Guest Post on Tower of the Hand: Politics of the Seven Kingdoms (The Vale)

The next installment in my Politics of the Seven Kingdoms series is up at Tower of the Hand! Somehow, I’m not quite sure, I actually found more to say about the Vale than I had about the Starks, if for no other reason than there was so much to fill in that the WOIAF had not made clear.

So check it out!


18 thoughts on “Guest Post on Tower of the Hand: Politics of the Seven Kingdoms (The Vale)

  1. Gonzalo says:

    “The Vale’s economic links to the Narrow Sea trade not only brought them wealth, but also long-term political relations to the Free Cities – hence Braavosi giving naval assistance to the Kings of the Mountain and Vale against the Targaryens in exchange for the Vale being a major trading partner when Braavos was still hiding itself from the Valyrians”

    The Doom had already happened by the time Braavos aided the Vale. I think you forgot the Unmasking of Uthero

  2. stephendanay says:

    Great work as always man. I always want to start a conversation but usually feel like you’ve said all that needs to be said.

    Re: the timeline errors. I can see how this was all pretty hard for Martin to keep straight, but there were quite a few when you take the whole World Book into account. Some enterprising soul should create some kind of spreadsheet timeline and try to sync up as many pre-Conquest events as possible across the seven kingdoms. While I’m rambling, I kinda wish Martin would keep a world-building blog/tumblr where he could “officially” correct small mistakes or throw out little tidbits that don’t fit anywhere else. But I suspect we care more about a lot of the little details than he does 🙂

  3. Steven Xue says:

    I have to say I never really liked the Vale all that much. I guess its just that they are not as active as the other regions in the books mostly due to their isolationist policy, but you have managed to make them really interesting.

    I guess its because I didn’t pay that much attention when reading about the Vale in the World Book because I pretty much skimmed through them but I didn’t realize Artys Arryn wasn’t the same Winged Knight who took on the Griffon King. Nice catch there.

    It does remind me of the way Henry VII claimed decent from Arthur Pendragon and adopted his battle standard, basically trying to project himself like his king of legend and even named his firstborn son Arthur.

    • Steven Xue says:

      I forgot to mention this earlier but I have a theory that may explain why the Arryns got so many royal marriages. My guess is the reason the early Targaryen monarchs had been greasing the palms of their Arryn vassals and marrying so frequently into their house was to secure parts of the Vale (namely the Mountains of the Moon) as a sort of wildlife sanctuary for their dragons.

      Out of all the places in Westeros the Vale maybe the most ideal place for dragons to inhabit. Apart from the cold weather, the high mountain ranges and mostly isolated open passes around the Mountains of the Moon seem like an almost ideal environment for dragons to roam freely without them affecting human civilization. The only people that live there are the barbaric Mountain Clans who would become good target practice for rookie dragonriders.

  4. beto2702 says:

    As a mexican, I have to say that I have seen some common things between the Andal invasion and the colonization of America. However, never went too deep in this part and I found out even more stuff.

    I mean, local petty kingdoms allying themselves with the invaders only to regret it later is very much a thing that appear in every colonization history lessons here. Also, independence historic figures here have a lot in common with Artys Arryn, specially him having 100% Andal blood but being born in the new land.

    • Tywin of the Hill says:

      It’s funny. I’m Spanish and the Andal invasion reminded me of the Muslim conquest

      • beto2702 says:

        That makes sense. In my case the Andals were the spanish, and the Valyrians pushing the Andals to the water were the Muslim.

        • Grant says:

          Given the geographic focus of most of the historic references, I suspect Martin was basing it on William the Conqueror and England, but these widespread conquests (while uncommon) do happen across global history. The same thing happened in North America, albeit over a much longer span of time than South America.

  5. Tywin of the Hill says:

    Awesome post, Steve. Keep them coming.
    Which one’s next? The Stormlands, the Iron Islands…? Please say the Westerlands.

  6. Abbey Battle says:

    Master Steven, as ever I post to add my praise to the Chorus of Admiration for the most recent of your ever-Excellent efforts and also to submit my own portion of Food for Thought.

    Firstly, allow me to say that The Vale exerts a consistently strong grip on my imagination (a grip only enhanced after reading THE WORLD OF ICE AND FIRE), Secondly let me point out that you have done a most excellent job of academic analysis on the diverse sources (although I occasionally disagree with your conclusions, your method and style cannot be faulted).

