In the first book/season of ASoIaF/GoT, Robert wanted to say in his will that Ned would rule temporarily until Joffrey comes of age. I haven't read the books so I'm going to assume it's not so different, but:

Why, upon Robert's death, did Ned Stark/Littlefinger/Renly/Varys try to immediately challenge the legitimacy of Joffrey's claim to the throne while Joffrey is still a minor ?

I remember Ned talking to Renly and Littlefinger as if there's so much urgency to replace Joffrey. Why didn't they just pretend to be loyal to Joffrey but secretly undermine him while being small council members and then eventually replace him with Renly/Stannis/Daenerys/

Jon Stark Targaryen

Or someone who's not Joffrey, Tommen or Myrcella?

I think:

Ned: felt urgency because he already confronted Cersei before Robert was injured/finding out Robert was injured. What if he didn't yet confront Cersei? Any other reasons for urgency?

Littlefinger: Secret undermining was kind of what Littlefinger wanted to do, but I recall he was going to be loyal to Joffrey conditional on not having problems and didn't suggest anything like 'Let's not do anything drastic. Let's be smart about this: inform certain people to gain their cooperation, pander to Cersei et al for now, then strike' or anything that suggested he would never accept Joffrey as king.

Anyway, I guess he was mainly following Ned wanting to arrest Cersei and Joffrey, but I don't see why Littlefinger would see that there is urgency for such unless Ned told Littlefinger about having confronted Cersei?

Renly: Not quite sure. I am fairly certain he did not even know about Joffrey's being illegitimate in the first book/season and that in the second book he did not even believe it. I guess he was distrustful of Cersei (eg in recognising Ned as Regent) who was distrustful of Renly?

Is that right for Ned and Littlefinger? What of Renly?

  • Spoiler tags around the replacement monarchs would perhaps be nice.
    – TLP
    Dec 13, 2015 at 17:49
  • @TLP Edited. Why though? Just because of JST which is a widely known and widely supported fan hypothesis that is so far unconfirmed in canon? I think there are a lot of other parts here that are more spoilerous
    – BCLC
    Dec 13, 2015 at 17:59
  • I don't remember that this is ever stated how old do you have to be to rule - he was old enough to marry so I guess also old enough to rule undisputed. Mehmed II was officially a ruling king since he was 12
    – Yasskier
    Dec 13, 2015 at 19:26
  • @Yasskier I was thinking something like that. Kind of like how Tommen is king despite age. Still, as Joffrey was not yet of age, Ned would be regent. I don't see why Ned and co had to antagonise Joffrey, Tommen and Cersei except possibly for Ned having already confronted Cersei
    – BCLC
    Dec 13, 2015 at 19:32
  • @BCLC Some people here might be following the tv-show and not familiar with theories. Also, as you recall, Cersei tore up the letter from Robert, and was going to send Ned back home. With what he knew, he would probably not live long. And Ned was honourable, and could not stomach the pretence. Plus, he thought he had the gold cloaks on his side.
    – TLP
    Dec 13, 2015 at 19:52

2 Answers 2


Because once Joffrey took the throne, even with a regent, it would have legitimised him - and even if Ned remained regent (questionable that he would have even without confronting Cersei, as the Lannisters would have wanted their own as regent), Joffrey would have ended up with enough support that it would take a civil war to depose him. Ned was trying to preempt all that - plus, his honour drove him to prevent a bastard from outside of the Baratheon line from taking the crown.

The crowning of Joffrey would have been a problem for Littlefinger and Renly, too. Particularly Renly, who also had to contend with the fact that he had to install himself before Stannis arrives to make the stronger claim. And it is not clear that Renly had no idea of Joffrey's lineage - I think it is almost certain that Littlefinger was conspiring with Renly, as well as many others.

I also think you're mistaken in "Littlefinger following Ned". It is very clear that Littlefinger is playing many sides against each other through the books - and he is, in fact, almost urging Ned Stark into action.

While Littlefinger doesn't have much to lose by having Joffrey on the throne, he is constantly seeking to improve his position. He is hoping to gain from whoever is seated the throne - it seems that he is trying to get Ned to work with Renly. When Ned fails, Littlefinger simply turns back to the Lannisters and betrays Ned, as he sees that as his best opportunity for advancement.

There actually is more than one motivation here - Renly may not be aware of Joffrey's true ancestry. Just before Roberts, he is trying to prevent the Lannisters from gaining the regency and hoping to get Ned to support him in this - whether Joffrey is on the throne or not is immaterial to this. As long as Joffrey is underage, the regent will be the "true" ruler of the kingdoms (as we see later on, the real powers are not with the regent, but with people like the Boltons and Varys and Tywin Lannister).

