Warning: Spoilers and speculation for Game of Thrones below
After years of waiting, Game of Thrones fans finally know the truth about Jon Snow. He’s no Snow at all, but instead a trueborn Targaryen prince. Born of a marriage between Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lady Lyanna Stark, Jon’s birth name was Aegon Targaryen. Little Aegon was born into a world on fire. His uncle, Ned Stark, had joined Robert Baratheon’s rebellion against the Mad King. Robert was pushing his agenda forward on a lie: that Robert’s finance, Lyanna, had been kidnapped and raped by Rhaegar. On the strength of that false belief, Robert Baratheon changed the world of Westeros forever, hunting down every Targaryen he could fine and killing Rhaegar on the field of battle. Robert even went so far as to have Aegon/Jon’s half-siblings, the children of Rhaegar and Elia, killed. No wonder Lyanna made Ned promise her that he would keep Jon’s true lineage a secret.
Game of Thrones had been throwing out some serious breadcrumbs ahead of this reveal for years. But it wasn’t until Gilly found a book in Oldtown that the series disclosed how Jon could be Rhaegar’s true heir, and not simply a bastard by another name. In the private journal of High Septon Maynard, Gilly reads the head of the Faith issued an annulment to Prince Rhaegar and Princess Elia, making Aegon/Jon the true heir to the Iron Throne. But, considering everything the audience knows both about the history of the Targaryen royals and Rhaegar’s relationship with Elia Martell, issuing an annulment seems strange. Why wouldn’t Rhaegar simply take another wife?
Perhaps he did. HBO just released an image from High Septon Maynard’s journal on their Game of Thrones page, including the entry that speaks to Rhaegar and Lyanna’s marriage. Due to the ravages of time (and the props department), part of the entry is obscured beyond all decipherability.
However, using Photoshop helps highlight some of the text. But no matter how much the diary entry was enhanced, no mention of the word “issuing” appears.
Due to unforeseen events and [blank], I have to [blank blank] from jotting down my records for [blank blank blank blank] annulment to Prince Rhaegar [blank blank blank] marriage to Elia Martell [blank blank blank] marriage to Lyanna Stark in Dorne. [Blank] forbid me to tell anyone of the ceremony so I shall [blank]
Let’s start with the reveal that Maynard was forbidden by someone to speak of the ceremony of Rhaegar and Lyanna. If Rhaegar was truly setting aside his first wife, this amount of subterfuge makes no sense. From a political standpoint, Dorne would have been furious to have their princess cast aside for Lady Lyanna, but as long as Rheagar didn’t disinherit their children, the fallout would’ve been less dramatic than Robert’s Rebellion. Heirs have always been important to royalty, and the “prince that was promised” prophecy holds weight in Westeros: If Elia couldn’t give birth to another child, Rhaegar could’ve have easily argued he needed a fertile wife to produce the third head of the dragon. A legal marriage between Rhaegar and Lyanna would’ve stopped Robert’s jealousy from spilling over into warfare, and a huge wedding would’ve legitimized the union to the smallfolk.
Why go through all this cloak and dagger nonsense then? What if Rhaegar didn’t annul his first marriage? The diary entry above says “annulment to Prince Rhaegar” instead of “annulment for Prince Rhaegar.” I posit the High Septon was leaving a record that he suggested annulment to the royal heir and Rhaegar rejected the notion out of hand. Remember, the Faith of the Seven in Westeros highly frowns on men taking multiple wives. This principle was one of the factors in the original uprising of the Faith Militant. If Rhaegar had convinced the High Septon of the need for three heirs, of course the Faith would advocate for dissolving the first marriage before the second could occur. If Rhaegar refused, the High Septon would then be in a bind: go through with the marriage to Lyanna Stark despite it being an abomination in the eyes of the Seven or disobey a direct command from his gods-appointed ruler. A secret wedding seems a good compromise.
This would also give a better explanation as to why the couple was in Dorne. It is well established that Rhaegar left the Tower of Joy at the call of his father — the Mad King — to fight against Robert’s Rebellion. Rhaegar would die at Robert’s hand in the Battle of the Trident. Elia and her children were imprisoned in the Red Keep immediately prior the battle as the Mad King feared Dorne had turned on the Iron Throne. What is less known is Elia’s whereabouts prior to the Battle of the Trident. Was she languishing in King’s Landing while her husband entertained his new lover? Or did she travel to Dorne as well, giving her seal of approval (or at least her seal of not disapproval) to the union? Martin has said over the years that Rhaegar and Elia had a “complex” relationship, which could be seen as leaving a metaphorical crack in the door for Rhaegar to have two wives. And, to be honest, hiding a bigamous royal marriage for the sake of a prophecy makes a lot more sense than secretly annulling a first marriage.