TL;DR Yes, Noble Women in Westeros can and have defied wishes of the heads of their dynasties, when it comes to marriage. No one can be forced to marry someone without their consent. But in practice, there are numerous instances of people forcing other people to marry someone they do not desire.
The first thing that we have to consider is the Westerosi culture.
Westeros is based on medieval Europe where noble marriages were mostly, if not always, arranged for the political needs of the family. Women are not given equal status as men anywhere except Dorne. We see its manifestation in the succession practices of Westeros. Males always come before females everywhere except Dorne where they inherit on an equal basis primarily because of the Rhoynar influence on the Dornish people. And even in Dorne, marriage pacts are made by the patriarchs/matriarchs, not the women concerned.
Patriarchs apparently consider it their right to make a match for members of their house, regardless to gender. The chief example would be Blackfish: his brother Lord Hoster Tully considered it his legal right to make a match for him, even against his wishes.
"I told him … commanded him. Marry! I was his lord. He knows. My
right, to make his match. A good match. A Redwyne. Old House. Sweet
girl, pretty … freckles … Bethany, yes. Poor child. Still waiting.
Yes. Still …"
"Bethany Redwyne wed Lord Rowan years ago," Catelyn reminded him. "She
has three children by him."
AGOT - Catelyn XI
Another Westerosi law is that if someone is Ward of the Crown, the Crown has the right to make their match, if the head of the Ward's dynasty is attainted.
"No," Sansa blurted. "No."
"Yes. You are a ward of the crown. The king stands in your father's
place, since your brother is an attainted traitor. That means he has
every right to dispose of your hand. You are to marry my brother
ASOS - Sansa III
Marriages are done in religious ceremonies in Westeros and are governed by religious laws.
In the Faith of Seven, the most prevalent faith in Westeros, there is no compulsion in marriage. No one can be pronounced married if they refuse to say the vows.
I will tell my aunt that I don't want to marry Robert. Not even the
High Septon himself could declare a woman married if she refused to
say the vows.
ASOS - Sansa VII
In the faith of the Old Gods as well, it appears that there can be no marriage unless the couple says the vows out of their own will. Moreover, vows sworn at sword-point are not binding.
"The monster has tied us a thorny knot," the old knight told Maester
Luwin. "Like it or no, Lady Hornwood was his wife. He made her say the
vows before both septon and heart tree, and bedded her that very night
before witnesses. She signed a will naming him as heir and fixed her
seal to it."
"Vows made at sword point are not valid," the maester argued.
"Roose Bolton may not agree. Not with land at issue." Ser Rodrik
ACOK - Bran V
However, as noted by Ser Rodrik, as long as one party says the vow, people can always object that since vows were sworn, the wedding was binding. There can always be a debate on whether or not the vows were sworn under duress.
So it appears that men and women can withhold their consent and refuse to get married if they want to.
While it's all good and dandy in religion and laws, in practice these things do not matter.
We know people can force others into marrying against their wishes e.g. Sansa and Tyrion and Tywin's rejected proposal to Wed Cersei to Willas Tyrell. Similarly, Lysa Tully was forced to wed Jon Arryn (Although she was pressurized by Lord Hoster, she consented under the impression that Jon would die soon enough, given his advanced age) and Jon Arryn was forced to wed her. Lady Ermisande, an infant, was married to Tyrek Lannister and no one cared if she couldn't say the vows.
So Spake Martin
I have found a relevant Citadel Post. A fan asked GRRM for an explanation of Hoster Tully's declaration that it was his right as Blackfish's Lord to make his match. Does that mean Lords/Patriarchs can force anyone under their rule, regardless to their gender, to marry where they desire? GRRM's answer was that the concerned people can refuse to say the vows but they can expect dire consequences from their patriarch, which are presumably exile, disinheritance and other forms of punishment.
Question: "I was his lord...My right, to make his match" says Lord Hoster about Brynden. Does it mean that the lord can force anyone
under his rule to marry whomever he wishes? Can the people in question
legally break the commitments made for them by the lord (i.e.
promises, betrothals) and what penalty can the lord visit on them for
this? What if they just refuse to exchange the marriage vows, etc?
Answer: They can indeed refuse to take the vows, as the Blackfish did, but there are often severe consequences to this. The lord is
certainly expected to arrange the matches for his own children and
unmarried younger siblings. He does not necessarily arrange marriages
for his vassal lords or household knights... but they would be wise to
consult with him and respect his feelings. It would not be prudent for
a vassal to marry one of his liege lord's enemies, for instance.
