40K Lore: Lion El’ Jonson, Lord of the 1st


Today we delve deep into the proud and unyielding master of the 1st Legion – the Dark Angels’ primarch – Lion El’ Jonson.

via our sitersite Lexicanum

Lion El’Jonson, also known as The Lion, is the Primarch of the Dark Angels. He was scattered along with the other Primarchs to the far corners of the galaxy. He finally came to rest on the world Caliban, a beautiful but blighted world tainted by Chaos due to its proximity to the Eye of Terror.


Jonson’s capsule landed in a remote area of Caliban, far from any human habitation. There are no records of how he survived or what he encountered in the jungle during his early years and any normal man would have died within minutes of being exposed to the planet. He lived for a decade in the jungle, alone and with no one to aid him. At the end of this decade he encountered his first humans.

Jonson was found by a group of warrior knights of The Order during one of their quests across the planet. While the knights prepared to kill Jonson, one of their number, a man named Luther, sensed something not immediately apparent about this seemingly wild man and prevented his fellow knights from attacking. Luther and the band brought Jonson back to their Fortress Monastery and named him ‘Lion El’Jonson’ which means The Lion, the Son of the Forest after the location and circumstances they found him in.

Jonson quickly grew up and adapted to the customs of the planet’s inhabitants, learning to speak at an extremely rapid speed, though he never would speak of his first ten years of life. Luther and Jonson formed a strong friendship which complimented each other’s abilities and skills. It was now that Jonson’s primary skills were discovered. He was a brilliant strategist and unstoppable once he decided on a course of action. Together, the two warriors rose through the ranks of the Order and spread the name of the Order through the quests they undertook together.

Crusade against the Great Beasts

When the Order’s ranks had swelled with new recruits, Jonson and Luther petitioned for a crusade against the terrible Beasts which lived within the forest. Luther used his oratory skills to convince many of the Grand Masters of other monasteries to join the Order in this quest and within a single decade the planet was free from the Great Beasts, the armies having been led by Jonson. In recognition of his achievements, Jonson was given the title Supreme Grand Master of the Order, which created jealousy within Luther.

Arrival of the Emperor

Eventually a unit of the Emperor‘s forward scouts arrived at Caliban. Jonson was immediately given command of the First Legion when the Emperor realised he had found a lost son. Luther and the other members of the Order who passed the Astartes‘ trials were formed into First Legion soldiers, either as fully fledged Astartes if they were young enough, or through genetic manipulation to increase their abilities if they were too old for the process. After the new Astartes were ready, Jonson publicly re-named the First Legion the Dark Angels after an old Caliban myth. Luther, too old to be a Space Marine, was the first to be genetically modified and became Jonson’s second in command, as he had been during the crusade. Jonson then left with the Emperor and the newly re-named Dark Angels.


Great Crusade

Shortly after their entry into the Great Crusade, and following the Sarosh Campaign, the Lion sent Luther and several hundred Dark Angels, mainly Calibanites, back to their homeworld. This was ostensibly to accelerate the recruitment of new Legionnaires, but Luther felt they had been exiled.

When Horus was appointed Warmaster by the Emperor, the reaction among the other Primarchs was mixed. Some supported the appointment out of affection for Horus, and others opposed it. The Lion and Leman Russ were, ironically, alike in their attitude, cynically accepting the appointment as the final sign of Horus’ status as their father’s favorite son.

Fifty years later, and following great success in recruiting, training, and equipping new Dark Angels, Luther and his lieutenants were faced by a widespread rebellion on Caliban. Following investigations on the part of the Librarian Zahariel, it was revealed that Caliban was plagued by a resurgence of monsters; and that the insurgency raised against them included former Knights of the Order who felt that the Lion had betrayed them.

At the center of the entire affair was a mysterious cabal of Terran sorcerers somehow linked to the emergence of warp-monsters and twisted undead corpses. Having learned of Horus’ rebellion against the Emperor, Luther declared the independence of Caliban and his opposition to Terra and the Lion alike.

The Lion and the Wolf

Few tales have been recorded regarding the Lion and the conduct of his Legion during the Great Crusade. One of them is that which is now known as the saga of “The Lion and the Wolf”.

