Friday, 24 January 2014

The Noble Titles of Westeros


When looking at the nobility of Westeros and its various incarnations we actually see little variety among the noble houses which stretch from the Wall to the Sea of Dorne. In fact compared to our world the nobility of Westeros and its various ranks and titles are rather simplistic. We know that there are the Lord's Paramount of the various regions, that certain ones also claim the title of Warden, we know about the distinction between knightly houses and lordly houses, and finally we can see the difference between the Great Houses and the Royal House.

Verily this can lead to some confusion over rank and status, is one lord inferior to another, or is the Lord of Raventree Hall equal to the Lord of Stone Hedge or does one have somewhat higher social standing than the other? Similarly are we to infer that House Frey is of lesser standing than House Mallister or that Lord Frey is unequal to his peers? Is it because of the relative youth of his house or because most outrank him socially?

These are difficult questions to answer. This of course could be chalked up to the simplicity of the noble titles in Westeros. GRRM himself has said that he feels in hindsight he should probably have used at least one more rank when spelling out the forms of nobility in Westeros. Even he acknowledges though that the sheer number of different rankings in our own medieval history was absurd and confusing. However, I think it is important that we get a firm fix on what GRRM could have done to iron out these kinks in terms of Westerosi rank. To do so I am going to look at the noble houses in the books, their general standing, and of course see where you could possibly apply.

I'll generally be looking at the titles and positions in this order:

The Royal House
The Great Houses/Lords Paramount
Noble Houses
Knightly Houses

First off we can take a look at the king and his title. It all seems fairly straight forward but upon examination it seems to have some glaring faults in not spelling out the whole of the king's authority. Let's look at it in full shall we?

The full title of the King would go something like this: His Grace King Robert of House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, and Protector of the Realm.

Credit to Amoka

Fairly straight forward right? I don't think so personally. Here we see the monarchic title as one which seems to merely bind diverse polities and peoples together, there is emphasis on the overlordship of the various peoples in the Seven Kingdoms and an emphasis on ruling all the different realms. There is of course the mention of the king as the supreme military leader and protector of the realm clearly indicating his military responsibility in the defense of the realm.

However, it seems to be lacking a number of things.

Firstly (and most obviously I think) it seems to lack any reference to the religious responsibilities or the favor of the dominant religion of Westeros the Faith of the Seven. Nowhere in his title does it mention the Faith, any religious obligation, or favor. Compare that to the title of the British monarch which explicitly states that the monarch rules 'By the Grace of God' and is 'The Defender of the Faith'. We do know that the monarch is crowned by the Faith and that they are anointed by the High Septon, but that gives us very little knowledge on what the mechanisms for the recognition of the Faith are (in fact we get perilous little information on the workings of the Faith of the Seven until A Feast For Crows).

Secondly despite the title of 'Lord of the Seven Kingdoms' there is a lack of acknowledgement over the King's personal authority of the Crownlands, which serves as the ruling Houses's personal demesne. Nowhere in the books do we really get an idea of how the king governs the Crownlands as its Lord Paramount, nor do we get a sense of what his duties are in ruling it. The lack of acknowledgement of this in the royal title is an oversight I think.

Finally there is an absence of mentioning how the King is the supreme justice in the realm. Yes it is implied as the right of the king and of course is in the law, but without it in the title, it is sincerely lacking I would say.

These are the great abscences I see in the royal title. Now If I were to have the King of Westeros's full title I would give it something like this: By the Light of the Seven, His Grace King Robert of House Baratheon, First of His Name, King of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, Duke of the Crownlands, Supreme of Justice, Protector of the Realm, and Defender of the Faith.

Much more grandiose, but captures the full authority and duties as ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. Some would of course say that it is too unwieldy a title but I think for how grandiose titles could be in our time this one fits perfectly well!

Moving on to the next category I will be looking at the Lord's Paramount of Westeros, or as they are known the Great Houses.

You have a Great House for each of the 8 separate realms of Westeros, each with differing amounts of power and prestige, and some having the added title of the Cardinal Wardens. There is only one mention of the Lord's Paramount in the book series though, and that is when discussing the removal of the Tully's as Lord's Paramount of the Riverlands. We are much more familiar with the discussion of the title of Warden and its implication, but more on that in a moment.

