Jeyne Westerling (image credit to Duhi)
Robb Stark’s Kingdom of the North and Trident was but a shadow of the ancient realms which had existed there before the coming of the dragons. The Young Wolf had no Hand or council but his general group of advisors, and no capital other than his base at Riverrun. Yet for all its courtly lack, the kingdom over which Robb ruled so briefly did have one royal requirement: a queen consort.
Jeyne Westerling may not have been the bride Robb was promised (or the bride he politically needed); theirs was instead a match of mixed obligation and passion. As her marriage was built on tragedy, so it would end in tragedy. Queen Jeyne would not share her husband’s horrific fate at the Twins (however much she might have been intended to), but she would mourn sincerely the heroic young man to whom she had been wed so briefly. Her sweetness and gentility might have made her a worthy queen in another life, but in her own she was simply an ill-fortuned bride, the first (and last) Queen in the North of the new dynasty.
More Honor Than Sense
Only her great-grandmother could have foreseen that Lady Jeyne Westerling would one day be acclaimed Queen in the North. Born presumably at the Crag, the Westerlings’ ancestral seat on the westerlands coast, Jeyne was the elder daughter and second child of Lord Gawen Westerling and his wife, Sybell Spicer. Her father’s family was mostly well-regarded, at least in the westerlands. More ancient than even the Lannisters, House Westerling traced its descent from the First Men who settled the westerlands during the Dawn Age. The Crag’s position on the sea might point to the source of the Westerlings’ importance; with westermen and ironborn ancient enemies, House Westerling might have been expected to defend the rich western shore from the reavers of the Iron Islands. It was an important distinction, akin to that of the “marcher lords” who defended the Reach and stormlands from the Dornish to the south; House Mallister’s seat of Seagard was built (and named) specifically in recognition of its role as the riverlands’ protection from the longships of the isles. The Kings of the Rock had, on occasion, taken Westerling maidens to wife, and even the Targaryens had recognized the Westerlings’ nobility; another Jeyne Westerling had been one of Maegor the Cruel’s three “black brides”.
If her father’s family was sufficiently noble, however, its words – Honor, not Honors – betrayed its lack of hard pragmatic sense and political ambition. Though once rich in lands and mines like their westerland neighbors, the Westerlings saw the fortunes falter through the centuries; by the time of A Song of Ice and Fire, they hardly had the funds to repair the decaying Crag. An ancient name and lack of fortune are a familiar story to many a noble family, in Westeros as well as our own world, and Lord Gawen subsequently took to wife a comparatively lowborn woman: Lady Sybell Spicer.
The nobility of Lady Sybell was a courtesy only two generations deep. Her grandfather was nothing more than a trader in spices, raised to the minor nobility by Tytos Lannister; her grandmother was a woman of no apparent noble standing (though some beauty) whom her grandfather brought back from Essos. Even worse, this Essosi bride (rumored to be a maegi) became a notable potion brewer and fortune teller in Lannisport for many years. Westerosi are already doubtful of Essosi brides, even nobly born ones (the Myrish Serala Darklyn, for one, is still vilified in Duskendale, even as Lord Denys Darklyn is mourned); any child of a merchant father and an Essosi commoner mother would have no chance at acceptance among the lords of the westerlands. That double background of commerce would also damn any hope of their children’s for noble advancement; the impoverished but proud branches of House Arryn, for example, barely acknowledge their richer Gulltown cousins for their “rare good sense” in marrying merchants. Include Sybell’s grandmother’s supposed penchant for the dark arts, and it becomes clear how poor off House Spicer was from even before its founding (no matter how monetarily wealthy the spice trade had made it), and how remote its chances of advancing would ever seem.
