Precursor: I recommend reading the posts on Tywin and Aerys for some background before reading this one. I’ve decided not to split this post into separate parts as a thank you to all of my supporters. You make my day every Wednesday, so truly thank you. Hopefully I can return the favor this week. Fans of brevity may want to read this post in chunks, you have all week after all. Enjoy, everyone!
Wars are often the result of high tension strung out over time where the smallest of bumps could cause it to snap like a rubber band. A host of contributing factors pile up while the band twists and tightens and stretches, adding more and more tension. And then there’s that one little thing that sets it off and the band snaps. Robert’s Rebellion wasn’t like that. It was more like someone hit the rubber band with a warhammer, crushed it, and then set it on fire.
It’s hard to say exactly what event made the Rebellion inevitable. Some will say this, some will say that, but I would say it was the Tourney at Harrenhal, a full year before the Rebellion even started. The moment Rhaegar Targaryen made Lyanna Stark his queen of love and beauty was the moment the Rebellion was set in stone, although no one knew it yet. Rhaegar who had a wife, Elia Martell, and Lyanna who was already betrothed to Robert Baratheon.
What exactly went down at this Tourney between the two is a mystery. An odd fact considering every pair of significant eyes in the Seven Kingdoms were there. The Targaryens were there of course, including The Mad King, making his first public appearance in quite some time. The Starks were there obviously, including the quiet wolf, Ned, and his older brother, Brandon. Brandon was the opposite of Ned in many ways as Ned took more traits from his surrogate father, Jon Arryn, than he did with their true father, Rickard. Brandon and Lyanna were both described as having true wolf’s blood, they were wild and fierce. Brandon was betrothed to Catelyn Tully of Riverrun.
Robert and Ned were close enough to be brothers as well, both growing up together with Jon Arryn in the Vale. Ned, being the second son, thought he would never see Lordship of Winterfell, not something he particularly desired either. Whether lust or true love, Robert wanted to marry Lyanna more than anything, but Lyanna didn’t feel the same way.
A Red Tinted Rose
Rhaegar’s gift to Lyanna was tainted. Tainted with scandal, political problems, and consequences no one could even hope to understand the scale of at the time. And it all culminated some time after the Tourney when Rhaegar disappeared, Lyanna in tow, supposedly kidnapped by the crowned prince. Kidnapped by a man who favored his harp over his sword. A famously kind and gentle man who was, for lack of a better word, a ladykiller. A man who was supposedly unhappy with his marriage to Elia Martell kidnapped a woman who was unwilling to marry Robert Baratheon. This ‘kidnapping’ was not the start of the war though as some people think it was. It was simply a catalyst.
Rhaegar and Lyanna went to the Tower of Joy with help from Ser Arthur Dayne. Word spread through the land quickly, and when it reached Lyanna’s brother, Brandon, he was not happy to say the least. When he heard the news he was actually en route to marry Catelyn. He turned his horse and rode straight for King’s Landing with a few friends to confront Rhaegar. Outside the Red Keep, Brandon shouted for Rhaegar to come out and die, but unknown to him, Rhaegar was far far away. The only person there was The Mad King who had Brandon and his friends arrested for plotting Rhaegar’s murder.
The fathers of all the accused men were summoned to King’s Landing to answer for their sons’ crimes and Aerys had them all killed without a fair trial.
Brandon’s father, Rickard, brought two hundred men with him to King’s Landing and he asked Aerys to grant a fair trial and requested that it be a trial by combat. Rickard would fight for Brandon and he expected to fight a member of the Kingsguard, a tough battle, but not impossible, but that wouldn’t be so. The Mad King declared the Targaryen champion would be fire.
He had Rickard tied from the ceiling and put a strangling device around Brandon’s neck. The Mad King had his men lay a sword just out of Brandon’s reach. Brandon watched as a fire was lit below his father by a pyromancer named Rossart. Rickard slowly cooked inside his armor while Brandon struggled desperately to reach the sword. Chances are Brandon died before Rickard, who strangled himself while trying to reach the sword. Either way, father and son watched each other slowly die.
