By Popular Demand: “Who Stole Westeros?”

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Who Stole Westeros?

One of the most persistent controversies of fact among fans of A Song of Ice and Fire is the question of whether Robert Baratheon or Petyr Baelish is responsible for the Iron Throne’s bankruptcy. Many leading scholars of our community have tackled the question (including one of the contributors to this volume); it’s a common topic of debate on r/asoiaf and Westeros.org, as well.  And one can see why – it plays a major part in Robert Baratheon’s story in A Game of Thrones as Exhibit A of his dereliction of duty as king, Tyrion Lannister discusses it at some length in both A Clash of Kings and A Storm of Swords, and it bears directly on the long-range plans of one of our most important players in the titular game of thrones.

In this essay, I intend to demonstrate that Littlefinger is the responsible party and that, furthermore, he engaged in a campaign of accounting and mortgage fraud, embezzlement, and corruption on a grand scale.

Why Robert Baratheon Isn’t Responsible

On first appearance, it seems most likely that Robert Baratheon is the culprit.  As we learn in Eddard IV of A Game of Thrones:  “the Crown is more than six million gold pieces in debt…  Lord Arryn was a prudent man, but I fear His Grace does not always listen to wise counsel.  My royal brother loves tournaments and feasts, and he loathes what he calls ‘counting coppers.’”  In A Clash of Kings, it is stated that “King Robert had been a prodigious spender… the crown’s debts had grown vast, as well.”  In A Storm of Swords, Tyrion states that while “crown incomes are ten times higher than they were under Aerys… [so] are the crown’s expenses.  Robert was as generous with his coin as he was with his cock… the incomes are considerable, but they are barely sufficient to cover the usury on Littlefinger’s loans.”[1]

However, there’s a problem with the math.

We know from Eddard IV of AGOT that the crown owes more than six million gold; given average medieval interest rates of about 12%, the interest on that debt, which has to be paid regularly to powerful political forces like House Lannister, House Tyrell, the Iron Bank, and the Faith of the Seven, who would loudly object to not being paid, comes out to 720,000 gold per annum.[2]  Given that the Red Keep, the royal court, the gold cloaks, the royal navy, the royal bureaucracy, the royal prisoners, etc. are all functioning, we know at the very least that income must exceed that figure.

While great houses might be willing to loan money to the Throne for political influence rather than in hope of being repaid (although Tywin Lannister clearly isn’t the type to forgo repayment), we know that the Faith, the Iron Bank, and the Tyroshi trading cartels closely monitor the crown’s ability to repay them.  No financial institution offers loans to people who clearly can’t pay them back, so they must have been presented with statements of the royal finances that showed that the crown could afford to do so – rather than statements that royal revenues could barely pay the interest on their loans.

In modern times, a ratio of debt-to-income of 31% front-end (i.e., percent of income going to all housing costs) to 43% back-end (percent of income going to all debt) is the limit for “conforming” mortgages; at the height of the financial bubble in the early 2000s, a back-limit ratio of 55% was the maximum for sub-prime mortgages.[3]  These figures were much more restrictive as recent as the early 20th century, as the lack of federal mortgage guarantees and stable, long-term, fixed-rate mortgages meant that lenders had to be much stricter, with 25% being a more common figure.  Given that medieval finance was incredibly riskier – with the weakness of the state to enforce contracts, the danger of royal confiscation, and the limited supply of financial capital (in part due to religious prohibitions on usury) – one can only assume that the number that the Iron Bank of Braavos would accept was far lower.

Image result for iron bank of braavos

But let’s be generous and take the early 20th century figure.  By that ratio, royal income must be at least between 1.9 million and 2.4 million gold per year – or 2.15 million annually, to take the average. In order to generate a debt of six million gold at a 12% yearly interest rate over 15 years, Robert would have to have spent the entire reserves King Aerys II Targaryen left him, plus 2.15 million a year in royal income, plus an additional 1.1 million in gold annually over his revenues, and never paid down the principle.

