Jon Snow’s parentage remains a mystery, as Eddard rarely spoke of the matter. However, some speculations were made throughout the book and the series.
Wylla, the wet nurse of Starfall, the ancestral seat of the House Dayne, is the only name mentioned in the series as potential mother of Jon Snow. According to King Robert Baratheon, he recalls Ned bedding a wench during the Rebellion. On their way down the Kingsroad from Winterfell, he tries to recall her name, calling her, “Your bastard’s mother.” Ned says her name was Wylla, but refuses to talk more about it.
During her time with the Brotherhood without Banners, Ary Stark meets Edric Dayne, who tells her a story about Jon Snow. Allegedly the two are milk-brothers, meaning they shared a wet nurse at Starfall, i.e. Wylla. However, this doesn’t prove she is Jon Snow’s mother, albeit it doesn’t refutes it either.
Ashara Dayne was the sister of Ser Arthur Dayne, the member of Kingsguard and a close friend of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. She was present at the Tourney of Harrenhal, where she danced with several men, including Eddard Stark after his brother Brandon Stark spoke with her. It was believed she was with them both during the tourney. According to Ser Barristan Selmy, who was deeply in love with her, one of the Starks bedded her and got her with child. It was also believed by many that she was pregnant before she killed herself upon receiving the news of her brother’s death. It has been speculated that the cause of her suicide was the grief at learning that her lover had been responsible for the death of her brother. If this is true than Eddard Stark was her lover considering Ser Arthur Dayne died from his sword at the Tower of Joy.
However, Selmy’s account is ambiguous. In it, it was grief at the death of her child, perhaps grief at the loss of the man who “dishonored” her or shame of the “dishonoring” that led to Ashara’s suicide. Furthermore, Ser Barristan believes the bastard child of Lady Dayne was a stillborn girl. Also, Selmy thinks that he could have prevented Ashara’s suicide if she had known of his feelings for her; that he thinks would have led her to seek his aid instead of a Stark’s aid. Lady Catelyn Stark also heard the rumor of Ashara Dayne, but Eddard refused to give her an answer even forbidding her to ever mention the question of Jon’s mother again: “He is Stark and that is all that matters” he said.
Speaking of Starks.
Many readers, myself included, believe that Eddard Stark is actually not Jon Snow’s father. Instead he is believed to be the son of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, Eddard’s sister. This would then make Eddard Stark Jon Snow’s uncle. In order to make sense out of this I have to take you a bit back into the past.
Tourney of Harrenhal and the Knight of the Laughing Tree
The Knight of the Laughing Tree (KotLT) was a mystery knight who fought at the Tourney of Harrenhal defending the honor of Howland Reed. Most of what is known about the KotLT comes from the story Meera Reed told Bran Stark on their journey to the Wall. Jojen Reed expects Bran to have heard this tale “a hundred times” from his father, but Bran denies any knowledge of the tale. According to Meera, a crannogman – most likely her father, Howland Reed – attended the Tourney at Harrenhal. Among the people who also attended the tourney were: King Aerys (the Mad King), his firstborn son Prince Rhaegar Targaryen (also known as the Dragon Prince), members of Kingsguard – Lord Gerold Hightower, Jon Darry, Arhtur Dayne, Lewyn Martel, Barristan Selmy and Oswell Whent. Aerys attended the Tourney only because Varys warned him that his son Rhaegar arranged the tournament as a pretext to meet with several high lords to discuss removing his father as the king. Among the Lords presented were: Robert Baratheon and Mace Tyrell. Tywin Lannister was most notably absent due to the quarrel he earlier had with King Aerys, presumably regarding Jaime. Among women present were Elia Martel, the wife of Rhaegar Targaryen, dozen of her ladies and Ashara Dayne. The House Whent – in the honor of Lord Whent’s daughter and also to show off his house’s power – hosted the Tourney. A daughter of the house reigned as Queen of Love and Beauty and her title had to be defended against the challengers. At this occasion 15-year old Jaime Lannister was also to be raised into the Kingsguard, as the youngest knight to ever join their ranks. As for the House Stark, for the reasons unknown Lord Rickard Stark was not one of the guests, however, all four of his children – Brandon, Eddard, Benjen and Lyanna – attended.
