Daemon Waters, bastard son of Aegon the Unworthy and Princess Daena Targaryen, scandalously conceived while Daena was imprisoned in the Maidenvault after her brother-husband King Baelor refused to consummate their marriage, just before Baelor finally died from his piousness and fasting (perhaps helped along in this by a poison from his uncle Viserys II who grew tired of his nephews stuffing up royal governance of the realm.)
Given the ancient sword of Aegon the Conqueror, Blackfyre, when being knighted by his father at the age of 12, Daemon took the sword’s name for his own house. Eventually, he rebelled and claimed the Iron Throne for himself.
But why did he rebel?
The legacy of the Blackfyre Pretenders echos throughout ASOIAF to the current generation of participants, although the current generation of would-be kings tend to think of the Blackfyre Rebellions as ancient history. It is not that ancient – Bloodraven, the bitter enemy of House Blackfyre, is still alive (albeit in secret and sustained through the magic of weirwoods and the Children of the Forest), and the grandfathers of the current crop of Kings fought in the War of the Ninepenny Kings which was the Fifth and last Blackfyre Rebellion.
Daemon was the first to claim the Blackfyre name and the Throne under his cadet branch of House Targaryen, but as time wore on, it seemed more and more obvious that another Great Bastard was calling the shots: Bittersteel, aka Aegon Rivers. I highly encourage everyone to read this excellent essay by Militant Penguin over at The War and Politics of Ice & Fire on Bittersteel’s involvement in the Blackfyre cause.
So what prompted Daemon to rebel at all? Let’s think about his origins first.
Mother: Daena the Defiant
Art by Amok
So, this is Princess Daena Targaryen, known better by her moniker “Daena the Defiant.”
She was the sister-bride of King Baelor the Blessed, who refused to consummate the marriage, and locked Daena and their other two sisters in the Red Keep, in what became known as the Maidenvault, to protect them and him from the sins of the flesh.
She tried several times to escape her imprisonment, unfortunately being caught every time. Wild and wilful, a solid horsewoman and jouster (at least at the rings – she was never allowed to pit her skills against another knight…. like another horse riding lady we know, Lyanna – the acknowledged skill of Daena in jousting lends credence to the idea that Lyanna was the Knight of the Laughing Tree) Daena was definitely not cut out for the princessly life, certainly not the life that King Baelor the lunatic Blessed envisaged necessary for his sister’s’ chastity.
Interesting, her moniker of “the Defiant” is linked to her refusal to name the father of her son Daemon Waters. Daemon was born in the last year of Baelor’s reign (and his mother’s consequent confinement) and grew up in the Red Keep, treated with all the courtesy according a bastard princeling. While he was never openly called a prince, he was long suspected to be the son of the then Prince Aegon, who went on to become King Aegon IV (more commonly remembered as Aegon the Unworthy) and Princess Daena. Daemon might well have been a bastard, but he was a dragon bastard, and lived a life of considerable comfort and privilege.
After the death of her brother-husband Baelor, Daena was the eldest surviving child of the former King Aegon III and considered by some the rightful heir to the Iron Throne. However, she fell victim to Westerosi misogyny, as encapsulated in the legal precedent of the Great Council of 101 AC and the turmoil the Seven Kingdoms experienced in the civil war dubbed the Dance of the Dragons (and the derision she faced as a woman who chose to bear a child out of wedlock from a judgemental, pious royal court.) Years of isolation in the Maidenvault left Daena and her sisters without any powerful lords to support their claims to the Throne, and they were all passed over in favour of Aegon III’s brother, Viserys II.
Father: Aegon the Unworthy
Art by Marc Simonetti
Smarter folk than me have written at length about the Henry VIII-esque ruin of the fat horny prick Aegon the Unworthy’s reign, and all the political upheaval his hedonistic lifestyle left for the Seven Kingdoms.
Let’s focus on what Aegon did, and didn’t do, for Daemon Waters, his son.
Daena was notoriously defiant, and refused to name the father of her bastard son Daemon. We aren’t told when she died, or anything about her life after she was liberated from the Maidenvault by Viserys II.
However we do know from TWOIAF that Aegon IV officially acknowledged Daemon Waters as his bastard son when the boy was 12, knighting him following Daemon’s prowess in a tourney, and giving him Aegon the Conqueror’s sword Blackfyre.
