In the first three pieces in this essay series, we have looked south, to grand seats in the heart of Westeros. We have considered the seat of pre-Conquest kings, a holding intimately connected with the politics of King’s Landing, and an ancient castle in the heart of the Riverlands. Yet this focus should not presume that above the Neck there are no likewise ambitious young pretenders, and those who would see certain individuals rise to the great holdings of their ancestors. Dustin and Ryswell, Bolton and Manderly, Karstark and Umber, all have demonstrated political ambitions worthy of any southron court, and the Northern pretender in question today is no exception.
The seat discussed in this essay has as much ancient significance to the North as Darry does to the Riverlands, and has been at the center of as much politicking over its next heir as Rosby has been. While not so grand as Casterly Rock, the holding nevertheless remains important to the Starks of Winterfell, its lands prominent – and eagerly eyed – in the North. Indeed, the struggle for control of this seat provided the young Prince of Winterfell with an early political education; the failure to answer the question may lead to the seat being claimed by the Prince’s favored candidate.
Welcome to the next installment in a new series for Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire, Heirs in the Shadows. In this series, BryndenBFish and I will examine a number of individuals who may press blood claims to different Westerosi seats, and the arguments and tactics various plotters will use to install their chosen pawns in these places. Part 1 of this series focused on Tyrek Lannister, a young lion possibly held by Varys as a future puppet Lord of Casterly Rock under Aegon VI. Part 2 argued for the noted Stark loyalist Olyvar Frey as the future Lord or regent of the Crownlands seat of Rosby. Part 3 identified two different men who could serve as the once-mentioned bastard Darry cousin and possible future Lord of Darry. Part 4 will examine a Northern seat currently without an heir, and a young man of its blood who could become the next lord of this Stark vassal House.
The Hornwood Inheritance
Though little is known of House Hornwood – the House was not considered important enough for Yandel even to mention in The World of Ice and Fire – the House’s importance should not be judged by its lack of a storied history. Not only are they masters of the Hornwood, one of two large forests in the North, the Hornwoods also rule (at least partially) over the White Knife as well, the North’s primary river. The estate of Hornwood also includes multiple castles besides the main seat of Hornwood. As such, when Robb called his banners at Winterfell, Lord Halys brought rich gifts on a daily basis for his liege lord, subtle bribery for his geopolitical demands.
The material riches and natural resources of the Hornwood lands in the North made the succession crisis faced in A Clash of Kings that much more problematic. Jovial Lord Halys was killed in the Battle of the Green Fork, and his only trueborn son Daryn was slain by Jaime Lannister in the Whispering Wood. The legitimate male line of House Hornwood seemed to be at an end – but there were no shortage of candidates to seize control of the late Lord Halys’ home. Maester Luwin outline the problem of the Hornwood inheritance for his prince:
Maester Luwin answered. “With no direct heir, there are sure to be many claimants contending for the Hornwood lands. The Tallharts, Flints, and Karstarks all have ties to House Hornwood through the female line, and the Glovers are fostering Lord Harys’s bastard at Deepwood Motte. The Dreadfort has no claim that I know, but the lands adjoin, and Roose Bolton is not one to overlook such a chance.” (“Bran II”, A Clash of Kings)
Legally, the claim might have seemingly easily passed to the descendants of Berena Hornwood, sister of Lord Halys, who had wed Leobald Tallhart and produced two sons. Indeed, Leobald urged the young Brandon Stark to have Donella accept his younger son as her ward and heir to the Hornwood, with the promise that the boy would take the Hornwood name. Nevertheless, Leobald was not the only man with his eyes on the Hornwood inheritance – or the only man with a blood claimant. Lord Halys’ bastard had no legal rights in his current state, but bastards had been legitimated before in Westerosi history to become heirs to seats (famously in the case of the great admiral Alyn Velaryon). Bran, the Prince of Winterfell, having been raised alongside a bastard his entire life, felt in favor of legitimizing Larence Snow:
“Then let Lord Hornwood’s bastard be the heir,” Bran said, thinking of his half brother Jon.
Ser Rodrik said, “That would please the Glovers, and perhaps Lord Hornwood’s shade as well, but I do not think Lady Hornwood would love us. The boy is not of her blood.”
