House words in Westeros aren’t just a catchy buzzword. They’re a mantra, an ethos to the way that this family works. Even after she’s Lady Stark, Catelyn Tully Stark makes decisions based on the Tully creed family, duty, honour. Daenerys spends her arc from Pentos to Meereen to the Dothraki Sea again figuring out what it means to bring fire and blood.
So if the Tyrells want to grow strong, work their way up the social chain, into positions of power, and have a Tyrell child one day be King on the Iron Throne… why marry the gay Baratheon brother?
This post could also be titled: the Tyrells knew all about the Lannister twins incest, because Mace’s enthusiasm for a Tyrell King only makes sense if he knew that a child born to Renly Baratheon had the best chance of ending up on the Iron Throne.
Who actually knew about the Lannister incest?
We know that Jon Arryn was investigating Robert’s black-haired, blue-eyed bastards with Stannis Baratheon. So we can be confident that they both knew – or at least, strongly suspected – what Ned later found out.
Gendry himself is a pretty telling piece of evidence, in Westeros’ simplistic version of paternity testing:
That the armorer’s sullen apprentice was the king’s son, Ned had no doubt. The Baratheon look was stamped on his face, in his jaw, his eyes, that black hair. Renly was too young to have fathered a boy of that age, Stannis too cold and proud in his honor. Gendry had to be Robert’s.
Who else knew?
The text tells us that Littlefinger was well aware of Cersei’s little secret
“Excellent. You’re learning.” Littlefinger leaned forward. “Yet I’ll wager you did not drag me here in the black of night to discuss the eunuch.”
“No,” Ned admitted. “I know the secret Jon Arryn was murdered to protect. Robert will leave no trueborn son behind him. Joffrey and Tommen are Jaime Lannister’s bastards, born of his incestuous union with the queen.”
Littlefinger lifted an eyebrow. “Shocking,” he said in a tone that suggested he was not shocked at all. “The girl as well? No doubt. So when the king dies …”
Could we then assume that Varys, the Master of Secrets, the all-knowing Spider, knows too? I think that’s a safe bet.
Robert’s Small Council consisted of
- Jon Arryn, Hand of the King,
- Stannis Baratheon, Master of Ships,
- Renly Baratheon, Master of Laws,
- Petyr Baelish, Master of Coin
- Varys, Master of Whispers
- Ser Barristan Selmy, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard
- Grand Maester Pycelle
We spend some time with Barristan’s musings, and he has nothing good to say about Jaime Lannister – but he doesn’t appear to be aware of the twincest. No wonder really – being a loyal member of the Mad King’s guard must have given Barristan some excellent skills in cognitive dissonance and ignoring the blindingly obvious.
I seem to remember, but naturally can’t find now on http://www.asearchoficeandfire.com, some passage where either Cersei or Jaime ask Pycelle if he helped Jon Arryn’s death along for fear that Arryn had discovered the twincest and been poisoned by Cersei, or where the twins discuss it. Perhaps it was a piece of show dialogue. Anyway: there’s a strong implication that Pycelle suspected that Cersei was Jon Arryn’s poisoner, and for him to suspect the Queen strongly suggests that he knew why she would be motivated to kill the Hand that was investigating black-haired, blue-eyed babies…. so Pycelle knew too.
Thus, ignoring Renly for the time being, everyone on Robert’s Small Council except the rather dense Lord Commander of the Kingsguard knew or strongly suspected that Cersei Lannister’s children were bastards born of incest and not Robert Baratheon’s true heirs.
From that, can we reasonably infer that Renly knew too?
In AGOT, Renly approaches Ned with a small portrait of Lady Margaery Tyrell, asking Ned if he thought there was enough resemblance to Lyanna Stark to make Robert lovesick enough to do something politically stupid and unprecedented: set Cersei Lannister aside.