We know from The Sworn Sword that later supporters of Daemon Blackfyre’s claim to the Iron Throne considered this to be an implicit act of bestowing legitimacy on Daemon Waters and that Aegon considered Daemon, the bastard and not Daeron, his legitimate son, to be his rightful heir.
We also know from TWOIAF that Aegon IV routinely threatened to disinherit Crown Prince Daeron Targaryen towards the end of his reign, when Daeron tried to act as a stablising force, opposing the worst of his father’s excesses in his role on the Small Council. This is reminiscent of Aerys II, the Mad King, threatening to disinherit Crown Prince Rhaegar for what he perceived as Rhaegar’s rebelliousness and conspiracy against him.
But neither capricious king actually followed through with it.
Crown Prince Daeron II Targaryen remained Aegon IV’s heir, and in due course became King Daeron the Good.
Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen remained Aerys’ heir until his death at the Trident. Thanks to the wording of the relevant passages in TWOIAF and ASOIAF, which I think is more likely down to GRRM’s self-admitted lack of attention to detail and consistency, that Aerys sent Queen Rhaella and “his heir Viserys” to Dragonstone after Rhaegar’s death at the Trident. Technically, Viserys was not the heir – Aegon, Rhaegar’s son, the tiny baby whose head would be smashed in by the Mountain, was Aerys’ heir. It’s not clear whether Aerys has disinherited Aegon following his father’s failure at the Trident, or whether he did not consider a babe born to a frail mother his rightful heir when Viserys was older and more likely to survive, or whether GRRM is simply thinking about Viserys as the heir to Aerys as he eventually became because Aegon died. I subscribe to the latter view: GRRM fucked up, no one picked it up in editing, and a vague comment that jumps over the line of inheritance at the time to how the inheritance actually happened has been given undue weight by fans.
There is no evidence from the text that either king actually carried out their threats to disinherit their legitimate sons in favour of a less legitimate heir – Daemon Blackfyre in the case of Aegon IV, and Viserys the second son when the eldest son of an eldest son still survived for Aerys II.
Aegon the Unworthy died two years after his public acknowledgement of his first born son Daemon Waters, and Daemon was legitimised in Aegon’s deathbed will along with all the king’s other bastards. The only impact we have seen in Westerosi history from this last vain and petty act of Aegon the Unworthy has come from the “Great Bastards” and their subsequent involvement in wars of rebellion: Daemon Blackfyre, supported by his half brother Aegon “Bittersteel” Rivers, opposed by another half brother Brynden “Bloodraven” Rivers and his half sister paramour Shiera Seastar.
When did Daemon take on the name Blackfyre?
It’s not entirely clear when Daemon stopped calling himself Daemon Waters and set up House Blackfyre as a new cadet branch. It seems to be immediately following the acknowledgement of his parentage by Aegon IV and him receiving the sword. But Aegon IV, for all his generosity in giving Daemon the famous sword, didn’t actually set up Aegon for a future independent life.
Daemon’s lands and capacity to set himself up as a landed lord came from his half-brother, King Daeron the Good.
I suspect that Daemon did not actually start calling himself Daemon Blackfyre until he had the wherewithal to set up a new House. Remember: in feudalism, land is key. You are worth diddly squat unless you have land to go with your fancy name. This comes through again and again in the Dunk & Egg stories, with the way Dunk is treated as a “lowly hedge knight” – he has no land, which means he has no income from his lands, which means he is forced to “live in the hedges” and go from house to house, swearing his sword and fealty in exchange for payment. To be able to claim a particular title for yourself, you must either be a landed lord or knight, or be a known knight in life long service to a greater lord. Think about the difficulties that Ser Glendon Flowers faces in The Mystery Knight – everyone refuses to call him by his chosen name, Ser Glendon Ball, as they do not believe that his is Ser Quentyn “Fireball” Ball’s son. Instead they give him the bastard name he hates, and force him to enter the tourney as a hedge knight.
Roots of dissent: Bittersteel, bitter words
While much of the roots of the future Blackfyre Rebellions can be traced to Aegon the Unworthy’s favouritism of Daemon over Daeron, there is another figure looming large: the bitterness of Bittersteel.
