The possibly true story of the abduction of Lyanna Stark
Spoilers for The World of Ice and Fire
In one branch of Arthurian legend, Queen Gwenhwyfar is sentenced to death for a crime against the king (adultery in the legend– but most significantly, a crime against the crown) The Queen was sentenced to burn, but Sir Lancelot arrived at the last minute and carried her away to safety at his castle, called Joyous Gard. If we consider the parallels between Rhaegar and Lancelot, and that Joyous Gard is very similar to tower of joy, then the pieces click. A king, a crime, punishment by fire and a rescue by a knight. So, what if the famous kidnapping was really a rescue? What if Rhaegar intercepted Lyanna as she was about to be seized by royal soldiers?
Among fans some believe that Rhaegar did kidnap Lyanna Stark, absconding with her perhaps to fulfill a prophecy. Others think Lyanna may have gone willingly to escape her proposed marriage to Robert. There isn’t a huge consensus on whether Rhaegar was a villain or a hero here, in fact just the opposite. GRRM has indicated that more information will come out about the circumstances of this supposed kidnapping.
One thing that seems clear is that the seeds of the event seem to have been sown at the Tourney of Harrenhal. If we take as fact that Lyanna Stark was the Knight of the Laughing Tree, what we’ve recently learned from The World of Ice and Fire becomes quite significant:
King Aerys II was not a man to take any joy in mysteries, however. His Grace became convinced that the tree on the mystery knight’s shield was laughing at him […] he commanded his own knights to defeat the Knight of the Laughing Tree when the jousts resumed the next morning, so that he might be unmasked and his perfidy exposed for all to see. But the mystery knight vanished during the night, never to be seen again. This too the king took ill, certain that someone close to him had given warning to “this traitor who will not show his face.”
Given his evident paranoia, it seems very unlikely in the wake of the Tourney of Harrenhal that the Mad King would let go of his paranoia over the KotLT. Significantly, we are told by Jaime that Aerys’ favourite method of punishment was burning: “the King’s Justice” in the reign of Aerys II was fire. Since we’ve speculated that Rhaegar unmasked Lyanna, honouring her as QoLaB in a subtle nod to the courage and chivalry she showed standing up for Howland, it’s possible he thought he was protecting her from his father. But what if it wasn’t so subtle? As TWoIaF tells us:
…when the triumphant Prince of Dragonstone named Lyanna Stark, daughter of the Lord of Winterfell, the queen of love and beauty, placing a garland of blue roses in her lap with the tip of his lance, the lickspittle lords gathered around the king declared that further proof of his perfidy… [it] could only have been meant to win the allegiance of Winterfell to Prince Rhaegar’s cause, Symond Staunton suggested to the king.
What if Aerys was able to put all the pieces together? Or what if someone told him?
“Someone told…. Someone always tells.” -Areo Hotah, AFfC
Surely we can take a hint from Hotah’s words to Arianne Martell. If we assume for a moment that the Mad King did discover the identity of the KotLT, what would he do? Isn’t it likely that he would want to bring her to “justice”?
If Rhaegar had word from King’s Landing that his father intended to seize the daughter of Lord Rickard Stark, this could explain the suddenness of Rhaegar’s actions. The commonly accepted timeline, supported by information from TWoIaF, is that the “kidnapping” occurred shortly after Prince Aegon’s birth. We might also have an explanation of why Lord Rickard doesn’t appear to have demanded his daughter back when he arrived in King’s Landing. He may have been notified by Rhaegar and at that point was trying to prevent hostilities from breaking out and mitigate the actions of his eldest son, who apparently stormed into the Red Keep calling for Rhaegar to “come out and die.” If we assume Rhaegar didn’t have time to alert all of the Starks, we get a possible explanation for Brandon’s rash response as well.
It’s plain that Rhaegar would have known full well that such actions by his father could mean open war in the Seven Kingdoms. The obvious plotting and factions alluded to in TWoIaF would have made the political situation in Westeros a powder keg. When Rhaegar said to Jaime ahead of the Battle of the Trident: “When this battle’s done I mean to call a council. Changes will be made. I meant to do it long ago, but… it does no good to speak of roads not taken” he may have been tacitly admitting that had lost control of the reins of the plot, but would take them up in earnest again once he won the battle to come. In other words, Rhaegar may have been trying to stop his father’s downward spiral, spirit the girl to safety in secret and then deal with his father by calling a Great Council, but was unprepared for the violence of the reactions of both his father and the rebellious lords.
Most importantly, he might not have reckoned with Brandon Stark’s actions. By the time Rhaegar got Lyanna to safety and had time to hear the news from King’s Landing, it may have been too late. Brandon and Rickard could have been dead and his father calling for Ned’s and Robert’s heads. Aerys could have been furious with his son and his Kingsguards as well.