However, when Renly can't get Ned to support his plan, he leaves King's Landing. When Robb and Stannis declare war on Joffrey and the Lannisters and declare their own crowns, Renly decides to pitch in his own claim for the crown.

  • Thanks HorusKol. 1 I think that just about takes care of Ned + hypothetically not confronting Cersei 2 What about LF? Just because he was following Ned? 3 Renly?
    – BCLC
    Dec 13, 2015 at 22:38
  • In what way is Joffrey becoming king a problem for Littlefinger? I think that claim needs specifics in order to back it up. From what I can recall Littlefinger seems to do well out of the whole scenario, in the end. Your point about him playing many sides is apt - but I think that discredits the point about Joffrey being a problem. Littlefinger is Machiavellian enough that he can come out well from almost any scenario here. You could say the opposite which is that Joffrey as king is actually what he wants. He does betray Ned after all. Dec 14, 2015 at 12:35
  • 1
    I think Littlefinger would have preferred Ned and Renly to work together - when that didn't happen, he choose supporting the Lannisters as his best opportunity.
    – HorusKol
    Dec 14, 2015 at 22:44
  • Edited question. 1 'it is not clear that Renly had no idea of Joffrey's lineage - I think it is almost certain that Littlefinger was conspiring with Renly, as well as many others.' -- How do you know? Why was Renly conspiring w/ LF if not because Joffrey is illegitimate? What if Renly did not know about Joffrey? 2 '"Littlefinger following Ned"' --> I meant that LF was instructed by Ned to recruit the goldcloaks/city watch...
    – BCLC
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:35
  • ...Is there anything to say that LF might have done something urgent even if Ned didn't have urgency to remove Joffrey?
    – BCLC
    Dec 15, 2015 at 20:36

Short answer

Because Ned was not willing to provide legitimacy to Joffrey's rule by swearing oath of fealty to him when he knew that real heir was Stannis Baratheon. He had already confronted Cersei about it and rejected her offers so he knew Cersei would never forget it. In any case, he was not going to forgive the people who murdered his men, Jon Arryn and attempted murder of his son. You can read the detailed answer below.

Ned's confrontation With Cersei

As you noted, Ned had already confronted Cersei where he told her that he knew about her secret and he was going to tell Robert. Of course at that time, Ned had no idea that Bobby Baratheon (Robert) will get killed before Ned ever gets a chance to tell him.

From AGOT:

“I know the truth Jon Arryn died for,” he told her.

“Do you?” The queen watched his face, wary as a cat. “Is that why you called me here, Lord Stark? To pose me riddles? Or is it your intent to seize me, as your wife seized my brother?”

“If you truly believed that, you would never have come.” Ned touched her cheek gently. “Has he done this before?”

Then Cersei openly admits her incestuous relationship with Jaime and murder attempt on Bran :

“My son Bran...”

To her credit, Cersei did not look away. “He saw us. You love your children, do you not?” Robert had asked him the very same question, the morning of the melee.

He gave her the same answer. “With all my heart.”

“No less do I love mine.”

Ned thought, if it came to that, the life of some child I did not know, against Robb and Sansa and Arya and Bran and Rickon, what would I do? Even more so, what would Catelyn do, if it were Jon’s life, against the children of her body? He did not know. He prayed he never would.

“All three are Jaime’s,” he said. It was not a question.

“Thank the gods.”

Ned's refusal to Cersei's offer

Cersei already offered Ned her affections and role as Hand during Joff's regency but Ned refused that, being a honorable man:

“You know what I must do.”

“Must?” She put her hand on his good leg, just above the knee. “A true man does what he will, not what he must.” Her fingers brushed lightly against his thigh, the gentlest of promises. “The realm needs a strong Hand. Joff will not come of age for years. No one wants war again, least of all me.”

Her hand touched his face, his hair. “If friends can turn to enemies, enemies can become friends. Your wife is a thousand leagues away, and my brother has fled. Be kind to me, Ned. I swear to you, you shall never regret it.”

“Did you make the same offer to Jon Arryn?”

She slapped him.

So he made it clear to Cersei that he won't support Joff's ascension to the throne, no matter what. Had he acted like he had changed his views, Cersei would never have bought it so there was no point.

