The King with Two Faces

THE MANNIFESTO: VOLUME I, CHAPTER VI

“We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.”
— DAVOS V, A STORM OF SWORDS

Stannis seems to be driven by a sense of duty, of justice. Everywhere in the the books we are reminded of Stannis’s unyielding persona, his inflexibility. That he will break before he bends. That law, justice, fealty are paramount.

This is true in some ways, and a complete falsehood in others. In truth, Stannis is much more complex. This entry in the Mannifesto makes the following assertions:

A simplistic understanding of the concepts of duty and justice fail to encapsulate Stannis’s complexity, both personally and in the execution of his responsibilities as a king.

Stannis holds to the belief that without sovereignty, justice and duty are impossible.

Therefore pursuit of sovereignty takes precedence over the application of fair justice and honor.

However, Stannis must almost always present the appearance of fair justice, honor and duty; an important element of safely held kingship.

This dogmatic public persona has both diplomatic and military significance.


There are a great number of instances were Stannis has seemingly changed course, broken the rules, bent. In his mind he’s serving a larger cause. To others it might appear like he’s changing the definitions of ‘duty’ and ‘justice’ to suit his needs.

Which is the truth?

Could this be a false dichotomy: in some ways true, false in others?

What are the specific ramifications of Stannis’s careful deceptions in this regard? How might it affect the future plot of A Song of Ice and Fire?

NOTE: This essay is optional in that it only provides context for some of Stannis’s behavior. If you are more interested in seeing how Stannis conquers the north, you may wish to directly proceed to the first essay in the second volume of the Mannifesto, The Road to Barrowton.

Contents

  1. Broken Rules. Evidence that shows the dissonance between Stannis’s public and private personas.
  2. Fealty to Obligation. The reasons that drive Stannis to view ‘justice’ from a more strategic perspective.
  3. A Man of Two Faces. Revealing the Stannis that exists only in subtext.
  4. The Finest Trick. The benefits of having a public persona that cloaks a hidden one.
  5. Confidants and Whistleblowers. Who knows about Stannis’s secretive nature? Who might reveal it? Would Stannis expect this?
  6. Summary. A list of key points.
  7. Afterword. Where do these ideas take us as readers? Links to further essays in this series.

*   *   *

BROKEN RULES


Stannis_Baratheon_by_Alexandre_Dainche,_Fantasy_Flight_Games©Proving that Stannis is deliberately deceptive requires that I submit evidence of this.

A brief list of the many times Stannis has ‘bended’ will suffice for this purpose. Here is a small sample of the many ways in which Stannis has bent or broken the image of ‘duty and justice’ attributed to him.

In each of these cases, Stannis shows himself more likely to pursue the option that lets him advance his cause rather than become mired in his own ethics, defeated by his own rigidity.

Cannibalism

Stannis considered cannibalism as a possible means to sustain his defense of Storm’s End during Robert’s Rebellion:

“Well I remember.” Renly lifted his chin to allow Brienne to fasten his gorget in place. “Near the end, Ser Gawen Wylde and three of his knights tried to steal out a postern gate to surrender. Stannis caught them and ordered them flung from the walls with catapults. I can still see Gawen’s face as they strapped him down. He had been our master-at-arms.”

Lord Rowan appeared puzzled. “No men were hurled from the walls. I would surely remember that.”

“Maester Cressen told Stannis that we might be forced to eat our dead, and there was no gain in flinging away good meat.” Renly pushed back his hair. Brienne bound it with a velvet tie and pulled a padded cap down over his ears, to cushion the weight of his helm. “Thanks to the Onion Knight we were never reduced to dining on corpses, but it was a close thing. Too close for Ser Gawen, who died in his cell.”
— CATELYN IV, A CLASH OF KINGS

While Stannis never actually resorted to eating the dead, he did not go through with firing the men from catapults: Cressen had indeed changed his mind.

Isn’t it ironic then that Stannis is summoned by his men to witness the executions of the Peasebury men for their own cannibalism in A Dance with Dragons.