Precedent of women refusing to marry someone
Alysanne Targaryen would be the first example when she rejected the match made by her mother and step-father. For context, King Jaehaerys had become King after a destructive war between Crown and the Faith during reigns of his father and uncle. The war was sparked by the issue of Targaryen custom of incest, given how it was seen as an affront to the gods by the Faith. Since the King was 14, his mother Alyssa Velaryon served as Queen Regent while her new husband Lord Rogar Baratheon served as the Hand and Lord Protector. Soon enough, The regency council set to find suitable matches for the King and his younger sister. While the council was aware that the young princelings would choose each other if given the choice, they had no intention to wed them given how much blood and grief had the custom of incest already caused. Notoriously ambitious, Lord Rogar proposed his brother Orryn Baratheon as groom for Princess Alysanne and the council assented (Choosing the King's bride proved more contentious and no consensus was found). Alysanne got the word of the council's plans, probably by her uncle Lord Daemon Velaryon, who may have resented the Baratheons for overreaching themselves and trying to replace Velaryons as the second House of the realm. Alysanne knew protests and pleading with her mother won't change anything so she immediately went to the King and urged him to pre-empt the council. The King shared her feelings and ordered his Kingsguards to sail for Dragonstone in secrecy right away. The King and his sister took wing for Dragonstone the same day without telling anyone. Once there, they were wed by Dragonstone's septon. Jaehaerys however decided not to consummate the wedding given Alysanne's young age. When the Lord Hand and Queen Regent came pursuing to Dragonstone a week later, they were horrified to find what had happened. Once Lord Hand realised that the wedding was not consummated, he tried to confine the King and his Queen to separate chambers until the wedding could be annulled. Kingsguards however threatened that if anyone laid hands on their King or Queen, he'd die. The Queen regent proclaimed she had seen enough blood and now they must all live with what had happened. King agreed and warned her that she should not assume that she'd be able to unmake their marriage. Alysanne concurred, to quote her:
“Never,” his bride affirmed. “Send me to the ends of the earth and wed me to the King of Mossovy or the Lord of the Grey Waste, Silverwing will always bring me back to Jaehaerys.”
Fire and Blood
Then we have the case of Princess Daella Targaryen, daughter to the very same King Jaehaerys I and Queen Alysanne. She rejected a number of suitors suggested by her mother for variety of reasons:
- The dashing grandson to Lord of Driftmark, Corlys Velaryon was rejected because the Princess believed he liked his ships better than her. He eventually married Daella's niece Rhaenys.
- Denys Swann, son of the Lord of Stonehelm and Gerold Templeton, son of the Knight of Ninestars were rejected because the Princess decided she hated them.
- Simon Staunton, son of Lord of Rook's Rest was rejected because he tried to make her drink wine (She was 14).
- Ellard Crane, son of the Lord of Red Lake was rejected because he kissed her without her leave.
- Lord Blackwood's son Royce Blackwood was a close one. The Princess got along with him famously. Lord Blackwood and the Crown began discussing wedding dates and arrangements. It all fell apart when the Princess refused to marry him because she'd only just learnt that the Blackwoods kept the Old Gods and she didn't want to go to hell by marrying a heathen.
The King despaired of her and flatly told the Queen to wed her quickly because he no longer cared who she chose as long as she picked someone, otherwise they'd have to send her to the Silent Sisters (Queen suggested that she should be made a Septa, the King rejected that because the Princess was not very gifted intellectually). Of course we must note that the King and the Queen didn't force her to marry until she rejected Blackwood boy. The Queen offered her a final choice of three great Lords which included the Queen's half-brother Lord Boremund Baratheon, Ser Tymond Lannister (Heir to Casterly Rock) and Lord Rodrik Arryn. The Princess chose Rodrik Arryn who already had four children and was close to her father's age.
Another unsuccessful example would be Princess Rhaenyra. Her father wanted her to marry Laenor Velaryon. The princess refused given Laenor's reputation for preferring the company of men. The King couldn't force her so instead he pleaded, reasoned, begged her to consent. The Princess wouldn't budge. It wasn't until Viserys threatened to disinherit her that the Princess finally gave her consent. While unsuccessful, it shows us that a woman can refuse the match made by the head of her dynasty. The best the head can do is threaten her with consequences. For someone prepared to face the consequences, it might not matter at all.
King and council had neglected to consult the princess, however, and Rhaenyra proved to be very much her father’s daughter, with her own
notions about whom she wished to wed. The princess knew much and
more about Laenor Velaryon and had no wish to be his bride. “My half
brothers would be more to his taste,” she told the king (the princess
always took care to refer to Queen Alicent’s sons as half brothers,
never as brothers). And though His Grace reasoned with her, pleaded
with her, shouted at her, and called her an ungrateful daughter, no
words of his could budge her … until the king brought up the
question of succession. What a king had done, a king could undo,
Viserys pointed out. She would wed as he commanded, or he would make
her half brother Aegon his heir in place of her. At this the
princess’s will gave way.