The Nine Regions of Westeros

The ruling Houses of these regions are the Great Houses of the realm, though this is rarely spelled out in detail but the implications and duties owed to them are often apparent. We also know that from the replacement of both House Tully and House Stark that this rank and title can be removed by royal decree and granted by such a decree. However it appears that it is a distinction which does not have to be renewed very often and seems to be one which has slowly become a fact of life in the realm and not one thought to be often challenged.

In light of both the power which is held by the Great Houses and their titles as Lord's Paramount I would propose that a good idea for GRRM had he given another noble ranking would have been to declare the Lord's Paramount Dukes. This not only gives them a clear rank above their other vassal houses, but adds to the de-facto hereditary position. This of course would still be subject to approval by the king and the removal of a house from power could be considered and enacted with ease, and that threat held above the Duke to ensure he doesn't get any ideas of rebelling.

Now the normal title of a Lord seems to go something like this: Eddard, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. 

Now we can surmise that the title 'Lord of Winterfell' is the stand in for the title of Lord Paramount of the North since Winterfell is the de-facto capital of the Northern province. Much like Riverrun is the de-facto capital of the Riverlands and so forth. Unofficially it would seem that being lord of the capital is what encapsulates the ability to be Lord Paramount, but as we see when Petyr Baelish is declared Lord Paramount of the Riverlands and granted Harrenhall as his seat this is a concept which is fairly fluid and can apparently be changed at will. However, we also see the Frey who inherits Riverrun as mistakenly believing this elevates him to Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, which does show that tradition has handed down these great castles as the seats of power, but again, it appears to be a fluid institution.

Given the fluidity of the title I would personally propose it go something like this: Eddard, Duke of the North, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North (that last bit of course added on for accuracy).

This upgrades all the Lord's Paramount to the status of Dukes, gives themselves and their heirs an instantly recognizable social standing and higher authority over their vassals in a recognizable title. This would have helped balance things politically between the Lord's Paramount and their bannermen in many cases I feel as the authority and duties of a Duke over the whole of one of the regions of Westeros would grant them much more legitimacy and power.

The only regions I would see this distinction not working would be Dorne and the Iron Islands where the cultural differences would keep them from adopting such a title.

As a slight aside I would simply see the title of Warden, which is a purely military one, merely adding to the prestige of a Great House, and the reason it is sought after because it would potentially give them a degree of power over their social equals to command them as they saw fit.

Moving on let's examine the lesser houses and their titles. Here is somewhere where we would want to be more diverse in creating titles, but for simplicity I'm only going to suggest two distinctions. The two distinctions I would suggest are simply that between baron and lord. A baron would be a title of a greater lord who owns vast lands or is a much more wealthy house, and a regular lord would be one step above a knightly house.

The distinction is one I think is important for many reasons. Coming back to my question on the Frey's earlier, we can't know by title alone that House Frey is a younger house since its leader is named Lord just like every other noble in Westeros. I think it was a great opportunity that was missed in both narrative and sociopolitical terms to have Lord Walder Frey pining for both greater influence and a greater title. His House was one which was clearly rich, and strong, but being younger it didn't garner enough respect. I believe that the better driving motivation (and a clearer one) would have been Lord Walder to be wishing to become Baron Walder, since he clearly feels his house is on level with the Mallisters and even the Great Houses since he was so eager to gain marriage into one of them for his progeny.

So to put it in perspective I believe we would have had different addresses being doled out like this; let's say for a moment we are addressing Lord Jason Mallister of Seagard, with a baronial title he would most likely be styled Baron Seagard when addressed naturally and more formally as "My Lord Baron of Seagard" when addressed by his social inferiors. While addressing Walder Frey one would simply say, Lord Walder of the Twins, or more formally Lord Walder/Frey.

The fact that any lord would then have to address a baron more formally does two things in my eyes a) it establishes a balance of power between barons and their sworn houses (in regular Westeros parlance usually a lesser house or a knightly house being sworn to a more powerful house) which gives more of a degree of rank among them, and b) it has a better political aspect with Dukes having to worry more about their barons in the feudal politics ring and having a sure sign of rank and influence across the eight regions of Westeros.

