A League of Their Own


To be quite frank, this essay doesn’t need polished presentation, nor well-articulated reason, nor well-timed salvos of ‘mind-shattering new theory’. I simply plan to prove the following:

Stannis’s campaign in the north draws directly on elements of Napoleon Bonaparte’s most famous triumphs: at Ulm, Austerlitz, and Arcola.

Specific elements of Stannis’s northern campaign are derived from Hannibal’s famous victory at the Battle of Cannae.

This essay is broken into several sections examining various elements of Stannis’s character and his military campaign. In each section I will examine the similarities in a particular sequence:


  1.  The Incontrovertible. Those parallels which exist without assuming any of my other theories are correct.
  2. The Predictable. Those parallels that are likely to exist, pending the accuracy of several theories made throughout the Mannifesto.

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Hannibal_Slodtz_Louvre_MR2093There a great many similarities between Napoleon, Hannibal and Stannis which don’t even rely on theory. They are virtually self-evident. This section enumerates those that I can find (or remember—I’ve spent weeks gathering this stuff only to lose my notes at one point).

Mors Crowfood and Joachim Murat

In A Dance with Dragons, Mors Crowfood arrives at Winterfell ahead of the main Baratheon army. Once there he sets about blowing his warhorns and beating his drums. The cacophony of sound appears to be coming from the wolfswood to the west or northwest of the castle:

The drumming seemed to be coming from the wolfswood beyond the Hunter’s Gate. They are just outside the walls.

NOTE: The Hunter’s Gate is on the west side of the castle, the wolfswood is generally to the west and northwest.

Shortly before these horns start sounding, we are also informed that Bolton scouts sent that way are not returning:

“To fight Lord Stannis we would first need to find him,” Roose Ryswell pointed out. “Our scouts go out the Hunter’s Gate, but of late, none of them return.”

If you’ll allow the tiniest of assertions, these missing scouts are almost certainly being killed by Mors and his men.

The net effect of this is that it confuses the Bolton forces occupying Winterfell… they think that Stannis’s main army is immediately outside the castle, positioned in the wolfswood. The sounds coming from the woods, coupled with the lack of accurate scouting patrols are the basis for this seemingly accurate conclusion.

Now… let me share something from real-world history: during Napoleon’s Ulm campaign, he tasked one of his men (Joachim Murat) to do virtually the exact same thing. I don’t mean a small similarity, I mean the exact… same… thing:

As part of that expectation, Napoleon sent his brother-in-law, General Marshall Joachim Murat, with his Calvary into the Black Forest. Napoleon knew that creating a diversion would confuse his enemy and give him the upper-hand in battle. As Murat’s cavalry approached the Black Forest they began to blow trumpets and act like the main army, while preventing Austrian patrol forces from breaking up the brigade.


  • The Black Forest versus the wolfswood.
  • Blowing trumpets versus warhorns and drums.
  • Disrupting patrols versus killing scouts.
  • Both efforts eventually convincing the enemy that the main army was near…

Need I say more?

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Hosteen and Aenys Frey versus Paullius and Varro

By the time of Theon’s sample chapter from The Winds of Winter, we know that the Frey forces are coming down on Stannis’s encampment at the crofter’s village. These men are led by Hosteen Frey. It’s important to keep in mind that they were originally led by two men, Hosteen and his brother Aenys.

Both men has very different personalities and attributes as leaders, as noted several times throughout A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter:

Hosteen and Aenys. He remembered them from before he knew his name. Hosteen was a bull, slow to anger but implacable once roused, and by repute the fiercest fighter of Lord Walder’s get. Aenys was older, crueler, and more clever—a commander, not a swordsman. Both were seasoned soldiers.

“…Hosteen Frey was stupid to begin with, if half of what I have heard of him is true. Let him come.”

However, the more careful and calculating Aenys dies before the Frey forces arrive at the village. This of course leaves the command to Hosteen:

“That Braavosi banker claimed Ser Aenys Frey is dead. Did some boy do that?”

“Twenty green boys, with spades,” Theon told him. “The snow fell heavily for days. So heavily that you could not see the castle walls ten yards away, no more than the men up on the battlements could see what was happening beyond those walls. 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.”

So collectively we see that a Frey army, once led by two men is now led by one with a penchant for hastiness and emotional thinking.

The parallels to Hannibal are overwhelming. One of Hannibal Barca’s most famous victories occured at the Battle of Cannae. A decisive factor in that battle was Hannibal’s awareness of the leadership of the Roman forces:

In 216 BC, when elections resumed, Gaius Terentius Varro and Lucius Aemilius Paullus were elected as consuls, placed in command of a newly raised army of unprecedented size, and directed to engage Hannibal…

…Ordinarily, each of the two consuls would command his own portion of the army but, since the two armies were combined into one, Roman law required them to alternate their command on a daily basis. It appears that Hannibal had already realized that the command of the Roman army alternated, and planned his strategy accordingly. The traditional account puts Varro in command on the day of the battle, and much of the blame for the defeat has been laid on his shoulders…

Varro, in command on the first day, is presented by contemporary sources as a man of reckless nature and hubris, who was determined to defeat Hannibal.

Again, the parallels are striking and hardly need explaining.

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The Karstark Raven versus Alvinzi’s Spy

Although readers knew in A Dance with Dragons, Stannis appears to have only learned about the Karstark betrayal courtesy of Jon Snow’s letter which arrived in Theon’s sample chapter. Many times in the Mannifesto I have argued that Stannis must have known about the betrayal prior to Jon’s letter (the chief essay being Subverting Betrayal).

