So in an unprecedented development, I’ve had to split one of these essays into three parts, because this one was getting ridiculously long before I even got to Tywin, and I’m going to need some serious space to talk about the Rains of Castamere.
The Andal Lannisters
The Age of Heroes had come and gone in the Westerlands without much in the way of internal strife (unlike the Vale or the Riverlands), and by its end House Lannister had created enough of a nucleus of a functional state that the Westerlands experienced the Andal invasion in a way hitherto not seen in the history of Westeros. The western mountains channeled the invaders into a few mountain passes, negating their advantage in numbers and turning their threat from an existential one into something manageable:
“The Andals came late to the westerlands, long after they had taken the Vale and toppled the kingdoms of the First Men in the riverlands. The first Andal warlord to march an army through the hills met a bloody end at the hands of King Tybolt Lannister (called, unsurprisingly, the Thunderbolt). The second and third attacks were dealt with likewise, but as more and more Andals began moving west in bands large and small, King Tyrion III and his son Gerold II saw their doom ahead.” (WOIAF)
By checking the initial thrusts of the Andals, King Tybolt Lannister was able to give his heirs something that Tristifer IV Mudd and Robar II Royce never had: time to strategize and come up with new ways of handling the threat. (Likewise, by showing the Andals that they were dealing with a different kind of monarchy, one that simply could not be beaten down with sheer weight of numbers, and one that didn’t rely on the abilities of a single individual, Tybolt probably also had a strong effect on the psychology of the Andals his heirs would face.)
At the same time, it’s noticeable that Tyrion III and Gerold II approached the Andals with more flexibility and subtlety than Theon Stark, and it’s here where we see the emergence of a “Sage King” model of governance that will also show up in the Reach at the same time, a phenomenon which distinguished the Westerlands and the Reach from the rest of Westeros.
“Rather than attempting to throw back the invaders, these sage kings arranged marriages for the more powerful of the Andal war chiefs with the daughters of the great houses of the west. Cautious men, and well aware of what had happened in the Vale, they took care to demand a price for this largesse; the sons and daughters of the Andal lords so ennobled were taken as wards and fosterlings, to serve as squires and pages and cupbearers in Casterly Rock…and as hostages, should their fathers prove treacherous.”
“Thus did the Lannister kings turn foes into leal friends. All but a few of the Andal lords kept faith, and when their sons grew to manhood, they became staunch bannermen to the King in the Rock, for they had been raised amongst the Lannisters, and “now their blood runs gold,” as one embittered Andal father said…”(WOIAF)
The “Sage King” model is significantly more complicated than peace at any cost. In the first place, Tyrion III and Gerold II used the mechanisms of feudal politics – feudal grants of land, dynastic marriage alliances, and hostage-taking – not only to co-opt Andal warlords into fighting for the Lannisters against their fellow Andals, but also to divide and rule. To begin with, the largesse of Casterly Rock was given only to “the more powerful” Andals – turning the strong against the weak, and (with their children held at the Rock as trump cards) then ensuring that their strength would be spent rather than the Lannisters’ own. But it was also a multi-generational effort aimed at indoctrinate their children into becoming loyal Westermen rather than Andals, so that those surviving Andal lords who sought to repeat the feats of Gerold Grafton and Corwyn found themselves opposed by their own sons eager to inherit their fiefdoms early. It was a masterful display of the uses of “soft power.”
The result of Tyrion III and Gerold II’s work is that, rather than being conquered as in the case of the Vale and the Riverlands, or driving off the invaders as in the case of the North, what emerged in the Westerlands after the Andal invasion was a cultural and social hybrid of the First Men and the Andals contained within the political system created by the Kings of the Rock:
“Many noble houses were born thus, amongst them the Jasts, the Leffords, the Parrens, the Droxes, the Marbrands, the Braxes, the Serretts, the Sarsfields, and the Kyndalls.”
“In time, Lannister kings wed their children to Andals as well; indeed, when Gerold III died without male issues, a council crowned his only daughter’s husband, Ser Joffery Lydden, who took the Lannister name and became the first Andal to rule the Rock…” (WOIAF)
As we can see from the first paragraph and from the map below, there is a rough parity of numbers between the twelve major First Men Houses and the nine major Andal Houses of Westerlands, a clear sign of how the Lannister Kings successfully maintained a balance of power that discouraged any further coup attempts. Moreover, when we look at the known locations of the Andal Houses, it’s clear that the Lannisters gave them land that would be directly in the path of any future Andal invasions – giving them no choice but to fight or lose everything. A similar process seems to have happened with House Lannister itself, as dynastic marriages on both the male and female side of the family was used to ensure that the Andals wouldn’t become an independent power bloc within the Westerlands and instead would become another part of the Lannister’s own coalition. What’s interesting is that even when the male line failed – recapitulating that theme of being supplanted through the superior fertility of a newcomer that we saw with Lann the Clever – the system worked so well that Joffrey Lydden decided to continue it rather than begin a new dynasty.
