An opinion essay:
Dive in with me fans of Westeros and make sure to keep reading even if you hate what I?m saying so you can properly fight me!
R + L = World War
It has come to my attention over the past few weeks that no one has an answer to a very complicated, yet simply worded question: Why did Rhaegar and Lyanna keep their marriage a secret?
Let?s start with the basic facts we know from the books/shows that for all intents and purposes make up their own quasi-canon, and then work back with some easy-to-accept assumptions, and then make some conclusions that will probably piss everybody off.
-Okay so we know that Robert?s Rebellion is the end of the Targaryen reign in Westeros when the young Stormlord of house Baratheon defeated Prince Rhaegar at the Trident, and the Lannister forces sacked King?s Landing after the Kingslayer earned his name.
-We know that Robert?s closest ally was Ned Stark, surviving 2nd born of the recently murdered Rickard and younger brother of Brandon, burned alive by his father?s side on the orders of the Mad King.
Sack of King?s Landing
-As well as the Lord of the Vale, Jon Arryn, who warded both Robert and Ned as if they were his own sons, House Stark could call upon their allies in house Tully, Lords Paramour of the Riverlands, due to the betrothal of Catelyn to Brandon (and subsequently Ned). Beyond their friendly childhoods and personal love for each other, houses Stark and Baratheon were allied because of Lyanna?s betrothal to the young lord Robert.
-We also know that house Martell, the ruling family in Dorne to the south, would be slighted by any betrayal of Elia, the wife of Prince Rhaegar and mother to his daughter Rhaenys and son Aegon. House Martell was the only one to resist the Dragon himself, Aegon the Conqueror; bloody conflict ran far back in the history of Dorne and many of the other kingdoms of Westeros. Rhaegar could count on Dorne rebelling if he did anything to harm Elia or her children, including their rights to inheritance (this is a far more fleshed-out story line in the books so I?m not going to go too deep into detail, but it?ll be important later).
There are some other things we know from first-hand accounts. They are of course not to be taken as gospel truths, but the stories have been told for a reason, so it?s safe to assume there?s a lot of truth to them.
Jon?s dad was good at brooding too
-We know Rhaegar learned about the faith of R?hllor (the Red God or Lord of Light in the shows) and along with that came knowledge of the prophecy of Azor Ahai, or The Prince That Was Promised. The Cliffnotes version is that the hero who defeated the Others (White Walkers in the show) to end the first Long Night would return with a magic sword and defeat the Great Other to end the coming ?Long Night part II?.
+We also know that Rhaegar thought at one point that He was the fulfillment of the prophecy, but then changed his mind and decided that one of his children (or possibly all three of them) would be. From these accounts we know that he was dead set on having three children ? ?a third head to the dragon? ? so as to ensure that Westeros survived the coming of the Great Other (Night King in the show).
He wants it
-Beyond his motives, we know that Rhaegar met Lyanna at Harrenhal and both were interested in each other. Lyanna was impressed with his singing and grace, he was impressed with her beauty, wits and skills.
+We also know that King Aerys was well within the grips of his madness. He survived a kidnapping, a coup from his own son and heir, and a long list of slights and tensions on display at the tourney that house Whent put on, so he was quick to lash out at any perceived threat. There was talk of Viserys possibly leaping Rhaegar in succession, so it was not a safe time for literally anyone, anywhere.
Now, there are some assumptions that I think need to be made, and ought to: Feel free to critique me on these, but at least hear me out!
Knight of the Laughing Tree
-Firstly, the Knight of the Laughing Tree at the Tourney was Lyanna Stark. This is purely from the books, but check it out: Lyanna caught some dirtbag squires giving Howland Reed a hard time before the festivities began at Harrenhal, so she scared them off and brought Jojen and Meera?s father to hang out with Ned and the rest of the Starks. Then, during the jousting lists, a mystery knight of small stature and wearing patchwork armor, known only as the Knight of the Laughing Tree, unhorsed the three knights whose squires had been giving Howland trouble days before.
Lady of Winterfell
+Now, Lyanna was a well renowned rider and we?ve even gotten a glimpse of how knowledgeable she was of combat in one of the show?s flashbacks. It also helps to see Arya as such an efficient fighter because it sets a precedent that other Stark women would have been capable, if not proficient, warriors.
