Why did Ned Stark keep this secret about Jon Snow from Catelyn Stark?

That Jon Snow is not a bastard, but the son of his sister, Lyanna Stark, and Rhaegar Targaryen.

After all these years Catelyn still hated Jon Snow. She can't accept him as a son. It didn't mean she hadn't tried but she was just not able to do it (She had conversation with Talisa Stark about how she is not able to accept Jon Snow as her own son)

Ned Stark knew that Catelyn hated Jon Snow.

Didn't Ned think that, above all of others, Catelyn is the one who deserved to know the secret about Jon Snow after all these years of hatred and pain she had on this matter?

I think this would have eased things between Jon Snow and Catelyn Stark. He knows he is a bastard, but he has good relationships with all of Ned Stark's sons and daughters, yet, because Catelyn Stark hated him, he always feels that he is an outsider.

Or was Ned also planning to tell the truth to Catelyn about Jon Snow's mother just like he promised to Jon Snow before he went to King's Landing as Hand of the King?


4 Answers 4


If Cat knew she'd likely act differently to Jon and it would make some suspicious about his real parentage. By keeping it a secret from everyone the lie is more convincing.

Consider one day Cat all of a sudden starts liking Jon or treating him different, do you think people will:

  • Ignore it.
  • Question it.
  • Seek answers themselves.
  • Look for the truth.

I think more people would be inclined to look for the reasons as to why the change than not.

Ned is also an honourable man and he promises to protect Jon:

You have to protect him. Promise me, Ned.
Game of Thrones, S07 E07, "The Dragon and the Wolf"

Risking anyone finding out that would mean Jon's death as Robert wants all Targaryens dead. It would also most likely mean Ned's death as he was harbouring that secret and actively protecting him. If Cat was to know too, and be found out, she'd probably be executed as well, so Ned is trying to protect her in that was as well.

  • 9
    But this doesn't explain why he didn't tell her from start, it just explains why he didn't tell her along the way.
    – LeonX
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:30
  • 8
    @LeonX If Cat knew she'd likely act differently to Jon...he promises to protect Jon: I think enough people knew Cat's attitude that her loving a bastard would be suspicious and also Ned wants to protect Jon and Cat, telling her risks all of that. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 11:32
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    While I think that TheLethalCoder has the most probable explanation, the other thing to consider is that the best way to keep a secret is to not tell anyone at all. The more people who know something the more chances there are for those people to tell other people. Pretty soon it's not a secret. In this particular case the consequences of that would mean that Jon Snow might die. Robert and Ned were often in conflict about this sort of thing - Robert wanted to kill Dany, who was just a child, because she might threaten him eventually. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 12:27
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    @LeonX: Ned could have chosen to tell her, but it's already set in stone that he didn't. The logical reasoning is that Ned chose to not do so, to keep Jon safe at all costs (this proves that, to Ned, Jon's safety > Catelyn's opinion of Ned). We can argue whether Ned's decision was the best way to approach it, but we can't deny that it was how Ned approached it at the time of introducing baby Jon. Cat also seems to resent Jon more than Ned. She can deal with Ned having had an affair in the past, but she can't deal with being reminded of it every day.
    – Flater
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:14
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    @Flater I'm just saying that the most important point here is missing which is contemplated in BCdotWEB's link. Ned did not know Cat that well and didn't trust her to keep the secret by the time he chose to adopt Jon. If he did, I believe he would have told her. His answer best explains why Ned did not tell Cat after she gained his trust.
    – LeonX
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 14:39

One thing I see the other answers have failed to mention is that Eddard and Catelyn were married just as the rebellion was beginning and Ned did not trust Catelyn until later in their marriage.

The History

Catelyn was orignally promised to Eddard's brother Brandon. After Brandon and Rickard (Eddard' father) were burned alive by the Mad King and the rebellion came in full force, the rebels wanted to cement their alliances. The Riverlands would be important in location and martial strength. This is what led Jon Arryn to marry Lysa Tully and for Eddard Stark to marry Catelyn Tully.