However the timing of Stannis’s “education” is not relevant to the following observation. During the siege of Mantua, Napoleon had the following experience:

Alvinzi sent a peasant across the country to carry dispatches to Wurmser in the beleaguered city. The information of approaching relief was written upon very thin paper, in a minute hand and inclosed in a ball of wax, not much larger than a pea. The spy was intercepted. He was seen to swallow the ball. The stomach was compelled to surrender its trust, and Napoleon became acquainted with Alvinzi’s plan of operation.

Similar to Napoleon, it is the revelation of the spy that ostensibly provides Stannis with information regarding his opponent’s plans. This bears relevance in later observations comparing Stannis’s campaign to the siege of Mantua, particularly Napoleon’s moves at the village of Arcola.

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Robert Baratheon versus Joseph Bonaparte

All too often we are reminded of Stannis’s frustration with Robert, how he always felt that Robert has tarnished him in one or more ways. There is an interesting psychological parallel with Napoleon as well:

Psychological perspectives have offered additional assistance in unlocking Napoleon’s personality. Sigmund Freud famously traced Napoleon’s aggressive ambition to his youthful hostility towards his older brother Joseph and his urge to take his place as first son in the family.

Napoleon’s brother Joseph was not just any brother, he was the King of Spain. Of course none of this makes a whole lot of sense in truth since Napoleon was directly responsible for Joseph’s position, but nonetheless the psychoanalysis is entertaining.

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1000509261001_1456438856001_BIO-Napoleon-SFIf I may be so bold, the Night Lamp theory I wrote is perhaps one of the most likely predictions regarding the Battle of Ice we can expect from The Winds of Winter. It has a heavy basis in textual evidence, and makes only the smallest and reasonable intuitive arguments. It is certainly one of the most popular and referenced theories to have ever been published on my WordPress site.

If most (all?) of the major elements proposed in the Night Lamp theory and the subsequent Mannifesto are correct then a bevy of additional parallels to Napoleon and Hannibal arise.

The Lakes versus the Satchan Ponds

A major component of the Night Lamp is the belief the Stannis plans to lure the Freys onto the frozen lakes at the crofter’s village. Once placed on these lakes, he plans on luring the Freys into a trap:

  • Holes have been dug into the ice, into which the Frey vanguard will fall.
  • I further theorized that Stannis will erect catapults and fire stones (from the village watchtower) into the lakes to shatter the ice and decimate the remainder of the Frey army’s main strength.

Compare this to one of the most famous apocryphal stories of Napoleon’s conquests, the Satchan Ponds:

Towards the end of the battle, when the Russians and Austrians were in headlong flight to avoid capture, an entire division, with cannon and ammunition wagons, rushed onto the frozen Satschan Ponds to escape from the pursuing French. Inevitably, under their weight the ice broke – a few cannonballs fired by a Guards battery at the end of the battle had hardly helped matters – and men, horses and artillery were plunged into the frozen lakes.

The odious anti-Napoleonic propaganda of the time immediately turned the shallow ponds into a bottomless chasm that was supposed to have swallowed up the fleeing troops.

Once again, the similarities hardly bear explaining. The only significant difference between apocryphal history and fiction here is that the Russians and Austrians were fleeing after the famous defeat at Austerlitz, whereas the Night Lamp posits the annihilation of an oncoming enemy.

The Crofter’s Village versus Arcole

One of the main advantages of the crofter’s village in which Stannis sets up camp is the limited approach:

The next day the king’s scouts chanced upon an abandoned crofters’ village between two lakes—a mean and meagre place, no more than a few huts, a longhall, and a watchtower.

Subsequently we know that there are only two unambiguously safe ways to access the village, either end of the “land-bridge” between the lakes. This has a decided military advantage because it narrows an enemy approach and limits the number of men which can be brought to bear simultaneously.

This bears a notable similarity to one of Napoleon’s exploits:

The depression of the soldiers thus compelled at last, as they supposed, to retreat, was extreme. Suddenly, and to the perplexity of all, Napoleon wheeled his columns into another road, which followed down the valley of the Adige. No one could imagine whither he was leading them. He hastened along the banks of the river, in most rapid march, about fourteen miles, and, just at midnight, recrossed the stream, and came upon the rear of the Austrian army. Here the soldiers found a vast morass, many miles in extent, traversed by several narrow causeways. In these immense marshes superiority in numbers was of little avail, as the heads of the column only could meet.

In this example from history, Napoleon has arrived near the village of Arcola. The restricted accessibility of the village (via narrow causeways) and the dangerous surrounding terrain bear curious resemblance to the ice lakes and limited strip of land constituting the crofter’s village.

Further, the discouraged psychology displayed in the excerpt shares great similarity with the despair shown in Stannis’s camps at the village.

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Blinding with the Morning Sun

One element of Hannibal’s victory at Cannae was his decisive use of timing:

In addition, the Carthaginian forces had maneuvered so that the Romans would face east. Not only would the morning sun shine low into the Romans’ eyes, but the southeasterly winds would blow sand and dust into their faces as they approached the battlefield.

Prior to the assassination of Renly at Storm’s End, Stannis and Renly were committed to engage each other in battle the following morning.

During Renly’s last council, Randyll Tarly astutely warns of Stannis’s selected timing:

“And have it said that I won by treachery, with an unchivalrous attack? Dawn was the chosen hour.