*   *   *

The Sacrifice of Edric Storm

If Stannis had actually killed Edric simply ‘because prophecy’, then he would have crossed a line with regards to justice and duty. Even he knew this, which is why he threatens Melisandre in A Storm of Swords:

Stannis rounded on him in a cold fury. “I know his name. Spare me your reproaches. I like this no more than you do, but my duty is to the realm. My duty . . .” He turned back to Melisandre. “You swear there is no other way? Swear it on your life, for I promise, you shall die by inches if you lie.”
— DAVOS VI, A STORM OF SWORDS

Clearly Stannis considers conducting the sacrifice if it is necessary in order for him to fulfill his duties as the king and secure the realm. His threat to Melisandre betrays his feelings: despite Stannis’s reluctant approval the moral cost of the sacrifice is not lost on him.

He knows breaking violating ethical/moral standards that permeate Westerosi culture: Blood sacrifice is considered abominable throughout the seven kingdoms. He is well aware of the political fallout such a sacrifice could incite should it become public knowledge. Additionally, Stannis is quite aware of the ethical wrongfulness of such an act, independent of any political impacts.

Yet he considers conducting the sacrifice anyhow, on the basis that it may help him secure the Iron Throne.

*   *   *

The Fairweather Southron Lords

Stannis had no problem taking Renly’s armies and using them to further his claim, despite the fact that they were previously allied with a usurper. Not just any usurper, but a usurper who didn’t even have a legitimate claim or even valid pretext. By any king’s laws they were guilty of treason and could have been executed for it. But Stannis cares little about that:

He glanced behind at Lord Florent and the others, rainbow knights and turncloaks, who were following at a distance. “These pardoned lords would do well to reflect on that. Good men and true will fight for Joffrey, wrongly believing him the true king. A northman might even say the same of Robb Stark. But these lords who flocked to my brother’s banners knew him for a usurper. They turned their backs on their rightful king for no better reason than dreams of power and glory, and I have marked them for what they are. Pardoned them, yes. Forgiven. But not forgotten.”
— DAVOS II, A CLASH OF KINGS

“One day I may make you a lord, smuggler. If only to irk Celtigar and Florent. You will not thank me, though. It will mean you must suffer through these councils, and feign interest in the braying of mules.”

“Why do you have them, if they serve no purpose?”

“The mules love the sound of their own braying, why else? And I need them to haul my cart. Oh, to be sure, once in a great while some useful notion is put forth. But not today, I think—ah, here’s your son with our water.”
— DAVOS II, A CLASH OF KINGS

So you see, he’s willing to forgive one of the highest crimes a person could commit, because he could make use of them in his bid to conquer King’s Landing.

*   *   *

The Prince of the Narrow Sea

Stannis also openly consorts with a Lyseni pirate.

In the days before his knighthood, he had often bought cargoes from Salladhor Saan. The Lyseni was a smuggler himself, as well as a trader, a banker, a notorious pirate, and the self-styled Prince of the Narrow Sea. When a pirate grows rich enough, they make him a prince. It had been Davos who had made the journey to Lys to recruit the old rogue to Lord Stannis’s cause.
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

Stannis knows that the brigand’s only loyalty is to the gold he is paid, and yet uses him anyways:

“Salladhor Saan thinks only of gold!” Stannis exploded. “His head is full of dreams of the treasure he fancies lies under the Red Keep, so let us hear no more of Salladhor Saan. The day I need military counsel from a Lysene brigand is the day I put off my crown and take the black.” The king made a fist. “Are you here to serve me, smuggler? Or to vex me with arguments?”
— DAVOS II, A CLASH OF KINGS

Stannis knows that Salladhor is a pirate and a smuggler, yet pardons and recruits him to his service with gold.

*   *   *

The Wildling Vanguard

It is revealed in A Dance with Dragons that Stannis intended to use the Thenns as a part of his vanguard during his campaign in the north:

“The wildling men will form my van. The Magnar will command them, with their own chiefs as serjeants. First, though, we must needs arm them.”
— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

This is despite the fact that they had only immediately prior been among the most loyal and dangerous of Mance Rayder’s wilding army.

Stannis even intends to reward Sigorn of Thenn and Rattleshirt with lands:

“Sire, some claim that you mean to grant lands and castles to Rattleshirt and the Magnar of Thenn.”

“Who told you that?”

The talk was all over Castle Black.
— JON I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Once again we have people who imperiled Stannis, his campaign and the realms he means to rule; and he does not punish — he pardons them and offers them lands in exchange for service.