So it would have shocked the westerlords to discover that Gawen Westerling, Lord of the Crag, wed the fortune teller’s granddaughter Sybell Spicer. The reason behind his decision can only be speculated. It may be that Sybell brought with her a large dowry from her mercantile family, nicely mitigating some of the concerns a lord would have in wedding a mere merchant’s granddaughter. Yet Kevan Lannister’s assessment of the marriage suggests a darker undertone to the marriage:
“He should never have wed her. The Westerlings always did have more honor than sense.” (“Tyrion III”, A Storm of Swords)
What would compel Lord Westerling to wed a woman so much lower in rank than himself – something that would cause Kevan to bemoan Gawen’s unflinching honor? Perhaps, like his eventual goodson Robb, Gawen Westerling felt compelled to marry the Spicer daughter after compromising her honor. That Sybell’s Essosi grandmother was also rumored to have tricked her merchant husband into marriage – with simple seduction or even a spell – lends some credence to the belief that Sybell had a more active role in arranging what was, for her and her family, a highly advantageous match.
Still, a Westerling name would not guarantee any of the children similarly good matches in the marriage market. Kevan Lannister, for one, was all but horrified that Gawen should suggest marrying Jeyne to one of his twins. Despite their low place in the Lannister succession (after Tywin’s children and Kevan’s own elder son, Lancel), either of the twins would have been much too grand a match for a girl whose great-grandfather hawked saffron and cloves on the streets of Lannisport. Jaime Lannister himself acknowledged that in the ordinary course of events, Sybell’s daughters would have been fortunate to secure younger sons of lords (even suggesting his bastard cousin Joy Hill was too great a match for Sybell and Gawen’s elder son Raynald). It was a discouraging prospect, both for the ancient House Westerling and for ambitious Sybell.
Jeyne herself seems not to have internalized these dynastic conflicts. On the contrary, the elder Westerling maid was sweet and gentle; if she was no great beauty, she was at least pretty enough, with her chestnut curls and heart-shaped face. Presumably she would have spent her days much like her highborn compatriots through the rest of Westeros: lessons from the Crag’s maester, needlework, occasional visits to the seats of her family’s neighbors. It was a placid existence by the sea, but it was not to last. War was coming to the west, and Jeyne and her family would find themselves targeted by the victoriously campaigning Young Wolf.
Come into My Castle: The Storming of the Crag
Jeyne and her family would have had an intimate knowledge of the Young Wolf’s martial prowess. Earlier in his campaign, Robb’s forces captured Lord Gawen himself; at the time of the storming, Gawen was still held at the Mallisters’ seat of Seagard. With the male head of the household a prisoner of war, Jeyne, her mother, and her siblings were the only Westerlings left to see the approach of the northern and riverlands forces. Robb might have appeared a dashing figure ahorse, but neither the large armed force behind him nor the huge direwolf by his side would have disguised his intentions. Nor would Jeyne and the Westerling household have likely been ignorant of the havoc then being wreaked on their fellow wester lords:
Without siege engines there was no way to storm Casterly Rock, so the Young Wolf was paying the Lannisters back in kind for the devastation they’d inflicted on the riverlands. Lords Karstark and Glover were raiding along the coast, Lady Mormont had captured thousands of cattle and was driving them back toward Riverrun, while the Greatjon had seized the gold mines at Castamere, Nunn’s Deep, and the Pendric Hills. (“Catelyn V”, A Clash of Kings)
The Crag was no exception to Robb’s total war in the west. As the famous (if dilapidated) seat of a Lannister bannerman, the Crag would be a valuable symbolic prize for the King in the North to win; more practically, by seizing the Crag, Robb would deny the Lannister forces one of the largest strongholds in the northern Westerlands, a natural choice from which to send a relief effort to its Lannister neighbors. With Gawen Westerling presumably having taken the lion’s share of his House’s sworn men to war, the Crag was left lightly defended. That Robb and his northmen and riverlords would be victorious would not have been in doubt; what would have troubled Jeyne and her family more was their own fate post-victory. Everyone (especially the Westerlings, whose lord would probably have been among Tywin’s western forces) knew about the brutal sack of King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion, when Princess Elia and her young children had been brutally murdered. More recently – indeed, shortly before the Storming of the Crag – Castle Darry had been invested and its entire garrison put to the sword, including its boy-lord Lyman. Robb had not earned such a dark reputation as Gregor Clegane, of course, but the marauding of his soldiers in the Westerling keep was not an impossibility.