Afterwards, Aerys called for the heads of Robert Baratheon, betrothed to Lyanna, and Eddard Stark, the new Lord of Winterfell. Both men were in the Eyrie when the message arrived. Jon Arryn refused Aerys’ command and raised his banners in defiance. There would be war.
A Land Asunder
This was a civil war in the truest sense. A man couldn’t even rely on his own banners. It was up for each Lord to decide where they fell, there was no precedence. The Mad King was out of control, everyone knew it, but the Targaryens had ruled for three centuries. Robert was an usurper seemingly starting a war to save his own skin. Do you fight with the unjust familiar, or with the just stranger? Well, many like Tywin Lannister of Casterly Rock didn’t even pick a side at first. They waited for offers or just to see which way the wind blew. Even some Lords of the Vale rose their banners for the Targaryens against Jon Arryn. Among those Lords was Marq Graffton of Gulltown.
“Tell me, what right did my brother Robert ever have to the Iron Throne? Oh, there was talk of the blood ties between Baratheon and Targaryen, of weddings a hundred years past, of second sons and elder daughters. No one but the maesters care about any of it. Robert won the throne with his warhammer.” – Renly
Robert was the first over the walls at Gulltown. His hammer was like the wrath of a God. He slew Marq Graffton himself.
“They never tell you how they all shit themselves. They don’t put that part in the songs.” – Robert
Robert’s immediate success didn’t go unnoticed, he truly captured the Kingdom with his warhammer. Support came to him just because of the strength he displayed in battle, a critical thing at this early point in the war when the line in the sand was still being drawn. The Mad King was weak and feeble and…mad. Rhaegar was nowhere to be found and Robert was trudging across the battlefield with a bloody hammer, singly determined to get back Lyanna and help Ned bring justice for his family.
Robert went to Storm’s End to call his own banners and Ned took a risky trip north across the fingers so he could call his at Winterfell. Robert faced the same type of opposition in the Stormlands. He caught wind of a Targaryen loyalist plan. Three houses were meeting at the castle, Summerhall. Then, when together, they would launch an assault on Storm’s End killing the usurper before the Rebellion had even taken serious form. A man named Owen Merryweather had incited these unloyalties to Robert. Merryweather was Hand to The Mad King after Tywin left and he tried to quench the Rebellion early on, to very little success.
Robert caught wind of this Summerhall plan and he raced to the castle. Almost nothing is known abut the Battles at Summerhall. We only know that throughout one day there were three battles, all victories for Robert. He defeated each of the three houses who had raised their banners against him and in one day cemented his hold over the Stormlands.
Ned reached the north and called his own banners, Jon Arryn had his bannermen, and Robert had his. The War of the Usurper was real now and it wasn’t going anywhere. The Mad King thought Merryweather was plotting against him and banished him. He named Jon Connington as the new Hand. Connington had been an eager friend of Rhaegar’s for years. He was young and vigorous and, more importantly to Aerys, ready for battle.
“Too soon. Connington is too young, too bold, too eager for glory.” – Tywin
Tywin saw it from a mile away. Connington, had he been more seasoned, would have been a great Hand, but it was just too soon.
The Targaryen loyalists did have some notable strength on their side to match Robert’s. Maybe not in single combat, but in the brains department. Had Tywin been Hand, the Rebellion would have never happened, but they did have a criminally underused strategic mind in that of Randyll Tarley, a bannerman for Mace Tyrell. We recently met Randyll in season six when Samwell stole his sword as you’ll recall.
