- "One stone crumbles and another takes its place and the temple holds its form for a thousand years or more. And that's what the Iron Bank is, a temple. We all live in its shadow and almost none of us know it. You can't run from them, you can't cheat them, you can't sway them with excuses. If you owe them money and you don't want to crumble yourself, you pay it back."
- ―Tywin Lannister
The Iron Bank of Braavos is a bank in the Free City of Braavos. It is arguably the most powerful financial institution in the Known World, with clients across Essos and Westeros, including the government of the King of the Andals and the First Men who rules over the Seven Kingdoms.
Just as a common saying about House Lannister is "A Lannister always pays his debts", there is also a common saying that the bank often reminds its clients who fail to repay their loans: "the Iron Bank will have its due".
The symbol of the Iron Bank depicts two golden triangles crossed in the manner of an hourglass, with two hands extending from left and right of the point where the triangles meet, their palms held upwards.
Known members and representatives
The Iron Bank was founded long before the Doom of Valyria, when Braavos was still a "secret city", hidden from the Valyrian Freehold. It was formed by successful traders and craftsmen. Its name comes from the abandoned iron mine in which the bank's founders placed all their funds. The mine had a single entrance, which they sealed with heavy gates and iron bars and protected by guards hired jointly by all the members. The Iron Bank has moved to new, grander quarters since that day, but the mine is still employed as a depository, as well as being a historical site of the city.
When Eddard Stark attends his first Small Council meeting in King's Landing, he is shocked to learn that the Iron Throne is an astonishing 6 million Gold Dragons in debt, half of it owed to the Lannisters (though at the time, the Iron Bank isn't mentioned by name).
After taking over the role of Master of Coin from Petyr Baelish, Tyrion Lannister discovers (as Eddard Stark did before him) that Baelish has been funding the Iron Throne's budget by borrowing massive amounts of money from several sources, including the Iron Bank of Braavos, to which the crown owes millions of Gold Dragons. Tyrion is concerned because the Iron Bank has a tradition of funding the enemies of rulers who fail to repay their debts.
At the royal wedding between King Joffrey Baratheon and Margaery Tyrell, Tywin Lannister remarks to Olenna Tyrell about the expense of the festivities, even though House Tyrell is paying half the costs. Olenna wryly says that she is glad to help, but expects that the Lannisters will require their financial support again soon: wars are expensive, and even with the Starks defeated, the War of the Five Kings had added to the Iron Throne's already massive debts to foreign banks. She notes that there is a common saying, "the Iron Bank will have its due", which the bank reminds its clients almost as often as Tywin's family reminds its enemies that "a Lannister always pays his debts". Tywin tries to brush this aside by saying that he isn't afraid of the Iron Bank, but Olenna chides him that he is lying, as they both know that he's smart enough to realize he should fear running afoul of the Iron Bank of Braavos.
Reacting to the news of Joffrey's death at his own wedding, Stannis Baratheon is still discouraged because he does not have sufficient remaining soldiers to seize on this opportunity. His Hand Ser Davos Seaworth suggests that they could attempt to hire mercenary companies from the Free Cities, but Stannis scoffs that they don't have any gold left either. Later, while reading a book about Braavos given to him by Stannis's daughter Princess Shireen, Davos remarks to her that he has been to Braavos in his old days as a smuggler, but that he nearly lost his life at hands of First Sword of Braavos when he ran afoul of the well-guarded ships transporting a nation's worth of gold for the Iron Bank. Realization suddenly dawns on Davos, and he begins to dictate a letter to Shireen in the name of King Stannis, asking for an audience with the Iron Bank.
After Tommen's coronation, Tywin privately reveals to his daughter, the Queen Regent Cersei, that wartime spending drastically increased their already significant debts to the Iron Bank, to astronomical levels. The Crown now owes the Iron Bank "a tremendous amount of money", and that the gold mines of the Westerlands actually ran dry three years ago. Therefore, even though Tywin admits the Lannisters can trust nobody except themselves, they need the Tyrells' wealth and resources on their side. Cersei suggests coming to some arrangement with one of their representatives, but Tywin dismisses the idea, since the Bank is a monolithic structure that cannot be avoided, lied to, or swayed.
Some time later, Stannis and Ser Davos travel to Braavos and are received by Tycho Nestoris and two of his colleagues. When they ask the bank to fund their continuing campaign in Westeros, Nestoris points out their weak position and is ready to dismiss them. Ser Davos speaks up, relating how he came into Stannis's service, how the latter is a just man who keeps his word, and how he is the best chance for the Iron Bank to get its money back upon the chaos that would follow the death of the elderly Tywin Lannister. After Tywin is gone (and with Tyrion arrested, soon to be either dead or disowned) the only leaders "House Lannister" will be left with are the despised Queen Cersei, Ser Jaime the Kingslayer, and the boy-king Tommen - none of whom have great political or financial skill. This gives the bankers some second thoughts about how successful the Lannisters will be in the long run, and they agree to extend a new provisional loan to Stannis.
Stannis used the money to resupply his remaining troops and re-hire Salladhor Saan's sellsail fleet to transport them from Dragonstone to The Wall, just in time to decisively intervene at the Battle of Castle Black.
