Mangling by starts the full course of their glory.
Small time, but in that small most greatly lived
This star of England: Fortune made his sword;
By which the world’s best garden be achieved,
And of it left his son imperial lord. (Henry V, Act V)
Much as the Battle of the Trident decided Robert’s Rebellion and the Battle of Redgrass Field decided the First Blackfyre Rebellion, so too will a titanic battle in the Stormlands determine the fate of the young dragon’s crusade for the Iron Throne. The original plan had been to gain a foothold along the coast of Westeros and await Daenerys Targaryen, her army and her dragons to arrive, but to the men of the Golden Company, this was no time for caution. They had won battle after battle and likely gained a powerful ally in Mathis Rowan. Momentum was on their side, and there existed the possibility of winning the Iron Throne outright without the help of the dragon queen. But the young dragon would need to prove his mettle against a real foe. Fortunately, he would have that opportunity.
The men of the Reach had finally awoken to the threat of Aegon. Mace Tyrell and the cream of Westerosi chivalry was marching on the young dragon at Storm’s End. They had numbers, advanced armament and training on their side. Even with the numbers that Mathis Rowan would likely add to the young dragon’s cause, Aegon and the Golden Company were outnumbered. However, they had a plan to confront the chivalry of the Reach. It wasn’t an honorable plan, but it was a plan that would assure the destruction of the Tyrell army and an open road to King’s Landing. In a similar way, this battle would resemble one of Europe’s most famous battles.
In 1415 CE, Western European chivalry died an ignoble death on a muddy field in Northern France. Heavy cavalry and its associated knightly virtue had long dominated Western European warfare, but they met a brutal end against the English Army at Agincourt. There, skilled English archers with their deadly longbows and bodkin arrows decimated the ranks of ineptly-led French heavy cavalry and changed the face of warfare forever.
The Battle of Agincourt has yet to see a parallel in A Song of Ice and Fire, but I believe that the Westerosi version of this battle is coming in The Winds of Winter. Jon Connington and Aegon had won early victories, but they would need to confront the flower of chivalry on the field, and they would have to fight dirty to win.
As you may or may not know, Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire has its own Tumblr page (as well as its own Twitter and Facebook pages). Even more excitingly, we here at the blog have partnered with ASOIAF University to answer questions about A Song of Ice and Fire. We – that is, SomethingLikeaLawyer and I – take the text-based questions submitted to us, write up thoughtful, text-based answers, and publish these answers on the Tumblr.
Another productive week for us in the Tumblr-verse. The Hand always has the best answers to meta questions because he is all kinds of brilliant, and his answer to favorite aspects of ASOIAF warfare is no exception. Just as well, the Hand tackled the false assertion that the Freys were justified in enacting the Red Wedding, and dreamed up some excellent alternate histories about Aegon IV dying before the follies of his reign and Jaime Lannister protecting Elia Martell. As for me, I wrote another essay – The Windblown Grass, all about terrible strategist Doran Martell – thought up some Blackfyre words, and added a defining character moment for Theon to Tumblr friend Poor Quentyn’s excellent post to the same.
Following events at the end of A Storm of Swords and the readying of the Golden Company to move on Westeros, the Spider began to aggressively unweave the political and military fabric that kept the Lannisters and Tyrells in power in King’s Landing. Varys’ plan of slow-burn chaos in Westeros seen in the first three books of A Song of Ice and Fire now evolved into an active undermining of the political structure of King’s Landing. Taena Merryweather would work to undermine the relationship between Margaery Tyrell and Cersei Lannister, but she would not be Varys’ only pawn in Westeros.
As I’ve re-read key sections from A Feast for Crows, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter for the Blood of the Conqueror series, I’ve come to the conclusion that Varys’ intelligence strategy in King’s Landing was not limited to Taena Merryweather. Varys needed to undermine the Lannister-Tyrell alliance in King’s Landing, but Varys also needed to disrupt their military power bloc in Eastern Westeros. The Golden Company and Aegon were coming to Westeros, and they would need the waters cleared for their approach.