    Now, if I may, a few thoughts on points raised or suggested in your Article:-

    – I would like to point out that the continued employment by First Men Kings of Andal Mercenaries (even in the face of a predilection for betrayal on the latter’s part) may easily be explained by their raw technological superiority; the chance to secure the services (or better yet the secrets) of Iron Weaponry must have outweighed many fears on the part of Bronze Age kings – it should also be noted that Loyal Mercenaries leave fewer traces in History than the ones who make themselves Kings by their own Hands, given that the former are far less likely to found Dynasties worthy of Song & Story.

    I suspect that for every Lord of the Fingers there were at least a dozen freelancers who took their pay, did their time and lived their life on the campaign without attracting much long-term interest or putting down roots (the Hedge Knight tradition had to start somewhere, after all). One should also factor in the example of those First Men Kings who managed to absorb the Andal incomers when considering why so many continued to employ the latter as mercenaries.

    – One would also like to point out that while Ser Gerold Grafton was undoubtedly both a usurper and a Butcher, it is far from impossible that he merely seized the opportunity offered by his employer’s death in Battle with the Bronze King rather than making that opportunity with his own blade; given that the sources suggesting his role as First Murderer were written by his Enemies, one ought to question whether their accusations are an Inconvenient Truth or merely a most convenient accusation to hurl against a Rival in the ascendant.

    After all if King Gerold HAD murdered the Father, why then would he fail to dispose of the Son, daughter or no daughter? (A question given teeth by his proven ruthlessness in other respects).

    – My guess is that the Vale was thinly populated before the Andals came because at that time Migration came Up from the South, meaning migrants would have to come East through the Mountains of the Moon (at that time uncharted territory and therefore just as steep, but twice as dangerous at the very least), a daunting journey that would likely limit the numbers of those hardy First Men who first settled Mountain & Vale to those adventurous spirits or desperate souls who declined to settle in the infinitely more welcoming flatlands of the Trident.

    Such a small initial settlement is likely to result in a very modest population even after generations of Natural Increase, at least until the Andals came West-over-Sea (one is struck with the thought that many First Men kings in the Vale might initially have welcomed an Andal migration, as a way of increasing the population and profitability of their Holdings).

    – It is interesting to wonder when King Robar the Second ceased to march with Andal auxiliaries in his train; one might even ask if he would have continued to employ such Faith-traitors in his ranks even as late as the Battle of the Seven Stars (did he fight to cast out the Andals or did he only seek to subjugate them to his Rule?).

    – When it comes to the first King of Mountain & Vale I think we can safely say that he was acclaimed rather than Elected following the Battle of the Seven Stars (which presumably thinned out the competition for such honours almost as much as the campaigns of King Robar that preceded it), but I would like to suggest that your article jumps the gun a little by suggesting that he was Anointed a future sovereign even before the Battle: the text itself only indicates that he was picked out as “Warlord” and while this may indicate that he was uncrowned King over the Andals, one might equally suggest this indicates a position more comparable to a Captain than a Monarch (it is easier to imagine a famous Knight being chosen as First Amongst Equals to be High Captain, a compromise choice intended to break a deadlock between greater Lords & Princes).

    I personally think that the Falcon Knight was a Senior Captain and one amongst many, before the Battle of Seven Stars (with his preeminence being exaggerated by his Heirs after the fact for obvious reasons); otherwise his decision to lead a flanking formation, rather than take his place in the Line of Battle seems less a gamble than wilfully irresponsible – even Alexander the Great never removed so utterly from command and control of his Army in the middle of a Battle!

    – I do agree with you that the Falcon Knight himself would have evoked comparisons with his namesake, the mythic Winged Knight (because the Battle of Artys and the Griffin King would make a highly useful precedent when claiming Kingship by Right of Conquest), but I disagree with your contention that “Arryn” is a First Man name – though it is brief, it sounds nothing like “Stark” or “Blackwood” or “Redford” (since it is not at all descriptive): I believe that while Ser Artys was given the name of the Winged Knight, the latter was given the surname Arryn only after some centuries of confusion with the Falcon Knight (possibly cultivated, possibly incidental, but indisputably a strong indication of how deeply rooted the House Arryn had become in the imagination of the Vale).