Indeed, Jeyne had probably seen Robb Stark and his men as wild wolves, bloodthirsty and vengeful, who would in all likelihood rape and murder herself, her mother, and her younger sister. Certainly, such was the attitude of her fellow westerman, Lancel Lannister, who delivered a scurrilous – and, especially to a young girl, terrifying – report of the northern victory at Oxcross:
“Using some vile sorcery, your brother fell upon Ser Stafford Lannister with an army of wargs, not three days ride from Lannisport. Thousands of good men were butchered as they slept, without the chance to lift sword. After the slaughter, the northmen feasted on the flesh of the slain.”
Tyrion himself specifically noted that the survivors of Oxcross spread wild tales about the shape-shifting northern forces who seemed to harness the old gods themselves – tales which would have almost certainly reached Lady Jeyne inside the Crag. A Westerosi noblewoman was taught to rely on her menfolk to protect her from danger, but with her father gone and only her brothers – young Raynald and younger Rollam – left in the Crag, Jeyne was virtually defenseless, relying on the same men who had imprisoned her father and harried her neighbors for mercy. Like Sansa Stark inside the Red Keep during the Battle of the Blackwater, Jeyne would probably have been horribly afraid of what her fate held.
As expected, the Young Wolf emerged victorious – but not untouchable. King Robb had taken an arrow wound in the battle and, as with any battle in Westeros (or our own world until very recent history), the real danger came not from the wound itself but from infection after its infliction. The maester of the Crag would be obligated under vows to tend to the new master of the castle, but Lady Sybell had a plan of her own to handle the King in the North’s festering wound – a plan that involved her teenage daughter. Her family was in an uncertain position, surrounded by hostile northlords and riverlords; should their beloved king die in their custody, the vengeance these fiercely loyal bannermen could exact on their prisoners could be deadly. If the Westerlings were seen to tend to the King in the North and treat him honorably, however, they might have hope to be treated honorably by Robb’s forces in turn. Jeyne would have made an ideal pawn in Sybell’s nursing scheme; raised to worship the Maiden and being herself gentle, Jeyne might have thought she was doing the Maiden’s work by nursing her enemy in his innocent wounded state.
With a family history of women tricking and/or compromising more politically powerful and higher-standing men into marriage, of course, Sybell might have hoped for a little more than simple nursing from pretty Jeyne. To be sure, Jeyne was no seductress, at least insofar as the reader meets her; sweet and shy, Jeyne was much more an ingenue than a femme fatale. Yet even Jeyne’s maidenly comforting of King Robb was enough to complete Lady Sybell’s plan:
“Jeyne had me taken to her own bed, and she nursed me until the fever passed. And she was with me when the Greatjon brought me the news of . . . of Winterfell. Bran and Rickon.” He seemed to have trouble saying his brothers’ names. “That night, she . . . she comforted me, Mother.”
Catelyn did not need to be told what sort of comfort Jeyne Westerling had offered her son. “And you wed her the next day.”
He looked her in the eyes, proud and miserable all at once. “It was the only honorable thing to do. She’s gentle and sweet, Mother, she will make me a good wife.” (“Catelyn II”, A Storm of Swords)
A daughter who was no longer a maiden was (at least on face) a dynastic disaster for the Westerlings. At best, if Jeyne bore Robb a bastard and he was feeling generous, he might marry her to a household knight or man-at-arms in his service. Certainly, Westerosi ladies of the past who had found themselves in similar situations of scandal had earned lower-ranking husbands as a result. Falena Stokeworth, for one, was married to then-Prince Viserys’ master-at-arms Lucas Lothston after having an affair with the future Aegon IV; Delena Florent was wed to Ser Hosman Norcross, from her father’s household, after being deflowered by King Robert Baratheon. True, a Stark-Westerling bastard would be at least nobly born enough to assure probable acknowledgement by his or her royal father, but the Westerlings were still Lannister bannermen; to raise the bastard of the King in the North would invite retribution from their westerlands neighbors.