This post contains spoilers for The Winds of Winter
“Daeron Targaryen was only fourteen when he conquered Dorne,” Jon said. The Young Dragon was one of his heroes.
“A conquest that lasted a summer,” his uncle pointed out. “Your Boy King lost ten thousand men taking the place, and another fifty trying to hold it. Someone should have told him that war isn’t a game.” (AGOT, Jon I)
As Aegon, Jon Connington and the Golden Company neared the shores of the Westeros, they confronted a Westeros that had repelled the Golden Company time after time. Their invasion towards the end of A Dance with Dragons faced similar difficulties; a seemingly strong political alliance between the Lannisters and Tyrells, enemy armies that far outnumbered the ten thousand men of the Golden Company and massive castles and cities that had withstood sieges stood athwart the Golden Company’s path to seat Aegon onto the Iron Throne. Despite the difficulties, Aegon’s pathway to victory was not without historical precedent.
Daeron I Targaryen was a mere fourteen years old when he launched one of the deadliest wars in Westeros’ history. The desert and mountain lands of Dorne had been a sore spot for House Targaryen ever since Rhaenys Targaryen had failed to take the hold-out kingdom during the Conquest. The Young Dragon was not content to let Dorne remain independent of the Iron Throne; instead, Daeron viewed his role as Lord of the Seven Kingdoms incomplete while one of those kingdoms remained defiantly independent. Vowing that he would “complete the Conquest,” Daeron planned and enacted the ensuing Conquest of Dorne, which saw Targaryen offensive warfare at its best and holding the peace at its worst. Daeron led his men from the front but the initial invasion cost the Iron Throne ten thousand men. Holding Dorne proved five times as costly. According to Benjen Stark and The World of Ice and Fire, Daeron lost fifty thousand men when the Dornish rose against his conquest. One of the final casualties of the war was King Daeron I Targaryen himself who died when the Dornish treacherously killed him under a flag of truce.
Regardless of how the conquest turned out, the military example that Daeron I Targaryen set during the conquest was not forgotten. Daeron had written himself into the history books in the aptly-titled Conquest of Dorne. This pivotal piece of propaganda ensured that the exploits of Daeron I Targaryen would not be forgotten by future generations.
Prince Aegon and Jon Connington never mention Daeron I Targaryen by name in A Dance with Dragons, but the landing of the Golden Company and Aegon’s (and Jon Connington’s) plan of swift strikes at key castles, divide and conquer tactics and military deception provide a good analogue between the two young dragons.
However decisive this Young Dragon planned to be, the odds were stacked against him. Would this time be different for the Golden Company? Would they be defeated in battle and forced to flee across the Narrow Sea? Or would Aegon, Jon Connington and the Golden Company take after the example of Daeron I and “complete the conquest” started by Daemon Blackfyre and Bittersteel so many years before? In pure military terms, even if Aegon, Connington and the Golden Company could pull off a landing in Westeros, their chances for victory seemed remote. Events in King’s Landing and the Stormlands, however, were shaping Aegon’s conquest to last a summer.
Disaster. Aerys and Rhaegar Targaryen were dead, Viserys and Daenerys were fled, a new powerful Baratheon regime was in power in King’s Landing and – most importantly for our purposes – Varys and Illyrio’s first conspiracy against the Targaryens had catastrophically failed. This failure could be partially attributed to Varys overplaying his hand by pushing Aerys too far towards paranoia and rash action, but the greater part of this failure was Varys’ inability to take the human element into account.
As we’ll see in Part 3, however, this was a failure that was not unique to Varys. Varys and Illyrio would engineer new schemes in Essos to elevate Aegon, the Bright-Black Dragon, onto the Iron Throne during the main timeline of A Song of Ice and Fire. Fearsome sellswords, known as the Golden Company, would be the cornerstone of Illyrio’s efforts. Prince Viserys Targaryen would also feature prominently early on, but as Illyrio’s conspiracies evolved, his attention would shift to Daenerys and her three adolescent dragons. But above them all was the boy and the conspiracy to put this dragon onto the Iron Throne.
But as Varys discovered in Westeros, Illyrio would find the human element interfering with his well-laid plans time after time.