Ned's views about alternate candidates

Ned had no intention of supporting anyone except Stannis, be it Joffrey or Renly or Daenerys. The reasons for each claimant were:

  1. Joffrey was a bastard born out of Jaime and Cersei's incestuous union.
  2. Renly was Robert's younger brother and Stannis' claim came before his.
  3. Daenerys was a Targaryen and Eddard had no intention to bring the dragons back. He was fully committed to cause of House Baratheon.
  4. Jon Snow is most likely a bastard, no matter what his parentage is because Rhaegar was already married before "abducting" Lyanna and there is no indication that the two married before conceiving Jon. No bastard can ever hold a landed title. In any case, as mentioned before, Eddard had no wish to restore Dragon Kings given that he never even considered Daenerys or Viserys.

He made it clear to little finger:

“No,” Ned admitted. “I know the secret Jon Arryn was murdered to protect. Robert will leave no trueborn son behind him. Joffrey and Tommen are Jaime Lannister’s bastards, born of his incestuous union with the queen.”

Littlefinger lifted an eyebrow. “Shocking,” he said in a tone that suggested he was not shocked at all. “The girl as well? No doubt. So when the king dies...” “The throne by rights passes to Lord Stannis, the elder of Robert’s two brothers.”

Lord Petyr stroked his pointed beard as he considered the matter. “So it would seem. Unless...”

“Unless, my lord? There is no seeming to this. Stannis is the heir. Nothing can change that.”

“Stannis cannot take the throne without your help. If you’re wise, you’ll make certain Joffrey succeeds.”

Ned gave him a stony stare. “Have you no shred of honor?”

Ned's refusal to forgive "crimes" of Lannisters

Ned refused Littlefinger's suggestion to support Joffrey, citing that Lannisters had tried to kill his son and murdered his sworn men and Jon Arryn. Being a sentimental man, he was not going to forget that.

“Your price.” Ned’s voice was ice. “Lord Baelish, what you suggest is treason.”

“Only if we lose.”

“You forget,” Ned told him. “You forget Jon Arryn. You forget Jory Cassel. And you forget this.” He drew the dagger and laid it on the table between them; a length of dragonbone and Valyrian steel, as sharp as the difference between right and wrong, between true and false, between life and death. “They sent a man to cut my son’s throat, Lord Baelish.”

Ned's unwillingness to swear fealty to Joffrey

Ned knew that if Joffrey was allowed to take the throne, his first act would be demand of renewed oaths of fealty from his Lords. Ned was never going to give it to him because that would legitimize Joffrey's claim and make Ned honor bound to obey his commands. This was in fact the first act of Joff:

“I command the council to make all the necessary arrangements for my coronation,” the boy proclaimed. “I wish to be crowned within the fortnight. Today I shall accept oaths of fealty from my loyal councillors.”

If Ned had given his oath of fealty, he would have no moral ground to renounce it later. Ned was nothing if not a moral man. Even Cersei knew that if Eddard swore oath of fealty once, he would not be that much of a threat as she could then say that Eddard Stark was lying and breaking his oath to the King afterwards if Eddard tried to rouse people for Stannis. She was willing to offer Eddard a safe retreat to Winterfell if he did so:

We have a new king now,” Cersei Lannister replied. “Lord Eddard, when last we spoke, you gave me some counsel. Allow me to return the courtesy. Bend the knee, my lord. Bend the knee and swear fealty to my son, and we shall allow you to step down as Hand and live out your days in the grey waste you call home.”

Littlefinger's game

Littlefinger knew his best interests would be served by ascension of Joffrey. Which is why he made the following proposal:

Ned gave him a stony stare. “Have you no shred of honor?”

“Oh, a shred, surely,” Littlefinger replied negligently. “Hear me out. Stannis is no friend of yours, nor of mine. Even his brothers can scarcely stomach him. The man is iron, hard and unyielding. He’ll give us a new Hand and a new council, for a certainty. No doubt he’ll thank you for handing him the crown, but he won’t love you for it. And his ascent will mean war. Stannis cannot rest easy on the throne until Cersei and her bastards are dead. Do you think Lord Tywin will sit idly while his daughter’s head is measured for a spike? Casterly Rock will rise, and not alone. Robert found it in him to pardon men who served King Aerys, so long as they did him fealty. Stannis is less forgiving. He will not have forgotten the siege of Storm’s End, and the Lords Tyrell and Redwyne dare not. Every man who fought beneath the dragon banner or rose with Balon Greyjoy will have good cause to fear. Seat Stannis on the Iron Throne and I promise you, the realm will bleed.

