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"My sister, Elia, she married Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and became the princess she already was. In Dorne, she walked among vipers and none would bite her. In King's Landing, she found herself surrounded by lions."
Oberyn Martell[src]

Princess Elia Martell was the sister of Doran Martell, the Prince of Dorne and head of House Martell, and Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper. She was married to Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, heir to Aerys II, and bore him two children: Rhaenys and Aegon. She and her children were killed by Ser Gregor Clegane on the orders of Lord Tywin Lannister during the Sack of King's Landing at the end of Robert's Rebellion.

Biography

Background

Rhaegar Targaryen Elia Martell marriage

Elia marries Rhaegar Targaryen.

Princess Elia was the wife of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, who was also her distant cousin.[1] They had two children; a daughter, Rhaenys, and a son, Aegon. She was born into House Martell in Dorne. She was the daughter of the ruling Princess of Dorne, the younger sister of Prince Doran Martell, who eventually inherited Dorne from their mother and became the ruler of Dorne, and the older sister of Prince Oberyn.[2] Her marriage to Prince Rhaegar was arranged by King Aerys II Targaryen and considered an insult by Tywin Lannister, Aerys' Hand of the King, who had proposed his daughter Cersei as a bride for the Prince but was rejected. The marriage was one of the reasons Lord Tywin resigned his post as Hand. Like her younger brother, Elia was very popular among the Dornish people.[3]

When she was a child, Elia accompanied her mother and brother Oberyn on a visit to Casterly Rock. While there, Elia and Oberyn were eager to see the monster that had just been born. Cersei finally showed them the baby, but the Martell siblings were somewhat disappointed to see that Tyrion was just a baby, and somewhat disturbed by Cersei's already strong hatred of him.[4]

According to her family, Elia loved her husband Prince Rhaegar dearly. She bore him two children, Rhaenys and Aegon, to whom she was equally devoted; according to Oberyn, Elia took care of them from birth, rather than delegating the task to a wet nurse.[5] Both pregnancies were very difficult, and each nearly killed Elia.[6]

Slaughter

Gregor, about to kill Elia and her children.

When Robert's Rebellion erupted, Elia was retained in King's Landing by King Aerys to ensure the loyalty of House Martell during the conflict- a measure the Martells considered unnecessary, as they would always fight for whichever side Elia was on and had no intention of breaking their oaths of loyalty to the Targaryens. Ultimately Rhaegar was killed in personal combat with Robert Baratheon at the Battle of the Trident, leaving Elia a widow. A few weeks later during the Sack of King's Landing, Tywin Lannister's army betrayed the Targaryens and overran the city. Ser Gregor Clegane - known as "The Mountain That Rides" - burst into the royal chambers and before Elia's eyes, bashed her infant son's head against a wall, killing him instantly. Rhaneys was killed after she was found hiding under Rhaegar's bed. Covered in the blood and gore of her children, the Mountain proceeded to brutally rape Elia, and finally he killed her by cutting her in two with a sword.

Elia's death deeply alienated her family from the crown after Robert ascended the throne, and their hatred of the Lannisters now knew no bounds. Subsequently, they were never seen and rarely if ever mentioned at the royal court in King's Landing.[7]

Season 4

Elia is mentioned many times by her brother Oberyn in his conversations with various members of House Lannister. It is clear that Oberyn loved his older sister very much.[5] When speaking to Tyrion, Oberyn expresses apparent anger that "beautiful, noble Rhaegar Targaryen left her for another woman" despite Elia's love and loyalty for Rhaegar. Oberyn tells Cersei that his fifth daughter is named for her, and that he finds it difficult to interact with her as a result.[8]

After the assassination of King Joffrey, Tywin Lannister approaches Oberyn to determine if he had a hand in it, considering his hatred for House Lannister. Oberyn confirms that he blames Tywin for the deaths of Elia and her children, which Tywin cryptically suggests was all the Mountain's doing. He offers Oberyn an opportunity to confront the Mountain privately on the condition that he first preside as the third judge at Tyrion's court trial for Joffrey's murder, which Oberyn agrees to do.[9]

However, when Tyrion later demands a trial by combat, Oberyn volunteers to be Tyrion's champion after learning that the Mountain will be fighting for the Crown, hoping he will finally have vengeance for rape and murder of his sister.[4]