Sometime during The Great Crusade, the Dark Angels and the Space Wolves assaulted a planet whose ruler had disrespected the Emperor by sacrificing thousands of priests to his patron Daemon. In addition to disrespecting the Emperor, the leader of the rebels had also insulted Leman Russ personally by naming him “The Emperor’s Lapdog”. In response, Leman Russ swore that he would cut the rebel leader’s head from his shoulders and demanded that he be allowed to make an immediate attack on the rebel’s headquarters. This impatient request was refused because The Lion had spent days gathering intelligence on the headquarters’ defenses and had planned a detailed assault of his own. The Dark Angel attack went forward with few casualties and Russ could only watch from the grounds as Lion El’Jonson killed the rebel leader high on the walls of the fortress. After the battle, Russ stormed into the halls of the headquarters to find El’Jonson and vent his frustrations. During the confrontation Leman Russ struck Lion El’Jonson a blow to his head and the two proceeded to wrestle for a day and night without victory for either combatant. When the two finally broke apart, Russ began to laugh – humored by the circumstances the two were fighting over. The Lion was not amused. Seeing the first blow of this quarrel as treacherous, El’Jonson struck Russ unconscious as he was laughing.

The Space Wolves’ Primarch was carried from the chamber by his men, and when he had regained consciousness the Dark Angels had already left the planet to embark on another campaign. Russ swore he would avenge the slight to his honor, and to this day the two chapters fight honor duels in remembrance of this event. Some say these duels have brought mutual respect and a closer bond between the chapters. On other occasions, however, the rivalry between the two chapters has boiled into open hostility, fueled by mistrust and suspicion.

Horus Heresy

Jonson was campaigning in the Shield Worlds against the Gordian League when he received news of Horus‘s betrayal. The Lion knew that if Horus was to triumph in his rebellion he would eventually have to confront the Emperor at Terra, for as long as the Emperor remained safe in the confines of the Imperial Palace, Horus could never truly triumph and become the new master of mankind. The Lion decided to act in order to prevent Horus from being able to successfully assault the Imperial Palace. He led a small force to the forge world Diamat in order to secure several highly powerful siege weapons that Horus would need in order to assault Terra. Faced with superior odds, the Lion nonetheless succeeded in securing the siege weapons, and thus “performed a master stroke”: rather than confronting Horus directly, he had seemingly defeated the Warmaster with only a handful of troops.

Following his victory, the Lion met with Perturabo, who, along with other Legions, was on his way to join Ferrus Manus in confronting Horus at Isstvan V. Jonson, seeing the opportunity to become the new Warmaster following Horus’ seemingly inevitable defeat, traded the siege weapons to Perturabo in exchange for his support in his bid to become the new Warmaster. Tragically, Perturabo was in fact an ally of Horus, as revealed by his actions at Isstvan V. Immediately following the siege of Diamat and Perturabo acquiring the siege engines from Jonson, the Primarch of the Dark Angels returned to the Shield Worlds where the majority of his legion were operating with the intention of heading to Terra immediately (prior to the massacre at Isstvan V).

As part of Horus’ campaign to divert many of the remaining loyalist legions from Terra, the Night Lords were dispatched to the Eastern Fringes, where in the Thramas Crusade they rampaged across many loyalist worlds. During the genocide, Konrad Curze would invite the Lion to a meeting on the planet Tsagualsa. There, the Night Haunter would reveal a prophecy to the Lion, concerning the future of the Dark Angels. Eventually, the talks would degrade to a fight and the Lion would leave with a slashed throat and Curze with a sword in his back. The Lion would then go on to obtain a warp engine of unforeseen power, that would allow him to coordinate entire fleets in a warp jump. Using this engine, he would ambush the Night Lords and, for a second time, fight his brother Primarch. The Night Lords would leave severely injured, with Curze in a comatose state. The Lion would direct a second ambush on the regrouping Night Lords. There, Curze would reawaken and board the Invincible Reason with several of his troops. The battle would end with Curze fleeing to the lower decks and any surviving Night Lords, including the First Captain Sevatar, being taken prisoner. After dealing with the Night Lords, the Lion made course for Terra but arrived too late to influence the battle or prevent the Emperor from becoming interred on the Golden Throne.


The Lion battle Konrad Curze

Return to Caliban

Jonson, wracked with grief, returned to Caliban to reinforce his Dark Angels and recover in general. When the ships arrived in orbit, they were hit by a savage salvo of fire from the surface. The fleet pulled back and Jonson tried to find out what was happening. He learnt from a merchant ship that Luther had poisoned the minds of the Space Marine garrison on the world and taken control. It could only be seen by Jonson as the taint of Chaos. Jonson’s fury was let loose and the planet suffered. He ordered a systematic bombardment of the planet, destroying everything they could to rid the world of Chaos for all time.