The result is that, for the Lannisters, the Andal Invasion resulted not in a crisis (however well- or poorly-managed) but in a reinvigoration of the state. We can see this not only in the almost doubling of their manpower from the Andals, but also in a vast expansion of efforts in all directions:
“And thus revitalized, the Kings of the Rock expanded their realm still farther. Cerion Lannister extended his rule as far east as the Golden Tooth and its surrounding hills, defeating three lesser kings when they made an alliance against him. Tommen Lannister, the First of His Name, built a great fleet and brought Fair Isle into the realm, taking the daughter of the last Farman king to wife. Loreon II held the first tourney ever seen in the westerlands, defeating every knight who rode against him…King Gerold Lannister, known as Gerold the Great, sailed to the Iron Islands and returned with a hundred ironborn hostages, promising to hang one every time the ironmen dared raid his shores. (True to his word, Gerold hanged more than twenty of the hostages). Lancel IV is said to have beheaded the ironborn king Harrald Halfdrowned and his heir with a single stroke of the Valyrian steel greatsword Brightroar at the Battle of Lann’s Point…” (WOIAF)
In this period, we can see three major Lannister initiatives. The first was the expansion of the Westerlands to encompass its current boundaries, with Cerion Lannister using military force to subsume the eastern hill country (suggesting that the Andal Houses were given those particular lands in part as a reward for military service) and Tommen I using a combination of naval power and dynastic marriages to bring Fair Isle into the realm. Building off of Tommen’s achievements, the second major initiative is to assert the might of the Westerlands against their traditional antagonists, the Ironborn. Thus, both Gerold the Great’s raid on the Iron Islands and Lancel IV’s war against Harrald Halfdrowned have to be understood both in foreign policy terms – enforcing Lannister sovereignty over the Westerlands and their territorial waters – and in domestic policy terms, showing that the Kings of the Rock would protect their subjects from their traditional enemies.
The third initiative was a cultural accommodation with their new Andal subjects. Loreon II holding the first tourney in the Westerlands points to the adoption of the customs and practices of chivalry – Loreon would have to be a knight in order to fight in the tourney, after all – but also a deeper understanding of their political potential. After all, what better way to display his fitness to rule and to draw the best knights of the West into his service than by taking part in the tourney and “defeating every knight who rode against him”? Likewise, the fact that Loreon II was a knight suggests the expansion of the Faith of the Seven in the Westerlands – and while the WOIAF doesn’t go into as much detail about how this took place in the West compared to as in the Reach, there must have been a transition period where the Andal Lannisters worked to entrench the Faith in a realm that was still half First Men.
Overall, the picture is of a confident and energetic state, flush with new confidence both at home and abroad, which was beginning to look outside its own boundaries to the wider world of continental politics.
And so the Lannisters began to play the Great Game.
The Westerlands and the Great Game
If the British Government would only play the grand game — help Russia cordially to all that she has a right to expect — shake hands with Persia — get her all possible amends from Uzbecks — force the Bukhara Amir to be just to us, the Afghans, and other Uzbeck states, and his own kingdom — but why go on; you know my, at any rate in one sense, enlarged views. InshAllah! The expediency, nay the necessity of them will be seen, and we shall play the noble part that the first Christian nation of the world ought to fill.” (Captain Arthur Conolly, 1840)
“Well is the Game called great! I was four days a scullion at Quetta, waiting on the wife of the man whose book I stole. And that was part of the Great Game! From the South—God knows how far—came up the Mahratta, playing the Great Game in fear of his life. Now I shall go far and far into the North playing the Great Game.” (Rudyard Kipling, Kim)
It is at this point that we pass into one of the most fascinating and under-studied periods of Westerosi history, “that long epoch between the assimilation of the Andals and the coming of the dragons.” While the fandom often thinks of this period as one of stagnation, it was actually a period of constant political change and (most critically for this particular essay series) inter-regional politic. Far from adhering to any imagined tradition of isolationism, the various kings sought to unite Westeros into one realm. And it is this multi-sided and “perpetual struggle for land, power, and glory,” where the “Kings of the Reach warred constantly with…the Kings of the Rock, the Storm Kings, the many quarrelsome kings of Dorne, and the Kings of the Rivers and Hills,” (WOIAF) that I think of as the Great Game.
