The Seven Kingdoms is the name given to the realm that controls most of the continent of Westeros and its numerous offshore islands, ruled by the King of the Andals and the First Men from the Red Keep in the city of King's Landing.
The name of the realm dates back to the time prior to the War of Conquest, during which seven independent kingdoms existed on the continent. The realm actually consists of nine distinct regions, the remaining two being formally established after the Targaryen conquest, and thus they are not actually considered to be "kingdoms." Regardless, all nine provinces are subject to the rule of the Iron Throne.
The realm became fractured from years of civil warfare with the Kingdom of the North and the Kingdom of the Iron Islands attempting secession. However, the North has pledged to House Targaryen while the Iron Islands have allied with House Lannister, with both sides agreeing to an armistice to deal with the Great War to the north (though secretly, Cersei Lannister and Euron Greyjoy plot to betray the Starks and Targaryens).
When Aegon I Targaryen embarked on the conquest of the continent of Westeros from his seat on Dragonstone he had to contend with seven independent realms formed by the First Men thousands of years ago and later taken over by the Andals during their invasion thousands of years later (with the exception of the North and the Iron Islands; Dorne also later adopted the practices of the Rhoynar when they migrated to Westeros). These were:
- Kingdom of the Mountain and the Vale, ruled by House Arryn of the Eyrie, the Kings of the Mountain and the Vale.
- Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers, ruled by House Hoare of Harrenhal, the Kings of the Isles and the Rivers.
- Principality of Dorne, ruled by House Martell of Sunspear, the Princes of Dorne. Note that being referred to as a principality was purely stylistic; Dorne was an independent kingdom in all but name.
With the aid of his dragons, Aegon managed to conquer all of the kingdoms, except Dorne, which would join with his dynasty through marriage a century later. Houses Stark, Lannister and Arryn, which bent the knee to Aegon, were allowed to maintain their domains, no longer as kings but as Lords Paramount of their respective regions - the North, the Westerlands and the Vale - and Wardens, subject to the authority of the King of the Andals and the First Men.
With House Hoare eliminated, the kingdom ruled by Harren the Black was divided, with the people of the Iron Islands choosing House Greyjoy as their rulers, lands surrounding the Trident awarded to House Tully as lords of the Riverlands, and the lords of lands surrounding the new capital of King's Landing as direct vassals to the Iron Throne.
House Gardener was also obliterated when King Mern IX perished at the Field of Fire. Mern's steward, Harlen Tyrell, surrendered Highgarden and the Reach to the Targaryen conqueror and was thus appointed Lord of Highgarden, Lord Paramount of the Reach, and Warden of the South.
House Durrandon was extinguished in the male line when King Argilac was killed by Orys Baratheon in battle. As a reward for his loyalty, Orys was granted Argilac's domain, as well as his daughter. Thus House Baratheon, the Lords Paramount of the Stormlands and new Lords of Storm's End, was created.
The only one of the Seven Kingdoms not conquered was Dorne in the far south, whose lords learned from the mistakes of the other kings and refused to meet Aegon and his dragons in open battle. Dorne retained their independence for almost two more centuries before joining the realm through a dual marriage with the Targaryens. Because they entered the realm through a marital alliance and not conquest, the Dornish rulers of House Martell have been allowed to continue to style themselves as princes and princesses rather than Lords Paramount, though they are still subject to the authority of the Iron Throne and are not considered to be royalty.
Despite numerous civil wars, rebellions, and the death of the last of the dragons, the Targaryens ruled over the unified Seven Kingdoms for over 280 years, some of which saw peace and prosperity, until the actions of the Mad King, Aerys II, triggered the rebellion known as Robert's Rebellion. At the end of this civil war, King Aerys II and most of his family were slain and his surviving children fled into exile in the Free Cities across the Narrow Sea on the continent of Essos. Robert Baratheon took the throne and ruled for seventeen years, beginning a new dynasty whose rule became challenged after his death. Cersei Lannister, the widow and murderer of Robert, took the throne after the civil war, beginning the Lannister dynasty. However, her rule is quickly contested by the last known Targaryen: Daenerys Targaryen, who brings with her the three dragons like Aegon had, the first dragons born in over a century.