“Chosen by Stannis,” Randyll Tarly pointed out. “He’d have us charge into the teeth of the rising sun. We’ll be half-blind.”

So clearly we see that Stannis and Hannibal were at least similar in this regard. The connection to the Night Lamp strategy emerges when you consider the ‘optional’ theory that Stannis will spring his trap on the Freys by drawing his sword Lightbringer. This possibility is discussed in the main Night Lamp essay itself, as well as Teeth of the Rising Sun, an essay dedicated to exploring the possibility.

NOTE: In short, the theory states that Stannis will draw his sword to blinding effect as the Freys near the holes dug in the ice on the frozen lakes. When “Mance” is executed in JON III–ADWD, Stannis was verifying the blinding power of the sword… prior to implementing it as a battlefield tactic.

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Mance Rayder versus Karl Schulmeister

In the Night Lamp and subsequent essays (Operating in the Dark and the entirety of Volume II), I argue extensively that Stannis was complicit in Mance Rayder’s survival. This was due to Mance’s utility in serving the king’s campaign.

Of particular interest is the observation that Mance was disguised courtesy of a magical glamor provided by Melisandre.

Returning to Napoleon, his most famous of spies and intelligence gathers was a man by the name of Karl Schulmeister. A famous account of his introduction to Napoleon is as follows:

All his life, Karl Schulmeister had wanted to work for the great Napoleon. Now, in the great hall at Strasbourg, where the Emperor had agreed to interview him, it seemed to Schulmeister that his big chance had come at last.

Napoleon addressed him curtly. “Where are your references?”

“Sire, I have no recommendations but my own.”

“You may go. We have no work for men without references.” Without another word, Napoleon rose and retired behind a screen, indicating that the interview was over.

But Schulmeister did not go. Instead, he made a few alterations to his dress and puckered up his face. In a moment the Emperor returned and, thinking that Schulmeister had gone and that here was a fresh recruit, demanded, “Who are you?”

“I am Karl Schulmeister,” replied the candidate. “You interviewed me a moment ago. Now that I have demonstrated my ability to change my personality completely, perhaps you could find me a job in your service.”

Napoleon, we are told, was thunderstruck by the deception which was so good he was completely fooled. At any rate, he immediately gave Schulmeister a job.

This is not the end of Mance and Karl’s similarities:

The skill of acting, at which Schulmeister was so brilliant and which had got him his new job, was to save his life on many occasions during his spying career. At the Battle of Wagram, he was followed into a house where he had taken refuge by a group of Austrian soldiers on his trail. As the Austrians burst into the house they were confronted by a barber coming downstairs with soap, towels, razors and other barbering equipment in his hands.

“We are chasing a spy,” they shouted. “Have you seen him?”

“A man just ran upstairs,” replied the barber.

Like bloodhounds, the soldiers stormed up the stairs while Schulmeister, the barber, made a rapid getaway.

Another time, when he was surrounded by the Austrian police, he changed his guise and walked right through their cordon, bowing to right and left. The police allowed him to pass because he bore no resemblance to the man for whom they were looking.

On yet another occasion, he paid a million francs to an Austrian general so that he could take the general’s place at a council of war. The council was presided over by the Austrian Emperor who, like the other generals, failed to spot the intruder. And the entire proceedings of the Council were reported back by Schulmeister to Napoleon.

In particular, the similarities are most compelling when you consider that Mance will likely need to escape after the rescue of Arya. Further compelling is the idea that Mance still has use of the ‘ruby cuff’ and will use it to emulate Ramsay Snow, as proposed in Showdown in the Crypts.

Lastly, Schulmeister’s attendance at the council of war bears immense similarity to the proposal made in The Hooded Man Uncloaked. In that essay, I posited that Roger Ryswell was slain by the spearwives and his identity usurped courtesy of the ruby cuff. Using the cuff Mors Crowfood (or alternatively Mance Rayder) was able to attend Roose Bolton’s summons in A GHOST IN WINTERFELL–ADWD. See the essay for details.

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Schulmeister’s Deception and the Karstark Letter

The most famous deception made by Karl Schulmeister has yet to be witnessed:

But the master spy’s greatest coup came when he presented himself to Marshal Mack, commander of the Austrian-Hungarian army, in Vienna.

“I am a Hungarian nobleman,” he told Mack. “I have been living in France for many years, and now the French have banished me because they suspect me of being an Austrian spy. I would like to avenge myself on them by really becoming an Austrian spy. Could you use my services?”

Mack, who was no fool but, at 53, an experienced commander, was impressed with the “nobleman.” He obtained a commission in the Austrian army for Schulmeister, made him a member of the best military clubs in Vienna, and then appointed him chief of intelligence on his personal staff.

Then Schulmeister pulled the trick that has made him the model for double agents for nearly two centuries.

One day he entered Marshal Mack’s office with a French newspaper in his hand. “We have just had news that the French are about to revolt against the tyrant Napoleon,” he declared. “As a result, most of the French army is being withdrawn from the Austrian border in order to deal with the expected uprising in France.”

Schulmeister spread out the French newspaper before the Marshal. “This was smuggled out of France. You will see from the reports in it that civil strife is spreading all over France. These reports confirm the information from our spies. France is about to be rent by civil war.”

A gleam came into Mack’s eyes. “Then this is the time to attack!” he exclaimed. “When the French are at their weakest.”

What Mack did not know was that the French newspaper was a fake, deliberately printed for this coup, and that his Director of Intelligence was a Napoleonic spy who expected that Mack’s reaction would be to attack, and who was about to send news of that attack to Napoleon.