Stannis explicitly explains the reasons for these choices: its because he finds them useful, they bolster his forces:

“The Karstarks have sworn to join us at the Dreadfort, and we will have our wildlings as well. Three hundred men of fighting age. Lord Harwood made a count as they were passing through the gate. Their women fight as well.”
— JON IV, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

*   *   *

The Burning of Mance

Stannis actually sees quite a bit of value in Mance. However, he declares that he must burn Rayder:

“I know that,” Stannis said, unhappily. “I have spent hours speaking with the man. He knows much and more of our true enemy, and there is cunning in him, I’ll grant you. Even if he were to renounce his kingship, though, the man remains an oathbreaker. Suffer one deserter to live, and you encourage others to desert. No. Laws should be made of iron, not of pudding. Mance Rayder’s life is forfeit by every law of the Seven Kingdoms.”

“The law ends at the Wall, Your Grace. You could make good use of Mance.”

“I mean to. I’ll burn him, and the north will see how I deal with turncloaks and traitors.
— JON I, A DANCE WITH DRAGONS

Mance has done little more than oathbreaking, Jon points out, because Mance was outside the realm of the King’s laws. He suggests that Mance is of great use.

At one point Stannis goes so far as to point out that it is Mance who is going to sentence himself to death, and that Stannis is reluctant to do so:

“Whilst your brothers have been struggling to decide who shall lead them, I have been speaking with this Mance Rayder.” He ground his teeth. “A stubborn man, that one, and prideful. He will leave me no choice but to give him to the flames.”
— JON XII, A STORM OF SWORDS

And yet Stannis does not actually burn Mance, he executes Rattleshirt in his place, disguised as Mance. Per the previous essays in the Mannifesto, we know that it is because Mance proves invaluable to Stannis’s campaign against the Boltons.

Why was Stannis so deceptive about it?

Couldn’t he just declare a pardon for Mance?

Couldn’t he just have dictated terms to Jon that Mance was to be spared?

No.

Stannis had to burn “Mance” because he needed to dismantle the idea of the King-Beyond-the-Wall in order to help compel a wildling surrender. He also needed to do it to display his authority to the northmen and the Night’s Watch.

The reasons for Stannis’s secrecy regarding Mance’s execution have already been discussed in the Mannifesto, in Operating in the Dark.

*   *   *

There is a central theme that permeates these examples (and the many more I’ve omitted):

Stannis is flexible with his administration of law and justice when such pliability is necessary in order to achieve his goals.

“When necessary” really means “when bending the normal rules of justice and peace are required in order to fulfill my duties, as lord and king.” As such, his sort of justice and law is much more nuanced than any simplistic, idealized concept.

Distilled, three key principles governing Stannis’s actions can be identified:

Law and justice cannot exist in a realm where sovereignty is questioned.

Thus, when his sovereignty is threatened, Stannis is willing to discard simple, idealistic applications of law and justice in favor of actions that will secure sovereignty.

By securing sovereignty, actions which seem to defy law and justice are taken with the intention of securing the ability to administer ideal law and justice in the future.

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*   *   *

FEALTY TO OBLIGATION


iL8OFzq59qlOoWe have no insight into the true workings of Stannis’s mind. However, his actions from the list above have always been shown to further his campaign towards the throne.

“I didn’t ask for this.”

“We do not choose our destinies. Yet we must . . . we must do our duty, no? Great or small, we must do our duty.”
— DAVOS V, A STORM OF SWORDS

His words, temperament and actions however all indicate that he does not want the Iron Throne. More importantly they tell us that he views failing to fight for his duty as the king is a disservice to the realm and to his daughter.

Stannis sees failure to assume the rightful duty as king is a disservice to the realm and his family.

So in his own way, he believes that his choices are not only justified… but demanded of him in the pursuit of his duty.

Even his acceptance of the previously alien worship of R’hllor is warranted if it helps him do his duty. We see this reflected in his confession to Davos, that he needed to use a different bird:

“I trusted in his wisdom and your wiles, and what did they avail me, smuggler? The storm lords sent you packing. I went to them a beggar and they laughed at me. Well, there will be no more begging, and no more laughing either. The Iron Throne is mine by rights, but how am I to take it? There are four kings in the realm, and three of them have more men and more gold than I do. I have ships . . . and I have her. The red woman. Half my knights are afraid even to say her name, did you know? If she can do nothing else, a sorceress who can inspire such dread in grown men is not to be despised. A frightened man is a beaten man. And perhaps she can do more. I mean to find out.