“Still,” said Maester Luwin, “it must be considered. Lady Donella is past her fertile years, as she said herself. If not the bastard, who?” (“Bran II”, A Clash of Kings)
Luwin’s question was certainly one apt to give pause. Three influential Northern houses squabbling over the relative closeness of their female line claims to the Hornwood was exactly what the North did not need in a time of war (especially with a child as the Stark in Winterfell, and its lord south of the Neck for the foreseeable future). Even less necessary were the competing claims of the two most powerful vassals of the Starks, House Bolton and House Manderly. The Bastard of Bolton and the Lord of White Harbor each had their eyes on the Hornwood estate, which neighbored the Manderly and Bolton lands both, and it was no mistake that Roose kept his Dreadfort men in the rear at the Battle of the Green Fork, while pushing the Hornwoods and Manderlys (and Karstarks, other rivals for the Hornwood) into the thick of the fighting. Infighting, potentially violent, of Stark vassal houses made a matter of ordinary course for the North’s sovereign unnecessarily difficult. Raising the Hornwood bastard to the seat of his father, though a move of favoritism (at least in appearance) toward the Glovers, might nip this fighting in the bud.
Accordingly, Ser Rodrik Cassel was careful to find out as much as he could about Larence Snow:
Ser Rodrik commanded the man to set aside a fifth, and questioned the steward closely about Lord Hornwood’s bastard, the boy Larence Snow. In the north, all highborn bastards took the surname Snow. This lad was near twelve, and the steward praised his wits and courage. (“Bran II”, A Clash of Kings)
Bran had keenly noticed before that the steward of Deepwood Motte ran the Glovers’ seat, rather than Lady Sybelle, while the Glover men and their forces were away at war. It might be unsurprising, then, that the steward would praise Larence’s wits and courage. Aware that the succession to Hornwood was a topic of discussion – and competing ambition – at the harvest feast (and perhaps suspecting that the young Stark, with his own well-known bastard brother, would be more sympathetic to the claim of another bastard son), the steward gave the best possible resume for young Larence, hopeful that a newly-legitimated lord, with close Glover ties, would reign at Hornwood. Rodrik’s “close” questioning of the boy’s character underlines how seriously Winterfell considered his claim; Larence was young, but not so far away from his majority, and certainly closer to being able to rule as an adult than Beron Tallhart. If it were strange to suggest a boy of 12 become Lord of the Hornwood, the Deepwood steward – and Ser Rodrik himself – might have thought differently, since the Young Wolf, newly turned fifteen when he had been acclaimed King in the North, proved so capable of defending Northern interests.
Still, Prince Bran did not have the actual or apparent authority to legitimize any bastards or name any new Hornwood heirs, much as he might have wanted to grant the seat to Larence. Lady Donella would, for the time being, remain the châtelaine of her castle until the King in the North decided on who should sit the seat of the Hornwoods. What none of the Starks or their advisors could have known was that dramatic events would soon cruelly remove Lady Donella from Hornwood, and make the Hornwood inheritance an even greater problem – with even greater latitude for a bastard to succeed.
The Hidden Heir
Larence Snow had not accompanied the steward of Deepwood Motte to the harvest feast at Winterfell; too young to ride away to war with Lord Galbart and his brother Robett, the boy stayed by Lady Sybelle’s side, along with her toddler son and baby daughter. How aware he was of his own potential dynastic importance cannot be ascertained. Having been fostered with prominent Stark bannermen – a practice usually reserved for trueborn noble children – and given the North’s surname for nobly born bastards, Larence likely knew by age 12 that he was Halys’ son, and moreover that he was not to live the common life of suppressed identity mandated for some other bastards (like Ramsay Snow). Donella Hornwood might have preferred to see Larence safely dispatched to the Wall – where even a bastard could rise high, and where he could make no claims to his father’s seat – but with Robb making a joint North-Riverlands kingdom, young Larence might have thought of traveling south to gain fame with the Young Wolf and become a career knight in the vein of other excess sons. Ethan Glover, relation of his foster family, had served Brandon Stark as his squire, and had later died a hero’s death in a company hand-picked by Lord Eddard (a tale doubtless recounted at least a few times at Deepwood Motte). Larence had been well-educated for a lord’s bastard, trained in knowledge and arms as befit a lord’s son, and had demonstrated “wits and courage” enough to impress the powerful Glover steward (or, at least, enough that the steward could make a report of such to Rodrik); his future was full of promise, although he still bore the “taint” of bastardy.
