War is Coming
House Martell of Sunspear is a nearly extinct Great House of Westeros. It rules the peninsula of Dorne in the far south of the continent from their castle Sunspear. Though loyal to the Iron Throne, the Martells were never conquered by the Targaryens and pursued a more isolated role in wider political events since Robert's Rebellion.
House Martell's sigil is a red sun pierced by a golden spear, on an orange field, a combination of the original Martell sigil – a yellow spear – and the emblem of Princess Nymeria – a red sun – to symbolize the marriage of the warrior-queen to Mors Martell. Their motto of the House is "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken".
House Martell started out as local kings in Dorne, which was long divided between many petty kings of the First Men and Andals. About a thousand years ago, Rhoynar refugees fleeing conquest by the Valyrian Freehold in Essos migrated across the Narrow Sea to Dorne, led by their warrior-queen Nymeria. Mors Martell was smitten with Nymeria and chose to join forces with her through marriage-alliance. With their combined strength, they conquered and unified the rest of Dorne. To symbolize their union, the original golden spear sigil of Mors Martell was combined with the red sun sigil of Nymeria, creating the red sun pierced by a golden spear sigil that House Martell has used ever since. Like their Rhoynar ancestors, House Martell styled its rulers as "princes" instead of "kings".
The Martell words are "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" – referring to their history, in which they have never been successfully conquered by outsiders. This makes them unique among all of the Great Houses. During the Targaryen Conquest (three centuries before the War of the Five Kings), Dorne was the only region of the Seven Kingdoms to successfully resist the Targaryens and their dragons. Realizing that large armies could not stand against dragons (as seen at the Field of Fire), nor large castles (as seen at the Burning of Harrenhal), the Dornish instead resorted to guerrilla warfare, ambushing Targaryen soldiers and harassing their supply lines as soon as their dragons moved on to the next castle, then disappearing back into the harsh deserts when the dragons returned. The heat of Dorne's deserts also worked to the Martells' advantage, as Dorne's arid climate cannot easily support large invading armies. Losing many men due to attrition, ultimately even Aegon the Conqueror decided to withdraw from Dorne, to focus on reining in the other six newly conquered kingdoms.
King Daeron I Targaryen's invasion of Dorne lasted only 4 years, ending with the death of Daeron I, along with 60,000 of his men, and the Martells still defiantly independent.
House Martell and Dorne have never been successfully conquered. Over a century and a half after the Targaryen Conquest of the rest of Westeros, they were invaded again by King Daeron I Targaryen, the Young Dragon. A military genius, his Conquest of Dorne actually succeeded – on the battlefield. But the initial conquest was followed by a four year long Dornish insurgency, in which occupying troops were again bled through ambush and guerrilla tactics. Lyonel Tyrell, the steward that Daeron I put in charge of Dorne, was then assassinated, and all of Dorne rose up in open rebellion. Daeron I himself was killed attempting to put down the insurrection, and after only four short years House Martell once again ruled an independent Dorne.
Targaryen Martell Two Marriages
The double marriage-alliance that united the Martells with the Iron Throne: King Daeron II Targaryen married Prince Maron Martell's sister Myriah (left), and Prince Maron married Daeron II's sister Daenerys (right).
A few decades later (a little over a century before the War of the Five Kings), King Daeron II the Good managed to finally unite Dorne with the Iron Throne – not through conquest, but by voluntary marriage-alliance on equal terms. Daeron II married the sister of the Prince of Dorne, and the Prince of Dorne married Daeron II's sister. This special, semi-autonomous status allowed Dorne to retain several special privileges, such as the Martells continuing to style themselves as "Prince" or "Princess" instead of "Lord Paramount" and continuing their practice of gender-blind primogeniture. This union did cause several political tensions at the royal court between Daeron II's pro-Martell faction and anti-Martell lords (from the Reach, the Stormlands, and the Dornish Marches), eventually leading to the Blackfyre Rebellion.
At the end of Robert's Rebellion, Lannister bannerman Gregor Clegane killed Elia Martell's children, then raped and killed Elia.
Generations later, King Aerys II Targaryen (later known as "the Mad King") had no daughters, so he sought a suitable bride for his son Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen from outside of the family. Aerys II chose to snub the offer of Tywin Lannister, his own trusted Hand of the King and dutiful servant, that Rhaegar marry his own young daughter Cersei. Instead, a match was arranged with the then-current Princess of Dorne to wed her daughter Elia Martell to Rhaegar.
In Robert's Rebellion, Elia was kept in King's Landing to ensure the continued allegiance of House Martell to the Targaryen's against the rebels. Elia bore Rhaegar two children but all three were later killed during Robert's Rebellion, during the Sack of King's Landing by Tywin Lannister's army. Elia's brothers Doran and Oberyn were outraged and, while peace was restored, the Martells withdrew from interacting with the royal court. During King Robert Baratheon's subsequent reign, the Martells and Dorne were rarely if ever even mentioned at court, except for their Dornish wine.
"After the tradition of her people, House Martell then ruled Dorne as 'princes', not 'kings' – unless the eldest child was a daughter, for unlike the rest of Westeros, our loyalty isn't commanded by a cock. We follow a Prince or a Princess Martell just the same."
Nymeria and Mors Martell
Mors Martell and Nymeria united to conquer and unify Dorne. Afterwards they ruled equally, and were succeeded by their eldest daughter over their younger son – following the gender-blind inheritance customs of the Rhoynar.
Like their Rhoynar ancestors who migrated to Dorne a thousand years ago, Dornish noble Houses follow gender-blind equal primogeniture, in which the eldest child is the heir regardless of whether that child is male or female. This is different from the male-preference inheritance laws in all of the rest of the Seven Kingdoms, the laws of the First Men and Andals, in which a younger son succeeds ahead of an older daughter.
In contrast, a ruler of House Martell is always succeeded by their eldest child, even if it is a daughter. The current ruler of Dorne is Prince Doran Martell, who has been the head of House Martell for many years. The immediately preceding head of House Martell, however, was Doran's mother, who was also the mother of Elia and Oberyn. Doran's mother actually had a younger brother, Lewyn Martell. Under the inheritance laws of the rest of Westeros, Lewyn would have succeeded ahead of Doran's mother, but because Dornish inheritance laws are gender-blind he did not (and therefore he was free to join the elite Kingsguard).
In the style of their Rhoynar ancestors who lived in city-states in Essos (near the location of the later Free Cities), House Martell styles its rulers as "Prince of Dorne" (or "Princess") instead of "King" or "Queen". All members of House Martell are called a Prince/Princess, though the current head of the household is the ruling Prince/Princess. There is little functional difference between the "Prince of Dorne" and a "Lord Paramount of the North", though the title "Prince" is considered to be, at least nominally, more prestigious.
Due to uniting with the Iron Throne through marriage-alliance on equal terms instead of through conquest, the Martells were allowed to retain several special privileges, among which were continuing to style their ruler as a "Prince", and continuing to practice gender-blind equal primogeniture. While many of the Martells are hot-tempered, especially Prince Oberyn, they are a close-knit and loving family, undivided by internal rivalries such as those in House Lannister and House Baratheon.
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Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken: When you are reduced to 0 hit points but not killed outright, you can drop to 1 hit point instead. You can’t use this feature again until you finish a long rest.