As Ragnorak on Westeros.org points out, “The normal expenses under Aerys, plus an equal amount in Robert’s waste, would only account for 20% of the total expenses of a ten-fold increase.  Robert could waste four times as much money as was spent under Aerys each year and still pay the normal expenses that existed under Aerys, and that only accounts for half of the money spent.”  Let me put that another way:  the Hand’s Tourney is seen as a lavish affair, and it cost 90,000 dragons for the prizes and another 10,000 for the feast.[4]  In order to equal his yearly income, let alone exceed it and have to borrow, Robert would have to throw 22 tourneys a year.

Image result for robert baratheon tourney

However, the textual evidence doesn’t support anywhere near that number.  We know of two tourneys in 299 AL, but one is a small affair to celebrate King Joffrey Baratheon’s name day, and the other is only a melee at Bitterbridge that Renly uses as a recruitment event.  In all of 298, there’s only the Hand’s Tourney.  In 297, we know only of Joffrey’s 12th name day; there’s an unnamed tourney in 296; in 294, a name day tourney for Mace Tyrell; a tourney in celebration of Balon Greyjoy’s defeat in 289 AL; the unnamed tourney at which Oberyn Martell crippled Willas Tyrell; and the one thrown for King Robert’s wedding to Cersei.  At most, we’re seeing one, maybe two a year.

Moreover, not all of these are tourneys the crown would be on the hook for – King Robert’s wedding was undoubtedly paid out of royal funds, but the tourney at Lannisport would be paid for by Tywin Lannister as his obligation as the host; likewise, Lord Mace Tyrell would have been responsible for his own name day celebrations. Even adding every unnamed tourney to Robert’s column, we’re looking at only five Robert would have paid for (that we know of).

In addition to this shortfall, there’s also the larger problem of an absence of evidence of other sources of spending.

Sources of Royal Bankruptcy

Historically, it was fairly common for monarchs to go bankrupt. While the bankruptcy of Louis XVI in the 1770s and 1780s is perhaps the most historically important one of all time, many of Robert Baratheon’s parallel historical contemporaries went broke – and more than once. Even after he expropriated one-third of England’s wealth from the Catholic Church, Henry VIII was £3 million in debt (or £1.2 billion in today’s money).  His contemporaries didn’t fare much better:  Henri II of France (1547-1559) owed 48 million livres compared to an income of 12 million livres, and went bankrupt in 1557.  The French monarchy’s finances didn’t recover until around 1600, when the duke of Sully became superintendent of finance and modernized the French bureaucracy for the first time.  Henri’s contemporary, Phillip II of Spain, despite all the gold and silver of Mexico and Peru, went bankrupt four times (1557, 1560, 1575, and 1596), and historians suggest that his personal debts were equal to 60% of Spain’s GDP at the time.[5]

Image result for henry viii

The original King of Bling

However, we know why these monarchs went bankrupt – war.  Henry VIII fought wars in 1511, 1513, 1521-25, a rebellion in 1536, spent a bunch of money on coastal defenses against a Franco-Spanish invasion in 1539, invaded Scotland in 1542, France in 1544, and Scotland again in 1545.  Under Francis I and Henri II, France was pretty much constantly at war in Italy between 1494-1559. The Emperor Charles V of Spain (Phillip’s father, and the source of most of the bankruptcies he faced), was constantly at war against the French, the Ottomans, and the Protestant Schmalkaldic League, and kept himself busy conquering most of the New World.  Phillip fought the Ottomans, the Dutch, the Germans, the English, the Pope, and on and on.  Moreover, these wars were fought during the military revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, when armies grew massively in size and expense as they shifted from knights to huge blocs of pikemen and musketeers and artillery.

Beyond that, they also lived lavishly – Henry VIII was mad for building, constructing Nonsuch Palace, and rebuilding the Palaces of Whitehall and Hampton Court.  Charles V and Phillip II poured money into the Alcazar Palace in Madrid.  And we all know how the kings of France liked their palaises and chateaux.

The issue is…we don’t have evidence of either of these causes from Robert Baratheon. Aside from his eponymous rebellion, Robert only fought one war, and that was a limited rebellion that was over and done with inside a year.  Moreover, there is no tradition of mass-infantry standing armies in Westeros; Robert fought his wars with feudal levies, and the great thing about them is you don’t have to pay them.  As for castles, Ragnorak once again points out that “Harren the Black built Harrenhal with the revenues of one of the Seven Kingdoms without bankrupting that kingdom, and Robert didn’t have a remotely similar money drain.”

