Hey everyone. Now, as I’m sure you all know now, SomethingLikeALawyer, Nfriel, and I are doing an extensive essay series on the Targaryen Dynasty and the many kings, ladies, and pretenders that have influenced House Targaryen to this day. By now I’m sure that most, if not all of you, have read the posts by both SomethingLikeALawyer and Nfriel about the Targaryen Dynasty, on the kings and ladies of the dynasty. I highly recommend reading them before getting started on my essay as it will give you a greater grasp of the essay series as a whole. Plus, they are pretty awesome reads too.
Today I’ll be covering the most infamous pretender to the throne, the sire of House Blackfyre, and Great Black Dragon himself: Daemon Blackfyre.
Artwork by Amok
“Daemon was the name Daena gave to this child, for Prince Daemon had been the wonder and the terror of his age, and in later days that was seen as a warning of what the boy would become. Daemon Waters was his full name when he was born in 170 AC…Raised at the Red Keep, this handsome youth was given the instruction of the wisest maesters and the best masters-at-arms at court…He loved nothing better than deeds of arms and excelled at them, and many saw in him a warrior who would one day be another Dragonknight. – The World of Ice and Fire.”
Daemon was the bastard son of Aegon IV Targaryen and Daena the Defiant, the daughter of Aegon III Targaryen. Conceived during Daena’s imprisonment in the Maidenvault, Daemon was raised in the Red Keep and a common face at court. Perhaps an ill omen of things to come, Daemon’s birth would be linked to death; King Baelor Targaryen would enter into a long fast as penance for his royal sister’s illegitimate son, and 42 days into the fast, Baelor’s body would succumb to the prolonged starvation. Despite this, Daemon was raised well as befit a (bastard) Targaryen, taught arms by the master-at-arms of the Red Keep, Ser Quentyn Ball or Fireball as he was known to many, and given a fine education that was otherwise typical of members of the royal family.
Daemon’s mother was well-known, even earning the epithet ‘The Defiant’ for refusing to name Daemon’s father (as well as becoming pregnant in the first place when she was ostensibly kept from all men by royal decree). The identity of Daemon’s father was kept secret until his twelfth birthday, when Daemon distinguished himself during a tourney. His father and the king at the time, Aegon ‘The Unworthy’ IV Targaryen acknowledged Daemon as his bastard son and presented him with Blackfyre, the Valyrian steel sword of the Targaryen kings that was personally wielded by Aegon the Conqueror.
By publicly bestowing Blackfyre on Daemon instead of his legitimate son, Daeron II Targaryen some among the nobility of Westeros felt that such a gift was Aegon IV’s way of implicitly stating that he considered Daemon and not Daeron to be his true heir. Daemon took the last name Blackfyre, and both the name and the sword, would later cleave the realm in two.
Artwork by Marc Simonetti for Fantasy Flight Games
Two years later, Aegon IV legitimised all of his many bastards while on his deathbed. These noble bastards were called the Great Bastards and included Aegor ‘Bittersteel’ Rivers, Brynden ‘Bloodraven’ Rivers, and Daemon himself, who took the name Blackfyre from the sword bestowed on him by his father. For his house, Daemon displayed the Targaryen arms with an inverted color scheme, a black three-headed dragon on red.
Artwork by Amok
A House and Family Divided – Of Better Men and Lesser Men
In 184 AC, Daeron II Targaryen succeeded Aegon IV after his father’s death and subsequent mass legitimisation of his bastards. King Daeron II was very much the opposite of Daemon Blackfyre. He was cultured, scholarly, and preferred the companionship of maesters and other learned men. Daeron “was no warrior—descriptions of the era note that he was small of frame, with thin arms, round shoulders, and a scholarly disposition” whereas Daemon had “grown tall and powerful, half a god among mortal men, and with the Conqueror’s sword in his possession”. Daemon was a decorated warrior and more pleasing to the more classic martial culture of the Westerosi nobility. Further stretching the divide between the traditional Daemon and the atypical Daeron was the latter’s marriage to the Dornish princess Myriah, who introduced a more Dornish flavour to the court after centuries of strife and bloodshed between the Seven Kingdoms and Dorne, something that further alienated Daeron from his more traditional-minded vassals. After all, many of them had suffered losses of both resources and loved ones during confrontations with Dorne, confrontations that had lasted since what seemed like time immemorial.
