The heirs of House Martell may be styled Princes (and Princesses) of Dorne, but theirs has not always been the uncontested rule of that most southern state. Unlike the Starks and Lannisters, supreme kings in their realms for thousands of years – unlike even the Arryns, conquerors who have become well-respected over several millennia – the Martells have faced heated opposition to their “mere” thousand-year rule of Dorne. The most fearsome of those foes, and the most overmighty of those vassals after Nymeria’s conquest, has traditionally been House Yronwood of Yronwood.
Once High Kings of Dorne, the Yronwoods waxed more powerful than any of their Dornish neighbors until the arrival of Nymeria and her Rhoynish countrymen. Yet the Yronwoods have never let their formerly lowly rivals forget their own impressively royal pedigree or dynastic might. Diplomatic tensions and outright war between Houses Martell and Yronwood have marked Dornish history; the Yronwoods have never succeeded in casting off the Martell yoke (despite strong efforts to do so), but still the masters of Sunspear ignore the masters of the Boneway at their own peril. Studying the history of House Yronwood allows these tense and antagonistic relations to shed further light on where House Yronwood stands in the current day – and where the former High Kings may go in the future, to regain the realm that was once theirs.
Lords of the Stone Way: The Geopolitics of a High King of Dorne
House Yronwood of Yronwood is one of the oldest noble Houses in Dorne. The founders of House Yronwood – presumably those very first First Men who tread across the Not-Yet-Broken Arm of Dorne into the human-less land of Westeros – settled themselves in the northeast of Dorne, establishing their castle just below the Red Mountains. The location of their seat was a wise one. The Stone Way (casually called the Boneway), over which the Yronwoods soon seized control, provided one of only two overland passes between Dorne and northern Westeros (alongside the Wide Way). This strategic placement gave the Yronwoods significant control over trade and travel between Dorne and the petty kingdoms beyond (and the subsequent possibility of an economically beneficial toll). Additionally, the natural resources of the Yronwood holdings were rich indeed for Dorne: comparably fertile land, abundant timber, and mines full of iron, tin, and silver gave the Yronwoods relative economic wealth unrivaled by any other Dornish House.
The Yronwoods eventually became kings of their dominion, adopting the grand title “the Bloodroyals, Lords of the Stone Way, Masters of the Green Hills, and High Kings of Dorne”. Each part of the impressive royal style spoke to the Yronwoods’ dominance: their ancient royal lineage, their gatekeeper control of an important pass into Dorne, and their ownership of one of Dorne’s precious few fertile areas gave them indisputable right to be the supreme leaders of the Dornish. Still, the Yronwoods were not the only kings in Dorne, even if they considered themselves the highest. Along the Greenblood, a collection of Houses took advantage of one of Dorne’s great waterways to elect High Kings from among their own number. Descendants of Andal adventurers also claimed crowns, which Houses still rule as lords in Dorne today: the Jordaynes, the Allyrions, the Blackmonts, the Manwoodys and others all at different points called themselves kings of pockets of Dorne.
The greatest foes of the Yronwoods, however, were two other First Men Houses: the Dayne Kings of the Torrentine and the Fowler Kings of Stone and Sky. Both great rivals directly challenged the advantages of House Yronwood in its realm. The Dayne seat of Starfall sat at the mouth of the River Torrentine, allowing the Dayne kings to control of the natural water resource and the river’s trading opportunities (and, presumably, to take advantage of the fertile land around the Torrentine). The Fowlers also claimed a river in their kingdom – the same one along which Yronwood sat – but just as crucially, the Kings of Stone and Sky also held a mountain pass; the Wide Way (now called the “Prince’s Pass”) connected Dorne and the Reach, allowing the Fowlers to control access to Dorne as much as the Yronwoods could.