As the two champions commence battle at the trial, Oberyn identifies himself to the Mountain as the brother of Elia and reminds his opponent of the crime he committed against House Martell, saying, "You raped my sister, you murdered her, you killed her children." Despite wearing light armor and drinking before their fight, Oberyn initially gains the upper hand and proceeds to slowly cut down the Mountain all the while shouting in an ever louder voice, "You raped her! You murdered her! You killed her children!" Thinking his opponent to be fully incapacitated, Oberyn again demands the Mountain confess his crime and reveal who gave him the order, pointing accusingly at Tywin. However, in his hubris Oberyn is unexpectedly caught off guard when the Mountain suddenly trips him up. Berserk with fury at nearly being killed by his opponent, the Mountain pins Oberyn to the ground and proceeds to gouge out his eyeballs, making him scream in agony, as he roars for all to hear, "Elia Martell! I killed her children! Then I raped her! Then I smashed her head...in like this!" He then crushes Oberyn's skull, effectively confirming the long-standing rumor of arguably his most infamous war crime.[10]

Season 6

During her coup d'etat in Dorne, Ellaria Sand cites the butchering of Elia, as well as Oberyn Martell, as one of the reasons she murders Prince Doran Martell. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes seek to avenge Elia and Oberyn despite having just murdered Elia and Oberyn's brother and nephew, Trystane Martell, both of whom refused to go to war with House Lannister.[11]

Season 7

While reading the journal of High Septon Maynard with Samwell Tarly in Oldtown, Gilly discovers that the High Septon issued an annulment for the marriage of "Prince Ragger" so that he could remarry someone else at a secret ceremony in Dorne, alluding to Elia Martell being the former wife and Rhaegar marrying Lyanna Stark.[12]

When Samwell arrives at Winterfell, he meets with Bran Stark, who confides in Sam that Jon Snow isn't the bastard son of his father, Eddard Stark, but the bastard son of Rhaegar Targaryen and his aunt Lyanna Stark. Sam then tells Bran that he transcribed the diary of the High Septon who served at the time and discovered that he had Rhaegar's marriage to Elia Martell annulled, thus allowing him to marry Lyanna Stark in a secret ceremony in Dorne. Bran and Sam piece together that Jon, born Aegon Targaryen, is the legitimate son of Rhaegar and Lyanna and the rightful heir to the Iron Throne.[13]

Family Tree

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
House-Martell-heraldry
Ruling Princess Martell of Dorne
Deceased
 
House-Martell-heraldry
Consort of the Princess of Dorne
Deceased
 
Lewyn Martell familytree
Lewyn Martell Kingsguard-Main-Shield
Deceased
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Doran Martell family tree
Doran Martell
Deceased
 
House-Martell-heraldry
Mellario of Norvos
 
Elia-family-tree
Elia Martell
Deceased
 
Famtree-RhaegarTargaryen
Rhaegar Targaryen House-Targaryen-Main-Shield
Deceased
 
 
 
 
 
Unknown tree
Various women
 
Oberyn-Martell-family-tree
Oberyn Martell
Deceased
 
Famtree-EllariaSand
Ellaria Sand
of House Uller
Mother of 4 or 5 Sand Snakes
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Trystane Martell family tree
Trystane Martell
Deceased
Rhaenys tree
Rhaenys Targaryen House-Targaryen-Main-Shield
Deceased
 
House-Targaryen-heraldry
Aegon Targaryen
Deceased
 
Obara Sand familytree
Obara Sand
Deceased
 
Nymeria Sand familytree
Nymeria Sand
Deceased
 
User-Sand
One or two other Sand Snakes
 
Tyene Sand familytree
Tyene Sand
Deceased
 
User-Sand
Three or four younger Sand Snakes

Image Gallery

In the books

In A Song of Ice and Fire, Elia is also the wife of Rhaegar, and died with her children in the Sack of King's Landing. She was the sister of Princes Doran, the ruling Prince of Dorne, and Oberyn Martell. Elia was born nine years after Doran, and a year before Oberyn.

On two occasions, Daenerys asks Ser Barristan Selmy about Elia. Selmy tells that Elia was a good and gracious lady, though her health was ever delicate, kind and clever, with a gentle heart and a sweet wit. Selmy believes that Rhaegar was very fond of Elia, and has no idea why he abandoned her for Lyanna Stark.