“Kaeth’s Lives of Four Kings makes it plain that the false accusations of the queen’s adultery made by Ser Morgil Hastwyck were instigated by the king himself, though at the time Aegon denied it. These claims were disproved by Ser Morgil’s death in a trial by combat against the Dragonknight. That these accusations came at the same time as Aegon and Prince Daeron were quarreling over the king’s plans to launch an unprovoked war against Dorne was surely no coincidence. It was also the first (but not the last) time that Aegon threatened to name one of his bastards as his heir instead of Daeron.” – The World of Ice and Fire.
This divide had taken itself to low places, with the very character of royals called into question. Rumours started to spread that Daeron was the son of Aemon the Dragonknight and not Aegon IV, which led some to question the true legitimacy of Daeron II as king. While Aemon the Dragonknight had silenced Ser Morgil Hastwyck back when these rumors first started, the rumors had only intensified since Aemon’s death, and some Westerosi nobles the thought that Daeron’s meek physical build and unmartial nature was perhaps not mere personality, but something entirely more damning.
While discontent grew at court, Daemon was wed to the daughter of the Archon of Tyrosh despite his previous reservations in the matter, something that was largely due to his long standing desire to wed Daeron’s sister, Princess Daenerys Targaryen, in the old Targaryen tradition. Daemon and his wife would have seven sons together but whether some saw Daemon’s seven sons as a symbol of his true legitimacy granted by the Seven, the deities or deity, depending on who you ask, of the main religion of Westeros – the Faith of the Seven, remains to be seen. Daemon, however, had other thoughts on the matter, as did many of his followers and contemporaries.
Daeron, however, had promised Daenerys to the Dornish Prince Maron Martell as part of a Dornish incorporation treaty. Some Westerosi believe that Daemon’s snubbing was one factor that led to the First Blackfyre Rebellion. The singers might champion the lost forgotten love of Daemon and Daenerys, but this tale is somewhat undercut by Daemon’s presence and participation at Daenerys’ wedding and the subsequent celebratory tourney held in celebration. Daemon didn’t even rebel until eight years after Daenerys’ wedding, not exactly the mark of a man desperate to take back the woman he loved.
In loves more brotherly, Daemon was kept close at court and treated well by the king. Daeron II made no attempt to rescind Aegon IV’s final edict (not that Daeron could do so if he desired; he risked severely undermining royal legitimacy if he took back a royal decree). If anything, Daeron was exceptionally generous to Daemon. Daeron II fulfilled the royal dowry promised to the Archon of Tyrosh, and granted Daemon choice lands upon the Blackwater as his own domain on his wedding day. Daeron also permitted his bastard half-brother the right to raise a castle upon them, granting him great status and prestige. Certainly, Daemon could not claim that Daeron had been unjust toward him during the years between his legitimisation and his open declaration of rebellion.
While his marriage to Rohanne and his affection for Daenerys may have been a factor, the long duration of time suggests other influences played a role in the rebellion. More likely than love, Daemon probably grew increasingly resentful of his bastard status, much like Ramsay Snow. Daemon was a celebrated knight and tourney champion, talented, popular, and gregarious. He emphasized the chivalric ideal espoused by noble culture, and yet for all his qualities, he was still marked from birth as a lesser man. Pushing him forward were the words of councilors like Bittersteel and Quentyn Ball (an aside, Fireball’s nickname is quite funny when you consider the fate of Quentyn Martell), men with great grudges against the sitting regime. Fireball was denied a promised spot on the Kingsguard by Daeron’s hand, and Bittersteel harbored great resentment of his half-brother Bloodraven, who received far more preferential treatment at court. Bittersteel’s own hatred was likely not merely professional, for Bloodraven won the love for Shiera Seastar, something that Bittersteel probably took as yet another unfair victory of the Blackwoods over the Brackens. No doubt in Bittersteel’s eyes, Shiera was stolen away from him, a warrior, by a ‘lesser man’ like Bloodraven in much the same way that Daenerys was stolen by Maron Martell.