If Robb refused to find his former lover a husband, however, Lord Gawen would (upon his release) need to submit to whomever would take his deflowered daughter. Jeyne had already been rejected for a marriage to a Lannister far down in the Casterly Rock succession based on her dubious pedigree, and she had been a maiden at that rejection; no man of any remotely noble standing in the westerlands would desire the un-maiden daughter of the impoverished Lord of the Crag, especially when her lover had been their sworn enemy, Robb Stark. Amerei Frey was wed to a hedge knight after she was discovered to have had multiple sexual partners, and her lineage was somewhat better than Jeyne’s (the Freys are considerably older in their nobility than the Spicers, and the Darrys were among the most honored families in the riverlands). It was at least an unpleasant prospect for the Lord of the Crag.
In our own world, another woman had conspired to – and succeeded in – gaining queenship despite her relatively lowly origins and antagonism to the king’s cause. In 1464 Elizabeth Woodville was a widowed mother of two from a genteel rather than a noble family; her husband had been slain fighting for the Lancastrian cause. When Elizabeth met the new Yorkist King Edward IV, he attempted to make beautiful Elizabeth his mistress; when she refused, he married her (despite his cousin, the “Kingmaker” Earl of Warwick, entering into negotiations for him to marry a French princess).
As Lady Sybell might have predicted, though, Robb was no Edward IV, to seek a mistress before accepting a wife; he had no plans to leave his lover in such a dishonorable position. King Robb himself was no stranger to the taint of bastardy: the honor of his father had compelled Ned Stark (at least in popular telling) to bring his bastard son Jon to Winterfell, to be raised alongside his trueborn children. Still, Robb would have noted the cool relationship between his half-brother and close friend and his lady mother; even doted-upon bastards like Jon are widely disgraced among the Westerosi nobility (outside of Dorne) as products of lust and shame, and their career options are limited (a large motivation behind Jon’s joining the Night’s Watch). Deflowering Jeyne and leaving her with his bastard would condemn her to a similar unhappy fate, disregarding every lesson Ned Stark taught his sons about honor. Ned could not have married the mother of his bastard son, being already wed to Catelyn, but Robb could – and would – do his father one better.
For Jeyne, the match came in much more personal terms. Before her was a boy, wounded and weak, who had already lost his father and two younger sisters to his Lannister enemies; soon after, he would be told that a boy who had been raised as his foster sibling had murdered his two younger brothers. These were deep blows to a young king, far from his mother, the only immediate family member left to him. Jeyne, in her gentleness and sweetness, was exactly the sort of comforting presence Robb needed. That Robb would then offer to marry her would have only ensured his reputation as a good and honorable king. Perhaps aware she would never make a grand match in the westerlands, in love with a handsome and chivalrous king, she had sought a lover and found a bronze and iron crown.
Marriage, of course, was only the beginning of Jeyne’s wildly unpredictable career. Her Grace the Queen in the North would now face a far greater challenge: ruling as consort the kingdom which had so recently sought her family’s destruction.
Which Might Be More Important: Jeyne as Queen
Jeyne Westerling (image credit to Elia Mervi)
The lovers might be wed, but two parental forces still stood in their way. The former could not be helped for the moment: Robb and Jeyne had married without the consent of Gawen Westerling, who in the patriarchal society of Westeros had final say on the marriages of his children (especially his daughters). Lady Sybell had encouraged the match, of course, and the King in the North and his new Queen might have hoped that, with Gawen still a prisoner at Seagard, his lady wife could speak with his authority. Robb would also offer to release him from captivity – doubtless an unpopular move among his bannermen, who might have expected a rich ransom from Gawen’s liege lord Tywin, but a necessary conciliatory step to secure Robb’s new father-in-law’s approval.