Despite their rivalries, the Yronwood kings slowly developed their dominance over much of Dorne. One by one petty kings gave up their crowns and/or bent the knee to the keepers of the Stone Way. The Yronwoods did not control as much of Dorne as did other paramount kings throughout Westeros – by the last millennium before Aegon’s Conquest, the Gardeners, Lannisters, Starks, Arryns, and Durrandons were uncontested kings of their respective realms – but theirs was a far greater kingdom within Dorne than that of any other rival Dornish king. Houses Jordayne, Wyl, Blackmont, and Qorgyle swore themselves to Yronwood or gave Yronwood support; from the mountain seat of Wyl to the headwaters of the Greenblood, the portcullis on gold standard flew. Even House Martell at one point swore fealty to Yronwood – a reversal of fortunes which would not be forgotten by later Yronwood rulers.
Nor were the Yronwoods only active within Dorne’s borders. The enmity of the Dornish for their neighbors in the Reach and Stormlands – particularly the marcher lords – has lasted since time immemorial, and the Yronwoods were no exception to this enmity. King Yoren Yronwood battled Durran the Young King in the Stormlands, only to be turned back by the Butcher Boy in the Battle of the Bloody Pool (where, it was said, King Durran dammed the River Slayne with Dornish bodies). Another Yronwood king, Olyvar, fared somewhat better, invading the Kingdom of the Storm multiple times at the dawn of the Andal Invasion (taking advantage of the distracted King Erich VII Durrandon). Controlling the Stone Way allowed the Yronwood kings easy access into the Stormlands, and one supposes that the Selmys, Dondarrions, and Swanns have as many tapestries in their high halls depicting their sons slaying Yronwoods as the Oakhearts in the west do of their sons killing other Dornishmen. The Yronwood kingdom does not seem to have extended farther north than the Red Mountains, but the ability of the High Kings of Dorne to lead multiple expeditions northward to harry their neighbors speaks to stability, martial prowess, and relative wealth within the Yronwood kingdom.
However stable and prosperous the Kingdom of the Yronwoods was, however, it was not to last forever. Around a thousand years before the start of A Song of Ice and Fire, Princess Nymeria, a Rhoynish ruler whose city had been destroyed in the Second Spice War, landed with her Rhoynar followers in Dorne. Making common cause with Lord Mors Martell by marrying him, Nymeria declared him Prince of Dorne in the Rhoynish custom and began a war to bring the rest of Dorne under the Nymeros Martell flag. Predictably, the mighty Yronwoods resisted: their campaign against Nymeria, Mors, and their allies lasted 11 years. If King Yorick V Yronwood – self-styled “Warden of the Stone Way, Knight of the Wells, King of Redmarch, King of the Greenbelt, and King of the Dornish” – thought his powerful bannermen and long supremacy sufficient to protect him, however, he was destined to be disappointed. One by one former kings fell to the Martell forces: the great Yronwood rivals, Dayne and Fowler, joined the Martell cause, and the Yronwood bannerman King Benedict Blackmont was captured. Yorick had a personal victory – slaying Mors himself in the Third Battle of the Stone Way – but even he could not outlast Nymeria forever, and eventually he too was captured and sent fettered to the Wall.
The Yronwood kingdom was gone, and the rule of Dorne was settled forever on the line of Princess Nymeria and Prince Mors Martell. The Yronwoods were now no greater than their former vassals; all were sworn to Sunspear. It was a unique humiliation for a House which had ruled more of Dorne than any other (especially the now-supreme Martells). The Starks and Lannisters kept their holdings intact after the Targaryen Conquest; the last of the Durrandon line married her conqueror and became Lady (if Lady Consort) of the Stormlands; and the Gardeners and Hoares had been burned into extinction before their former vassals gained control of their realms. Even the Royces, once High Kings of the Vale, had seen only one of their line take that title before Artys Arryn claimed the eastern kingdom for his Andal line. The Yronwoods, by contrast, would now be no more than lords over the lands they had ruled as High Kings for thousands of years. Thrown out of the high seat of Dorne, snubbed for a place in the new Dornish ruling order, the Yronwoods would not forget the humiliation they had suffered at the Martells’ hands.
