Battle of the Blackwater

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Battle of the Blackwater
Jedruszek battle of the b.jpg
by Tomasz Jedruszek. © Fantasy Flight Games
Conflict War of the Five Kings
Date 299 AC
Place King's Landing / Mouth of the Blackwater
Result House Baratheon of King's Landing Victory
The King in the Narrow Sea
  • Houses sworn to Dragonstone
  • Most Stormlords
  • Some houses of the Reach,
  • Lysene pirates
  • Myrish sellsails
The King on the Iron Throne
King Stannis Baratheon
Ser Imry Florent+
Ser Guyard Morrigen+
Ser Rolland Storm
Lord Salladhor Saan
Ser Davos Seaworth
Lord Tyrion Lannister
Lord Jacelyn Bywater+
Kingsguard Sandor Clegane
Lord Tywin Lannister
Ser Garlan Tyrell
Lord Mace Tyrell
Lord Randyll Tarly
200 ships with landing party.
16,000 knights, light cavalry, and freeriders. ~5,000 men in landing party.
50 ships
6,800 city defenders
<80,000 Lannister-Tyrell reinforcements
See below Most of the fleet,
47 lesser lordlings
619 knights and several thousand men-at-arms,
ground army scattered or switched sides[1]
See below Most of the fleet,[2]
1600 Gold Cloaks killed or deserted,
ground forces casualties unknown

The Battle of the Blackwater was the largest battle in the War of the Five Kings. The battle was fought between forces loyal to Stannis Baratheon and those loyal to Joffrey Baratheon. Stannis' army was on the verge of defeating the garrison of King's Landing, but was taken by surprise and all but annihilated by the joint forces of Tywin Lannister and the Tyrells.



Stannis was one of the members of King Robert's Small Council to harbor suspicions of the parentage of the king's children, and to discover that they were born of incest between Queen Cersei Lannister and her brother Ser Jaime.

Taking his suspicions and what proof he could muster, in the form of Robert's numerous bastard children, to Lord Arryn, he hoped to convince the Hand of the King, one of Robert's oldest and most trusted friends, of the Lannisters' treason. When Arryn died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, Stannis fled to Dragonstone, his seat of power, where Stannis closed the port and its surrounding waters.

After Robert died, Stannis rallied what strength he could, with but few Houses sworn to Dragonstone, and hiring mercenaries and pirates of the Free Cities to augment his forces. As the lord of an island fiefdom and the former Master of Ships, Stannis' naval power was considerable, but the sparse population of the rocky, volcanic islands surrounding Dragonstone left him without the strength to risk openly contesting the Lannisters.[3][4]

Having failed to rally the Stormlords to his cause in secret, Stannis presented his claims through letters distributed throughout the Seven Kingdoms, proclaiming Prince Joffrey and his siblings the fruit of incest, and claiming the crown as Robert's eldest surviving brother and rightful heir. With neither proof, nor the support or love of nobles and commons alike, and a rumor spread by the Lannisters that Stannis' own daughter was a bastard, his proclamation ended as little more than tavern gossip.[4]

Battling Renly

Even before Stannis' ravens had taken wing with his claim, his younger brother Renly had ridden from King's Landing to Highgarden, where he wed the daughter of Lord Tyrell and claimed the crown for himself. For Stannis, this was blatant treason. Moreover, Stannis was infuriated with the knowledge that the the Stormlands had thrown in with Renly, despite the fact that Stannis, as the eldest son of House Baratheon, should have held claim to the loyalty of his House's ancestral seat. On Dragonstone Melisandre told Stannis of two futures she has seen in her flames, one in which Stannis is defeated in King's Landing by his brother Renly, and one in which he sails to Storm's End, where his brother shall die, and his men will flock to Stannis. This led Stannis to strike for Storm's End.[5]

Stannis laid siege to the coastal fortress, which was under the command of Ser Cortnay Penrose, but all his might was but a meager thing against all the strength of storm and Reach at his brother's command. When Renly abandoned his march on King's Landing, bringing all his knights and mounted forces to lift the siege, Stannis was vastly outnumbered. However, before the battle could begin, Renly was slain by a shadow called forth by the shadowbinder Melisandre.[6]

With Renly dead, the greater part of the knights and lords who had been sworn to him submitted to the last Baratheon, chief among them House Florent, relatives of Stannis' wife. About a fifth of the cavalry did not submit, and fled under the command of Ser Loras Tyrell back to Bitterbridge, where almost 60,000 men of Renly's army waited with his widowed Tyrell queen.[7][8] Ser Loras captured the knights Stannis sent to try and recruit the Reach-Stormlands infantry still encamped at Bitterbridge.


