Politics of the Seven Kingdoms: The Westerlands, Part I

credit to J.E Fullerton/Ser Other-in-Law

credit to J.E Fullerton/Ser Other-in-Law

Introduction:

If Part IV of this series was about trying to figure out why the Riverlands, with all its natural advantages, nonetheless became a failed state, and thus come to a better understanding of the dynamics of successful state-building, this essay (and Part VII on the Reach) will be an exploration of what we can learn about the pre-Aegon balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms through the lens of the Westerlands.

Because next to only the Reach, the Westerlands had all of the starting advantages (from a Civilization-style perspective) one would think would be necessary to build a continental hegemon: a legendary abundance of natural resources, significant geostrategic defenses, political unity and able governance.

And yet, the Westerlands never achieved even the partial empires that their peers in the Great Game – the Stormlands, the Reach, and even the Iron Islands – did. Why is this?

(Note: quotes in bold font are from the extended Westerlands section that was read at ConCarolina and temporarily put up on GRRM’s blog. Quotes in regular text are from published texts.)

Geography:

“THE WESTERLANDS ARE a place of rugged hills and rolling plains, of misty dales and craggy shorelines, a place of blue lakes and sparkling rivers and fertile fields, of broadleaf forests that teem with game of every sort, where half-hidden doors in the sides of wooded hills open onto labyrinthine caves that wend their way through darkness to reveal unimaginable wonders and vast treasures deep beneath the earth.” (WOIAF)

As with so much else, the geography of the Westerlands is a story of seemingly unending natural bounty in every sphere – but beyond the travelogue is the impression of a diverse portfolio that ensures that the people lucky enough to be born there would be self-sufficient in almost every area. The “rich lands, temperate and fruitful” provide sufficient cereals and other food crops to feed the population; the “blue lakes and sparkling rivers” provide the necessary irrigation; timber and game are taken care of by the “broadleaf forests” and “wooded hills.”

credit to Andrew Hall

credit to Andrew Hall

Now, arguably much the same could be said of the Riverlands, but unlike that unlucky kingdom doomed to spend so much of its history as a prize of war, the Westerlands have the added advantage of being “shielded by high hills to the east and south.”  While not on the same scale as the Vale’s Mountains of the Moon, the hills of the West limit any approach from the rest of the continent to a few easily-defended passes: the southern pass guarded by Deep Den and House Lydden, the northern pass guarded by the Golden Tooth and House Lefford, and the coast road through the southern forests guarded by the Crakehalls of Crakehall. Interestingly, this advantage did not lead the Westerlands to embrace the isolationism of the Vale – another sign that geography is not destiny. Indeed, as we will see later, it may have had the effect of making the Great Game appear to have no downside and encouraging an aggressive tendency to seek conquest.

But the true prosperity of the Westerlands is found beneath the ground. Running throughout the quote above is the imagery of a realm of hidden depths and “vast treasures deep beneath the earth” waiting to be found by those who can find the secret door to the halls of the King Under the Mountain:

“The great wealth of the westerlands, of course, stems primarily from their gold and silver mines. The veins of ore run wide and deep, and there are mines, even now, that have been delved for a thousand years and more and are yet to be emptied. Lomas Longstrider reports that, even in far Asshai-by-the-Shadow, there were merchants who asked him if it was true that the “Lion Lord” lived in a palace of solid gold and that crofters collected a wealth of gold simply by plowing their fields. The gold of the west has traveled far, and the maesters know there are no mines in all the world as rich as those of Casterly Rock.” (WOAIF)

As far as Planetos is concerned, the Westerlands are a combination of the mines of Potosi and the 19th century vision of California as the “Golden Mountain” that so enraptured the dreams of immigrants from China to the east coast to Europe and beyond. The scale and scope of this hyper-abundance, the fact that the Westerlands have “mines…that have been delved for a thousand years and more and are yet to be emptied” and indeed in the case of Casterly Rock have been mined for eight thousand years, is an element where GRRM’s romanticism overrules any pretense of realism.  In effect, the Westerlands are (to quote Hillary Mantel) “one of those chests that occur in stories, full of gold pieces…and when you take some out, it just fills up again.” The only difference is that here, the magic requires thousands and thousands of peasants to go down into the dark to work in the mines.

scrooge

The WOIAF did add one fascinating element to the lore of the Westerlands’ mineral riches, the quasi-Wagnerian idea that there might be something dangerous about that giant hoard of gold. As my nod to Das Rheingold suggests, there are cultural antecedents to this fear of large piles of precious metals: when Tolkein dreamed up Smaug sitting on his hoard, he very much was drawing on Beowulf and an entire Western tradition of dragons symbolizing greed that easily predates Christianity’s attitudes to worldly wealth. So what’s the darkness underneath all of that golden gleam?