    That being said I most definitely agree that Ser Artys’ sigil and his trappings were deliberately picked out to invoke the Legend of the Giant’s Lance in the same way Henry Tudor (not to mention his illustrious predecessor Henry the Third) was very careful to invoke Arthur Pendragon for the sake of seeming more deeply rooted in the fabric of British History.

    – One must say that I’m a little surprised by your confusion over the Strategic Course of King Robar’s War; given that he appears to have driven those Andals still willing to resist his Reconquest out of their heartlands in the Eastern Vale, it makes perfect sense that the survivors of the First Men’s vengeance would rally in the West as best they could – cut off from the majority of their holdings and their best chance of reinforcement from over the Narrow Sea, it makes sense that King Robar would pursue them.

    My guess is that, like a hunter who has wounded deep some mighty beast but not quite been able to kill it, the Bronze King elected to pursue his Enemy so that he might make certain of their ultimate demise (rather than risk allowing them to escape, to heal up and to muster a counter-attack), probably hoping to break the bitter-enders then drive them into the Mountains to die.

    Under these circumstances I can imagine King Robar employing defensive tactics to pursue a Strategic Offensive, especially if the Andals have untapped reserves of manpower while the First Men are “All In” (by taking the High Ground he may have sought to ensure that the Andals would either starve or begin to scatter but he was DEFINITELY seeking to rob the Andals of their chance to build up momentum on both a Strategic & Tactical level).

    Given the absolute superiority in Horsepower enjoyed by the Servants of the Seven, it would seem grotesquely irresponsible of King Robar to court a clash on open ground where the Warrior’s Sons could trample over his footmen, hence his defensive positioning.

    – I do tend to believe that the Andal & First Men armies must have been roughly equal in number at the Battle of the Seven Stars, but I would like to suggest that this represents a local rather than an absolute parity; given the smashing victories over the Faithful enjoyed by King Robar, it seems logical to deduce that those Poor Fellows still fighting at that point would be the real Bitter Enders, that more than a few Andals preferred to stay at Home rather than risk another slaughter and that the First Men Host almost certainly represented that absolute maximum commitment in manpower of which they were capable.

    Hence that local parity in numbers … and the utter inability of the First Men to maintain resistance when the Battle of the Seven Stars was lost.

    – Given the key role played by House Tollett in the Battle of the Seven Stars it is interesting to wonder if King Torgold and not King Artys might have emerged from the Andal Host in the wake of that mighty conflict, had High King Robar’s counter-attack not proven so successful (which would have reduced the Falcon Knight’s role in the battle to a mere back-stab).

    I’d love to hear what Dolorous Edd would have to say about that particular fancy …

    More to follow when I work it up.

  7. Abbey Battle says:

    Maester Steven, following on from that screed above, one would like to state that I am entirely in agreement with your conclusions on the aftermath of the Battle of the Seven Stars; the parallels between the Andal Conquest in the Vale and the Norman Conquest of England are far stronger than those between the latter & the Unification of Westeros (not least because infinitely more dispossession followed along with Fire & the Sword in the case of the former).

    I also agree with the idea that the first generations of House Arryn would act as patrons to the Adventurers who began to launch themselves into the heartlands of what would become the Seven Kingdoms; it is especially intriguing to consider that Roland the Second won most of his victories against Petty Rivals in the Riverland Territories, although I’d bet cash money the Brackens & the Blackwoods were trampled under his progress to boot (in fact the Brackens may well have invited the King of Mountain & Vale in the same way the Blackwoods would call in the Storm King).

    – One suggestion I would like to add to your very sensible suggestion that the Vale would have been a most logical early Trade partner for Braavos, prior to the unmasking, is that the Kings of Mountain & Vale almost certainly have some History with Pentos (which, if I remember correctly, holds most of what was once Andalos); I actually wonder if the Vale played any part in the Wars between Braavos & Pentos, since Gulltown would make a useful harbour on the Western Side of the Narrow Sea (I cannot recall if the Braavos/Pentos conflict came AFTER the Century of Blood or whether they followed that sanguine epoch).