Simply put, it’s just not possible for Robert to have actually spent Aerys’s reserves plus 2.2 million gold a year without creating some grandiose symbol of his lavish spending significant enough that it would have been mentioned in the text by someone.  We would have had to be seeing massive castles and talk of renovations to many existing castles, huge new public works, and multiple and multi-year wars.

Evidence of Baelish’s Malfeasance

Just as the details don’t add up in regards to Robert’s spending, there are things we learn about Petyr Baelish’s tenure as master of coin – and, before that, as master of customs for the port of Gulltown – that also don’t add up.

Scale of Increase

To begin with, there’s the issue of scale.  As both the master of customs and as master of coin, Littlefinger achieves increases in revenue of unprecedented scale: we’re more familiar with the ten-fold increase as master of coin, but he also achieved the same feat at Gulltown.[6]  This scale of increase, which comes out to 143% per year, without any mention of an increase in tax rates, new taxes (prior to the outbreak of the War of Five Kings), or enhanced enforcement, in such a limited timeframe is highly improbable.[7]  The “Six Sigma” efficiency program at General Electric (which you might remember from the TV show 30 Rock) proudly touts 1.8% in cost savings per year; the once-ballyhooed “Business Process Reengineering” program that was a big business fad in the 1990s tended to get 5% or less savings on average.  Baelish’s figures are orders of magnitude larger than what we see today, at a time when we have far more sophisticated mechanisms for studying and measuring institutions than would be available to the master of coin.

Image result for gulltown

In addition, there’s an interesting discrepancy in these figures: in A Storm of Swords, Lysa Arryn says that “Jon [Arryn] gave him the customs for Gulltown to please me, but when he increased the incomes tenfold, my lord husband gave him other appointments.”[8]  However, in A Clash of Kings, Tyrion says that “Jon Arryn had given him a minor sinecure in customs, where Lord Petyr had soon distinguished himself by bringing in three times as much as any of the king’s other collectors.”[9]  Now it’s entirely possible that George R.R. Martin made a math mistake (it’s been known to happen with the height of the Wall, etc.), but it is suggestive that Baelish’s figures are questionable.

Bribery and Kickbacks

It is well established that Littlefinger was involved in a widespread campaign of corruption in which he took kickbacks from patronage appointments under his purview, who, in turn, accepted bribes to recoup the costs:  “The keepers of the keys were his, all four.  The king’s counter and the king of scales were men he named.  The officers in charge of all three mints.  Harbormasters, tax farmers, custom sergeants, wool factors, toll collectors, pursers, wine factors; nine of every ten belonged to Littlefinger.”[10] Notably, these officials include all the men who look after the physical vaults of the royal treasury, as well as the men who keep track of the number of coins in the royal vaults, as well as their purity.  It also includes the people who collect the various taxes – customs, tolls, harbor fees, and unnamed provincial taxes – owed to the crown, as well as the wine and wool merchants who pay excise taxes on those commodities (wine and wool being historically some of the biggest export/import commodities in the medieval world, along with spices, precious metals, worked cloth, and metalworks).

This systematized corruption extended far beyond the economic bureaucracy under the master of coin – as we learn from Stannis Baratheon in Storm, “[Janos Slynt] may have been the first commander to fatten his purse by selling places and promotions.  By the end, he must have had half the officers in the City Watch paying him part of their wages…  Littlefinger had a nose for gold, and I’m certain he arranged matters so the crown profited as much from your corruption as you did yourself.”[11]

While Robert wasn’t interested enough to do much about it, absent the testimony of murdered witnesses, this kind of corruption has serious consequences.  As Stefan Sasse has pointed out, while we do have evidence of some government bureaucrats (although we don’t know whether they get paid out of general funds or whether they have to collect their own wages), the mentioning of “tax farmers” points to a dangerous situation in which the people collecting royal revenue now not only have to recoup the costs of the tax license, but also a bribe to the man who granted them the tax license, who is also the man who’s keeping the books on what revenue they paid to the crown for their license and what revenue they’re bringing into the crown as its share of their “farming.”

