manwoody as her husband for love. Westerosi might bristle at another royal sign of Dornish favor, but few (or so Daeron must have hoped) could grow truly angry at an unimportant prince’s marriage for love.

Whatever the reason behind their marriage, Maekar and Dyanna were at least dynastically successful together. The pair had four sons and two daughters – more than enough to secure the legacy of House Targaryen. What none could have known, of course, was how important this unimportant branch was; it would be not bold Baelor’s or gentle Rhaegel’s lines that would provide the last surviving branches of their house, but that of Maekar and Dyanna.

Daenerys Targaryen: A Princess for a Princedom

Daeron still had another pawn to play besides his sons.  House Targaryen experienced an almost total drought of princesses in this time, with none born in the boys’ generation.  Only one dragon maiden remained with whom Daeron could play a game of alliances: his younger sister, Daenerys.

Daenerys had been born in 172 AC, 19 years after her elder brother.  Her birth had nearly killed her mother Naerys; it was this nearly fatal circumstance, in fact, which had caused Barba Bracken to boast of her imminent queenship – and to be dismissed when Queen Naerys recovered.  The young princess would have been raised alongside her nephews, all of an age with her (in fact, Baelor was older than his aunt). Aegon IV probably spent little time with his daughter, preferring to chase flashy mistresses instead; her mother was weak and sickly (and predeceased her husband, when Daenerys might have been as young as seven).  The princess might have looked to her kindly elder brother and his Dornish wife as foster parents, absorbing not the lax morality of her father but the family relations – and the pro-Dornish sentiment – of her brother’s rival court.

Yet Daeron was not simply a father figure to his much younger sister. He was her liege as well as her brother after 184, and he would use her to solidify his political machinations. Daenerys would be the keystone of his grandest scheme yet: a permanent unification of Dorne and the Seven Kingdoms.

Daeron, of course, had already taken the first step toward unification by marriage to a potential Dornish heiress, Mariah. Yet Mariah had never herself claimed the princely seat of Dorne; when her father died, her younger brother became Prince of Dorne without any rival claims from the court at King’s Landing.  With Aegon IV’s death, however, had died the last proponent of anti-Dornish sentiment among the Targaryen royals.  In place of the king who had so disastrously attempted to invade Dorne with wooden dragons, Prince Maron now regarded his highly pro-Dornish brother-in-law  – one who would not only be assured not to make war on Dorne but who could be trusted to respect the ancient rights and privileges of the Dornish lords.  War was costly for both sides, and with a conciliatory king on the Iron Throne, Prince Maron might have determined that this was the ideal moment for Dorne to unify with the Seven Kingdoms.  Moreover, the only Targaryen maiden was a great prize. a marriage between Prince Maron and Daenerys would be the final triumph of the descendants of the Rhoynar over the descendants of the dragonlords – recognition at last that the Princes of Dorne were worthy to share the blood of the dragonkings.

There was, however, a fly in the ointment – a fly by the name of Daemon.  Aegon IV’s oldest confirmed bastard son (Bellegere’s son Balerion might have been older, but Maester Yandel seems dismissive of his royal paternity) was just two years older than Princess Daenerys; the two had both been raised in the Red Keep, and it is impossible to imagine that the two never interacted in their roughly 15 year history together.   Raised as a virtual prince in the Red Keep, Daemon would have been educated by the same maesters that taught the princess (and her nephews), much as Shireen Baratheon was taught alongside her bastardborn cousin Edric Storm. Though Aegon did not formally acknowledge Daemon as his bastard until the boy was 12, his obvious favoring of Daemon left no one confused about his royal pedigree.

That Daenerys would have been at least aesthetically attracted to him may also be reasonably imagined: Daemon possessed the silver-gold hair, deep purple eyes, and almost inhumanly beautiful features that were the hallmarks of the Targaryen line, and he himself was noted to be broad-shouldered and well-muscled. His charm and charisma would also later be remarked upon, but Daemon himself was not above spoiling; doted on by his father and praised by courtiers for his (admittedly considerable) martial prowess, Daemon had likely seldom heard the word “no”.  By his young adulthood he knew how exalted his birth was – Targaryen on both sides, as much as the king and princess could boast – and had received Blackfyre, the sword of the Targaryen kings. Daenerys would have understood that, to her royal father and his sycophantic courtiers, Daemon was a prince in all but name.

