The Seven Kingdoms is the name given to the realm that controls most of the continent of Westeros and 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. Its name dates back to the time prior to the War of Conquest, during which seven independent kingdoms existed in the continent. The realm actually consists of nine distinct regions, the remaining two being formally established after the Conquest.
- See also War of Conquest
- Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers, ruled by House Hoare of castle Harrenhal. Formed when the Iron Islands conquered the Riverlands.
With the aid of his dragons, Aegon managed to conquer all of the kingdoms, except Dorne, which would submit to the Iron Throne 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.
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, the lands surrounding the Trident awarded to House Tully as Lords Paramount of the Riverlands, and the lords of the 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 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, Lords Paramount of the Stormlands was born.
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 remained their independence for almost two more centuries before joining the realm through a dual marriage alliance with the Targaryens.
Despite civil wars, rebellions and the death of the last of the dragons, the Targaryens remained at the government of the Seven Kingdoms for over 280 years until the actions of the Mad King, Aerys II, triggered the civil war known as Robert's Rebellion. At the end of this civil war, Aerys II and most of his family were slain and his surviving children fled into exile in the Free Cities. Robert Baratheon took the throne ruled for seventeen years, beginning a new dynasty whose rule is now challenged.
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 an appointed 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 council may extend invitations to other lords to occupy a seat on the council, despite not being an actual "office" for them to fill.
Also below the King and the Hand in terms of authority, but enjoying a great degree of autonomy are the rulers of each region, some of which also hold the title of Wardens and/or Lords Paramount. These are:
- The Lord Paramount of the North and Warden of the North, title currently held by the Lord of the Dreadfort, the head of House Bolton. Rules over the North, including Bear Island, Skagos and Skane.
- The Lord of the Iron Islands, title traditionally held by the Lord Reaper of Pyke, the head of House Greyjoy. Rules over the Iron Islands
- The Lord Paramount of the Riverlands, title traditionally held by the Lord of Riverrun, the head of House Tully. Rules over the Riverlands.
- The Lord Paramount of the Vale and Warden of the East, title traditionally held by the Lord of the Eyrie, the head of House Arryn. Rules over the Vale of Arryn and the Three Sisters.
- The Lord Paramount of the Westerlands and Warden of the West, title traditionally held by the Lord of Casterly Rock, the head of House Lannister. Rules over the Westerlands.
- The Lord Paramount of the Reach and Warden of the South, title traditionally held by the Lord of Highgarden, the head of House Tyrell. Rules over the Reach, including the Shield Islands and the Arbor.
- The Lord Paramount of the Stormlands, title traditionally held by the Lord of Storm's End, the head of House Baratheon. Rules over the Stormlands, including the island of Tarth.
- The Prince of Dorne, title historically held by the Lord of Sunspear, the head of House Martell.
As mentioned above, the lords of the Crownlands are sworn directly to the Iron Throne, the only exception being the Lords of the Narrow Sea, who rule over the islands of Blackwater Bay, such as Claw Isle. For historical reasons, these lords are sworn to Dragonstone, owing their fealty to whoever holds the island fortress (traditionally, the heir to the Iron Throne).
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 petty lords and sworn knights ruling over portions of their own lands.
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.
The people of Westeros follow several different faiths, of which by far the most dominant is the Faith of the Seven, with the Old Gods being the second most widespread. The relations between the different religions in Westeros settled into a grudging co-existence many centuries ago.
The old nature gods worshiped by the Children of the Forest and later the First Men. Still worshiped by the people of the North and a few isolated people, 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. A tenet of the faith is that the old gods only have power where the heart tree faces can see, and since the destruction of most of the heart trees in the south they have no power there.
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 "septa". 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 is traditionally intolerant of other religions but has mellowed due to the forced coexistence with the worshipers of the old gods.
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.
In the Seven Kingdoms, justice is administered by the King and/or lords. Penalties for crimes may include scourging, mutilation, castration, 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 way 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, while rapists are subject to castration. Bearing steel 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 the serve the Watch until death. The punishment for desertion, just like in the case of treason, is death.
The Seven Kingdoms does not possess a large standing military force, as do some of the Free Cities (although the creation of a Royal Army has been proposed, it has not yet been enacted on). Instead, it operates on the principal of a feudal levy: each lord raises a military force from his vassals on behalf of his or her own superior lord. 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. Some regions, most notably the Iron Islands, the North and Dorne, also specialize in different forms of fighting and combat than the norm, which stems from the Andals' chivalric and knightly tradition.
Military forces in the Seven Kingdoms can broadly be divided into several categories: cavalry, foot, and missile troops. Cavalry can consist of skirmishers, scouts and heavy cavalry (mostly knights in the Andal parts of Westeros). Footsoldiers range from well-trained and well-armored pikemen to farmers effectively armed with sticks. Missile troops can either be archers or crossbowmen. The Dornish vary from this norm by employing large formations of spearmen. The ironborn prefer to raid and fight from the sea, so tend towards lighter infantry and fast-moving forces. They have few horses and prefer not to engage in massed combat inland, where their limited numbers tend to be a weakness.
The Seven Kingdoms do possess several small standing military forces. The Night's Watch is the largest and most famous, whilst the Kingsguard is the smallest, consisting of just seven elite knights sworn to protect the king and his family. Each of the major cities also employs a City Watch to keep the peace and help defend the cities in times of war. Each lord also usually has a household guard, varying from perhaps a handful for minor lords to a dozens or hundreds for the great lords.
The Seven Kingdoms also employ a large number of naval forces, most notably the Royal Fleet and the Iron Fleet of the ironborn. Many houses based on the coast also employ a few ships for scaring off raiders or smugglers. Dorne and the North are notable for not possessing large fleets at all. Warships in the Seven Kingdoms tend to mostly be galleys and skiffs, but the ironborn are notable for their large fleets of longships, which they sometimes use for coastal raiding.