Battle of the Blackwater

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Battle of the Blackwater
T Jedruszek BattleoftheB ship.jpg
by Tomasz Jedruszek. © Fantasy Flight Games
Conflict War of the Five Kings
Date 299 AC
Place King's Landing / mouth of the Blackwater Rush
Result Decisive House Baratheon of King's Landing victory
The King in the Narrow Sea
The King on the Iron Throne
King Stannis Baratheon
Ser Imry Florent
Ser Guyard Morrigen
Ser Rolland Storm
Lord Salladhor Saan
Ser Davos Seaworth
King's Landing garrison:

Relief force:

  • 16,000 cavalry from the Reach and stormlands
  • 5,000 men of Stannis's original host, from the crownlands and Myr
  • 200 ships Breakdown of Fleet

    • ~50 royal war galleys
    • ~10 war galleys from the lords of the Narrow Sea
    • 30 Lysene pirate galleys
    • ~40 Myrish sellsails
    • ~70 commandeered sailing ships, including trade carracks and cogs.
    King's Landing garrison: ~7,000-8,000[1]
    • 2,000 "seasoned"/"reliable" city watchmen
    • 3,700 newly recruited city watchmen (considered unreliable)
    • 800+ sellswords
    • Stokeworth and Rosby contingents[2][3]
    • 300 knights, squires and men-at-arms
    • 150 mountain clansmen (harassed Stannis's army during the march)

    Lannister navy: 45+ ships

    • 45 war galleys of the royal fleet
    • A "swarm" of ferries and wherries, barges, skiffs, rowboats, and hulks too rotten to float

    Relief force: 65,000

    • ~50,000 Tyrell men south of the Blackwater[4]
    • 10,000-20,000 Lannister men north of the Blackwater[5]
    See below
  • 130-140 ships burned or wrecked.
  • 30-40 war galleys scuttled upriver or harassing the Lannister-Tyrell supply lines, with no ability to link back to Stannis's remaining fleet
  • 47 Lesser lordlings killed
  • 619 knights killed
  • Several thousand men-at-arms killed
  • Half the the army south of the Blackwater (~8,000) switch sides during the battle[6]
  • Several thousand men-at-arms left behind for lack of space on Saan's fleet, and surrender.
  • See below

    King's Landing garrison: Heavy

    • 1,600 gold cloaks killed or deserted[7]
    • Most of the sellswords and knights/men-at-arms killed[8]
    • Unknown losses to the Rosby and Stokeworth contingents

    Lannister navy: Heavy

    • 39+ royal war galleys[9] destroyed, associated crews and marines all killed
    • All hulks, barges, skiffs, ferries, wherries, and rowboats destroyed
    Relief force: Moderate

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



    Stannis is one of the members of King Robert I Baratheon'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 Lannister.

    Taking his suspicions and what proof he could muster, in the form of Robert's numerous bastard children, to Lord Jon Arryn, Stannis hopes to convince the Hand of the King, one of Robert's oldest and most trusted friends, of the Lannisters' treason. When Jon dies under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter and Robert decides to offer the position of Hand to Lord Eddard Stark,[10] Stannis flees to Dragonstone, his seat of power, where Stannis closes the port and its surrounding waters. As the master of ships,[11] he is joined by most of the royal fleet, although some ships remain at King's Landing.[12]

    After Robert dies, Stannis rallies 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 master of ships, Stannis's naval power is considerable, but the sparse population of the rocky, volcanic islands surrounding Dragonstone leave him without the strength to risk openly contesting the Lannisters.[13][14]

    Having failed to rally the storm lords to his cause in secret, Stannis presents his claims through letters distributed throughout the Seven Kingdoms, proclaiming Joffrey Baratheon 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's own daughter, Shireen Baratheon, is a bastard, Stannis's proclamation ends as little more than tavern gossip.[14]