Confidently, Mack advanced with 30,000 of his troops to Ulm, in south-west Germany, where he expected to find only the remnants of the withdrawn French army.

The parallel here is tremendous. If you recall from my essay Subverting Betrayal, Stannis was actually encouraged by the knowledge that Roose Bolton had a map to his location.

Furthermore, after receiving this letter, Roose Bolton was encouraged to send the Freys and Manderlys out to the village and defeat Stannis. True there were other factors (the infighting), but Stannis’s fate had begun to look undeniably grim.

Yet in truth we see that Stannis has been erecting a most colossal trap intended to decisively defeat the Freys.

Furthermore Stannis manages to benefit from the Karstark betrayal: despite being agents for Bolton, the king manages to make unintentional double agents out of Arnolf Karstark and his kin (as further described in Subverting Betrayal, Suicidal Tendencies and The Rising Sun of Winter).

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Exaggerations of Troop Numbers and Disinformation

In Deception in Siegecraft, I articulated the idea that Stannis was deliberately exaggerating his troop numbers in order to compel Bolton to rush toward Winterfell.

Napoleon neatly holds to the same concepts:

Napoleon advocated secrecy to protect military movements. He also advocated deception, once telling General Clark to tell his brother Joseph, King of Spain, to exaggerate the numbers of troops he had or that the enemy had…

…He also advocated using disinformation to fool spies and the enemy

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Opinions of History

One further notion is that Stannis and Napoleon share the same of military histories: that they are exaggerated and should be cautiously read:

Napoleon was a serious student of history, especially of great commanders, claiming that “History is a set of lies agreed upon.”

Notice how this compares to Stannis’s recollections of Daeron Targaryen’s claims from the book Conquest of Dorne:

“When the Young Dragon conquered Dorne, he used a goat track to bypass the Dornish watchtowers on the Boneway.”

“I know that tale as well, but Daeron made too much of it in that vainglorious book of his. Ships won that war, not goat tracks. Oakenfist broke the Planky Town and swept halfway up the Greenblood whilst the main Dornish strength was engaged in the Prince’s Pass.”

For added irony, Daeron also commits the very same attribute that Napoleon discusses, exaggeration of troop numbers:

“Dorne is the least populous of the Seven Kingdoms. It pleased the Young Dragon to make all our armies larger when he wrote that book of his, so as to make his conquest that much more glorious, and it has pleased us to water the seed he planted and let our foes think us more powerful than we are, but a princess ought to know the truth.”

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There is probably much more to observe here, particularly with regards to Napoleon. However, I am not a historian and it is a rather large pain to mine for and corroborate all of these details. Perhaps being incomplete is better. All told I’d rather readers finish this essay with the following in mind:

  • Stannis shares some extremely prominent similarities with Napoleon and to a lesser extent Hannibal. In particular, it seems like Martin drew inspiration from these historical generals when designing Stannis and his campaign strategies.
  • It is particularly compelling how many of these pieces fit with elements of the Night Lamp and the Mannifesto in general, despite the fact that those theories were written and published months before the author became of aware of these similarities.
  • This essay may be far from exhaustive, further parallels may yet lurk.

And I would rather avoid pointing out the huge similarities between Stannis and Napoleon with regards to destiny and duty. Google is your friend in this regard.

What emerges to me is a hypothesis:

Just as we know that Stark and Lannister are seeming pseudonyms for the Yorks and Lancasters… could Baratheon be a pseudonym for Bonaparte?

Ninja Edit:

I would also like to point out just how similar Stannis’s plans are to Napoleon’s famous Ulm campaign. Check out the following video and compare it to the forthcoming battle:

Simply change the river Danube to the White Knife and Ulm to Winterfell and you can start seeing things looking eerily similar.

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10 thoughts on “A League of Their Own

  1. Wolfson

    I’m a big fan of military history myself, so I love seeing the parallels between real-world historical military figures and the battles in ASOIAF. From my first reading of The Night Lamp essay, I’ve thought of your proposed battleplan for Stannis at the Crofter’s Village to be a winter version of Cannae. The stronger troops on the flanks helping to funnel an overconfident enemy into a trap baited by placing seemingly weaker and quickly retreating troops in the center. Double envelop at your leisure, and the added element of the lethal terrain on the unstable ice just adds to the enemy’s quick collapse (literally and figuratively).

    1. cantuse Post author

      Yeah, I wanted to add the envelopment angle to the essay but I’ve just got too much in my personal life at the moment (two kids with high fevers). It certainly inspired the tactics I wrote up in the NL essay at the time.

  2. Johan Ouwerker

    One thing that doesn’t make much sense though is that Stannis is explicitly informed that his men have dug too many holes in the lake — which means it is very dangerous to make your way to the islet with the tree, let alone to deploy a large number of troops on the ice.

    Furthermore your Night Lamp theory hinges on the notion that the force of the Freys will advance as a single column, taking what is ostensibly the *most dangerous path* to cross the distance to Stannis: namely the path with lots of obstacles disrupting his formation and potential hideouts (buildings). Stannis could consider this a defensive advantage and treat it as his flank, by erecting stakes he can effectively fortify himself an deny Frey passage through the village. Ties in just as well with the ominous “Yet”, too.

    Since Frey doesn’t know about the rotten ice he might well decide that he has no better option to advance across the lake to the watch tower (in either a more cautious line formation or a brute force column one). He’d consider the lake effectively a frozen but open field, ideal for the type of traditional pitched battle that he expects; affording him a clear approach and relatively unimpeded vision of the enemy positions.

