YES, I’m a Book Snob who thinks the Books Are Better Than The Show. But I also genuinely really do like Game of Thrones. The first 3-4 seasons are fantastic, even with the changes they made from text to screen. But then… things started to get a bit wonky. Jaime inexplicably went to Dorne, where Ellaria Sand was merged with Arianne Martell to produce a vengeance driven woman who seized power by killing her paramour’s brother, and the Sand Sneks went from interesting but over the top characters to caricatures of the Erotic Exotic, with cringe-inducing lines about liking the “bad pussy.”
The show is still doing epic, amazing MOMENTS that make us go WOAH NO WAY SO COOL. The Field of Fire? Holy crap. That was awesome.
But then… there’s the lack of logical consequences. No Dany, you don’t guarantee that the nobles of Westeros will follow you if you burn every Randyl Tarly that says no. You imprison them and take their heir as a hostage/ward to be your page until they say yes. No Cersei, you don’t just crown yourself Queen because your son died without an heir and because you want to… and you blew up all the nobles that would have been able to tell you to piss off in the Sept of Baelor. Not every major lord in Westeros was at Loras’ trial and confession. Only the ones who had speaking parts on the show thus far. There should have been an opposition to Cersei’s coronation – hell, even if it was just two lines of Random Unnamed Nobles hurrying to the Throne room saying “I don’t like this, but what can we do against the Mad Queen who blew up our most sacred institution?” GIVE US SOME LOGICAL CONSEQUENCES FOR THESE MAJOR ACTION SET PIECES DAMMIT.
The worst offender this season is a doozy. Gilly, who has mastered reading (good on you girl!) while Sam’s been cleaning poopy chamber pots, found a reference in a Septon’s diary (not just some average run of the mill septon who was hanging around Rhaegar’s entourage… but the ACTUAL HIGH SEPTON. The Westerosi Pope. And no one thought to read his memoirs before???) to a rather convenient annulment. This is a major problem, and actually doesn’t solve anything – it just introduces more pointless and unnecessary drama. The concerning thing is that the show runners seem to think that the audience loves it and it answers questions about Jon and his role in the future Westeros. This blog is all the reasons why, in my considered legal opinion, that this totally ridiculous, complete and utter bullshit actually creates more problems than it “fixes.”
“The show is written for the real fans”
David Benioff and Dan Weiss, known in the fandom as “D&D” for a convenient shorthand, are a controversial pair of content creators. (And for what it’s worth, #NoConfederate please… we don’t need to imagine a world where the South won the US Civil War. We live in a world that’s racist enough, thanks very much…) They were apparently inspired to adapt A Song of Ice and Fire into the show that became Game of Thrones because of the Red Wedding – how unusually abrupt and ignoble an ending it was for several key characters, especially the tragic Robb Stark, who won every single battle but lost the war. When you read interviews with D&D, it’s clear that they’ve read all the ASOIAF books, and associated pre-history books (TWOAIF, the Dunk & Egg novellas, the Dance of the Dragons novellas) plus they’ve had the distinct advantage of being able to talk to the man himself, George R. R. Martin, and ask him exactly where all this is heading. GRRM famously agreed to let HBO have the rights to ASOIAF under D&D’s stewardship because they correctly deduced Jon Snow’s parentage. They do, or should, “get it.”
But… do they? They were attracted to making this series because they saw in the Red Wedding a water cooler moment beyond any previous serial television major jaw dropping water cooler moment. That’s admirable, and they achieved it, but it doesn’t necessarily speak to their dedication in telling the dual stories in ASOIAF, namely the “Game of Thrones” where GRRM has devoted hundreds of pages to the complex and nuanced political schemings of Cersei Lannister, Varys, Littlefinger, Stannis Baratheon, and so on; and the “Song of Ice & Fire,” the metaphysical battle for humanity which is, by and large, occurring North of the Wall as the Others v e r y s l o w l y make their way south, and those characters who are aware of the threat they pose (Jon Snow, Samwell Tarly, Mance Raydar, Tormund Giantsbane and the rest of the wildlings, Melisandre, Bran Stark, Bloodraven/Three Eyed Crow, Meera and Jojen Reed, eventually Stannis Baratheon and his armies) as they try to work out how to deal with an army of ice zombies who seem to just want kill everything.
When the show has been good, it’s been very, very good. “The show delivered best when it stuck close to Martin’s writing – especially his very rich dialogue.” This is a commonly held view amongst fans and critics. Jaime’s bathtub speech in Harrenhal in season 3 is near verbatim taken from the same scene in A Storm of Swords, and is all the more powerful because the show writers did not attempt to improve upon an already masterfully written scene. They just gave that dialogue to excellent actors and let them go wild:
See? THIS, this is brilliant. You get so much nuance from GRRM’s words: Jaime’s frustration about his legacy as the Kingslayer, his jaded cynicism about his father’s true nature, the real brutality of Aerys the Mad King – and tells Brienne, the truest of the knights who cannot be a knight because of her gender, exactly what he did and why. A secret Jaime has kept for 15-16 years. He let the Seven Kingdoms think the worst of him, that he killed the Mad King for Tywin Lannister’s benefit, and his intense dislike of Ned Stark’s judgemental entrance. “By what right does the Wolf judge the Lion?” This is more than just Lannister arrogance (although it is mostly just Lannister arrogance, let’s be honest…) This is also the essence of feudalism: the king is absolute, but is also only first amongst equals. By what right should Lord Eddard Stark of Winterfell condemn Ser Jaime Lannister of Casterly Rock without hearing all the facts and evidence? Zilch.
And then at the end…. “Jaime. My name is Jaime.” Wonderfully acted by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie, and in a rare show of restraint for GOT, Brienne’s body is not crudely put on display for the benefit of the Tits ‘n’ Dragons crowd, but is shot in such a way that her modesty is protected – which is very much in character for shy, uncertain Brienne as it is a favour to Gwen, who may not have wanted to go full frontal on primetime tv. (I have no idea if she objected to it or not – I just know I would…)
In the books, this crucial and beautiful scene is the start of Jaime’s redemptive arc, that ends (thus far) with him abandoning Cersei in her hour of need and striving to be a true knight, worthy of the white cloak of the Kingsguard, despite his reputation in the realm. Show Jaime’s arc has been somewhat different, to say the least, and utterly disappointing despite Nikolaj’s continued fantastic acting efforts. He does so well with the crap D&D give him, just imagine how good Nikolaj would do had he been given Book Jaime’s arc… Much like the many wrongs done to Loras Tyrell, one of the most interesting book characters has been given a blah-de-blah role after initially staying quite close to the book material in seasons 1-3.
Steven Attwell makes these excellent observations about what may have prompted D&D’s decisions regarding the disappointing direction that the show took Loras’ character and plot in S5-6:
However, most of HBO’s audience — especially in the U.S — isn’t familiar with a religious social movement emerging from the left rather than the right. The Occupy movement and the Sparrow movement have many similarities (the Sparrows physically occupy the square of the Sept of Baelor, for example), but religious fundamentalism isn’t one of them. Likewise, that same audience would probably not have much context for conflicts between state and church that deal with control over military and judicial power rather than culture war battles over abortion, evolution and gay marriage. But most of HBO’s audience would be familiar with fundamentalist movements that are vocally homophobic — so to spice up the montage where the Faith Militant take over King’s Landing, to really underline the scenes of the holy warriors breaking open wine barrels and smashing the idols of foreign gods, show them gay-bashing male prostitutes and arresting Loras Tyrell and they’ll get the picture.
I’m happy to defer to Steven’s knowledge of US social politics and policy, I mean he is a professor on the topic… but I really do question the logic at HBO that the audience of GOT is too dumb to follow the idea of a revolutionary social movement like the Faith Militant being primarily concerned with the largesse and opulence of the nobility, and misogynistic views about women. I mean, misogynistic views about women + US politics are pretty much same-same, right? In Australia, we don’t have huge public debates about who our future High Court justices will be and the only people who care (the lawyers and law professors) are frankly FAR more concerned with the candidates legal experience and intelligence (and drafting skills…. Kirby J was witty and intelligent but good lord the man loved to waffle…) than we are with their views on abortion and guns. Yet when Scalia died, that was the focus of America’s press and politicians on the nominee that Obama tried to appoint and why the Republican Congress obstructed it.
Getting off that topic before I go too far down the rabbithole of “America, you are so weird“… why did HBO/D&D feel the need to dumb down the Faith Militant? Are you seriously telling me that the people who watch Game of Thrones can’t follow a plot about a movement that has a foot in Occupy Wall Street and another in religious extremism? Why was it necessary to change the Faith’s attack on sexuality from ‘wanton women’ to ‘ew the gayz’? Mine is a far less charitable answer than Steven’s: because D&D thought a homophobic Faith Militant campaign was more of a water cooler moment, because they can’t imagine working with gay characters in any context other than a dehumanising caricature of violence and oppression. Because why would you need to see a character who happens to be gay, rather than a gay character? I mean, it’s not like people are actually not defined by their sexuality and gay men can be as Alpha Male Legendary Knight as anyone else…. end sarcasm…
And this is my whole problem with D&D’s approach in seasons 6, 7 and what we’re likely to get in season 8: they’re not focused on narrative logicality or characterisation, they’re solely focused on what the next water cooler moment will be.