- Gave Daemon, not his legitimate heir Daeron, the House Targaryen sword Blackfyre that was once the sword of Aegon the Conqueror. This wasn’t the effective naming Daemon his heir that later Blackfyre supporters would say it was, but it was a powerful symbol of Aegon’s preference for his firstborn Targaryen bastard son over his later born Targaryen legitimate son
- But Aegon didn’t give Daemon any lands or ability to live independently of the Crown – he ensured that Daemon would have to remain loyal to him to get ahead in the world
- Aegon started the rumours that Daeron was not his son, but a bastard born of a secret affair between his brother Ser Aemon the Dragonknight and his sister-wife Queen Naerys. This rumour didn’t get any serious traction, not least because Ser Aemon was willing to fight to the death any man who besmirched the reputation of his much loved (but not in that way) sister. It’s pretty clear from the account in TWOIAF that no one in Westeros seriously believed this claim – it was always a vain attempt to make Daemon more of the legitimate Targaryen than his bookish and chubby half brother, Crown Prince Daeron.
But that’s about it. That’s all King Aegon was able to do during his life time.
It is possible, as noted by SomethingLikeALawyer that Aegon IV intended to set up a military coalition of support for Daemon that would enable his preferred son to take the Throne from his legitimate heir, but he died before this plan could come to fruition.
However, Aegon by this time was riddled with disease and parasites, and his health would suffer as a result. His deathbed legitimization of his bastards, like nearly every other action in his reign, was selfish, arbitrary, and likely made at the spur of the moment, fearing his own death. He had built Daemon’s alliance, but he hadn’t the time to finish his grand move to disinherit Daeron, and as such, even his cruellest gesture was, for the moment, empty and toothless. What it started however, was the greatest succession crisis Westeros would ever see.
This attempt at an alliance to oust the legitimate Daeron from the Throne was later taken up by another Great Bastard, Bittersteel. Aegor Rivers was, by all accounts, a thoroughly horrible person, so twisted by bitterness at the abandonment of him and his family by Aegon IV that he was willing to throw the Seven Kingdoms into war again, and again, and again. (Yes, there were 5 Blackfyre Rebellions, but only 3 “agains” – Bittersteel notably didn’t support the spectacular failure of the Second Blackfyre Rebellion, and was dead by the time the War of the Ninepenny Kings came along.)
They say that when you go looking for revenge you should dig two graves, one for your enemy and the other for yourself. In Bittersteel’s case he should have dug graves for himself, the Blackfyres, and the many tens of thousands he condemned to death because of his own selfish desire for revenge against the Iron Throne and the Targaryens.
I’m not going to write at length about Bittersteel, because Militant Penguin has already done a much better version here.
What I find fascinating is that somehow, Bittersteel was able to get in the ear of Daemon Blackfyre, and encourage rebellion.
What is notable is that Daemon didn’t immediately rebel. He was only 14 when his father died, and as noted above, he had no land or income to back himself until later when his half brother King Daeron the Good granted him lands and the finances to honour the marriage contract with the Archon of Tyrosh for Daemon to marry the Archon’s daughter Rohanne. We don’t know her age, but Daemon was only 14 when he wedded and bedded his wife, in his new castle, on his new lands granted to him by his half brother, not his kingly father. It was Daeron the Good who took all the steps which let his half brother live an independent life and be able to set up a cadet branch of House Targaryen as House Blackfyre – not Aegon, the father who supposedly wanted him to be king.
Remember, Aegon kept Daemon dependent on royal favour, despite going to the lengths he did with rumour and relationship building to form a supportive coalition. Aegon was willing for his favoured son to supplant his legitimate son as King, but not willing to allow his favoured son any independence in his own life. Once again, Aegon the Extremely Bloody Petty was more interested in his personal revenge on his detested sister-wife Naerys, for nothing more than a loveless marriage that was forced on them by their father, King Viserys II. He didn’t actually give a rat’s arse about Daemon himself – all he saw in Daemon was the opportunity to vicariously live a second life of glory in his fat dotage.
Following this tradition of bitterness and pettiness, Bittersteel is every inch his father’s bastard son in the way he convinced Daemon to go all out in an assault for the Iron Throne.