The crannogman, Howland Reed, found himself bullied by three squires, none older than fifteen. He had already “grown to manhood”, however they were all larger than him in size. His attacker repeatedly mocked him, shoved him and kicked him until Lyanna Stark (the she-wolf) came into his aid screaming that Reed is her father’s bannerman. She beat off his attackers with a tourney sword. Reed was wounded so Lyanna took him into the Stark tent where she cleaned his wounds and introduced him to her brothers. She insisted that he should attend the tourney feast as he was also a highborn and had as much right to attend as anyone else. That night Howland Reed ate and drank at the Stark table. During the dinner Prince Rhaegar Targaryen performed a beautiful and sad song that made Lyanna weep. When Benjen teased her for crying, she poured wine over his head, much like Arya Stark who was always said to resemble her aunt. Still during the feast, both Reed and Lyanna recognized the three bullying squires. Benjen offered to find Reed a horse and armor in order to avenge himself however Reed was hesitant because he was not used to riding horses and he didn’t want to make fool of himself bringing shame to his people in the process. That night he slept in Eddard’s tent praying to the Old Gods.
During the first two days all three knights won a place among the champions. Late on the afternoon of the second day the KotLT also appeared on the list. He was “short of stature”. His armor was made up of mismatched armor bits and pieces and appeared as ill fitting on him. His shield was ornate with “a white weirwood with a laughing red face”. He challenged and defeated all three of the previously mentioned knights. Winning custody over their horses and armor. None of them were particularly popular, so the small folk cheered for his victory. When the defeated trio sought to ransom back their former property, the Knight declared his terms. That they ought to teach their squires honor. His voice sounded “booming” through his helm. The Knight attracted unwanted attention. Robert Baratheon and Richard Lonmouth were determined to unmask him, while Aerys II was certain that the man was his enemy. By the next morning, the Knight had disappeared. An angry Aerys sent Rhaegar to search for the vanished Knight. But only the shield of the Knight could be found, abandoned in a tree.
Meera’s story gives couple of clues about the potential identity of the mystery knight:
(1) The knight must be someone who knew about Howland Reed’s experience with the squires as he was motivated to avenge him
(2) His height was below the average, otherwise it wouldn’t even be mentioned
(3) The booming voice was most likely not the regular voice of the Knight
(4) The weirwood image implies the connection to the Old Gods, North and Winterfell
(5) He was competent enough at the joust to defeat three knights who had made it through the first day of the tourney, but as none of them were particularly well known, he need not have been unusually skilled
(6) The mismatched armor implies two things, the Knight either had no armor or he had an armor with tell-tale markings on it that would give his identity away
(7) The identity for some reason had to be kept a secret
(8) Meera and Jojen were surprised Bran has never heard the story, which suggests that the Knight might be either Stark or someone close to the family
My guess, as well as the guess of some other fans, is that the Knight of the Laughing Tree was Lyanna Stark, headstrong, willful, courageous, hot-tempered and extremely skilled rider, as well as fighter who was often said to be “half horse herself”. Sure, one of her brothers could be the Mystery Knight as well, however, her story fits best, which brings me to the second point.
Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was in the end proclaimed champion and as a champion he had to choose and crown the Queen of Love and Beauty with blue winter roses. To everyone’s shock he chose Lyanna Stark over his own wife?! This was scandalous and outrageous for two reasons, first, Prince Rhaegar Targaryen was, as I mentioned earlier, already married to Elia Dorne, second, Lyanna Stark was betrothed to Lord Robert Baratheon. This “little” indiscretion would eventually culminate in Rhaegar’s abduction of Lyanna Stark about a year later, which started the Robert’s Rebellion and brought an end to Targaryen rule. So, why did he do it?
My guess is that Rhaegar uncovered the true identity of the Knight of the Laughing Tree and was so impressed when he realized it was the girl, instead of a trained knight he expected, that he decided to lie about the KotLT’s identity and whereabouts to King Aerys, claiming the KotLT got away and all that was left behind was the shield. This would also explain how the two met, as they had no known previous interactions. Crowning her, instead of his wife, would only then seem logical because the knight had to flee before the Tourney was over. So in a way, this could’ve been Rhaegar’s chance of honoring her and what she has done for Howland Reed. Also, it is highly probable that the couple fell in love during the Tourney and it is possible that Rhaegar found out Lyanna was extremely fond of blue winter roses (the crown was made of these), which grew only at Winterfell.