Furthermore, Arya overhears Varys and Illyrio Mopatis discussing the plans that Renly has for raising up his lover’s family via marrying Loras’ sister to his brother:
The Knight of Flowers writes Highgarden, urging his lord father to send his sister to court. The girl is a maid of fourteen, sweet and beautiful and tractable, and Lord Renly and Ser Loras intend that Robert should bed her, wed her, and make a new queen.
See, for all the ease with which modern readers look at Renly’s plan to have Margaery usurp Cersei’s role as Robert’s queen and think “Oh yeah, that makes sense – I mean, Henry VIII did the same thing with Anne Boelyn… and Jeyne Seymour… and Anne of Cleves… and Katherine Howard…. and Catherine Parkes….” that’s not at all how annulment and separation work in Westeros.
There’s no divorce in Westeros. Annulment is used far more sparingly than in our real medieval history. We don’t have a long list of High Septons being bargained with to authorise convenient annulments in the same way that the kings of medieval Europe would bargain with the Pope to get a papal dispensation to annul a no longer desired marriage.
The only way to have a marriage annulled in Westeros is to provide evidence that it was not consummated, or (presumably, if there’s a reasonable analogy to real world history) that the marriage was entered into under false pretences.
Neither of these applies to Robert and Cersei. While Cersei ensured that she bore no heirs of Robert, she did have sex with him in the early years of their marriage, before she worked out that Robert would come to her so drunk he didn’t notice that he only got a hand job.
There are plenty of unhappy royal marriages throughout the history of Westeros, but there is not the accompanying history of annulments or separations. The peoples of the Seven Kingdoms, including their kings, are expected to suffer through an unhappy marriage and either find a way to make it work, or live separately. Separation does not free someone to remarry though.
The only way that Robert could have moved Cersei aside would have been to arrange for her to have a fatal accident (ironically, which is exactly what Cersei does to him,) or have her publicly tried and executed for treason.
Theory: for Renly to be so confident that he could make Margaery Tyrell his brother’s queen, and not just a mistress, then he must have been confident that Cersei would be removed – permanently.
See, the thing is that even for a social climber like Mace Tyrell, there’s no incentive to throw your only daughter at the king for her to just be a mistress. Mace wanted his grandson to be king: that won’t happen if she’s just a paramour.
No, to get that Tyrell grandson heir to the Iron Throne, Mace needed to be confident that Margaery would be able to wed Robert Baratheon, and that her son would be prioritised in the succession over Cersei Lannister’s children.
How would that happen?
Simple: the twincest is revealed, Jaime and Cersei are executed, and the poor kids are either also executed or (if cooler heads like Ned’s prevail) the kids are sent off to chaste, lifelong orders of obedience: the Wall, the Faith, the Silent Sisters, the Citadel. Therefore, there are no more Lannister children in the line of succession, and the way is clear for all children Margaery might bear Robert to be the legitimate heir.
So why marry Renly?
Renly Baratheon is a bit of a catch for Westerosi ladies: he’s young, he’s good looking, he’s the far more charming younger brother of the king, he’s lord of the Stormlands….
and he’s gay.
A fact that the Tyrells are well aware of, one presumes. They are well aware that little brother, Ser Loras, is gay:
Ser Garlan turned her, drew her close to his side. “My lady, I have seen how you look at my brother. Loras is valiant and handsome, and we all love him dearly . . . but your Imp will make a better husband. He is a bigger man than he seems, I think.”
Logically, they’re well aware of the nature of Loras’ relationship with Renly, and thankfully, don’t appear to judge him for that. The show took it further, with Margaery not only well aware that Renly was far more interested in bedding her brother, but also suggesting a sibling orgy if that’s what was necessary to ensure she bore a Baratheon heir.
So why did the Tyrells come to think that Renly was the best option after Robert’s death? Remember, the plan before his death was to have Margaery marry Robert. Why not shift that to marrying Joffrey Baratheon, the newly crowned king of the Seven Kingdoms? Especially when Joffrey’s betrothed, Sansa Stark, is the sister of first lord to rebel against the Lannister regime – Robb Stark, the Young Wolf, DAKINGINDANORF.