Elia was frail and sickly from the beginning, and childbirth only left her weaker. After the birth of Rhaenys, Elia was bedridden for half a year, and Aegon’s birth almost killed her. The maesters told Rhaegar afterwards that she would bear no more children.

During Robert's Rebellion, Gregor Clegane raped and killed Elia after bashing in her son's head, while his hands were still tainted with the infant's blood. Elia's daughter was killed by Amory Lorch.

In actual fact, Tywin Lannister didn't order the Mountain to kill Elia. He tells Tyrion that there was no need to kill Elia because "by herself she was nothing" (in contrast to her children - as Rhaegar's blood heirs everyone knew they had to die for the war to end). The Mountain killed Elia simply because Tywin did not tell him to spare her. Tywin doubted if he had mentioned Elia at all, for he had many pressing concerns to worry about at that time, nor did he yet realize what kind of monster the Mountain was. On the other hand, he never punished Gregor for the rape and murder, because that would be an admission of indirect guilt on his part. This of course backfired: his inaction only served to convince the Martells that he was actively responsible and must have directly ordered Gregor to kill Elia, harming relations with the Martells far more than if he had simply admitted the truth. Tywin was also uncharacteristically defensive when Tyrion voiced his suspicion that he ordered Gregor to not only kill Elia, but rape her first, showing that even Tywin was disgusted by what Gregor did (but still did not punish him for it).

The Martells (particularly Oberyn) were so outraged by Elia's brutal and needless murder that they initially intended to continue fighting in Viserys' name. After the rebellion's end, Jon Arryn's first act as Hand of the King of the King was to travel to Dorne and negotiate with Prince Doran; Arryn convinced the Dornish to cease hostilities, but the fact Elia's killers were never punished caused the region to adopt a largely isolationist policy with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms.

As part of the Lannister alliance with the Martells that he negotiates, to prevent them from joining Renly's host, Tyrion pledges to bring those responsible for the death of Elia and her children to justice, including the Mountain. Tywin later reneges on this, as he does not wish to lose as effective a soldier and terror weapon as Gregor, intending to place all the blame on the now-deceased Amory Lorch. Oberyn does not seem to believe that new version, and Tyrion assures him that Lorch killed Rhaenys, while the Mountain killed baby Aegon and then proceeded to rape and kill Elia. After Gregor roars his guilt for all to hear during Tyrion's trial by combat, Tywin is forced to have Gregor healed if only so Ilyn Payne can execute him to appease the Martells, for fear inaction might lead to Doran Martell supporting Stannis Baratheon.

Rhaegar's annulment from Elia Martell in the TV series

The Season 7 episode "Eastwatch" introduced that Rhaegar secretly got an "annulment" from his wife Elia Martell, secretly granted by the High Septon, who then also secretly officiated the remarriage of Rhaegar to Lyanna Stark. While what exactly Rhaegar did with Lyanna hasn't been established by the current books, it is doubtful that he got an "annulment": marriage and annulment do not work like that in Westeros. In response to the episode, Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson, owners of major book fansite Westeros.org and co-authors with George R.R. Martin of The World of Ice and Fire sourcebook, put out an analysis video in which they strongly suspected that this is actually a drastic over-simplification by the showrunners of the TV series - one that botched several basic points about how marriage works in Westeros, and only creates as many problems as it solves:

No one in the history of Westeros, as described in the novels at least, has ever received an "annulment" for a marriage that produced a male heir already: Rhaegar had two children with Elia already, an older daughter and an infant son. "Divorce", as such, does not exist in Westeros. Annulments are only granted for very specific reasons, such as if the marriage was never consummated, or if one of the couple was already married (as bigamy is forbidden). It is said in both the books and TV series that Sansa can have her marriage to Tyrion annulled on the grounds that it was never consummated.

Another possibility is that Rhaegar could have just kept Lyanna as a mistress then legitimized Jon by royal decree - as other kings have done in the past, such as Aegon IV the Unworthy. Elio and Linda pointed out that customs for bastardy and legitimization are somewhat different in Westeros from the real Middle Ages, in which the Church was more powerful than the Crown and had control over declaring a child legitimate. The books have established that the Iron Throne is more powerful than the Faith in Westeros, and kings can legitimize bastards without consulting the Faith.