Robert’s Rebellion, also known as the War of the Usurper was a rebellion against the House Targaryen instigated by Eddard Stark, Jon Arryn and Robert Baratheon, for whom it is named. The conflict started when Rhaegar Targaryen kidnapped Lyanna Stark, who was betrothed to Robert Baratheon, sometime after the Tourney at Harranehal. Despite the pleading of Lord Hoster Tully for patience, her brother Brandon Stark rode into the King’s Landing. He went into the Red Keep shouting for Prince Rhaegar to come out and die. King Aerys arrested him and his companions for conspiring to murder his son. King Aerys then ordered the fathers of the sons he imprisoned to come to the capitol to answer the charges made against them. Lord Rickard Stark, who demanded a trial by combat was roasted alive in his armor in the Throne room, as his son Brandon was put in a strangulation device and was forced to watch, strangling himself slowly in the process of trying to reach the sword to free himself and save his father. Five hundred men stood and watched. Sixteen-year-old Jaime Lannister was the only person who raised the voice but was soon silenced by Ser Gerold Hightower who reminded him they are sworn to protect the king and not judge him. Soon after, King Aerys demanded the heads of Eddard Stark and Robert Baratheon from their guardian Jon Arryn. However, rather than comply, he raised his bannerman in the revolt against these unjust acts. After all the rebels were united, it was decided they would stand behind Robert Baratheon, whose grandmother had been the daughter of Aegon V Targaryen, giving him the best claim to the throne, outside Aerys, his children and grandchildren.
I will not go into all the battles that were fought but rather stick to one of the last ones that was more or less decisive for the war, the Battle of Trident. It was here in the Riverlands that Rhaegar and Robert met face to face in a single combat on the ford of the Trident. Robert slew Rhaegar with a blow to the chest from his warmhammer so powerful that it smashed the rubies right from the armor. After Rhaegar fell, Targaryen forces fell apart and ran. Robert was also badly wounded so Eddard finished the battle in his stead. With the news of Jaime Lannister killing the Mad King Eddard rushed into the King’s Landing to claim the Iron Throne for Robert and then he rode straight to Dorne, to look for his sister.
The Tower of Joy
Ser Arthur Dayne, Ser Oswald Whent and Lord Commande of the Kingsguard Gerold Hightower had been absent from the battles of Trident, King’s Landing, and Storm’s End. Eddard Stark later found them guarding a small tower, named The Tower of Joy, in the Red Mountains of Dorne where Prince Rhaegar had been holding Lyanna Stark. Eddard came with six companions: Howland Reed, William Dustin, Ethan Glover, Martyn Cassel, Theo Wull and Mark Ryswell. These seven fought three members of the Kingsguard with only Eddard and Howland surviving. He found Lyanna in “the bed of blood and roses”. She claimed a promise from Eddard just before she died. “Promise me Ned” were her last words, which will haunt Eddard until the day he dies.
With Eddard’s execution, Lord Reed is now the only survivor, and the only witness of Eddard’s promise to Lyanna. After these events Eddard brought Dawn, Ser Arthur Dayne’s sword to his sister, Ashara Dayne at Starfall, who soon after committed suicide. He then took his sister’s body back to Winterfell so she could be buried with her brother Brandon and her father Rickard at the Winterfell crypt. And, he brought a baby with him, a baby that would later grow up to be Jon Snow. Coincidence? There is no such thing.
A twist of faith the Bastard deserves
So let’s look over the facts.
According to Robert Baratheon, Lyanna Stark was kidnapped and raped by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, which is very unusual considering he was one of the very few good and kind Targaryens, loved by his people. The only person who disliked him and spoke ill of him was in fact Robert, which comes as no surprise considering he was in love with Lyanna Stark. This makes him biased. On the other hand, Lyanna was not able to reciprocate. Furthermore, she wasn’t really thrilled about the upcoming wedding, something she confided in her brother Eddard. According to Viserys Targaryen and Barristan Selmy, Rhaegar fought and died for the woman he loved. Considering everything I wrote, we can be sure the woman was not Elia. One of the visions Daenerys sees in the House of the Undying depicts Rhaegar’s final moments. Rubies are flying from his chest like the drops of blood. He whispers Lyanna’s name with his last breath. When Eddard discovers the truth about the Lannister kids based on the color of their hair his mind wanders to Jon Snow, his sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen. Coincidence? Hm. In his dreams, he also recalls hearing the screams of his sister as he fought the Kingsguard in front of the Tower of Joy. Speaking of which, why would the members of the Kingsguard guard Lyanna Stark, who was not royal?! Wasn’t their place with the pregnant queen Rhaella and Viserys, now the heir of the Iron Throne after the death of his brother, who feld the capital with Ser Willem Darry, who btw was not the member of Kingsguard? Or with princes Elia, Rhaegar’s wife and their children, who were slaughtered during the Sack of King’s Landing by Allister Thorne (master-at-arms at Night’s Watch who bullied Jon Snow) and Gregor Clegane, both Tywin Lannister’s men? Why would Rhaegar order his sworn knights to keep guard of Lyanna Stark, and not his family, if he only kidnapped her so he would rape and kill her? It make no sense, unless, the two were truly in love and saw running away as their only option… or unless she was pregnant with his child, making the child royal and the future heir to the Iron Throne that needed the protection. It is only in this case that Kingsguard’s presence at the Tower of Joy makes sense.