“Now look at the other side of the coin. Joffrey is but twelve, and Robert gave you the regency, my lord. You are the Hand of the King and Protector of the Realm. The power is yours, Lord Stark. All you need do is reach out and take it. Make your peace with the Lannisters. Release the Imp. Wed Joffrey to your Sansa. Wed your younger girl to Prince Tommen, and your heir to Myrcella. It will be four years before Joffrey comes of age. By then he will look to you as a second father, and if not, well... four years is a good long while, my lord. Long enough to dispose of Lord Stannis. Then, should Joffrey prove troublesome, we can reveal his little secret and put Lord Renly on the throne.”

“We?” Ned repeated.

Littlefinger gave a shrug. “You’ll need someone to share your burdens. I assure you, my price would be modest.”

Littlefinger lied about the war however because he was working from day one to start a war between great houses of Westeros to create a power vacuum which could then be filled easily by House Baelish.

We know it was Petyr Baelish and Lysa who had murdered Jon Arryn. It was Petyr who sowed seeds of doubts between houses Lannister, Stark and Tully by asking Lysa to write a letter, blaming the Lannisters for her husband's murder. Had he not done that, Eddard would never have started investigation of Jon Arryn's murder and Robert's bastards, thus he would never have found out about Cersei's secret. For all we know, Eddard would not have even accepted the post of hand as he did so only when Catelyn convinced him that Robert would be in danger from Lannisters and Jon Arryn's death would go unpunished.

But other than that he knew that his best interests lied with Joffrey because:

  1. Stannis Baratheon openly disliked Baelish and would have fired him as soon as he got his throne.
  2. Joffrey was a minor so his regency would open a lot of options for his regency council.
  3. Joff could be won over by Eddard Stark if he wanted to, opening more options for Baelish as close associate of Eddard.
  4. Renly was more useful as compared to Stannis so if Joff turned out to be "difficult", they could use Lord Renly to supplant him and reap more benefits as "Renly's loyalists"


Ned was in a haste to supplant Joffrey's reign as soon as he could because:

  1. Ned had already confronted Cersei that he knew the truth of Joff's parentage. Cersei was never going to forget that and anyone who knew that truth would be perceived as a threat by Cersei, making her do whatever she could to remove them.
  2. Ned had already refused Cersei's offers in return for Joff's favor. Had he later pretended to give his fealty to Joffrey, Cersei would not have bought it. She may let Eddard Stark slip away for the moment, but sooner or later she would come for him.
  3. Ned was an honorable man and he could not forget that Lannisters were behind murder of Jon Arryn, Men of Winterfell, Sherrer, Mummerford and assassination attempt on Bran. He wanted to bring them to justice.
  4. Had Ned sworn oath of fealty to Joff, that would have legitimized his rule. That would have also made Ned honor bound to obey the Lannister bastard. Ned was not going to let it happen.
  • "Jon Snow is most likely a bastard, no matter what his parentage is because Rhaegar was already married before "abducting" Lyanna and there is no indication that the two married before conceiving Jon." - Targaryen's can and do engage in polygamy, so whether or not Rhaegar was already married is irrelevant. I'd strongly suspect that Ned knew full well whether Rhaegar and Lyanna were married (and we now know they definitely were), so from Ned's perspective, Jon Snow is definitely the 100% legitimate heir. Presumably the only reason not to support him is his promise to Lyanna (to hide him). May 7, 2019 at 0:39
  • @ShadowRanger We know nothing of the sort. That's show heresy. The question is tagged with both books and the show and I have remained restricted to the books.
    – Aegon
    May 7, 2019 at 4:28
  • True: I missed that it was asking about the books as well. Personally haven't seen the show past season 2, but I've had most of the major bits spoiled. The point remains that assuming R+L=J is true in the books, and they were married, Ned would almost certainly be in a position to know, so either the books would have to differ, or his reasoning couldn't be based on illegitimacy. I think, based purely on book sources, his motivations would be based on the presumed promise to Lyanna, with all other considerations taking a backseat. May 7, 2019 at 13:02
  • @ShadowRanger Nah, while R+L=J is virtually confirmed, We do not know if they indeed were married. Did Rhaegar practice polygamy? Possible like Maegor and Aegon I but they had dragons, Rhaegar did not. Did he set aside Elia? Unlikely, he had already consummated the marriage multiple times. So did he really marry Lyanna? Can't say for sure. But given what we do know about marriages, the odds of Jon being a bastard are extremely high.
    – Aegon
    May 8, 2019 at 4:38
  • "there is no indication that the two married before conceiving Jon." Except the presence of 3 Kingsguard at the Tower of Joy with seemingly no royals to protect (except Queen Lyanna and Prince Jon?)
    – Theoriok
    Jun 13, 2019 at 12:36

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