The Rogue Prince
There's also the case of Baela Targaryen. She was the heir of her brother King Aegon III during his minority. Since House Targaryen was nearly extinguished except King Aegon and his sisters (his brother Prince Viserys was missing and presumed dead), the regents wanted to secure the royal line in case some ill befell the King. As the King was a minor, it had to be his sisters who would have to wed and give birth to more Targaryens.
Unlike her courteous and gentle twin sister Rhaena, Baela was wild and daring. As she continued to consort with comely hedge knights, mummers, singers and other unsuitable people, the Regency council feared that she might dishonour her brother and the Crown if she weren't wed soon. A number of great Lords or their heirs were discussed and rejected by the council because they feared that a strong man might usurp the rule from Baela if she ever sat the throne. Then Thaddeus Rowan's name was suggested. Lord Rowan was well liked, respected and of a high and noble bloodline, he was the perfect match due to his content and amiable nature. Except that he was forty years older than the Princess and already had children (Two of whom she claimed to have bedded - which may have been a lie because she often liked to provoke the regents), nor was he physically attractive.
Baela said as much and the Hand confined her to her rooms under guard and she was to stay there until the regents decided what to do. She went to the room as ordered but within a day, she escaped dressed as a washerwoman and before the Regents even noticed, she was half-way to Driftmark where her cousin the powerful Lord Alyn Velaryon ruled. 15 days later she was married to Lord Alyn defying the wishes of the regents who claimed to speak for her brother (The King was neither informed nor consulted on the matter).
Some on the council wished to appeal to the High Septon to annul the marriage but the Hand personally accepted it and issued a public statement that the marriage was arranged by the Council with the consent of the King. He believed the Princess' choice was sound, Lord Alyn was after-all of impeccable Valyrian blood, popular, a great lord in his own right and a celebrated admiral at such a young age. The scandal was not the marriage, but rather the fact that Baela had eloped so that was what they must hide.
So while the council was happy for the young couple as far as public image was concerned, Baela's daring cost her her place as the heir apparent. The council quietly agreed that Baela must be passed over and Rhaena should be considered the heir. Baela's defiance however produced some positive results too, when considering Rhaena's prospective husband, the council included her in their sessions. Charming and courteous as usual Rhaena reassured the council that she would wed whoever the council deemed suitable but the Hand still sought her own thoughts on the matter. Rhaena immediately confessed she liked Ser Corwyn Corbray. As a second son of a not that great house, he was not ideal but the regents accepted Rhaena's choice and had them married (In part because Corwyn's elder brother was an important member of the council). One could say that Baela pulled a Lyanna (Or rather Lyanna pulled a Baela), but Baela's marriage proved to be much happier than Lyanna's.
Another xample would be Princess Shaera Targaryen. She was betrothed to Lord Luthor Tyrell but it was her brother Jaehaerys whom she desired. She knew their father, Aegon V, who disliked the Targaryen custom of incest, would never approve of it. So instead of taking it up with the King, the Princess and the Prince eloped. In doing so, Shaera ended her betrothal to Lord Tyrell and her brother's betrothal to Celia Tully. She didn't refuse as such, as she knew the futility of such refusals, she instead took matters into her own hands.
Prince Jaehaerys was of a more traditional bent, for from a very early age he had loved his sister Shaera and dreamed of wedding her
in the old Targaryen fashion. Once aware of his desires, King Aegon
and Queen Betha had done their best to separate the two, yet somehow
distance only seemed to inflame the mutual passion of this prince and
Prince Jaehaerys was not as forceful as his brother, but when Duncan
defied his father to follow his own heart, and the king and court
yielded to his desire, the younger prince did not fail to take note.
In 240 AC, a year after Prince Duncan's marriage, Prince Jaehaerys
and Princess Shaera each eluded their guardians and were secretly
married. Jaehaerys was fifteen and Shaera fourteen at the time of
their wedding. By the time the king and queen learned what had
happened, the marriage had already been consummated. Aegon felt he had
no choice but to accept it.
TWOIAF - Targaryen Kings:
Olenna Redwyne was betrothed to Prince Daeron Targaryen. There are however conflicting accounts of how the betrothal ended. Olenna Tyrell says she put an end to it herself.
Her grandmother snorted. "Gallant, yes, and charming, and very clean.
He knew how to dress and he knew how to smile and he knew how to
bathe, and somehow he got the notion that this made him fit to be
king. The Baratheons have always had some queer notions, to be sure.
It comes from their Targaryen blood, I should think." She sniffed.
"They tried to marry me to a Targaryen once, but I soon put an end
ASOS - Sansa I
She doesn't mention how she put an end to it. Did she refuse explicitly? Or did she ask the prince to call off the wedding?
In the TV show, she said that she had actually seduced Lord Tyrell who was betrothed to her sister, who then asked to marry her instead.