Conceiving the unpopularity of that move, however, would also have reminded Robb of the far more pressing problem: presenting his marriage to his “court” at Riverrun. The subject of his marriage was likely already a sore subject, with his northern lords perhaps a little annoyed that Robb had contracted to marry a Frey of the Crossing rather than a northern lord’s daughter (as was traditional for a Lord of Winterfell). Yet with the Kingdom of the North now a joint realm with that of the Trident, a daughter of the riverlands was at least an understandable symbolic choice; their child would be a union of riverlord and northerner, a fit ruler for the joint kingdom.
There were, of course, significant political drawbacks for the King in the North in marrying a Westerling of the Crag. Even if her father had sanctioned the match, Lord Gawen was specifically noted as an impoverished lord. Jeyne might have been pretty, but her real draw as a bride for any man would be the dowry her father would provide her bridegroom. Even a bride of modest birth and circumstances (as Jeyne was considered, among at least the westermen) could attract a husband with the promise of a huge dowry; such allowed the daughter of a Gulltown merchant to marry Lord Lyonel Corbray, ruler of the respectable but similarly impoverished Heart’s Home. Nor was cash alone necessary for a dowry: King Argilac Durrendon offered a large swath of the stormlands to then-Lord of Dragonstone Aegon Targaryen along with his daughter Argella’s hand (in return for draconic aid against the ironborn). Though not the girl’s official dowry (but keeping with the martial context of the betrothal), Walder Frey had provided Robb with a thousand knights and three thousand foot soldiers when his Frey bridal pact was made.
Jeyne’s “dowry”, by contrast, was in no way grand enough for a kingly husband: she brought barely a dozen household knights and fifty total men with her east (the flower of the West being with Tywin’s armies, and the Crag’s forces likely somewhat depleted after the storming). It was hardly an advantage in the numbers game Robb played with the eternally stronger Lannister forces. Without a great fortune, lands to inherit, or soldiers to aid the cause, Jeyne came to her new husband stark naked (as King Francis I once commented on his son Henry’s bride, Catherine de’ Medici, when Pope Paul III refused to pay the dowry his predecessor had promised).
Personally, of course, Jeyne was much more than simply her familial name and unhappy lack of dowry. Robb called her bright as well as beautiful – a loving exaggeration, perhaps, as no one considers Jeyne more than pretty, but enough to suggest that she would have been at least a sensible queen. Her sensibility, in fact, was tested in the first days of her marriage:
“What happened with the Freys, after you wed?
“ … [Black Walder] went so far as to say that his sisters would not be loath to wed a widower. I would have killed him for that if Jeyne had not begged me to be merciful.” (“Catelyn II”, A Storm of Swords)
Robb had grievously wounded the pride of the Freys, and Black Walder Frey was not a man to overlook slights lightly (one need only look to his resolute, even murderous determination to inherit the Twins). Nevertheless, a king murdering his (former) vassal for a comment, however caustic, would show Robb not as the Father-ly master of justice, but an easily offended, vengeful boy. Jeyne, however, had played her part perfectly. The Mother is praised as the “font of mercy”; the wife of a lord or king would be applauded – and even in some instances expected – to beg mercy for those who had committed wrongdoings, and a husband who could not show weakness in justice could grant mercy as a “boon” to his lady (much as Sansa Stark begged mercy for her father from her betrothed and king, Joffrey). Instead of focusing on her personal insult, Jeyne had recognized the importance of retaining a merciful, queenly attitude toward the much-aggrieved Freys.
The new Queen Jeyne would need that sort of sensibility in the future. Robb was her loving husband, but he was also the Young Wolf, victor of battles and supreme leader of the north-riverlands coalition; his time belonged to strategizing, trying to win a war her marriage had helped cripple for him. It was an unenviable position: Jeyne was alone, in the midst of her husband’s allies (still her father’s enemies), wholly unprepared to manage a fractious “court” or an overpressured husband. Consequently, Jeyne had been wise to seek out her new mother-in-law, Catelyn Stark, for advice. Catelyn’s marriage to Eddard Stark had been approved by all parties, and she had spent Robert’s Rebellion safe in her home castle of Riverrun; nevertheless, Catelyn had been another southron bride for a Stark lord, married in the midst of war and far from her commander husband for much of their first year of marriage. Jeyne had not been born into northern customs, and her training (entirely spent in the peace of Robert’s rule) would never have envisioned becoming a war bride; nevertheless, Jeyne demonstrated a willingness to learn from those more experienced which would have served her well as queen.