As a long term fantasy/sci fi fan in general, and a huge fan of the books, I find it extremely frustrating when narrative and character inconsistencies by a show that is supposed to be delivering award winning television excellence are just waived away by critics and fans as “it’s just tits and dragons, who cares?”
Some of us care. Actually, scratch that. A lot of us care. We want a story that makes sense as much as water cooler moments that make us do a Bill + Ted style “woah!” at the tv.
So who are these “real fans” that D&D claim they’re writing this crap for? Because it isn’t us who want a legit Targaryen Jon Snow and Jon/Dany romance….
So: why does this mean Rhaegar can’t just get an annulment?
Of all the illogical and frustrating shit on S7 of GOT, the one thing that has really made me see red and get genuinely angry rather than just a bit irritated is the revelation via Gilly that Rhaegar Targaryen, in the show at least, annulled his marriage with Elia Martell in order to marry Lyanna Stark.
I am entirely confident that this twist will NOT be happening in the book. Why? Because it would totally fly in the face of all the law, lore and custom that GRRM has spent thousands of pages setting up, especially in the historical book, The World of Ice & Fire (TWOIAF for short.)
What is an annulment?
An annulment is not the same thing as a divorce. It’s an order that has the effect of saying that the marriage was never lawful – and more than that, it never truly happened.
In the real world, in this case, in my jurisdiction of Victoria, Australia, you can only get an annulment in certain circumstances, namely where the marriage occurred because of coercion, deception or in circumstances that the law does not permit (like incest, an underage party, or bigamy/polygamy.)
The standard process for separating from a married spouse is divorce, which is simply an order that the lawful marriage has come to an end. The practical difference between the two things doesn’t really have a huge impact in modern life, but in the world of Westeros (which parallels real world medieval laws and customs in all respects except the whole dragon business) it has a major impact: the children in a divorce remain legitimate children of a lawful marriage. The children resulting from an annulled marriage become illegitimate.
Before y’all bust a gut going “No but….” let me get in first: YES BUT. That’s exactly what happens. Please take a look at real world history. The best example is the big man himself, the guy who created his own Church of England just so he could get an annulment, Henry VIII of England. The jingle to remember Henry’s wives might well go “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived,” but more accurately it should go “annulled, beheaded, died, annulled, beheaded, survived.” This is how Henry got his two annulments and why:
First, Catherine of Aragon. (Not Catherine of Aragorn as my Tolkien loving brain is apt to autocorrect it to….) This was wife #1. Henry married Catherine, who was previously married to his older brother, Arthur, Prince of Wales. Arthur and Catherine were betrothed quite young in a purely political act: Henry VII wanted to build an Anglo-Spanish alliance, and as is the case in Westeros, such alliances were sealed with a kiss of two young newlyweds…. well, after a few years of letter writing and a papal dispensation to cover for Arthur’s young age (betrothed at 13 and married at 15.)
However, Arthur soon became unwell and died, leaving Catherine a childless widow who, despite an usually public bedding ceremony for the young couple, claimed that the marriage was never consummated. (Weir, 2008.) In order to preserve the political alliance Catherine was married to Henry VIII after another papal dispensation was granted to allow ‘close kin’ (i.e. brother + brother’s widow) to marry. Here, Westeros is just like real history: the Lannister/Baratheon + Tyrell alliance is preserved by Margaery marrying Tommen after Joffrey is disposed of at the hands of Olenna (and Garlan, probably) because they knew he was a risk to Margaery’s safety (and Loras, in the books – Olenna did not want Loras to be the new Kingslayer after charging in to protect Margaery.)
Henry and Catherine were married for quite a while, and had many children… but only 1 survived, the future Mary I (also known as Bloody Mary for her fondness for burning Protestants.) Henry was OBSESSED with having a male heir. Remember: the War of the Roses had only ended with his brother and his birth. His father was Henry VII of the House of Lancaster, and his mother was Elizabeth of York. Arthur, Henry and their sister Margaret were the new generation of a new house, the House of Tudor, which was created to rebadge the successful Lancasters and signify unity of the lines of the House of Plantaget.
In other words, this was a marriage (and children) that was supposed to heal the wounds of a divisive civil war, much like Westeros’ Aegon III, son of Rhaenyra, was married at first to Jaehaera Targaryen, daughter of Aegon II, attempting to fuse the feuding lines of the Dance of the Dragons into one cohesive regime. (Ultimately this didn’t pan out as Jaehaera committed suicide at a young age – or was possibly murdered at the instigation of Lord Unwin Peake, one of Aegon’s regents who had plans to marry the boy king to his own daughter to solidify his power.)
Henry’s obsessive need for a son eventually led him to seek a solution to “the King’s great problem,” which was that he had fallen in love with his new paramour, Anne Boleyn. He didn’t want to just fuck her, he wanted to marry her. It is a coincidence, but a rather fortuitous one, that Anne Boleyn on The Tudors was portrayed by Natalie Dormer, who also plays a similar role as the scheming political player Margaery Tyrell. Margaery knowingly married her brother’s lover, Renly Baratheon, so she could be queen, and when Renly died, she and her family turned their attentions to the nearest King available to marry: Joffrey, not Stannis. (Meaning that the Tyrells all conveniently forgot what they absolutely must have known about Joffrey’s parentage…) Anne Boleyn was smarter than her sister: Margaret Boleyn was one of Henry’s many affairs, but he grew tired of her and sent her away. Anne was smart enough to refuse to sleep with Henry until he promised to marry her and was well on the way to making that happen.
Now, the standard approach for kings in this position was to have their marriage annulled, but … it’s not that simple. You needed a papal dispensation, a decree from the Pope, that agreed that the marriage was never really valid, and you needed a reason better than “I’ve found someone else” to get such a dispensation. Here’s where things got tricky for Henry: Catherine refused to go quietly. When Henry suggested that his brother’s childish boast that he has “spent all night in Spain” the morning after their public teenage bedding meant that Catherine lied when she said she was a virgin when she married Henry, Catherine said no. I told the truth. And she stuck to it. She was not going to go quietly. She didn’t care that Henry initially offered her and Mary a comfortable life, essentially a pension, castle and staff, in exchange for a mutually agreed annulment. She was damn well Queen and she was holding on to that position, no matter how mortifying and painful it was to be basically put on trial by Henry in the royal court to assess her sexual history. Also, she had her nephew’s help from Spain, as Holy Roman Emperor Charles V put pressure on the Pope to reject Henry’s request for a papal dispensation.
So ultimately Henry took the advice of Protestant reformers in his court, amongst them Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn herself, and split England from Rome. The Church of England was created, with Henry as its head, and he granted himself an annulment (through the decree of the first COE Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer.) Weirdly, Henry was technical a bigamist for several months: he married Anne because she was pregnant (having given in to his demands for sex once convinced that her claim to be Queen was to be eventually secured) to ensure that his new child (surely a son) would be legitimate, and his marriage to Catherine was annulled later. But then again, Henry infamously insisted upon Catholic last rites upon his deathbed, despite refusing England’s Catholic faithful the familiarity of traditional Catholic rites, even though he had been pushed them into adopting a Protestant faith by force and his decision to create a new Church of England that followed increasingly stricter Protestant practice. Henry VIII was a spectacularly selfish prick – much like Robert Baratheon, really… And yeah. That “son” Henry was so convinced Anne was carrying when they married wasn’t a son. It was the future Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen.
Once Henry started down this path, he was able to keep going. Anne was dispatched in more “traditional” style: couldn’t say the marriage wasn’t lawful and get an annulment, so instead Cromwell and Cranmer concocted a load of ridiculous allegations against her, put her on trial and she was executed. Hmm, a load of ridiculous allegations against a woman, that’d be a bit like Cersei trying to frame Margaery for adultery (and getting caught by her own trap in a delicious showcase of how bad Cersei is at planning and foresight.)
Jeyne Seymour did give Henry a son, but it cost them her life. (Much like Lyanna Stark and Joanna Lannister.) After a period of mourning, Henry was persuaded to marry the very, very Protestant Anne of Cleaves, based on a favourable portrait by Holbein (which is in le Louvre, FYI. I didn’t realise this until I came across it while visiting and went “AH! I know that painting!!”) Anne in real life didn’t quite measure up to Henry’s physical expectations, and between the language barrier and their different interests they were unable to get along particularly well either, so Henry had the marriage annulled on the basis of non-consummation. The famously lusty King was unable to carry out his husbandly duties because he found his wife so unappealing…. oh, and he was getting older and less healthy, not that he would admit it. This is important! Keep this in mind! Because traditionally, non-consummation of a marriage is the only way to get an annulment that doesn’t involve coercion or deception. With Catherine, Henry was claiming deception – she said she was a virgin and she “was not” (although she probably was, in all likelihood.)