A major fan theory circulating for some time, which Elio and Linda support, is that rather than get an "annulment" from Elia, Rhaegar may have polygamously married Lyanna as a second wife. The Valyrian ancestors of House Targaryen regularly incest, marrying brother to sister (or as close a relative as possible), but were also known to practice polygamy - it was comparatively uncommon, but not unknown either. Most famously, Aegon the Conqueror, who invaded and united the Seven Kingdoms and forged the Iron Throne, was simultaneously married to both of his sisters: Visenya and Rhaenys. The Faith of the Seven in Westeros strictly forbids both of these practices, and Aegon tacitly seemed to give the promise that the new Targaryen dynasty would stop following them. Aegon's sons then tried to bring back incestuous marriages, leading to the Faith Militant uprising. More specifically, Aegon's younger son Maegor the Cruel, a brutal tyrant, also tried to bring back polygamy - the High Septon at the time wouldn't grant him an annulment, despite his wife being apparently barren, because she was the High Septon's own niece. Aegon's grandson Jaehaerys I Targaryen later negotiated peace in the realm, ending the uprisings, but the Targaryens were allowed to keep practicing incestuous marriages. Polygamy, meanwhile, was never specifically outlawed, it just fell out of favor, as the Targaryens were wise enough not to antagonize the Faith again by taking multiple wives (in contrast, they already had an incestuous bloodline, and who they subsequently married wouldn't change that - but they could chose not to take more than one wife). A few key hints exist even centuries later that some Targaryens wanted to revive polygamy if they thought they were powerful enough to get away with it, the chief example of which is Daemon Blackfyre, a legitimized bastard son of Aegon IV Targaryen. Many people in-universe believe that he launched the Blackfyre Rebellion against his own half-brother the king over his love of his half-sister, who the king sent away in a marriage-alliance. Others counter that Daemon was already married so this doesn't make sense, and his wife had produced seven sons and a number of daughters for him. In turn, this led some maesters to suspect that Daemon secretly intended to marry his sister as his polygamous second wife, and that he was powerful enough to pressure the Faith into accepting this much as they had all of the incest marriages.

It is generally suspected that Rhaegar wanted a second marriage because he believed he needed to have three children to fulfill part of the prophecy about The Prince That Was Promised - that the "Prince" would actually be three people acting together. Elia Martell had very frail health, however, and her first two pregnancies nearly killed her, and the maesters said she would not survive another.

Another possibility is that perhaps according to the prophecy, The Prince That Was Promised had to be sired by Targaryen and Stark parents, as implied by the phrase "ice and fire": the Targaryens are associated with fire (their house sigil is a dragon), and the Starks are associated with ice (they rule the North). That could be the reason Rhaegar chose Lyanna as the mother for the promised child.

Rhaegar annulling his marriage to Elia Martell introduces the complication that this might lead to his first two children with her being retroactively declared illegitimate (such as when Henry VIII of England ended his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, then her daughter Bloody Mary's enemies used this to argue she wasn't legitimate). While somewhat of a moot point because they died years ago, at the time Rhaegar wouldn't have wanted to risk angering the Dornish like that. Even if Rhaegar hypothetically pressured the High Septon into granting him an annulment on some false pretext or another this would greatly anger the Martells and possibly make them rise in open revolt against the Targaryens. As it happened, during Robert's Rebellion, the Martell armies fought for the Targaryens because Elia Martell was a hostage in the Red Keep, and because her children with Rhaegar would one day be the heirs to the Iron Throne.

Of course, in either scenario, the Martells would not have been amused: even if Rhaegar explicitly made the public declaration that his children with Elia would rank ahead of any children with Lyanna, a future rebellion could break out against Elia's children using the pretext that she had been superseded by Lyanna and her children retroactively made bastards (the legality of the situation is irrelevant - rebels only need a pretext). Polygamously taking Lyanna as a second wife might have stopped short of the Martells openly revolting, but an outright "annulment" of Rhaegar's marriage to Elia would much more probably be used as an excuse to disinherit her children.

