Doctrine of Exceptionalism

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The Doctrine of Exceptionalism, or Exceptionalism for short, is the precept that King Jaehaerys I Targaryen worked out with the Faith of the Seven in 54 AC in order for them to tolerate the continued practice of incestuous marriages by House Targaryen. It was developed by King Jaehaerys, with help from Septon Oswyck and Septon Barth. The supporters of this doctrine are called Exceptionalists.[1]


The Doctrine of Exceptionalism's basic tenet was simple: the Faith of the Seven had been born in Andalos of old, where the laws laid down by the Seven in the holy texts decreed that incest was an abomination. The Doctrine of Exceptionalism confirmed this, but with one caveat: the Targaryens were not like other men, as they rode dragons, and were the only ones in the world to do so since the Doom of Valyria. In addition, the Targaryens did not have their roots in Andalos, but in Valyria, where different laws and traditions held sway. The Targaryens wed brother to sister as the Valyrians had always done, and as the gods had made them this way, it was not for men to judge.[1]

Apart from incest, one of the key beliefs of Exceptionalism was that the Targaryens were immune to common illnesses that could kill other men.[2][3][N 1]

The Seven Speakers

After King Jaehaerys I Targaryen wed his sister, Alysanne, in 51 AC, Jaehaerys sent the Seven Speakers to preach the doctrine throughout Westeros, and win the smallfolk over with words, not with swords. The speakers traveled the realm barefoot and alone, going from village to village, town to town, telling the smallfolk of Jaehaerys's wisdom and Alysanne's kindness. When challenged by smallfolk or knights who would quote passages from The Seven-Pointed Star which denounced incest, the seven would say the Valyrians rode dragons and thus were not like other men, and as such, an exception had to be made.[1]

Septon Alfyn was one of the Seven Speakers, and a fierce champion of the Doctrine of Exceptionalism. When the High Septon died in 54 AC, the king and queen hoped to prevent the election of a new High Septon that would denounce their marriage as incestuous and begin another uprising (like the one that had been ended only six years before). Septon Mattheus of King's Landing was a likely candidate, and fiercely opposed to the Targaryen practice of incest. King Jaehaerys and Queen Alysanne flew to Oldtown, and according to Septon Barth's account, there struck a deal with Lord Donnel Hightower to support Alfyn as the new High Septon. King Jaehaerys promised Lord Donnel that since Alfyn's old age meant he could soon die, his successor would be a Hightower, on the condition of the Hightowers' support of the king's doctrine. As the High Septon, Alfyn and his successor, a brother of Lord Donnel Hightower, made the Doctrine of Exceptionalism an official tenet of the Faith of the Seven.[4]


From the time the Doctrine was accepted till the fall of its dynasty, House Targaryen had nine incestuous marriages:[5][N 2]

Incestuous betrothals also occurred:


  1. This belief has since been proven wrong, as several Targaryens died of different diseases. As examples, the Shivers for Daenerys, greyscale for Maegelle, a burst belly for Baelon, infection and gout for Viserys I, consumption for Aegon III, the Great Spring Sickness for Daeron II, Valarr, and Matarys, and a short illness for Jaehaerys II.
  2. Marriages between cousins are not considered incestuous by Westerosi standards. Therefore the following unions do not hinge on the Doctrine of Exceptionalism:


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Fire & Blood, A Time of Testing - The Realm Remade.
  2. Fire & Blood, The Long Reign - Jaehaerys and Alysanne: Policy, Progeny, and Pain.
  3. The Rise of the Dragon, The Reign of Jaehaerys I: The Early Reign.
  4. Fire & Blood, Birth, Death, and Betrayal Under King Jaehaerys I.
  5. The World of Ice & Fire, Appendix: Targaryen Lineage.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Fire & Blood, Heirs of the Dragon - A Question of Succession.