Death of Laenor Velaryon and Harwin Strong/Theories
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In 120 AC, Laenor Velaryon was murdered on Driftmark and Harwin Strong died in a suspicious fire at Harrenhal. The main historical sources for these events differ in their suspicions on who may have been responsible - or if the two events were even directly related at all. A major linking thread is that Daemon Targaryen was suspected of murdering both of them. No single account suspected Daemon of both murders, however, but of one or the other (though the possibility remains he was responsible for both, or neither).
The events leading up to these deaths, the potential suspects and motives, are heavily intertwined with the story of Princess Rhaenyra Targaryen and her uncle Daemon, as first revealed in The Rogue Prince prequel novella, later given in full as the Heirs of the Dragon chapter from Fire and Blood.
There are three main historical sources about the civil war known as the Dance of the Dragons: Septon Eustace's account which was biased in favor of Aegon II Targaryen against his half-sister Rhaenyra; Maester Munkun's text based on the confession of Grand Maester Orwyle, which was biased in favor of Rhaenyra against Aegon II; and the account of the court fool Mushroom, which was filled with salacious fabrications but may now and then have had a kernel of truth to them.
Given that the events surrounding Laenor and Harwin regard rumored affairs with Rhaenyra, the pro-Rhaenyra accounts barely discuss these events in detail. The closest to a neutral account that can be found are the chronicles kept by Grand Maester Runciter (and later, Grand Maester Mellos), but these are usually curt and only record publicly known information. Thus there is no account biased in favor of Rhaenyra to balance out the others when it comes to these events before the actual outbreak of the Dance.
Meanwhile, just because Eustace's account was biased against Rhaenyra doesn't necessarily mean this was the limit of his bias: throughout his account of the Dance, it is always Eustace who presents Criston Cole most negatively, even though Cole sided with Aegon II and was one of Rhaenyra's bitterest enemies. Thus it's possible that Eustace wished to deflect blame for some events from Aegon II or his mother Alicent Hightower to Ser Criston (i.e. Eustace is the only account that says Criston killed Lyman Beesbury at the very table where Alicent's small council was meeting at the outbreak of the civil war).
Background: Rhaenyra's affairs and the death of Laena Velaryon
Septon Eustace's account claims that young Rhaenyra was infatuated with her uncle Daemon, and that he deflowered her. Daemon may have been trying to marry the heir to the throne to restore his place in succession, but his brother Viserys was instead so offended that he sent Daemon away from the royal court in King's Landing, forcing him to return to his campaigns in the Stepstones. Soon after an arranged marriage was set between Rhaenyra and her cousin Laenor Velaryon. As Laenor had no interest in women, Rhaenyra became trapped in a loveless marriage.
Eustace also claims that Criston Cole was infatuated with Rhaenyra, and when her betrothal to Laenor was announced he privately confessed his love and begged her to run away with him to the Free Cities. Eustace says that Rhaenyra rejected his offer, both because she wanted the Iron Throne and would not settle for being a sellsword's wife, and because she was disgusted that he would abandon his vows as a kingsguard - if he could abandon those vows, marriage vows would mean nothing to him.
Mushroom has an altogether different and more ribald version of events: he claims that it was Rhaenyra who was infatuated with Criston Cole. Mushroom goes on to give extravagant claims that Rhaenyra had some sort of dalliance with Daemon, "kissing lessons" and more - but all to learn how to more effectively seduce Ser Criston, for whom she still preserved her maidenhead. When Rhaenyra ultimately did try to seduce Criston, however, Mushroom's account says that he was horrified, and as a true knight stayed true to his vows and refused her. The whole tale soon came out, including Daemon's involvement in her "lessons", and he was so bold as to ask his brother the king to let him marry Rhaenyra - as no other man would have her now. It's possible that this was Daemon's true goal the entire time, knowing her attempt to seduce Criston would fail. Even if this was his plan it didn't work, as instead the furious Viserys exiled him from the royal court - particularly because Daemon was still married to Rhea Royce, a loveless match that Viserys nonetless refused to set aside.
Years later, after Rhea died in a fall from a horse, Daemon was free to marry Laenor's sister Laena Velaryon. While claimed to be for love this was probably for political reasons as well, as by that point Daemon and the Velaryons were outsiders at the royal court. Laena got along well with Daemon, and very well with her good-sister Rhaenyra, and they often visited each other between neighboring Driftmark and Dragonstone island. Laena also gave Daemon twin daughters, Baela and Rhaena.