The Westerlands had never been truly isolationist; the necessities of trade demanded at least some contact with the outside world. Likewise, in their struggle against the Ironborn, the Lannisters had occasionally fought “in alliance with…the kings of House Gardener…and the lords of Oldtown,” But it wasn’t until the Andal invasion and the consolidation of their own kingdom that the Kings of the Rock began to dream of conquest and truly participate in the Great Game, and they quickly became avid players.
Their first and most prominent opponent was the Kingdom of the Reach, their immediate neighbors to the south – and, from the evidence we have, it seems that the Westerlands/Reach nexus was one of the more foundational aspects of the Great Game. Given their prior history of cooperation against the Ironborn, there was likely no great ideological clash that began the centuries if not millennia of war between the two greatest kingdoms of the south, but rather the remorseless logic of geopolitics. With the Ironborn sufficiently cowed by Gerold the Great, the Westerlands’ southern reaches was its only open border, and the Reach offered the prospects of huge tracts of land for conquest; for their part, the Gardeners no doubt saw a northern campaign as a natural extension of their campaign to consolidate their own kingdom, one that no doubt offered quite a bit in the way of golden plunder.
The conflict must have begun very early on, because only three generations after the reign of Joffrey Lannister né Lydden, we have records of:
“The first Lancel Lannister (known, of course, as Lancel the Lion) rode to war against the Gardener kings of Highgarden and conquered the Reach as far south as Old Oak before being felled in battle. (His son, Loreon III, lost all his father had gained and earned the mocking name Loreon the Limp)…Lancel IV…later died in battle at Red Lake whilst attempting to invade the Reach.” (WOIAF)
While a relatively brief quote, there’s a lot we can learn about the nature of the conflict. The fact that Lancel I conquered “as far south as Old Oak,” despite Old Oak normally being thought of as the northern border of the Reach, suggests that the borders of the Reach once extended significantly northward of its current limits. Likewise, that Lancel IV died at Red Lake while fighting Ser Wilbert Osgrey, Marshall of the Northmarch, is further evidence that the wars between the Kingdom of the Rock and the Kingdom of the Reach were carried out on an west-to-east axis, with Crakehall, Cornfield, and Silverhill being the main defenses of the Lannisters, and Old Oak, Red Lake, and Goldengrove for the Gardeners.
How close the Lannisters of the Rock ever got to their dream of conquering the Reach is unclear. We know that during the reign of Garth X, the “King of the Rock seized the moment, and large swathes of territory,” and we know that, in general, “in bygone days, the boundaries were more fluid, particularly to the south, where the Lannisters oft contended against the Gardeners in the Reach.” (WOIAF) Thus, at various points in time, it may have well been the case that significant chunks of the Reach were part of the Westerlands at various points in time, and vice versa. Unfortunately for the Lannisters, however, the historical record suggests that (in the main) their effort was a failure – whether we’re talking about Loreon III, who “lost all his father had gained and earned the mocking name Loreon the Limp,” or the indisputably martial Lancel IV who “died in battle at Red Lake whilst attempting to invade the Reach” in the reign of Gyles III, or the attempt by “an alliance between the Storm King and the King of the Rock, intent on carving up the Reach between them,” which Garth Goldenhand so decisively defeated, or the conquests during the reign of Garth X, which were reversed in the reigns of Mern VI (thanks in no small part to the aid of House Tyrell) and Garth the Painter.
Simply put, the Westerlands and the Reach were too close in skill at arms to overmatch the fact that the Reach outnumbered the Westerlands by more than two-to-one. However, and this point is important and will be studied in much further detail in the next essay on the Reach, what the Westerlands was able to accomplish was to maintain the balance of power in Westeros. Every time that the Gardeners of the Reach were on the verge of completing a conquest of one of the other kingdoms – such as “King Gyles III Gardener, who led a glittering host of armored knights into the stormlands [and] might well have completed his conquest” – the “King of the Rock [would sweep] down upon the Reach in his absence,” (WOIAF) forcing them to pull back, and thus the status quo continued.