Jon Snow, the new King in the North, seeks to unite the fractured kingdoms against a common enemy: the White Walkers, who have been gone for 8,000 years since the first Long Night. He struggles to do so as most of the realm believes the White Walkers to be fairy tales, and, as a result, has gone on an expedition beyond the Wall with allies to gather proof of their reawakening.
- See also: Lordship
The Seven Kingdoms is an absolute monarchy ruled by a King, who bears the titles of "King of the Andals and the First Men", "Lord of the Seven Kingdoms", and "Protector of the Realm". The second most powerful position is that of the Hand of the King, an appointed Lord who serves as the King's topmost advisor and, in his absence, holds court and may even sit on the Iron Throne. If the King is a minor and, thus, unfit to properly rule, the government falls in the hands of a Regent, who may be the Hand, the Queen Dowager or another Lord selected for the task.
Aiding the King and the Hand in the capital is the Small Council, a chamber of Lords that advise the King and/or the Hand in matters such as economy, intelligence or law. The permanent small council positions are:
- The Master of Laws
- The Master of Coin
- The Master of Ships
- The Master of Whisperers
- The Grand Maester
- The Lord Commander of the Kingsguard
- The Member for Dorne (since Tommen I's reign)
The King may appoint other advisors to the council at his discretion, but they hold no official office (they operate "without portfolio").
Beneath the King of the Andals and the First Men, the Hand of the King, and the Small Council, but still enjoying a great degree of autonomy, are the rulers of each region. They are almost all referred to as Lords Paramount of their respective region, with the only two exceptions being Dorne, the ruler being referred to as the Prince of Dorne, and the Iron Islands, the ruler being referred to as the Lord of the Iron Islands. The Lords Paramount are the paternal heads of the Great Houses; each Great House rules a region.
Additionally, some Lords Paramount bear the title of Warden, who are regional commanders sworn to defend the realm from threats posed in and around their region. The four Wardens are the Wardens of the North, the Wardens of the West, the Wardens of the East, and the Wardens of the South.
Below the rulers of each constituent region lie their vassals: lords and landed knights, who rule in the name of their liege lords and are sworn to answer their summons when the need arises. These lords may have, in turn, their own lords and sworn knights ruling over portions of their own lands. The lowest in the social ladder are the smallfolk, or commoners, who make up the majority of the population.
As of the War of the Five Kings and the conflicts that followed, the Seven Kingdoms are currently fractured. The civil war left House Baratheon extinct, leaving the Stormlands without ruler. It also led to the extinction of House Frey in the male line, which had usurped power from House Tully, leaving the Riverlands in anarchy. The North, the Vale, and the Iron Islands are in open rebellion against the Iron Throne, while in Dorne, the Sand Snakes have seized power after staging a coup d'eat against House Martell. Additionally, Dorne, the Reach, and part of the Iron Islands have declared for a rival claimant to the Iron Throne, which is currently occupied by House Lannister after the extinction of House Baratheon: the sole survivor of the ousted House Targaryen. However, Daenerys Targaryen's invasion of Westeros has further seen the extinction of House Tyrell and the imprisonment or deaths of the Sand Snakes, leaving the Reach and Dorne without ruler.
The following table goes in descending order from north to south of Westeros.
Additionally, in the North, the Wall and the Gift are directly controlled by the Night's Watch and its Lord Commander. The Night's Watch is sworn to remain neutral in the conflicts involving the realm.
Ironically, despite retaining the moniker of "Seven Kingdoms", there are actually 9 distinct regions in the area controlled by the Iron Throne - the riverlands and crownlands were never their own kingdoms.
- See also: Laws and Customs
In the Seven Kingdoms, justice is administered by the King and/or lords. Penalties for crimes may include scourging, mutilation, castration, excessive tickling, or imprisonment. South of the Neck, where Andal culture is prevalent, punishments are carried out by headsmen, executioners - like the King's Justice in the capital - or knights carrying out the will of their lords. In the North, however, where the ways of the First Men are prevalent, it is expected for lords to carry out sentences personally.
Treason and rebellion may be punished in several ways, such as hanging or beheading, but also by exile or being stripped of lands and titles - which may also extend to the entire family of the one attainted. In the case of nobles, the taking of a close family member, such as a son or daughter, as hostage for the noble's good behavior is also commonplace.
Slavery or slave trading is also forbidden, and punishable by death. Thieving and smuggling are usually punished by mutilation through amputating a hand, while rapists are subject to castration. Bearing arms against a liege lord or refusing to answer a liege lord's summons is also considered a capital offense.