Jeyne did, however, have one great advantage – one connected with her fundamental duty as Queen in the North:
Slender, but with good hips, Catelyn noted. She should have no trouble bearing children, at least. (“Catelyn II”, A Storm of Swords)
Catelyn was wise to note this physical feature of Jeyne’s. A queen consort’s first and most important task was to bear her husband at least one male heir. Childbirth, however, was a difficult and dangerous prospect for Westerosi ladies high and low alike: a crown had not saved Queen Rhaella from dying in the birth of her third living child, Daenerys. Indeed, Catelyn herself was intimately aware of the dangers, having lost her own mother Minisa Whent in childbirth at a young age. Nor was the birth of simply one son enough to secure the line; any one of many illnesses could carry off the newborn Prince of Winterfell and leave the succession once more in question. Centuries past, the death of Queen Rhaenys, leaving only a single sickly son, forced Aegon the Conqueror to have another son with his much-disliked wife Visenya; in our own world, Henry VIII had married three times after the death of Jane Seymour, desperate to secure the male Tudor line which existed only in himself and his little son, Edward.
More subtly, Catelyn knew that Jeyne’s position would be strengthened greatly by bearing a male heir to the bronze-and-iron crown, especially if she could do so quickly. The male Stark line was reduced to a single branch by the time of Jeyne and Robb’s marriage: with Bran and Rickon “dead” and the bastard Jon Snow sworn to the Night’s Watch, Robb’s heir would be his sister Sansa (married to the hated Tyrion Lannister), his sister Arya (presumed dead), or a distant non-Stark cousin in the Vale. If Robb could have a son of his own, however, he could show his bannermen that he was not simply a rebel pretender, but the true head of a new royal dynasty. It was no mistake that, in our own world, Henry VIII had his “family” portrait painted to show his dead third wife, Jane Seymour, in place of his then-current one; Jane, as the mother of the male heir Edward, was infinitely more important than the gracious but childless Katherine Parr. Lords might still grumble, of course, that the new heir had the blood of their westermen enemies (especially if he lacked appropriate Stark or Tully coloring), as once lords did against the Martell-looking Baelor Breakspear, but the birth of a male heir would go a long way toward justifying the risks Robb had taken in wedding his Westerling bride.
That need for justification weighed heavily on Jeyne. If she became mother to the next King in the North, she could win not simply the respect of her new vassals but potential power for herself. The mother of a king or lord had a strong claim to serving as his regent during his minority, and Westerosi history bore this truth out: Jaehaerys appointed his mother Queen Alyssa as a co-regent during his minority (along with their protector, Robar Baratheon), and Lady Tyrell served as regent for the infant Lord of Highgarden during the Dance of the Dragons. Even a king who had grown into adulthood could look to his mother for influence, and dowager queens could be as respected and feared as their offspring (as once Queen Visenya had been in Maegor’s reign). The northlords and riverlords needed only to look to the influence of Cersei Lannister and their own liege’s mother, Catelyn, to see how powerfully played the card of royal motherhood could be. Childless, Jeyne was only the daughter of their enemy, a poor choice to sacrifice the gains of the Frey alliance. With a son, and the large family her good hips promised, she was the matriarch of the royal Stark line, eventual Queen Mother of the next King in the North.
Jeyne would never have the chance, however, to bear Princes Eddard, Brandon, or Hoster. Her first and most bitter enemies had not stopped seeking revenge against the slight against their honor which her marriage had caused. Sweet and pretty she might have been, but they would take their toll.