    And that would present a rather more direct parallel with the Battle on the Ice (Battle of Lake Peipuss), also known as the Battle of the Ice. Coincidentally, the battle of the crofters village/Winterfell and the battle of Mereen are thematically the Battle of Ice and the Battle of Fire respectively…

    That doesn’t mean the Battle of Ice couldn’t be spiced up with some Cannae and/or Lake Trasimene (ambush in the woods, pusing the Freys into the lake?), but it strikes me the theory of the Night Lamp is more complex and dangerous than is required for securing victory. Consider:

    How can Stannis achieve the much greater coordination needed during the battle with visibility expected to be exceedingly poor, prior to using his signal? How can Stannis ensure his own clansmen will not accidentally form up right on the rotten patches of the lake, when by the clansmen’s own admission it’s a miracle more haven’t died yet by accident? How can Stannis make sure that Frey will end up at the correct position to be lead into the funnel, when the simplest routes for advancing his army are “just pick an arbitrary angle and sweep across the lake” i.e. the simplest thing to do for Frey in that scenario risks effectively outflanking Stannis? In fact, how can Stannis ensure Frey won’t accidentally arrive via the opposite lake? Under circumstances in which people get lost even while inside their own encampments?

    Note that the Night Lamp demands the Frey advance at a very specific inclination towards the weirwood islet, which demands they arrive on the battle ‘aimed’ at a narrowly confined section of the shoreline. That requires at a minimum amazingly precise coordination from all skirmishers in exceedingly difficult circumstances coupled to an almost casual disregard for their own safety. Sure the clansmen appear to “have what it takes” but it’s still a high risk plan with about zero margin for error.

    By contrast, all that is really required for Stannis to win the Battle of Ice is that he thoroughly undermine both lakes’ ice sheets near the village and erect comprehensive barricades of stakes on either end to prevent flanking manoeuvres by Frey. To capture the baggage train, all he has to do is to position some mobile light infantry in the woods with orders to hold back until an “all clear” signal is given. To do that, all he need is to turn off the beacon once Frey has walked into the trap and is drowning. Note that even if Freys escape, they will be a long way away from the baggage train by this point irrespective of whether Stannis can provoke Frey into a premature assault. Add some more mobile reserves to finish off the job at the same time and a much simpler approach to a comprehensive battle plan seems readily available, one with the benefit that only the most rudimentary of manoeuvering and coordination will be required on Stannis’ part.

    1. cantuse Post author

      I definitely allowed Cannae to influence my thoughts on how Stannis might array his forces. The concern for the rotten ice and the clansmen is valid, and has caused me to ruminate on how the plan may differ; but I lack for solid ideas.

      There is a mass of parallels between the crofter’s village and the village Bran visits in BRAN I – ADWD. In that chapter, the village is completely hidden beneath the snows… the longhall and huts cannot be identified. Bran and his friends passed halfway through the village before realizing it. The Freys would likewise lack these landmarks for the village’s location. Thus why barricade a village that they Frey’s cannot even see, all it would do is help reorient the Frey forces.

      The idea behind Stannis knowing the Frey ‘angle of approach’ is predicated on the observation that he has scouts who tell him that he is three days from Winterfell. These scouts and/or the theorized skirmishers harrying the Freys would be able to inform Stannis well ahead of the Freys. This is because they would ride the faster garrons while the Freys struggled with their destriers.

      You’re right that they could undermine the lakes near the village, however I wrote the theory based of the clues I could find in the text and there is only mention of the ice being especially destroyed near the weirwood. Your ideas aren’t bad at all, its just that the text seems to clearly establish confusion regarding lake perimeters and locating a village (BRAN II), a dangerous pitfall (THE SACRIFICE), the Frey susceptibility to said pitfalls (THEON I-TWOW), Stannis’s knowledge of a false beacon (DAVOS I), the idea of separating a baggage train from the main force after three days (KING’S PRIZE), and pinning an enemy between an enemy on the shoreline between an army and a drunken/drowned giant (JON II, JON XII), which is the description Martin elected to use in describing some of the islands in the lake (admittedly a more liberal observation).

      You clearly know more about history so I appreciate the input. I don’t doubt that the Night Lamp is going to be wrong on the details… I just think it’s as good a theory as possible given the text evidence. It may be impractical in light of your ideas, but its the idea that emerges from the text that I could find.

      1. Johan Ouwerkerk

        I liked your theory, it certainly has flair and a certain song-worthy quality fit for the genre. However allow me to expand a bit on my first reply to further highlight some of the issues and clarify how I arrived at my alternative idea (based on your observations, as it happens)

        Issues with the original theory:
        1) Nobody in Stannis’ army knows which patches of ice are safe and which are not… except for where they’ve not been doing any ice fishing (definitely unsafe). Remember the remark about cheese and the rats. This makes deployment of troops obviously difficult. The ice must not only be able to carry the weight of a few ice fishermen (dressed relatively lightly), it must also be capable of holding lots of people with heavy gear on the day of battle… at least on the parts of the battle line where the ice is not supposed to break to give the troops the opportunity to envelop the Freys in the first place.
        2) By extension, it is therefore difficult to establish safe lines of retreat for the skirmishers and the light infantry… But that means the skirmishers can’t/won’t lead Frey directly towards wherever Stannis want him to be because they’d fall through themselves before the Freys would.
        3) At Cannae Hannibal took lots of measures to make sure the centre held for as long as it could: he put some of his most trusted men in command, used arguably his best infantry force (Gauls) to hold, adopted a crescent battle line which would fold ‘naturally’ around the Romans and so on. This is doesn’t mesh with the proposed battle plan, though it’s a minor point assuming the clansmen can execute their assignments regardless of the rotten ice and aren’t caught when the ice starts to break.
        4) At Cannae the Romans actually didn’t do anything overly stupid… from their point of view it could be seen as a calculated and minimal risk for the reward of a quick victory: use the aggregated mass to simply steamroller over the “weak” Carthaginian centre and thereby route the enemy. That’s not all the same as blindly charging after a bunch of annoying skirmishers, it’s more like standard riot police tactics of today.