-Secondly: Rhaegar found out that Lyanna was the Knight. From the account delivered by Jojen and Meera Reed in the books, it is pretty safe to assume that all the Stark boys and Howland himself knew that Lyanna was the Knight. But Aerys was paranoid and thought this mystery Knight was his enemy, so he tasked the Prince of Dragonstone with finding him and bringing him before the court. Rhaegar only ever returned with the Knight?s shield, but claimed he escaped before he could be revealed? (pfft right, suuuuuuuure Rhaegar)
Lyanna is shook
-We know that Lyanna cried when she heard how beautiful the Prince?s singing voice was, and we know Rhaegar thought Lyanna was hot AF, so his investigation would be a perfect opportunity for them to get to know each other intimately, or at the very least, privately.
+These assumptions work very well with the concept that Rhaegar was looking to find the mother of his third ?dragon.? *There is reason to believe that Elia was even accepting of the idea of Rhaegar taking on a second wife, though the show saying that Rhaegar annulled his marriage kind of shoots that theory in the foot (but we?ll have to see).
-Nonetheless, it is safe to assume that both Lyanna and Rhaegar were interested in seeing each other more after Harrenhal and that they would correspond while apart. Since Rhaegar was spending most of his time near Dragonstone and Lyanna was staying in the Riverlands for the coming wedding between her big brother Brandon and Catelyn Tully, it would be fairly easy for them to keep in touch by raven.
This is all to get to the point that I believe their courtship took some time and was not some thoughtless, lustful, whirlwind fling! Indeed, George R.R. Martin has gone pretty far out of his way to make sure to avoid cliches and a torrid, passionate affair that rips the seven kingdoms apart just sounds so opposed to his style that I would like to dismiss it out of hand.
Of course this requires us to believe that Rhaegar and Lyanna were in love and ran off together. The show has said so without reservation, even going so far as to show us their wedding ceremony in a green sight, but it?s never been confirmed in the books. However, there is plenty to go off of in the books that hints at this confirmation. So for the sake of this piece, we?ll just assume the show has got it right.
But to break it down, basically Lyanna and Rhaegar corresponded for a while ?til they secretly met up somewhere in the Riverlands ? ostensibly the Inn at the Crossings ? and decided to run off, get married, and within a few months Lyanna was pregnant with Rhaegar?s third child. We have reason to believe that Littlefinger himself told Brandon Stark the lie that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, but one way or the other, houses Stark and Baratheon are made to believe that Lyanna was stollen by the Prince of Dragonstone to be his sex-slave. Obviously her oldest brother and father were going to demand restitution, and the Mad King being the paranoid guy he was, brought about a fiery end to the lords of Winter. Then to make the Rebellion more necessary, Aerys demanded Jon Arryn deliver him Robert and Ned?s heads, which he of course would not do, and the rest is history?
The father and son that rebel together, burn together
Okay, so that was a lot, but basically to this point we?ve only discussed facts and easy assumptions that are based off of direct reports in the novels or scenes in the show. From all this and a whole lot more we can make a few more risky, yet still well-founded assumptions:
-Rhaegar and Lyanna were not children giving-in to primal urges, but instead intelligent nobles with a very clear concept of their duties and at least a good idea that there would be negative consequences for shirking them. -We also can infer that Rhaegar would have given some thought to the ramifications of his actions, being that he firmly believed he was living out a prophecy in his lifetime. Though it?s possible he could have been blinded to some things because of his faith, it doesn?t track that he would take any action without considering its possible effect on his legacy.
Elia Martell and some children vs. The Mountain
+Also, there was no way Rhaegar would be able to do anything with Lyanna without starting a war with the Stormlands (slight on Robert Baratheon) and Dorne (slight on Elia Martell).
Brother, Sisters; Husband, Wives
+Rhaegar did not need to put aside his marriage to Elia to marry Lyanna. This is a common misconception when discussing the ?legality? of their marriage. Targaryen?s made a point of defying the laws of gods and men for their own selfish ends or to satisfy their Valyrian predilections. Hell, Aegon the Conqueror himself had two simultaneous sister-wife Queens, so there?s precedent that a Targaryen would have two wives. Also, after the reign of the Old King Jaeherys I, it was made illegal for a Lord to disinherit the children of his first wife in preference to his second. So we have established precedent for Rhaegar to take a second wife and legal ramifications for disinheriting his first two children.
