Hello again, readers. After our previous discussion on Daemon Blackfyre a couple of weeks ago it should come as no surprise that we’ve finally reached the descendants of Daemon Blackfyre; Daemon II, Haegon, Aenys, Daemon III, and Maelys the Monstrous Blackfyre. As there is not a great deal of information on all of the Blackfyre Descendants, this installment of the Three Heads of the Dragon; Kings, Pretenders, and the Ladies of Fire will be incorporating all of the heirs of the Great Black Dragon into this one essay.
Daemon II Blackfyre
Daemon was born the third son of Daemon I Blackfyre and Rohanne of Tyrosh. As a child, he and Alyn Cockshaw were inseparable, no doubt united by their joint torment at the hands of Daemon’s older brothers, Aegon and Aemon. Whether they were picked on due to their sexuality or because they were just younger and smaller remains to be seen.
In 196 AC, when he was just seven years old, Daemon went into exile in Tyrosh with his surviving family and Bittersteel after the death of his father and older brothers at the Battle of the Redgrass Field during the First Blackfyre Rebellion. Condemned as a traitor by his father’s war, Daemon grew up in a foreign environment, dreaming of home. But it would not just be dreams of Westeros that the young Daemon would experience in Tyrosh. Daemon also had a prophetic dragon dream about a dragon that would be born at the castle of Whitewalls.
“This pale white castle, you, a dragon bursting from an egg, I dreamed it all, just as I once dreamed of my brothers lying dead. They were twelve and I was only seven, so they laughed at me, and died. I am two-and-twenty now, and I trust my dreams.” – The Mystery Knight.
Somehow learning of Daemon II’s dream, a Blackfyre supporter by the name of Gormon Peake soon traveled to Daemon and convinced him to come to Westeros and make his claim on the Iron Throne, as his father had done 15 years earlier. However, Bittersteel, Daemon II’s uncle, refused to give either his support or the storied sword Blackfyre to Daemon II and Gormon. Given that Bloodraven apparently knew of the Second Blackfyre Rebellion from the outset and that Bittersteel refused to support Daemon in any way, it wouldn’t be entirely unreasonable to think that Bittersteel informed on Daemon II to Bloodraven in order to get Daemon II killed so that Bittersteel could plan a later invasion with a stronger Blackfyre candidate who was worthy of carrying Blackyre. Bittersteel definitely knew that a failed Blackfyre Rebellion would eat away at his house’s support, legitimacy, and image of strength, and it is odd to wonder why he was so willing to send Daemon II into the viper’s nest. While it’s highly unlikely that Bittersteel would directly inform Bloodraven, a man whom he despised more than anyone else, the fact that he didn’t lend any form of protection or support to the direct heir of Daemon I Blackfyre as he walked into enemy territory, an incredibly dangerous move, could be construed as a bit suspicious. Bittersteel, no stranger either to symbol or institutional politics, would certainly know how dangerous losing Daemon II to the clutches of the Red Dragon could be to the Blackfyre cause.
The Second Blackfyre Rebellion had been borne out of a new sense of freedom and security. Given that many who fought for Daemon I in the First Blackfyre Rebellion had lost hostages to the Iron Throne, they could not plot unless their children were free or their safety assured, which was unlikely to ever happen. However, a stroke of grim luck came in the form of a terrible disease that had blighted Westeros. Most of those hostages that had been taken in the aftermath of the First Blackfyre Rebellion had lost their lives during the Great Spring Sickness, providing an opportunity for their aggrieved Blackfyre supporter families to plot once more. However, despite these families taking advantage of the Great Spring Sickness weakening the country and crown to plot for the return of the Blackfyres, unfortunately for them, Bittersteel and his highly trained Golden Company would not be supporting them, completely undermining their plot. Thus, these men had the will but not the troops to pull off their plan, and they wondered how they could gain the local support they so desperately needed.
In order to gather lords to support another Blackfyre Rebellion, Gorman Peake, Tommard Heddle, and Lord Ambrosse Butterwell conspired to host a wedding tourney, the grand prize of which was the Butterwell dragon egg, a gift given to a previous Lord Butterwell by Aegon IV Targaryen, Daemon II’s grandfather, after Aegon IV allegedly sired bastards on three Butterwell daughters during a stay at Whitewalls – which is ironic given that Aegon IV’s promiscuity had caused the Blackfyre problem to begin with. Much like the legendary Ossifer Plumm, Aegon IV’s genitals were still causing problems long after their use had expired.