“The wealth of the westerlands was matched, in ancient times, with the hunger of the Freehold of Valyria for precious metals, yet there seems no evidence that the dragonlords ever made contact with the lords of the Rock, Casterly or Lannister. Septon Barth speculated on the matter, referring to a Valyrian text that has since been lost, suggesting that the Freehold’s sorcerers foretold that the gold of Casterly Rock would destroy them. Archmaester Perestan has put forward a different, more plausible speculation, suggesting that the Valyrians had in ancient days reached as far as Oldtown but suffered some great reverse or tragedy there that caused them to shun all of Westeros thereafter.” (WOIAF)

There have been some really interesting speculations in the ASOIAF fandom about the Valyrian prophecy: was this somehow a misinterpreted foretelling of Tywin sacking King’s Landing or Daenerys’ conflict with Cersei? Did the “weight of gold…enough to raise an army” that the Kings of the Rock paid for their Valyrian steel sword Brightroar pay for the Faceless Men to assassinate the fire mages who were needed to keep the Fourteen Flames in check? And how do we square the Lannisters buying the sword with the idea that the Valyrians never had contact with the Westerlands? (I’ll be discussing Archmaester Perestan’s discussion in the next essay in this series) I have to admit that I’m not entirely sure, but as I’ll be pointing out in the Historical Development section, it is interesting how often death follows in the wake of Westerlands gold…

One final point about the Westerlands’ geography: the one potential downside is that the broad open coastline that is an incredible asset with regards to trade makes them unusually exposed to the Iron Islands:

“In addition, the Lannister coastline lay closer to the Iron Islands than did any other kingdom, and the wealth of Lannisport and its trade was a constant temptation to the reavers of those benighted isles. Wars between the westermen and the ironborn erupted every generation or so; even during periods of peace, the ironmen came raiding after wealth and salt wives. Fair Isle did help shield the coast farther south; for this reason the Farmans have become famous for their hatred of the ironborn.” (WOIAF)

 As we will see, this proximity to a gang of violent pirates would cause substantial difficulties for the Westerlands as a polity. However, even in their choice of enemies, the Westerlands got lucky. At the end of the day, the Iron Islands could only ever field some 15,000 men compared to the 45,000 soldiers the Westerlands can raise. This meant that the Ironborn were a manageable threat which could challenge but not truly threaten an emerging polity. (Consider, as a counter-example, how the Westerlands’ history would have changed if the hills that guard their southern flank had been moved over to the west coast, walling off the Ironborn but leaving them completely to the Reach.)

Historical Development of the Westerlands:

In the days of the Hundred Kingdoms, when petty kings ruled over domains that extended no further than a man could see from their castle battlements, and waged endless bloody war upon one another, the westerlands enjoyed centuries of relative peace and prosperity under the Kings of the Rock. Such foes as menaced the west came from without.” (Extended Westerlands)

Far more than any other kingdom that we’ve studied to date, the development of the Westerlands into a polity is largely a tale of continuity if not stability. There simply haven’t been the dramatic rises and falls of the Riverlands, or the sudden and permanent transformation that the Vale experienced with the arrival of the Andals. Rather, the Westerlands have carefully adapted to each wave of change that have come along, incorporating new elements into the existing political and social structure.

The First Men and the Casterlys

As with most of the other regions of Westeros, there’s not a lot known about the Dawn Age of the Westerlands. When “the First Men came with fire and bronze axes to cut down the forests, plow the fields, and drive roads through the hill country,” they had a relatively easy time of it, as “neither of these elder races proved able to withstand the First Men.” What’s interesting is that, as “the First Men’s farms and villages spread across the west “from salt to stone,”” we don’t see a single family jumping out ahead of the pack:

“Many and more great houses trace their roots back to this golden age of the First Men. Amongst these are the Hawthornes, the Footes, the Brooms, and the Plumms. On Fair Isle, the longships of the Farmans helped defend the western coast against ironborn reavers. The Greenfields raised a vast timber castle called the Bower (now simply Greenfield), built entirely of weirwood. The Reynes of Castamere made a rich system of mines, caves, and tunnels as their own subterranean seat, whilst the Westerlings built the Crag above the waves. Other houses sprang from the loins of legendary heroes, of whom tales are told to this very day: the Crakehalls from Crake the Boarkiller, the Baneforts from the Hooded Man, the Yews from the Blind Bowman Alan o’ the Oak, the Morelands from Pate the Plowman. Each of these families became powers, and some in time took on the styles of lords and even kings.” (WOIAF)

Instead, there was so much wealth going around that we get dozens of would-be nation founders, many with their own “legendary heroes” to use as the foundation for a symbolic politics that could unite all of the different houses of a given kingdom into a single identity – so we could easily imagine a history in which the Crakehalls or the Baneforts or the Yews or the Morelands built on their ancestral memory to become the founding dynasty of the Westerlands, or the Reynes or the Greenfields (who perhaps were greenseers or some other priestly castes) or the Westerlings leveraged their mighty holdfasts into regional dominance.

Despite this proliferation of budding nation-states who lacked a common descent to establish a legitimate hierarchy, we are told somehow the Westerlands avoided the “endless bloody war” that occurred in every other situation in Westerosi history. This suggests one of two things: either conflicts really did break out and the sources were lost, or the sheer fecundity of the Westerlands meant that resource conflicts weren’t necessary as it was more profitable to simply cultivate one’s own garden, as Voltaire would put it.

This brings us to the historical mystery of the greatest of these First Men families and one of the interesting ways in which they differ from the usual story of legendary-founder houses of the First Men. The story begins not that different from the others:

“Yet by far the greatest lords in the westerlands were the Casterlys of the Rock, who had their seat in a colossal stone that rose beside the Sunset Sea. Legend tells us the first Casterly lord was a huntsman, Corlos son of Caster, who lived in a village near to where Lannisport stands today. When a lion began preying upon the village’s sheep, Corlos tracked it back to its den, a cave in the base of the Rock. Armed only with a spear, he slew the lion and his mate but spared her newborn cubs—an act of mercy that so pleased the old gods (for this was long before the Seven came to Westeros) that they sent a sudden shaft of sunlight deep into the cave, and there in the stony walls, Corlos beheld the gleam of yellow gold, a vein as thick as a man’s waist.” (WOIAF)

This bears all the hallmarks of the classic just-so story of Great Houses: a singular individual embarks on a dangerous mission and accomplishes a great feat of strength and skill; in the process, he gains a link to the supernatural, and is rewarded for his feat of arms. And regardless of whether you think Corlos was lucky or divinely-inspired, clearly the Casterlys “found gold inside the Rock and soon began to mine there.” And this is tied directly to the foundation of the great fortress of Casterly Rock, as “to defend his treasure against those who would make off with it, he moved inside the cave and fortified its entrance.”

the-rock

Where we see a divergence is that the Casterlys left it at that, seemingly content to focus on gold-mining and “carving halls and galleries and stairways and tunnels into the Rock itself, transforming the gigantic stone into the a mighty fortress.” So rich and so content were the Casterlys with their city-sized holdfast that they had no further hunger for power outside of the Rock: “Though never kings, the Casterlys became the richest lords in all of Westeros and the greatest power in the westerlands, and remained so for hundreds of years. By then the Dawn Age had given way to the Age of Heroes.” (WOIAF) Needless to say, this is highly unusual – all the other First Men houses of the Dawn Age, who were poorer and less powerful than the Casterlys, were happy enough to claim the status of petty kings.

casterlys

What might explain this? One possibility has to do with timing – note that the Casterlys were the “greatest power in the Westerland” for only “hundreds of years” at the very turning of the Dawn Age and the Age of Heroes. As relatively nouveau riche, the Casterlys might have felt unable or unwilling to claim royal heritage when there were other, older monarchies all around them. Another possibility is that it might have been a kind of reverse snobbery. The Sires de Coucy, for example, were mere lords of a single castle, but the Castle of Coucy was so formidable that they could defy kings. But rather than take on some exalted title, the Coucys adopted as their motto the poem “roi ne suis, ne prince ne duc ne comte aussi; Je suis le sire de Coucy.”[1] Perhaps the Casterlys felt the same way: that strength and power came from the Rock that bore their name, not in any empty title.