Yet another bastard was soon to upset the entire Hornwood question, in a dramatic – and horrific – way. Taking advantage of the succession confusion and frail Lady Donella’s own grief, Ramsay Snow invaded the Hornwood lands and invested the main seat of Hornwood. As conqueror of the castle, Ramsay forced the widow Hornwood to marry him in front of both a septon and a heart tree, and raped her to consummate the marriage. Ramsay then compelled Donella to sign a will affirming him as heir to the Hornwood estate, before leaving her to starve.
The Bastard of Bolton’s move was obviously illegal on several fronts: a woman forced to swear marriage vows could not be held legally married (as Sansa thought when threatened with marriage to her cousin Robert Arryn), and an oath taken at swordpoint was not legally binding. The bastard’s murder of Lady Donella only served to magnify his crimes; there could be no question of his intent to seize the Hornwood lands for his own. Yet with the death of Donella, the Hornwood question was even more open than it had been before: Lord Halys’ widow might have been allowed to rule the estate for the remainder of her sad life, but now the title was claimed by a man with absolutely no right to Hornwood. Justice demanded that he be removed swiftly – but then who would sit the seat of the Hornwood lords?
Larence Snow, once considered a strong candidate, may have been thought – or even thought himself – the rightful heir of his lord father’s wife. The young Bastard of Hornwood, however, was soon to find himself in danger as well. As a notable seat on the west coast of the North, Deepwood Motte made an attractive proposition for conquest for the invading ironborn, and with the departure of Galbart and Robett for war, the castle was likely to be lightly defended. Accordingly, Balon Greyjoy dispatched his daughter Asha to seize the Glovers’ castle; within a month, Asha and her thousand ironborn fighters had overtaken Deepwood. The Appendix of A Storm of Swords confirmed that Larence was still in Deepwood at the time of its capture, and that he, along with Lady Sybelle and his foster siblings, had been taken prisoner by the kraken’s daughter.
Asha was a shrewd conqueror, and she ensured that the Glover household – including, presumably, Larence himself – was treated with courtesy and honor, despite its prisoner status. Yet it seems probable Asha had no idea who Larence Snow was, because she neglected to include him in the next step of securing her conquest:
Her children are alive, at least, and that is thanks to me. Asha had left them at Ten Towers in the care of her aunts. Lady Sybelle’s infant daughter was still on the breast, and she had judged the girl too delicate to expose to the rigors of another stormy crossing. (“The Wayward Bride”, A Dance with Dragons)
Asha had taken Lady Sybelle and her children to Ten Towers, the seat of her mother’s Harlaw family (though she brought Sybelle back with her when she fled the Iron Islands), but no mention is made of young Larence Snow being among her prisoners. True, as a bastard Larence had no true claim to the Hornwood, but he was still a nobleman’s son, and as a potential Hornwood heir he could fetch a respectable ransom. The family politics of the North, however, the struggle for control over petty vassal seats, would have been of little concern to ironborn Asha; if she knew about Hornwood at all, it was a point on a map and the name of one of Theon’s fellow fighters in the Whispering Wood. Larence, for his part, might have realized the value of discretion when dealing with a conqueror; if he were thought of no importance, Asha would have no interest in holding him for ransom, and might be more easily convinced to let him go (a tactic tried as a child by the future Viserys II, who, when caught by sailors of the Triarchy, pretended to be a common ship’s boy to avoid becoming a hostage). Larence would not be Ronald Storm, who angrily argued that his father Ronnet Connington would kill his cousin-captor Jon and was summarily sent back to a cell; he would hold his tongue.
Young Larence would not have to wait long for help. On campaign south from the Wall, Stannis Baratheon, would-be Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, liberated Deepwood Motte from its ironborn captivity. Asha was captured and herself made prisoner, Lady Sybelle was freed, and House Glover had subsequently thrown its lot in with the would-be king now in the north.