Unaware of the capture of Ser Parmen Crane and Ser Erren Florent, Stannis' army now marched on King's Landing. Reinforced with some of the strength of the Stormlands, King Stannis had almost twenty thousand men at his command, mostly knights and freeriders, against the few thousand gold cloaks of King's Landing's City Watch. However, the city was guarded to the south by the Blackwater Rush, and would require an amphibious assault to conquer. Stannis moved his host and fleet upon King's Landing.

Under the direction of the acting Hand, Tyrion Lannister, King's Landing meanwhile strengthened its defenses, doubling its city watch, burning the buildings outside the city walls and constructing a chain which would allow the defenders to close off the Blackwater Rush, as well as preparing ships loaded with wildfire. Tyrion sent out his remaining 150 Mountain clansmen to harass Stannis's flanks in the Kingswood. Stannis' vanguard arrived early, and Joffrey's war galleys were dispatched to exchange arrows with his forces. The vanguard is said to have five thousand men, flying the banners of House Fossoway, Estermont and Florent, under the command of Ser Guyard Morrigen. [9]

Treacherous waters and inclement weather delayed Stannis's fleet on its northward journey from Storm's End. About a dozen ships were lost on the journey to Blackwater Bay and the troops on land suffered days of harassment from Tyrion's clansmen and skirmishers in the Kingswood, despite burning swaths of the forest trying to ferret them out.[9] Stannis gave command of the fleet to Ser Imry Florent, who commanded from Stannis's galley the Fury. Stannis himself was on the south side of the Blackwater with his host, making them create arrows and rafts. [10]

The Battle

Battle on the River

The wildfire burns the Blackwater - by Amok ©

The fleet sailed up the Blackwater Rush with almost all their strength. Confident of his superior numbers, and knowing that the fleet of King's Landing could not hope to contest them, Ser Imry did not send scouts ahead, and attacked immediately, leaving only a contingent of 30 Lyseni mercenary galleys led by Salladhor Saan as rear guard out in the bay. The fleet was organized into ten battle lines composed of twenty ships each. The first two lines, made of war galleys belonging to the Royal Navy and the lords of the Narrow Sea, were to smash the enemy fleet. A third line of war galleys, together with the Myrish sellsails, were to land troops to attack the city, before joining the first two lines in battle. The smaller and slower ships were to ferry Stannis' host.[10]

When Stannis's fleet engaged with Joffrey's, they encountered ships loaded to bursting with wildfire, a deadly accelerant, which burns even on water. Spreading downstream it has soon engulfed in flames the closely packed ships of both fleets, finding their retreat cut off by the massive chain that had been raised between two winch towers at the mouth of the river.

The wildfire unleashed a tremendous amount of damage, destroying Joffrey's small fleet and a large portion of Stannis's. However, a few of Stannis's ships had escaped the conflagration: eight ships managed to land troops to the northern bank, and forty or so galleys remained ready to row Stannis's main force across the river. The congestion of wrecks caught a pier had unwittingly provided a bridge - albeit a burning, unstable one - for the army to cross.[10]

Attack on King's Landing

Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater ‎- © 2012 John Picacio

The city itself was defended by some 5,700 gold cloaks (300 having been sent to escort Littlefinger in his attempt to recruit the Tyrells), leavened with 800 mercenaries and 300 knights, squires, and men-at-arms from the court and the surrounding region. As acting Hand of the King, command of the defense was taken by Tyrion Lannister.[11]

To avoid being overwhelmed, Tyrion tasked several groups of mounted men-at-arms, along with what few knights the city had, to harry Stannis' forces as they came ashore. Under the command of Sandor Clegane and Ser Balon Swann of the Kingsguard, they managed to help stem the tide, but as the battle dragged on, they suffered grievous casualties. Battering rams had been brought to bear on at least two of the city's gates, and when the wildfire raging across the river finally robbed Clegane of his courage, the refusal of the fearsome Hound to lead any more sorties threatened to break the morale of the defenders.