Suspects of crimes are judged by lords or by the King himself. Parties may invoke a trial by combat to prove the justice of their positions. Both parties may fight themselves or name a champion to represent them. The victorious party is held to have been judged to be right by the Seven.
Any criminal, however, may join the Night's Watch to avoid punishment. Those who choose to "take the black" are beyond the reach of law, even a King's edict, as long as they swear the oath to serve the Watch until death. The punishment for desertion, just as in the case of treason, is death.
Economy and currency
- See also: Currency
- "Under the Targaryen dynasty, Westeros prospered. Gone were the petty wars of Seven Kingdoms, and the endless thirst for minor glories that drove them. The Westerlands enriched the realm, the North guarded it, and the Reach and Riverlands fed it."
- ―Margaery Tyrell
Monetary transactions in the Seven Kingdoms use a form of minted coin currency known as the Gold Dragon, and its various denominations, such as the Silver Stag and Copper Penny.
The feudal society of the Seven Kingdoms has a primarily agrarian economy. Surplus food supports the populations of the five major cities and the various large towns. The five major cities are, in decreasing order of size: King's Landing, Oldtown, Lannisport, Gulltown, and White Harbor.
The Reach and the Riverlands are the two main breadbasket regions, which have such fertile and productive farmland that they not only meet their local needs but can export foodstuffs to the other kingdoms. The Reach is also a major wine-producing region, and in particular, contains the Arbor, a large island off the southern coast of Westeros which is the main wine-producing hub for the entire realm.
The Crownlands are more or less lumped in with the Riverlands in this regard, as they were created only three centuries ago when Aegon I Targaryen carved them out from disputed regions of the eastern Riverlands which neighboring kingdoms were fighting over. The Crownlands are not explicitly said to export food, but rather, are needed to deal with the large food demands of the capital city, as King's Landing is the largest city on the continent.
The Reach and the Riverlands feed the realm, but the Westerlands enrich it. The largest goldmines in Westeros are located in the Westerlands, and indeed, most of the precious metal mines in the Seven Kingdoms are concentrated there. Conversely, the mountainous but metal-rich Westerlands are not as fertile as other regions, so they trade gold and precious metals to more fertile regions such as the Reach and the Riverlands in exchange for their surplus food.
Although agriculturally self-sufficient, the North has few exports and a smaller population, but its main contribution to the overall economy of the realm is considered to be security. The North is a vast geographical buffer that stands between the southern kingdoms and raiding wildling bands which might try to invade the rich lands of southern Westeros from Beyond the Wall. As a cold region, it also possesses animals with heavy furs which are not present in warmer regions to the south, and shepherds produce heavy wools.
Dorne remained independent for a full two centuries after the Targaryen Conquest, and only came under the authority of the Iron Throne one hundred years ago through peaceful marriage-alliance. Thus it is not quite as interconnected through trade as the other kingdoms are. Moreover, due to the imposing Red Mountains at the base of the Dorne peninsula, and the forbidding deserts of central Dorne, overland transport to and from Dorne is fairly difficult, so there are no major roads linking it to the other kingdoms. However, a considerable amount of trade still occurs by sea, as well as some land-based trade using caravans across the desert. The dry deserts of Dorne might not produce large quantities of food to export, however, the irrigated river-valleys allow for a fair amount of agriculture. Because Dorne is so climatically and ecologically different from the rest of Westeros, exotic crops grow there which don't grow in the rest of the continent, particularly citrus fruits and olives, as well as spices (both grown locally and obtained from the nearby Free Cities). The lemons for Sansa Stark's prized lemon cakes originate in Dorne. Because so many exotic foodstuffs are available, Dornish wine is very flavorful and different from the wines of the Reach. Noblemen across the Seven Kingdoms who claim a refined palate enjoy the exotic taste of sour Dornish red wine. Thus while Dorne doesn't produce much in the way of basic foodstuffs, it does produce many exotic luxury foods (i.e. citrus fruits) which are not produced anywhere else in the realm - which means that Dorne still conducts brisk trade with the rest of the Seven Kingdoms in exchange for its unique products.