        Likewise, despite Hosteen’s hotheadedness he is more likely to act with an aggressive poker player’s view of risk/reward rather than outright chasing skirmishers blindly all over the map. I’m not saying he couldn’t be provoked to do it, but I am asserting that if the situation looks right to Hosteen he will likely elect to pursue aggressive tactics based on the information he has about force composition if given half the chance and that plan can be subverted like the Roman one.
        5) It’s relatively well established that the only really visible things are (a) the watchtower and possibly (b) the weirwood. This matters because without the beacon Stannis would have to assume that Frey might march right past him, entirely oblivious of his presence. This implies that Frey marches roughly towards the right location but he might turn up at any point along the lakes’ shores before being able to orient himself towards the beacon. And that means Stannis has relatively little time to adapt his entire formation to whatever ‘angle’ is required, and he’ll only have a rough estimate anyway (because of the size of Hosteen’s army and the delay between various, potentially conflicting reports: so how to devine the centre of gravity of Hosteen’s army and adapt the plan accordingly within minimal timeframe?).

        Also if the Freys can see the weirwood at the same location as the false beacon they might well be alerted to the fact trickery was afoot: they know the position of the weirwood relative to the watchtower from the map!
        6) What truly matters with regards to the village is not whether or not it is a visible obstacle but whether or not Frey knows of its layout. This matters because of a seductive “almost too good to be true” opportunity which would naturally present itself to Hosteen Frey. It is based on the combination of its layout (not a circle, but rather a rectangle with only one clear entry/exit for a broad column of men) and the fact that the lakes appear to be frozen over and solid enough to ride across from his edge.
        7) Unlike Stannis, Frey’s army still has a large component of mounted knights. This means he might well favour open ground over woodlands, because woodlands make a proper, massed shock cavalry charge more difficult to execute and less effective (even under perfect conditions).

        Also, the massed shock cavalry charge, the kind which is known to rip enemy battle lines to shreds so happens to be the ultimate aggressive, violent, quick and glorified victory move Hosteen Frey could hope to play: you know the stuff of songs the Westerosi knights like so much. So when taken together with (5) that leaves very little time for Stannis to get all his proverbial ducks in a row before the thundering herd of Freys arrive as planned to drown right on his cue.

        You have already established that only the southern knights are known to be capable of such manoeuvring (established and functional chain of command, veteran troops, loyal, and most importantly tested and observed under duress by Stannis himself). Stannis doesn’t know anything about the reliability of his other troops in this regard. For comparison, note that the Achaemenid army had discipline and a well established and effective chain of command at the “grunt” level but despite that they still lost to Alexander’s numerically inferior shock cavalry and anvil … one major reason for this being dubious and fickle loyalties at the upper echelons of command.
        8) Recall that the approach over land towards the village is heavily wooded just before opening up. (I take it that the maps you provided omit some of the woods encountered on the Frey’s expected approach in order to be able to fit an arrow or two; note that if it isn’t the case there is an immediate and alarming difference for Hosteen and his subordinate commanders to spot when they would be lead towards a false beacon.)

        So that means there is not much room to get a proper charge going. By contrast the lakes provide plenty of runway to work the horses up to required speed to inflict a devastating shock on Stannis battle line if Hosteen considers them safe (solidly frozen over). That means Hosteen might well take active steps to orient his army to get the most out of the approach towards the supposed village, if he can. So he might skirt the lakes before wheeling his army round and emerging from the cover of the woods to begin his descent on Stannis battle line. He might, in fact, try to arrive via the “other” lake, the one without any islets obstructing his progress towards Stannis. This is admittedly a minor point, but I hope it helps to clarify how even if Stannis plan basically works (Hosteen blindly advances towards the false beacon) it could still backfire badly if Stannis cannot reorganise his men on short notice because he hits Stannis’ line at the wrong angle or location.
        9) When the ice starts to crack, cracks will spread. This means Stannis forces must not be near the cracks (preferably not on the ice at all) when the inevitable happens. Otherwise Stannis risks a Pyrrhic victory.