For the record, Henry’s other disposed of wife was Katherine Howard, executed for treason for having an affair with Thomas Cullpepper, the king’s chamberlain. Again, bear this in mind…. because in an absolute monarchy and an absolute patriarchy, the Queen having an affair is treason. Cersei and Jaime – the incest factor is scandalous, but their affair is also treasonous... and that’s how Stannis and Renly both planned separately to get Cersei and the Lannisters out of Robert’s court. (Stannis for reasons of principle and a bit of self-interest, Renly in order to help his lover’s family climb the feudal ladder, and lots of self-interest.)
GRRM touches on this issue about Catherine, Arthur and marriage consummation with Margaery being presented to Joffrey as a potential bride – although a widow, the Tyrells assure the court that sweet Margaery remains ‘innocent’ as Renly was unable to consummate the marriage. The show took this literally, giving us some great scenes between Renly, Margaery and Loras, teasing out what it meant for a noble lord like Renly to have to marry a woman even though he preferred men. However, in the books there’s a little more doubt… at least in Cersei’s mind!
Cersei I AFFC
It still made her furious to think that Father had agreed to betroth Tommen to Margaery Tyrell. The girl is twice his age and twice widowed. Mace Tyrell claimed his daughter was still virgin, but Cersei had her doubts. Joffrey had been murdered before he could bed the girl, but she had been wed to Renly first . . . A man may prefer the taste of hippocras, yet if you set a tankard of ale before him, he will quaff it quick enough. She must command Lord Varys to find out what he could.
Cersei III AFFC
Jaime escorted her to the Small Hall, where the feast was being readied. “I blame you for all this,” she whispered as they walked. “Let them wed, you said. Margaery should be mourning Joffrey, not marrying his brother. She should be as sick with grief as I am. I do not believe she is a maid. Renly had a cock, didn’t he? He was Robert’s brother, he surely had a cock. If that disgusting old crone thinks that I will allow my son to—”
Cersei VI AFFC
Taena’s black eyes sparkled with mischief. “When she wed Lord Renly at Highgarden, I helped disrobe him for the bedding. His lordship was a well-made man, and lusty. I saw the proof when we tumbled him into the wedding bed where his bride awaited him as naked as her name day, blushing prettily beneath the coverlets. Ser Loras had carried her up the steps himself. Margaery may say that the marriage was never consummated, that Lord Renly had drunk too much wine at the wedding feast, but I promise you, the bit between his legs was anything but weary when last I saw it.“
Now, Cersei is far from a reliable narrator and her conclusions are generally laughable at best. The only real indication we have that maybe Margaery’s tale of wedding night jitters from Renly is a lie is Taena Merryweather’s story to Cersei of Renly being raring to go when Loras plonked his sister into his bed. While Taena is most likely a spy and lying herself, it’s certainly possible. Renly might have had a major attack of the stupids in crowning himself rather than waiting to be Stannis’ heir, but he was smart enough to know that gay or not, he had to seal the deal with Margaery Tyrell.
Unlike the show, GRRM gives us a world in Westeros where the nobility don’t really care if a young lord prefers the company of other men – just so long as he can do what is necessary to ensure the continuation of his house. This is made explicitly clear in the Viserys I section of TWOIAF:
Ignoring all of these suits, Viserys turned instead to the Sea Snake and Princess Rhaenys, whose son Laenor had once been his rival at the Great Council of 101. Laenor had the blood of the dragon on both sides, and even a dragon of his own—the splendid grey-and-white dragon he called Seasmoke. Better, the match would unite the two factions that had once stood opposed at the Great Council of 101. Yet there was one problem: at the age of nine-and-ten, Laenor preferred the company of squires of his own age, and was said never to have known a woman intimately, nor to have any bastards. But to this, Grand Maester Mellos was said to have remarked, “What of it? I am not fond of fish, but when fish is served, I eat it.”
Rhaenyra was of a different mind entirely. Perhaps she harbored hopes of wedding Prince Daemon, as Eustace claims, or of seducing Criston Cole to her bed, as Mushroom cheerfully suggests. But Viserys would hear none of it, and against all her objections he needed only to note that, if she refused the marriage, he would reconsider the succession.
It went both ways in this instance: it was made abundantly clear to Rhaenyra that favoured child and heir or not, she would marry who she was directed to marry even if he was gay or she would lose her status as Crown Princess of Dragonstone. And thus we have the unfortunate and unhappy marriage of Laenor Velaryon and Rhaenyra Targaryen, which “produced” three sons, all of whom looked suspiciously like Rhaenyra’s close friend and personal guard, Ser Harwin Strong. (i.e. she had kids with another guy.)
I have no idea what Margaery Tyrell planned to do if Renly was like Laenor and could not face up to his duty – while Robert lived, a convenient way to Tyrell power would have been to marry Margaery to Renly but encourage Margaery to seduce the king, knowing that their children could be safely passed off as trueborn heirs of Renly Baratheon (and Renly would probably have been fine with this arrangement, to be perfectly honest.) But that was not Renly and Loras’ plan, remember Varys and Illyrio’s conversation overhead by a clueless Arya in the dragon skull filled basements of the Red Keep:
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.
As I’ve explained at length before, for Mace (and Olenna) Tyrell to be persuaded of Loras’ idea, they had to know that Cersei and her children would be a removable obstacle towards Queen Margaery and Tyrell-Baratheon heirs to the Iron Throne. Otherwise, marrying Margaery to Renly, expecting her to become Robert’s mistress, was a far safer option. GRRM is smart enough to know all this. There’s a reason why he had Renly and Loras’ plan to marry Margaery to Robert be known to the readers via Renly’s conversation with Ned and Varys’ conversation with Illyrio. Much like Frey Pies, it’s as much on-the-page confirmation of an off-page plot as we’ll ever get.
AND YES. I’ve just quoted a ton of stuff that helps demonstrate that unlike the show’s assassination of all that is good about Loras, GRRM’s Westeros is not homophobic. No one cares if you’re gay.
(Although it is notable and disappointing that TWOIAF has zero references to insinuations of famous lesbian or bisexual couples…. in a male dominated world, GRRM is only interested in showing us that some of his tough knightly warriors are also gay.)
Anyway… back to All The Reasons Why Rhaegar cannot get an annulment just because he wants to…
Henry VIII had to create a new church to get his annulment. What did Rhaegar do?
So according to episode 5 of season 7, Eastwatch, Gilly finds a new word, and asks Sam “what does ‘annulment’ mean?” Why? Because she’s reading a book about a septon, and it says that he gave an annulment to Prince Raggar, and then married him to “someone else.”
JUST SAY LYANNA STARK FOR CRYING OUT LOUD THERE ARE STILL PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO THINK ROBERT BARATHEON WAS JON’S FATHER I DON’T KNOW HOW BUT THEY DO….
Edit: thanks to my twitter friends, who pointed out that it wasn’t just a random travelling septon but the actual High Septon. The Westerosi Pope.
Note, Sam’s answer to “what is an annulment?” is pretty craptastic too: he basically gives the modern definition of divorce, which as I’ve outlined above, is absolutely NOT what an annulment is actually. But hey. Who cares about legal definitions of things that carry legal meaning or anything…. (Psst. The answer is lawyers like me!)
The show is suggesting that:
- Rhaegar Targaryen had his marriage to Elia Martell annulled, i.e. it never happened or had any legal effect
- Rhaegar then married Lyanna Stark
- Therefore Jon Snow is actually [insert random Targaryen name, probably Aemon] Targaryen.
But why? And what are the consequences of this move?
Firstly, if Rhaegar had his marriage to Elia annulled, then he is an absolute arsehole. He decided it was better to make his living daughter and son (and HEIR) illegitimate bastards and chance everything on the child/ren he planned to have with Lyanna Stark. Why?
Prophecy? He realised that Aegon could never be the prince that was promised, the one whose song is of ice and fire, because there was no ice/First Men blood in his veins? Possible. But that’s being very charitable to Rhaegar’s logic.
Love? Ugh. We don’t know much about Rhaegar and Lyanna, but we do have, as a fandom, some well established logical assumptions. These are mine:
- Lyanna Stark ran away willingly with Rhaegar Targaryen. Robert Baratheon’s narrative that she was “captured and abducted” is post-fact garbage. Rickard and Brandon Stark would have also taken the view that she was “abducted” because it was less shameful to the Stark family than “we can’t control the daughter of our House and she nicked off.” Remember: in the extremely misogynistic patriarchal world of Westeros, much like medieval reality, women were property. A woman was the property of her father, and then sold to a husband to be his property. A marriage contract, at the level of noble marriages, was all about establishing alliances and exchanging dowries. This is absolute shit, but it’s the facts of the world in which this issue arises.