We learned something new about the actual “kidnapping” in TWoIaF:
With the coming of the new year, the crown prince had taken to the road with half a dozen of his closest friends and confidants, on a journey that would ultimately lead him back to the riverlands, not ten leagues from Harrenhal . . . where Rhaegar would once again come face-to-face with Lyanna Stark of Winterfell, and with her light a fire that would consume his house and kin and all those he loved—and half the realm besides.
Based on information from the books, it seems possible that Lyanna was on her way to Riverrun for her brother’s upcoming wedding. Lord Rickard appears to have been en route from Winterfell south, and Brandon had left Riverrun on “an errand” which may have been to meet his sister and return with her to the Tully home. Lyanna may well have been staying at Harrenhal, as many have suggested, and given the distance mentioned in TWoIaF we can consider a few possibilities as the fateful meeting place. The Isle of Faces, another locale that some speculate may have significance to the RLJ narrative, lies well within a ten league radius of Harrenhal. So too does any amount of “open road” or countryside. And while we can’t rule those possibilities out, I wonder about the Inn at the Crossroads.
Given the very rough scale of the published maps, at times conflicting descriptions from the text, and GRRM’s statement that “I did leave the scale out of the map on purpose… I didn’t want to get bogged down in that type of detail” (source) the Inn at the Crossroads seems close enough to Harrenhal to be considered within a ten league radius of Harrenhal. The crossroads is a symbol of choices, meetings and fateful decisions. And interestingly enough the Inn at the Crossroads is the site of another high profile kidnapping– Cat’s seizure of Tyrion. That fateful decision also led to open hostilities in Westeros, and in that case we had the onlookers in the Inn who rushed to tell the family of the kidnap victim what had happened. This could be the explanation for Brandon’s headlong rush to King’s Landing– hearing a story from witnesses of knights with swords seizing his sister and making off with her. It could have looked like a kidnapping, especially if we consider the possibility that Aerys’ soldiers were also present and there was confusion and some kind of fight. In fact, given that we now know that Rhaegar had six companions when he went into the Riverlands, but only Dayne and Whent disappeared into the South with him and Lyanna, it’s possible that Brandon actually pursued the wrong group of four back to King’s Landing. I’d suggest Ser Myles Mooton and Ser Richard Lonmouth as two of the six, since they are mentioned on more than one occasion as close companions of Rhaegar. Based upon their identification in TWoIaF as Rhaegar’s supporters, could Prince Lewyn Martell and Lord Jon Connington have been the other two? Aerys ultimately proved a lack of trust in both, which could have been cemented by their possible involvement with the situation.
There’s also the wording of that passage– coming “face-to-face” with someone and lighting a fire “with her” need not indicate an unwilling captor. In fact, there’s a good chance it indicates complicity. If Lyanna was being rescued from arrest by royal soldiers (think Gold Cloaks scouring the Riverlands for Gendry in ACoK) she probably would have gone willingly.
Taken altogether, the slim facts that we are given, combined with textual parallels and meta textual allusions, it seems a compelling possibility that Rhaegar rescued Lyanna from the the King’s Justice at the Inn at the Crossroads.
As discussed on Radio Westeros E05 RLJ – A Dragon, a Wolf and a Rose
I am really sold on this idea. Great theorising!
Any notions on why Rheagar remained in the south for so long? Do you think he only returned after the White Bull found him and told him the extent of the carnage?
Thanks! What I suspect is that, with the compressed timeline and outright hostility between Rhaegar and Aerys suggested by TWoIaF, he remained in the south until it became obvious his entire family and the Targaryen legacy were in jeopardy. If he only received word of the situation after the deaths of Brandon and Rickard Stark for instance, he may have played a “wait and see” game. Perhaps he hoped things would blow over, or that the rebellious lords would withdraw or be defeated. TWoIaF indicates that Myles Mooton and Jon Connington were among his principal supporters. I wonder if he had hoped they would prevail against Robert when they finally met. When the opposite happened at Stoney Sept, and Elia and the children were brought to KL, where it is strongly suggested they were hostages for Lewyn Martell’s allegiance, only then did he feel compelled to return to take up the command. His words to Jaime Lannister as he departed for the Trident to me indicate a man who has seen his well intentioned plans derailed and is resigned to dealing with the urgent matters at hand. I feel like all the hints are there that it’s going to turn out to be a tragedy of missed opportunities and miscommunication that the Rebellion turned out as it did.
I agree with so much of what is said here except that I don’t think Rhaegar was on his way to rescue Lyanna. Aerys himself according to the World book believed the Mystery Knight was Jaime so had no reason to be paranoid of the Starks for this reason.
There are only a few things that have ever been corroborated about the Reed’s tale by other POV’s and the World book. The main ones:
1) The tourney was likely held to cement an alliance with Rhaegar so that he became regent. For some unknown reason, this never happened. He ‘took another road’.
