This article discusses the options for women to wield power and influence at court in King’s Landing or Sunspear.
To be a woman and to wield power in the royal court at King’s Landing is a tricky affair. The rewards are great, but subtlety is required. There are a few ways that a woman of noble birth might go about securing her position at court. One can roughly divide it into three kinds of influence: a) personal, b) associated with her house of birth and c) associated with her husband’s house.
To gain personal influence women can use the influence of their kin and their own credentials to secure a position at court as a lady-in-waiting to one of the princesses. Being favoured by the Targaryen, constant companions to them and privy to their secrets brings its own kind of power. The Targaryen princesses can influence the princes in certain matters. And since the ladies-in-waiting can influence the princesses in turn, those at court seeking to curry favour with the Targaryen often try to work through one of these women.
Personal influence can also be gained through what perhaps is the trickiest route to power at the King’s Landing court: when a woman chooses to use her beauty and charms to secure influence. Given the chivalric ideals that govern such things—or should, at least—it is possible for a woman to build a coterie of admirers with, if she can manage it, powerful men among them. However, she must be extremely careful while doing so. If any breath of scandal attaches itself to her name and it is suspected that her relationship with one of these men has gone beyond the courtly, it could hurt her reputation considerably.
Wielding influence associated with her house of birth is relatively easy to a certain point but often very difficult to expand upon. All unwed maidens at court are to some extent seen as representatives of their houses, but primarily as pieces in the match-making game. However, a few capable and ambitious women may be able to establish themselves as semi-official or official representatives for the affairs of their house at court. In general, this depends a lot on the situation of the house and on the men in the house.
Even rarer is for a woman to be a ruling lady or heir to a house in her own right. However, it has become somewhat more common in the past few years, although still by no means widely seen. The Dance of Dragons and then the wars of Dorne’s conquest and rebellion have winnowed successive generations of the menfolk of certain houses, leaving only women to take up the mantle of power.
By far the most common and straight-forward way for a woman to gain influence at court is by securing a good marriage. Beyond merely establishing her as one of the well-known ladies at court, this can also be a route to considerable influence. It is not uncommon for women married to powerful husbands—and known to be close in their husbands’ counsels—to become sought after by those at court seeking the latter’s favour or support and hoping to improve their chances of success by winning the former over first.
Ambitious women can and will also work to improve their husbands’ positions by establishing valuable social alliances. Should their husbands’ careers stall out, or should they find themselves widowed, they may also seek to further the rise of sons at court in a similar fashion. Then they may find themselves back in the match-making game, but playing a different role. The social game at court is not at all just for younger women, it just changes as their age and position changes. In fact, some of the most independent women at court will be widows, as they often gain a larger measure of control over their own fate.
Women at court in Sunspear have many of the same options for wielding power and influence as their counterparts in King’s Landing. The prince’s household is smaller than the royal household, however, so options for being a companion to a princess of House Martell are more limited.
The most marked difference, however, is that women can in fact hold offices in their own right at court in Sunspear. The Dornish society—thanks to the influence from the Rhoynar—is one of more equality between the sexes. This is of course also apparent in the gender-blind inheritance rules where the oldest child regardless of gender will inherit. This should not, however, be interpreted as women having exactly the same opportunities as men. The kind of offices open to women would tend towards linked with for example stewardship rather than anything with a martial link.