Randyll gave Robert his first defeat at the Battle of Ashford. Randyll was leading only the van of the Tyrell army and he forced Robert to retreat. Mace Tyrell would later go on to boast about giving Robert this defeat, even though he hadn’t even been there. This retreat by Robert gave Mace open paths into the Stormlands, which he took advantage of. The sizable Tyrell host marched on Storm’s End and put it under siege. The Rebellion would continue to go on, and sure as a person needs to breath, the siege would go on while Robert’s brother, Stannis, held Storm’s End. And, as he held Storm’s End, he also held Mace Tyrell and his large army in place.
Meanwhile, Ned was marching south with his own army and had secured an alliance with the Tullys of Riverrun by agreeing to marry Catelyn. Brandon had died while still only betrothed, so the marriage alliance just transferred down the line to Ned.
It was time for the rebel forces to meet up. Right now they were scattered across the land and therefore weaker. Ned marched south, Robert marched north, and Jon Arryn began moving their way.
The eager new Hand was on Robert’s heels though. Robert rode for Stoney Sept, a town in the Riverlands. When Robert got there, he holed up in a house due to an injury he had sustained somewhere along the way. Not long after him though was Jon Connington. The bells tolled throughout the city, warning the citizens to stay in their homes as Connington brought his army in. He began a meticulous search of the town. He knew Robert was there, he just had to find the Usurper. He took too long though.
Ned and Hoster Tully, their forces now combined, rode into the town to provide Robert support. The Battle of the Bells was different in that it was urban, not on a field. The fighting spread throughout the whole town, archers fired from rooftops, troops would randomly storm out of houses to surprise the enemy, and the narrow streets were a complication for Connington’s large army. It was hard to maneuver in such an environment. Connington did manage to kill Jon Arryn’s heir to the Vale, a cousin. He knew the battle was finally lost when Robert himself came out of hiding to provide Ned and Hoster some final support. Connington retreated and the Battle of the Bells was lost to him. His failure would be rewarded with banishment from the Mad King.
“I rose too high, loved too hard, dared too much. I tried to grasp a star, overreached, and fell.” – Jon Connington
He would later say that Tywin couldn’t have done better at the Stoney Sept, he did all he could. He realized he was wrong when he was told that Tywin wouldn’t have searched for Robert at all, he would have just burnt the whole town down. Jon would go east across the Narrow Sea to live a new life. Aerys found a new Hand in Qarlton Chelsted, the master of coin, a man Jaime considered to be a craven.
The Battle of the Bells was a wake up call for Aerys. Robert was winning, so a plan was hatched.
“The traitors want my city … but I’ll give them naught but ashes. Let Robert be king over charred bones and cooked meat.” – The Mad King
“Brandon. Yes. Brandon would know what to do. He always did. It was all meant for Brandon. You, Winterfell, everything. He was born to be a King’s Hand and father to queens. I never asked for this cup to pass to me.” – Ned to Cat
The rebel forces rode to Riverrun where Eddard was married to Catelyn and Jon Arryn was married to Lysa, only happening because of the loss of Jon’s heir at the Stoney Sept. Ned and Cat had never even seen each other before. And they only stayed for two weeks before riding off again to war. Catelyn’s husband was a stranger to her, but their wedding night had proved fruitful. Although they wouldn’t see each other for another year, Catelyn would give birth to their firstborn son, Rob.
The Mad King was stockpiling caches of wildfire below King’s Landing, intent on not letting his city fall into rebel hands. The lord commander of the Kingsguard was sent to find Rhaegar, it was time for the crowned prince to return. He was found at the Tower of Joy and he agreed to return, leaving three Kingsguard behind to guard Lyanna, including the Sword of the Morning. When Rhaegar returned he sent to Tywin for help with the war. They received only silence in return. When the Hand, Chelsted, discovered the Wildfire plot he was disgusted and confronted Aerys about it.