- They probably had a ‘wedding’ in front of a weirwood. Lyanna might look like Arya and be ‘wilful’/bold and physical like Arya, but from what we know of her, she’s as romantic and dippy as Sansa. She was smart enough to know that Robert would never keep to their marriage bed, but ‘silly’/romantic enough to cry over Rhaegar’s song at the Harrenhal banquet. Would she have been romantic enough to insist upon a true Northern wedding? Maybe. Would Rhaegar have been manipulative enough and know the tale of Bael the Bard well enough to suggest a private weirwood wedding? Possibly. Does a weirwood wedding give GRRM the narrative scope to let Bran ‘see’ the truth of Lyanna and Rhaegar? Sure. It’s a convenient way to establish that there was love, if only initially, between Lyanna and Rhaegar. But… If Sansa could convince herself that she really loved Joffrey even when he was a complete arsehole to her and her family from the very beginning, then Lyanna could have easily imagined that somehow Rhaegar could circumvent the laws to ensure that they were lawfully married.
- That wedding would never have stood up under legal scrutiny. Sorry Jon Targaryen truthers, it’s the facts. Targaryen polygamy is not a thing and hasn’t been since the reign of Maegor the Cruel. (More below.) Equally, even a Crown Prince can’t break the law just because he wants another wife. (More below.) Whatever romantic bullshit Rhaegar might have spun Lyanna to make sure he could get into her pants, he could not have possibly entertained the notion of Lyanna being a legitimate second/replacement wife. And it’s possible that Lyanna worked this out as time wore on.
- Lyanna might have run away in love with Rhaegar, but it’s really doubtful that she remained in love with him as her time under guard in Dorne wore on. What was the plan when they ran off? Probably similar to every other star cross’d young lovers’ plans: get married, wait long enough that parents can’t complain about the wedding because oops, here’s our baby that must be legitimate, and then deal with the consequences later. Just like Jaehaerys II and Shaera Targaryen, Lyanna probably thought initially as a young and dumb in love 15 year old that it would all work out for the best and, in the long run, her father Rickard would accept Rhaegar as her spouse. But then as time wore on… Could Lyanna leave the Tower of Joy? Was she prevented from doing anything more than strolling outside by the guarding Arthur Dayne and Oswald Whent? Did she have any ladies’ companions? Was she able to communicate with the world outside? If so, why didn’t she send word to Winterfell to explain that she went willingly and please father, let me marry the Prince…. Why didn’t Lyanna try to leave Rhaegar once she found out that his father had her father and brother burned alive? Did she know that they had been killed until Gerold Hightower turned up to collect Rhaegar to fight in the war? What did she think about her brother Ned leading armies against her lover Rhaegar? When did she figure out that Rhaegar had no intention of making her queen? And so on, and so on…. Whatever delusions of romance Lyanna went off from the Riverlands with, it is very hard to see her continuing presence in Dorne as anything other than, long term, a hostage situation. She couldn’t leave, even if she wanted to, and was at the mercy of Rhaegar and his kingsguard. She might have left willingly, but did she stay willingly? Was Robert’s narrative actually not all that far off the truth in the long run?
Narrative necessity? Do we really need Jon to be a legitimate Targaryen? Honestly… NO. I don’t understand why the show feels it necessary to go down this path, especially given that they specifically chose not to pursue the parallel thread in the book, of the claim of “Aegon VI”/Young Griff who, if he is who he thinks he is (but probably isn’t) has a stronger claim to the Iron Throne for Targaryen loyalists than Daenerys, and exists to drive a wedge into Dany’s potential supporter base, and allow GRRM to explore this idea of the ‘perfect educated prince’ compared to the “the Iron Throne is MINE by rights” notion of Stannis and Dany.
What is this actually going to add to the story being currently shown on screen? We have a (thoroughly unconvincing, but fine, let’s roll with it) developing love story between Jon and Dany, who don’t yet know that Jon is actually her nephew; and we have Creepy Bran waiting in the shadows of Winterfell to drop that truth bomb he found out in season 6: Jon is Lyanna’s son, and she made Ned promise to keep him safe from Robert because he was Rhaegar’s son. Dany may or may not care about the potential incest (she was raised to expect to marry Viserys before Illyrio persuaded Viserys to sell her to Khal Drogo, remember) but Jon is almost certainly going to be thoroughly put off pursuing a romantic relationship with his aunt once Bran reveals the truth. So… why do we need an additional tiff over who has the best claim to the Iron Throne? Jon doesn’t want it, and if Dany’s “fire and blood” characterisation is going to be consistent (HAHAHAHAHAAHAHA) then her reaction to finding out that Jon is actually Rhaegar’s legitimate son would be to burn him alive via Drogon.
So… why bother to make him legitimate at all? Just have him be who he is: Rhaegar and Lyanna’s bastard son. There is no narrative purpose that can be satisfactorily achieved in 8-9 episodes, or whatever it is we have left in season 8, to pursue this line of enquiry in any meaningful manner. It doesn’t even give us a real water cooler moment: the reveal of their familial relationship and the likely fractures it will cause to their romance is a sufficient water cooler moment, there’s nothing that’s likely to be added to it by adding in that Jon could claim the Iron Throne if he wanted to do so.
That’s all the reasons why the show should NOT have pursued an annulment plotline. Here’s how they CANNOT, within the confines of the laws that GRRM has established in Westeros.
Westerosi law: no such thing as divorce or a convenient annulment.
As I indicated above, in the real world, it was in practice not super easy, but not super hard to get papal dispensation for an annulment – just so long as you had a decent reason, involving coercion, deception or non-consummation, AND your soon-to-be-ex spouse didn’t have any powerful relatives (Catherine and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.)
In case it wasn’t obvious from my longwinded explanation above, let me reiterate
HENRY VIII, THE BEST EXAMPLE IN REAL HISTORY OF THE “CONVENIENT ANNULMENT,” LITERALLY HAD TO ENGAGE IN MASSIVE RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL REFORM OF ENGLAND TO GET HIS CONVENIENT ANNULMENT. IT SPAWNED DECADES, IF NOT CENTURIES, OF CONSEQUENTIAL RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL WARS IN THE BRITISH ISLES. FFS THE ENTIRE ORIGIN OF THE NORTHERN IRELAND TROUBLES IS HENRY VIII AND HIS BLOODY ANNULMENT. * more below.
The idea that Rhaegar could just grab an annulment from
a passing septon the High Septon without ANYONE ELSE IN THE SEVEN KINGDOMS BEING AWARE OF IT is ridiculous to the point that I’m seriously questioning the intelligence of D&D. Do they actually understand that an annulment is not the same thing as a divorce? Because based on Sam’s dialogue and the ‘facts’ presented in GOT, it doesn’t seem so. They’re treating Rhaegar’s “annulment” like a modern divorce, and that’s a major problem.
Also: how did the High Septon just pop down to the Dorne for a quickie annulment/wedding and NO ONE in King’s Landing, the capital of the increasingly psychotic, paranoid Aerys the Mad King, was aware of this?????
An annulment can only be granted on three conditions:
- the marriage was a result of coercion (i.e. the party seeking the annulment was forced into it against their will and, importantly in a bullshit patriarchal world where woman are considered property, against the law.)
- the marriage was a result of deception. This is what Henry VIII tried with Catherine of Aragon – she said she was a virgin when they married, the papal dispensation that allowed him to marry his brother’s widow was on the basis that she was a virgin, Arthur made some childish brags about how he did teh sexxx all night with his Spanish bride…. ergo Henry (and the pope) were deceived and if Catherine had been “honest”/convenient, the papal dispensation would not have been granted and Henry + Catherine would not have gotten married. It didn’t work for Henry, but is more likely to work in situations involving bigamy – “he didn’t tell me he was already married!”
- the marriage has not been consummated. This is the primary focus in GRRM’s writings because it is, literally, the sexiest option (in terms of actual sex and in terms of “did they didn’t they” drama, and a gender analysis of why we place a premium on women’s virginity.)
Time and time again, GRRM has shown us what a wedding entails in Westeros (and Essos – remember Dany had to go through a public bedding ceremony with the Dothraki too.)
- an exchange of vows in a religious ceremony, either in the Sept or before a weirwood;
- a bloody big feast where everyone gets plastered; and then
- a public bedding ceremony, where the bride and groom are stripped naked by their guests, ‘escorted’/pushed to their bridal room and left alone to get it on.
The follow up to the bedding ceremony comes the next morning, when the bed sheets from the bridal bed are shown to the parents of the wedded couple: it is expected that the bride will bleed, signifying that she was a virgin, and that the bedsheets will be stained with this mix of hymenal blood and semen. This will prove that the bride’s father made good on his end of the contract – provide a certified virgin bride. Now it’s up to the husband to make good on his end of the contract – provide said virgin bride with children to continue his House’s line.