    – It is interesting to note that the “Worthless War” offers another interesting point of comparison between Feudal England and the Vale; a fairly strong parallel with the Hundred Years War (and it may be useful to compare the seizing of White Harbour with the capture of Calais; while losses to the Vale probably outweighed profits in the long run, it is hard to believe that the Worthless War was maintained in the face of an string of losses unbroken by any short periods of profit).

    – One must agree that The Eyrie is definitely “Versailles in the Sky” and I do agree that it was almost certainly the bane of many a local treasurer’s existence while it was a-building (the idea that some former King of Mountain & Vale scorning local quarries to order Marble from far-off Tarth is horrific but not without precedent in Earth’s History – although in all fairness it is not impossible that the Eyries construction may well have encouraged the discovery and exploitation of previously unknown and untapped quarries), but I do tend to disagree with the idea that the Stronghold of House Arryn is “a Hobby and Nothing more” for if nothing else it makes an EXCELLENT fallback position (consider that the Bloody Gate seems to be nigh invulnerable to external threats but far more vulnerable to Internal enemies, while the Eyrie offers all-but-unbreachable sanctuary from both).

    While the Eyrie IS a monument to House Arryn, it is also a famously effective stronghold (and even monuments have their uses; I suspect that more than one uppity Vassal has found the long climb up the Giant’s Lance a most instructive lesson even before having their place in the world pointed out to them from the Moon Door).

    That being said a wise Lord of the Eyrie would regard that castle as a strategic reserve and spend much of his time on progress, rather than perched atop the Giant’s Lance.

    – Oh, and it’s impossible to regard those five dead men as anything but a Start to the Human Cost of building a fortress atop the Giant’s Lance, although one suspects that the Eyrie swallowed rather fewer men than the Great Wall and the Panama Canal (if only because the coercive potential of a feudal overlord is more modest than the Industrial Might of a Great Power and the Manpower available to a King of Mountain & Vale is far less than that of Mighty China).

    I wonder how many lives have been preserved by the Eyrie’s defences over the years?

    – It is not impossible that Osric V was the father of little King Ronnel (threats to both East & West would likely trigger a serious rebuilding of the Kingdom’s Defences), but my guess is that he is more likely to have been a contemporary of that Storm King who seized the Lands of the Trident; seeing a fairly unstable River King replaced by a sovereign who bestrode the Heartland of Westeros (or at least had a hand firmly on the strategic Jugular) would likely have persuaded a sensible King of Mountain & Vale to make sure that his Eastern flank was secured so that he could focus on the threat from The North (or even shocked a more feckless monarch into a similar project).

    I’d guess he ruled while the fortunes of the Vale were in the ascendant during the Worthless War (probably after his forebears seized White Harbour, but before the Burning of Gulltown).

    – I wonder if Queen Sharra Arryn’s willingness to reach out to Aegon the Dragon was prompted by one of her in-laws?; an adult uncle of little King Ronnel (who seems to have married his heir to the Historic Rival of House Arryn, possibly cementing a pre-existing political alliance) might have nursed ambitions likely to persuade any Queen Regent that the time had come to look for Alternatives.

    Especially when those Alternatives were over six feet tall, broodingly handsome and came complete with Working Dragon accessory.

    – I suspect that the difference between the Vale and the Storm King during the Conquest was that the Lady of the former had been willing to cut a deal from the first, while the latter had no choice but to Fight or be destroyed (the fact that the Arryn fleet won its Victory and that there were no Invading Troops actually on Arryn ground likely helped the former Queen sell her decision to bend the knee as a product of sensible negotiation rather than an enduring humiliation).

    The fact that the Knights of the Vale almost certainly served as the largest single contingent in the Host that helped persuade the King who Knelt to do just that, humbling the traditional enemies of the Vale beyond all doubt, must have been a particularly useful selling point for the new Status Quo to boot.

    – My guess is that the Targareyen/Arryn weddings were first and foremost a way of binding the Blood of Dragons to the pre-Conquest Royal Dynasties in a way that would not seriously threaten the principal branch of House Targaryen (consider that House Arryn commands the smallest of the Seven Kingdoms other than the Iron Islands), but also serves as a useful means of sending a message to the North (“We’re not your enemies but we are more than willing to use those persons against you”).

    The fact that House Arryn is the “Highest and Purest” lineage of the Andal Nobility helps AND one should also note the symbolism of the newest Dynasty of Conquerors mating with the most enduring (possibly as a way asserting that Ageon the Dragon’s creation will prove as enduring as that of The Falcon Knight).