    Battling Renly

    Even before Stannis's ravens have taken wing with his claim, his younger brother Renly Baratheon has ridden from King's Landing to Highgarden, where he weds Margaery Tyrell, the daughter of Lord Mace Tyrell, and claims the crown for himself. For Stannis, this is blatant treason. Moreover, Stannis is infuriated with the knowledge that the the stormlands have 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, Storm's End. On Dragonstone Melisandre tells 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 leads Stannis to strike for Storm's End.[15]

    Stannis lays siege to the coastal fortress, which is under the command of Ser Cortnay Penrose, but all his might is but a meager thing against all the strength of the stormlands and the Reach at his brother Renly's command. When Renly abandons his march on King's Landing, bringing all his knights and mounted forces to lift the siege, Stannis is vastly outnumbered. However, before the battle can begin, Renly is slain by a shadow called forth by the shadowbinder Melisandre.[16]

    With Renly dead, the greater part of the knights and lords who had been sworn to him submit to Stannis, the last Baratheon, chief among them House Florent, relatives of Stannis's wife, Selyse Florent. About a fifth of the cavalry does not submit, and flee under the command of Ser Loras Tyrell back to Bitterbridge, where almost 60,000 men of Renly's army wait with his widowed Tyrell queen.[17][18] Loras captures the knights Stannis sent to try and recruit the Reach and stormlands infantry still encamped at Bitterbridge.

    Defense preparations

    Unaware of the capture of Ser Parmen Crane and Ser Erren Florent, Stannis's army marches on King's Landing. King Stannis has over twenty thousand men at his command, mostly knights and freeriders, against the few thousand gold cloaks of the City Watch of King's Landing. However, the city is guarded to the south by the Blackwater Rush, and requires an amphibious assault to conquer. Stannis moves his host and fleet upon King's Landing.

    Under the direction of the acting Hand, Tyrion Lannister, as well as Queen Regent Cersei Lannister, King's Landing strengthens its defenses. The city watch is tripled in size, hundreds of sellswords are hired, Rosby and Stokeworth send contingents of soldiers, and over thirteen thousand jars of wildfire are found or manufactured and then loaded on to ships. Hundreds of scorpions, spitfires, and catapaults are constructed and placed on the walls[19] to support the gold cloaks, many of whom are acting as crossbowmen. Most importantly, the manufacture of chainmail, axes, daggers, and swords for the new recruits, to bring them up to par with the other 2,000 equipment-wise, is put on hold before the project is complete. Instead, Tyrion orders the blacksmiths to devote all their time and steel to constructing a massive chain which would allow the defenders to close off the Blackwater Rush.[20]


    Tyrion sends out his remaining 150 Vale mountain clansmen to harass Stannis's flanks and kill his scouts in the kingswood. Stannis's vanguard arrives early, and Joffrey's war galleys are dispatched to exchange arrows with his forces. The vanguard is said to have five thousand men, flying the banners of Houses Fossoway, Estermont and Florent, under the command of Ser Guyard Morrigen.[21]

    Treacherous waters and inclement weather delay Stannis's fleet on its northward journey from Storm's End. About a dozen ships are lost on the journey to Blackwater Bay and the troops on land suffer days of harassment from Tyrion's clansmen and skirmishers in the kingswood, despite burning swaths of the forest trying to ferret them out.[21] Stannis gives command of the fleet to Ser Imry Florent, who commands from Stannis's galley, the Fury. Stannis himself is on the south side of the Blackwater with his host, making them create arrows and rafts.[22]

    The Battle

    Battle on the River

    The wildfire burns the Blackwater - by Amok ©

    Stannis's fleet sails up the Blackwater Rush with almost all their strength. They enter visual range of the city in the late afternoon.[23] Confident of his superior numbers, and knowing that the fleet of King's Landing cannot hope to contest them, Ser Imry does not send scouts ahead, and attacks immediately, leaving only a contingent of 30 Lyseni mercenary galleys led by Salladhor Saan as rearguard out in Blackwater Bay. The fleet is organized into ten battle lines composed of twenty ships each. The first three lines, made of war galleys belonging to the royal navy and the lords of the narrow sea, were to smash the enemy fleet. Behind them the smaller Myrish contingent was to land troops to attack the city, before joining the first three lines in battle. The smaller and slower sailed ships are to ferry Stannis's host.[22]