Did Bittersteel really care about Daemon’s rights? Nope. Did he care for the wellbeing or rights of any of Daemon Blackfyre’s heirs in exile? Hell no.
All of House Blackfyre was a means to an end for Bittersteel: a chance for revenge against two people. The father who threw him out, and the half brother from his mother’s family’s hated rivals, Bloodraven.
We cannot underestimate the importance of the Bracken-Blackwood feud, and Aegon IV’s callous fueling of that feud, in the bitterness of Aegor Rivers and his motivation to plunge the Seven Kingdoms into civil war over and over and over again.
The history of the Bracken and Blackwood feud is elaborated in TWOIAF, in the Riverlands’ section. The modern inflammation of this old feud was that Aegor Rivers’ mother, Barba Bracken, fell out of favour with Aegon IV, who chucked her and her infant son out of the Red Keep in favour of Melissa Blackwood. To then add insult to this injury, after Melissa Blackwood was passed over in favour of future mistresses of the king, she and her children were allowed to remain in the Red Keep. For Aegor, this meant that he saw a Great Bastard like him, a half brother from a hated local rivalry, grow up in the luxury and royal treatment he thought he deserved. Everything that Brynden Rivers got, Aegor Rivers thought he deserved. Aegon IV gave absolutely no fucks whatsoever about Aegor Rivers, taking away land from House Bracken and giving it to House Blackwood, including a tract of hilly land once called Barba’s Teats and then Missy’s Teats, in crude homage to his changing mistresses.
Aegor had a chance at coming back to court when another Bracken woman was pushed into the aging king’s bed by the upwardly mobile House, but much like poor Katherine Howard, her distaste for the corpulent, gross king’s rotting flesh led her to a younger man’s bed and once discovered, she was executed for treason and her Bracken family booted out of the Red Keep again.
Is Aegor’s bitterness understandable? Yes.
Is his response proportionate or reasonable? Hell no!
Dysfunctional family or not, it takes an incredibly selfish and small minded person to go to pointless war after pointless war, killing tens of thousands of men, women and children just so you can get revenge for being abandoned by a capricious arsehole king while a hated rival got all the things you wanted, including his own Targaryen sword.
It also begs the question: was Bittersteel hoping that after Daemon Blackfyre’s line had been extinguished, he would be able to claim the Iron Throne for himself? If so, his planning was bloody awful and doomed to failure. But it would explain why he was so willing to heedlessly risk his supposed family’s safety over and over again.
I just frantically googled to see if anyone knows who gave Bloodraven Dark Sister, about to put a line about Daeron II giving Bloodraven the famous sword of Visenya Targaryen. But I couldn’t find it. It seems that no one has a bloody clue who gave Bloodraven the other heirloom sword of House Targaryen.
Was it Aegon IV, in another act of acknowledgement of a Great Bastard? If so, why wasn’t Bloodraven’s anointment as a successor touted in the same terms as Daemon getting Blackfyre? This suggests that Aegon IV didn’t give Bloodraven the other Targaryen sword – or if he did, the distinction is made between the gifting of Blackfyre and the gifting of Dark Sister because Daemon Waters was a Targaryen bastard from both parents (and his mother had her own claim to the Throne when he was a child), whereas Brynden Rivers only gets dragonblood from his father.
Or did Daeron II give Dark Sister to Bloodraven? I am sure that’s the case, but can’t find confirmation of this anywhere. If so, was this done to undermine the symbolism of Aegon IV giving Daemon the sword Blackfyre? That would be a prudent and appropriately scholarly response from the intelligent Daeron. If Blackfyre supporters want to say that Daemon having THE sword gives him a claim to the Throne, giving the other royal sword to another Great Bastard while explicitly confirming that Bloodraven would rise no higher than Hand to the King undercuts the rebels’ argument.
Dark Sister is fascinating, because it seems to often be forgotten throughout Westerosi history. Visenya brought it to Westeros. We know her son Maegor the Cruel bore Blackfyre, but it seems Visenya’s sword was given to Aegon and Rhaenys’ son, Aenys. His widow, Alyssa, snuck Dark Sister out of Dragonstone with the crown and her kids when they escaped to Storm’s End from Maegor’s imprisonment.