Not much has been said about the economic capacities of the Stormlands and the Vale of Arryn. Parts of the Stormlands are fertile enough, such as the coastal regions and the northern half around Storm's End. Otherwise, the Stormlands are the most heavily forested region in southern Westeros, containing two of the three major forests in the realm, the Rainwood and the Kingswood (the Kingswood spills over into the Crownlands). The third major forest is the Wolfswood in the North, but even the North cannot claim such a dense concentration of forests as the Stormlands. It stands to reason that the Stormlands can produce a fairly large amount of timber (compared to the deserts of Dorne), but otherwise, it is not one of the wealthier kingdoms. The Vale, while fairly mountainous, does not possess the precious metal reserves that the Westerlands have. However, many of the well-watered valleys of the mountains are actually quite fertile, and the Vale can produce a sufficient amount of food to support its population, without having to heavily rely on imported food. This contributes to the Vale's frequent tactic of choosing isolationism in times of political turmoil, closing the mountain passes that connect it to the rest of the realm. While the Westerlands might find it difficult to feed its population if cut off from food imports, the Vale can survive reasonably well without imports.
Last and least, the Iron Islands are a dead weight carried by the other kingdoms. Lightly populated, infertile rocks, it is no wonder why their population turned to a lifestyle of piracy and raiding. They are swept by fierce, cold storm winds from the seas, with poor soil and hardly any natural resources. The few poor crop fields that are present have their rocky soil plowed by thralls, men captured in raids and forced into servitude, as they usually cannot even afford draft animals. The one natural resource the Iron Islands actually possess are, of course, iron mines - but they do not produce precious metals. The seas around the islands, however, are abundant with fish, thus most of their local economy is based on subsistence fishing. The Targaryen kings forbade the ironborn to raid in the Seven Kingdoms themselves anymore, but they continued to raid foreign merchant vessels and shores, which provides at least some influx of wealth and thralls.
The Seven Kingdoms also conduct vigorous foreign trade, particularly with the nearby Free Cities across the Narrow Sea in Essos. Trade products from the Seven Kingdoms can find their way even further east, and wine merchants as far east as the markets of the Dothraki city of Vaes Dothrak can be seen selling Arbor gold wine from the Reach. The trade networks the Seven Kingdoms are part of extend even to Qarth in the distant east: House Lannister of the Westerlands is noted as being one of the largest customers of the silk merchants' guild in Qarth. Spices and various other exotic products also find their way to the Seven Kingdoms through the international trade network. Because slavery is illegal in the Seven Kingdoms, however, and abhorred by every major religion in Westeros, they do not take part in the international slave trade.
- See also: Armament
The Seven Kingdoms does not possess a large standing military force, as do some of the Free Cities. Instead, each lord permanently maintains only a relatively small retinue of well-trained and well-equipped personal knights and warriors. In wartime they function on the principle of feudal levies, with each lord raising his own armies from the commoners who live on his lands. Sometimes they can provide these levies with reasonably standardized and good quality armor and weapons - though sometimes, they are little more than peasants wielding sharpened farming tools, clubs and staves, or a board with a nail in it. These are usually supported by archers, or even crossbowmen.
Each lord raises a military force from his vassals on behalf of his or her own superior lord. These "bannermen" march under the war banners of their overlord, combining their strength with his own. For example, House Stark draws soldiers from the lands immediately around Winterfell, but then adds to these knights and footsoldiers from the lands of House Umber, who in turn have their own minor bannermen. This hierarchy extends up to the King on the Iron Throne. The regions of Westeros vary considerably in population and wealth, dramatically affecting the number and quality of the soldiers that can be raised.
The King on the Iron Throne does appoint four "Wardens" who are meant to command and coordinate regional armies when in times of crisis, when bannermen and levies are called up. The regional lords in that quarter of the realm are expected to put their armies at the overall command of the Warden in their quarter of the realm. The Warden of the North guards against wildling attacks from beyond the Wall, the Warden of the East guards against attack from across the Narrow Sea, and so on.
The Seven Kingdoms also employ a large number of naval forces. The three main fleets are the Royal Fleet (stationed in the east at King's Landing and Dragonstone island), the Redwyne Fleet (at the Arbor in the southwest), and the Iron Fleet of the ironborn (in the west).
- See also: Laws and Customs
The culture and customs of the Seven Kingdoms are heavily influenced by the dominant ethnicity in each of its constituent regions. Four major cultural groups or regions can be distinguished.