Let’s revisit the advice that Littlefinger gives Ned Stark when they’re planning how to approach arresting Cersei and seizing control of Joffrey and the Throne after Robert’s death:
“Now look at the other side of the coin. Joffrey is but twelve, and Robert gave you the regency, my lord. You are the Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm. The power is yours, Lord Stark. All you need do is reach out and take it. Make your peace with the Lannisters. Release the Imp. Wed Joffrey to your Sansa. Wed your younger girl to Prince Tommen, and your heir to Myrcella. It will be four years before Joffrey comes of age. By then he will look to you as a second father, and if not, well … four years is a good long while, my lord. Long enough to dispose of Lord Stannis. Then, should Joffrey prove troublesome, we can reveal his little secret and put Lord Renly on the throne.“
Littlefinger was not keen on King Stannis, First Of His Name… no wonder, when one of Stannis’ major policy plans was to ban sex work, Littlefinger’s primary source of income and blackmail material.
But this passage also shows us the kind of thinking that might have been going through Mace Tyrell’s head when he agreed with lovestruck young Loras that it would be good to marry Margaery to Renly.
Incidentally, it also provides a good reason as to why Book Renly was inspired to claim the Iron Throne in his own right after Robert’s death. The show took the route of a wishy-washy Renly talked into it by idealistic, naive Loras, who believes in songs about kings and princes and knights just as much as Sansa. But in the books, Renly is cocky enough in his own right to not need much persuading – but perhaps he was emboldened to go beyond dreaming of the Iron Throne to trying to seize it by the knowledge that other lords were keen to see Stannis disappear too?
(and what does it say about the Baratheon Bros that upon eldest brother’s death, littlest brother is hoping that middle brother will be killed by someone else???)
Stannis Baratheon is his brother Robert’s rightful heir, given that the Lannister children are just that – Lannisters. But Stannis’ only child is a daughter. Greyscale or not, Shireen is not likely to inherit her father’s throne, based on the Great Council of 101 AC, which determined that neither a woman nor a man whose claim comes through the female line should inherit the Iron Throne.
Therefore Renly is Stannis’ heir – and thus, any sons that Renly had would be likely to be the next king on the Iron Throne.
There’s the incentive to Grow Strong with the younger Baratheon. He’s young, malleable, impressionable, but charming enough to be a good substitute for Jolly King Robert. And in time, through a marriage to Renly, Margaery’s children would be the heirs to the throne, even if she doesn’t end up with a crown herself.
And this is why Olenna Tyrell is rightfully so dismissive of Renly’s pitch to be king before Stannis when Sansa first meets her.
Now, if Olenna can see what a clusterfuck crowning Renly was, why didn’t Mace?
Simple: because men are idiots. Mace decided to go with the hype about Renly, that a man who is clean and jolly somehow makes a better king than the elder brother with the rightful claim, and seized the chance to make his daughter not just the mother of a future king, but a queen right now.
That didn’t work out so well.
(Side note, can we just pause to appreciate one of Show Olenna’s best lines?)
Not going to lie: Olenna Tyrell is one of my favourite characters, on the page and screen, because she’s smart enough to know what’s happening and strong enough to not give a shit who she offends. And she’s knows what flaws Mace’s plans for Margaery have, and the danger its brought their family. She knows that they’re now playing a dangerous game, and the roses of Highgarden might not be growing strong for much longer in these dangerous times.
Everyone else on the Small Council except for the notoriously dense Barristan was aware of the twincest, so it stands to reason that Renly also figured it out.
Renly being aware that Robert’s children were not his children means that he also figured out that his brother Stannis and he were Robert’s true heirs
This made him a very attractive marriage prospect to a man like Mace Tyrell who wanted his daughter to be queen and his grandson to be king
but they all got too cocky and too eager to have it all RIGHT NOW, rather than wait, and support Stannis’ claim to the Throne, knowing that through Stannis and his lack of heirs, ultimately the son of Renly and Margaery would be king in time.
So the Queen of Thorns is quite right: they should have stayed out of it. But they didn’t.