However, the Reach was not the only part of the Great Game which the Lannisters participated in – the lions of the West also looked to the Riverlands as a prize to be won, “where they warred against the many kings of the Trident.” Unfortunately due to an extreme lack of sources, we know very little about the Riverlands’ role in the Great Game beyond the Stormlands/Iron Islands nexus that would define the very end of this period. For example, we know that two kings “from the Riverlands” fought in the great war against Gyles III Gardener, but whether they were Justmans or Teagues or any of the many petty kings, we have no evidence. We don’t know much more about the Lannisters’ involvement in the Riverlands. We can see from the WOIAF’s description of Riverrun that, in the “age of anarchy” between the fall of Tristifer IV Mudd and the rise of House Justman, the Tullys became highly influential among the petty kings because they “defended the Trident’s western marches against the Kingdom of the Rock,” suggesting that the Westerlands’ interest in conquering the Riverlands (or at least that portion in the Pinkmaiden/Stony Sept/Acorn Hall region) goes back to the earliest days of the Andal regime. We next pick up the thread sometime after the reign of Torrence Teague when “Westermen rode down from the hills across the Red Fork to pillage and conquer.” (WOIAF)
So it may well be that Tywin’s raids in the Riverlands, his and Jaime’s march eastward, the scorched-earth guerilla warfare of the Riverlords, or Edmure’s littoral strategy at the Battle of the Fords, are replays of earlier conflicts – but we’ll have to wait to find out.
Age of Decadence
So much for the martial glory of the Kingdom of the Rock. Meanwhile, the sheer riches of the Westerlands was bound to show up in a royal court that went in for baroque ostentation in a major way. Naturally, this over-the-top approach to magnificence began with the Rock itself:
“The Rock has been measured as thrice the height of the Wall or the Hightower of Oldtown. Almost two leagues long from west to east, it is riddled throughout with tunnels, dungeons, storerooms, barracks, halls, stables, stairways, courtyards, balconies, and gardens. There is even a godswood of sorts, though the weirwood that grows there is a queer, twisted thing whose tangled roots have all but filled the cave where it stands, choking out all other growth.”
“The Rock even has a port inside it, complete with docks and wharves and shipyards, for the sea has carved great caves into its western face, natural gates deep and wide enough for longships and even cogs to enter and off-load their cargoes.”
“The Lion’s Mouth—the huge natural cavern that forms the main entrance into the Rock—arches two hundred feet high from floor to ceiling. Over the centuries it has been widened and improved upon, and it is now said that twenty horsemen can ride abreast up its broad steps.”
“The Lords of Casterly Rock have gathered many treasures over the centuries, and the sights of the Rock—especially the Golden Gallery, with its gilded ornaments and walls, and the Hall of Heroes where the costly armor worn by a hundred Lannister knights, lords, and kings stand eternal guard— are justly famed throughout the Seven Kingdoms, even in lands beyond the narrow sea.” (WOIAF)
It didn’t end there, however. With unlimited wealth under their belts, the Lannisters began to splash money around to display their greatness, such as paying “enough [gold] to raise an army” to buy the Valyrian longsword Brightroar. Indeed, WOIAF states that “some of the Lannister kings were famed for their wisdom, some for their valor, all for their openhandedness” – suggesting that ring-giving was key to both the Lannister image and maintaining domestic tranquility.
When it comes to decadence, we can see in the “bad” Lannister Kings an inversion of those norms of kindship. Hence:
“…King Norwin Lannister, better known as Norwin the Niggardly. Yet Casterly Rock also housed many a weak, cruel, and feeble king. Loreon IV was better known as Loreon the Lackwit, and his grandson Loreon V was dubbed Queen Lorea, for he was fond of dressing in his wife’s clothing and wandering the docks of Lannisport in the guise of a common prostitute. (After their reigns, the name Loreon became notably less common amongst Lannister princes.) A later monarch, Tyrion II, was known as the Tormentor. Though a strong king, famed for prowess with his battle-axe, his true delight was torture, and it was whispered of him that he desired no woman unless he first made her bleed.” (WOIAF)
Thus, in Norwin we see open-handedness turned into miserliness; in Loreon IV we see wisdom reversed into some form of cognitive disability; and in Loreon V, we see virtù (what Machiavelli called the manly excellence of a great leader) transformed into a sexually-rapacious femininity – although it’s quite possible that the legend of “Queen Lorea” was deliberate political libel ginned up by his enemies, similar to the legend of Lord Cornbury, the corrupt royal governor of New York, especially if Loreon V was gay. Finally, in the case of Tyrion II we have an interesting case of a sort of proto-Joffrey sexual sadist – perhaps suggesting some sort of latent tendency brought to light through inbreeding, or perhaps GRRM just likes characters echoing previous generations.
For my money, however, the prize for decadent behavior has to go to Tommen II, who decided to take his family’s priceless Valyrian longsword “with him when he sailed with his great fleet to ruined Valyria, with the intention of plundering the wealth and sorcery he was sure still remained. The fleet never returned, nor Tommen, nor Brightroar.” (WOIAF) The staggeringly insane ambition of a man who took a look at the devastation wrought by the Doom of Valyria and decided not only to loot the place but also to bring his entire navy and his family’s heirloom sword on the trip is hard to wrap one’s head around.