Lyanna Stark died in 284, the same year Jon Snow was born, as he was a little less than a year younger than his half-brother Robb Stark. We know Eddard is Robb’s father and we know Catelyn was at Winterfell during the war, which would imply that Eddard Stark marched around during the war making women pregnant on different ends of Seven Kingdoms, something I cannot easily accept. Especially knowing he was participating, if not leading almost every battle during the War of the Usurper. And speaking of years, Barrisatn Selmy’s claim of Lady Ashara’s baby that was conceived at Harrenhal makes impossible for it to be Jon Snow. If Jon was conceived at Harrenhal he would be a year older than Robb Stark and almost a two-year-old when Eddard brought him back to Winterfell, which is not the case. Wylla can fit nicely into this story, especially because she was the wet nurse at Starfall. If Lyanna died giving birth to Jon, Eddard needed to find the way to make up the story to conceal the child’s identity considering the Targaryen’s were being slaughtered at Robert’s and Tywin’s hands and he would need to feed the baby somehow. Starfall was the best option for him. He delivered the sword to Ashara Dayne out of respect for here considering she was either his or his late brother’s lover and gave the baby to Wylla who breastfed him, which would coincide with Edric Dayne story as to how he and Jon Snow were milk-brothers (being fed by the same woman, Wylla). There he hatched the story for all the Westeros to know destroying his reputation and honor at the extent of his new wife Catelyn but as a promise to his beloved sister. This would also fit nicely with the fact that: (a) Jon looked more like Stark than any of Eddard’s true born children, he had grey eyes and dark hair like Arya, which was symptomatic of Starks and Lyanna whereas Robb, Sansa, Bran and Rickon all had blue eyes and reddish hair symptomatic of Tully’s (b) Jon and Arya developed a strong connection over their shared resemblance and nature, (c) Arya was often compared to her aunt Lyanna Stark, (d) Sansa always thought that Arya, who looked so much like Jon, was also a bastard like him, (e) Eddard never revealed the identity of Jon’s mother to his wife Catelyn telling her only that he is a Stark and that is all that matters. Eddard lost three members of his family to Taragaryens and now he needed to protect the Targaryen nephew from Lannisters and a Baratheon. A twist of faith indeed, symptomatic of GoT and GRRM’s writing.
If this is true, Jon Snow is not only a highborn but also a royal. Being the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark makes him the best claim to the Iron Throne. And yes, before Daenerys, because this would make her his aunt and in Westeros, the crown passes along through the male bloodline – from Aerys (killed by Jaime Lannister) to his son Rhaegar (killed at Trident by Robert Baratheon) to his son Aegon (presumably killed during the Sack of King’s Landing) to Rhaegar’s brother Viserys (killed by Khal Drogo) to their sister Daenerys (because everybody else is dead). Unless, Jon Snow is Rhaegar’s son, then the Throne goes to him or Stannis Baratheon (if the Baratheon bloodline continues), especially considering Joffrey is 100% Lannister. The only problem is, Jon is the member of the Night’s Watch, which makes him unfit to claim the Iron Throne and still a bastard, which furthermore, mirrors the Blackfyre situation. I doubt Westerosi have ever had to deal with a situation like this.
Whatever the case might be I hope this is how the things went down. Why? First, it would explain why Eddard Stark blamed Jaime Lannister for killing the Mad King. King Aerys was directly responsible for the deaths of his father and his brother so why wouldn’t he be grateful to Jaime? It is very simple really – Jaime broke the oath. There are two things Westerosi do not forgive lightly. First being the breaking of the oath: Night’s Watch desertion is punishable by death, Kingsguard’s violation of the oath is either punishable by death or Night’s Watch, violation of the betrothal leads to wars and battles etc. In the eyes of Eddard Stark, Jaime Lannister broke his oath regardless of his reasons, whereas Eddard kept his at the cost of his wife’s and his own honor. And we know how much honor means to Lord Eddard Stark. An oath is an oath, regardless of the consequences. Second thing Westerosi do not forgive lightly is the Violation of the Sacred Law of Hospitality, the Guest right. When a guest, be he common born or noble, eats the food and drinks the drink off a host’s table beneath the host’s roof, the guest right is invoked. Bread and salt are the traditional provisions. When invoked, neither the guest can harm his host nor the host harms his guest for the length of the guest’s stay. For either to do so would be to break a sacred covenant that is believed to invoke the wrath of the Gods both old and new.