Not a lot of logic to it
If Dorne were to march to war against King?s Landing and the Crownlands, they would most likely be opposed by The Reach and potentially the Westerlands as well. This one is more from the books than the show, but basically The Reach has been fighting off Dornish incursions since Nymeria first burnt her ships (well before even the Age of Heroes). Thousands of years of strife and struggle between these two kingdoms made it virtually unthinkable that the Reach would ever passively allow the Dornish to march north through their lands.
Tywin ?Don?t call me Ty? Lannister
Adding on to that line of thought, it is at least safe to assume that Tywin Lannister would prefer to fight a war away from his homelands in the West. We?ve seen the way he won the War of the Five Kings, and we?ve heard stories of his handling of house Reyne of Castamere, so if Tywin had to choose between fighting the Dornish and Stormlanders in his own keeps and lands, or in those of the Reach and Crownlands, he would have chosen the latter. Were the Reach to be overrun, the Westerlands were ripe for the plundering, so it is at least possible that the Lannisters of Casterly Rock and the Tyrells of Highgarden would join forces against a rebellious Dornish force if it marched to aid the Baratheons.
The final of these assumptions is the most important: IF the North were to stay out of the Rebellion ? for whatever reason ? then so too would the Vale and the Riverlands. Now, we know that Brandon and Rickard believed Lyanna was kidnapped and were killed for it. We also know Ned was an enemy of the Crown and had no reason to betray Robert that we could see, so on the surface it doesn?t make any sense for the Starks to stay out.
BUT, were they to remain passive ? again, for whatever reason ? during Robert?s Rebellion, the Riverlands would stay passive because they were allies to house Stark, not Baratheon and were geographically removed enough from the rebelling Stormlands. Same can be said in part for The Vale, they were geographically safe from most of the fighting and would have no good reason to risk their own safety if not in coalition with the neighboring North and Riverlands.
Though Jon Arryn and Ned Stark loved Robert, there is no reason to believe they would risk their own houses without an eminent threat.
This is huge, to me, and betrays the real flaw to Rhaegar and Lyanna?s plans, in my humble opinion.
We know he had little love for his father?s reign and would be glad to take the throne by any means short of regicide. There is reason to believe that Rhaegar even wanted a war, but it is not confirmed by anything directly in the books or shows. It is in the wording GRRM used, he said that Rhaegar learned the great Targaryen kings were all renowned warriors. This is crucial wording because many believe that Rhaegar simply thought he needed to be an anointed knight, but instead he knew that he would actually have to fight-in-and-win a war. (Anyone can earn their spurs from any other anointed knight, so this threshold doesn?t appear lofty enough to entice Rhaegar anyway.)
More like the prince that was pummeled, amIrite?
As we discussed before, there is literally no way Rhaegar was going to do anything with Lyanna without setting Robert off, so there?s his war, right? That?s a very easy given. But what was not a given was a Stark retribution. Instead, the Stark back-lash came from two separate mis-happenstances: (1) Brandon is lied to and told that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna, which he in turn tells the whole North, then (2) Rickard goes to King?s Landing to demand his daughter?s release from the Mad King, not Rhaegar who was living with her in Dorne.
So none of this is outside of simple inference and what?s worse, there?s plenty of reasons for Rhaegar and Lyanna to anticipate this kind of fallout.
As we know from rumor and some green sight from the show, Rhaegar and Lyanna spend about three months hooking up/marrying and wandering their way south through the Riverlands, Crownlands, Reach, Stormlands and finally end up in Dorne at the Tower of Joy. All of this they do in secret. Rhaegar impregnates her, also in secret, and then goes off to fight in a war against Lyanna?s brother. While that is going on, King Aerys forces the Dornish to help Rhaegar fight against the Rebellion. Ser Lewyn Martell and the rest of the Dornish fought for the Crown because Elia and her two children were hostages of the Mad King in King?s Landing.
Ty Lannister (dammit!)
The Westerlands waste a whole lot of time because Tywin is smart enough to wait and see how things pan out before choosing sides in a war. Also, it bears mentioning that house Lannister hated the Martells for many slights both ancient and recent, Tywin hated Aerys and Rhaegar: there were a lot of reasons for them to stay out of the fighting.