The Lannisters Under the Targaryens
Not that long after Tommen II took his disastrous cruise to the demon-haunted ruins of Valyria, King Loren Lannister received word from Dragonstone that Aegon of House Targaryen claimed the whole of Westeros as his kingdom. Fatefully, Loren seems to have seen this as but another round of the Great Game and reacted by allying with the Gardeners to maintain the balance of power, much as the Lannisters might have done when Arlan III conquered the Riverlands. He found out his mistake on the Field of Fire, but unlike House Gardener, he lived to regret it.
Thanks to the royal open-handedness of Aegon the Conqueror, House Lannister lost no lands and “their vast wealth remained untouched,” when they made the transition from Kings of the Rock to Lords Paramount of the Westerlands and Wardens of the West. Beyond the material, however, the Lannisters did face something of a loss of status and influence once the center of continental politics shifted from the Great Game, in which they had been important players, to King’s Landing where the dragons ruled. Suffering from a bit of the social neuralgia experienced by the downwardly mobile aristocrat, “they were too proud to at once scrabble for a place of prominence beneath the Iron Throne.” (WOIAF) Oddly like the Starks of Winterfell, the Lannisters were content to brood in their Rock and ignore the outside world. Even when “Lord Lyman Lannister protected… Prince Aegon and Princess Rhaena” from King Maegor the Cruel, taking a very modest side in that earliest of the Targaryen civil wars, he contented himself by “extending guest right and refusing all the king’s demands to turn them over. Yet his lordship did not pledge his swords to the fugitive prince and princess, nor did he bestir himself” to fight against Maegor until the fix was in.
As a result, when the Lannisters initially entered into Targaryen politics during the reign of Jaehaerys I, they did so from a position of relative weakness. “The Velaryons, the Arryns, the Hightowers, the Tullys, and the Baratheons still eclipsed them in influence,” because they all had marriage or blood ties to House Targaryen or had been active in royal service (the Tullys, for example, had distinguished themselves by being among the first to rise up against Maegor), whereas the Lannisters were newcomers to the royal court and weren’t quite ready for prime time:
“Lord Tymond Lannister was present at the Great Council of 101 AC that decided the succession, famously arriving with a huge retinue of three hundred bannermen, men-at-arms and servants …only to be outdone by Lord Matthos Tyrell of Highgarden, who counted five hundred in his retinue.” (WOIAF)
Not being fools however, the Lannisters were able to make up the gap by relying on one political asset that no rival could match, the limitless gold of the Rock. With the choice of the succession very much up for grabs, and Corlys Velaryon no doubt spending freely to try to win support for his son Laenor, “the Lannisters chose to side with Prince Viserys in the deliberations,” and their wealth helped to secure the throne for Viserys I. Viserys rewarded their loyalty by making “Lord Jason Lannister’s twin brother Ser Tyland his master of ships,” giving the Lannisters their first taste of royal favor. And they clearly liked the taste, because less than a decade later both Jason and Tyland Lannister were counted among the more significant suitors for the hand of Princess Rhaenrya – suggesting that the Lannisters were looking to once again marry their way into royalty.
Fatefully, Tyland and Jason decided to side with the greens in the Dance of the Dragons. It was a choice that would bring both great reward – Tyland was named Master of Coin by Queen Alicent, and directed that no less than a fourth of the royal treasury was diverted into the vaults of Casterly Rock – and great suffering for both the Westerlands and their lords. Lord Jason led the Westermen into battle in the Riverlands and perished there, as would his entire army after him at the Fishfeed. In his absence, the Red Kraken savaged the Westerlands, sacking Lannisport and capturing Kayce and Fair Isle for the first time in more than six thousand years. His brother Tyland was “blinded, mutilated, and gelded” at Queen Rhaenrya’s command in order to “force him to reveal where he had hidden the bulk of the crown’s gold.” In the end, it fell to Lady Johanna Lannister to guide the Westerlands through this crisis:
“Meanwhile, in the westerlands, Lord Jason’s widow the Lady Johanna, acting as regent for her young son, donned man’s mail to drive the Red Kraken from her shores, and later did much to reclaim Lannister glory and win favor with the crown, lending gold for the restoration of King’s Landing.”
