The Great Houses are the most powerful of the noble houses of the Seven Kingdoms. They exercise immense authority and power over their vassals and the areas that they control. They are typically answerable only to the King on the Iron Throne. Several of the Great Houses used to be royal families in their own right, when Westeros was home to several sovereign nations in the years before the Targaryen conquest.
The Great Houses
- House Arryn, rulers of the Vale of Arryn from the castle at the Eyrie.
- House Baratheon, who currently hold the Iron Throne and also rule the Stormlands from Storm's End.
- House Greyjoy, rulers of the Iron Islands from the castle at Pyke.
- House Lannister, rulers of the Westerlands from the castle at Casterly Rock.
- House Martell, rulers of Dorne from the castle at Sunspear.
- House Stark, rulers of the North from the castle at Winterfell.
- House Tully, rulers of the Riverlands from the castle at Riverrun.
- House Tyrell, rulers of the Reach from the castle at Highgarden.
- House Targaryen, the former royal house, displaced during Robert's Rebellion which brought House Baratheon to power.
In the books
In the Song of Ice and Fire novels, the term "great house" or "ruling house" is used informally. Author George R.R. Martin has said that in retrospect he should have used a formal senior rank to differentiate the ruling houses from their vassals.
Since the continent of Westeros is so huge, it more resembles the Roman Empire in scale, with provinces (in this case, constitutent regions) that are in effect semi-autonomous with the local people regarding the local Great House as their rulers, and the King as perhaps an abstract and distant figure who has no bearing on their day-to-day lives. Thus in terms of their populations and the size of the armies they can raise in wartime, each of the "Great Houses" is more comparable in scale to a real-life medieval kingship like England or France than a smaller dukedom.
The definition of a "Great House" in general can be summarized as any noble House senior enough that it is only answerable to the King on the Iron Throne. At the start of the books this list comprises the Starks, Lannisters, Arryns, Greyjoys, Tullys, Tyrells, Baratheons, and Martells. This definition sometimes leads to oddities, such as House Hightower of Oldtown commanding a vastly populous city (second only to King's Landing and not by much) and an immense area of territory around it, including numerous smaller vassal houses. The Hightowers could theoretically be more powerful than the ruling house of less populous regions (such as the Greyjoys and perhaps even the Martells), but as they are vassals of the Tyrells, they are not counted as a Great House.
Few Great Houses have ever gone extinct. By the time the books begin, only three former Great Houses have ever been destroyed, all during the Targaryen Conquest, three hundred years before the War of the Five Kings:
- The Storm Kings - rulers of the Stormlands
- House Gardener - rulers of the Reach
- House Hoare - rulers of the Iron Islands and (through conquest) the Riverlands
After the Targaryen Conquest, House Baratheon replaced the Storm Kings, House Tyrell replaced House Gardener, and House Greyjoy replaced House Hoare. Orys Baratheon, founder of House Baratheon, married the daughter of the last Storm King, so there was some continuity with the former House and its replacement. The Storm Kings left no other known branches besides the Baratheons. House Gardener intermarried with many of the great noble families of the Reach, and House Florent is even a cadet branch of the main Gardener line. House Tyrell descends from House Gardener through the female line (much to the consternation of the Florents), so there is some continuity in the Reach as well. House Hoare, however, was completely destroyed, when Harren Hoare and all of his sons were roasted alive by Aegon the Conqueror's dragons. Therefore, Aegon had the ironborn choose one of their own Houses to rule over them (under the overall rule of the Targaryens), and they chose House Greyjoy.
The Iron Islands are something of an odd case, in that for many centuries their kingship was not hereditary. When a king died, the powerful noble Houses of the Iron Islands would meet in an assembly known as a Kingsmoot to select a new king to rule over all of them. Five thousand years ago, House Greyiron killed all of the representatives at the last Kingsmoot, and ruled the Iron Islands as hereditary kings for a thousand years. The Greyirons were destroyed four thousand years ago during the Andal Invasion, when they were deposed by House Hoare. Whether the Greyirons should be considered a Great House that early in history is unclear.
The ancient Houses of Mudd and Casterly were destroyed in ancient times. However, given at that time almost every castle in Westeros commanded a kingdom and almost every lord (great or not) called himself a king, it is unclear how many of these Houses like the Casterlys should be considered to be "Great".
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