The only way that kind of scheme draws a profit is if tax farmers take in more than they pass on to the king, and, moreover, more than they paid for the license and the kickbacks, and if the factors are getting to avoid taxes they would otherwise have to pay.  Hence, total royal taxation and total royal revenues would be coming below what they would have been without Littlefinger’s system of skimming.

Littlefinger’s Wealth and Diversion of Royal Funds

One of the things we learn about Lord Baelish almost immediately upon being introduced to him in A Game of Thrones is that, in addition to handling enormous sums of money on the king’s account, he’s also a very wealthy man himself – to begin with, he owns several brothels, intends to buy more, and speaks casually of purchasing merchant ships, all of which requires a good amount of capital.  Second, he employs quite a few people to work as spies for him. Third, he casually gambles in the hundreds of gold dragons without worrying about the loss, which suggests that his income is measured in the several thousands.  Fourth, he owns at least one vessel that we know of. Fifth, it’s established that he’s able to lend money at some volume to quite a few noblemen, who like to live high off the hog, and he does so in order to gain political influence rather than to live off the interest – which means that money is a deadweight loss on his books from a financial perspective.

credit to capprotti

At no point do we learn of a legitimate source of his income – Littlefinger’s lands are virtually worthless, and the position of master of coin couldn’t possibly provide enough of an income to account for his financial activity.  His historical counterpart, the chancellor of the exchequer, was paid only £200 a year up until 1685, because the kinds of men picked for the job were universally independently wealthy.  After 1685, this was increased to a mere £1,600 a year.[12]  There’s no way that Littlefinger could generate enough money from what he owns legally to explain his activities.

However, there is an inchoate area of economic activity that could explain his wealth – diversion of royal funds under his care.  As we are told in Clash, Littlefinger uses royal finances in a number of unorthodox areas:

“He did not simply collect the gold and lock in a treasure vault, no.  He paid the king’s debts in promises, and put the king’s gold to work.  He bought wagons, shops, ships, houses.  He bought grain when it was plentiful and sold bread when it was scarce.  He bought wool from the north and linen from the south and lace from Lys, stored it, moved it, dyed it, sold it.  The golden dragons bred and multiplied, and Littlefinger lent them out and brought them home with hatchlings.” (A Clash of Kings, Tyrion IV)

This is highly unusual economic activity – medieval governments didn’t usually invest in real estate, commodities, shipping, and manufacturing, and especially not to the extent of vertical integration that Littlefinger is engaging in from raw material to finished goods.  Moreover, it’s highly unusual for a government institution so deeply in debt to be actively lending out money – after all, if the government has deep enough reserves of cash on hand to be acting as both investor and banker, it must have significant cash flows over its expenditures and, thus, no need to borrow.

Now, supposedly this economic innovation – as Littlefinger is engaging in large-scale commodities speculation and vertical integration of production and distribution – is the source of the ten-fold increase in revenue.  However, we have no way of knowing how much made it into the royal coffers; after all, Littlefinger has purchased the loyalty of the men under him who keep the books and the vaults, and the loyalty of the same merchants who he’s buying and selling and lending to, and he’s the one presenting the figures to the king.  One thing that suggests they aren’t finding their way into the crown’s vaults is that royal incomes don’t seem to be capable of reducing debt, despite sophisticated economic activity on a grand scale.

What we have is a situation in which Littlefinger displays wealth that he couldn’t have gotten legally and is engaging in unorthodox investments on the crown’s behalf at the same time that he himself is making investments on his own account with the same people, in a situation in which he commands the political loyalties of everyone concerned.

And it’s possible that all of this is above-board, but the example of the Antler Men suggests otherwise.  This group of traders and merchants, who planned to open the Old Gate of King’s Landing and allow Stannis’s army to seize the city from the Lannisters, included more than a few names added onto the list by Littlefinger who “had taken loans from the crown.”[13]  One of two things must be true:  if these individuals were actually Antler Men, then they were taking an enormous risk to life and limb to get themselves out from under Baelish; if they weren’t, then Littlefinger was using mass execution to either hide the details of his lending practices or to pour encourager les autres to pay up.  However, unless we attribute this to Littlefinger already trying to destabilize the crown’s finances ahead of his departure to the Vale, this doesn’t make a lot of sense – as Tyrion notes, the mass execution of the crown’s debtors complicates collections from those outstanding loans, as their heirs are going to have every motive to stiff the king.