Elio and Linda did note that they have no idea how Rhaegar getting an annulment instead of a polygamous marriage would impact Elia's children, whether it would make them bastards or not, because there is no precedent for it - no one ever gets an "annulment" for a marriage that already produced children. They did point out, however, that while in real-life history this automatically rendered any children by that first marriage bastards (i.e. Bloody Mary), the same isn't necessarily true in Westeros - even for TV-Rhaegar, getting an "annulment" in these circumstances would be such a unique dispensation from the High Septon that, while he was at it, he might have additionally had the annulment phrased in such a way that his children with Elia would officially remain legitimate. Or, he could have just declared them legitimized by royal decree. Clearly, the change to an "annulment" introduced a number of complications. Whatever the case, because there is no precedent for how an annulment affects children of a marriage, Game of Thrones Wiki will not treat Rhaegar's two children with Elia as retroactively bastards, until directly confirmed otherwise by the TV series (anything else would be an assumption).

Elio and Linda also speculated on why the TV showrunners would make such an oversimplification from a polygamous marriage to an annulment, and believed that Benioff and Weiss wanted to make Jon Snow unquestionably the rightful heir to the Iron Throne - when in reality, even in the books, there is no scenario under which his inheritance would not be challenged by his enemies. Rebel armies don't care about the legality of words on paper, all they need is a pretext. Even if Rhaegar polygamously married Lyanna in the books, Jon's enemies would always say that Rhaegar couldn't lawfully do that because it is against the rules of the Faith, and rebel movements would use that argument against them. As Elio and Linda point out, changing this to an "annulment" from Elia Martell first solves nothing: now, Jon's enemies can simply argue that the annulment from Elia was unlawful - given that she obviously produced two children for Rhaegar already including a son- and thus his second marriage to Lyanna was bigamous (and unlawful once again).

Confirmation of exactly what happened between Rhaegar and Lyanna will have to await the release of the future novels.

See also

References

v  d  e
Lord: Heir:
House-Martell-Main-Shield
Seat: Sunspear Lands: Dorne
Title(s): Prince of Dorne · Lord of Sunspear
Ancestors:Princess Nymeria · Prince Mors Martell · Daughter of Mors · Meria Martell · Prince Maron Martell · Princess Daenerys Martell · Queen Myriah Martell
Current members:Ellaria Sand · Sarella Sand · Elia Sand · Obella Sand · Dorea Sand · Loreza Sand
Deceased members:Prince Lewyn Martell · Princess Elia Martell · Prince Oberyn Martell · Prince Doran Martell · Prince Trystane Martell · Obara Sand · Nymeria Sand · Tyene Sand
Household:{Areo Hotah} · {Caleotte}
Overlord:House Baratheon of King's Landing
v  d  e
Lord: Queen Daenerys Targaryen Heir: None
House-Targaryen-Main-Shield
Seat: Dragonstone Lands: Dragonstone
Title(s): Queen of Meereen · Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea · Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and the First Men (claimant) · Lady Regnant of the Seven Kingdoms (claimant) · Protector of the Realm (claimant)
Ancestors:Aenar · Daenys · Aegon I, the Conqueror · Visenya · Rhaenys · Aenys I · Maegor I, the Cruel · Rhaena · Aegon · Jaehaerys I, the Concilliator · Alysanne Targaryen · Viserys I · Rhaenys · Daemon · Aemma Arryn · Rhaenyra · Alicent Hightower · Aegon II, the Usurper · Helaena Targaryen · Aemond · Aegon III · Viserys II Targaryen · Jaehaera · Jaehaerys · Maelor · Daeron I, the Young Dragon · Baelor I, the Blessed · Aegon IV, the Unworthy · Naerys · Aemon the Dragonknight · Daena the Defiant · Rhaena · Elaena · Daeron II, the Good · Daenerys of Sunspear · Myriah Martell · Daemon Blackfyre · Brynden Rivers · Aegor Rivers · Shiera Seastar · Baelor Breakspear · Aerys I · Aelinor · Rhaegel · Maekar I · Dyanna Dayne · Aerion Brightflame · Aegon V, the Unlikely · Duncan the Small · Daeron
Deceased members:Aerys II, the Mad · Rhaella Targaryen · Rhaegar Targaryen · Elia Martell · Rhaenys Targaryen · Aegon Targaryen · Viserys Targaryen · Drogo · Rhaego · Aemon Targaryen
Household:Ser Jorah Mormont · Tyrion Lannister · {Ser Barristan Selmy} · {Rakharo} · Kovarro · Aggo · {Irri} · {Doreah} · Jhiqui · Malakho · Missandei · Grey Worm · Daario Naharis · {Mossador}