“I’d thought the man craven, but the day he confronted Aerys he found some courage somewhere. He did all he could to dissuade him. He reasoned, he jested, he threatened, and finally he begged. When that failed he took off his chain of office and flung it down on the floor. Aerys burnt him alive for that, and hung his chain about the neck of Rossart, his favorite pyromancer.” – Jaime
That night, after Aerys burned Chelsted, Jaime stood guard and listened as The Mad King raped his wife, listening to her screams. Aerys always grew aroused after a live burning. Jaime brought up the topic that as Kingsguard, they were supposed to protect the Queen as well. His sworn brother simply replied-
“But not from him.”
Rhaegar was busy getting together a competent army. Dorne provided their help, loyal to him. Mace Tyrell was still camped outside of Storm’s End, so he was unavailable to provide assistance to the royal army. Rhaegar departed King’s Landing, leaving behind only one member of the Kingsguard to defend the royal family. Rossart willingly played into The Mad King’s insanity and continued to carry out the Wildfire plot. Thousands of jars were prepared and placed below the city underneath key areas. The Sept of Baelor alone was said to hold thousands of jars in the sewers beneath the ground.
Jaime begged Rhaegar to take him with him to battle and to leave another person behind, but Rhaegar declined. Aerys wanted Jaime close as a hostage, but Rhaegar did promise that when he got back there would be major changes. Rhaegar asked Jaime to keep his wife, Elia, and his kids safe. The rebel forces left Riverrun and the royal forces left King’s Landing.
The next battle would decide the war. Both sides would ride in and only one side would ride out, ready to make a finishing sweep. All eyes were on the two armies as they met at the Trident. The royal army outnumbered the rebel army thanks to a boost of ten thousand Dornish soldiers. The battle occurred at a natural crossing across the river. The rebels met the royal army as they were trying to cross. The Battle of the Trident was a thing legends are made out of.
Many men were made and broken that day. It was a day for heroes to shine on both sides. Barristan Selmy distinguished himself fighting for Rhaegar, piling the bodies up before getting severely wounded.
“I am an old man, an old knight, and I have seen more battles than most of you have years. Nothing is more terrible upon this earth, nothing more glorious, nothing more absurd. You may retch. You will not be the first. You may drop your sword, your shield, your lance. Others have done the same. Pick it up and go on fighting. You may foul your breeches. I did, in my first battle. No one will care. All battlefields smell of shit. You may cry out for your mother, pray to gods you thought you had forgotten, howl obscenities that you never dreamed could pass your lips. All this has happened too.” – Barristan
There was also Lyn Corbray who had fought for the Targaryens at Gulltown before joining Robert. The Dornish forces were a huge threat to Robert’s flank, and he would have soon been overwhelmed by them. Lyn Corbray picked up his wounded father’s Valyrian steel blade and led a charge that broke the Dornish and also killed their commander who was of the Kingsguard.
There was Jason Mallister who slew three of Rhaegar’s bannermen to avenge the death of his brother.
And at the center of it all was where the battle would be decided. Robert and Rhaegar met on the crossing, the water licking at their horse’s hooves. The battle was legendary according to all present. Rhaegar wounded Robert badly, but in the end, it was Rhaegar who fell. Robert brought his hammer into Rhaegar’s chest with the strength of a hundred men, ending the Battle of the Trident in one blow after a grueling duel. The rubies embedded in Rhaegar’s armor came free from their sockets, dropping into the water. That crossing became known as the Ruby Ford and they say Rhaegar’s rubies still float down the Trident.
The royal army buckled and fled without a commander to lead them. The majority of the forces rode back to King’s Landing for what would essentially be the Targaryen death sentence. A man named Roose Bolton told Robert that Barristan should be killed, but Robert refused. He had Barristan’s wounds treated and would later grant him a full pardon and make him the Lord Commander of his own Kingsguard. When Aerys heard of Rhaegar’s defeat, he sent his pregnant wife and Viserys to Dragonstone. Elia Martell and her children were kept as hostages to keep Dorne loyal since they had been mostly loyal to Rhaegar.