Whatever swayed him makes no matter in the end as Daemon Blackfyre ultimately claimed the Iron Throne as Aegon IV’s true heir, and led a rebellion against King Daeron. Daemon’s personal charisma and warrior prowess attracted many followers. With his possession of Blackfyre and being claimed as the skilled warrior of his age, Daemon built himself a mythos of a warrior-king in the vein of the original Aegon the Conqueror. With these potent symbols behind him, Daemon looked to claim the Iron Throne, with blood and fire.
Black Against Red – Followers of the Great Black Dragon
Rumors of Daemon’s intent reached Bloodraven, and through Bloodraven, King Daeron himself, who ordered Daemon’s arrest. When Daeron sent the Kingsguard to arrest him upon his proclamation, Daemon escaped through the help of Ser Quentyn Ball, his friend and councilor, something that Fireball no doubt enjoyed given his grievance against Daeron. Decrying the move as a baseless accusation of treason caused by nothing more than paranoia, Daemon seized the political narrative of the attempted arrest as a potent rallying cry. Daeron, the ‘just’ king devoted to the rule of law, had finally proven his unworthiness, and was truly the lesser man.
Chief among Daemon’s constituency were the greatest warriors of the age. Fireball and Bittersteel certainly, but also Robb Reyne and Redtusk, Gareth the Grey and Aubrey Ambrose, celebrated knights one and all. Daemon found fertile ground for his cause in the Reach, the seat of the chivalric ideals that Daemon trumpeted throughout his life. He also found much support among those who despised the Dornish and opposed the great support that Dorne found during Daeron II’s reign. Other disfavored lords flocked to Daemon’s banner. Daeron II had made ousting his corrupt father’s many appointees one of his first acts of office and these lords that lost their lofty stations now looked to Daemon as a means of redress, or perhaps of simple vengeance against the man who cost them their fortune.
“In the last years of his reign, Prince Daeron proved the chief obstacle to Aegon’s misrule. Some lords of the realm clearly saw opportunity in the increasingly corpulent, gluttonous king who could be convinced to part with honors, offices, and lands for the promise of pleasures. Others, who condemned the king’s behavior, began to flock to Prince Daeron; despite all his threats and calumnies and tasteless japes, the king never formally disowned his son. 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. Perhaps it was for this reason that Aegon turned his attention to Dorne, using the hatred for the Dornishmen that still burned in the marches, the stormlands, and the Reach to suborn some of Daeron’s allies and use them against his most powerful supporters. – The World of Ice and Fire.”
“Daeron then acted swiftly to put right many of the things that Aegon had put wrong, beginning by removing all the members of the king’s small council and replacing them with men of his own choosing, most of whom proved wise and capable councillors. – The World of Ice and Fire.”
Daemon also found many second-tier houses who played second fiddle to their Lords Paramount carrying his black standard, even those houses who did not feel the sting of royal disfavor or were not regions with a history of conflict with Dorne. The Sunderlands of the Three Sisters in the Vale, the Reynes of the Westerlands, even the Yronwood Bloodroyals, long a thorn in the Martell’s side. Their motivations range from the personal and familial to simple ambition for advancement, but whatever the reason, more and more houses joined the rebels, forming the largest and most credible royal rebellion the Targaryen dynasty had ever seen in its near-200 year existence.
It seems that Daemon’s own resentment of his second tier status was shared by many others and Daemon, and his followers, were smart enough to make use of these ambitious and embittered lords.