A Targaryen prince, of course, would be traditionally expected to wed a Targaryen princess (or, more precisely, a Valyrian prince would traditionally wed a Valyrian princess). Aegon IV had already engineered a match for his favored son, with Rohanne of Tyrosh (possibly relying on the Archon’s large fleet to support his never-launched next campaign against Dorne), but the match supposedly meant little to the bastard boy.  He was a king’s son; he deserved a  bride fit for the blood of the dragon.  Given his own father’s selfishness and pettiness in choosing mistresses – seizing women for what he wanted at the moment and then discarding them as quickly – it might have been expected that Daemon would think of Princess Daenerys as “his by rights”:

It has been said in the years after Daemon Blackfyre proved a traitor that his hatred of Daeron began to grow early …  Daemon had developed a passion for Daeron’s sister, young Princess Daenerys. Only two years younger than Daemon, the princess supposedly loved the bastard prince in turn, if the singers can be believed, but neither Aegon IV nor Daeron II were willing to let such feelings rule in matters of state. (The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II”, The World of Ice and Fire)

Daemon may have loved Daenerys for her beauty and, perhaps more importantly, her legitimate Targaryen ancestry, so complementary to his own; a marriage with her would leave no one in doubt that he was a true Targaryen. Yet no one can know what passed between Daemon and Daenerys, or Daenerys and Daeron.  Unlike Rhaenyra, who was known to have argued with her father against marrying Laenor Velaryon, Daenerys left no historical record such that Yandel cites which could be evidence of her supposed love.  It makes a romantic story – a Romeo and Juliet-style tale of forbidden love between rival factions – but offers no proof; even the supposed love of Aemon and Naerys could be supported by the widely remarked-upon closeness of the siblings.  Indeed, Yandel points out one of the great flaws of the Daenaerys-Daemon romance and its supposed disastrous consequences:

If it was truly all for the love of Daenerys, how is it that eight years passed before the rebellion bloomed? That was a long time to harbor thwarted love, especially when Rohanne had already given him seven sons and daughters besides, and Daenerys had also borne Prince Maron several heirs. (The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II”, The World of Ice and Fire)

How pleased Daenerys was with her Dornish fiance (as opposed to her handsome half-brother) is a mystery.  Certainly, however, even a girlhood crush on Daemon might have disappeared in the kind treatment Daenerys received from her princely husband.  We know little about their married life, but one detail gives some indication of at least some nuptial happiness:

“The Water Gardens are my favorite place in this world, ser. One of my ancestors had them built to please his Targaryen bride and free her from the dust and heat of Sunspear. Daenerys was her name. She was sister to King Daeron the Good, and it was her marriage that made Dorne part of the Seven Kingdoms. The whole realm knew that the girl loved Daeron’s bastard brother Daemon Blackfyre, and was loved by him in turn, but the king was wise enough to see that the good of thousands must come before the desires of two, even if those two were dear to him.” (The Watcher”, A Dace with Dragons)

Though Prince Doran carries on the romantic notion of a Daenerys-Daemon forbidden love, the very construction of the Water Gardens indicates the level of Prince Maron’s dedication to his dragon bride.  In a largely dry, largely poor country, constructing a palace celebrated for its waterworks (even by the sea) would have been a great – and likely expensive – engineering undertaking.  In our own world Nicholas I, Emperor of Russia, built the Alexandria Park at Peterhof for his beloved wife Alexandra, who found the pomp of court life oppressive; a century before, Louis XV of France had the Petit Trianon constructed for his dearest mistress, Madame du Pompadour. Daemon, for all his swaggering, had done nothing remotely so grand for his “true love” as Prince Maron had done for Daenerys.

In the end, the best epitaph on the relationship between Princess Daenerys and the self-styled King Daemon is expressed by Maester Yandel:

Whether Daenerys loved Daemon, as those who rose for the Black Dragon later claimed, who could say? In the years afterward, Daenerys was never aught but a loyal wife to Prince Maron, and if she mourned Daemon Blackfyre, she left no record of it. (The Targaryen Kings: Daeron II”, The World of Ice and Fire)

Conclusion: From Brides of War to Mothers of Peace

When last Westeros was ravaged by civil war, women played a crucial role in deciding its outcome.  Indeed, each faction followed (at least in part) a female leader; both Dowager Queen Alicent and Princess Rhaenyra marshalled and directed their allies to ensure that her line, and hers alone, sat the Iron Throne.  Whether as political rulers (like Lady Jeyne Arryn) or martial figures (like Princess Rhaenys and Alysanne Blackwood), women showed that the fate of Westeros was that of ladies and lords alike, and they, like their male counterparts, would act accordingly.

Yet that very civil war had demonstrated (at least to the paternalistic Westerosi) the destruction to be had when women sought the throne. Nor did the other extreme – princesses locked in gilded imprisonment to preserve their virtue – result in a peaceful balance of female roles.  By the eve of the Blackfyre Rebellion, House Targaryen had placed women, quietly but firmly, into the dynastic nuptial position with which other Westerosi houses had long been familiar.

