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History of Thrones: Rhaegar Targaryen’s Short Life and Lasting Legacy

History of Thrones: Rhaegar Targaryen’s Short Life and Lasting Legacy

In History of Thrones, we examine important historical events and people from the complex and controversial past of Westeros, ones that might tell us something about the story going forward on Game of Thrones. With the season now in full swing we’re continuing our deep dives by looking at what we know about characters and events that might be important to the story. However, if hearing theories makes you want to play a sad song on your harp, avoid going further because you might think of them as spoilers.

Part 1: The Tower of Joy and the Most Important Game of Thrones Theory
Part 2: The Long Night and Identifying Enemies and Heroes
Part 3: The Horn of Winter and Why It Could All Come Crashing Down
Part 4: Brynden Rivers, The Three-Eyed Raven of King’s Landing
Part 5: War of the Ninepenny Kings and How Enemies Become Allies
Part 6: The Gods and Religions of Westeros and Beyond
Part 7: Euron Greyjoy and the Iron Islands’ Kingsmoot
Part 8: Howland Reed, the Man Who Saved Ned Stark
Part 9: The Dosh Khaleen and the Stallion Who Mounts the World Prophecy
Part 10: The Children of the Forest and the White Walkers

Part 11: Valryian Steel and the Priceless Swords Forged in Magic
Part 12: Aerys II, The Mad King of Westeros


Rhaegar Targaryen was killed by Robert Baratheon in single combat during the Battle of the Trident at the ruby ford, so named for the jewels from Rhaegar’s armor that filled the river after he was struck by Robert’s warhammer.

While Rhaegar’s father—The Mad King Aerys II—still sat upon the Iron Throne a short while longer, Rhaegar’s death is a more apt mark for the end of the Targaryen dynasty in Westeros rather than when Jaime Lannister put his sword through Aerys II.

robert-versus-rhaegar_by_anakarniolskaRobert versus Rhaegar” by Ana Karniolska

Yet, for a man that didn’t live to see his 25th birthday—and who died almost two decades before the start of the story—Rhaegar’s presence in A Song of Ice and Fire is ubiquitous, and his legacy might be far more important than anyone could have imagined as he lay dead in the waters of the Trident. So who was the Prince of Dragonstone, the beloved heir to the Iron Throne that never took his royal seat, and why are memories of him never far from the people that knew him best? More importantly, why might he still help save the Seven Kingdoms from the army of the dead?

Rhaegar was born during the Tragedy of Summerhall, a horrible event at the Targaryen pleasure palace that claimed many lives, including those of King Aegon V and his Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, famed knight Ser Duncan the Tall. While details of what happened are scant, it seems as though King Aegon V was trying to hatch dragon eggs with wildfire when a massive fire broke out.

Being “born in grief” may have contributed to Rhaegar’s quiet, often sad demeanor, and he would visit the ruins of Summerhall with his harp—he was a very skilled musician—before returning, singing beautiful songs that would make women weep.

Rhaegars-harpRhaegar’s Harp” by Felicia Cano

As a child he read so much the members of the royal court would make jokes about him, but then one day, after coming across something in his readings (though no one knows what it was), he suddenly told the master-at-arms, “I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.” And he became an excellent warrior.

(Some think he read about the prophecy of “the prince that was promised,” and, believing it might be him, decided he must learn how to fight. Though he later thought his own son Aegon would fulfill the prophecy, so if that was the case initially he changed his mind later. It’s also worth noting he was also a believer in prophecy and seemed to act on making them come true.)

Tall, handsome, skilled at anything he did—even if he didn’t really care for it—Rhaegar was loved by both the common folk and those closest to him. He was knighted at age 17, and though not a frequent participant in tournaments, when he did enter them, he did very well.

He was married to princess Elia Martell of Dorne. They had two children together, a daughter Rhaenys and their son.

As The Mad King became more and more paranoid he even grew suspect of his Rhaegar, and feared his son was plotting against him to rule Westeros, a hope of those loyal to Rhaegar and a worry shared by those closest to Aerys II. (There is some evidence that had Rhaegar triumphed in Robert’s Rebellion that he would have tried to have his unstable father removed from the Iron Throne, but not that he ever planned to kill or harm him in any way.)

rhaegarThe Dragon Prince” by Silvenger

Despite his nobility and the regard he was held in by most, it was Rhaegar’s own dishonorable actions starting at the famous (or even better infamous) Tourney at Harrenhall in 280 (or 281) A.C. that led to both his death and the end of the Targaryen dynasty in 283 A.C.

Rhaegar won the jousting contest, beating an impressive lineup of competitors, and then proceeded to do something truly shocking. He did not name his own wife Elia as the queen of love and beauty, but instead he bestowed that title—and a crown of blue roses—on Lyanna Stark, then betrothed to Robert Baratheon. Ned Stark would describe it as the day “when all the smiles died.”

breaking_glass_by_mary_chan-d4nnhy2Breaking Glass” by Martina Cecilia

There are many theories on why Rhaegar did this, but we’ll save that for another day. What really sent the realm into civil war was when, a year later, Rhaegar “abducted” Lyanna Stark. That would result in Aerys II killing Ned’s father and older brother, Jon Arryn of the Vale refusing to turn over Ned and Robert to the Iron Throne, which then triggered the rebellion, which would cost Rhaegar his life that day at the ruby ford.

It’s said that when Rhaegar died it was Lyanna’s name he spoke.

Even after his death, Rhaegar cared and protected Lyanna, because he’d sent the three best members of the Kingsguard—including his best friend and one of the greatest knights the Seven Kingdoms has ever known, Ser Arthur Dayne the Sword of the Morning—to protect her at the Tower of Joy. And make no mistake, this was no small sacrifice: to protect Lyanna with such an impressive trio it meant taking away sworn, loyal, and skilled guards from beside him in the war, away from his father, and away from his actual wife and two children. All of them suffered violent deaths that may have been avoided with those three guards not off protecting Lyanna.

So why would a great man, loved and respected, dishonor his wife and family to take up with a Northern woman? And why would he then protect her at the cost of everyone else?

The answer is simple: love. Beautiful Lyanna Stark, known as The She Wolf for her courage and temper, wasn’t abducted; she willingly went off with the gorgeous, skilled crown prince. And then she got pregnant.

Rhaegar-LyannaSay Goodbye to the Last Dragon” by denkata5698

Or at least that’s what the most important theory in Game of Thrones history says.

It’s believed Rhaegar sent those three Kingsguard members to protect the woman he loved and their unborn child, who really would fulfill the prophecy of the prince that was promised, because he would be born of ice (Stark) and fire (Targaryen).

As she was dying Lyanna Stark said to her brother, “Promise me, Ned.” Ned Stark never revealed what that promise was, but Lyanna would have known the danger any son of Rhaegar Targaryen would live under—if the child was allowed to live at all—so it’s thought she asked her brother to protect her boy.

A boy the world would come to know as Jon Snow.

There are those that think Rhaegar truly was the prince that was promised, and that the day Robert struck him down he cursed the realm to eternal darkness, but it just might be that Ned Stark’s bastard is really the son of The Last Dragon, and his is a song of ice and fire.

Rhaegar’s life, full of so much promise and hope, was short, and his love for Lyanna Stark resulted in his death and the deaths of thousands of others, but the child he left behind might not just extend his bloodline, his son might just save everyone.

What do you think? Was Rhaegar a kidnapper and dishonorable? Or a man who fell in love with a woman? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

Featured Image: “Rhaegar” by Riyanara

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