Daemon and his cause effectively act as a representative microcosm of the ambitious and bloody nature of Westerosi feudal politics, more so than any other civil war detailed in the setting. Unlike the other wars, there was no single catalyst or point of contention to argue rightness or wrongness about. Daemon was essentially playing the part of a second tier house attempting to usurp an older and more established house in favour of his own, and his constituents would find so many different reasons to join him. The First Blackfyre Rebellion, in short, is not a war over a single issue, but a war over the reality and direction of Westeros as a whole. To support Daemon meant expressing dissatisfaction with Westeros as it was and where it was going; to support Daeron meant expressing support for the status quo. To dismiss it as a simple conflict between warmongers vs. intellectuals does the setting little credit. Daemon may have been the beau-ideal martial king, but as a rebel leader he minted and circulated his own currency, proving that he understood that mere martial valor could not win the day. Daemon did not neglect the bureaucratic or coalition-building aspects of his prospective reign, and thus, like many things in Martin’s book series, the reality is incredibly complex, the morality of this rebellion full of grey spots.
Chief among Daemon’s assets, however, was his ability to craft a political narrative. With Daeron filling the courts with “singers, septons, women, and Dornishmen,” Daemon established himself as the great hero of martial virtue. Daemon championed chivalry and honour, in an age where the mystic sorcerer Bloodraven held the king’s ear, and where kings arrested men on false pretenses. Where Daeron had a Martell bride and gave his sister away to the Dornish, Daemon actively campaigned (yet did not achieve) for an incestuous union traditional of Targaryens with his half-sister. While Baelor Breakspear looked half-Dornish with his dark hair, Daemon appeared every inch a Targaryen. In Daemon rested the hopes of the glories of war, where Daeron was the champion of the lusterless, humiliating peace of Baelor the Blessed.
Fire and Blood, Blood and Fire
The fighting erupted all over Westeros and battles were fought in the Vale, Riverlands, Westerlands, and elsewhere. Daemon’s chief lieutenant, Fireball, killed Lord Lefford at the gates of Lannisport and later defeated Lord Damon Lannister in turn, crushing the greater portion of the Westerlands and winning great acclaim both for Daemon and himself. Fireball would prove a decisive ally, yet a day before the decisive battle, a nameless archer would shoot down Daemon’s great teacher, with some even suspecting this nameless archer was either Bloodraven or one of his Raven’s Teeth.
The decisive battle of the war was fought on the Redgrass Field. Daemon cut Lord Donnel Arryn’s van to pieces and killed Wyl Waynwood and the Knight of Ninestars, proving his valour and merit on the field by crushing the strongest of the Red Dragon’s forces and driving them to rout. Yet before Daemon could slay Lord Arryn himself, he was met by Ser Gwayne Corbray of the Kingsguard in single combat. The tale-tellers would spin legends of Daemon wielding the Valyrian sword Blackfyre and Gwayne the Valyrian sword Lady Forlorn, the two spell-forged blades ringing across the battlefield, a duel of champions in the grand tradition of chivalry. Yet even when Daemon defeated Gwayne, he ordered Redtusk to carry Gwayne back to the maesters in the rear, choosing to defend the wounded knight and champion chivalry, as he had done before, instead of attacking Prince Maekar’s forces.
The Dragon Slayer
Daemon’s death would soon after come at the hands of his own half brother, Bloodraven, who had remained loyal to Daeron II and taken a hard line against the rebels, and Blackfyre supporters in general – something that would later earn him exile at the Wall.
“Sometimes at court I would serve the king’s small council. They used to fight about it. Uncle Baelor said that clemency was best when dealing with an honorable foe. If a defeated man believes he will be pardoned, he may lay down his sowrd and bend the knee. Elsewise he will fight on to the death, and slay more loyal men and innocents. But Lord Bloodraven said that when you pardon rebels, you only plant the seeds for the next rebellion.”
Some argue that Bloodraven cared greatly for and even loved Daemon Blackfyre despite remaining loyal to Daeron II and the Targaryens.
“I have my own ghosts. A brother I loved, a brother I hated, a woman I desired. In my dreams I see them still, but no word of mine has ever reached them.”