Walder Frey conveniently arrived to help Robert after the battle was over. The only sizable loyalist force left was the Tyrell army…still at Storm’s End, but Tywin was making his way to King’s Landing. Robert was wounded, so when they heard about Tywin, he sent Ned with his vanguard immediately to ride for King’s Landing. Robert hoped Ned would reach the city before Tywin could bring some much needed support to Aerys.
Tywin arrived at the city before Ned to a welcome of closed gates. The Mad King was certainly paranoid, especially of Tywin for many years now. Aerys had two different whisperers in his ears. One said to open the gates, the other said to keep them closed. Pycelle told Aerys it would be safe, Tywin could be trusted and he could save the day. He had brought twelve thousand men after all. Varys whispered against it, that Tywin couldn’t be trusted, that he was no friend to Aerys. In the end, Pycelle whispered louder. Aerys opened the gates for Tywin and his army.
The Sack of King’s Landing was a terrible thing and it would earn Tywin well deserved scorn from its citizens for years to come. Men, woman, and children were cut down at random with no regard for human life. His soldiers raped woman like dogs in the street and anarchy reined King’s Landing. What began were the last hours of The Mad King’s life, and many other lives.
Jaime knew the gig was up, he couldn’t defend Aerys from an army, so instead he requested that he be sent to make a deal with the attackers. Instead Aerys said-
“I want [Tywin] dead, the traitor. I want his head, you’ll bring me his head, or you’ll burn with all the rest. All the traitors.” – The Mad King
Aerys ordered for the wildfire to be ignited. Rossart dressed himself as a common soldier and hurried off to carry out a destruction level event of the whole city. No one in King’s Landing would survive. Jaime knew this and he pursued Rossart, finding him and killing him before he could carry out the plot.
When Jaime returned to the throne room, Aerys thought the blood soaking his blade was Tywin’s. Jaime simply answered it was Rossart’s, and The Mad King turned to flee. Jaime tore him off the steps and slit Aerys’ throat, killing all traces of the wildfire plot with the Mad King. Tywin’s men burst into the throne room, seeing Jaime had killed his own King. Jaime told them to spread the word and spare everyone who yielded. They asked Jaime if anyone should be proclaimed as King. He could have named almost anyone in that moment, but instead he simply said-
“It’s all the same to me.”
He sat on the throne and waited to see who would show up to claim it.
Meanwhile, Tywin’s man, Gregor Clegane, was after Elia’s children. Baby Aegon was in direct line of succession should Viserys either die or disappear. Gregor went a step beyond that though, not like killing babies is bad enough. He smashed the babe’s head against the wall in front of Elia and murdered her daughter in her bed. Only after that did he rape and then kill Elia by crushing her head.
“I saw King’s Landing after the Sack. Babes were butchered that day as well, and old men, and children at play. More women were raped than you can count.” – Jorah
Ned eventually got to the city, mid sacking. He rode straight in through the gates and witnessed the horror of the day. When he reached the throne room he found-
“Aerys was dead on the floor, drowned in his own blood. His dragon skulls stared down from the walls. Lannister’s men were everywhere. Jaime wore the white cloak of the Kingsguard over his golden armor. I can see him still. Even his sword was gilded. He was seated on the Iron Throne, high above his knights, wearing a helm fashioned in the shape of a lion’s head. How he glittered.” – Ned
“You should have taken the realm for yourself. It was there for the taking. Jaime told me how you found him on the Iron Throne the day King’s Landing fell, and made him yield it up. That was your moment. All you needed to do was climb those steps, and sit. Such a sad mistake. – Cersei
“I have made more mistakes than you can possibly imagine, but that was not one of them.” – Ned
Ned would never forget that image of the golden knight sitting over his dead king. And he would never forget the moment when Tywin presented Robert with the bodies of Rhaegar’s children. That act split Robert and Ned’s relationship and they argued many times over it. Ned could never forgive the sack and what occurred that day, but Robert saw the necessity of the act.