“When I was a lad I found an injured goshawk and nursed her back to health. Proudwing, I named her. She would perch on my shoulder and flutter from room to room after me and take food from my hand, but she would not soar. Time and again I would take her hawking, but she never flew higher than the treetops. Robert called her Weakwing. He owned a gyrfalcon named Thunderclap who never missed her strike. One day our great-uncle Ser Harbert told me to try a different bird. I was making a fool of myself with Proudwing, he said, and he was right.” Stannis Baratheon turned away from the window, and the ghosts who moved upon the southern sea. “The Seven have never brought me so much as a sparrow. It is time I tried another hawk, Davos. A red hawk.”
— DAVOS I, A CLASH OF KINGS

*   *   *

What all of this tells us is that Stannis will do whatever it takes to ensure that the seven kingdoms do not fall into the hands of those who have no right to them. It shows that he has an adapted a belief in being pragmatic, not dogmatic.

Further, he makes this change in character not out of lust for the throne but out of obligation. Oh sure there is some emotion, some latent feeling of being mistreated by his brothers, but ultimately Stannis is trying to take the throne because he feels that it is his duty:

Stannis will adapt and “break” rules when necessary.

He makes these moral sacrifices because he believes that he is the rightful king, and consequently doing anything less is a disservice to those whom he rules.

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*   *   *

A MAN OF TWO FACES


stannis_baratheon2Even if actions of questionable ethics and legality are necessary, why must they be secretive?

The need for secrecy is a crucial component of Stannis’s inner strategic guideposts. Understanding why he chooses to use secrecy so prominently is key to understanding many of his strategic decisions.

Close to the Chest

By keeping Stannis’s unethical or unpopular strategies secret, he acts to sustain his public reputation as a rigid adjudicator, meanwhile moving to defeat his foes with unexpected surprise.

The card-playing term “close to the chest” refers to a player who keeps their hand pressed against their chest to prevent opponents from peeking at it. This is an apt description of Stannis’s secrecy in this regard… he doesn’t want his opponents to know what he can do.

There some highly relevant passages from the books, all showing that this highly-secretive nature is something attributable to all of the great kings (and regents).

First we see that Robb listens to his advisers but reveals his decisions only when necessary:

“And when you’ve joined his men to yours and seen my brother married, what then?” Catelyn asked him.

“North.” Robb scratched Grey Wind behind an ear.

“By the causeway? Against Moat Cailin?”

He gave her an enigmatic smile. “That’s one way to go,” he said, and she knew from his tone that he would say no more. A wise king keeps his own counsel, she reminded herself.
— CATELYN V, A STORM OF SWORDS

This parallels everything I’ve said about Stannis and how he must keep his secrets to himself.

We see this echoed once more when the first clues about Tywin’s plans for the Red Wedding emerge:

“Could the Westerlings and Spicers be such great fools as to believe the wolf can defeat the lion?”

Every once in a very long while, Lord Tywin Lannister would actually threaten to smile; he never did, but the threat alone was terrible to behold. “The greatest fools are ofttimes more clever than the men who laugh at them,” he said, and then, “You will marry Sansa Stark, Tyrion. And soon.”
— TYRION III, A STORM OF SWORDS

Later, Tyrion reveals his distress about being left out of the conspiracy:

“I mislike that word,” Lord Tywin said stiffly.

“And I mislike being left in the dark.”

“There was no reason to tell you. You had no part in this.”

“Was Cersei told?” Tyrion demanded to know.

“No one was told, save those who had a part to play. And they were only told as much as they needed to know. You ought to know that there is no other way to keep a secret—here, especially. My object was to rid us of a dangerous enemy as cheaply as I could, not to indulge your curiosity or make your sister feel important.” He closed the shutters, frowning. “You have a certain cunning, Tyrion, but the plain truth is you talk too much. That loose tongue of yours will be your undoing.”
— TYRION VI, A STORM OF SWORDS

So we see that Robb and Tywin both kept secrets quite close, but often betrayed their cunning through a subtle smile.

Compare this to what I pointed out in The Night Lamp essay, that Stannis “smiled strangely” upon hearing that the Freys were stymied by Crowfood’s deadfalls and Aenys’s death. I specifically pointed out that this alerts us to the fact that Stannis is elated to learn about the Frey casualties and their susceptibility to traps.