To Rule All Dorne: Yronwood Ambition in the Time of the Dragons
The Yronwoods might have been demoted to mere lords, but they would let no man forget what they had once been. Even after Nymeria’s defeat of King Yorick, each Yronwood lord styled himself “the Bloodroyal” – a holdover from their royal days, a reminder of their former dominance and closely guarded royal lineage. Like the Florents and other reacher families who vociferously complained that the Tyrells were no more than “upjumped stewards” and that they themselves had the best blood claim to Highgarden, the Yronwoods were eager to demonstrate that they had neither forgiven the loss of their ancient esteem nor forgotten their glory days as High Kings of Dorne. Perhaps as a token of acknowledgement (or an attempt to keep their enemies close), the Martells confirmed the Yronwoods as Wardens of the Stone Way – a presumably hereditary position analogous to the Wardens of Aegon’s kingdom. The honor, however, did little to alleviate Yronwood resentment at the Martells’ preferment.
Still, for several centuries the Yronwoods remained quiet in that resentment. Presumably, the Yronwoods stood alongside their Dornish neighbors in resisting the Targaryens during their Conquest, though little was noted of them at the time. Queen Rhaenys, flying Meraxes, noted a host of spearmen marshaled in the Prince’s Pass, but either did not fly over or did not see a similar army in the Stone Way – a suggestion, perhaps, that Yronwood refused to aid its overlords militarily. Yandel noted that every seat in Dorne save Sunspear was burned at least once during the First Dornish War, which list would presumably include Yronwood as well. The Conqueror himself took the castle after a brief siege, though his victory was largely hollow: mighty Yronwood was defended only by old men, boys, and women, employing the ruses de guerre that would become commonplace in Aegon’s War of Dornish Conquest.
One may wonder why the Yronwoods did not take the opportunity to offer to ally themselves with the Targaryens against their hated Martell overlords. Certainly, the Tyrells had benefited from such a strategy, opening the gates of Highgarden to Aegon and gaining the Gardeners’ old seat in return. Yet it may be that the Yronwoods had no reason to expect Aegon to give them control of Dorne if they aided his conquest. The Yronwoods might have noted the history of the Riverlands on this score: twice – under King Arlan III Durrandon and then King Harwyn Hoare – riverlords had welcomed foreign invaders to unseat disliked overlords, only to find themselves subjugated to these very rulers instead. Aegon himself had even seemingly confirmed this fate, having installed Lord Rosby (a Crownlands lord) as castellan of Sunspear and Harlan Tyrell (a Reachman in a place where rivalry against that realm runs thick) as the region’s military commander after he and Rhaenys left. There was no guarantee, in Lord Yronwood’s mind, that Aegon would give his family any more than a brief thanks for its assistance in having handed him Dorne, before installing a chosen favorite as the new master of the state (as he had done in the Stormlands).
Over a century later, however, the modern seeds of House Yronwood’s anti-Martell sentiment were sown. The young King Daeron I, eager to finish what his conquering ancestor had started, led an army overland into Dorne in his own conquest. Cleverly, Daeron avoided the Stone Way – and its Yronwood wardens at the end – by using a goat track to bypass the Dornish watchtowers. If it galled the Yronwoods to be tricked out of battle and humiliated by the Young Dragon, they would have been still more wroth about the outcome of the war. Over a year-long campaign, the Targaryen forces successfully subjugated the Dornish Houses; guerrilla resistance continued for three years, until Daeron was murdered and Baelor came to the throne. The pious king negotiated a settlement: both sides would cease hostilities, and Prince Daeron – third in line to the Iron Throne – would take Princess Myriah Martell as his bride.
That prince, the eventual King Daeron II, would take that peace even farther. He and his brother-in-law, Prince Maron Martell, agreed to a final unification of Dorne and the Iron Throne: Maron wed Daeron’s only legitimate sibling, Daenerys, and a year later the Prince of Dorne swore fealty to the Targaryens. As a special concession, Prince Maron was allowed to keep his princely title, and Dorne was permitted to create laws and levy taxes without much oversight from the kings on the Iron Throne. It was a great victory for the Martells, who only a few decades before had seemed on the brink of total destruction at the hands of the Young Dragon. Dorne would continue to be effectively an independent princedom, with only limited duties owed to the Iron Throne.