Now… this is kinda bullshit, because when the vagina is properly lubricated, it is possible for a hymen to stretch around a penis rather than cause a breakage of it. Also, not every woman has a hymen! Both from genetics and from things like horse riding (in Westeros,) physical exertion, using tampons or vibrators, etc etc…. My point is: girls, your first time should not be painful! This is a bullshit lie of the patriarchy! If it hurts, that means you’re not warmed up fully – your body has not produced the necessary lubrication that makes sex fun. You can buy lube to make life easier, but it’s way more fun to take things slow and do lots of pre-penetrative sexual things to get the juices flowing. Demand better from your lovers!! If he expects you to give him a blow job, you should expect him to return the favour. Etc. Demand your pleasure is met as much as his. End rant.
GRRM is mercifully vague on what happens if the bedsheets aren’t stained. I dunno, maybe it’s an unspoken arrangement between the mothers of daughters who might be worried about it and their handmaidens – provide something (chicken blood?) that can be thrown on the bed sheets to look the part… or maybe everyone agrees that not every woman will bleed on her wedding night. It’s unclear if clean sheets = annulment, but given the emphasis that GRRM has placed on the role of the bedding ceremony, it would suggest that such a conclusion may have been on his shortlist of potentially irrelevant facts to include in his world building. Certainly, Tywin Lannister makes sure he stays informed on the state of Sansa Stark-Lannister’s bedsheets after he forces Tyrion to marry her – that’s how he knows that Tyrion did not follow his command to rape Sansa on their wedidng night (and he knows that Tyrion does not sleep with Sansa on the regular, because he is not seen in her chambers by the other household staff.)
This focus on making women, or more accurately in the case of Sansa and Margaery, GIRLS bleed after a public and traumatic bedding ceremony that doesn’t so much border on indecent assault as it does tango on over the line into en masse criminal behaviour is really, deeply creepy. A lot of Westeros’ behaviour towards women is not realistically violent – it’s excessively violent. We should be casting a critical eye over GRRM’s insistence that it was necessary for believability to make a world where Ice Zombies and Actual Dragons are real for women to be treated in a way that is actually not remotely close to real world medieval life. Westeros’ women are reduced to powerless pawns in powerful men’s political plays. The ‘silly’ girls who believe in romance or the sexualised women who want to enjoy power, they’re just asking for trouble, apparently. But the Badass Warrior Woman cliche? That’s cool.
What the hell does it say about GRRM and his audience that he considered necessary and so do most readers/viewers to make this fantasy world so particularly violent, particularly sexually violent towards women in order to make it real? That’s a really deep question that all fans of this series should be asking themselves. Why do I accept that this is expected? What have I been conditioned by the society around me to accept as ‘normal’ or acceptable levels of violence against women? These are important questions, and so on one level it is a good thing that GRRM is showing us these problems and making us think about them. The problem is… that all too many fans don’t think about them, or see it as a problem. We still have debates about whether Dany and Drogo’s first sexual encounter, presented in the books as “consensual” with extremely dubious consent (I mean – could Dany really say no? If she had, would Drogo have stopped? NO! Therefore in law it was not consent.) Hell, we have entire blogs devoted to how it’s OBVIOUS that Lyanna and Rhaegar were like, TOTALLY in love… which may have been initially true, but ultimately he objectively held her prisoner and that’s … not love.
Which brings us back to Rhaegar, Elia and Lyanna. Eventually.
Rhaegar and Elia were wedded and bedded in an appropriately public fashion for the wedding of the Crown Prince of the realm. She quickly bore him a daughter, Rhaenys, and within a year was pregnant again, delivering Aegon. Rhaegar did not contest the paternity of these children, and openly claimed them as his. Even though Rhaenys took her mother’s darker Dornish features, Aegon looked the part of a Targaryen prince: purple eyes, silver blonde hair, etc.
So Rhaegar can’t claim that the marriage was not consummated. Can he claim he was coerced? Not really. It was a possibly loveless political match, but that’s no different to 90 odd percent of Westerosi noble marriages so who cares? Was the marriage the result of deception? Nope. Elia was, as far as we know, a maiden on her wedding night, and at no stage was she presented as anything other than the single, unmarried, virgin Princess of Dorne. (Would she have been styled a Princess, as the daughter of the ruling but unnamed Princess of Dorne? Not sure.)
In law, Rhaegar’s claim to an annulment doesn’t have a leg to stand on, and we’re not yet clear on exactly how the show intends to justify this nonsense – except the indication thus far is that they’ve confused “annulment” with “divorce” and don’t actually realise the full impact of what they’ve implied.
You see, if Rhaegar annulled his marriage to Elia, then that makes both Rhaenys and Aegon illegitimate. WHY would a man obsessed with legacy and prophecy take this step? Even though Rhaegar badly fluffed his political opportunities, he’s also shown to not be a total political dillberry, so he must have known how important it was to keep Aegon as heir, especially until Lyanna popped out a son in this hypothetical illogical scenario where he tries to pass her off a a legitimate wife. What was the Plan B to keep his children legitimate heirs while annulling his marriage to Elia?!
Oh but like, Kings and Princes can do whatever they like – that’s the law of Westeros!
No it’s not. That’s just not remotely how feudalism works. Even though feudalism works on the notion of an absolute monarch who wields Executive, Legislative and Judicial power in one figure (no such thing as the separation of powers doctrine until the Age of Revolution, remember!)
But a feudal king was ‘merely’ first amongst equals, the one who could swing his
dick sword around enough to convince the others to follow him. From McNeill (2010):
A rude sort of egalitarianism existed among all members of the class of professional warriors. All were measured by a common test: prowess in battle. Kings and other rulers were no more than first amongst equals, and they were bound to obey the terms of the feudal oaths just as much as were their vassals. This spirit was far removed from the exaltation of monarchical powers which characterized late Roman law; and it was from these feudal institutions that the forms of representative government familiar today evolved.
This is why Jon Arryn led a rebellion under the figurehead of Robert Baratheon: because Aerys II Targaryen had so epically, repeatedly and severely breached the feudal contract that no one was safe from the Mad King. Lords pledge their loyalty to a strong king who will be able to protect their lands and rights from trespass and theft – this is why it was such a major problem when Tytos Lannister, the father of Tywin, was totally unable to control brigands and thieves in the Westerlands during the reign of Aegon V. The Westerlands became a full on Wild West zone of constant theft and fighting, which the local Lord Paramount was unable and unwilling to prevent. It meant the King’s forces had to move into the Westerlands to restore order. This whole concept of “order” (i.e. people don’t steal your shit or beat you up) is the origin of public order offences, like being drunk in public, being disorderly in public, offensive behaviour, indecent language, and the wonderfully (not!) vague “breach of the peace” provisions that still exist in modern law. In feudal times, the correct term was a breach of the King’s peace – and we see this in Westeros. This is why Ned Stark, as Hand of the King, sends Beric Dondarrion and the men who would go to become the Brotherhood Without Banners, off to bring the Mountain to justice. Because the Mountain and the Bloody Mummers are raiding, reaving the Riverlands – breaching the peace protected by King Robert. So in Robert’s name, Ned sends off people to deal with Gregor Clegane, AND attaints him – strips him of all lands and titles. This signifies the seriousness with which breaching the peace was treated. You swore to serve the king and in exchange, the king would protect your lands from scary raping thieves like the Bloody Mummers.
Even the King is bound by law. The King cannot breach the peace by going to war against his vassal lords without them fighting back. This happens over and over again in Westeros:
- the uprising of the Faith Militant against the cruelty of Maegor and what they saw (rightly, to be honest) as the depravity of House Targaryen in taking multiple wives AND marrying their close kin in ways that breached the social norms and legal customs around incest for the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.
- The Blackfyre Rebellion was seeded because Daeron II was perceived to be an unfit warrior, especially compared to the fit and talented Daemon Blackfyre.
- the further disquiet and Second and Third Blackfyre Rebellions during the reign of the esoteric and frankly weird Aerys I, and the social unrest about the surveillance state that Bloodraven set up
- and the big one: Robert’s Rebellion. Aerys II didn’t just fail to keep his vassals safe, he was actively harming them on paranoid, psychotic whims.
So no. Rhaegar couldn’t just nick off with the only daughter of a Lord Paramount and expect to hand wave away an explanation. Feudalism doesn’t work that like. This is not the absolute monarchy of Louis XIV of France or Charles I of England – and remember, Charles I was tried for treason against his own people. This is a Magna Carta, you scratch my back, I scratch yours situation. If a king oversteps the line (e.g. Charles I) then they can be removed.
I’ve already explained how Rhaegar would struggle to get an annulment under Westerosi law, which GRRM has establish to mirror real world annulment law closely.