Either way, it doesn’t exactly make Littlefinger’s borrowing and lending practices look like your normal business practices.  Speaking of which…

Accounting Malpractice

One of the things that pops out at the reader the longer he looks at Littlefinger’s practices as master of coin is that his accounting practices seem incredibly unorthodox to the point that I think they constitute malpractice and, likely, fraud.

To begin with, there’s the fact that Littlefinger “paid the king’s debts in promises, and put the king’s gold to work.”  In other words, rather than doing the prudent thing for a government, which is to try to keep debt as a constant percentage of economic production so that economic growth gradually reduces the relative burden of debt, Petyr Baelish is paying down neither the principle nor the interest on the crown’s loans from its cash on hand – a policy guaranteed to cause an explosion of debt over time as interest keeps compounding.

Image result for petyr baelish book

Moreover, while the phrase “paid… in promises” is somewhat vague, the fact that Littlefinger also borrows large sums of money to pay for current expenditures (which is bad accounting practice; governments are supposed to reserve borrowing for long-term capital expenditures like public works), like the Hand’s Tourney, suggests that he is taking out loans to cover the interest on the original loans, another black mark against proper accounting principles, and a practice that guarantees a further explosion of debt as new loans accrue interest on top of old loans, with no reduction in principle or consolidation of costs.

In addition, it seems clear from Tyrion Lannister’s time as master of coin that Littlefinger has structured his accounts so that they are not legible to anyone above him in the political hierarchy.  Tywin Lannister, a man with a fearsome attachment to the bottom line, understands only that “Crown incomes are ten times higher than they were under Aerys.”  Even Tyrion, one of the best educated and most intelligent players in the game of thrones we meet, finds Baelish’s accounts extremely difficult to understand, as he “tr[ies] to track some golden dragons through the labyrinth of Littlefinger’s ledgers.  Petyr Baelish had not believed in letting gold sit about and grow dusty, that was for certain, but the more Tyrion tried to make sense of his accounts, the more his head hurt.  It was all very well to talk of breeding dragons instead of locking them up in the treasury, but some of these ventures smelled worse than week-old fish.”[14]

What Littlefinger Did and How He Did It

Here’s the explanation of what was going on that best fits the facts:  I think Petyr Baelish realized from the moment he became master of customs at Gulltown that Jon Arryn – and, indeed, every other nobleman in Westeros – didn’t understand finance and that he could put whatever he wanted into his books.  I think he did increase revenues somewhat (but nowhere near ten-fold or, probably, even three-fold) by taking both royal customs and the bribes and kickbacks he took from allowing selected merchants to avoid customs duties, and then using that to borrow at low interest rates, lend at high interest rates, and buy and sell high-value commodities (again, leaning on the merchants who owe him for the pass on customs duties, and probably getting preferable rates as a result), and then diverting a portion of that money back into the customs accounts.

When he got to King’s Landing, I think Baelish realized that he could use the riotous living and the (no doubt) real debts of the king to vastly expand his previous operations. Once he had bought the loyalties of the men responsible for the royal vaults, the royal accounts, tax-collection, and tax-payment, he could easily falsify the books to show a vast increase in the king’s revenues, even when much of the increase was being taken by Littlefinger and his cronies.  This on-paper wealth, added together with King Robert’s reputation for riches, would justify taking out massive loans from House Lannister, House Tyrell, the Faith of the Seven, the Tyroshi, and the Iron Bank.

By diverting both royal and loan revenues into his own account, Baelish was able to amass a concentration of liquid capital on a scale hitherto unseen on a continent in which wealth was primarily found in the land.  This capital was then put to work allowing Littlefinger to become a major speculator in real estate, transportation, prostitution, and commodities, as well as a trans-continental “putting-out” system in the cloth trade, and, crucially, becoming one of the major bankers of Westeros.  Given that many of the men he would be dealing with already owed him favors for being allowed to dodge their taxes (customs duties, excise taxes on wine and wool, etc.), Littlefinger could do so on his own account without the fear that he would be reported.  Indeed, given his mandate to “rub two dragons together to make three,” he was able to do so openly under the guise that these investments were made solely on the crown’s behalf – given that the men who would otherwise have checked on where the investments were going also belonged to him.