Realizing that they had to drive off the rams and hold the river at all costs, Tyrion made to lead the next sortie himself. Shamed into action by the dwarf's display of courage, the Kingslanders rallied to clear the riverbank one last time; at this point Cersei, fearing for her son, had Joffrey withdraw to the Red Keep from amongst the men[12]; as soon as the defenders saw the king retire, their morale broke and they began throwing down their spears and fled by the hundreds leaving the walls, killing their officers, including Ser Jacelyn Bywater, in the process. Tyrion managed to disperse the attackers at the King's Gate and make for the Mud Gate,[13] where he took the fight to the riverfront as they observed a large group of Stannis's soldiers crossing over the bridge of ship wreckage in the river. However, in the fighting amidst the wreckage of the collapsing bridge of boats, Tyrion was severely wounded at the hands of Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard, who had been Tyrion's sworn shield throughout the battle. [14]With the bridge breaking up and their Hand lost in battle, the defenders retreated within the city walls. At this point the battle seemed to be lost.[15]

Arrival of Tywin Lannister

Lannister soldiers defending King's Landing – by Tomasz Jedruszek. © Fantasy Flight Games

Though Stannis' army was still split across the Blackwater, victory was now within his grasp. Just as quickly as the tide had turned in his favor, however, it was turned again by the sudden appearance of foes on his flanks. Unknown to either the attackers or the defenders, the Tyrells had accepted Tyrion's alliance offer, which was sent with Littlefinger, and Renly's former army has marched from Bitterbridge, uniting with Lord Tywin Lannister's own host in the shadow of the Kingswood.[12]

Tyrion's wildlings in the Kingswood created a blind spot for Stannis by killing his outriders and scouts, and allowed the Tyrell's vangaurd to take Stannis's smaller and partially crossed host unaware from the side. Lord Tywin led the right, on the north side of the river, Mace Tyrell the left, and Randyll Tarly the center, but much of the fighting was done by the vanguard, led by Ser Garlan Tyrell.

Garlan dressed in the ornate and unmistakable armor of the late Renly Baratheon, leading to confusion and disorder amongst Stannis' ranks, and even stories that Renly had risen from the dead and fought as a ghost for Joffrey. "Renly's shade" slew Guyard Morrigen, who led Stannis's van.

Divided, surprised, and outnumbered, Stannis' host broke quickly, with most of his lords bannermen switching allegiance mid-battle, proving as fickle to Stannis as they had to the deceased Renly. The Bastard of Nightsong led a rearguard action that allowed some Stannis loyalists, chiefly Florents, to escape, along with Stannis himself on the Lysene galleys which had been left in Blackwater Bay while the rest of the fleet had burned.[16]


The triumphant Tywin Lannister in King's Landing - by Pojypojy ©

Despite Stannis' survival, the battle was a major defeat for House Baratheon of Dragonstone, as he was able to retreat with only a fraction of his army and a token fleet to Dragonstone.

Most of the captured Stormlords and Reachmen bent the knee to King Joffrey. With the newly forged Tyrell alliance, the Lannisters now controlled the whole south and west, commanding overwhelming superiority of numbers in the field. The end of the war now seemed close.


My hirelings betray me, my friends are scourged and shamed, and I lie here rotting. I thought I won the bloody battle. Is this what triumph tastes like? – Tyrion Lannister[15]

Honors and Rewards

King Joffrey and the Small Council granted the following honors and rewards to the participants and survivors of the battle:

Highborn Hostages

Notable Casualties

Lannister/Tyrell forces

Stannis' forces


King Joffrey

King Stannis

References and Notes