As part of the plan, Daemon II travelled to Whitewalls disguised as a hedge knight named Ser John the Fiddler. At Whitewalls, Daemon would not only be reunited with Alyn Cockshaw, his childhood friend and likely lover, he would also encounter Ser Duncan the Tall and Egg, who were also heading to Whitewalls for the tourney. Much like his father, Daemon II used his genial personality to charm friends, though he would have decidedly less success, likely due to the short amount of time he had.
Using Whitewall’s and the wedding tourney as a gathering point for Blackfyre supporters was quite clever on Peake’s part, although the location was basically decided by Daemon II’s dragon dreams. Both the location and the tourney itself served different purposes. The tourney served as a way for Daemon II’s supporters to display their martial prowess, something that the knights of the age valued, while Whitewalls itself served as a stark reminder to people about the Targaryen origins of the Blackfyres, given that bastards of Aegon IV were apparently sired there. Additionally, the prize of the dragon egg served a similar purpose that Whitewalls did in addition to acting as a symbol of Blackfyre legitimacy over the Targaryens, particularly if the egg did actually manage to hatch. Without the sword Blackfyre to act as a symbolic icon supporting his claim, Daemon II’s use of Aegon IV’s dragon egg would be his symbolic Targaryen claim and be a de facto Blackfyre in absentia.
During the wedding, Daemon was given a place of honor on the dais, uncommon for someone supposed to be a hedge knight, early hints at the nefarious nature of the tourney for the clever reader. There’s no real reason that a hedge knight would be given such an honourable place unless it was under extraordinary circumstances or if the hedge knight wasn’t in fact a hedge knight at all. Furthermore, having Ser Glendon Flowers, the alleged bastard son of the notorious Blackfyre loyalist Ser Quentyn ‘Fireball’ Ball, basically repeat the Jacobite tradition of toasting the king across the water effectively, ironic given what happens to him later on, showcases one of the key problems of Daemon II’s entire plan and Daemon II himself. Everything was too obvious and lacked subtlety. This issue also extended to certain members of Daemon II’s supporters. You can start to see why Bittersteel didn’t extend his support towards Daemon II despite him being the actual heir of Daemon I Blackfyre.
After the bedding had taken place, Daemon/John, attempted to woo Duncan to his side, with as much subtlety as an actual dragon.
John: “I dreamed that you were all in white from head to heel, with a long pale cloak flowing from those broad shoulders. You were a White Sword, ser, a Sworn Brother of the Kingsguard, the greatest knight in all the Seven Kingdoms, and you lived for no other purpose but to guard and serve and please your king. You have dreamed the same dream, I know you have.”
Dunk: “It makes no matter what I dream. Only a king can make a Kingsguard knight.”
John: “I suppose that means I’ll have to take the throne, then. I would much rather be teaching you to fiddle.” – The Mystery Knight.
However, thankfully for Duncan, he never committed. Although, Daemon’s attempted seduction of Dunk would soon cost him. Alyn Cockshaw, Daemon’s childhood friend and likely lover, came to hate and blame Dunk for the loss of Daemon’s attentions and soon plotted against the “knight”.
“I wept when Bittersteel carried him off to exile, and again when Lord Peake told me he was coming home. But then he saw you upon the road, and forgot that I existed.” – The Mystery Knight.
His attempt at seduction caused his friend, Alyn, to turn on Dunk, and attempt to kill him. Fortunately for Dunk, Alyn’s plot to lure Dunk to a well backfired and ended with Alyn himself being left to drown in the well. Lack of subtlety and impulse control had just cost Daemon II one of his foremost allies, a foreboding premonition of the Second Blackfyre Rebellion as a whole.