“In 134 AC, Lady Johanna Lannister took her revenge for all that the Red Kraken had inflicted on her and hers. With her own fleets destroyed, she persuaded Ser Leo Costayne, the aged lord admiral of the Reach, to deliver her swordsmen to the Iron Islands. Embroiled in their own war of succession, the ironborn were taken unawares. Thousands of men, women, and children were put to the sword, scores of villages and hundreds of longships put to the torch. Ultimately Costayne was slain in battle, his host largely scattered and destroyed. Only a portion of his fleet (laden with the spoils of war, including many tons of grain and salt fish) returned to Lannisport…but amongst the highborn captives they brought back to Casterly Rock was one of the Red Kraken’s salt sons. Lady Johanna had him gelded and made him her son’s fool. “A fine fool he proved,” Archmaester Haereg observes, “yet not half so foolish as his father.” (WOIAF)
Despite the fact that the greens had technically lost the Dance of the Dragons, the Lannisters once again emerged from disaster relatively unscathed. Mutilated as he might be, Tyland Lannister’s “wits remained intact,” and so when Cregan Stark departed the capitol in 131 AC, he was named Hand of the King. Partly this seems to have been in an effort to “[bind] up the deep wounds left by the Dance” by appointing a green to counter-balance a regency council otherwise dominated by blacks like Jeyne Arryn, Manfryd Mooton, and Corlys Velaryon; alternately, the WOIAF suggests that “perhaps those who had been his enemies deemed him too blind and broken to be a threat to them.” If that was the case, they were much mistaken, because “but Ser Tyland served ably for the better part of two years, before dying of the Winter Fever in 133 AC.” This Winter Fever cut short this first period of Lannister influence in royal government, as both Tyland Lannister and Roland Westerling (the lone Westerlander on the Council of Regents) were carried off by the epidemic in that year.
We don’t have very good sources about what was going on within House Lannister between the Dance of the Dragons and the Blackfyre Rebellion. Any remaining Westerlands influence in the reign of Aegon III ended in 136 AC – despite the Great Council of 136 electing Willam Stackspear as a member of the Council of Regents, Aegon III’s attaining his majority put an end to that institution, and as king seems to have relied entirely on his brother Viserys. Daeron I seems to have relied on the Oakenfist, Lyonel Tyrell, and his uncle Viserys, with the Westerlands playing no great role in his Dornish campaign; his brother Baelor seems to have sought the counsel solely of the devout. Certainly, the Lannisters would have been far too proud to sink to the sordid depths necessary to gain favor with Aegon IV.
We pick up the story next with the Blackfyre Rebellions. During the First Rebellion, Damon Lannister sided with Daeron II and the Targaryen loyalists, and from that we might have expected that the Westerlands would stand firm against the rebels. Instead, several of the principal houses (the Crakehalls and the Reynes) sided with the Blackfyres, while others (House Tarbeck) split their support. Without any other source of information, we don’t know anything about the internal political dynamics of the Westerlands that might have given rise to this split, but given their lack of involvement in court politics during the reigns of Daeron I and Aegon IV, it doesn’t seem to have been related to the Dornish issue but rather from some domestic discontent with the political hierarchy. This political division erupted into open conflict when Ser Quentyn Ball invaded the Westerlands on behalf of King Daemon:
“…Fireball killed Lord Lefford at the gates of Lannisport and sent the Grey Lion running back to hide inside the Rock.” (Mystery Knight)
“In the years that followed, the Lannisters stood with the Targaryens against Daemon Blackfyre, though the Black Dragon’s rebels won victories of note in the westerlands—especially at Lannisport and the Golden Tooth, where Ser Quentyn Ball, the hot-tempered knight renowned as Fireball, slew Lord Lefford and sent Lord Damon Lannister (later famed as the Grey Lion) into retreat.” (WOIAF)
Despite his reputation as a tourney knight, the “Grey Lion” had been thoroughly humiliated by the rebels, betrayed by his own bannermen, and had essentially lost the Westerlands save for the Rock itself. And even though the loyalists rallied and managed to defeat Daemon Blackfyre, it would have escaped no one’s attention that the “Grey Lion” had missed out on the opportunity to save some face by winning glory at Redgrass Field. This odd outcome, where the Targaryen cause was saved but the Lannister humiliation unavenged, almost guaranteed that the political tensions between the reds and blacks would continue to shape the politics of the Westerlands for the next sixty years.
Indeed, this context helps to understand why the next major leader of House Lannister proved to be so controversial. As we saw in Sworn Sword and Mystery Knight, the political class of Westeros is prone to judge the abilities of their rulers by the fortune or misfortune of the realm. Thus, just as Aerys I was blamed for his handling of the disorders of the realm from 209-221, so too was Gerold the Golden’s reputation weighed down by the calamities that hit the Westerlands under his tenure:
“Following the Grey Lion’s passing in 210 AC, his son Tybolt succeeded him as Lord of Casterly Rock, only to perish himself two years later under suspicious circumstances. A young man in his prime, Lord Tybolt left no heir of the body save for a daughter, Cerelle, three years of age, whose reign as Lady of Casterly Rock proved cruelly short. In less than a year, she too was dead, whereupon the Rock and the westerlands and all the wealth and power of House Lannister passed to her uncle, Gerold, the late Lord Tybolt’s younger brother.”
