"Lord Paramount" is a title in the Seven Kingdoms, created during the Targaryen Conquest three centuries before the War of the Five Kings. It is a hereditary title bestowed upon a major noble House charged with ruling one of the unified Seven Kingdoms, under the overall rule of the Targaryen kings on the Iron Throne. When Robert Baratheon became king after Robert's Rebellion, he kept the Lords Paramount system intact.
Although Westeros has nine constituent regions, there are only six Lords Paramount:
- The head of House Arryn, Lord of The Eyrie, ruler of the the Vale of Arryn.
- The head (or following Robert's Rebellion, a senior member) of House Baratheon, Lord of Storm's End, ruler of the Stormlands.
- The head of House Lannister, Lord of Casterly Rock, ruler of the Westerlands.
- The head of House Stark, Lord of Winterfell, ruler of the North.
- The head of House Tully, Lord of Riverrun, ruler of the Riverlands.
- The head of House Tyrell, Lord of Highgarden, ruler of the Reach.
- The head of House Targaryen (and following Robert's Rebellion, the head of House Baratheon) is the King on the Iron Throne and rules the Crownlands directly. Its lords swear fealty to the King or to the Prince/Lord of Dragonstone (himself usually sworn to the Iron Throne).
- The head of House Martell, the Lord of Sunspear, rules Dorne as "Prince of Dorne", not "Lord Paramount of Dorne". The Martells were allowed to retain their original title as part of the marriage alliance that brought them into the Seven Kingdoms in the first place.
- The head of House Greyjoy appears to hold the title "Lord Reaper of Pyke" and no mention is made of him being "Lord Paramount of the Iron Islands". Theon Greyjoy once referred to the title "Lord of the Iron Islands" in conversation with Osha, but this seems to be parlance rather than an actual title.
For thousands of years, the Seven Kingdoms were each seven independent "kingdoms". They were each ruled by their own royal family, and these seven families were known as the Great Houses. When Aegon Targaryen conquered and unified the Seven Kingdoms, those Great Houses who surrendered were given the offer to continue ruling, but under the Targaryens. Thus when King Torrhen Stark surrendered to Aegon Targaryen, he stopped being the "King in the North", but he and his family continued to rule as "Lords Paramount of the North", as part of the unified Targaryen realm. House Lannister and House Arryn also used to rule as kings, in the Westerlands and the Vale respectively, but became Lords Paramount when they submitted.
In three of the other kingdoms, their ruling Great Houses had died during the conquest, so the Targaryens elevated other major Houses in those regions to Lords Paramount. House Gardener had ruled as the kings of the Reach, but all living members were killed at the climactic Field of Fire. Their stewards, House Tyrell, then surrendered Highgarden to Aegon. The Tyrells were descended from House Gardener, though through the female line. In reward for their role in handing over Highgarden, Aegon named them Lords Paramount of the Reach. As a result, a member of House Tyrell has never ruled as a king or queen. Similarly, the last of the Storm Kings of the Stormlands died in the conquest, so Aegon named his bastard half-brother Orys Baratheon as Lord Paramount of the Stormlands for his role in the victory. However, Orys then married the daughter of the last of the Storm Kings, so there was at least some continuity. House Hoare of the Iron Islands was eradicated in the conquest, so Aegon asked the ironborn to choose one line from among their major noble Houses to become Lords Paramount. The ironborn chose House Greyjoy, who ruled over the Iron Islands under the Targaryens ever since.
A slight difference is that the Greyjoys style themselves as "Lord Reaper of Pyke", but there is apparently no legal difference between this and a "Lord Paramount". Certainly, they were conquered by the Targaryens just like all of the other regions, so there is no reason for them to be treated differently.
The Riverlands had not been an independent kingdom for centuries, merely a contested border region first conquered by the Stormlands and then the Iron islands. However, House Tully sided with the Targaryens during the conquest to overthrow the ironborn that ruled them, and in reward Aegon elevated them as Lords Paramount. Thus the "Lords Paramount of the Riverlands" are the only instance in which the title does not correspond to one of the previous regional kingships in place before the conquest.
House Martell of Dorne managed to repulse Aegon's forces and thus remained independent for another two centuries. A century before the War of the Five Kings they were peacefully united to the Targaryen realm through marriage-alliance. As a result they are allowed to maintain many local laws and customs, and still style themselves as "Princes of Dorne", not "Lords Paramount of Dorne". "Prince" is a holdover from when the Rhoynar used to live in city-states in Essos. There are therefore a few legal differences between being the ruling "Prince" of Dorne and a "Lord Paramount", though they do seem to be functionally equivalent. The only apparent difference is that Dorne continues to follow its custom of practicing equal primogeniture, thus there have been several instances of women ruling Dorne, in which case they are styled as "Princess of Dorne". It is not clear if the Targaryen kings technically have the right to dismiss the Princes of Dorne, as they apparently do with Lords Paramount (though none was actually dismissed in three centuries of Targaryen rule).
Only six Houses hold the title of "Lord Paramount" at one time, as the Iron Islands and Dorne use alternate titles. House Targaryen itself rules the Crownlands directly, not as "Lords Paramount". Four of the Lords Paramount, the Starks, Lannisters, Arryns, and Tyrells, also serve as Wardens, who lead the realm's armies in war.
No House was added or removed from "Lords Paramount" status during the three centuries since the title was created during the Targaryen Conquest. During this time "Lords Paramount" the political office became treated as functionally synonymous with "Great Houses". There have been various civil wars when the opportunity may have arisen to punish a Great House by removing its Lord Paramount status, but this was never carried out. For example, King Robert Baratheon reinstated House Greyjoy as Lords Paramount of the Iron Islands after he crushed the Greyjoy Rebellion.
Despite the outbreak of the War of the Five Kings, with different regions of the Seven Kingdoms declaring for rival claimants to the throne, no king has of yet decided to name alternate Lords Paramount to different regions. Given that each region tended to be unified in its choice, it seemed a moot point in most cases.
Tyrion Lannister did offer to make Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish the lord of the Riverlands if he succeeded in arranging a marriage alliance between Myrcella Baratheon and Robin Arryn, but it was later revealed that this marriage plot was just a ruse to root out Grand Maester Pycelle's treachery.
In the booksEdit
It is not clear why, or even if, the Greyjoys do not use the title "Lords Paramount of the Iron Islands". As one of Aegon Targaryen's conquests they should, but this has not been mentioned in the novels to date. Balon Greyjoy only refers to himself as "Lord Reaper of Pyke" when he is introduced. However, this may be because by the time he was introduced into the narrative, he had already decided to rebel against the Iron Throne (for a second time) and thus didn't consider himself merely a "Lord Paramount". For that matter, "Lord Reaper of Pyke" might refer to his direct rule over the island of Pyke, which is one of the seven islands making up the "Iron Islands" (i.e. just as Ned Stark might refer to himself as "Lord of Winterfell").