The Marriage and Trust

Ned had lingered scarcely a fortnight with his new bride before he too had ridden off to war with promises on his lips. - A Game of Thrones, Catelyn X

Ned barely knew Catelyn when he left and had married her out of a sense of duty. He had also returned to Winterfell with Jon prior to Catelyn arriving there from Riverrun with Robb. So Ned must explain his new bastard son to a wife he does not truly know.

Ned had made a promise to his sister that he would protect Jon and Ned knew this would likely mean from the new king and one of his closest friends, Robert Baratheon.

[Robert to Ned] "I will kill every Targaryen I can get my hands on, until they are as dead as their dragons, and then I will piss on their graves." - A Game of Thrones, Eddard II

Ned could not trust anyone with the secret as if word would come back to Robert it would likely end with the death of Jon.

Early on Catelyn inquired about Jon's mother based on rumors she was hearing in Winterfell. After Ned denied her, she stopped asking...

It had taken her a fortnight to marshal her courage, but finally, in bed one night, Catelyn had asked her husband the truth of it, asked him to his face. That was the only time in all their years that Ned had ever frightened her. "Never ask me about Jon," he said, cold as ice. "He is my blood, and that is all you need to know. And now I will learn where you heard that name, my lady." She had pledged to obey; she told him; and from that day on, the whispering had stopped, and Ashara Dayne's name was never heard in Winterfell again. -A Game of Thrones, Catelyn II

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    +1 TV viewers might be surprised at just how little Cat and Ned knew each other at the start - he had no idea if she could be trusted! After that he couldn't tell her the truth in case her change of attitude was noticed.
    – deep64blue
    Commented Sep 15, 2022 at 10:05

(This is a roundabout answer; sorry in advance.)

"He did more than that. The Starks were not like other men. Ned brought his bastard home with him, and called him “son” for all the north to see."

That was from Catelyn Stark's vantage point.

Ned never calls Jon Snow his bastard, he calls him his son and his blood, and stops all inquisitions about Jon's lineage where he had power too.

He let the pejorative bastard idea form as a form of defense for Jon over the years, and calls him his son as any adopted parent would, and in his eyes, Ned did not make a distinction with his other kids.

There is in instance where he considers Cersei's actions in relation to his, minus Jon.

True to his honor, he kept his promises. That honor is what Ned and now Jon believe is the engine that drives them, not meticulous planning on how to fool or dupe people. His sister asked to keep him safe, and he did; his vows of marriage promised him to Catelyn, he kept them.

She questioned him and assumed he was something he was not. She didn't earn his truth, and while she may have loved him as dutifully as she could, she had proven that the bond between them would never be strong enough to get past her own pride and prejudices.

In my opinion: She left him with no choice but to not tell her.

Easing Catelyn's angst about rumors was not his goal – keeping Jon safe was, and Catelyn would be a liability in that effort.


These other answers are good and right. However I would also like to point out the place of women in the world of Westeros. It wasn't Cat's place to ask Ned about his bastard. I think this is made much more clear in the books.

I do agree that not telling Cat is a defense mechanism Ned uses to protect Cat and ultimately Jon, because if it were found out that Jon was of the Targaryen bloodline Jon would be wanted executed as well as Ned and (if she knew) Cat for knowingly sheltering him. But in the world of Westeros Cat is the Lady of Winterfell. It is not her place to question Ned about his bastard. As the Lady it is her duty to love his bastard as well as she can.

And Cat is all about doing her duties! Her duty as a mother. Her duty as a wife. Her duty as a daughter to old Lord Tully. Even her duty as a sister and niece to Edmure and the Blackfish, respectively. When it comes down to it she doesn't push Ned to reveal Jon's true mother simply because it is not her place to question her Lord and husband. So when you ask " Didn't Ned think that, above all of others, Catelyn is the one who deserved to know the secret about Jon Snow after all these years of hatred and pain she had on this matter?" I simply answer, no. Ned probably DIDN'T think Cat "deserved" to know the secret. It was not her place in their worlds socials structure.

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