Stannis Baratheon is a hard, conservative man, but he is not without a streak of meritocracy, nor does he write off bastards wholly by birth. His own Hand Davos had been a common sailor and smuggler before Robert’s Rebellion, but had been raised to knighthood (and eventually a lordship) for his loyal service to the second Baratheon son. The would-be king had already offered to legitimize Jon Snow and name him the Lord of Winterfell if he agreed to bend the knee to Stannis, and his former retainer Aurane Waters may have hoped to be likewise legitimated and made Lord of Driftmark over his trueborn child cousin. If Larence had already shown discretion in refusing to reveal his identity to his temporary Greyjoy captor, he may have used that same wit to realize that joining Stannis offered a solution to his dynastic problem. Only a king could remove the taint of bastardy, and the support of King Stannis would certainly make young Larence a formidable choice for the new Lord of the Hornwood.
So Larence may have offered himself as a loyal servant and guide for Stannis’ campaign to Winterfell. Fighting the Boltons and their allies for control – and the loyalty – of the North, Stannis would probably be unlikely to turn down the aid of a born Northman of noble blood (if only on one side). The woods and fields through which Stannis’ men would march were presumably known to young Larence from his fosterage at Deepwood, and a clever young man would point to this knowledge to underline his own value to the Baratheon king – especially if that young man wanted the king’s support in the future. House Glover had declared for Stannis as king once the seat was freed from ironborn control, and a Glover retainer joining its newly acknowledged king’s forces would have surprised neither Stannis’ vassals nor Stannis himself. That Larence is not mentioned in the single chapter on Stannis’ march should not overly concern the reader; the point-of-view character, Asha, had made little if any notice of Larence while he was her prisoner, and now that she herself was the king’s prize, she had neither reason nor opportunity to note the Bastard of Hornwood in the king’s train; a prisoner seldom has a good view of the majority of a war camp.
Where Larence went after his capture by Asha at Deepwood remains unknown; he disappeared from the books’ records after the appendix of A Storm of Swords. Yet as he was likely not sent with his foster-siblings to Ten Towers, and as his foster home was reclaimed by a king to whom House Glover had then sworn allegiance, a place at that king’s side seems a likely fate. The forthcoming battle Stannis plans for Winterfell may claim him as the whispering wood once claimed his half-brother Daryn, yet Larence may also find that on the other side lies a future for him as Lord of the Hornwood – and, to achieve that end, help from a former rival and unlikely source.
The Merman’s Ambitions
Larence Snow marching alongside Stannis may be a plausible current fate for the Bastard of Hornwood. Yet Stannis’ march will not last forever (however long it might seem to the men in his command), and at its end (presuming he survives), young Larence will still remain a potential heir without a seat to call home, Hornwood by blood but Snow by birth. One man, however, may have his eyes on the Bastard of Hornwood as a piece of his grander northern ambitions: Wyman Manderly.
Wyman Manderly, Lord of White Harbor, the richest of all the Starks’ bannermen, was no stranger to the Hornwood inheritance. With the Hornwood lands situated next to those of House Manderly, ambitious Wyman could be expected to demonstrate a keen interest in who would gain control of the valuable Hornwood estate (indeed, the match between Donella Manderly and Halys Hornwood may have been arranged by Wyman or his predecessor in order to strengthen Manderly presence in the Hornwood). Wyman even attempted to put himself forward as a second husband for the widowed Donella; the widow of Hornwood may not have had a blood claim to her husband’s lands, but whichever suitor she married could exert great control over her holdings during her lifetime – and, provided he had enough martial strength, attempt to control them after her death.
Unfortunately for Lord Wyman’s ambitions in that theater, the Bastard of the Dreadfort stole Donella away first, and then claimed the title Lord of the Hornwood. Manderly’s anti-Bolton sentiment needs no repeating, but Lord Wyman had no way to become master of the Hornwood himself after the Boltons are removed from power. If he could not seek power through Lady Donella, Manderly might have then looked to another Hornwood relation through which he could exert his influence. There were any number of legitimate Hornwood descendants scattered across the North, as Luwin once noted, but one in particular had closer blood ties than any other to the last ruling lord: Larence Snow.