And Robert?s allies in the geographical north call their banners and march down to the Trident. So while Robert fought in the Reach and Crownlands, his real major victory marched to meet him in the Riverlands.
It bears repeating that Lyanna Stark is bright and though new to the complexities of politics, was wise enough to know that her actions would have far-reaching consequences. Prince Rhaegar is a grown man ready to ascend to the throne. His judgement should be capable of rooting out nearly all of what we?ve discussed to this point through careful, thorough planning. Together, they had more than enough resources and reasons to ensure a successful future together.
So what even was Rhaegar?s plan? Assuming he could even manage to win a war against 4 of the 7 kingdoms? He was going to defeat Lyanna?s brother and betrothed, then what? Go back to Dorne? Weren?t they pissed at him too? Was he going to go home and kiss his pregnant wife with Ned?s blood on his sword and the deaths of her oldest brother and father on his conscience? Or was he going to return to his hostage first wife in King?s Landing and risk being murdered by his Mad father or at least being disinherited? Perhaps I?m not clever enough to divine the way forward through all this murkiness, but there?s no way this plan was the best available choice! I submit that had Rhaegar succeeded in winning against Robert?s Rebellion as it was formed, he would have two jilted wives, few remaining allies, and then be forced to fight another war against his father and younger brother for the Iron Throne.
Better to avoid an end like that, isn?t it? Wouldn?t it be preferable to devise a plan that didn?t logically end in the North, Riverlands and Vale joining Robert?s Rebellion?
Again I submit my opinion: That Rhaegar and Lyanna had enough time to plan out their actions and chose the worst possible path forward: Secrecy.
Secrecy is what makes it possible for Littlefinger (or whoever) to convince Brandon Stark that Rhaegar kidnapped Lyanna. Secrecy is what made the Mad King distrust both the Starks and Rhaegar?s accounts of the events and resulted in their immolation along with many other noble lords. Secrecy made Ned believe his sister was being held hostage and needed rescuing. Secrecy also made it possible for house Martell to feel slighted, before even the brutal end Elia and her children famously, supposedly, suffered.
The Mountain is the worst character in the Fantasy genre don?t @ me
The lovers could have been forthright, gone public right off the bat and caused some trouble, of course, that was unavoidable as mentioned before, but the logical end of the Starks, Arryns and Tullys rising up in rebellion would no longer be a given. With a royal declaration of their marriage you?ve got reason for the Starks to seek diplomatic ends to Lyanna?s situation, not going to war. Lord Rickard and his son Brandon would have very different demands ? that might not even warrant them riding to King?s Landing, let alone asking for Rhaegar?s head on a spike ? dependent upon Lyanna?s safety and that of her children. A simple declaration of equal inheritance ? which we have every reason to believe Rhaegar intended ? would have eased the Prince?s tensions with both house Stark and dismantled nearly all of Robert?s allies in a single stroke. Because if the North isn?t going to war, neither will the Vale and Riverlands.
New New England
With a known royal marriage, even if he legally annulled his marriage to Elia as they say in the show, but maintained Aegon?s legal rights as his heir, again as we have every reason to believe Rhaegar intended, they could avoid conflict with literally all the kingdoms except the Stormlands. Robert would be forced to join with the Martells and could be routed in the Reach or Stormlands before ever even reaching King?s Landing. Rhaegar would be able to defend the crown and present his second son to the royal court, ostensibly setting some of the Mad King?s anger at ease.
One of the simplest dissenting opinions would be they simply didn?t know. There was no way Rhaegar and Lyanna could predict all of this would happen and by the time it did it was too late. I agree with that, but it fails to address the key issue: Rhaegar and Lyanna had time to correspond and plan out their tryst, so they also had time to plan out whether or not it would need to be a secret. Whether actively or passively, they chose secrecy over transparency and created the terms of their own tragic demise.
Portrait of two selfish jerks
By keeping their marriage a secret, Rhaegar and Lyanna ensured there was no good ending for their relationship. So why do it at all? Why not win a war against Lyanna?s enraged ex-betrothed, and rebuff whatever Dornish rebels followed him, then use his rule to unite all of Westeros? Rhaegar, Elia and Lyanna, and the children they bore, would have united the country by blood in a way never even imagined before. The Song of Ice and Fire would be composed by King Rhaegar himself, and sung throughout the winter to come.
Instead they chose secrecy and everybody died.