However, I am of the opinion that it was Daeron II who was the brother whom Bloodraven truly loved, especially considering all that Daeron II had done for Bloodraven in spite of his bastardry and odd nature. Under Daeron II, Bloodraven was given respect, influence, position, a title, a command, and even the Valyrian steel sword Dark Sister. Bloodraven had great access, power, and influence because of Daeron II. Everything he was, Bloodraven owed to Daeron II. Except for the few outlying cases, bastards are not exactly treated well in Westeros. Even baseborn children of great lords and kings are born with a stain on their very name that few things can wash off and some are even fostered with their father’s bannermen in order to keep them away from their father’s household. However, Daeron II shirked tradition, a common theme throughout his reign, and brought his father’s bastards, including Bloodraven, into his court and household. He gave them love, kindness, respect, position, a home, and was extremely generous with them. I believe that Bloodraven was intensely grateful to Daeron II for this very kindness and generosity. Given all that Daeron II did for Bloodraven, I believe it makes more sense that the brother he loved was in fact his trueborn kingly brother and not Daemon Blackfyre. I wouldn’t be surprised if Bloodraven was quite disgusted with Daemon’s rebellion because Daemon was effectively spitting in the eye of Daeron II in spite of Daeron II’s generosity towards Daemon and the other bastards.
“Daemon dismounted to see that his fallen foe [Ser Gwayne Corbray] was not trampled, and commanded Redtusk to carry him back to the maesters in the rear. And there was his mortal error, for the Raven’s Teeth had gained the top of Weeing Ridge, and Bloodraven saw his half brother’s royal standard three hundred yards away and Daemon and his sons beneath it. He slew Aegon first, the elder of the twins, for he knew that Daemon would never leave the boy whilst warmth lingered in his body, though the white shafts fell like rain. Nor did he, though seven arrows pierced him, driven as much by sorcery as by Bloodraven’s bow. Young Aemon took up Blackfyre when the blade slipped from his dying father’s fingers, so Bloodraven slew him, too, the younger of twins. Thus perished the black dragon and his sons. There was much and more afterward, I know. I saw a bit of it myself . . . the rebels running, Bittersteel turning the rout and leading his mad charge . . . his battle with Bloodraven, second only to the one Daemon fought with Gwayne Corbray . . . Prince Baelor’s hammerblow against the rebel rear, the Dornishmen all screaming as they filled the air with spears . . . but at the end of the day, it made no matter. The war was done when Daemon died.”
The killing of Daemon and his twin sons by Bloodraven and his Raven’s Teeth in this manner certainly does not speak to a man who would later regret his actions towards the Blackfyre rebels, no matter any familial relations that existed between them. His actions towards future Blackfyre rebels certainly seem to support this idea, especially with regards to the capture, imprisonment, and eventual death of Daemon II Blackfyre and the killing of Aenys Blackfyre under a banner of safe conduct from the Iron Throne itself, the very crime that earned Bloodraven exile to the Wall.
Artwork by Amok
On the Redgrass Field Daemon’s chivalric political narrative had won him great support, but this time his devotion would cost him dearly. During the melee between the two great knights, Brynden Rivers, a fellow Great Bastard of Aegon the Unworthy, and his company of archers known as the Raven’s Teeth, gained a position on the Weeping Ridge from which they could rain their arrows down upon Daemon’s position.
“Daemon and his eldest sons, Aegon and Aemon, were brought down beneath the withering fall of arrows sent by Brynden Rivers and his private guards, the Raven’s Teeth. This was followed by Bittersteel’s mad charge, with Blackfyre in his hand, as he attempted to rally Daemon’s forces. Meeting with Bloodraven in the midst of the charge, a mighty duel ensued, which left Bloodraven blinded in one eye and sent Bittersteel fleeing. But the battle came to an end when Prince Baelor Breakspear appeared with a host of stormlords and Dornishmen, falling on the rebel rear, while the young Prince Maekar rallied what remained of Lord Arryn’s van and made an implacable anvil against which the rebels were hammered and destroyed. – The World of Ice and Fire.”