    When Stannis's fleet engages with Joffrey's, they encounter ships loaded to bursting with wildfire, a deadly accelerant, which burns even on water. Spreading downstream it soon engulfs in flames the closely packed ships of both fleets, which find their retreat cut off by the massive chain that has 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 escape the conflagration: eight ships manage to land troops to the northern bank, and forty or so galleys remain ready to row Stannis's main force across the river. Many of the Myrish galleys also manage to land thier men on the south bank. The congestion of wrecks caught by a pier unwittingly provides a bridge - albeit a burning, unstable one - for the army to cross.[22]

    Attack on King's Landing

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

    The city itself is defended by some 5,700 gold cloaks (300 having been sent to escort Petyr Baelish 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 crownlands. As acting Hand of the King, command of the defense is taken by Tyrion Lannister.[24]

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

    Realizing that they have to drive off the rams and hold the river at all costs, Tyrion makes to lead the next sortie himself. Shamed into action by the dwarf's display of courage, the Kingslanders rally to clear the riverbank one last time; at this point Cersei, fearing for her son, has Joffrey withdraw to the Red Keep from amongst the men.[25] As soon as the defenders see the king retire, their morale breaks and they begin throwing down their spears and flee by the hundreds, leaving the walls and killing their officers, including Ser Jacelyn Bywater, in the process. Tyrion manages to disperse the attackers at the King's Gate and make for the Mud Gate,[26] where he takes the fight to the riverfront as they observe a large group of Stannis's soldiers crossing over the bridge of ship wreckage in the river. At dusk[27], in the fighting amidst the wreckage of the collapsing bridge of boats, Tyrion is severely wounded at the hands of Ser Mandon Moore of the Kingsguard, who had been Tyrion's sworn shield throughout the battle. [28] With the bridge breaking up and their Hand lost in battle, the defenders retreat within the city walls.[29] At this point, after only a few hours of resistance, the battle seems to be lost to Tyrion, though at this time he also sees Stannis's army seemingly fighting itself on the other side of the river.

    Arrival of Tywin Lannister

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

    Though Stannis's army is still split across the Blackwater, victory is now within his grasp. Just as quickly as the tide had turned in his favor, however, it is turned again by the sudden appearance of foes on his flanks. Unknown to either the attackers or the defenders, the Tyrells have accepted Tyrion's alliance offer, which was sent with Petyr Baelish, and Renly's former army has marched from Bitterbridge, uniting with Lord Tywin Lannister's own host in the shadow of the kingswood.[25]

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

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

    Divided, surprised, and outnumbered, Stannis's host breaks, with many of his lords bannermen switching allegiance mid-battle, proving as fickle to Stannis as they had to the deceased Renly. The Bastard of Nightsong leads a rearguard action involving thousands of men that allows 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 burned.[30] However, the majority of the troops involved in this action are left behind due to lack of space on the ships.[31] The battle rages on until victory is declared at dawn the next morning.[25]


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

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

    Most of the captured storm lords and men of the Reach bend the knee to King Joffrey. With the newly-forged Tyrell alliance, the Lannisters now control the whole south and west, commanding overwhelming superiority of numbers in the field. The end of the war seems close.

    Honors and Rewards

    King Joffrey and the small council grant 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


    A wall of red-hot steel, blazing wood, and swirling green flame stretched before him. The mouth of the Blackwater Rush had turned into the mouth of hell.[22]

    - Davos Seaworth's thoughts

    It was Lord Renly! Lord Renly in his green armor, with the fire shimmering off his golden antlers! Lord Renly with his tall spear in his hand! They say he killed Ser Guyard Morrigen himself in single combat, and a dozen other great knights as well. It was Renly, it was Renly, it was Renly! Oh! the banners, darling Sansa! Oh! to be a knight![25]

    Dontos Hollard, to Sansa Stark

    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?[29]