To the Yronwoods, however, the peace was an outrage. Presumably they too had lost sons during Daeron’s Conquest (their former bannermen, the Wyls and Qorgyles, had been more than willing to fight), and now their own prince had wed into the family of their enemies, making those blood sacrifices meaningless. The Martells had won two royal marriages and half-Martell royal heirs in the future (one of those even wedding, eventually, a daughter of the Yronwoods’ ancient enemies, the Daynes), but no gains had been given to Yronwood. The Martells would be able not merely to assess their own lands, but also to handle surveying the lands of their other vassals, giving House Martell even greater soft power over the Yronwoods. Martell influence in King’s Landing would effectively bar the historically anti-Martell Yronwoods from ascending to royal favor. Once again, the Martells had jumped high: the status quo of Yronwood disfavor would continue in Dorne, but now with the official sanction of the Iron Throne. If matters were to change, the Yronwoods would need to displace both the Martell princes and the Targaryen kings twice-over wedded to them.
An opportunity to do just that came in 196 AC. Daemon Blackfyre, legitimated son of King Aegon IV, raised his black dragon standard and declared himself the rightful Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Daeron II a bastard-born usurper. While paramount lords remained loyal to Daeron and the “red” dragons, ambitious secondary houses flocked to Daemon’s banner. Both sides knew that if Daemon won, the political map of the realm would be redrawn; the lords who had backed Daeron would find themselves displaced, and new lords would need to take those vacant honors.
It was the perfect opportunity for the Yronwoods. The Reynes (kings in the Westerlands before the Lannisters) and the Peakes (vassals and relations to the Gardener kings) had both been “usurped” in their own realms by younger dynastic branches, and Daemon had shown them favor (making the Reynes his probable royal mint, and Gormon Peake his close ally). If the Lannisters and Tyrells would be replaced by these Houses, the Martells (doubtless supporting Daeron and his Martell queen) would have to go as well. House Yronwood, the Bloodroyal, would be the natural choice to step into the role of Lords Paramount (not Princes) of Dorne. With his Yronwood allies supreme in Dorne, Daemon could revise the Dornish peace treaty which had so infuriated many lords, and the Yronwoods would have dominion once again.
The First Blackfyre Rebellion failed, but the Yronwoods did not soon forget their Blackfyre loyalties. Instead, House Yronwood fought in two of the four subsequent Blackfyre Rebellions. No Yronwood was found among the small coterie of Blackfyre loyalists at the abortive Second Blackfyre Rebellion, true, but as that was less a Rebellion than a scouting mission turned a hurried and unsanctioned attempted coup, it may be unsurprising no Yronwood made the distant pilgrimage to Whitewalls for it. Still, even as Blackfyre support dissipated after each subsequent failure (with the Fourth Blackfyre Rebellion barely stumbling past its landing at Massey’s Hook and the Fifth never even reaching mainland Westeros), the Yronwoods grimly held on to the possibility that they would unseat their Martell rivals. That the Yronwoods were willing to risk, time and again, the fates of other Blackfyre loyalists – seeing their lands re-apportioned to more loyal vassals, their wealth removed from their coffers, their ancient seat destroyed – speaks to how driven the Bloodroyals were to remove the Martells from power. Every new Blackfyre scion was an opportunity for the Wardens of the Stone Way to seat a pro-Yronwood king on the Iron Throne, and for themselves to be named masters of Dorne by their grateful patrons.
Eager Yronwood support for the Blackfyre cause naturally made the Princes of Dorne wary. Rich and powerful Yronwood could choose to be a great danger to the Lords of Sunspear, and the Martells lacked the personal wealth and power necessary to eliminate the Yronwoods as rivals once and for all. Indeed, in the third century AC one event, though minor in its cause, would reawaken the old Martell-Yronwood feud, demonstrating just how much the Prince of Dorne walked in fear of his overmighty bannerman.