I wasn't originally meant to marry your grandfather Luthor, you know. He was engaged to my sister, your great-aunt Viola.
I was to be given to some Targaryen or other. Marrying a Targaryen was all the rage back then. But the moment I saw my intended, with
his twitchy little ferret's face and ludicrous silver hair, I knew he
So the evening before Luthor was to propose to my sister, I got lost
on my way back from my embroidery lesson and happened upon his
chamber. How absentminded of me.
The following morning, Luthor never made it down the stairs to
propose to my sister 'cause the boy couldn't bloody walk.
And once he could, the only thing he wanted was what I'd given him
the night before. I was good. I was very, very good.
Season 4 -
But that is in contrast with the books as Luthor Tyrell himself was betrothed to the above mentioned Princess Shaera Targaryen, sister to Prince Daeron. But in any case, Olenna didn't get married to Daeron Targaryen and got married to Luthor Tyrell instead.
The World of Ice and Fire however suggests that it was Prince Daeron who called off the wedding as he was homosexual and had no interest in women.
Corrupted by the example of his brothers, even King Aegon's youngest
son Prince Daeron vexed his father in like manner. Though betrothed
to Lady Olenna Redwyne of the Arbor when both of them were nine,
Prince Daeron repudiated the match in 246 AC, when he was
eighteen...though in his case, there appears to have been no other
woman, for Daeron remained unwed throughout the remainder of his
short life. A born soldier who rejoiced in tournament and battle, he
preferred the companionship of Ser Jeremy Norridge
TWOIAF - Targaryen Kings: Aegon V
It is possible that Olenna and Daeron worked together to call off their wedding. Daeron grew up in Highgarden after all, where he was sent as a squire. Olenna Redwyne's father was a chief vassal of Highgarden so she would have had ample opportunities of meeting her betrothed and plotting to call off the wedding.
In more recent events, Princess Arianne Martell rejected all the suitors her father Prince Doran Martell presented her. She wanted a young handsome man of powerful background instead of old men but her father always presented her with Old men. When Renly Baratheon came to Dorne, Arianne tried her best to seduce him, in hopes of him asking for her hand. King's handsome youngest brother however seemed only bemused, rather than aroused by her antics (Arianne blames herself for the failure, thinking it was her young age which failed her. We know it was rather Renly's sexual orientation.) Then Hoster Tully sent proposal of his heir Ser Edmure Tully, Princess Arianne lit a candle in sept to thank the gods but her father promptly refused the offer. She got so desperate that she was willing to accept even Willas Tyrell, the crippled heir to Highgarden. She went as far as fleeing towards Highgarden without her father's leave to meet Willas, she was however intercepted by her uncle Prince Oberyn on the way and brought back to Sunspear. Her father was unwilling to let any young, handsome highborn man be her suitor and the princess was unwilling to accept any of the old men her Father presented her. Her father even presented her with Lord Walder Frey, it wasn't until Walder married elsewhere that she was truly safe from him. She rejected them all. But we know why her father behaved as he did. That's another story. What matters is, she rejected them.
Prince Doran did not mean for her to wed a Dornishman.
Arianne had accepted that as well. One year King Robert's brother
came to visit and she did her best to seduce him, but she was half a
girl and Lord Renly seemed more bemused than inflamed by her
overtures. Later, when Hoster Tully asked her to come to Riverrun
and meet his heir, she lit candles to the Maid in thanks, but Prince
Doran had declined the invitation. The princess might even have
considered Willas Tyrell, crippled leg and all, but her father refused
to send her to Highgarden to meet him. She tried to go despite him,
with Tyene's help . . . but Prince Oberyn caught them at Vaith and
brought them back.
That same year, Prince Doran tried to betroth her to Ben Beesbury, a
minor lordling who was eighty if he was a day, and as blind as he was
toothless. Beesbury died a few years later. That gave her some small
comfort in her present pass; she could not be forced to marry him if
he was dead. And the Lord of the Crossing had wed again, so she was
safe from him as well. Elden Estermont is still alive and unwed,
though. Lord Rosby and Lord Grandison as well. Grandison was called
the Greybeard, but by the time she'd met him his beard had gone snow
white. At the welcoming feast, he had gone to sleep between the fish
course and the meat. Drey called that apt, since his sigil was a
sleeping lion. Garin challenged her to see if she could tie a knot in
his beard without waking him, but Arianne refrained. Grandison had
seemed a pleasant fellow, less querulous than Estermont and more
robust than Rosby. She would never marry him, however. Not even if
Hotah stands behind me with his axe.
AFFC - The Princess in the Tower
In theory Lyanna's consent mattered. She could refuse to say the vows and make her own destiny if she was brave enough which, as it happened, she was. But Lord Rickard could force Lyanna to marry Robert in practice.