One may wonder, naturally, how the Lord of White Harbor would come to know his Hornwood neighbor’s bastard son, fostered for some time on the opposite coast of the North. Conveniently for Wyman, he has in the Merman’s Court someone intimately connected with Larence – the boy’s foster uncle, Robett Glover. Captured after the Northern defeat at Duskendale, Robett was exchanged for Martyn Lannister and sailed north to White Harbor. On face, Wyman could show no eagerness for Robett’s plea for White Harbor forces to take back Deepwood Motte from the ironborn. Privately, however, the two canny northmen had far bigger plans.
Together, Robett Glover and Wyman Manderly have been scheming to restore Rickon Stark, Eddard’s youngest son, to the seat of Winterfell. Manderly’s ambitions to restore the Starks have been discussed before: a Manderly-backed restoration of Rickon may lead to a Manderly regency until the young boy comes of age, favored positions for the Manderlys, and perhaps even a Stark betrothal or marriage for his granddaughter Wylla. Robett would personally benefit from a Stark in Winterfell, of course – House Glover, to which he stood heir, had fought and bled for the Young Wolf, and there would always be mutual distrust between a Bolton-controlled Winterfell and Deepwood Motte – but he would be a foolish conspirator not to seek any more material gains for his own.
One of those gains may be Larence Snow’s legitimization. Luwin had noted that naming Larence heir to the Hornwood would please the Glovers, and for good reason; having been raised at Deepwood Motte to consider the Glovers a second (or, indeed, first) family, Larence may be more likely to favor his Glover foster-relations in future alliances. Only a king could remove the taint of bastardy, of course, but Rickon (or his regent) could press a claim to the crown Robb had worn. How simple a matter it would be for Rickon to sign off on a decree drafted by his regent Lord Manderly, naming young Larence his leal Lord of the Hornwood.
Having pushed to become the late King Robb’s royal mint and master of his fleet, and now angling to take control of young Rickon, of course, Manderly would not leave the Hornwood inheritance without any gains for his house. To sate the Manderly ambitions on the Hornwood lands, the new Larence Hornwood could be married to Manderly’s elder granddaughter, Wynafryd. True, Wynafryd is some six years older than the Hornwood bastard, but elder brides had not troubled ambitious plotters before (Margaery Tyrell was wed to two husbands younger than she – one three years younger, one eight – while Tywin considered wedding 33-year-old Cersei to 21-year-old Theon or 18-year-old Quentyn). Conveniently, Wynafryd’s earlier betrothal – to Rhaegar Frey – had been broken on the sudden death of her affianced; even more conveniently, Wynafryd was heiress to White Harbor after her father Wylis, unless he had a son. A child of that union would be heir to both Hornwood and White Harbor, a strong concentration of power on the east coast of the North; even if the claims were split between children, Wyman would know that his bloodline could always make a potent claim to Hornwood in the future.
The Hornwood inheritance problem demands an answer now more than it did even in A Clash of Kings. The Boltons, ill-loved by many families in the North, seem unlikely to retain power long; Ramsay’s blatantly illegal lordship and crimes against Lady Hornwood are likewise due to be punished. Lady Donella’s fellow Northmen may prove the truth of her married house’s words – “Righteous in Wrath” – as they right the wrong done to her and evict the bastard-born Ramsay from his stolen seat.
Still, power over even a comparatively minor seat like Hornwood cannot remain a question for long; vacancies in control invite unrest and infighting, neither of which will aid the North in the winter to come. Larence Snow, a boy with the closest (if illegitimate) blood ties to the last Lord of the Hornwood, may well find himself promoted to his father’s place, granted dominion over the Hornwood to make it a loyal Stark vassal seat again. One of two kings, grateful to his or his benefactors’ service to their respective causes, could with the stroke of a pen strike the Snow from his name and title him as his bastard birth never could. With the “wits and courage” once praised by his foster family’s steward, the newly renamed Larence Hornwood could (with the aid of his helpful Glover allies) help restore the balance of power in the North as it faces its greatest trial in eight thousand years.