        My alternative theory basically takes your work and turns some of the established references on their heads:

        1) Stannis knows about the applicability of lighthouses to the current weather conditions form his time as master of ships. He also knows of their capacity to signal (coded) communications. This is all much easier to work with if he simply keeps the perfectly good lighthouse he currently has: lighthouses are so useful because the beacon is located at an elevated position, thereby increasing the range at which it is visible.
        2) Furthermore Stannis is aware of treachery. So he knows that Frey knows this (1) there are some lakes, (2) the village is a long stretch which presents no defenses along the lake shore, (3) the orientation of the buildings, and possible implication with regards to potential obstacles or natural traps (like falling through the caved in roof of a snowed under shed with your horse, say), (4) the major landmarks including the information that the weirwood is located outside the village and the watchtower at one end, (5) the fact Stannis has for reasons known only to himself erected a beacon on top of the watch tower.
        3) Frey’s army contains a major component of heavy shock cavalry. Their main purpose in battle is to break an enemy line by charging, the gap which is created would then be filled by infantry forces rushing into the breach.
        4) Visibility of the beacon is limited. It almost certainly doesn’t extend far beyond the lakes, so Stannis cannot assume Frey will arrive at a convenient location for whatever plan he has in mind. He can however assume Frey will attempt to manoeuvre his army to the most advantageous position for whatever plan Frey has in mind.
        5) So Stannis/we may assume Frey to line up in such a way that he will be afforded a clear approach towards the beacon and has enough space to get the horses to switch from marching to a canter to a trot to a full on nigh unstoppable charge. The horses cannot charge or even run for very long especially not when fully loaded. Additionally, historically lots charges would often be aborted before working the horses up to speed if the commander felt the enemy line looked a little too confident to break easily and that necessitates a convenient way out.
        6) Therefore Stannis must either be prepared to deal with assault from any side, or be prepared to adjust his own battle lines post haste without attracting suspicion and without interfering with whatever other components his plan consist of. The last part means that he cannot interfere with lines of retreat or risk causing utter chaos among his own ranks when retreating forces collide with his own battle line. Preparing for assault from any side is simple, given what Stannis knows about conventional warfare and icy death traps by now.
        7) Frey doesn’t understand much about pitfalls in snow. He probably doesn’t consider rotten ice either. Therefore, he will not realise what is happening until he falls through…
        8) Which means Frey should be allowed to advance most if not his entire army so that when the cracks start to spread nearly his entirely army will fall through. Whether he is explicitly goaded or merely not obstructed when taking the obvious path … either option works fine.
        9) The knowns and unknowns about Stannis troops can easily be dealt with: put the Southron knights and the most dangerous positions (either end of the village and some force under Stannis personal command in the centre), fill up a relatively small and narrow battle line with infantry from the north, position archers behind and on the watch tower itself… use the northern light cavalry to harry Frey during the march, then let them wait until it is time to seize the baggage train and chase survivors.
        10) For bonus points some of the most compelling or awe inspiring points of the original grand plan can still be incorporated easily. Examples: he can still show off Lightbringer for dramatic effect/signalling purposes; the baggage train objective is still very much on the cards; Freys still drown…

        The key point is that Frey doesn’t have to be goaded, proded, persuaded or otherwise enticed to make a mistake. His knowledge gives him just enough rope to well and truly hang himself, and his cluelessness prevents him from recognising the pitfalls of his situation (literally). All Stannis has to do is make sure Frey stands on the trap door and the lever works properly.

      2. cantuse Post author

        NOTE: Due to your two lengthy posts, I don’t know which one to respond to. Consider this an attempt to respond to both.

        One of the elements of the Night Lamp theory is that the crofter’s village and the associated lakes bears conspicuous similarity to the fishing village Bran encounters in BRAN I – ADWD. For example:

        Where the ice was flat and the ground was bumpy, the going was easy, but where the wind had pushed the snow up into ridges, sometimes it was hard to tell where the lake ended and the shore began. Even the trees were not as infallible a guide as they might have hoped, for there were wooded islands in the lake, and wide areas ashore where no trees grew.

        This would suggest that wooded islands make orientation with regards to lakes difficult in heavy snowdrifts. Compare to the description of the crofter’s lakes:

        The crofter’s village stood between two lakes, the larger dotted with small wooded islands that punched up through the ice like the frozen fists of some drowned giant.

        This is a noteworthy comparison. Now in real life this may not be the case, indeed one of the early reddit comments was from an inhabitant of Manitoba and said that lakes/ponds are typically easy to spot even in heavy snow. However, we are in Martin’s world and if he says such lakes are difficult to spot then we need to abide by his reality, however inaccurate it may be.

        As for the snow being hidden, we have another parallel with Bran’s village:

        As the first sliver of a crescent moon came peeking through the clouds, they finally stumbled into the village by the lake. They had almost walked straight through it. From the ice, the village looked no different than a dozen other spots along the lakeshore. Buried under drifts of snow, the round stone houses could just as easily have been boulders or hillocks or fallen logs, like the deadfall that Jojen had mistaken for a building the day before, until they dug down into it and found only broken branches and rotting logs.

        Again compare to Asha’s descriptions of the crofter’s village:

        The lakes had vanished, and the woods as well. She could see the shapes of other tents and lean-tos and the fuzzy orange glow of the beacon fire burning atop the watchtower, but not the tower itself.

        The storm had buried every hut and hovel beneath a mound of dirty snow, and the drifts would soon be deep enough to engulf the longhall too.

        She was lost before she had gone ten yards. Asha could see the beacon fire burning atop the watchtower, a faint orange glow floating in the air. Elsewise the village was gone. She was alone in a white world of snow and silence, plowing through snowdrifts as high as her thighs.

        We see here clear evidence that the crofter’s village is vanishing in the same fashion as Bran’s village. The parallels are conspicuously prominent: Asha is unequivocally stating that the village, woods and the lakes have both disappeared (the key words being vanished and gone).

        These findings are relevant because this means that Arnolf Karstark’s maester (Tybald) would have the same extreme limitations in visibility, which would affect his ability to draw any sort of detailed map regarding the location. If he can’t clearly see the woods or the lakes (per Asha’s statements) then how could he clearly relate this to Roose Bolton. Keep in mind that the Karstarks notably arrive after the snows bury the lakes, village and hide the woods, further hampering efforts at map-making.