Now for the last noble title, a knightly house. These are the lowest order of nobility on the pecking order since they consist of landed knights with small holdings. Towerhouses and small holdfasts these are the lesser of the lesser lords. Not powerful enough to claim themselves as full lords, and more often than not simply the vassals of a larger house. They are valued for their military service and little else. This can be seen by Houses like House Clegane, House Cassel, and House Connington of Griffon's Roost.

House Clegane, the most infamous Knightly House

Personally I actually see nothing wrong with their naming and rank as it is and simply think that in my revised system the ranking becomes more clear and the power distinctions between the Houses of Westeros come into sharper focus giving us a better view into the feudal politics.

Now to summarize, here is how this new ranking system would work:

1) The Royal House (supreme rulers of the realm)

2) The 8 Ducal Houses (appointed by the king)

3) Baronial Houses (sworn as bannermen to the Ducal Houses)

4) Lordly Houses (either powerful enough but without the title to be sworn in as full bannermen or simply sworn vassals to Baronial houses)

5) Knightly Houses (basically landed knights and are sworn to whichever noble house which has granted them land)

There we have it. This is my own little fan reorganization of the nobility and titles of Westeros. I leave it to you to see if that makes sense or if it even works in your heads. I know it does in mine and that's how I'll stick with it!


  1. "Firstly (and most obviously I think) it seems to lack any reference to the religious responsibilities or the favor of the dominant religion of Westeros the Faith of the Seven. "

    have to disagree on this

    First ) The Seven is not that dominant on The North and Iron Islands. at the time Targayen conguest it will be even worse. there are mention of abandoned White Tree grove in South. so it is probable that during Targaryen Conguest, The Seven is not that dominant. avoiding mention one of many faith as special seems reasonable to avoid religious conflict.

    Second) isn't "King of the Andals, Rhoynar, and the First Men" semi-religious title ? Andals are followers of the Seven. Rhoynar has their own pantheon(which lost out to Seven faith later). First Men have their own semi-pagan faith (it is likely that Drowned God and White Tree is two survivor of much larger pantheon and tradition).

    Third) Targayen is famous for "not following laws of Gods and Men". incest just one example of Valerian tradition that conflict with laws of The Seven. acknowledging The Seven is superior to their Valerian heritage is unlikely.

  2. Being King does not automatically mean having the favor of the gods, but that is a meta-comment. In-universe, the Kingship and the Faith of Seven are two distinct institutions. Apart from a coronation, they do not interact. Unlike the Anglican Kings of the UK, the Kings of Westeros do not have any explicit obligations to (or power over) the Faith. Indeed, it is left ambiguous as to which gods the "laws of gods and men" refer, as not even all of the Seven Kingdoms are of the Faith of Seven. To make the Kingship an explicit institution of the Faith, as opposed to an institution only endorsed by it, would be gauche at best.

    I don't think the introduction of a ducal title is nessisary, as that rank is already expressed by the title Lord Paramount. Sure, its usage can be cleaned up quite a bit (Eddard, Lord Paramount and Warden of the North for example), but a new title would be redundant.

    I personally like the ambiguity of a monolithic mid-nobility rank of Lord, a it makes the game of power entirely one of perception ("sure, Frey's a Lord, but he's not a LORD Lord..."), but I understand why others wouldn't like that very ambiguity.

    All-in-all, nice post!

    1. Thank you!

      The problem is we never get an accurate description of Lord Paramounts without the attached title of Warden, and even Lord Paramount seems somewhat vague at times to me. The ambiguity is a little annoying when you read about the myriad of titles in real medieval history and how you can easily differentiate the various lords and vassals through them. Would make it far easier to estimate the various strengths of the noble houses IMO.

      But, the ambiguity is nice from a story perspective.

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  4. I greatly enjoyed this post (I just happened across it years after its publication) but I will provide one quibble: instead of Barons the higher title would most likely be 'Count' or 'Earl', which strikes me as a more accurate representation of the power of some of these houses in terms of holdings and demesne than a barony.

    1. Possibly, it's just so darned hard to accurately calculate the strength of some of the noble houses. The Manderly's for instance would really deserve the title of Count, while the Umber's possibly would be just earls.

      Thanks for the comment saying you enjoyed it!