2) Ashara Dayne was seduced and became pregnant by either Brandon or Ned Stark according to Selmy.
3) When Rhaegar, completely out of character, presented the crown to Lyanna, Brandon Stark was furious even though it might be unusual but was no dishonor.
The most obvious interpretation of these facts to me is that Brandon Stark (wild boy that he is) seduced Ashara Dayne, Arthur Dayne’s sister, infuriating Rhaegar on behalf of his best friend. The Daynes are Northern Dornish, not Southern, and have the same culture as most of Westeros. Imagine Robb’s reaction if someone had dishonored Sansa.
So Rhaegar and possibly Dayne insist that Brandon marry Ashara. Only to do so he has to break off the Tully betrothal and that is unthinkable for his family. The Daynes would do nothing for the North. He might have tried to shove Ned at Ashara at the dance at that point but nothing doing. It might dawn on Rhaegar too at this point that a Stark-Tully marriage is too powerful and upsets the political balance. The alliance and purpose for the tourney beaks down.
Rhaegar presented those flowers to Lyanna as a threat to Brandon. You seduced and dishonored Ashara, I’ll do the same to your sister if you don’t toe the line.
A few months later. Ashara is definitely showing. Brandon is about to marry Catelyn. Brandon is threatened again but he gets the message too late (possibly because of some well-meaning negligence on Benjen’s part, hence Benjen’s guilt about Lyanna).
The weather is apparently atrocious but Rhaegar and Dayne with a few others decide to take a road trip north not to rescue or abduct Lyanna but to abduct or punish Brandon.
Brandon disappears on his errand, which could well have been a decision to marry Ashara instead and elope with her, or something else entirely.
Lyanna, on her way to the wedding, stays at the Crossroads Inn. . .
Rhaegar, Dayne & Co, on their way to intercept the wedding, stay at the Crossroads Inn. . .
^ This doesn’t make any sense. At all. Ashara sleeping with Brandon/Ned is neither stated nor confirmed; our only information is that she danced with Ned. This could not possibly have led to the pregnancy referred to by Barristan, the time frame is far more than 9 months. Honestly I think we need to be very skeptical about Barristan’s take on Ashara’s supposed dishonor, considering the vast difference in views on a lady’s honor held by the White Knight of the kingsguard versus your average Dornish woman. Dornish girls do not traditionally get seduced and dishonored, they sleep with whom they like and don’t generally catch any flak for it.
Rhaegar presenting the blue roses to Lyanna as a threat to Brandon totally discounts Lyanna as the KotLT, and also discounts Ned’s generally positive opinion of Rhaegar.
Lady Gwynhyfvar’s theory does make a ton of sense though. I would add that presumably, following the Lancelot analogy, Rhaegar was also in love with Lyanna–though probably he would not have acted on his feelings if the arrest/rescue situation had not transpired.
I have come to the same conclusion that Lyanna’s abduction was indeed a rescue from Aerys’ men.
I think there are a few things at play here, but Aerys demanding the arrest of Lyanna/ TKotLT sped up the time frame which in turn turned everything into a disaster that led to the Rebellion.
Because of Elia’s inability to have a third child, we know Rhaegar is looking for a new wife/ mother for his third child.
We also know that Rhaegar was trying to gain the High Lords to his side to take the Throne from Aerys.
So Rhaegar finds out about Aerys plans for Lyanna and has to make a quick plan.
So what if his plan would have been to marry Lyanna to gain The Starks/ Tullys/ Arryns to his side, AND so he could have a third child?
It is easier to ask forgiveness than permission, so he was hoping he can save Lyanna (gaining the Stark’s favor) and marry her (hopefully a Targaryen Princess Lyanna speaks to Rickard’s ambitions) and have his third child.
If he simply takes Lyanna to Riverrun/ Winterfell two things happen. One, there is no guarantee that the Starks trust him or back him, let alone let him marry Lyanna.
And Two, it does not prevent a full escalation between the Starks and the Crown. Aerys still will demand Lyanna from the Starks and they will not turn her over. That leads to war.
Rhaegar cant risk a full war against the Starks (and their allies), once that die is cast the chances of Rhaegar negotiating a peace (Aerys backers will never allow Rhaegar to gain peace and become the hero) or gaining the Starks backing against Aerys are completely lost.
So his haphazard plan, that he has little time to fully vet, is to find Lyanna before Aerys men do, marry her (Isle of Faces) and run off to the secret Tower of Joy to let things breath for a little bit.
Aerys cant demand Lyanna from the Starks if they dont have her.
Rhaegar hopes to contact the Starks and start to work on a Grand Council to take the Throne, but by the time they reach the Tower, Brandon and Rickard are dead and Aerys has called for Eddard and Robert’s heads as well.