    – I’ll close here by saying that it seems a little unfair to compare the Knights of the Vale to those Squads of Spartan novices who went around assassinating the more “uppity” of their own subject populations; the Mountain Clans are very much a Hostile Power beyond the pale of local Civilisation (what my grandfather would probably have called “Criminal Tribes” comparable to some of the more active miscreants on the Northwest Frontier) rather than a disarmed and helpless population of thralls.

    It should also be pointed out that Castles are not Knights; I’m not sure that, even in the absence of local Knights, the Mountain Clans have the manpower or skill to seize a castle (much less hold it): I suspect that the Knights of the Vale are more likely to return to plundered desolation surrounding their castles (and whatever kernel of civilisation they can protect), barring Mr GRR leaning very heavily on the Scales of Fate once again.

    – Does Lord Petyr’s policy of lending help to the Merchant Classes count as an Agenda even when it’s a means to an end rather than the End itself? (One might also point out that Lysa Tully is herself a case of the stopped clock being right twice every day – she’s not only female and an outlander but most DEFINITELY mentally unstable).

    – I’d like to finish by pointing out that what little we know about the marital history of House Arryn, it seems a little unfair to place so much emphasis on a hypothetical failure to build allegiance without mentioning that what we DO know of their Family Tree (little more than a single generation and the most recent Generation at that) indicates that this failure may stem more from a lack of raw material than a lack of willingness.

    Consider the apparent difficulties with infertility repeatedly displayed in the History of House Arryn (Lord Jon leaving only one living heir despite three marriages, the near-failure of Arryn/Targaryen bloodlines in the first generation, the fact that Lady Jeyne almost certainly came to power in the Vale through a complete failure of the Male Line) one might reasonably infer that the Highest House has been obliged to deal with a shortfall in the number of marriageable scions AND an acute vulnerability to Succession Crises should they fail to circumscribe their heirs “Right to Roam.”

    Assuming, of course, that every Generation of House Arryn has displayed a “Bunker” mentality comparable to that of the present one (which I feel we have some reason to doubt, given what little we know of House’s willingness to risk all – at the Redgrass Field or at the Battle of the Bells – when it’s heirs are allowed to pick their moment).

    In conclusion one does agree with far more of your article than I am prepared to disagree with; I thoroughly enjoyed reading through your thoughts on one of my favourite Kingdoms and hope that I have been able to offer a fair return for that most agreeable experience by providing some Food for Thought.

    Keep Writing, Maester Steven and more importantly Keep Well.

  8. […] While the mention of the “many petty kings” within the Riverlands gives a general impression of the limits of House Mudd’s conquests, the mention of the “boy king” of Maidenpool who was “fifth of his name,” is far more concrete, showing us that the Mudd’s domains did not include the eastern reaches of the Riverlands and had not for a hundred years or more. Another sign of division is the suggestion by maesters that the Andals started their invasion of the Riverlands by working as mercenaries to divide and conquer: a “nameless Andal chieftain had cut down the trees at the behest of a rival of the river king, who used the Andals as sellswords” just as the First Men of the Vale had called upon the Corbrays and the Graftons to help fight their internal battles. […]

  9. […] and constant warfare did. In this fashion, the Hoare dynasty resembles the empire of the Spartans even more so than the knights of the Vale, for the Spartans too practiced a policy of declaring annual war upon their helot subjects, using […]

  10. […] of the Andals clearly expanded and intensified the Great Game in a number of ways: first, the conquest of the Vale and the Riverlands showed that entire kingdoms could be conquered, leading ambitious monarchs to […]

  11. […] Once again, we see the Durrandons struggling to maintain their control over Massey’s Hook or hegemony on military force against outside forces – further evidence of a failure of a state formation similar to that of the Riverlands. No wonder, therefore that the Andals under Togarion Bar Emmon were able to grab Massey’s Hook so quickly, a rare case where we can see a direct line between Andal invaders and influential houses in the present (although the survival of House Massey is less explicable) and one that follows the model of the leading Andal houses of the Vale. […]

  12. […] of Dornish history seems to have been marked much more by disunity than unification, more akin to the Vale or the Riverlands than the North, the Westerlands, or the […]

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