“A genial man, known to be exceedingly clever, Gerold had served as regent for his young niece, but the suddenness of her death at such a tender age set tongues to wagging, and it was whispered widely in the west that both Lady Cerelle and Tybolt had died at his hands…yet for all his accomplishments, certain of his lords and many of his smallfolk had no love for him, believing him responsible for the murder of his niece (and, some said, his brother Tybolt as well).” (WOIAF)
To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one Lord of Casterly Rock may be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose three in as many years gives rise to talk of conspiracy. This is especially the case when the misfortunes of the ruling family are paralleled by more general ills in the body politic. On top of the Great Spring Sickness, the drought, and the migration of smallfolk, Dagon Greyjoy raided the Westerlands, sacked Fair Isle, and “bearded the lion in his den” – suggesting a raid on Lannisport as well. In the real world, conspiracy theories are often born of a combination of the usual human tendency to look for patterns even where none exist and the equally human desire for a rational and predictable universe, even if the explanation for otherwise random events is some nefarious cabal pulling strings behind the scenes. It’s not unlikely that some people of the Westerlands tied these two phenomena together and explained their recent misfortunes by blaming the evil usurper. This reaction was made more likely by the continual presence of divided loyalties from the Blackfyre Rebellions; it’s rather difficult to argue against the hypothetical argument that Daemon Blackfyre or a Reyne Lord Paramount wouldn’t have let this happen.
Regardless of the whisper campaign against him, Gerold turned out to be “an exceptionally shrewd, able, and fair-minded lord,” who seems to have focused his reign on economic policy, “greatly increasing the wealth of House Lannister, the power of Casterly Rock, and the trade at Lannisport.” Likewise, Gerold seems to have begun the arduous process of restoring House Lannister’s position in King’s Landing by having his son Tion serve “as a squire to Prince Aegon Targaryen, King Maekar’s youngest son.” His other major initiative was to tamp down any Blackfyre-related tensions by forging a strong alliance with House Reyne by having “Tywald, the eldest of his twin sons,” squire for “Lord Robert Reyne of Castamere,” and engaging him to “the Red Lion’s spirited young sister, Lady Ellyn.” These plans seemed to be coming together when King Maekar tapped House Lannister and House Reyne to aid him in putting down the Peake Uprising. Unfortunately, tragedy struck when:
“Tywald, the eldest of his twin sons, died in battle in 233 AC whilst squiring for Lord Robert Reyne of Castamere during the Peake Uprising. Lord Robert likewise died, leaving Ser Roger Reyne (the Red Lion), his eldest son, as his heir.”
“King Maekar himself had perished less than an hour earlier, his crowned helm crushed by a rock dropped from the battlements as he led the attack on Starpike’s main gates.” (WOIAF)
Initially, at least, it seemed as if this shared tragedy would bring the Targaryens and the Lannisters closer together. No doubt thanks in part to the close relationship of Tion Lannister and Prince Aegon, Gerold the Golden emerged as the leading voice in the Great Council of 233: “The assembled nobles, swayed in no small part by the eloquence (and, some suggest, the gold) of Lord Gerold the Golden, ultimately awarded the Iron Throne to Prince Aegon.” Just as in the Great Council of 101, Lannister gold had decided the succession of the Iron Throne – which should have meant a return to influence in royal politics, as had been the case for Tyland and Jason Lannister.
This failed to happen – or at least was delayed for thirty years – largely because of a historical accident. When Daemon III and Bittersteel landed on Massey’s Hook in 236 and Aegon V called his banners, his old squire Tion Lannister answered the call. At the Battle of Wendwater Bridge, “the royalists…lost fewer than a hundred men … but amongst them was Ser Tion Lannister, heir to Casterly Rock.” This tragedy created the preconditions for the Rains of Castamere (which I’ll discuss in greater detail in the Internal Divisions section), but it also meant that the next Lord of Casterly Rock would not be the heir that Gerold had carefully groomed and who not only had a well-established martial reputation but the close friendship of King Aegon V, but the youngest son, Tytos:
“At the age of four-and-twenty, Tytos Lannister… became Lord of Casterly Rock, Shield of Lannisport, and Warden of the West. All were offices for which he was manifestly unsuited. Lord Tytos Lannister had many virtues. He was a cheerful man, good-hearted and gentle, a jolly companion at a feast, faithful to his lady wife, indulgent to his children. Slow to anger and quick to forgive, he saw good in every man, great or small, and was too trusting by half. Unlike his brothers, however, he was no warrior. Though a squire as a youth, he was never knighted, and whilst he loved tourneys, it was always as a spectator, never a participant. A plump boy, he became a fat man, for he had a great fondness for cheese, cakes, and beer. The hunchback Lord Toad dubbed him…He was dubbed the Laughing Lion for his jovial manner, and for a time the west laughed with him…but soon enough, more were laughing at him instead.”