Here’s some more examples from the text for y’all that still don’t believe me:
Doran Martell and his wife, Mellario of Norvos. They married for lust/love, and over time, Mellario realised she just couldn’t tolerate the customs of the Dornish and Westerosi, specifically the custom of sending noble children out of the family to be fostered. So she left. Doran could not get an annulment, and didn’t try as far as we can tell. GRRM talks about marriages for love sometimes not working out with the perspective of someone who has been there and bought that t-shirt.
In that same interview, GRRM refers to the first Daenerys, sister of Daeron II and would-be second wife of Daemon Blackfyre. Yes, Daeron was not willing to wed his sister to his half-brother and clear rival for the Iron Throne, especially with Bittersteel circling around Daemon, stirring up trouble, and yes, Daeron wanted to seal the peace with Dorne brokered by Baelor the Blessed with a political marriage. But primarily, Daemon Blackfyre could not marry Daenerys Targaryen because he was already married. He married Rohanne of Tyrosh, which was revealed in TWOIAF, and poses this interesting “maybe?” question about Young Griff’s penchant for dying his hair blue in the Tyroshi style… Aegon IV had arranged his favoured son’s marriage with the Archon of Tyrosh to secure the use of the Tyroshi fleet if Dorne became a problem again. Daeron honoured the contract brokered by his father, even though Daemon was only 14 when he was married. Daemon’s youth was part of the reason that he came to dislike his wife and desire to marry Daenerys – he didn’t choose his wife, his father did. Again, Daemon couldn’t claim non-consummation because he and Rohanne already had children, that he accepted were his.
Perhaps the best example for my point that even Targaryen princes cannot get everything they want just because they want it is Daemon Targaryen, the Rogue Prince. In Viserys I, TWOIAF tells us a lot about this charismatic and creepy guy, including how much he hated his first wife:
Though he had wed the Lady of Runestone in 97 AC, during the Old King’s reign, the marriage had not been a success. Prince Daemon found the Vale of Arryn boring (“In the Vale, the men fuck sheep,” he wrote. “You cannot fault them. Their sheep are prettier than their women.”), and soon developed a mislike of his lady wife, whom he called “my bronze bitch,” after the runic bronze armor worn by the lords of House Royce.
Daemon requested that his brother the king annul this marriage so that he could marry someone else – a request Viserys denied. Daemon only remarried once Rhea Royce died from injuries sustained during a fall from a horse. Daemon had previously made a pitch to his kingly brother that he would be a suitable husband for Viserys’ only living child – his daughter and heir, Rhaenyra. This was at the time, as much as it was later on in their lives when he actually did marry her, a patently thin grab for power. He intended to rule the Seven Kingdoms through Rhaenyra’s claim (a bit like William of Orange and Mary Stuart – see below.)
Is there an additional political dimension to all of Viserys’ refusals to Daemon’s request for an annulment from Rhea Royce? Sure. Viserys didn’t want his brother to a) have another go at seducing his daughter to shore up his claim to be his brother’s heir, and b) he wasn’t overly keen to piss off the Royces and their allies/liege lords, his wife’s house Arryn, and c) he didn’t really like Daemon that much – and who can blame him?
But primarily…. Viserys refused to grant an annulment because there is no provision in Westerosi law that says “Sorry, I just don’t like them” is grounds for an annulment.
Nor is “oh but she can’t have any more kids” – Elia provided Rhaegar with a son and a daughter. Not technically the heir and spare, but certainly the heir… and proof of consummation.
RHAEGAR COULD NOT HAVE GOT A FRIGGIN’ ANNULMENT OK????
YES, polygamy is against Westerosi law. Even for Targaryens.
In the Daeron II section of TWOIAF, Maester Yandel (i.e. Elio, Linda and GRRM) “speculate” (make damn clear) that Daemon Blackfyre thought he could have a crack at this whole polygamy thing if an annulment was not on the cards.
… Daemon was not so much opposed to wedding Rohanne of Tyrosh as he was convinced he could follow in the footsteps of Aegon the Conqueror and Maegor the Cruel and have more than one bride. Aegon [IV] might have even promised to indulge him in this… but Daeron was of a different mind entirely. Not only did Daeron refuse to permit his brother more than one wife, but he also gave Daenerys’ hand to Maron Martell, as part of the bargain to finally unite the Seven Kingdoms with Dorne.
So once again: too bad, it doesn’t matter that you’re royal or near as good as it, the rules apply to you too sunshine. And no, it doesn’t matter if Aegon the Unworthy promised you at 14 that you could take any number of brides that you fancied, as the Blackfyre supporters later claimed, Aegon did enough damage by what he could do legally (legitimate all of his bastards) – even as king, the Unworthy didn’t have power to unmake the laws prohibiting polygamy, even for Targaryens.
And yes, such laws clearly exist.
No, GRRM has not yet explicitly said so. But damn… you need to be truly stubbornly holding fast to the notion of Targaryens-are-special-and-can-totes-have-multiple-wives-because-yeah to ignore the obvious implications of the Conciliation between Jaehaerys I and the Faith.
The Faith went to war with the new Targaryen regime following the death of Aegon the Conqueror. They weren’t stoked about Aegon’s two wives, who were also his sisters, but they feared the Conqueror and Balerion the Black Dread.
However, they didn’t fear Aenys, Aegon’s successor. Even though he had legitimately inherited the Iron Throne as the eldest son of Aegon the Conqueror, the Faith refused to accept that marrying his sister was kosher. They didn’t give a rat’s arse that it was Valyrian custom, or that the Targaryens had continued this custom for multiple generations without interference from the Faith while they ruled Dragonstone – they weren’t calling themselves Kings of the Seven Kingdoms then! So the Faith Militant went to war with the Iron Throne. Aenys sent out his fearsome brother Maegor and his armies to quell the unrest, unsuccessfully. When Maegor succeeded his brother (who shuffled off his mortal coil at the hands of Maegor’s mother Visenya) he went even more gung ho: burning the Starry Sept in Oldtown, the historical base of the Faith’s power and spiritual legitimacy to the ground atop Balerion.
Lets’ put that into a real world contextual analogy: Maegor’s response to being told, amongst other thing, holy shit you cannot marry more than one wife and STOP MARRYING YOUR SIBLINGS was to burn Mecca or the Vatican to the ground. It was an extreme response to say the least – and extremely effective at uniting supporters of the Faith against the fledgling Targaryen regime. Maegor fought viciously and earned his nickname, The Cruel, for a reason – it wasn’t just that he was cruel to his multiple wives, but he was cruel to the people he pledged to rule. Remember, feudal contract… don’t burn the people you expect to support your claim to be their king!
Jaehaerys the Conciliator is so named because he reached a conciliation with the Faith when he ascended to the Iron Throne. He undid the tensions that Maegor created – he confirmed that House Targaryen, as rulers of the Seven Kingdoms would not just take on the Faith of the Seven, as Aegon the Conqueror had pledged, but they would actively be the Defenders of the Faith, effectively making the Seven the formal religion of the Seven Kingdoms (except in the North and areas of the Riverlands where families still held to the traditions of the First Men, where people just said “pffft… whatever.”) Sure, the Targaryens didn’t go out and force everyone in Westeros to adopt the Faith of the Seven. But the Faith became an integral part of the fabric of the royal court. The High Septon’s endorsement of the new Targaryen king became essential to their legitimacy.
A conciliation is more than an agreement or negotiation. Conciliation is a particular form of dispute resolution, more formal that mediation or arbitration (and frequently used in international commercial law, as a way of enforcing contracts that would be difficult to litigate across international jurisdictions.) The fact that Jaehaerys was called the Conciliator implies very strongly that the peace deal with the Faith was not a one way street. Jaehaerys had the strength of dragonfire, but he didn’t force the Faith to bow to his demands (Maegor’s approach, which had so spectacularly failed.) He gave a bit of ground himself, in exchange for the Faith’s agreement to support the Targaryens. What was gained and lost?
Well two things can be observed that crucially support my assertion that the Conciliation marked the end of Targaryen polygamy:
- No Targaryen since Jaehaerys the Conciliator has successfully taken a second wife while the first was still living. Some have tried. They have been refused leave to do so.
- Many/all Targaryens except for Egg married their siblings, nieces/uncles, cousins etc etc after the Conciliation. The Faith stopped complaining about this, even though it was a major part of their faith-based crusade against the ‘evils’ of the Targaryens (in the same way that the current Faith Militant are anti-women/anti-sex because sex is evil and women are all wanton therefore women are all evil… apparently.)
I don’t think GRRM needs to be much clearer. There was a bargain with the Faith: and the bargain was CLEARLY that the Targaryens would forego polygamy so long as the Faith would accept the incest necessary for the Targaryens to retain control over their dragons. Whether Jaehaerys conveyed the need for the dragonriding gene through his emissary, Septon Barth, or if Jaehaerys was even aware of the origin of their family’s habit of incest… who knows? But that’s so obviously the deal that was reached that I can’t believe that people insist otherwise. Maybe it’s my borderline brain refusing to accept anything other than a black/white scenario, but honestly? I think it’s my legal training. This is so clearly the unavoidable inference to be drawn from these circumstances that its impossible to see any other logical, rational inference. This makes these circumstances compelling proof of the assertion that Jaehaerys agreed that the Targaryens would be bound by Westerosi law prohibiting polygamy.