We know almost nothing of these women; their appearances and personalities are as lost to us as much as the cause of the Doom.  Yet our lack of knowledge should not suggest hollow figures, alliances in flesh and vessels for the next generation of dragon princes.  War would touch them all, and if no princess lost her husband, many other good men would fall in the dance of the red and black dragons.  From the blood-red walls of the Red Keep  and the sandy walls of Sunspear, these ladies would watch a realm that their marriages had helped bind together tear itself asunder. Yet these ladies’ marriages were not made in vain; from them would spring the next generation of dragons, whose lines would continue – and mingle – until the the fall of the house itself.

21 Comments

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

21 responses to “Brides of War: Ladies of the Blackfyre Rebellion

  1. Sir Theodred of Pennytree

    great essay, i was thinking if the maekar marriage could have been an attempt to in part, restore the targaryen look, the daynes commonly have silver hair and purple eays, the targaryen look could have been faiding with all the non targaryen marrieages, maybe this was daeron way to keep some of the tradition alive.
    Looking forward for the next essay.

  2. JJ Hall

    Iirc, there’s a line somewhere in [i]The Sworn Sword[/i] or [i]The Mystery Knight[/i] that Fireball killed all the sons of Lady Penrose in one battle — was he killing Princess Elaena’s kids!? WTF?!?

    • Sir Theodred of Pennytree

      He spared her youngest son has a kindness to lady pensore .

      • JJ Hall

        Oh yeah, I remember that now. Good thing for the little Penrose kid, but still, Jon Waters (the Last Son of Oakenfist! Patriarch of House Longwaters!) and Viserys Plumm (unacknowledged bastard son of Aegon IV and ancestor of Brown Ben!) dead on the field. . . If Elaena had any sympathy for her nephew’s cause early on it would’ve soured pretty darn quick after that fight.

      • Aella

        Fireball killed Lady Penrose’s sons save for the last, but Elaena had only one son, Robin. So, it’s either another lady Penrose or GRRM misremembered his own work.

      • Right, this is exactly what I was going to say. It might have been the wife of say, a brother of Ronnel Penrose, or it might just be a statement that is no longer true (the way that Jeor Mormont says Aelinor was Aerys’ sister, where now she’s been retconned to be a Penrose cousin)

      • JJ Hall

        But Elaena did have other sons — Jon and Viserys.

    • Crystal

      I don’t know if it’s a retcon, or if the Lady Penrose in question was another Lady Penrose (an aunt or sister by marriage to Elaena).

      Elaena Targaryen’s children were: Jon and Jeyne Waters (by Alyn Velaryon), Viserys Plumm (ostensibly by Ossifer Plumm), Robin, Laena, Jocelyn and Joy Penrose (by Ronnel Penrose). Jon Waters and Viserys Plumm left descendants, and Robin was Elaena’s only son by Ronnel Penrose. So the sons killed by Fireball were not Elaena’s.

      • JJ Hall

        Jon and Viserys were likely born in the 170s and the Blackfyre Rebellion didn’t break out until 196 — plenty of time to breed in this setting.

        I’ve looked around and the strongest evidence I can see for the Lady Penrose in question to be someone else is that she’s not identified as Elaena by the person who tells the Fireball story, nor is this tragedy mentioned in the bio we get of her in TWOIAF (but that book omits a lot of info “everybody knows”). I certainly hope this isn’t Elaena — she’s had to put up with plenty enough already and is too awesome to deserve shit like this, but the facts, as far as we know them, fit her just fine.

      • Crystal

        Viserys Plumm was the head of House Plumm when Aerys I reigned. So unless there was a Red Priest/ess around to resurrect him, he couldn’t have been killed by Fireball during the first Blackfyre rebellion. (And killing a lord who didn’t side with the Blackfyres – which Viserys Plumm couldn’t have if he was still Lord Plumm during Aerys I’s reign – just to make his mother unhappy, is Mad King Aerys levels of feckless cruelty.)

        It is possible that Fireball killed Jon Waters, since we don’t know how long he lived. But, all in all, I believe that Elaena wasn’t the Lady Penrose whose sons were killed, or else it was a hiccup in GRRM’s world building.

      • JJ Hall

        He was still alive when Aerys was king? Yes! Thank you so much; that was weighing on my mind!

        *Except the other Lady Penrose’s sons.

  3. Kuruharan

    Re. Princess Mariah, I am reminded that when Doran was scheming with his children, Arianne was to be Queen and Quentyn was to be Prince of Dorne.

    There may be an either spoken or unspoken understanding that the King/Queen on the Iron Throne cannot simultaneously be Prince/Princess of Dorne.

    • minj4ever

      Good call on the Tyrells-Targaryen marriages.

      Lovely essay @nfriel. Whether Maekar married for love is an interesting mystery indeed. As I’ve commented on the previous essay, I figure it was actually this match that caused the most trouble for the Black dragon, not Maron+Daenerys.

