What is the story behind Rhaegar and Lyanna?

I remember reading in one of the books that Rhaegar won the tourney at Harrenhal and named Lyanna Stark the Queen of Love and Beauty. And there's also a mention elsewhere where Robert Baratheon says "if Rhaegar hadn't laid eyes on Lyanna, she would have been alive".

Was Rhaegar responsible for Lyanna's death/suffering directly or indirectly?

  • 3
    If you've read the books, perhaps you will recall the story of The Knight of the Laughing Tree, which Jojen and Meera Reed told to Bran? That's the story of that tournament, and there are many clues and things half said there which are interesting to read.
    – TLP
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 12:58
  • Yes, I remember bits of it. But they don't tell the whole story. I wanted to find out what other clues there are, scattered in the books. Thanks for the link!
    – Ash
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 13:00

4 Answers 4


Clues about Rhaegar and Lyanna, together, or by themselves:

Rhaegar is (presumably) mentioned in Daenerys' perspective, in the House of the Undying prophecies (also here) like this:

Rubies flew like drops of blood from the chest of a dying prince, and he sank to his knees in the water and with his last breath murmured a woman's name.

Presumably this woman is Lyanna. Also noted in the prophecies is:

A blue flower grew from a chink in a wall of ice, and filled the air with sweetness.

Which may be a reference to Jon (at the Wall), the presumed love child of Lyanna (blue roses) and Rhaegar (link to Daenerys).

And of course, Daenerys sees Rhaegar as one of the visions in one of the rooms in the House of the Undying:

The man had her brother’s hair, but he was taller, and his eyes were a dark indigo rather than lilac. "Aegon," he said to a woman nursing a newborn babe in a great wooden bed. "What better name for a king?"

"Will you make a song for him?" the woman asked.

"He has a song," the man replied. "He is the prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire." He looked up when he said it and his eyes met Dany, and it seemed as if he saw her standing there beyond the door. "There must be one more," he said, though whether he was speaking to her or the woman in bed she could not say. "The dragon has three heads."

The woman would be his wife, Elia of Dorne. Presumably, the "third head" he is talking about is Lyanna.

The prohecy Rhaegar is referring to there is the one foretold about the Prince that was Promised, which was retold to Rhaegar's great grandfather Aegon V Targaryen (aka Egg from the Dunk & Egg novels) by the Ghost of High Heart (the little dwarf ghost lady that Arya meets when she travels with Lord Beric's gang). She foretold that The Prince that was Promised should come from the line of the mad king Aerys II, which is something that Rhaegar took to heart. Aegon V's daughter is also coincidentally Robert Baratheon's grandmother.

The propecy of the Ghost of High Heart eventually lead to the Tragedy at Summerhall, the Targaryen summer residence which was the seat of Maekar, the father of Aegon V (Egg). The tragedy was presumably the result of an experiment to hatch dragons by Aegon V. Prince Rhaegar was born on the day of that tragedy, and may be the "dragon" that was hatched. Rhaegar was often preoccupied with this tragedy, spending time alone in Summerhall and writing sad songs.

In the story of the Knight of the Laughing Tree, we see Rhaegar at the tournament at Harrenhal, where he crowns Lyanna the Queen of love and beauty. A theory about this event is that Lyanna is the mystery knight, and that Rhaegar unmasked her, therefore thinking of her as a great warrior maiden (which she by accounts was). Which may be why he crowned her, and why he felt she would be a suitable "third head" in his prophecies.

All in all, Rhaegar was a melancholy man that was preoccupied with prophecies. It does not seem likely that he would abduct and rape a woman, like Robert claimed.

Also, of course, we have the promise that Ned Stark made to Lyanna (Promise me, Ned -- AGOT), when she was in her death bed. What could it possibly have been, that Ned would obsess over it during his time in King's Landing and in the dungeons? A good guess would be something to keep secret from Robert, because Robert swore to "kill all the dragonspawn [he] could get [his] hands on", such as a son of Rhaegar: Jon.

  • I totally forgot about Daenerys' visions about Rhaegar. Thanks TLP!
    – Ash
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:27
  • @SystemDown Thank you. Aswath: You're welcome.
    – TLP
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 18:29
  • Huh, I'd never put it together than Jon might be Rhaegar's son. Interesting hypothesis and lots of evidence to back it up. Great post. Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 20:12
  • @AndrewBartel This is not really meant to show the clues to Jon's parentage, there are better expositions on that topic. Google "R+L=J" and you will find a myriad of threads on that.
    – TLP
    Commented Dec 21, 2013 at 23:53
  • Isn't it more likely that one of the 2 babies was the "blue flower"
    – TruthOf42
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 4:44

Here be spoilers:

Known Facts:
At the time of the famed tourney of Harrenhall, Lyanna Stark was betrothed to Ned's best friend Lord Robert Baratheon, while Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was married to Princess Elia of Dorne. Rhaegar eventually won the tourney and the right to name the tourney's queen of love and beauty. Tradition required him to name his wife to the title, but instead he gave the title to Lyanna Stark causing a great scandal. Sometime later Lyanna is spirited away by Rhaegar, an event that would eventually spark the Baratheon/Stark rebellion against the Targaryens.

Robert Baratheon's version of the story:
Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna repeatedly, and imprisoned her in a tower called the Tower of Joy. She eventually died from wounds sustained during her captivity.