And in Subverting Betrayal, I further highlighted the fact that Stannis articulates why secrets must be kept from those close to him, which is quite close to what Tywin says here.

Here are the relevant passages:

Karstark could never have hoped to keep his treachery a secret if he shared his plans with every baseborn manjack in his service. Some drunken spearman would have let it slip one night whilst laying with a whore. They did not need to know. They are Karhold men. When the moment came they would have obeyed their lords, as they had done all their lives.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

Ser Justin bowed his head. “I understand.”

That only seemed to irritate the king. “Your understanding is not required. Only your obedience. Be on your way, ser.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

“So Crowfood set his boys to digging pits outside the castle gates, then blew his horn to lure Lord Bolton out. Instead he got the Freys. The snow had covered up the pits, so they rode right into them. Aenys broke his neck, I heard, but Ser Hosteen only lost a horse, more’s the pity. He will be angry now.”

Strangely, Stannis smiled. “Angry foes do not concern me. Anger makes men stupid, and Hosteen Frey was stupid to begin with, if half of what I have heard of him is true. Let him come.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

Not only do these similarities support the proposed notion that Stannis keeps secrets from even his closest companions and advisers, but it is also strikingly congruent with the prevailing motif of kingly plots cloaked behind puzzling smiles.

*   *   *

Blowback

Stannis has made several choices that –were the truth revealed– could undermine his sovereignty:

  • He burned the idols of the Seven on Dragonstone. This alienated a major component of the King’s Men faction within his armies. If the truth arose that he only burned them out of a desire to secure forces and catalyze loyalty among the Queen’s Men, it would infuriate the King’s Men.
  • Likewise, it is fairly obvious that Stannis is not true follower of R’hllor, his interest in the faith is nominal at best and largely only concerned with how it aids his quest to secure the Iron Throne, and later perform his duties as the prospective Azor Ahai reborn. If the truth of his agnosticism was revealed, it may undermine the loyalty of the Queen’s Men faction of his army. If the likely falsehood of his sword Lightbringer was revealed, it would have much the same effect.
  • The notion that Stannis did not in fact execute Mance Rayder and instead lied to the wildlings and North could have severe ramifications on their loyalty to his cause.
  • His use of Melisandre’s ‘shadow assassins’ to kill Renly and Cortnay Penrose might have damning effects throughout the seven kingdoms, marking him as a kinslayer and practitioner of dark magic.

Blowback is a term used to describe the negative effects of covert operations and neatly describes the risk Stannis assumes when he uses immoral or illegal strategies in his campaign.

To prevent any sort of blowback from occurring Stannis must invest heavily into protecting his secrets.

*   *   *

Thus we see that Stannis had incentives to act in furtive and unethical ways, but also to conceal them entirely or at least his involvement.

Ultimately, we can draw three conclusions:

Stannis’s secrecy allows him to use tactics that his opponents do not anticipate – often in ways that others might conceal wrong, unethical or unworthy of a king.

Stannis’s use of necessary-but-questionable tactics in pursuit of sovereignty pose a risk to his campaign if they were ever revealed.

Thus Stannis must necessarily conceal them from all of his constituents–save those who must necessarily know.

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*   *   *

THE FINEST TRICK


The finest trick of the devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.
— CHARLES BAUDELAIRE, LE SPLEEN DE PARIS

Stannis has one great advantage, one that is almost solely responsible for his capacity to carry out these various subterfuges without arousing suspicion:

Stannis is considered the most duty-bound and justice-oriented Lord in the seven kingdoms. His adherence to ‘law and justice’ is considered beyond reproach.

It would be a waste of time to provide citations, everyone from Cersei to Roose Bolton has declared that Stannis is leashed to his sense of duty. Only Melisandre and Davos have explicit knowledge of Stannis’s deceptions, and only Brienne, Tyrion, Varys and Catelyn even harbor suspicions of his true nature.

