Happy Mother’s Day to two mothers of kings: Catelyn Stark (née Tully) and Cersei Baratheon (née Lannister.)
It would be relatively easy to compare these two powerfully political women by pointing out the similarities in Robb Stark and Joffrey Baratheon (and there are many) but this is a post about mothers, not sons.
The pair do share many similarities separate from whom their royal sons were.
- Both were the eldest in their family, and both suffered the tragedy of their respective mothers dying during childbirth.
- Both were married off as part of political alliances, and neither married the man they originally expected to.
- Both of those marriages were initiated by Robert Baratheon’s rebellion (just one was at the start of the conflict, and one at the end.)
- Both had to suffer the indignity of an acknowledged unfaithful husband. Ned Stark only claimed one illegitimate child, but he kept bastard Jon Snow close at hand, a constant reminder. Robert Baratheon never had any of his bastard children attend court, but he had a lot of them. So it kind of balances out on the humiliation scale.
- Both women were quick to have Tyrion Lannister arrested under the accusation of his causing harm to a beloved son.
- Both saw their royal sons murdered. (I can’t not mention that, even though I was mostly trying to stay away from Robb and Joff.)
- Both (from the show’s perspective) sent Jaime Lannister off to secure the release of daughters. (Okay, daughter, singular, in Cersei’s case.)
It’s fun to make lists, but it doesn’t really illustrate the nature of the women, and since this is a Mother’s Day post, some talk of their mothering nature should be discussed.
Growing up as the eldest Tully, Catelyn no doubt had to step up into a mothering role early on for Lysa and Edmure, her siblings. When it came to mothering her own children, she probably had the most influence on her eldest daughter Sansa, who was much less-Northern than her siblings.
Robb had been taken fully under Ned’s wing in being groomed to one day rule Winterfell, Arya was an unlady-like rascal, Bran could not respect his mother’s wishes in regards to his acrobatic adventures, and Rickon… well Rickon was too young for her to make much of a difference.
We’ll not talk about her wicked stepmother treatment of Jon Snow.
Unfortunately, her biggest problem came with Robb, and the marriage she arranged for him to an unseen daughter of Walder Frey.
Robb is obviously to blame for breaking off the arrangement and marrying another, but I’ve always felt Catelyn was too quick to marry Robb off, a long term commitment for the short-term tactical advantage of achieving the river crossing at the Twins.
Catelyn had grown up knowing that she would be married off as part of politics (she was betrothed at twelve years old to Brandon Stark) and had observed her father Hoster Tully’s lack of regard for the romantic wishes of the male members of his household when Hoster tried to force his brother Brynden Tully into a marriage.
Catelyn didn’t realize that Robb took after his uncle, the Blackfish, in not easily having a bride selected for him. And once he became king… well, the king can do as he likes…
Despite this miscalculation, no one could say that Catelyn Stark didn’t care deeply for her children. She fiercely protected the comatose Bran (after weeks of punishing vigils at his bedside), she risked everything on a chance to free Arya and Sansa from being Lannister hostages.
Catelyn Stark could be formidable in her maternal fury.
Like Catelyn, Cersei also lost her mother in the battle of the birthing bed, when Joanna Lannister died giving birth to Tyrion (who was the target of Cersei’s hate from then on.)
Married to the victorious (and boorish) Robert Baratheon, Cersei became the mother of three beautiful blond children, all secretly with her brother Jaime. There’s some controversy regarding if she and Robert actually had a son together. Cersei tells Catelyn, who was in despair at comatose Bran’s bedside, about a black-haired child that died young and broke her heart.
Recently on the show, viewers saw a flashback with a young Cersei discovering that although her husband would have twenty children, and she would have three, they’d have none together. So what about this non-blond son? Was Cersei lying? Looking to get attention? Was Maggie the Frog-prophetess having an off-day? Look, prophecies are tricky. Let’s worry about the children we know Cersei had.
Of the three, it appears Cersei initially had the most influence on Joffrey, in that she took him in hand to teach him her zero-sum realpolitick views. As the future king, Cersei felt he needed lessons in the exercise of power, and Robert was notoriously hands off in parenting. Or ruling. (He was more hands on when it came to wenching, drinking, and hunting.)
Unfortunately, when Joffrey came into power his cruel nature – supported by Cersei’s harsh worldview, and his entitlement made for a very bad combination. Even Cersei found him uncontrollable.
There’s some debate on whether Joffrey ordered the massacre of King Robert’s bastards in King’s Landing, or ordered Ser Mandon Moore to assassinate Lord Tyrion during the battle of Blackwater, but Cersei rather unmaternally did not attempt to convince Tyrion otherwise, either confirming Tyrion’s suspicion that Joffrey was the culprit, or using her son as a convenient scapegoat for her own misdeeds.
Not really the most supportive mother in that regards, even though in most other matters, Cersei was fiercely protective of Joffrey. And later, vindictive in her quest for
It’s a mystery why Tommen and Myrcella seem so normal.
Presumably, they received much of the same neglect from Robert Baratheon, but also weren’t lectured by Cersei on the advantages of crushing your enemies, driving them before you, and hearing the lamentation of their women (to paraphrase Arnold Schwarzenegger from the first Conan movie, although that line is actually attributed to Genghis Khan.)
So, Cersei must have done something right in raising her youngest children. Possibly since she wasn’t expecting them to rule, she didn’t feel the pressure to mold them into a force to be reckoned with (as Loras twice described Lord Tywin at the Old Lion’s funeral.) So kudos to Cersei, at least in that regard, for not messing up her entire family.
Here’s to you, mom
Luckily, none of us live in Westeros, where both prince and pauper can come to a bad end promptly. I’m not saying our mothers don’t have to worry about us, but at least they don’t have to worry about Faceless Men assassins, or shadow-vagina-monsters taking out their children.
None of us may be princes or princesses, but there’s no reason we can’t treat our mom’s like queens today.
If you get a chance, give your mother a call. If that’s impossible, then try to think warm thoughts on her behalf.
They’ll know you’re thinking about them.