The planet burned and the defences were whittled down to nothing. Jonson led his forces personally against the defenders who had taken refuge in the Order’s Fortress Monastery. Jonson found Luther and saw him to be completely corrupted, nothing of his old friend had survived. Luther had been elevated to a strength equal to Jonson by the Chaos Gods and the two met in a combat the likes of which would not be seen again. They levelled the monastery around them but the planet was also taking a heavy toll. The bombardment began to crack the surface of the planet, the Dark Angels in orbit unable to see the damage they were doing.

The Final Battle

The battle between Luther and Jonson was titanic, but ended with a psychic attack that mortally wounded Jonson. Luther then realised what he had done, as if a veil had been lifted from in front of his eyes. He fell to the floor, unwilling to fight any more, but it was too late for Jonson. The gods of Chaos realised they had lost again, and sent a massive warp storm to wrack the surface of the planet. It then broke apart under the strain, destroyed all but for the monastery of the Order which had been protected by vast force-fields. When the Dark Angels descended to the, now, asteroid, they searched the ruins and found Luther mumbling that Jonson had been taken by the Watchers in the Dark and would return one day and forgive him for his sins. The Dark Angels could not find any trace of their Primarch. The rest of the Dark Angels who had been converted by Luther were sucked into the warp and scattered around the galaxy, now named The Fallen.

The Fate of Jonson

The final secret known only to a very select few is that, buried even deeper within the Rock than Luther, Jonson lies sleeping, waiting with the Watchers in the Dark for the time when he will be needed again, to lead the Dark Angels in a new and greater crusade. Save the Watchers in the Dark, only the Emperor knows of this secret.

As of M41, Jonson is the only loyalist primarch definitively known to be alive.


Learn More of the Dark Angels


~What do you think will awaken The Lion?

  • Coltcabunny

    Why has the Triple H Russ morphed into Triple H Jonson? Did the artist run out of faces or something?

    • Brandon Baugh

      Or maybe being brothers, they actually resemble each other?

    • Commissar Molotov

      I thought “what is Richard Branson up to now?”

      • Andrew

        The Virgin Legion, I like the sound of that…

        • Commissar Molotov


  • Dragons Claw

    One poorly documented fact about the dark angels is that the original legion was mostly raised from the Welsh valleys and in the early days of the crusades would terrify the enemy with close harmony singing.

    It has often been speculated that lion El’Johnson was thrown back in time after his battle on the rick and settled near Swansea to wait through time and the emporer to come again some say he spent a brief period in London as a poet in the late 19th century before coming back to Swansea and being instrumental in forming the DVLA

    there is some speculation that the crusades where in fact an attempt to collect unpaid speeding tickets and car tax but no solid historical evidence has yet to be found .

    • Iconoc1ast

      The Dark Vengeance Licensing Angels

      • Iconoc1ast

        The bar stewards took mine away lol

        • Dragons Claw

          It’s unwise to provoke the fury of the dark angels er…….. I mean DVLA 1st step ban second step exterminatus

          • Iconoc1ast

            Yes, as i am under censure already for failing to study the sacred texts containing the many exploits of Colonel-Commissar Ibram Gaunt and listening to the prohibited musicks of the excommunicated Bolt Thrower… i fear that the end is not far for me…..

  • Aezeal

    From the novels (sorry forgot titles) I never understood what Jonson had against that one protaganist that he left behind on Caliban. Anyone care to explain (bit off topic I know)?

    • The Rout

      Basically Luther planned to blow up the Lions flagship with some bomb (either he plated the bomb or chose to not disarm it, i forget which) and is subsequently convinced by another DA to not let it happen.

      The Lion should have not known this ever happened but somehow he knew what Luther had planned (even if he didnt go through with it) and so sent him and several DA he believed to be more loyal to Luther than himself back to Caliban. Luther then raised legionaires at an almost unprecedented rate, when the Lion finally returns to Caliban Luther makes a deal with a demon to be just as mighty as the Lion. the two clash and the energies unleashed by Chaos destroy the planet.

      Interestingly this article leaves out some interesting lore about the beasts of Caliban. Essentially the planet is warp tainted but the taint doesnt spread or infect humans because it manifests itself as these beasts. When the Order kills all the beasts the taint needs an outlet and starts acting through humans and eventually Legionaires as well.