      Now that I’ve looked at the timeline better, Baelor’s and Aerys’ matches to two Stormland nobelwomen might have actually been arranged by Aegon IV since he died when Baelor Breakspeer was 14 y.o.

  4. avgomes

    Why did you skip over Maegor’s brides (with a special section for Alyssa Velryon) if you are writing essays about every single woman in this story, even those whose only information we’ve got about them is their names.

  5. Crystal

    Great essay! I hope we eventually learn more about these women in canon, whether through more D&E stories or another world-building book or essay.

    Re Daenerys I Targaryen: I believe that Daeron and Mariah were her primary parental figures – Daddy Dearest was far too selfish, and Naerys was sickly and checked-out emotionally, and both died when Daenerys was very young. And since Naerys was so ill for so long after Daenerys’ birth, I wouldn’t be surprised if Daeron and Mariah took over her upbringing from the first. Maybe even Cousin Elaena (who married a Dornishman from Daeron’s court) was there for her, too. What we know of Daenerys suggests she took far more after the sane and sensible Targs (Viserys II, Daeron, the Dragonknight, Elaena) than after her asshat of a father or her sickly, doormat mother. I think this shows Daeron and Mariah’s influence on her, as well as the luck of the genetic draw.

    Dyanna and Maekar: if Dyanna Dayne had the same beauty and allure that her relative Ashara had, then her marriage with Maekar might well have been a love match, with Maekar falling hard for Dyanna’s charm and beauty. It’s probable that a youngest son like Maekar would be allowed a love match as long as the bride was suitably noble (not a smallfolk, or a nouveau house like Frey). After all, Aegon V was allowed to marry Black Betha for love, because he was so far down in the succession. And Betha was from an old, First-Men-descended house – so is House Dayne, and I think that was a factor in allowing the marriages.

    Alys Arryn and Rhaegel: I surmise one reason she was chosen for Rhaegel was that she was from a strictly honor-bound House in a strictly honor-bound region. If Rhaegel was simple-minded or just out of touch, it would be easy for a wife to have affairs and sneak in bastard children. But an Arryn could be relied on to be faithful – she would want to uphold the motto of her House and the ultra-traditional Vale.

  6. Roger

    Marrying Baelor to a Dondarrion lady would keep the Marcher lords at Daeron’s side during the Blackfyre Rebelion. That also allowed to bring troops from Dorne. Without the Marcher lords, the benefits of a Dornish marriage were at bay.
    Also the Baratheons had fought on the Greens side during the Dance of Dragon. They weren’t the most ardent partisans, but Borros Baratheon was a dangerous enemy. Marrying his sons to Baratheon lieges was probably a safety measure.
    With these alliances Daron formed some sort of Eastern bloc (Arryns, Stormlanders and Dorne). They would fight against a Western bloc (mostly Riverlanders and Dominion lords). Anybody knows what did the North during the war?

  7. Crystal

    Something else I just thought of – the World of Ice and Fire book notes that there were *no* rumors whatsoever about Daenerys I Targaryen’s parentage; there was no doubt that she was Aegon’s daughter. I think that if the rumors about Naerys and the Dragonknight were true, they’d be swirling about Daenerys as well – but they weren’t. (When queens really did commit adultery – Cersei and Rhaenyra – the suspicion attached to all the children, not just the heir.) So I think that the rumors about Daeron’s parentage were made up by Aegon to disinherit Daeron, and were taken up by those who wanted Daemon Blackfyre, the beau ideal of a warrior prince, on the throne instead of bookish, Dorne-loving Daeron.

  8. I like your thoughts on Maekar/Dyanna being a marriage for love (whether it truly was or PR’d as one). It’s a pity that by the time of THK she was dead (per Egg), and so Maekar had no queen when he ascended to the throne. Wonder who served as Maekar’s hostess /etc, one of his daughters perhaps?

    • Thanks for your thoughts! (Ugh, stupid WordPress closed my comment when I had more to say)

      Anyway. I have a sneaking suspicion that you’re right, and that either Daella or Rhae was his “first lady”. Daella was around 22 when her father became king, while Rhae was somewhere between 12 and 20 (that’s not an age gap, right?). Both would be lovely young ladies, raised since birth at court and presumably able to handle the role of unofficial queenship.

      Now, whether this ties into my theory that one of them was shotgunned married to the Lord of Tarth after sleeping with Dunk – I don’t know.

      • Crystal

        I’m waiting for one of the daughters to be described as having incredibly beautiful blue eyes and a strong personality. Then that will be a confirmation that D + D or R = (eventually) B.

        Given that House Tarth is supposed to have some Targaryen ancestry, I’ll be shocked if Brienne is *not* descended from Dunk and either Rhae or Daella.

  9. Pingback: Heirs in the Shadows: The Young Lion | Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire

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