During the tourney itself, Peake had been bribing Daemon’s tourney opponents to take a dive and allow Daemon II to win the dragon egg. But like seemingly every other aspect of this Rebellion, Gormon’s plan ran into a roadblock in the form of Ser Glendon Flowers, who refused to be bribed. Soon afterwards, the dragon egg went missing and it was Ser Glendon who was blamed after refusing to lose to Daemon in the lists, with a painted stone, acting as the dragon egg, planted among his belongings to pin the crime upon him. Glendon was then subsequently charged with the theft before being imprisoned and tortured. Luckily for Glendon, Duncan killed Ser Tommard Heddle in single combat and revealed the true nature of the fake egg. Unsure about who to believe and to his eternal credit, Daemon revealed his true identity after he was informed that Glendon was framed and allowed the man to prove his innocence via trial by joust with Daemon II himself. Glendon prevailed in his trial despite the torture and managed to defeat Daemon II, proving himself innocent. The mockery of justice and ineptitude of the planners killed much of the secret support for Gormon Peake and the Blackfyre cause, but Daemon II was attempting to salvage it as best he could.
Unfortunately for Daemon II, Bloodraven was marching against the Blackfyres and their supporters at Whitewalls. Despite his attempts to rally the troops at Whitewalls to fight for him, the men refused.
Daemon: “They cannot cow us, for our cause is just. We’ll slash through them and ride hell-bent for King’s Landing! Sound the trumpets! We’ll make another Redgrass Field today.”
Squire: “Piss on that, fiddle boy. I’d rather live.”
It is quite funny that Daemon II referenced the Redgrass Field in order to inspire the men at Whitewalls when The Battle of the Redgrass Field was where the Blackfyres were soundly defeated by the Targaryens when Daemon I and his twin sons were killed by Bloodraven and his Raven’s Teeth.
However, and again to Daemon’s eternal credit, he did actually go out and challenge Bloodraven to single combat, like Ser Criston Cole at the Butcher’s Ball.
“I will fight you, or the coward Aerys, or any champion you care to name.” – The Mystery Knight.
Also like Ser Criston Cole, no one took his offer and he found an ignoble end. Rather than take his head, Bloodraven chose instead to arrest Daemon II Blackfyre in order to prevent him from being martyred and to prevent Bittersteel from crowning Haegon Blackfyre, Daemon II’s younger brother, as the new Blackfyre king. Like his bitter rival, Bloodraven was a master of symbol politics and knew the value of a pathetic prisoner over a dead martyr. The Second Blackfyre Rebellion had now ended before it had even started.
Unfortunately for Daemon II, he would spend the last years of his life in captivity and died a hostage. Later, his uncle and younger brother would launch the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Thus Daemon’s life was a litany of failures. He failed to interpret his dream, he failed to win over Bittersteel and the Golden Company, and he failed to keep his rebellion under wraps.
Despite the failure of his attempted rebellion, Daemon and his cohorts were not without their qualities. Despite being less than subtle with a plan that required secrecy in openly hostile territory, Daemon II was still a brave and honourable man, willing to over fair (for the setting) justice to Glendon Flowers and was brave enough to duel Bloodraven himself. Ultimately, Daemon II was let down by his uncle’s lack of support, a not entirely unreasonable reaction given the danger of the plan, and the overstepping of his cohorts. However, taking advantage of the weakened state of the realm in the wake of the Great Spring Sickness and using Whitewalls, the tourney, and the dragon egg to shore up support for Daemon II were all clever moves on their part. Unfortunately for them, they just didn’t have enough supporters or resources to further press Daemon II’s claim.
“You would be surprised to know how many lords prefer their kings brave and stupid. Daemon is young and dashing, and looks good on a horse.” – The Mystery Knight.
While little is known about Haegon Blackfyre and his rebellion there are some insights we can gleam from the events surrounding both the man and his rebellion.
When Bittersteel and Haegon launched their rebellion in 219 AC, late in the reign of King Aerys I Targaryen, they were taking advantage of a realm that was a poor shadow of its former self. The king at the time was Aerys I Targaryen, a king very disinterested in ruling despite the issues facing the realm: drought, Dagon Greyjoy’s reaving, lawlessness, and the Great Spring Sickness. Both Haegon and Bittersteel were incredibly smart to take advantage of these conditions when deciding to invade.