As predicted, following Tywin's death the Iron Bank starts to lose even more faith in the Lannisters and their puppet Tommen on the Iron Throne. Before long, the bank decides to pressure them by calling in a tenth of the debts that the Iron Throne owes it. Newly appointed Master of Coin Mace Tyrell observes that the Iron Throne physically only possesses about half that much money (or, about one twentieth of the total, huge amount they owe the bank). Lord Mace offers that House Tyrell could front the money for the moment to keep the bank from escalating matters further, but Queen Mother Cersei Lannister declines his offer - secretly abhorred at the idea of borrowing money from the Tyrells to pay off the Iron Bank, which she views as trading one problem for another (in fact a worse problem, as she now views the Tyrells as an enemy closer to home than the Iron Bank). Instead, she decides to send Lord Tyrell himself to Braavos to negotiate a new deal with the Iron Bank, hoping that sending such a high official to treat with them in person will placate them.
Unfortunately, King Stannis Baratheon, who the Iron Bank decided to secretly support after being convinced by Davos, is killed after his failed assault on Winterfell, meaning that the Iron Bank lost their investment that they made with Stannis.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the Iron Bank of Braavos is the most powerful banking institution in the known world, richer and more powerful than the banks of all the other eight Free Cities combined, and with a fearsome reputation when collecting debts. When princes or kings default on their debts or are foolish enough not to honor their agreements with the Iron Bank, new princes and kings appear with the Iron Bank's support. These new princes and kings then honor the previous debt along with paying back the money the bank loaned them in claiming their new power, lest they suffer the same fate as their predecessors. "The Iron Bank will have its due" is a common saying among Braavosi, almost as common as the saying "A Lannister always pays his debts" is in Westeros.
At the beginning of the novels, Littlefinger informs Eddard Stark that the Iron Throne is an astonishing six million Gold Dragons in debt to House Lannister and other creditors: the Iron Bank, House Tyrell, the Faith and several trading cartels from Tyrosh. In the TV series, Eddard Stark discovered this in Season 1 episode 3, "Lord Snow", and was also informed that half of this debt was to House Lannister. The episode's dialogue did not, however, break down who the remaining debt was owed to. In the books, it is explained that the Crown owes about two million Gold Dragons to the Iron Bank of Braavos, the Tyrells, and several Tyroshi trading cartels (together), and nearly another million to the leadership of the Faith of the Seven. As Bronn points out in Season 3's "Walk of Punishment", King Robert can't pay Tywin back now that he's dead, and with Tywin's own grandson Joffrey as a puppet-king, the Lannisters can't pay themselves back the three million they lent to the crown. While the Lannisters were victorious after the Red Wedding, the massive costs of fighting such a large-scale war only added to their already substantial debts.
Cersei's mishandling of the debt crisis becomes even worse in the fourth novel: things reach a point where she callously dismisses Noho Dimittis, the Iron Bank's representative (after he has been already rejected by Lord Gyles Rosby six times), tactlessly declaring that the crown will delay paying them back for the indefinite duration of the ongoing rebellions (with the North still in chaos with Stannis's new campaign, the rebellious Iron Islands totally unsubdued). Pycelle objects, claiming that this will cause more trouble than Cersei knows, but his protests fall on deaf ears. This is a shocking insult, given that Cersei is in no position to give orders to a foreign bank the Lannisters are heavily in debt to, and it backfires spectacularly. Instead, this is the last straw for the Iron Bank, making them realize that Cersei will never regain firm enough control over the Seven Kingdoms to pay them back, causing them to officially switch their support from the Lannisters to Stannis. First, the bank puts a freeze on all outstanding loans in Westeros, crippling the already severely damaged economy of the realm. Second, the Iron Bank agrees to extend massive new loans to Stannis, enough to hire a new sellsword army of over twenty thousand men - a potentially huge boost to Stannis's cause given that he only had under 3,000 soldiers left by that point (though they have not left the Free Cities yet).
Soon, merchants appear before Cersei to beg the Crown to intercede for them with the Iron Bank. Cersei, foolishly, is not much concerned; she toys with the idea of opening a new bank - "the Golden Bank of Lannisport". In the meantime, she tells the merchants to pay the Braavosi usurers their due.
After Cersei's downfall, Kevan takes steps to amend the damages she caused. One of his main concerns is to resolve the dispute with the Iron Bank: he orders Ser Harys Swyft to contact Myrish and Pentoshi bankers in attempt to acquire the money they need to pay the Iron Bank, and if that fails - he would have to to pay the crown’s debts with Lannister gold. Kevan dismisses the idea to imposing new taxes, knowing well it will incite mutiny. In the sixth novel, Ser Harys (in the show he is replaced with Mace Tyrell) travels to Braavos to treat with the Iron Bank, but apparently it is too late.
Tycho Nestoris is sent to the Wall to negotiate with Stannis, instead of Stannis going to Braavos to negotiate with him as in the show, and it only happens after the Bank's relationship with the Crown turns sour. Tycho also meets with Jon Snow and they discuss financial matters for the Night's Watch. Once Jon learns that there is a traitor in Stannis's host - Arnolf Karstark, Rickard's uncle and the castellan of Karhold - he sends Tycho to the village where Stannis and his soldiers currently camp. The meeting between Tycho and Stannis takes place in the sixth novel, while the battle of Winterfell has not begun yet.
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