        It’s further noteworthy that Asha mentions that the watchtower cannot be itself seen, only the fire as a faint orange glow. This suggests that details such as the trees on the island would likewise be undetectable. Another factor is the fashion in which the weirwood island is described as a ‘fist punching up through the ice’. This suggests a geological prominence that especially lends itself to use as a false beacon since its indistinct orange glow will have the same appearance of elevation.

        The notion of the clansman moving over the ice with relative impunity is noted by the observations regarding their bear-paws:

        Many of the wolves donned curious footwear. Bear-paws, they called them, queer elongated things made with bent wood and leather strips. Lashed onto the bottoms of their boots, the things somehow allowed them to walk on top of the snow without breaking through the crust and sinking down to their thighs.

        Some had bear-paws for their horses too, and the shaggy little garrons wore them as easily as other mounts wore iron horseshoes … but the palfreys and destriers wanted no part of them. When a few of the king’s knights strapped them onto their feet nonetheless, the big southern horses balked and refused to move, or tried to shake the things off their feet. One destrier broke an ankle trying to walk in them.

        The northmen on their bear-paws soon began to outdistance the rest of the host.
        — THE KING’S PRIZE

        Clearly these devices would allow the clansmen to ably harry the Freys as well as maneuver on the lakes with substantially more safety than the Frey destriers. Would it be safe? Perhaps not, as I admitted in an earlier comment… but it does render the idea of clansmen withdrawing across the lakes an extremely plausible idea.

        Now let’s consider these observations in light the known data regarding the dense holes in the ice surrounding the weirwood island, the known Frey vulnerability to deadfalls, and Stannis’s documented awareness of the effectiveness of false beacons: the principal idea behind the Night Lamp seems a natural conclusion.

        You clearly have thought about the battle in great detail. Perhaps you are even more astute regarding how to deploy against Hosteen than Martin himself. I don’t deny that erecting barricades of stakes makes sense for the reasons you specify. The only problem I have is that it is speculative. But hell, my proposal regarding catapults is likewise speculative even if it is clever, so I have to acknowledge that spikes are entirely plausible if unverifiable.

        In effort to respect your proposal and demonstrate some active listening, I want to see if I can accurately restate your idea:

        You propose that Stannis will stake both land accesses to the village in an effort to coerce the Freys to approach via the lakes. The surface of the lakes near the shore will be pitted with these ice holes which will greatly damage the approaching enemy. By intelligently arraying his forces based on their aptitudes, he can handle the Freys who survive the trap on the shoreline. Capturing the baggage train would consist of northern clansmen hiding in the woods ready to act given the signal after the main Frey army is engaged.

        Aside from our difference regarding the overall engagement (a false beacon centered trap versus the lakeshore trap, many of our supporting ideas seem very similar. Correct me as necessary. In either case, I believe your clear knowledge on the subject (historian? wargamer?) suggests how a person might plan the battle based on real-world history. I am no such expert. My own analysis is drawn from the text in the books and the reality Martin appears to have created for himself. My small criticism of your idea is that the Karstark map could not be as detailed as Frey would need to accurately orient himself (we don’t even know if he is aware of the weirwood island since the lakes and woods have all ‘vanished’).

        Let our different ideas be recognized and see how things play out.

  3. Johan Ouwerkerk

    The reason for why barricading is a sound idea is: in any case, it prevents a direct full on charge; therefore it goads Freys into a flanking manoeuvre, which draws them onto the lakes. Stakes were readily used in open field battles to protect archers from assault, for example.

    Such barricades are fairly effective at channeling forces, thereby negating any overall numerical (dis)advantage and allowing the defender to achieve numerical superiority locally by design. If nothing else, they all but guarantee that some moves will not occur. So it simplifies planning.

    Of course in your theory the stakes don’t need to be there, in fact they need to be well away from the village.

    Also I think the village is not actually hidden, rather there is lots of snow hiding paths from view as in Winterfell. Where else would the men gather for mess but the long hall? Why not use the huts for additional shelter? Did I perhaps read over it in the Theon sample chapter? There also must be lots of chopped up firewood lying around somewhere to keep that beacon going, too… (transporting whole logs to the top of the tower does seem unlikely.)

    Additionally Frey has both the beacon and additional details with regards to forestation to orient himself with (observing the patterns in clumps and proportion of trees, a conspicuous lack of trees, a very conspicuous weirwood and so on). That implies some serious map reading skills (beyond what we are used to do with satnav), but then again in Martin’s universe map reading is considered very important education (especially for sons who aspire to a military career).

    1. Wolfson

      I think you’re overestimating both the visibility for the Freys, and Hosteen’s navigational abilities within this specific environment. Remember that the ongoing storms (snowfall and overall lack of light) substantially reduce visibility, so the Freys wouldn’t be able to see large portions of the forest at once to observe patterns in the trees. Plus, how adept at forestry do you think Hosteen or any of the Freys really are? They are the only non-northmen in the Bolton forces, and their discomfort with the land and climate are pointed out on several occasions. The weirwood would probably be a distinct enough tree for them to pick up on, but there’s one small problem…weirwoods are white. Spotting a white tree in whiteout conditions seems unlikely.

  4. the_ouskull

    I love your essays, but I hope that wasn’t you in the video. I tried to watch it, just because I love history, and I get the parallels you’re showing us. But, holy crap, I think I’d rather hear Pycelle read lottery numbers.


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