No mentions of a wielder of Dark Sister come until Daeron the Young Dragon took it with him to his conquest of Dorne. It was returned from the Dornish marches at some stage, and Ser Aemon the Dragonknight wielded it…. and then the next and last bearer is Lord Bloodraven.
Did Bloodraven leave the sword in the Red Keep when he was sentenced to take the black? Or did he take it with him to the Night’s Watch? If so, did he leave it at Castle Black in the Lord Commander’s chambers, or is it with him in the cave? Will we see Hodor hodoring about with Dark Sister in the future, or has the sword been disguised or simply lost? I’m pretty sure that GRRM has nixed the idea that Longclaw is actually Dark Sister, but that doesn’t stop many fans from believing that Jon has actually been wielding an ancient Targaryen sword. Surely if it was in King’s Landing, Cersei and Tywin would have found it and made sure their lion kings bore it to underline their legitimacy. Or has Varys spirited it out of the Red Keep and given it to “Aegon”, instead of the also lost Blackfyre?
The issue of these lost swords is fascinating for the case of “Aegon”, as in an earlier draft of Tyrion and Illyrio’s chat in the litter taking Tyrion to meet with Griff and Co where Illyrio is delivering a sword in a rich looking casket with their goods. The implication here is that GRRM intended to leave a stronger Blackfyre trail in ADWD than he ultimately did, suggesting that Illyrio has the sword that went AWOL after the Blackfyre Rebellions.
Did GRRM pull this tidbit out because it would make it too obvious that “Aegon” is a Blackfyre and he wanted to extend the mystery a bit more, or did he abandon the Blackfyre plan entirely? Time will tell.
If “Aegon” does turn up and tries to rely on wielding Blackfyre as proof he is a Targaryen, that will spectacularly backfire as everyone in Westeros knows that this Targaryen sword went into exile with Bittersteel. However, if Varys can procure Dark Sister for his “Aegon VI Targaryen”… would that help support his baby swap story?
Misogyny in Westeros: also a men’s issue!
Feminism is relevant to men, and this holds true for Westeros as much as it does in real life.
In a martial world, where hypermasculinity is praised and men are judged as only worthy if they are able to perform feats of knightly strength or military shrewdness, feminine or “less than masculine” qualities in men are used to deny the legitimacy or suitability of various kings and lords across Westeros.
Let’s revisit the quote from Ser Eustace Osgrey, the bitter old cheqey lion of The Sworn Sword:
“Daeron was spindly and round of shoulder, with a little belly that wobbled when he walked. Daemon stood straight and proud, and his stomach was flat and hard as an oaken shield. And he could fight. With ax or lance or flail, he was as good as any knight I ever saw, but with the sword he was the Warrior himself. …Daeron surrounded himself with maesters, septons, and singers. Always there were women whispering in his ear, and his court was full of Dornishmen. . . Daemon was no more pious than a king need be, and all the great knights of the realm gathered to him.”
“Why, lad? You ask me why? Because Daemon was the better man. The old king saw it, too. He gave the sword to Daemon.Blackfyre, the sword of Aegon the Conquerer, the blade that every Targaryen king had wielded since the Conquest…”
Over and over again in ASOIAF and D&E, GRRM uses these notions of what it means to be a man to demonstrate how competent and sensible kings are undermined by lords who never grew out of a fratboy mindset where might = kingliness.
Daeron is called Daeron the Good, because he was intelligent, wise, listened to his Small Council, worked to undo all the bad caused by his belligerent father, and was merciful to those who rebelled against him under the flag of Daemon Blackfyre.
Yet in the D&E books we see that the people of Westeros still consider Daeron to be a bit of a dunce – all because he was “round of belly” and “surrounded himself with maesters and women“. Meanwhile, Daemon Blackfyre was the perfect substitute prince, because he was good with a sword and surrounded himself with famous fighters.
The rise to power of Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish also deconstructs this trope – as the smaller man who can’t fight very well managed to undermine the reign of the magnificent warrior king Robert Baratheon, as well as outsmart the military and political might of House Lannister to find himself Lord Paramount of the Trident and de facto Lord Paramount of the Vale.
Much like our society, where feminine or non-masculine qualities of studiousness, appreciation of the arts, a disinterest or distaste for fighting are continually belittled, endemic misogyny is as much a problem for these “sissy” men as it is for women.
Food for thought people…