Rumors and hints to the real story:
- It is heavily hinted by several characters that Rhaegar and Lyanna shared a mutual attraction, and that the two of them eventually eloped.
- Being a Targaryen, it was not unheard of for Rhaegar to take a second wife. This hints that the two may have married in secret.
- The Tower of Joy was not Lyanna's prison but a protected sanctuary, as evidenced by having no less than three of the seven Kingsguard manning it.
- Ned describes his sister dying in a bed of blood. Since no violence was inflicted upon her this hints at death from birth complications.
- A popular theory states that the child Lyanna gave birth to was Jon Snow. Lyanna extracted a promise from he brother to protect the child, so Ned claimed him as his own bastard (besmirching his own honor) to hide his identity.

  • If Rhaegar would have had a legitimate male child, would he stand to inherit the throne? Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 14:30
  • Not while Robert Baratheon could still wield a war-hammer... but he would have a strong claim now, yes. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 14:51
  • 1
    @MartinEpsz - Any child of Rhaegar would definitely have a claim to the Iron Throne. In fact, this hypothetical (or not) son's claim would be stronger than Daenerys's. Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 17:12

Massive spoilers here, fairly obviously.

The Rhaegar/Lyanna situation was the cause of Robert's Rebellion and the overthrow of the Targaryens, so it was a pretty major event. The Baratheon/Stark version of events is that Rhaegar abducted and raped Lyanna, and she died of her injuries before Ned could get to the Tower of Joy to rescue her after Rhaegar's death at the Battle of the Trident. However, reading between the lines, it seems more likely that Lyanna (a wild child) eloped with Rhaegar of her own free will, possibly married him in secret (there's precedent for Targaryens being allowed more than one spouse), and died giving birth to his child, who is Jon Snow.

  • So who was Rhaegar already married to, when Lyanna eloped with him?
    – Ash
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 7:54
  • 1
    Princess Elia of Dorne. Her death at the hands of Robert's forces is the reason why the Martells of Dorne are now hatching their own plots for the future of Westeros.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Dec 19, 2013 at 8:16
  • @MikeScott The Mountain killed her. He was sworn to Tywin, so technically she was killed by Lannister forces. Commented Oct 23, 2016 at 20:37
  • @MatthewStevenson But the Lannisters had joined Robert's side (very late), so they were part of Robert's forces, just like the Starks, Arryns and Tullys were.
    – Mike Scott
    Commented Oct 24, 2016 at 5:35

The is how the events unfolded:

  1. Rhaegar weds Princess Elia Martell some time before 280 AC.
  2. Princess Elia gives birth to two of his Children; Princess Rhaenys (born 280 AC) and Prince Aegon (born 281-282 AC). Maesters inform the Prince that Elia won't be able to bear any more children due to her poor health.
  3. Rhaegar tells Elia that the Dragon must have three heads i.e. he must have one more child to fulfil an ancient prophecy. (Somewhere around the time of Aegon's birth)
  4. Tourney of Harrenhal: Rhaegar and Lyanna meet each other. It is a possibility that they met after King Aerys ordered Prince Rhaegar to find the mysterious Knight of the Laughing Tree, because there is a very good theory that the Knight of the Laughing Tree was actually Lyanna in disguise. Rhaegar wins the Tourney and stuns the attendants by crowning Lyanna as Queen of Love and Beauty instead of his lady wife, given that he was married and Lyanna was betrothed to the powerful Stormlord, Robert Baratheon. This happened in 281 AC.
  5. "Abduction" of Lyanna: In the next year the Starks travel to Riverrun for the marriage of Brandon Stark to Catelyn Tully. Rhaegar allegedly abducts Lyanna on the way. The year was 282 AC.
  6. Robert's Rebellion: Brandon goes to King's Landing to "kill" Prince Rhaegar. King Aerys killed both Brandon and his father Lord Rickard Stark. Rhaegar was not present. Then Aerys sends a command to Jon Arryn to kill his wards Robert Baratheon and Eddard Stark. Jon Arryn instead called his banners and thus Robert's Rebellion started. It began in 282 AC and continued till 283 AC.

There is nothing holding a married man from abducting another woman or taking a lover except morality. It appears that Lyanna had in fact eloped with Rhaegar out of her free will rather than getting married to Robert Baratheon. She was not happy with her betrothal to Robert because she feared that Robert would never restrain himself to one bed (So instead she ran away with a man who shared his bed with his legal wife, see how smart she was?).

We do not know about the marital status of Rhaegar and Lyanna yet as per the books.

In the show it is confirmed that Rhaegar got his Dornish marriage annulled and married Lyanna instead.

Rhaegar was obsessed with the Prophecy of The Prince that was Promised, even though his motives were noble i.e. saving mankind. First he thought it was him so he became a warrior as TPTWP has to be a warrior. Then he thought it was his son Aegon. But as Princess Elia was unable to give him a third child and he was convinced that "The Dragon must have three heads", he started looking elsewhere. Although, it is curious that he never considered his younger brother Viserys one head of the Dragon, nor did he count himself.

He acted recklessly when he abducted Lyanna and therefore tore the realm apart, paving ground for Robert's Rebellion. Rhaegar can be, however, considered no more responsible for Lyanna's suffering than Tywin could be considered responsible for Joanna's suffering and death. Lyanna died in childbirth, after all. She could have died birthing Robert's children if Rhaegar had never seen her or fell in love with her.

So in conclusion, while Rhaegar can be considered directly responsible for the Rebellion and doom of his house, he cannot be considered directly responsible for Lyanna's fate.

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