Rhaenyra, meanwhile, took little joy out of her marriage to Laenor. During the tourney held at their wedding feast, Criston Cole fought in a black rage, killing Laenor's lover Joffrey Lonmouth. Criston was replaced as Rhaenyra's sworn shield by Harwin Strong. Rhaenyra subsequently gave birth to her first son, Jacaerys Velaryon, but he looked nothing like Laenor: instead of classic Valyrian features of silver hair, purple eyes, and an aquiline nose, Jacaerys was brown of hair and eye, and had a pug nose. Rumors began to swirl that Jacaerys was really Harwin's bastard son. Nonetheless, Rhaenyra gave birth to two more sons with the same features: Lucerys and Joffrey. All three sets of historical sources acknowledge that Aegon II and his mother Alicent Hightower's faction embraced and encouraged the rumors that Rhaenyra's sons were all bastards: Mushroom of course treats the salacious rumor as fact, while Eustace and Grand Master Runciter simply acknowledge that the rumors were widely circulated without confirming them.
Early in 120 AC, Laena Velaryon died after a difficult childbirth (to a deformed and twisted son who only lived a few hours), leaving Daemon single and with no male heirs. Mere months later that same year, Rhaenyra's husband Laenor was killed.
- Eustace claims that Criston Cole was infatuated with Rhaenyra, but she was infatuated with her uncle Daemon, and she spurned Cole's offer to run away with him due to wanting the Iron Throne and dishonoring his kingsguard vows. Mushroom claims that Rhaenyra was infatuated with Criston, but he stayed true to his vows and rejected her advances. Yet Mushroom's version does not offer an explanation for why Criston would then publicly fly into such a black fury at the tourney held in honor of Rhaenyra and Laenor's wedding that he killed one man and left half a dozen seriously injured. Based on his public reaction, it seems more likely that Rhaenyra had rejected Criston.
- Exactly why Rhaenyra really rejected Criston is still unclear in this scenario, as Eustace essentially wants to have it both ways: that Rhaenyra was a grasper who would not give up her aspirations on the Iron Throne, and that she was shocked that Criston would abandon his vows as a kingsguard. If Rhaenyra was more worried about usurping the throne from her younger half-brother, as Eustace alleges in his subsequent writings about the Dance of the Dragons, she wouldn't also care about him breaking his kingsguard vows. If it truly was the case that Rhaenyra rejected Criston, it was more likely due to one reason or the other, but not both.
- Some fans have even suggested the possibility that all or some of Rhaenyra's alleged affairs with Criston Cole, Harwin Strong, and Daemon Targaryen never happened - and that she was truly having an affair with Laenor's sister, Laena Velaryon. It is vaguely alluded that Laena was attracted to women, as the maester of Driftmark noted that Laena showed "far more interest in flying than in boys". Then there is the curious statement that Rhaenyra "became fond and more than fond of her good-sister Lady Laena. With Driftmark and Dragonstone so close, Daemon and Laena oft visited with the princess, and her with them."
- This wouldn't explain why the historical sources say that Rhaenyra was so opposed to marrying Laenor, compared to other major lords in Westeros - unless of course, her tantrum to her father was all an elaborate ruse to hide the fact that she couldn't have asked for a better match, because it gave her an excuse to frequently visit Laenor's sister on Driftmark. In which case, it's possible that both Rhaenyra and Laenor only married to cover for each other. A point possibly supporting this is that the sources do not agree at all on what her final reaction to her father was when they argued about her arranged marriage to Laenor: Eustace says she broke down crying and pleading at the end, while Mushroom claims that at the end she spat in his face. It's possible that neither source had firsthand knowledge of what they actually said in private.
Murder of Laenor Velaryon
All accounts agree that Laenor Velaryon was personally stabbed to death by his lover, Ser Qarl Correy, while attending a fair in Spicetown on Driftmark. The two men had been loudly arguing in public beforehand.
Grand Maester Mellos simply says that Laenor was killed in a dispute with a household knight, while Septon Eustace says it was a lover's quarrel because Laenor had slighted Correy in favor of a new comely young man who had caught his eye.