lann

Regardless of why the Casterlys failed to make the most of their advantage, fate decreed that the latent power they were sitting on would not go unused, and so Lann the Clever came to the Westerlands to supplant the Casterlys and take possession of the Rock in the beginning of a pattern we will see happening again and again in this essay:

“That was when the golden-haired rogue called Lann the Clever appeared from out of the east. Some say he was an Andal adventurer from across the narrow sea, though this was millennia before the coming of the Andals to Westeros. Regardless of his origins, the tales agree that somehow Lann the Clever winkled the Casterlys out of their Rock and took it for his own.” (WOIAF)

Lann the Clever is one of the most mysterious of the legendary founders of the Age of Heroes, in no small part due to his unknown and disputed origin. Lann’s distinctive hair color suggests Andal heritage – after all, we’ve known since AGOT that the Andals were “a race of tall, fair-haired warriors.” On the other hand, as the scholars point out, Lann clearly predated the coming of the Andals by several thousand years, which makes an Artys Arryn situation unlikely. According to the Reachermen (who are always happy to do a bit of cultural appropriation), “Lann the Clever was a bastard born to Florys the Fox in some tales or Rowan Gold-Tree in others” – the former of which would explain his trickster nature and the latter would explain his hair color. Perhaps he was even a Valyrian or part-Valyrian; certainly, the fact that Lann “appeared out of the east,” is suggestive of an Essosi origin.

Trying to pin down his backstory is ultimately futile, however, because Lann the Clever was a Trickster figure, like Loki or Anansi or Coyote or Reynard the Fox. And what tricksters do is lie about everything, especially about their own identity. Thus, one of the legends of the Westerlands is that the story of his descent from Garth Greenhand was one of his cons: “Lann cozened Garth Greenhand himself by posing as one of his sons (Garth had so many that ofttimes he grew confused), thus making off with part of the inheritance that rightly belonged to Garth’s true children.” (WOIAF) It could even be the case that his story about coming from the east was another lie, meant to endow him with a sense of mystery and specialness.

Another thing that tricksters do is to, as Paul Mattick puts it, “violate principles of social and natural order…re-establishing it on a new basis,” and indeed the broad literature of Trickster figures representing the peasantry in European feudalism or African-American slaves in the antebellum South speaks especially to the idea of using language and skills against the powerful, engaging in “rebellious societal deconstruction.” (Which is all the more ironic, given how profoundly elitist and conservative Lann’s descendants would become.) And this is precisely what Lann the Clever did to those aloof Casterlys, although the tales differ:

“In the most common version of the tale, Lann discovered a secret way inside the Rock, a cleft so narrow that he had to strip off his clothes and coat himself with butter in order to squeeze through. Once inside, however, he began to work his mischief, whispering threats in the ears of sleeping Casterlys, howling from the darkness like a demon, stealing treasures from one brother to plant in the bedchamber of another, rigging sundry snares and deadfalls. By such methods he set the Casterlys at odds with one another and convinced them that the Rock was haunted by some fell creature that would never let them live in peace.”

“Other tellers prefer other versions of the tale. In one, Lann uses the cleft to fill the Rock with mice, rats, and other vermin, thereby driving out the Casterlys. In another, he smuggles a pride of lions inside, and Lord Casterly and his sons are all devoured, after which Lann claims his lordship’s wife and daughters for himself. The bawdiest of the stories has Lann stealing in night after night to have his way with the Casterly maidens whilst they sleep. In nine months’ time, these maids all give birth to golden-haired children whilst still insisting they had never had carnal knowledge of a man.” (WOIAF)

All of these stories start with the idea of discovering a “secret way inside the Rock,” (and the idea that the secret way worked by stripping naked and using a domestic comestible is very much fitting with trickster stories, which often involve turning around some sort of humiliation into a strength) which is both necessary on a practical level but also suggests a passing of a divine mandate in the way that it parallels Corlos finding the vein of gold in the wall. Beyond that, each version has its own connotations: the versions where he sets the “sleeping Casterlys” against each other by “stealing treasures from one brother to plant in the bedchamber of another” suggests that the downfall of the Casterlys was their aloofness and isolation turning into paranoia and division, and perhaps the idea of a fratricidal civil war over succession. The version where he “smuggles a pride of lions” who devour the Casterlys is both a literalization of the Lannister sigil, an escalation of the version with the “mice, rats, and other vermin,” and is highly reminiscent of the revenge of Morgon the necromancer.