Around 274 AC, Prince Oberyn Martell, then 16, was found abed with the paramour of Lord Edgar Yronwood. As a Prince of Dorne, son of the reigning Princess, Oberyn could have had nearly any paramour he chose, but he had specifically selected for his own a woman already claimed by his mother’s vassal. What drew him to Lord Edgar’s own mistress is unknown, but the affront to House Yronwood was deeply felt by the old lord. In one way, the insult was personal: Oberyn, young and energetic, might have implied that he was better suited to be the woman’s lover, and that aged Lord Edgar could not even keep his mistress to himself in his own castle or satisfy his concubine. At the same time, however, the insult carried a political overtone. Oberyn had presumed that merely being a Martell prince gave him the right to any woman he fancied, even if she were already the paramour of another, and powerful, lord. Aegon IV had been widely reviled for how he took any woman to bed he desired, even promoting gold cloaks for seizing “respectable” women in King’s Landing for his pleasure. Oberyn seemed to demonstrate a similar petty tyranny from House Martell to House Yronwood; the reigning princely House had seemingly allowed its son to do what he liked with a bannerman’s paramour.
Lord Edgar followed the chivalric forms, however, and challenged the young prince to a duel over the insult. Both parties agreed to fight only to first blood, in recognition of Oberyn’s youth and high rank (though Lord Edgar might have bristled over the seeming double standard allowed for a Martell princeling – Oberyn being old enough to claim Edgar’s paramour for his own, but too young to fight as a man over the subsequent insult). Both men were duly injured and the fight nominally ended, but Edgar’s wound festered, soon causing the old lord’s death. Rumors then emerged that Oberyn had poisoned his sword to kill his opponent.
The accusation may or may not have been true (Oberyn did use such a trick later on Gregor Clegane, but in an older man like Lord Edgar the possibility of dying from a wound infection would be even higher than usual), but Prince Doran recognized the slight, and the dangerous potential repercussions. A member of the princely ruling family underhandedly murdering a lord – especially one as overmighty as Lord Yronwood – in the context of a chivalric duel would be grounds for more than mere Yronwood grumbling; potentially, Lord Ormond Yronwood could use his father’s death as a casus belli, finally overthrowing House Martell – and, worse, the Iron Throne might even acknowledge the Yronwood grievance. The only solution was to give Yronwood a sign of favor – and a Martell hostage:
Quentyn had been very young when he was sent to Yronwood; too young, according to their mother. Norvoshi did not foster out their children, and Lady Mellario had never forgiven Prince Doran for taking her son away from her. “I like it no more than you do,” Arianne had overheard her father say, “but there is a blood debt, and Quentyn is the only coin Lord Ormond will accept.”
“Coin?” her mother had screamed. “He is your son. What sort of father uses his own flesh and blood to pay his debts?”
“The princely sort,” Doran Martell had answered. (“The Queenmaker”, A Feast for Crows)
He may not have been the heir to his father, but young Quentyn was the Prince of Dorne’s elder son (possibly only, depending on when Quentyn was sent away). Fostering the boy with the Yronwoods would be the clearest sign that Doran held the family in the highest esteem. Just as well, Quentyn would become an unofficial hostage at Yronwood; should Doran or another Martell prove false in the future, Doran and Lord Yronwood would both know that Prince Quentyn could suffer the consequences.
So Quentyn was packed off to Yronwood, where he would spend his formative years. In many ways, he became more Yronwood than any of his Martell forbears: his closest friends were Lord Anders’ son Cletus and Gerris Drinkwater, a knight whose House was sworn to Yronwood; when the time for his knighthood came, Quentyn pointedly chose Lord Anders to give him the honor, rather than his famed uncle Oberyn; and the prince developed an obvious affection for young Gwyneth, the lord’s younger daughter. In time, Lord Anders might have hoped that that affection would turn into a marriage – if Quentyn was not the heir to Sunspear, a Martell prince was still a matrimonial prize – but even in this he was destined to be disappointed. Quentyn was being saved for a marriage, and House Yronwood sent two sons with the prince to bring back the Targaryen queen – with disastrous results.