“His Grace cares more for old scrolls and dusty prophecies than for lords and laws. He will not even bestir himself to sire an heir. Queen Aelinor prays daily at the Great Sept , beseeching the Mother Above to bless her with a child, yet she remains a maid. Aerys keeps his own apartments, and it is said he would sooner take a book to bed than any woman.” – The Sworn Sword.
However, while the king remained disinterested in leadership, Prince Maekar Targaryen, his younger brother, showed true leadership during this time. The bravery and service of House Targaryen did not stop at Maekar however. Both Aerion Targaryen and Aegon showed their quality during the rebellion too. Furthermore, Bloodraven too was exceptional at dealing with the Blackfyres, just as he had been before.
Aerys I may have been insufficient, but his family were far more up to the task of dealing with rebels and actually defending the realm than he ever was. A useless king was a political boon for the Blackfyres, as even an ardent loyalist like Ser Kyle the Cat questioned what worth was Aerys on the Throne and septons preached treason as the times themselves marked Aerys as unfit. It’s just unfortunate for the Blackfyres that this king happened to have an exceptional family behind him that were willing to do what he wasn’t.
And so the Third Blackfyre Rebellion quickly ended but not without its highlights. A second duel between Bittersteel and Bloodraven, resulting in the former being captured. Haegon I however, was far less fortunate. The Blackfyre pretender found himself being killed despite surrendering beforehand. The identity of his killer was unknown but I think it’s reasonable to assume that it was either Bloodraven or one of his loyalists, or even Aerion Brightflame, who were ultimately responsible for the killing given Bloodraven’s hatred of the entire Blackfyre line and his near fanatical obsession with exterminating them.
With his Blackfyre king dead, Bittersteel was dragged to the Red Keep in chains where yet another stroke of luck awaited him. Despite their protestations to execute the rebel, both Aerion and Bloodraven found themselves overruled by Aerys I, who had finally decided to do something about the rebels, despite it being the wrong thing. Aerys I opted to spare Bittersteel and let him take the black instead of killing him. The king’s misguided and extremely stupid act of mercy obviously came back to bite him in the arse. A theory of fellow writer SomethingLikeALawyer is that Aerion murdered Haegon, so Aerys felt like he had to spare Bittersteel because the Targaryen side had acted unjustly in murdering Haegon.
Yes, Bittersteel soon escaped with the help of some Blackfyre sympathizers at court and soon the ship carrying Bittersteel to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea found itself intercepted, and the Golden Company soon had its commander back, and the Blackfyres would plot once more.
While the plan to take advantage of a deeply weakened Westeros under the rulership of a disinterested king was a clever move by the Blackfyres, their plan was not without its problems. They failed to build up resentment against the crown, approach potential allies like Dagon Greyjoy, or neutralise the likes of Maekar, Bloodraven, or even Aerion. Furthermore, the entire invasion seemed horribly mistimed. It feels as though the Blackfyres should have invaded back in 211AC or just after, at the height of the realm’s problems. By delaying their invasion, the Blackfyres had lost key allies and resources during the Second Blackfyre Rebellion that could have been useful during the Third Blackfyre Rebellion. Their only true successes and luck occurred because Aerys I was such a poor king. Aerys I Targaryen’s mercy was the only reason that Bittersteel survived and was able to continue troubling Westeros.
While it was no rebellion, it seems necessary to mention the fate and actions of Aenys Blackfyre. In 233AC King Maekar I Targaryen died and left no clear heir to follow him on to the Iron Throne. To deal with this crisis, Bloodraven called for a Great Council where Aenys decided to put forth his claim, a move that would prove unwise for him.
Upon reading his letter, Bloodraven offered Aenys safe conduct to King’s Landing to press his claim in person to the lords of Westeros, an offer that Aenys quickly accepted.
However, as soon as Aenys reached King’s Landing, he was imprisoned and executed by order of Bloodraven, who had opted to completely forgo his and the Iron Throne’s promise of safe conduct.
Soon enough, Aenys’ head was presented to the Great Council, as a warning to any who might still have Blackfyre sympathies. This act, while entirely dishonourable and undermining of the Iron Throne’s legitimacy, actually makes a lot of sense in the context of the escape of Bittersteel years earlier. Given that it was Blackyre sympathisers at court who had aided in the escape of Bittersteel before he reached the Wall, I posit that this was Bloodraven’s idea to make sure the Blackfyre sympathises at court died with Aenys Blackfyre, no matter the cost.