Another common thread in the stories is the theme of cuckoldry, whether it’s the version where the male Casterlys have already been killed off and “Lann claims his lordship’s wife and daughters,” or where he uses stealth to “have his way with the Casterly maidens whilst they sleep.” As is unfortunately common in folktales, there is an equation here between Lann’s seizure of the Rock and his seizure of the women of House Casterly (similar to the standard hero reward), as well as an elision of the difference between seduction and sexual assault. What makes this all the more troubling is that, according to the maesters of the Citadel, this is the most likely version of events:

“It is Archmaester Perestan’s belief that Lann was a retainer of some sort in service to Lord Casterly (perhaps a household guard), who impregnated his lordship’s daughter (or daughters, though that seems less likely), and persuaded her father to give him the girl’s hand in marriage. If indeed this was what occurred, assuming (as we must) that Lord Casterly had no trueborn sons, then in the natural course of events the Rock would have passed to the daughter, and hence to Lann, upon the father’s death.” (WOIAF)

While Perestan assumes that Lord Casterly had no sons, it’s worth noting that most versions of the narrative mention multiple Casterly sons who either die or are driven out of the Rock due to Lann’s schemes. If the Lannisters’ claim to the Rock flows not solely from the right of conquest but also from a claim through the female line, it would fit the trickster model for Lann to first get his foot under the table by marrying a Casterly daughter, then turn the Casterly sons against one another so that the male line eliminates itself, allowing him to claim the Rock without lifting a finger. (It’s also a scenario that fits with the Greek mythic overtones of House Lannister, given how often in those myths heroes assume thrones due to seizure of widowed queens who later take revenge against their husbands, which Robert Graves would argue is evidence of matrilineal descent of pre-classical Greek monarchies.)

Regardless of what means or what claim he had used, Lann the Clever and his descendants would inherit the lands and titles of House Casterly, so that House Lannister would begin the race for the golden crown of the Westerlands “ruling large portions of the westerlands from beneath Casterly Rock.”

sigil

The Pre-Andal Lannisters

So what was it about the Lannisters that made them able to thrive where the Casterlys had merely stagnated? I’m going to argue that it was three interlocking factors that played a role in putting the new Lannister dynasty on a growth trajectory, all three of which we can see in this passage:

“Lann the Clever supposedly lived to the age of 312, and sired a hundred bold sons and a hundred lissome daughters, all fair of face, clean of limb, and blessed with hair “as golden as the sun.” But such tales aside, the histories suggest that the early Lannisters were fertile as well as fair, for many names began to appear in the chronicles, and within a few generations Lann’s descendants had grown so numerous that even Casterly Rock could not contain all of them. Rather than tunnel out new passages in the stone, some sons and daughters from lesser branches of the house left to make their homes in a village a scant mile away. The land was fertile, the sea teemed with fish, and the site they had chosen had an excellent natural harbor. Soon enough the village grew into a town, then a city: Lannisport.”

“By the time the Andals came, Lannisport had become the second biggest city in Westeros. Only Oldtown was larger and richer, and trading ships from every corner of the world were sailing up the western coasts to call upon the golden city on the Sunset Sea. Gold had made House Lannister rich; trade made it even richer. The Lannisters of Lannisport prospered, built great walls around their city to defend it from those (chiefly ironborn) who sought to steal their wealth, and soon became kings.” (WOIAF)

The first factor was fertility. Walder Frey might be said to be able to raise an army from his breeches, but Lann the Clever’s epic virility of producing a hundred sons and a hundred daughters (one hopes on at least a hundred women, otherwise I pity the poor Casterly daughter he wed) meant that he could sire an entire nation from his: not only the Lannisters of Lannisport, but also the Lannys, the Lannetts, the Lantells, are numbered among the myriad cadet branches of the family; based on heraldry, I would also guess that House Jast descended from a Lannister third son, and that House Parren may have descended from a Lannister bastard. In addition to raising the bill for family gatherings, this prolific begetting had the instant effect of giving the Lannisters a major power bloc in the Westerlands whose loyalty they could count on, giving them in part some of the advantages of common descent that was at the heart of House Gardener’s success.