    Tyrion Lannister's thoughts

    Too many good men died that day.[31]

    Tyrion Lannister, to Kem

    See also

    References and Notes

    1. A Clash of Kings-Chapter 49: "Six thousand men in the City Watch, thanks to Cersei, but only a quarter of them could be relied upon [...] To be sure, there were seasoned men in the City Watch, the core of two thousand who'd gotten their gold cloaks from Robert, not Cersei. Yet even those . . . a watchman was not truly a soldier, Lord Tywin Lannister had been fond of saying. Of knights and squires and men-at-arms, Tyrion had no more than three hundred. [...] He still had Bronn's hirelings, near eight hundred of them now, but sellswords were notoriously fickle. Tyrion had done what he could to buy their continued loyalty, promising Bronn and a dozen of his best men lands and knighthoods when the battle was won." [300 gold cloaks were later sent to escort Petyr Baelish; Tyrion continued to recruit sellswords].
    2. A Clash of Kings-Chapter 49: "Hallyne fled so quickly that he almost bowled over Ser Jacelyn—no, Lord Jacelyn, he must remember that. Ironhand was mercifully direct, as ever. He'd returned from Rosby to deliver a fresh levy of spearmen recruited from Lord Gyles's estates and resume his command of the City Watch".
    3. A Clash of Kings-Chapter 57:"At the foot of the drawbridge, she came upon Lady Tanda and her two daughters. Falyse had arrived yesterday from Castle Stokeworth with a small troop of soldiers".
    4. A Storm of Swords-Chapter 38: Tyrion claims there are "fifty, sixty, seventy thousand roses" outside of King's Landing in the immediate aftermath of the battle, which averages out to sixty thousand. This is after they are joined by well over ten thousand defectors from Stannis's host, and after they take relatively casualties in the fighting throughout the night.
    5. Tywin's host started out as 20,000 men in A Game of Thrones. By the time of the Blackwater, it has suffered from desertion and insurgency in the riverlands, as well as at least two major battles and many minor sieges and skirmishes. At least one of these battles, the Battle of the Fords, was known to be quite costly for the Lannisters.
    6. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 19, Tyrion III.
    7. A Storm of Swords-Chapter 4: "Death and desertion have left me with some forty-four hundred. Only the gods and Littlefinger know how we are to go on paying wages for so many, but your sister forbids me to dismiss any".
    8. A Clash of Kings-Chapter 59: Sandor Clegane states that his sally, consisting of knights and sellswords, suffered more than 50% casualties: "I've lost half my men. Horse as well. I'm not taking more into that fire." The other sally at the same time presumably suffered similar casualties. In A Clash of Kings-Chapter 61, Tyrion leads another sally that is nearly completely wiped out.
    9. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 17, Cersei IV.
    10. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 20, Eddard IV.
    11. A Game of Thrones, Appendix.
    12. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 41, Tyrion IX.
    13. A Clash of Kings, Prologue.
    14. 14.0 14.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 10, Davos I.
    15. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 42, Davos II.
    16. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 33, Catelyn IV.
    17. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 36, Tyrion VIII.
    18. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 44, Tyrion X.
    19. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 31, Catelyn III.
    20. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 15, Tyrion III.
    21. 21.0 21.1 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 52, Sansa IV.
    22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 58, Davos III.
    23. A Clash of Kings-Chapter 58: "Shading his eyes against the westering sun, Davos peered at those towers more closely."
    24. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 49, Tyrion XI.
    25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 A Clash of Kings, Chapter 62, Sansa VII.
    26. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 59, Tyrion XIII.
    27. A Clash of Kings-Chapter 61: "Tyrion swung his horse about to peer down the Blackwater. The current still flowed black and strong beneath, but the surface was a roil of blood and flame. The sky was red and orange and garish green".
    28. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 61, Tyrion XIV.
    29. 29.0 29.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 4, Tyrion I.
    30. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 54, Davos V.
    31. 31.0 31.1 A Dance with Dragons, Chapter 66, Tyrion XII.
    32. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 65, Sansa VIII.