      Sorry if some of this is a bit vague, sneaking in the comment from my desk at work 🙂

      • Aezeal

        But that other guy the protagonist in one of the books wasn’t siding with Luther at all.. he was one fo the best of the lot (well in his view at least) and just got snubbed by The Lion.. tries years or decades to get back into his good graces without any reaction at all… It really annoyed me when I was reading the book.. you know unfair (I know life is unfair but still)

        • The Rout

          Zahariel or Remial (one of them 2?) was the one who convinced luther not to go through with the bomb. Seems like blame by proxy which sucks but it could be worse. If that sort of thing had happened in SW or WE or AL or several other legions then there would be no snubbing. You’d only gazing up at standing legionnaire with a bloody stump for a neck before realising thats where your head should be 😛

          • Aezeal

            Well … true that

  • benn grimm

    What does it take to wake a Primarch? Lack of respect for established lore, lack of good storytelling skills and a desire for money at the detriment of the integrity of a flagship product. Or a kiss from a princess…

    I think we’ll see the lion soon; for 30k, fingers crossed that’s where he stays.

    • DeadlyYellow

      Pulling out the primarchs feels like an end game. I imagine in about two years we’ll be hearing rumors of the Emperor coming to the table.

    • Iconoc1ast

      Send Russ over to pull his duvet off.

  • euansmith

    If, by the time Johnson is carried off by the Watchers in the Dark, his Dad is already on the Golden Throne; how does the Emperor know the secret?

    • Aezeal

      Psycher of unlimited power you know

      • euansmith

        But, if the old man is comatose, how would we know that he knows that they know what we know that he knows what they know?

        • Aezeal

          Isn’t there some vague communication possible with him in his throne?

          • vlad78

            Totally. The golden throne amplify the Emperor’s power million times. In fact, if the Emperor wasn’t already a god given his link with hte starchild, he would be by the mere fact of sitting on that thing. And probably any knowledge available within the warp is his.

          • jmaximum

            There is an AMAZING trilogy, I THINK it’s Eisenhorn, or the other Inquisitor from the Hereticus/Xenos/Chaos Child books, who actually makes it in to the throne room, SPEAKS WITH THE FRIKKIN BIG E….or at least a part of him. The Big E’s mind has splintered in to parts, as if he’s multiple personalities, but each part of the same person, and while part of him is talking to the Inquisitor, the other parts are monitoring the webway, listening to the Astronomican, etc. VERY cool, probably the first representation of the Emperor’s voice and presence in a book.

        • vlad78

          Who knows what he knows about them knowing what we know they know he knows we know?

    • orionburn

      And I thought the DA’s Grand Master knew that the Lion was hidden within the Rock. Maybe it’s only Luther. I play DA but I’m not expert by any means on the fluff.

      • vlad78

        I think the grand master knows Luther is there, not that the primarch is hidden bellow the bottom of Luther’s closet.

  • Sonic tooth

    lion is a knob but i still prefer him to russ

  • SupPupPup

    Gosh their names are silly aren’t they.

    • Morgrim

      With the exception of Lion (named after a british poet) and Luther (named after Martin Luther King) all the Dark Angels are named after hebrew angels.

      • SupPupPup

        Once again. A bit on the nose. A bit silly.

        I think Luther, might be named just after Martin Luther. Rather than the civil rights leader (or his father)

        • Level1NPC

          Given the religious iconography that makes up the Dark Angels’ fluff, he’s more likely named after the 15th century theologist than the civil rights leader.

          If I remember correctly, there’s also a story out there that paints Luther’s betrayal as an “I’m bitter, what we’re doing is wrong, and something needs to change” situation instead of leaving it at “demons made me do it.” Someone who’s better versed in 40K lore would need to confirm.

          • jmaximum

            $#!t….. I thought Luther was named in reference to Uther Pendragon.

          • Level1NPC

            Still entirely possible. If the Emps can be depicted as either a super shaman highlander with power level over 9000 or a more biblical second coming IN SPAAAAAACE due to writing inconsistencies between authors and numerous rectons, then Luther could plausibly be a hybrid of Uther Pendragon, Mordred, Martin Luther, Olivier from La Chanson de Roland, and Selim Wormrider from Dune.

            …and maybe even Basil Fawlty, depending on how good the drugs were when they brainstormed the DA’s fluff.

    • Sonic tooth

      one of the lost primarchs was called Gerry Onion-Rings

      • SupPupPup

        Horus’s middle name was Lucifer De Ville Parra Lel.

      • euansmith

        Did we ever find out what the Emperor is called?

        • Sonic tooth

          kurt russell or jason pierce from spiritualized

        • Sebastien Bazinet

          Chuck Norris