Second, and closely related, was economic development. “Rather than tunnel out new passages in the stone” as the Casterlys had done, the Lannisters of the Rock made their junior members go out and develop new resources for the family enterprise. Lannisport is an excellent example of how the Lannister operation worked: the Rock produces valuable minerals, Lannisport refines them into trade goods; Lannisport produces foodstuffs to supply the Rock; Lannisport has space to produce a significant population to raise armies from, the Rock is the impregnable fortress that can be relied on if the city falls. The unifying approach is complementary diversification and specialization, with each part of the operation knowing its proper place. And contrary to the economic conservatism that would later characterize the House, the Lannisters’ fortunes were founded on base commerce. The Rock itself is a magnificent edifice, but by itself it’s only raw material – you need the artisans and the merchant classes to produce value added, to produce the manpower for your armies. And so wise stewards of the Rock made the investments to keep the city safe from the Ironborn.

The third factor was an outward-facing foreign policy. Whereas the Casterlys seem to have largely looked inwards, safe in the knowledge that the Rock could never be taken, the Lannisters would be focused on the outside world almost from the outset of their dynasty. In no small part, this was due to their investment in Lannisport – having provided both family members and capital to establish this city, they had to protect their investment from outside threats. This began by securing Lannisport from the Ironborn – and given the constant threat of reaving, it may well have been the case that Lannisport served a similar role for the coastal Westerlands to Winterfell in the North – but there would always be plenty of threats from the mainland who might want to get their hands on the Lannisters’ gold. At the same time, in order to keep the flow of trade going, the Lannisters would have to engage in diplomacy with the outside world, which made them an unusually cosmopolitan kingdom from the very beginning.

All three of these factors would be important in explaining how the Lannisters rose from being the richest of the petty kings to become the undisputed Kings of the Westerlands. This drive for power began with Loreon I:

“The first true Lannister king we know of is Loreon Lannister, also known as Loreon the Lion (a number of Lannisters through the centuries have been dubbed “the Lion” or “the Golden,” for understandable reasons), who made the Reynes of Castamere his vassals by wedding a daughter of that house, and defeated the Hooded King, Morgon Banefort, and his thralls in a war that lasted twenty years.”

“King Morgon was supposedly a necromancer of terrible power, and it is written that as he lay dying, he told the Lannisters who had slain him (amongst them three of Loreon’s own sons) that he would return from the grave to wreak vengeance upon them one and all. To prevent that, Loreon had Morgon’s body hacked into a hundred pieces and fed to his lions. In a grisly aftermath, however, those selfsame lions broke loose two years later in the bowels of Casterly Rock, and slew the king’s sons, just as the Hooded King had promised.”(WOIAF)

While a somewhat brief passage, there’s a lot we can learn about early Lannister strategy from it. Mmuch like the Starks, the Lannisters relied heavily on a mixed strategy of targeted warfare (in this case, against the Baneforts) and dynastic marriages (in this case, with the Reynes). What’s interesting about Loreon I’s strategy is that, rather than expanding into the open plains and forests of the south (which you think would be logical given Lannisport’s need for an agricultural periphery) or pushing west to see off the Ironborn threat to Lannisport, he focused on expanding north along the coast, likely incorporating the lands of the Westerlings along the way.

loreon-map

All three of the factors I discussed above played a role in this strategy: by marrying into the Reynes and siring children, Loreon ensured that the Reynes would see future Kings of the Rock as kinsmen rather than conquerors. Likewise, it may well be House Lannister’s commercial emphasis that made them focus on coastal rivals like the Castameres  – on a complete tangent, I’d love to have a geologist explain how all of these huge goldmines wound up on the coast as opposed to in the interior – and the Baneforts, rather than focusing on the inland regions. It’s also quite noticeable that Loreon I prioritized seizing a fortress like the Banefort which could act as a lookout and first line of defense against Ironborn raiders sailing down from the North.

Beyond the relatively dry considerations of statecraft and empire-building, the version of this period in the extended Westerlands reading makes it a recapitulation of a lot of the Greek tragedy themes I’ve touched on earlier. The warrior king bringing doom upon his children through his arrogance and lust for power suggests a combination of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon and Jason from Medea; the children being devoured by lions is reminiscent both of the legends of Lann the Clever (suggesting a divine punishment for murder) and something of Euripedes’ Bacchae (where Pentheus is killed by his maenad mother Agave while she is under the delusion that she killed a mountain lion); and Loreon’s gruesome attempt to avert prophecy rebounding on him by giving his lions a taste for human flesh could be any number of Greek tragedies.

medea

If I have one criticism of this chapter in both its edited and extended version, it’s that the text breezes too quickly past the rest of the pre-Andal era. All we are told between Loreon I and the arrival of the Andals – a period of some twenty-five hundred years at least – is that:

 “Loreon might have been the first Lannister to style himself King of the Rock, but it was a title his sons and grandsons and their successors continued to bear for thousands of years. However, the boundaries of their kingdom did not reach their full scope until the arrival of the Andal invaders.” (WOIAF)

Without any textual description of this period, all we can do is to reason backwards from the evidence we do have: since we know when Fair Isle and the Golden Tooth were conquered, we know the Lannisters didn’t have suzerainty over those fiefdoms in this period. (Indeed, given that Fair Isle rose up against the Ironborn prior to the arrival of the Andals, the Lannisters would have had diplomatic relations with the Kings of Fair Isle for some time.) We do know from the Iron Islands chapter that the town of Kayce, and likely the whole of that westernmost peninsula, was captured by the Lannisters somewhat more than a century or so after Qhored the Cruel’s passing, removing that threat to their rear. However, we don’t know when the Lannisters expanded their realm to include Sarsfield, Crakehall, Cornfield, Silverhill, Deep Den, Hornvale, or Ashemark – in other words, the better part of the Westerlands.

preandalwesterlands

Given this uncertainty as to the boundaries of the pre-Andal Kingdom of the Rock, we don’t know what kind of resources the Lannisters could mobilize to meet a new threat the likes of which they had never before seen, the Andals.

[1] “I am no king, nor a prince nor duke nor count, I am the lord of Coucy.”

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32 thoughts on “Politics of the Seven Kingdoms: The Westerlands, Part I

  1. Nice read as always.

    Do you think the Casterly origin story being associated with lions and the Lannister Sigil being a lion makes it more likely Lann claimed legitimacy through marriage? We’ve seen something similar in Orys Baratheon using his new wife’s banner/colors/etc.

    • It’s entirely possible, but it’s odd that it’s not mentioned in the text if that was the case, given that they mention it with Orys and the Durrandon symbols.

      • Hedrigal says:

        The Lannister takeover of the Rock might also predate uniform and consistent heraldry, given how they barely made it into age of heroes as a house. I’m not entirely on when that roughly came about historically, but it seems like its the kind of thing that didn’t exist for much of the bronze age.

  2. gbajithedeceiver says:

    “the idea that the secret way worked by stripping naked and using a domestic comestible is very much fitting with trickster stories, which often involve turning around some sort of humiliation into a strength”

    How…Impish of him.

  3. ajay says:

    “And how do we square the Lannisters buying the sword with the idea that the Valyrians never had contact with the Westerlands?”

    They bought it from someone else? After all, we don’t know that they paid that gold to the Freehold directly.

    • Problem with that is that non-Valyrians are notoriously unwilling to sell Valyrian swords.

      • ajay says:

        They are unwilling _now_. (Or at least nobles are unwilling; you can’t tell me Salladhor Saan would rather have a sword, should he come across one, than something a bit more useful or spendable.) But there aren’t any more being produced now. Back when the foundries were still turning them out in a steady stream, maybe things were different – especially for someone who had a mountain of gold to spend. There are hundreds of the things in Westeros alone; surely not every one is the result of a separate shopping trip to the Freehold.

        • Space Oddity says:

          Salladhor rides around in a ship called The Valyrian, and counts among his ancestors/relatives a man who called himself ‘The Last Valyrian’.

          Put simply, don’t presume that there is absolutely nothing he values more than money.

  4. Warwick the Wild of Leicester says:

    Even with butter, sliding naked through a rocky cleft doesn’t sound comfortable.

    Alternatively, the cleft is a metaphor.

  5. Brett says:

    Hmm, “half-hidden doors in the sides of hills”. I feel like that would have been a tease for A Dance with Dragons, had World of Ice and Fire come out first.

    It kind of bothers me that “subduing the Ironborn” isn’t more of a long-term Lannister project. They certainly take steps to limit the damage, and of course the Ironborn were following the New Way for a long chunk of time, but I still feel like it should have been something they were aiming for even if most of the Lannister Kings never bothered to invade because of the cost. Not only would it remove a threat to their flank, but they’d get uninhibited access to its iron and fishing resources.

    I loved everything else in the essay, including talk of Lann the Clever as a Trickster figure.

    • Brett says:

      Sorry, that was phrased weird. I liked the whole essay – my complaint about the Ironborn and the Lannisters was a complaint about the source material details.