Now everything is ruined, Rhaegar’s family is as at war with Lyanna’s and the entire realm blames Rhaegar for starting it.
So now they have to stay at the Tower, there is a good chance Aerys is pissed at him and especially Lyanna (whether she was the KotLT or not) she is a Stark and a valuable hostage.
They cant go to the Starks because he is a Targaryen and Robert will likely kill him on site.
The only thing not accounted for is what Rhaegar thought would happen with Robert when he ran off with Lyanna.
Maybe he though that he could smooth things over with him? When Rhaegar became King, arrange a fine marriage for him and give him concessions to apologize?
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This is my absolute favorite essay/theory about Rhaegar and Lyanna. Anytime I see someone hate on Rhaegar I send them this link!
Why thanks for that! Rhaegar hatred is an interesting phenomenon in the fandom, since Robert Baratheon is the *only* person who seems to hate him in the books… including Ned, as I discussed in my essay “For the First Time in Years” Glad to contribute to stemming that tide in any way I can 🙂
I find it baffling myself, but I have changed a few minds with your help!
When the news of the alleged “kidnapping” of a Stark reached the mad king, why didn’t he summon his son, Rhaegar?
Well… besides the eventual executions of Brandon & Rickard Stark et al, we don’t actually know what Aerys did and (in my opinion) there’s a pretty high probability he did summon Rhaegar 🙂
This is my first time reading about a specific rescue theory and it’s such a breath of fresh air from the usual polarizing theories of elopement vs abduction. I also want to take this time to thank you for the time you invest in “Radio of Westeros” and the blogs 🙂
I am curious as to your thought on this. Suppose this rescue theory is correct, why do you think R spent almost a year (not sure if that’s the correct timeline) at ToJ with L? Why do you think they laid together to equal J? I understand that there aren’t enough context in the books to draw any definitive conclusions, but I was just curious what you personally think/believe.
Thanks so much for commenting! As far as R+L go, we have the romantic element introduced in the KotLT and ToH stories, so there was clearly a spark there. I’ve never been fully convinced that Rhaegar sought Lyanna out in an effort to fulfill a prophecy, since we know that not long before they disappeared together he was declaring his newborn son Aegon “the Prince who was promised” Nor am I convinced of how much time he actually spent in the south. We know he returned shortly after the Battle at Stoney Sept which was fairly early in the conflict, as it was the first battle Stark and Tully took part in with Robert and was shortly after Ned married Cat. He then spent a year away from her in the war and its aftermath, so given the broad strokes of timeline my guess has always been they had a few months together before the news from KL and his father’s summons reached them. But these are only my best guesses and obviously as you say, without more evidence it’s very hard to draw definite conclusions.
her king would be robert =) (a.k.a. “promise me ned, if robert finds out, you know he’ll kill…)
I’ve never fully understood why the flowers presented to the Queen of Love and Beauty were blue roses. It seems like Rhaegar presenting them to Lyanna was a surprise to everyone, so was it a coincidence that the flowers happened to be both her favorite and a rare flower that seems only to grow in the glass garden at Winterfell? Would any lady crowned the QoLaB have received blue roses? Or is it just a good story and I should stop being so uptight about the stupid flowers?
In terms of the story, my head canon is that maybe they were her favorite flower *because* they were the prize for the QoLaB… in the same way any teenage girl might love something that her bf gave her. Otherwise, I can see where one might get a bit tangled up in the logistics 😉
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It feels so good to see someone actually pen this theories. Here I was thinking that I was the only one who got the essence of Rhaeger simply trying to save Lyanna from Aerys. Most of the people believe either Rhaeger abducted lyanna for fulfilling the prophecy or that they eloped for some kind of love affair. Both of these sound so absurd & out of character for both R & L that it just buggers me off. But why Rhaeger did not think of taking lyanna to Hoster tully or Rickard Stark or Jon Arryn who would have protected her from Aerys for their connections with the starks I dont understand. Instead she was taken to Dorne?? So Rhaeger/lyanna did not trust the stark-tully-Arryn alliance possibly. But why?
But then i believe they truly did fall in love later & birthed a child together.
One of the things I love the most about ASOIAF is that, even several years after the books have been released, a lot of fans (such as you) still manage to offer valuable insights and leave the rest of us mindblown. 😀
So, thank you so much for this post! ❤
Rhaegar is one of my favorite characters and I've always hated how much crap he gets from other fans, whose opinions are often based on the most well-known theories we have so far. Yours was the first theory that actually made sense to me, because the others presumed things about R&L that seemed quite out of character for both of them.
The only thing that I still don't understand is why Arthur, Oswell and Gerold didn't let Eddard see his own sister in the Tower of Joy, and what they meant when they talked about the vows they made (that began when they met Ned). What do you think of that?
PS.: English is not my first language, so I apologize if my post seems hard to understand (or something like that).
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