However, it wouldn’t just be Aenys who would suffer in the course of these events. Bloodraven had broken the sworn oath of the Iron Throne and undermined its credibility and he had to be punished for it. After King Aegon V Targaryen was crowned king, he had Bloodraven arrested for the murder of Aenys and he was sentenced to death before his sentence was commuted to taking the black and joining the Night’s Watch. The murder of Aenys while he was under the safe conduct of the Iron Throne sent a clear message to the realm, the Blackfyres and their sympathisers would not be tolerated in Westeros, and this message had cost the Iron Throne is greatest soldier against the Blackfyre cause, a fate purely of that soldier’s own making.
Daemon III Blackfyre
After the murder of Aenys by Bloodraven while the Blackfyre son was under the safe conduct of the Iron Throne, the exiles hatred of the Iron Throne only heightened and served to further their cause by using Aenys as both a martyr and a symbol for Targaryen dishonour and treachery.
The Blackfyre’s soon plotted another invasion and so, at the end of a hard and cruel winter, Daemon III Blackfyre decided to invade Westeros once more, continuing the Blackfyre tradition of taking advantage of poor conditions in Westeros.
Daemon III Blackfyre, Bittersteel, and the Golden Company made landfall at Massey’s Hook, to the east of King’s Landing – the seat of the kingly Targaryen power. With the full force of the Golden Company behind them. Landing at Massey’s Hook was an interesting, clever, and risky move on the part of Daemon III and Bittersteel as while Massey’s Hook is close enough to King’s Landing to serve as a good staging point for an invasion, it is also a place where ships heading to King’s Landing from the south will have to sail around in order to reach the capitol so the chances of the Blackfyre invasion being spotted were incredibly high. Furthermore, Massey’s Hook is located in the Crownlands, an area where loyalty to the crown tends to be incredibly high so the Blackfyres were potentially landing deep in the heart of enemy territory where they could have faced entrenched resistance from the Crownlanders.
Unfortunately for Daemon III and Bittersteel, their invasion had barely any support and they were also facing off against an actively involved king and his three sons, as well as war heroes from the last invasion like Ser Duncan the Tall.
Again, the Blackfyres had also missed out on an opportunity to take political advantage of the feudal discontent aimed towards Aegon V, a pro smallfolk king intent of curbing the powers of the lords of Westeros.
“(Aegon V was a) Bloody handed tyrant intent on depriving us of our god-given rights and liberties.” – The World of Ice and Fire.
Soon enough, Daemon III’s rebellion was ended. At the Battle of Wendwater Bridge, the Blackfyre army was shattered with Ser Duncan the Tall personally slaying Daemon III Blackfyre.
However, much to his luck and the Targaryen disappointment, Bittersteel once again managed to escape across the Narrow Sea to fight again. Although, a few years later, Aegor ‘Bittersteel’ Rivers’ luck finally ran out and he eventually died in the Disputed Lands. The death of Rivers ended one of the most fervent supporters of the Blackfyres.
However, the Blackfyre cause did not die with him.
Soon enough, a new Blackfyre pretender came to the forefront of the cause but acted entirely differently from his predecessors. Maelys Blackfyre, named ‘the Monstrous’ for potentially having eaten his twin in the womb which resulted in him having a second head sprouting from his neck.
Maelys became Captain-General of the Golden Company after killing his cousin Daemon during a fight over the position. In 258 AC the Band of Nine, a group of ambitious men in Essos, had joined forces in order to aid each other in their own ambitions. This Band of Nine was a colorful bunch, including pirates and exiles, with their eyes on wondrous prizes and titles, including Westeros.
Despite most believing that the only true threat posed by Band of Nine was to the Free Cities, whom they expected would take care of the problem with little difficulty, Jaeherys II Targaryen ensured that preparations were made to counter the Blackfyre threat, and that Westeros would not be surprised by yet another Blackfyre Revolt.