House Yronwood of Yronwood shares its sigil with the heraldic badge of a real-world noble line – the Beauforts, legitimated descendants of John of Gaunt, third son of Edward III. In the fifteenth century, the heiress of this line, Margaret, wed Henry VI’s half-brother Edmund Tudor and produced a son, Henry. Though born of a royal bastard branch, and exiled in France for 14 years, Henry became the ultimate victor of the Wars of the Roses, taking the English crown through his mother’s blood claim and his own leadership in war. Victorious King Henry VII thereafter displayed his mother’s portcullis, along with his own Tudor rose, in royal propaganda, to underline his own right to the throne.
Despite the shared device, however, House Yronwood may not remain forever loyal to the current Henry VII parallel, the would-be Aegon VI. Yronwood may throw at least part of its strength toward the prince, to overthrow a regime at best ambivalent to and at worst antagonistic toward pro-Targaryen Dorne, but if Aegon takes a Martell queen (as he seems poised to do), Lord Anders may see Martell – not Dornish – favor pressed at court, to his ultimate disadvantage. If then another Targaryen claimant were to arrive (especially if she were to bring with her Ser Archibald and the Yronwood retainer Gerris Drinkwater), especially with three fearsome dragons, it may then be that House Yronwood would declare Aegon no true king, and Daenerys the rightful queen. Then, in an amusing historical irony, House Martell and House Yronwood would once again use a Targaryen succession crisis to resolve their own rivalry – only now with the Martells of Sunspear backing the (secret) Blackfyre, and the mighty Yronwoods supporting the red dragon claimant.
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to SomethingLikeaLawyer for editing this essay! Questions? Comments? Find me on Twitter, and follow the blog while you’re there! Remember you can also find the blog on Facebook and Tumblr as well!
6 responses to “The Bloodroyal: A Historical Overview of House Yronwood”
A very interesting essay. Great how Martin is able to put so much in secondary Houses. Maybe the Reynes will be next, though I’m interested in the Florents.
Do you think that the Yronwoods might hope to replace Rhoynish equal primogeniture with the Andal/First Men rule that the eldest son is heir? Arianne thought that Anders Yronwood was in favor of this, but Arianne had no way of knowing whether this was really true. (It would have been an advantage to Anders if Quentyn married Gwyneth and became Prince of Dorne – *but*, a marriage with Gwyneth Yronwood was not what Doran had planned for Quentyn. Still, Anders would have seen his foster son succeed to the principality which would advantage him.)
In a So Spake Martin, it seems that Rhoynish equal primogeniture was the rule all over Dorne, though there might be a few holdouts for Andal/First Men male primogeniture among the more remote Stony Dornish holdouts.
Meanwhile, if the Yronwoods join up with Dany, I doubt if “male primogeniture plz” is going to be on their request list, seeing that 1) asking that of a woman monarch would be pretty tone-deaf, and 2) what advantage would it give the Yronwoods anyway seeing that Quentyn is dead?
Thanks for the essay and audio version! On the podcast/iTune problem, why not just release the audio on youtube like Radio Westeros? No additional video work – just audio with a placeholder graphic – it’s super-easy to upload and totally free. It’s easy to download from youtube for those of us who like to listen to these in our cars, and has the added bonus that you can monetize the videos, so instead of paying for a subscription you actually collect revenue. And since the essays are entirely original material you’d never have to worry about copyright issues.
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Thank you so much for the essays. They make work fly by! I’m especially excited to read this Yronwood essay as upon rereads and AWOIAF, they’re one of my favorite secondary houses.
Hopefully there is a write-up for the The Old, The True, The Brave: House Velaryon in the works.
I love your essays. They really inspire me in my Game of Thrones history website. It’s incredible how much detail Martin puts into everything he writes.