Art by Jose Daniel Cabrera Pena from The World of Ice and Fire
Daemon Blackfyre was easily the most successful of all of the Blackfyre rebels, and this is due in large part not to his swordarm, but his adept political mind. Daemon became a focal point for all the discontent swimming in the realm, and his devotion to a political ideal that appealed to so many won him support not just from the outcasts of Westeros, but from the true believers like Eustace Osgrey, who supported Daemon because he was the ‘better man.’ In a war without an issue of law deciding it (save the abortive arrest attempt which was, at best, a minor instigator), this notion of the better man and the lesser man defined the choices of so many. More than any other civil war, Daemon Blackfyre fought not what a king does, but who a king was, and tens of thousands would be dead on both sides before the answer to the question was realised. The answer being: not him, not Daemon, and not the Blackfyres.
The Beasts From The Sea – Bitter Men and Bittersteel
Artwork by Marc Simonnetti
Though ten thousand men died on the Redgrass Field, including Daemon Blackfyre and his eldest twin sons, Bittersteel, the surviving sons of Daemon Blackfyre, and many of their supporters fled across the Narrow Sea, along with the sword Blackfyre, to escape capture after their defeat.
Despite the Great Black Dragon perishing alongside his sons on the Redgrass Field, the legacy of House Blackfyre did not die with them. The Scions of the Great Black Dragon and the Man Clothed in the Bittersteel would continue to plague Westeros and the Targaryens for generations to come, bringing nothing but war, grief, betrayal, and murder with them. However, these events and the pretenders who played a part in them are a story for another day.
It is my opinion that Daemon truly and sincerely believed that he was the one true king. Although, however sincere his intentions, the culture of bastards, the political grasping of anti-Dornish lords, and the aspirations of lesser houses siding with Daemon against their lords paramount overlords soon twisted this war between brothers into something that was expressed a deep seated issue within Westerosi politics; the conflict between the past and the future, between static and change.
Daemon gained support because he represented the classic Westeros past. He was Aegon the Conqueror come again, an attractive martial, soldier who wielded Blackfyre and represented a return to the anti-Dornish and martial, chivalric norms.
Daeron II was a future that represented more academic culture of learning and peace, where outsiders and enemies had an even shot of influence and power on par with lords and knights of the classic age. He was a small, weak, quasi-maester who neither fought himself or respected the martial culture like the lords, knights, kings, and Daemon Blackfyre. His marriage, his court, and his family were overly Dornish flavoured, much to the distaste of the sensitive palate of the traditional Westerosi.
To Daemon’s grave and fatal misfortune, instead of having a man who had to frequently remind him that he was not a god like the Roman days of old, or whispering poison in the case of Aerys and Varys, Daemon had the opposite. He had men like Bittersteel and Fireball whispering in his ear, inflating his ego, focusing his ambitions, twisting any resentments he had, and eventually forcing his hands towards ambition and rebellion. Brothers, fighters, friends, lords, knights, and his father’s ghost were all telling him the same thing, that he was the king and that he should fight to claim what was rightfully his, shouldn’t he? It took years but eventually Daemon bought into his own projected legend, he would be king, his sons would be princes, he would fulfill his father’s ambitions, as well as his future lords bannermens’ wishes, and Daeron II would go, regardless of any kindness or familial love that his kingly half brother had shown Daemon and his family.
Daemon was the original pretender, the Great Black Dragon, but his rebellion was the product of a deep seated conflict within Westeros; a clash of culture, politics, history, and family, not one born of his own selfishness, anger, or hatred, rather those characteristics can be attributed to Daemon’s own supporters.
Daemon had to fight because in his mind he was the true king and had to save Westeros from his brother’s weakness, his foreign court, and to fulfill his father’s intentions for him.
The world and his supporters were all telling Daemon one thing and, to his grave misfortune, he believed and died trying to fulfill these ideas that people had for him.