Mushroom's account, however, alleges that Daemon Targaryen had actually bribed Qarl Correy to kill Laenor, after which Correy fled to a ship Daemon had waiting for him, where Daemon slit his throat and dumped his corpse into the sea. Correy was known for extravagant spending, with a lord's tastes but a knight's purse, and prone to gambling besides, so it is possible that he was susceptible to bribery. Nonetheless, no shred of proof was ever found for Daemon's involvement.
Within months, Daemon remarried to Rhaenyra. Mushroom alleges that after Laena's death, Daemon removed Laenor so he could enter a new political alliance with his niece.
- On the one hand, Daemon had the motive and the means to bribe Qarl Correy to kill Laenor, which is Mushroom's version of events.
- On the other hand, Septon Eustace was biased against Daemon, and willing to report scandalous rumors if they presented Rhaenyra and Daemon negatively (though he didn't outright enjoy these embellishments like Mushroom did). Nonetheless, Eustace's account claims Daemon had no involvement, and that Laenor's death was simply due to a lover's quarrel. For that matter, Qarl publicly killed Laenor, the son of a rich and powerful man who subsequently put out a massive bounty on his head, when if it was a planned murder he could have found a more subtle way to do it, such as poison.
Death of Harwin Strong
As the two court factions of Rhaenyra and Alicent gathered for Laenor's funeral, their sons got into a fight that cost young Aemond Targaryen his right eye. During the scuffle, Aemond called all three of Rhaenyra's sons bastards. King Viserys was so angered that he ordered both factions separated, Alicent's to King's Landing and Rhaenyra's to Dragonstone - and to put an end to any more salacious rumors, Viserys commanded that Harwin Strong leave Rhaenyra's service and return to his family's seat at Harrenhal. Unexpectedly, his father Lyonel Strong chose to return with him. A fire broke out at the castle tower they were sleeping in, killing both Strongs as well as three retainers and half a dozen servants. As Lyonel was Hand of the King, Viserys had to select a replacement, and settled on restoring Alicent's father Otto Hightower to his former position. Meanwhile, Harwin's younger broth Larys Strong, called Larys Clubfoot, ascended as the new Lord of Harrenhal, and within a few years was named Master of Whisperers on the small council.
The historical sources differ considerably on these events. No proof was ever found that it was more than an accident, though even for those who do suspect it was murder, there are four separate theories:
- Septon Eustace suspects that Daemon had Harwin killed, to remove a potential rival for Rhaenyra's affections.
- Mushroom alleges that Laenor's father Corlys Velaryon had Harwin killed, exacting a father's vengeance on the man who had cuckholded his son.
- Grand Maester Mellos, usually a neutral observer in his chronicles, put forward the dark speculation that it was King Viserys himself who may have had Harwin killed, because Harwin had dishonored his daughter Rhaenyra. In this case, his father Lyonel's death was a tragic accident, as Viserys didn't know that he decided to accompany his son back to Harrenhal.
- "Others" suspect that it was actually Larys Clubfoot, who killed his own older brother Harwin so he could usurp his position as heir to Harrenhal (the death of their father Lyonel may or may not have been intentional). Larys also allied himself with Aegon II and Alicent, and thus removing Lyonel Strong as Hand of the King cleared the way for Alicent's father Otto Hightower to reclaim his position as Hand.
- Viserys would never have let Rhaenyra marry Harwin Strong after Laenor's murder, and had even exiled him from the royal court, and thus Daemon had no reason to see Harwin as a rival for her hand.
- It's still possible that Daemon saw Harwin as a romantic rival, and didn't want it to be suspected that any sons he had with Rhaenyra might be Harwin's - but again, Harwin was forbidden from Rhaenyra's presence by that point.
- Neither Viserys nor Corlys seem to have particularly believed the rumors that Rhaenyra's sons were Harwin's bastards. Neither man is known to have resorted to such murderous intrigues before, and if they were going to kill Harwin, they would have done it years before, as the rumors started when Rhaenyra's first son out of three was born.
- Larys Clubfoot made it clear during the Dance of the Dragons that he was a duplicitous manipulator willing to stab his own allies in the back if it would advance his own goals.
- Fire & Blood, Heirs of the Dragon - A Question of Succession.