Luckily enough for Jaeherys II, his suspicions about the Blackfyres and the Band of Nine were entirely correct as after managing to conquer the Disputed Lands, Tyrosh, and the Stepstones, Maelys convinced the other members to attack Westeros once more and reclaim the Blackfyre birthright, cleverly using the Steptones, a series of islands that once connected Westeros to Essos, now home to exiles, pirates, smugglers, and cutthroats, as a launching point for their invasion.
However, and unfortunately for Maelys, the Targaryens sent out their own force to counter the Blackfyres before they could make landfall on Westeros to end the Blackfyre threat for good and all. Lord Ormund Baratheon, the King’s Hand, took command of the Westerosi forces and soon enough, a force of one hundred Greyjoy longships and eleven thousand Lannister knights and men-at-arms landed on the Stepstone and the fighting truly began.
The Blackfyres scored an early success with the death of commander Lord Ormund Baratheon. Command then passed to Kingsguard member Ser Gerold Hightower of the Kingsguard and from there the war was bloodily fought. Unfortunately for the Blackfyres, they were facing an exceptional calibre of soldier fighting for the Targaryens. Men like Brynden Tully, Steffon Baratheon, Tywin Lannister, Aerys II Targaryen, and Barristan Selmy fought with exceptional bravery during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. However, it was the legendary Ser Barristan the Bold who put the final nail in the Blackfyre coffin when he slew Maelys the Monstrous in single combat.
Finally, after 64 years of fighting, countless deaths, five failed rebellions, betrayal, treason, tragedy, and murder, the Blackfyre threat to the Seven Kingdoms was finally ended.
“When Maelys the Monstrous died upon the Stepstones, it was the end of the male line of House Blackfyre.” – A Dance With Dragons.
For as committed as they were to the Blackfyre cause, the pretenders made distinct errors which each successive rebellion. It seems as though they did not understand what made the first rebellion so important and failed to understand why people chose to follow Daemon Blackfyre over Daeron II Targaryen. Additionally, Bittersteel seems to have done to the Blackfyres what Illyrio did to Viserys Targaryen and built up this kingly desire in a generations of children who were barely old enough to remember what Westeros even was. He effectively raised a generation of exiles to wage war on a country they had never seen for a crown and kingship that had been conclusively proven wasn’t theirs.
The Blackfyres failed to succeed for multiple reasons, their pretenders did not have the great symbol politics of Daemon Blackfyre, of Aegon the Conqueror come again. The realm was largely steady under the Targaryens, save for some issues, and the Blackfyres largely had no allies save for a few weaker houses, a handful of spies, and some hidden supporters.
Furthermore, the Blackfyres were often massively outmatched by the Targaryens, who had the backing of the Lords Paramount, the love of the populace, and several strong, charismatic, intelligent, and militarily experienced family members to defend the rights of House Targaryen.
The Blackfyre Rebellions are an extensive exercise in poisonous bitterness and ambition where the leadership continually failed to take advantage of opportunities like the deaths of Baelor and Maekar, the exile of Aerion, the Great Spring Sickness, drought, the raiding of Dagon Greyjoy, and the feudal discontent against Aegon V Targaryen. For as long as they missed out on opportunities like these, they were guaranteed to fail. Although, in their defence, Bittersteel did at one point swear a blood oath with Lord Torwyn Greyjoy but Greyjoy betrayed Bittersteel during a later Blackfyre Rebellion.
Furthermore, the Blackfyre rebels never quite realised that invading with sellswords, foreigners, and exiles wins you no allies among the smallfolk or the high lords. In fact, the Blackfyre ‘otherness’ only served to unite Westeros against them because people don’t like being invaded by foreigners. The fact that they really never changed their tactics and instead chose armed invasion over and over and over and over and over again only guaranteed their defeat again and again and again and again and again. For a house with three heads for its sigil, it’s a certainly a shame they never really considered using one of them.
Perhaps the greatest mistake of the Blackfyres was their inability to just give up, let it go, and find another permanent home. Bittersteel’s bitterness passed down the generations and infected successive Blackfyres and condemned them to die fighting for an idea of home that they never really knew. Instead of laying down their swords and making a home somewhere else, they would die fighting for a bitter man’s cause. The Blackfyres would never be conquerors or homecoming heroes, they would be the sons of bastards, exiles, and invaders.
They would never be conquering warrior kings.
But they could end up being something else.