    • Well, the Lannisters did invade the Iron Islands twice prior to the Conquest, and twice more after.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        But what he’s getting at, and I quite agree with him, is that the Westerlands only seem to mount short term punitive expeditions, as opposed to any longer term plan for permanently molding IB society into either a vassal state that exists only by Lannister sufferance and knows it, a full fledged colony of the West, or at the very least an equal state that coexists peacefully. At some point, you’d think the constant attacks would warrant such a project, regardless of cost and difficulty.

      • Brett says:

        Thatrabidpotato beat me to it – the pre-Conquest ones were punitive, reactive invasions. It’s not like how the Starks had a kind of long-term project to encircle the Boltons with allies and cadet branches in order to constrain a possible revolt. And after the Conquest House Greyjoy was a Great House vassal to House Targaryen, and they couldn’t do it without their leave.

        Sure, they were following the New Way for a while, but there were still very long stretches of time where the Ironmen were doing whatever variant of the Old Way existed at the time.

        • Sean C. says:

          By the same token, you expect that at some point the Starks, the Lannisters and the Gardeners would have made common cause to crush these guys once and for all, seeing as they were a common problem — and, unlike some similar entities, the Ironborn don’t have a history of making common cause with one of the continental powers against the other.

          Actually, in general, there’s little sense of pre-Seven Kingdoms alliance systems among the assorted superstates. You’d especially think that, ironically, the Lannisters and the Martells might have a long history of allying against the Gardeners.

          • Hedrigal says:

            I think the point there is to emphasize the change that the conquest brought. But it does seem fairly unrealistic that beyond warring with each other none of the nations in westeros seemed to talk to each other, when you’d think a few of those wars would at least end up having a marriage and exchange of wards as part of the peace.

          • Gonzalo says:

            Well, Dalton Greyjoy did exactly thta by allying with the blacks in exchange for freedom to raid on the Westerlands.

          • Sean C. says:

            That’s post-Conquest, where the Ironborn were subordinate to the Targaryens and effectively needed license from one of the contenders to raid the mainland. Without that incentive, they clearly prefer not to ally with mainlanders, and indeed, we don’t have any record of such a thing occurring prior to the Conquest.

  6. Grant says:

    I wonder if all the talk about Lann and climbing through a secret passage is foreshadowing for Tyrion using Casterly Rock’s sewer system to sneak in.

    • Andrew says:

      Well, he did have charge of the drains, which likely empty into the sea caves beneath the Rock that are accessible from the outside. On top of that, Viserion demonstrated that the dragons can tunnel through stone. They could find a drain through a sea cave and have the dragons dig to widen it enough for a small force to climb through disguised as Lannister guardsmen and open the gates for the army waiting outside.

  7. Excellent work Maester Steven! Just one quick question on format. Why weren’t the North and Vale essays divided into two parts? Was it because there wasn’t enough material or something else?

    • It’s entirely driven by length. Vale and North were short enough that Tower of the Hand didn’t have a problem with publishing them. Starting with the Riverlands, my posts got too long and while ToTH was updating things so that they could do really long posts, I started posting them in parts.

  8. Shouldn’t that be downfall of the Casterlys, not downfall of the Reynes? Anyway, another great essay.

  9. Byz says:

    Great essay, as always.

    I wonder – since the union between Lannister and Reyne coincides with Loreon’s war against the Hooded King, could it be that the Reynes only swore fealty to the Rock in order to cement an alliance (and reap the Rock’s protection) against their fearsome common Banefort enemy?

    Also, what do you think about the Reynes being a Casterly cadet? Myself, I think it’s very unlikely and your analysis of the Casterlys only further discredits that theory.

    • It’s possible.

      I don’t think they were. WOIAF makes it pretty clear they were an independent House from the Dawn Age onwards.

      • Though there is that name, Castamere. Was it originally Caster’s Mere? Might Caster have been a word for riches which got turned into a name, similar to how the Elder Tarquin was apparently originally called Lucumo, which was a Etruscan word for King?

  10. Andrew says:

    In regards to the West having gold along the coast, perhaps theres some truth to the theory that the Hammer of the Waters shattered the western coast, turning the Iron Isles into, well, isles.

    • Andrew says:

      Well, the Grey King cut down a heart tree, and the war between the children and the First Men supposedly started when the First Men cut down their heart trees. The waves drowning out the Grey King’s hall sounds like Hammer of the Waters to me.

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