“Treachery was a coin the Targaryens knew well. Lannister paid them back in kind. It was no less than they deserved. I shall not trouble my sleep over it.” – Robert
“You were not there. There was no honor in that conquest.” – Ned
The Targaryen dynasty was over, the war won. Rhaegar and his mad father both fell and the remaining Targaryens fled to Dragonstone.
With King’s Landing in control, Ned still had unfinished business. He rode out without Robert to finish the war and get Lyanna.. On his way south, he ended the siege Mace Tyrell had been holding the entire war on Storm’s End, only surviving due to to an Onion Knight. Mace Tyrell gave up without a fight. Robert told Stannis to build a fleet so that he could go to Dragonstone and finish off the Targaryens once and for all, Viserys was too dangerous to be left alive.
Ned just kept on riding south, his eyes set on the Tower of Joy at the Dorne border. He took six companions and found the three Kingsguard waiting for him. The ensuing fight was brutal, and it left only Ned and Howland Reed standing. Inside the tower, Lyanna only made Ned promise her one thing before she passed away.
Ned stopped in Dorne to return an ancestral sword of a Kingsguard slain in the battle, and then rode back north to Winterfell. Catelyn joined him shortly after, with a newborn Rob, only to find Ned already had a bastard child in the form of Jon Snow. Robert and Ned’s relationship could have ended with the Sack of King’s Landing, but the death of Lyanna united them once again, although the rift could still be felt, and would be forever when it came to discussions on Targaryens and Lannisters.
Daenerys was born on Dragonstone during a storm that broke the Targaryen fleet, and her mother died in childbirth. Stannis was coming with the new fleet, and the remaining Targaryen men were ready to give up. They were tired so they decided to sell Dany and Viserys to the Usurper, but they were smuggled off by a few brave souls before Stannis ever arrived.
“The gods be damned. It was a hollow victory they gave me. A crown … it was the girl I prayed them for. Your sister, safe … and mine again, as she was meant to be. I ask you, Ned, what good is it to wear a crown? The gods mock the prayers of kings and cowherds alike.” – Robert
“I swear to you, I was never so alive as when I was winning this throne, or so dead as now that I’ve won it.” – Robert
Robert married Cersei to reward the Lannisters for their… help, but it would always be a loveless marriage.
“The night of our wedding feast, the first time we shared a bed, he called me by your sister’s name. He was on top of me, in me, stinking of wine, and he whispered Lyanna.” – Cersei
Jon Arryn was named Hand and he and Stannis would basically serve as King in lieu of Robert, who only drank and slept around.
“Robert was never the same after he put on that crown. Some men are like swords, made for fighting. Hang them up and they go to rust.”
Jaime earned the title of Kingslayer and his reputation was to be tarnished forever.
“I think it passing odd that I am loved by one for a kindness I never did, and reviled by so many for my finest act.” – Jaime
(the beginning of the quote referring to Tyrion and Tysha)
Barristan begrudgingly joined the new Kingsguard under Robert.
“I took Robert’s pardon, aye. I served him in Kingsguard and council. Served with the Kingslayer and others near as bad, who soiled the white cloak I wore. Nothing will excuse that.” – Barristan
Viserys became The Beggar King, lost without a home, only his sister at his side.
“Words are wind, and the wind that blows exiles across the narrow sea seldom blows them back. That boy Viserys Targaryen spoke of return as well. He slipped through my fingers at Dragonstone, only to spend his life wheedling after sellswords. “The Beggar King,” they called him in the FreeCities.” – Stannis
Oberyn and others became hell bent on getting revenge for Elia and her children’s cruel deaths.
“I have worked at the downfall of Tywin Lannister since the day they told me of Elia and her children.” – Doran
And it all started with a Tourney at Harrenhal.
As always, thanks for reading.
All info comes from The World of Ice and Fire and the A Song of Ice and Fire series.
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