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Inspired by this question:

In “Clash of Kings”, what is the basis for Lord Stannis' claim to the throne?

In the first book, it was mentioned that since Robert didn't have any legitimate children, the right to the Iron Throne goes to his eldest brother, right? That means Lord Stannis would be next to rule.

But why did Lord Renly declare himself King? Did he not know that that means he is going against his brother?

Did he have any basis for that claim?

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Renly considered himself a better king than Stannis, and was prepared to kill Stannis. No love lost between the brothers. He made the claim because he was well connected and had a big army. – TLP Feb 23 '14 at 23:28
He had a big gun. The rules on who is to be king after the previous king dies are mostly for show... – Jakob Feb 24 '14 at 8:12
They discuss this topic exactly in both the book and TV series – Mooing Duck Apr 14 '14 at 23:20
Renly was being a jerk, he always did have a stick up his butt. Well... maybe not a stick. – Omegacron Mar 26 '15 at 15:06
up vote 23 down vote accepted

Renly was second in line to the throne, behind Stannis, although Renly may not have known about Joffrey's illegitimacy. However Stannis was not loved by the other Lords or the people, whereas Renly was. For this Renly felt that, encouraged by Loras Tyrell and the Tyrell household, that he would make a better king than Stannis.

Why the oldest son, and not the best-fitted? The crown will suit me, as it never suited Robert and would not suit Stannis.

-Renly to Catelyn Stark

Additionally Robert had made Renly the Lord of Storm's End, which is the seat of House Baratheon, and should have gone to Stannis after Roberted ascended to the throne. This afforded him great support, and enabled him to gather an army of 100,000 from across The Reach and The Stormlands.

Renly also showed that he didn't feel that the normal rules of succession were too important. He made it clear that it was strength and power that won the throne. He once said that the Targaryens didn't have any right to Westeros, they conquered it; Robert didn't have any right to the throne, he took it. Clearly he felt that he would make a better king, had the army to take it, and therefore deserved the crown.

Furthermore, Cersei considered Robert's brothers to be her enemies. Both Renly and Stannis knew this, so Renly would not necessarily have felt safe in a land ruled by Joffrey and Cersei.

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Actually I think Renly never knew about Joffrey being illegitimate when he claimed the throne. He only learned that after Stannis sent out his letter. For all he knew, he was betraying his brother's son, as well as his own brother. Renly was 4th in line after Joffrey, Tommen and Stannis. – TLP Feb 24 '14 at 8:57
Good point, I've added that bit. Although wouldn't that make him 5th? Joffrey, Tommen, Myrcella, Stannis, Renly? – Moogle Feb 24 '14 at 9:31
That's a good point. Not sure how daughters are counted by their medieval rules. But I suppose they are counted after the sons. – TLP Feb 24 '14 at 9:35
Robert Baratheon established the precedent of rebellion against the laws of inheritance -- in order to become King, he killed Aegon the Mad, Rhaegar and Rhaegar's children, and exiled Viserys and Daenerys, all of whom had a better claim than he did. Renly was only following in his brother's footsteps. (Historically speaking, this kind of thing was very common.) – Royal Canadian Bandit Feb 24 '14 at 9:42
@TLP Westeros seems to use "Male-preference cognatic primogeniture", meaning male siblings before female siblings, but direct descendants before brothers before uncles etc. Meaning the sucession after Robert would be Joffrey, Tommen, Myrcella, Stannis, Shirren (Stannis' daughter), then Renly. After that it gets messy, since Robert had no aunts or uncles AFAIK. – KutuluMike Feb 25 '14 at 2:38

This exact issue is addressed very clearly in the books. Renly tells Catelyn exactly what the basis for his claim is (A Clash of Kings, p.319):

"It would seem that you are the one who has forgotten Stannis," Catelyn said, more sharply than she'd intended.

"His claim, you mean?" Renly laughed. "Let us be blunt, my lady. Stannis would make an appalling king. Nor is he like to become one. Men respect Stannis, even fear him, but precious few have ever loved him."

"He is still your elder brother. If either of you can be said to have a claim to the Iron Throne, it must be Lord Stannis."

Renly shrugged. "Tell me, what right did my brother Robert ever have to the Iron Throne?" He did not wait for an answer. "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." He swept a hand across the campfires that burned from horizon to horizon. "Well, there is my claim, as good as Robert's ever was."

Moogle's answer is great, but nothing beats a canon quote! :-D

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Not sure why this was downvoted...take a +1 as compensation. – Liesmith Jul 5 '15 at 22:15

He just believed that he was the more rightful king, for he reasoned that Stannis was a invalid and no one would want him for a king. So, if that's the case, that Stannis is invalid, then he would be the one next in line.

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He did know that he was going against his brother.
Renly felt that he had more support from the lords of the realm and therefore declared himself as king.

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