POLYGAMY IS NOT AN OPTION ON THE TABLE. Daemon Targaryen and Daemon Blackfyre had a crack at it, rejected. Just like their attempts at annulment.
But in all honesty: if D&D were going to come up with an illogical, hand wavy, don’t ask questions because it doesn’t make sense reason to make Jon a legitimate son of Rhaegar… they had the polygamy thing just hanging there and chose to go with the far more problematic and confusing option of annulment mischaracterised as divorce????
Logical questions we should be asking about this piece of “show logic”?
- if you can get an annulment just like that, without requiring proof of non-consummation, coercion or deception, then why was Robert Baratheon stuck unhappily married to Cersei Lannister? Why didn’t he just dump her and marry the equally loaded Margaery Tyrell? Huh?
- Admittedly, this is part of the problem with the way the Loras/Renly plot to wed Margaery to Robert is introduced in the books. Because we have no eyes/POV within their camp, only Cat’s observations in ACOK and Ned’s observations in AGOT, there’s no ‘footage’ on paper of Renly and Loras talking through the “now, we first need to convince Robert that Cersei’s been cheating on him by proving that his ‘children’ are actually Jaime Lannister’s, then after she’s executed, we throw Margaery into his path….” Even the show skimmed over this as barely a footnote in Season 1. GRRM chucks it out there as a dangling plot being formed by people whose actions occur off page and invites the readers to join the obvious dots… which many readers didn’t do, because they’re so accustomed to the modern concept of divorce and this modern misapprehension that divorce = annulment and thus annulment’s were really easy to get, especially if you were the king. Remember – Henry VIII had to drastically change his entire country’s religious infrastructure and political alliances to get an annulment! IT IS NOT EASY.
- If Lyanna Stark was a willing and legitimate bride, why was she kept prisoner in the Tower of Joy by a reclusive Rhaegar and 2, then 3 kingsguard?
- If Lyanna was legitimately married and could prove it by a septon’s letter, why didn’t she tell her father or brothers?
- If Rhaegar was legitimately married, why didn’t he advise his father – or his father’s Small Council, so that they could avoid conflict with the Starks?
- HOW DID NO ONE IN KING’S LANDING NOTICE THAT THE HIGH SEPTON WENT TO DORNE FOR A WEEK OR SO? And why didn’t the High Septon tell anyone in King’s Landing that the HEIR TO THE IRON THRONE had just drastically changed his succession plans for his son and heir, Aegon????
And so on….
Really, making Rhaegar a person who got a septon to annul his marriage to Elia, without Elia being around in Dorne because she was stuck on Dragonstone with a new born and toddler, not only suggests that Rhaegar is a grade A arsehole, but also creates more problems that it’s worth:
- Jon isn’t interested in the Iron Throne and his whole plot, even as The Prince That Was Promised, is tied up in the North and the battle with the Others. There is no narrative need for him to be a legitimate heir of Rhaegar.
- The show cut the Aegon/Young Griff plot because it was too time consuming and confusing (and most likely ultimately leads no where.) So why introduce it at the last minute under the guise of Jon-is-legit???
- What did Rhaegar plan to do with the now illegitimate Rhaenys and Aegon? How did he plan to appease Dorne for the insult to Elia?
- Was Elia informed of her marriage being annulled while she was running the castle and keep as Lady of Dragonstone, and where was she supposed to go in these plans? (Aerys II demanded her attendance in King’s Landing as a hostage to Dorne’s forces fighting for his armies after the Battle of the Bells.)
- Given Dany’s “fire and blood” approach to dealing with her enemies (e.g. burning Randyl and Dickon Tarly alive when they refused to bend the knee, and threatening everyone else with the same) then why wouldn’t she do the same to Jon, who if legitimate is a stronger claim to the Targaryen dynasty than she is? She let Drogo kill Viserys. She should not have a single quibble about burning Jon to eliminate the threat he poses to her as a rival Targaryen.
- Jon is going to be sufficiently freaked out about the news his mother was Lyanna Stark and his father is NOT Ned Stark. He’ll be completely freaked out about the fact that he’s been making doe eyes at his aunt. There’s no narrative need to make him a rival for Dany’s claim to the Iron Throne to add some drama to their relationship. Just have Bran drop the truth bomb about what he saw at the Tower of Joy.
In conclusion: this is a terrible no good very bad plot line that is completely unnecessary, flies in the face of everything GRRM has so fastitidously established, and is pointless. WHY????
References and further explanations:
Weir, Alison (2008) Henry VIII: King and Court, Vintage Books, London. (Admittedly, I got the reference to this reference from the noble but academically very NOT credible source of … Wikipedia!) I don’t commit research faux pas like this in my real academic work but honestly? Who’s got time for proper research for a personal blog? C’mon!
However, I did semi-seriously research this one: McNeill, William H. (2010) History of Western Civilization: A Handbook, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, page 260. Admittedly, by “properly research” I mean “intelligently google”.
* my comment that Henry VIII’s annulment caused the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Here’s a potted history of British politics and law for those who don’t know this stuff:
- so Henry VIII needs an annulment, and Protestant reformers like Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell want to push the reformist teachings of Martin Luther. Bingo bango guys. We get the Church of England. As I said, Henry himself initially embraced the more scaled back practices of Protestantism, especially because he got to be the Head of the Church (never underestimate the man’s ego!) but long term? He remained Catholic at heart, regularly practising Catholic prayers and even taking Catholic rites on his death bed.
- Henry’s relationship with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, was difficult. He made them illegitimate and pushed them out of succession, and then reconciled and brought them back into succession and legitimacy several times, ultimately culminating in the Third Succession Act of 1543 which explicitly gave the line of succession as Edward, then Mary (if Edward had no children,) then Elizabeth (if Mary had no heirs.)
- His children had divergent opinions on religion.
- Edward VI, Henry’s heir and son of Jeyne Seymour, had been raised in a strongly Protestant household and in the early years of his reign when he was under a regency, his regents pursued a strong Reformation agenda – Henry had been content with a Church of England that was Catholic in all but name, but the Protestant Reformers wanted a truly Protestant Church of England, and this view had a strong influence over young Edward who agreed with that view. When he become unwell and the prospect of an early death arose, Edward made it clear that he objected to his older sister Mary inheriting his crown, not just because of her religion (Mary remained staunchly Catholic, the religion of her mother,) but also her gender. This also meant that Elizabeth could not be favoured for the crown. Edward wanted to find a male heir, but couldn’t, and eventually settled on the daughter of one of his regent’s, and a first cousin once removed – the poor unfortunate Lady Jane Grey, who only reigned for 9 days before Mary claimed her throne and sent Lady Jane to the tower. As far as Mary and the population of London, who loudly cheered her accession to the throne were concerned, Mary reigned from the moment of Edward’s death… however history does note that for 9 awkward days, Jane Grey was technically Queen of England.
- Mary was devoutly Catholic, and determined to wind back Protestantism. Unfortunately, her methods were… extreme. She earned the soubriquet Bloody Mary for the amount of Protestants she had killed, often burned at the stake as heretics, during her reign. She frequently threatened her sister and heir, Elizabeth, with the same fate, and Elizabeth was variously disinherited and declared a bastard (again) before being re-inherited when Mary realised she had no other options just as she was with her father. While Mary later married Phillip of Spain and became Queen Consort of the Spanish throne when he came into that throne (never visiting Spain in her lifetime,) her reign is notable as being the first Queen Regnant (ruling Queen, in her own name and right) in British history. (Or at least, the first undisputed Queen Regnant.) A difficult and traumatic life had made Mary into a tough, hard, unyielding and frankly quite unpleasant person, and her reign reflected that. She was not able to have any children due to health issues, much like her mother’s unfortunate difficulties, and most likely died from ovarian uterine cancer after a lifetime of difficulties with menstruation, false pregnancies and probably ovarian cysts. And so the throne passed to…
- Elizabeth, my favourite of the British monarchs. She famously refused to bow to political and social pressure to marry, noting that throughout Mary’s reign and marriage to Phillip of Spain, her sister had been under constant pressure to set up laws ensuring that Phillip would have no control over England upon Mary’s death, and that Phillip, while styled King of England, could not usurp Mary’s role as Queen Regnant (as was expected at the time – that the husband of the Queen would become the ruling King.) By the time we got through history to Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, the idea of a Prince Consort was not such a terribly revolutionary idea, but during the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth, it was taken as a fact that women were incapable of competently ruling. Elizabeth changed that “fact” by demonstrating that yes, a woman can lead, a woman can rule and a woman can be her own person, without needing a man to validate her existence. Perhaps this was because as a child, at 14, she was probably repeatedly sexually abused by Thomas Seymour, her guardian step-mother’s (Catherine Parr, Henry’s surviving wife) new husband. In terms of the vexed question of religion, whatever Elizabeth might have found interesting about Catholic liturgy had to be ignored in favour of the cold, pragmatic truth: under Catholic law (which refused to accept Henry VIII’s annulment to Catherine of Aragon) Elizabeth was never a legitimate child. Thus, she had to be Protestant, if for no other reason that to ensure the legitimacy of her claim to the throne. She tended to favour the Catholic-in-all-but-name approach to Anglicanism that her father did, but had no interest in legislating towards one religious practice or another like her sister and brother did during their reigns. During her reign, Elizabeth tried to find peaceful and pragmatic solutions to the deepening divisions between Catholics and Protestants in her kingdoms, but not always successfully, and plenty of people of both faiths were executed for treason during her reign, including her cousin and Catholic rival, Mary Queen of Scots.