The influence of the Andal culture is stronger in "the south", namely in the Vale, Riverlands, Westerlands, the Reach, the Stormlands, the Crownlands, and some parts of Dorne. It is in these regions where the tradition of knighthood is more prevalent.
The Northmen, meanwhile, continue to practice the customs and culture of the First Men. For example, whereas in the south the execution of criminals is carried out by headsmen and executioners, in the North tradition holds that "he who passes the sentence should swing the sword".
Despite being blood of both the Andals and the First Men, the people of the Iron Islands developed their own cultural identity. With strong ties to the sea, the Ironborn culture is centered around activities such as piracy and raiding. They believe they have the right to seize by force what they consider necessary - "paying the 'iron price'".
The Dornishmen, for their part, also retain their own cultural identity, heavily influenced by their intermingling with the Rhoynar people of Essos. Dornishmen practice equal primogeniture and have a reputation for sexual licentiousness.
- See also: Religion
Three major religions are followed by large numbers of people in the Seven Kingdoms. By far the most dominant is the Faith of the Seven, after the Andal invaders brought it to the continent 6,000 years ago, pushing out worship of the Old Gods of the Forest. The North remained independent from the Andals so the worship of the Old Gods remained strong there, with only a few pockets of followers in the rest of the kingdoms. The Iron Islands have followed their local religion of the Drowned God since before recorded history, and though some Andals settled there the Faith of the Seven never gained a significant foothold in the isles. The relations between the different religions in Westeros settled into a grudging co-existence many centuries ago.
The old nature gods worshipped by the Children of the Forest and later the First Men. Still worshipped by the people of the North and a few isolated others, particularly ancient noble houses, in the south of Westeros. The old gods are numerous and nameless. Prayers and offerings are made to the old gods in front of heart trees; great weirwood trees with faces carved into the bark. Its followers believe that the Old Gods can see through the heart trees, which caused the Andals to cut down most heart trees in southern Westeros.
The Faith of the Seven was brought to Westeros by the Andals. The Faith contends there is one god consisting of seven separate aspects: the Mother, the Father, the Warrior, the Smith, the Maiden, the Crone, and the Stranger. People worship the Seven in seven-sided churches called septs and are led in worship by priests and priestesses known as "septons" and "septas". The Faith is not only a belief system but also an institution led by the High Septon from the Great Sept of Baelor in King's Landing. The Faith has traditionally not been very tolerant of other religions but this was relaxed somewhat after centuries of coexistence with the remaining followers of the Old Gods and the Drowned God.
When the Rhoynar migrated to Dorne a thousand years ago they converted to the Faith of the Seven, but often simply ignored rules they didn't like. The modern Dornishmen have somewhat relaxed sexual mores, attaching no stigma to bastard children, homosexuality, or formal mistresses. While they follow some of the rules of the Faith of the Seven more loosely, however, the Dornishmen are no less devout.
The Drowned God
The Iron Islands, separated from the mainland, possesses its own local religion which is not practiced anywhere else in Westeros. The ironborn worship a harsh deity known as the Drowned God, a deity which favors and allegedly rewards those who undertake reaving, war, and plunder in his name, and whose enemy is the Storm God. The most fanatical worshipers of the Drowned God are "drowned" in salt water and, if worthy, are then revived by the Drowned God's priests. Both in number of adherents and range, the local worship of the Drowned God is much smaller than either the Old Gods or the Faith of the Seven, to the point that when people on the mainland take oaths, they often swear "by the Old Gods [of the Forest] and the New [the Seven]" without mention of the Drowned God.
The Lord of Light
The Lord of Light is a god popular in Essos who is little-known in Westeros. According to its clergy, the red priests, the Lord of Light is the guardian of humanity against darkness, cold and death. He is a merciless god who often demands harsh sacrifices of his followers, but also rewards his true followers with power and life. The Lord of Light has failed to gain a foothold in Westeros in the past thousands of years, and is considered a "foreign religion" from the eastern continent. Still, travelers and migrants from the eastern continent who are currently living in Westeros, often in the major cities like King's Landing, may be encountered in Westeros who worship the Lord of Light. Due to Stannis Baratheon's recent conversion to the Lord of Light religion, many of his followers from Dragonstone island and other islands of the Crownlands lying in Blackwater Bay have also converted to the worship of the Lord of Light.