“Where matters of state were concerned, Lord Tytos proved weak-willed and indecisive, swaying back and forth between two courses of action as a reed in the wind. He had no taste for war and laughed away insults that would have had most of his forebears shouting for their swords. “Words are wind,” he would say, even when mocked to his face (for, indeed, he had been made the subject of mockery since he was a boy). He would shrug off betrayals as misunderstandings, and forgive any trespass if asked for pardon.”
“My lord father would have made a splendid innkeep,” observed Gerion Lannister, the youngest of Lord Tytos’s four sons, years later, “but old Toad would have been a better lord.” He was not wrong. House Lannister reached its nadir during the years that the Laughing Lion held court at Casterly Rock. (WOIAF)
As someone who’s interested in historical parallels, it seems pretty obvious to me that Tytos Lannister is GRRM’s version of King Louis XVI of France – genial but indecisive, a doting family man and hobbyist without enthusiasm or ability for politics, easily persuaded by whoever was the last person to talk to him, and completely unsuited to dealing with an ambitious and prickly aristocracy. He also makes an interesting comparison to the “bad” Lannisters of the past – while not a wise man, he lacked the cognitive disability of Loreon IV; while possessing none of the martial virtues, sexual impropriety was not his major fault as with Loreon V; and he entirely lacked the sadism of Tyrion II, the miserliness of Norwin, or the mad ambition of Tommen II. Instead, I would argue that Tytos’ major flaw is the traditional Lannister virtue of openhandedness taken to an extreme – that he was far too willing to forgive debts and insults alike, which removed the threat of repayment that had kept bannermen in line in previous eras.
The domestic effects of Tytos’ tenure I’ll save for the next section, but there were more profound implications for the relationship between the Westerlands and the Iron Throne. The generous bargain that Aegon the Conqueror had given to Loren Lannister and his other vassals had been made on the presumption that the Lords Paramount would maintain law and order in their own realms, but Tytos was constitutionally incapable of keeping his part of that bargaining. The result threatened the political independence of the Westerlands:
“And more grief awaited him, for three landed knights who had lost their lands to Lord and Lady Tarbeck had made their way to King’s Landing, to lay their grievance before King Aegon V. His Grace grew most wroth, it is written, and sent word to Casterly Rock, commanding Lord Tytos to deal with this matter forthwith, “lest we be forced to deal with ourselves.”
“Conditions in the west grew so bad that the Iron Throne felt compelled to take a hand. Thrice King Aegon V sent forth his knights to restore order to the westerlands, but each time the conflicts flared up once again as soon as the king’s men had taken their leave…” (WOIAF)
While we have seen the Targaryens bypassing subinfeudation to rule directly in the case of Harrenhal, no King had ever intervened so dramatically and so repeatedly in the affairs of one of the Seven Kingdoms. In a very real sense, the Westerlands became a ward of the court in the reign of Aegon V – which couldn’t have helped his reputation as a “bloodyhanded tyrant” interfering with the rights of the nobility – and could have possibly lost its independence for an extended period of time, if Aegon V had not died unexpectedly at Summerhall.
Instead, the Westerlands would experience a political rejuvenation that would lead to them monopolizing royal power for the best part of the next forty years, due to the equally unexpected death of Jaehaerys II and its implications for Tytos’ oldest son.
 It remains an open question as to why and how a Lannister king whose kingdom wouldn’t include the eastern hills for at least four generations ended up fighting his battles there. One possibility is that Tybolt was working in alliance with local petty kings, or that he simply invaded their territory regardless.
 Marches being a term historically used to describe semi-militarized border regions – the Welsh Marches between England and Wales and the Scottish Marches between England and Scotland – whose lords were given increased authority to allow them to deal with cross-border raiding and act as the first responders to foreign invasion.
 Incidentally, there’s a bit of a timeline problem with Brightroar. According to WOIAF, “the sword Brightroar came into the possession of the Lannister kings in the century before the Doom,” but given that Lancel IV is repeatedly described as owning it in a passage that places him only seven generations after the Andal migration to the Westerlands, that leaves a long gap between ~5000 BC and 100 BC.