- So then we come to James VI + I: James VI of Scotland, Catholic son of Mary, Queen of Scots, who was set up to be Elizabeth’s successor by Robert Cecil, her chief advisor. This wasn’t for any real religious reason – it was simply that as the queen remained “a virgin”/unmarried, she had no children, and James was the closest in line on the family tree. It made sense, even if he was the ‘wrong’ religion. After 54 years of Elizabethan reign, it was hoped that the religious problem would be over. For most of James’ reign… it kind of was?
- But then we come to James’ son: Charles I. The king who was famously put on trial and executed for treason against his own people as king – “executed with the crown on” was the plan of those tasked with making the Regicide a legal reality. Part of the English Civil War was about religion – the very Catholic Charles wanted to reintroduce Catholicism to an England and Scotland that were a bit on the fence about the whole thing – but it was also about the problems of absolute monarchy. Charles believed he could do whatever the hell he wanted. Parliament did not share this opinion. Where Elizabeth sought to work alongside her Parliament and advisors, and ensure stability over personal beliefs, Charles was more muleish and demanding. He went to war with France after his father married him to the French princess Henrietta-Maria in order to secure peace with Catholic Europe. He demanded more taxes and duties from the nobility to fund his war against the Spanish in proxy battles across the New World. That whole American Revolutionary thing of “no taxation without representation”?? It more or less has its roots in the English Civil War and the British Parliament refusing to let the King demand more and more taxes to pursue wars with other European powers because he wanted it. (American Puritanism also has its roots in the English Civil War, as the Puritans like Oliver Cromwell ultimately found life in England under the Merry Monarch of Charles II to be too extravagant for them, and left in droves for the American colonies to set up their ideal perfect puritanical state.) Ultimately he was seized, put on trial and executed for treason against the Commonwealth of Britain.
- Then we had the Protectorate, led by extremely Protestant Oliver Cromwell, who is still hailed as a Protestant hero in parts of Northern Ireland and Glasgow where the Orange Order and other Protestant political groups exist. Cromwell is… problematic, not to put to fine a point on it. If you’re a classic liberal who believes in individual liberties, property rights and protesting against the excesses of absolute monarchy, then Cromwell’s your guy. But if you find outright genocide against Catholics in Ireland and Scotland to be distasteful in the least and criminal at the worst, then not so much…
- The brutal excesses of the Protectorate led to the Restoration of the Stuart line, with Charles II being welcomed back to London after reigning as de jure king in exile in France after his father’s capture and execution. This Charles was smart – he was Catholic, but he didn’t brag about it, and he didn’t try to force Catholicism on people via law. He adopted Elizabeth’s more pragmatic approach to religion, and once again, the British were ruled by a popular and cheerful king, dubbed the Merry Monarch after years of puritanical rule. He had plenty of kids, just none of them with his wife… so the throne passed to his brother.
- James II + VII. Once again, we have the contrast of a pragmatic, relaxed ruler who let people practice whatever faith they wanted (Elizabeth, Charles II) with the pigheaded absolute ruler who was firmly Catholic AND wasn’t willing to accept that times had changed and Parliament did not accept absolute monarchy anymore (Charles I, James II.) James, to his credit, did try to pass laws promoting religious tolerance, particular the Declaration of Indulgence, which was his attempt to wind back every law passed by Mary, James VI, Charles I and anyone else that made it an offence against religion or the Crown to practice any particularly kind of religion. That was good. Raising his own personal standing army? Not so good. Nor was it good that he was less willing to accept contradicting information from his advisors than his older brother. As time wore on, the Protestant and constitutional monarchist dominated Parliament realised that they just could not work with this guy, and they invited his daughter and, more importantly, her definitely undoubtably Protestant husband to come and reign as joint king and queen. James was turfed out in the Glorious Revolution, so named because Parliament and the people managed to effect a pretty dramatic change in constitutional practice and a change in royal personnel without really going to serious war – it was mainly achieved through diplomacy. James did not go quietly: he took off for Ireland and attempted to raise a Catholic army there, leading to the Battle of the Boyne and his defeat in 1690. This date is still extremely, obsessively important to Protestant fruitcakes in the Orange Order, as shown to hilarious effect in T2: Trainspotting.
- William and Mary reigned “jointly,” by which I mean that she was the de jure Queen Regnant because the claim the pair had to the throne came through her lineage, but for all intents and purposes (and at the express invitation of Parliament,) William ruled as de facto King Regnant, even after Mary’s death. This is a crucial time in British constitutional history, and as such it is an important period of history for anyone with a passing interest in Anglophone common law constitutional law. A number of things date from this period, including the concept of constitutional monarchy, where the ruling monarch no longer wields absolute executive power but only wields executive power at the advice of the Legislature, the doctrine of reserve executive powers, where even in places like Australia with a written constitution, huge swathes of Executive power are left untouched by the written law and are at the mercy of constitutional convention (i.e. the unspoken agreement of the monarch or their representative, the Governor-General, not to use those powers unless absolutely necessary – this is why the 1975 Dismissal remains so hugely controversial, as it’s not clear that it was absolutely necessary to sack the Whitlam government but it was definitely damn convenient for GG John Kerr’s buddies in the Liberal Party….) It’s also the origin of the law passed in Britain that prevents anyone of Catholic faith from taking the British throne – a law that is still, AFAIK, in effect today. Because the Catholic monarchs of Europe, and James II were such enthusiastic supporters of absolute monarchy, Catholicism, at least amongst princes, came to be associated with totalitarian absolute monarchy, and Parliament felt that a) this meant the Church of England’s Protestant independence would be assured in the future and b) Parliament could call the shots without going to war with the absolute monarch, like France would do in 1789. Just because the Glorious Revolution was more peaceful a process of major constitutional political and law reform than the French Revolution, does not make it any less revolutionary in terms of what changed and what impact that has on our modern understanding of representative government, constitutional monarchy and even liberal democracy. This shit is important!
- After William and Mary we had Mary’s sister, Anne take the throne, and under her reign England and Scotland became formally known as Great Britain thanks to the Acts of Union. Scottish independents remain unhappy about this. (and why not?) After yet more problems with pregnancy, stillbirths and health complications, Anne’s heir became her cousin, George of Hanover. From George I we get George II, and then George III who went a bit mad, and George IV the Prince Regent (who didn’t look like this being famously revoltingly obese because of his over the top diet, but it’s still the best season of Blackadder made.) Then there’s William IV, the Sailor King – another one who had illegitimate kids all over the place but no legit heirs… and then we had his niece, Victoria. And so on, through to the modern house of Windsor.
Look, I know I’m showing a lot of interest in British royal history for an Australian republican BUT… this stuff is important for constitutional law geeks and, well, I am nothing if not a constitutional law geek!
AND it’s important to understand the origins of the Troubles. Post James II, multiple monarchs attempted to ‘placate’ the problem of Irish Catholics rising for future claims of Catholic descendants of James and his second wife claiming the English throne. Bonnie Prince Charlie is no Scottish independence hero – he was merely the last in a line of Jacobin pretenders who sought to try and claim the ENGLISH throne through Ireland, and when that failed, through Scotland. And to this day, in Ireland and Scotland, you have deep seated religious tensions between Catholics and Protestants that regularly erupt in violence. Seriously, google Orange Order or Old Firm Derby for Scotland and, well, frankly if you don’t know that shit has happened in Northern Ireland in the past I’m not sure what to tell you…. listen to U2’s Sunday Bloody Sunday???
This stuff is not only relevant to the present day because of morons who march around bleating on about 1690 or whatever the Catholic equivalent dates of ‘celebration’ are (I’m aware I show a bias against the Orange cause – I’m not Catholic but I find the Orange Order particularly obnoxious and odious… they annually march through Catholic areas of Belfast and Glasgow for no reason other than to start a fight and seriously… just get over it. GET. OVER. IT.) But this is also the reason why a post-Brexit Ireland border is a political nightmare and potential trigger for a re-ignition of the Troubles that have been settled for a long time now, all because London centric Tories are so bloody stupid….