Further, it seems that Stannis never discloses his full strategy anyone. This is made all-but-explicit in a statement he makes in The Winds of Winter:

“No. I believe them. Karstark could never have hoped to keep his treachery a secret if he shared his plans with every baseborn manjack in his service. Some drunken spearman would have let it slip one night whilst laying with a whore. They did not need to know. They are Karhold men. When the moment came they would have obeyed their lords, as they had done all their lives.”
— THEON I, THE WINDS OF WINTER

This secrecy gives Stannis one other huge benefit: plausible deniability. The lack of disclosures allows Stannis to readily declare an unawareness of most of his covert actions. He can readily point the finger at Melisandre for most of his darkest secrets, and does so when he confesses to Davos that he had no idea what would befall Renly. Although it’s clear that Stannis’s confession is at least partially true, there’s no doubt he’s rationalizing and shifting blame as well.

By keeping secrets to himself, Stannis also preserves their usefulness, as indicated by his comment about the Karstarks.

*   *   *

In summary:

The perceived nature of Stannis’s blind adherence to justice is what gives him the opportunity to execute his clandestine operations.

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*   *   *

CONFIDANTS AND WHISTLEBLOWERS


TN-DragonstoneFor all his efforts at secrecy, Stannis’s schemes do necessitate the use of others. For the reasons outlined throughout this essay, Stannis allows as few people as possible to know about his clandestine operations.

The Confidants

Those who know about his covert schemes:

  • Melisandre. Obviously.
  • Davos. Again, obviously.
  • Devan Seaworth. Stannis’s squire. Most likely; he was present at the discussion about Cortnay Penrose and is ever-present around Stannis and Melisandre.
  • Mance Rayder. Obviously, per the arguments made in the previous essays in this series.
  • The Spearwives. The spearwives that traveled with Mance-as-Abel to Winterfell certainly must know his true identity, and thus Stannis’s secretive nature.
  • Mors Umber. Per the The Winds of Winter samples, he was clearly colluding with Abel and the spearwives, suggesting a knowledge of the kidnap plot. Likely knows that Mance is alive.
  • Val. Given the previous arguments that Val knows Mance is alive, then she obviously knows about Stannis’s secretive activities.
  • Horpe and Massey. Both of these knights have been acting in close concert with Stannis and Mors, Horpe in particular. We know that both were hoping to be rewarded with Winterfell, which would necessarily inspire tremendous loyalty. It’s plausible that one or both know some of Stannis’s secrets.

As noted we also know that Tyrion, Varys, Catelyn and Brienne all deeply suspect Stannis’s subterfuge as well.

Why does Stannis trust these others secrecy? Mostly because he has tremendous leverage over each of them:

  • Melisandre truly believes he is Azor Ahai Reborn, he has no reason to distrust her zealous dedication to his cause.
  • Davos and Devan owe everything they have to Stannis. Without him they are nothing.
  • Stannis believes he has Mance‘s son as a hostage. Val is a further hostage and ‘prize’ as well.
  • Horpe and Massey were likely assured of suitable rewards for their unique contributions to his campaign.
  • Mors was likely excited at the prospect of revenge against the Boltons. It’s plausible that he was also happy to have his lost daughter Rowan returned to him. This latter option is discussed in a later essay in the Mannifesto, An Alliance of Giants and Kings.

There is a notable concern when you look at the list of confidants:

  • Many have no truly compelling reason to remain loyal to Stannis beyond their currently shared goals
  • Many were only recently added to these lists as of A Dance with Dragons.

*   *   *

An Expected Whistleblower

One has to wonder if Stannis knows that his secrets will eventually come out.

Stannis’s careful, strategic mind suggests that he would be aware that his secrets would be eventually revealed.

Due to the necessary involvement of persons lacking compelling reasons to remain loyal, Stannis was almost certainly aware that his clandestine operations would be revealed.

As I noted previously, this could have dramatic negative effects on his campaign. However, if contemporary history is any indication, deceptions in war can be well received:

Although to use deceit in every action is detestable, none the less in the managing of a war it is a laudable and glorious thing; and that man is equally lauded who overcomes the enemy by deceit, as is he who overcomes them by force.
— MACHIAVELLI, DISCOURSES ON LIVY: BOOK III, CHAPTER XL

This is almost certainly just as true in Westeros as it was in ancient Rome, and I’m certain that Stannis banked on being able to justify the deceptions by showing how they were absolutely necessary in order to defeat the Boltons.

Not only was Stannis fully cognizant that Mance’s survival could be revealed, he likely had prepared for that contingency.

Thus it is hardly damning to his campaign that Mance Rayder’s survival was revealed. Stannis was ready to lay waste to concerns about Mance when they were raised.