The second reason why I would things to play out like this is Jon Snow. From the very beginning it feels like he has a certain part to play, everything points in that direction. Being a bastard is of great importance for it enables him to fight for his rights, making him stronger, more understanding and kind, which also has to do something with his personality. Jon Snow, apart from Lord Eddard Stark, Ser Jaime Lannister, Arya Stark, Brienne of Tarth and Sam Tarly is one of the few men who follow the path of honor. Him, more than others. The third reason is of course Daenerys. Knowing that she is the last Targaryen, who happens to be in the possession of the dragons, turned her into pretentions, smug, little wanna-be-queen. This revelation would put her in her place, for good. Unless something else happens and fast!!!
SIDE NOTE: The fact Daenerys didn’t burn in a funeral pyre has nothing to do with her being a Targaryen. The only reason she didn’t burn was the presence of the dragon eggs. According to GRRM it was a one-time thing, which enabled the birth of the Dragons. Therefore, the fact that Jon burned his arm when he fought the Wights with Mormont at the Castle Black does not exclude him from being a Targaryen. Also, it was a common thing for Targaryens to have three children for Dragon has three heads. One of the reasons why Rhaegar wanted a child with Lyanna could be the fact that Elia was very sickling, especially after her second birth – the rumor has it, she couldn’t have more children. In the youth Princ Rhaegar thought he was the Prince that was promised. According to the tale, Rhaegar who was always more fond of books than swords, one day found something in his scrolls that changed his mind. He then decided to become a knight. He said to Ser Willem Darry, the master-at-arms: “I will require a sword and armor. It seems I must be a warrior.” However, later on he realized it is not him, but instead his son, Aegon. In the House of the Undying Daenerys sees the vision of his brother talking about Aegon: “He is the Prince that was promised, and his is the song of ice and fire.” It may be that the three-headed dragon is a part of the prince that was promised prophecy, and there are two other people whom the prince will need to have by his side, to show him the way. Daenerys is certainly one of them. Jon Snow could very well be the second one. So who is the third?
(1) In the days that lead to his execution, Eddard Stark kept thinking about the promise he had made to his sister. He was haunted by it. In the series, when Robert asks him why he had to burry her in a place such as the Winterfell crypt, Eddard said how he promised Lyanna he would bring her back home, to rest with her father and brother. If this was the promise that was made, why would he be haunted by it, right before his death?
(2) Whilst in the crypt Robert kept saying how he would kill Rhaegar all over again for taking and savaging the love of his life like that to what Eddard replied: “You never knew Lyanna as I did, Robert. You saw her beauty, but not the iron underneath.” A very strange response, that is, if she was really abducted and savaged as Robert believed.
(3) Upon discovering the truth about Cersei’s children, all of golden hair, why would his mind wander to the images of Jon Snow, Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen?
(4) Lord Eddard Stark was called the quite wolf, due to his shy personality. At the Harrenhal Tourney, his brother, Brandon Stark, approached Ashara Dayne and asked her, on behalf of Eddard, if she would dance with his brother. It doesn’t really coincide with him being a womanizer. And it is highly unlikely that Jon Snow is Ashara’s child as I discussed earlier.
(5) If a Lord would have an heir to succeed him, he would never bring a bastard into his own home and raise him together with his children, let alone giving him the same rights and education. Example: Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s son (lived as a blacksmith unaware of his identity), Edric Storm, Robert Baratheon’s son (lived hidden at the Dragonstone, unaware of his identity), Ramsay Snow, Lord Bolton’s son who was acknowledged only after Bolton’s true born son died. So, why would Lord Eddard Stark bring a baby to his home and only a year after he married Catelyn Stark. Why would he shame her like that? And why would he torment her with the refusal of giving away the mother’s true identity. It doesn’t really make much sense. He could’ve given the baby to someone’s care and look after him from afar as it was the custom. Unless he made a promise he would guard the baby’s life with his own, he would make him part of the family as he was and he will not reveal his identity no matter what the price was.
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