Hello! I'm working on a canon-divergent AU fic, and I was wondering...what are acceptable reasons to break a betrothal in Westeros?
Ummm… mostly we just know unacceptable reasons, really. I mean, it depends what you mean by “acceptable”. Just because one party decides to break the betrothal contract doesn’t necessarily mean the other party’s going to be especially pleased by it. And there’s certainly going to be some social criticism, one way or the other. Also, in our-world medieval times, where these could be the reasons to invalidate a betrothal:
- revelation of an existing betrothal or marriage
- evidence of infidelity
- evidence of infertility
- failure to meet the financial or property stipulations of the betrothal contract
the party whose actions invalidated the betrothal generally had to pay some kind of financial penalty. There could even be a suit for breach of promise.
But I can at least give you some reasons for broken betrothals we’ve seen in ASOIAF:
- Joffrey Baratheon and Sansa Stark: the treason of Eddard Stark. (“Your Grace, the gods hold betrothal solemn, but your father, King Robert of blessed memory, made this pact before the Starks of Winterfell had revealed their falseness. Their crimes against the realm have freed you from any promise you might have made. So far as the Faith is concerned, there is no valid marriage contract ’twixt you and Sansa Stark.”) Mutual agreement on both sides. (Although Sansa had to make sure she didn’t look like she was pleased by it.) Note that Ned had wanted to break the betrothal based on the revelation of Joffrey’s incestuous parentage, so that would also be a reason to consider a marriage contract invalid.
- Robb Stark and Roslin Frey: broken by him, because he married Jeyne Westerling instead. Caused the Freys to desert him, and also eventually the Red Wedding, so y’know… not exactly acceptable there.
- Arya Stark and Elmar Frey: broken by the Freys, after Robb married Jeyne; pretty much mutual (Robb was in no position to complain, and Arya never even knew she was betrothed to begin with).
- Brienne of Tarth and Ronnet Connington: broken by Ronnet, on meeting her, because he thought she was ugly. No mention of any financial penalties, but certainly the parents were displeased (and Brienne was utterly crushed).
- Brienne of Tarth and Humphrey Wagstaff: because she beat him in single combat. Mutual, as he had told her he would expect her to not wear armor, and obey his wishes or be chastised, and she said she’d only allow herself to be chastised by a man who could outfight her. No mention of any financial penalties.
- Maegor Targaryen and Rhaena Targaryen: not sure how definite the betrothal actually was (whether it was just proposed or what), but it was broken by the High Septon on the grounds of incest.
- Duncan Targaryen and the daughter of Lord Lyonel Baratheon: broken by him, because he married Jenny of Oldstones. Which started a mini-war because of the insult to the Baratheons.
- Jaehaerys Targaryen and Celia Tully: broken by him, because he eloped with his sister Shaera. Caused major offense to the Tullys, though it didn’t go as far as war.
- Shaera Targaryen and Luthor Tyrell: broken by her, because she eloped with her brother Jaehaerys. Ditto re the Tyrells.
- Daeron Targaryen and Olenna Redwyne: broken by him, because he preferred the company of his boyfriend. It’s not said how offended the Redwynes were, but Olenna likes to say she was the one who put an end to the betrothal.
(Also, several betrothals broken by the death of one of the parties before the wedding: Alys Karstark and Daryn Hornwood, Brienne of Tarth and the younger son of Bryen Caron, Robert Baratheon and Lyanna Stark, Catelyn Tully and Brandon Stark, Arianne Martell and Viserys Targaryen, Viserra Targaryen and Lord Manderly, Laena Velaryon and the son of a former Sealord of Braavos, Lucerys Velaryon and Rhaena Targaryen, Jacaerys Velaryon and Baela Targaryen,
Tywald Lannister and Ellyn Reyne.)
Oh, and note that according to one rumor, Rhaenyra Targaryen tried to seduce Criston Cole because she hoped if her betrothed Laenor Velaryon found out she was not chaste, he would break their betrothal. (She didn’t want to marry him, as he was gay.) Though whether she was a virgin at her marriage or not, she and Laenor were married anyway.
Anyhow, hope that helps!