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*   *   *

SUMMARY


This essay makes many points. Here is a quick summary of them all:

  1. Stannis is flexible with his administration of law and justice when such pliability is necessary in order to achieve his goals.
  2. Law and justice cannot exist in a realm where sovereignty is questioned.
  3. Thus, when his sovereignty is threatened, Stannis is willing to discard simple, idealistic applications of law and justice in favor of actions that will secure sovereignty.
  4. By securing sovereignty, actions which seem to defy law and justice are taken with the intention of securing the ability to administer ideal law and justice in the future.
  5. Stannis sees failure to assume the rightful duty as king is a disservice to the realm and his family.
  6. Stannis’s use of necessary-but-questionable tactics in pursuit of sovereignty pose a risk to his campaign if they were ever revealed.
  7. Thus Stannis must necessarily conceal them from all of his constituents–save those who must necessarily know.
  8. Stannis is considered the most duty-bound and justice-oriented Lord in the seven kingdoms. His adherence to ‘law and justice’ are considered beyond reproach.
  9. The perceived nature of Stannis’s blind adherence to justice is what gives him the opportunity to execute his clandestine operations.
  10. Due to the necessary involvement of persons lacking compelling reasons to remain loyal, Stannis was almost certainly aware that his clandestine operations would be revealed.

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*   *   *

AFTERWORD


DragonstoneThis has been a rather thorough dissection of Stannis’s double-life: at once an apparent champion for law and order, but underneath that guise rests a man capable of great deception, driven by a sense of reluctant duty.

This deft duplicity belies a man with a profound understanding of how to win a war from a losing position, using intrigue and brilliant maneuver warfare.

Stannis is playing chess (or cyvasse if you prefer), but his opponents cannot see all of Stannis’s pieces.

As such, if we were to draw parallels between Stannis and real-world strategists, two immediately come to mind: Niccolo Machiavelli and Livy. I cite Machiavelli not for his over-esteemed The Prince, but for his Discourses on Livy, which embody a brilliant analysis of warfare and generalship.

This parallel forms the basis of the next essay in the Mannifesto, Machiavellian Genius.

Please note that it is something of an “optional” essay. It only serves to show the depths of Stannis’s military genius by comparing his actions to the advice given by both Livy and Machiavelli.

If you are more interested in following the core of the Mannifesto and seeing how Stannis takes the north, you may want to jump directly to the first entry in the next volume, The Road to Barrowton.

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<the mannifesto>

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4 thoughts on “The King with Two Faces

  1. some bull

    Dude, I love your essays. I’m fascinated by Martin’s ability to construct such a complex character through only others’ points of view. In this way, I consider Stannis to be the foil, if you will, of Euron Greyjoy.

    Having said that, can’t be talking shit on The Prince, man. That book is a fantastic read and features many applicable real-world lessons. Personally too, I like Sun Tzu’s Art of War better than Livy, though MUCH of what they say is similar.

    Reply
    1. Aaron

      Your bringing together the trinity of sovereignty, law and justice and how they are perceived by Stannis made me think of Abraham Lincoln and how he very well could have operated under a similar doctrine.

      Bending or breaking the law in order to reclaim the sovereignty that is essential for law and justice.

      I have never previously considered how and why Lincoln subverted the law for the sake of sovereignty and how that informed the many of the moral and strategic dimensions of the US Civil War.

      Like Stannis the dual nature of Lincoln has often been remarked upon as well. Publicly he was “honest Abe” but I suspect the inner man was a very effective strategic thinker especially regarding the moral dimension of war.

      This would imply a deceptive quality at the very least to arguably America’s greatest President.

      Extraordinary essay.

      Thank you for writing it.

      Reply
      1. cantuse Post author

        Lincoln was deft strategist, at once embracing morality in his addresses yet tolerating the scorched earth tactics of Sherman and amorality of Butler.

        I definitely think your comparison is apt.

  2. Sularking

    Hey, I’ve recently discovered all your essays and I can’t thank you enough for producing them.

    What do you think of the scene with Stannis and the leeches? Seems like a moment when his sense of right defeat his pragmatism. I think a more practical Stannis would have held off on throwing Robb Stark’s leech into the fire and would have elected to kill Tywin, not Joffrey.

    Reply

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