Petyr no doubt eked out quite a profit on these investments – historically, many great fortunes were made in the textile industry, banking, real estate, shipping, and commodities, let alone all of them at the same time.  Indeed, he probably made enough money to put the crown’s finances back on a stable footing had he otherwise engaged in good accounting practices.  However, this would not have been in his interest; after all, if the crown’s finances are stable, then Littlefinger is no longer necessary.

Instead, Littlefinger encouraged debt by taking out new loans to pay the interest on the old ones.  This increase of leverage meant that he became absolutely indispensable: the crown now absolutely required a financial wizard to service its debts and maintain economic confidence, just as Jacques Necker became absolutely vital to the French monarchy because its creditors only had confidence in Necker (despite the fact that his “Compte Rendu,” the first public statement of royal finances meant to increase confidence in public finance, was largely fraudulent).  Likewise, his system of diversion of funds meant that, like the proprietor of a Ponzi scheme, when required to make gold “from thin air, with a snap of his fingers,” he could easily provide the necessary funds from the crown’s own revenue or from fresh loans, as he desired.

Conclusion

While these financial manipulations served the short-term purpose of enhancing Littlefinger’s political position within King’s Landing, there’s an irony to all of this that the civil war Littlefinger wanted to happen had nothing to do with the financial house of cards he had created.  Prior to his discovery that Jon Arryn had been investigating the legitimacy of Cersei Lannister’s children, and that this would create the possibility of bringing the Starks, Lannisters, and Baratheons into conflict, Littlefinger had created the perfect scenario for a civil war. All he would have to do is leak accurate financial data, and the Lannisters would march to ensure that their debts were paid, or, if not them, the Faith of the Seven would stir up an insurrection against the crown, or, if not it, the Iron Bank of Braavos would finance an army to topple the king and replace him with someone more committed to loan repayment.

Instead, he stumbled onto a ploy that would allow him to create a civil war and maintain the illusion of financial competency until he was safe in the Vale.  By that point, it would be too late.

[1] A Storm of Swords, chapter 32.

[2] Liam Brunt and Edmund Cannon of the University of Bristol, “A Grain of Truth in Medieval Interest Rates?

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debt-to-income_ratio

[4] A Game of Thrones, chapter 20.

[5] For Henry VIII, see M.A.R. Graves, The Parliaments of Early Modern Europe, p. 81.

For Henri II, see Lucien Romier, La Conjuration, d’Amboise, p. 6.

For Phillip II, see Mauricio Drelichman, “Lending to the Borrower From Hell,” p. 1.

[6] A Clash of Kings, chapter 17; A Storm of Swords, chapter 68.

[7] Littlefinger is master of coin for seven years, a lesser economic bureaucrat in King’s Landing for three, and master of customs for up to a year.

[8] A Storm of Swords, chapter 68.

[9] A Clash of Kings, chapter 17.

[10] Ibid.

[11] A Storm of Swords, chapter 78.

[12] http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=16740

[13] A Storm of Swords, chapter 53.

[14] A Storm of Swords, chapter 53.

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37 thoughts on “By Popular Demand: “Who Stole Westeros?”

  1. Sean C. says:

    This is an area of books where I don’t think I’ll ever quite be satisfied with the answer.

    Because while the argument they Baelish is behind the Crown’s debt makes a lot of sense, there’s a root implausibility to it that I struggle to get past. Namely, I don’t care how sophisticated his financial instruments are or how relatively unsophisticated Jon Arryn et al. were in banking methods: Jon Arryn was Lord of the Eyrie for seemingly at least half a century. He, and other lords like Stannis (who I’m sure is a fastidious penny-pincher in running his household) understand revenue versus expenditure. Even if they don’t understand the ledger, the basic numbers should be barefacedly false if the Crown doesn’t have the volume of expenditure that would justify such a debt. Somebody would have wondered “where exactly is all this money being spent when we aren’t fighting any wars or engaged in any massive public works projects?”

    • Do they? Jon Arryn spent his whole life with maesters and stewards and the like whose job it is to do this stuff for him.

      To give an example: in the brief time I worked as a paralegal, I was on this case involving a bunch of Canadian computer programmers who made a bunch of money when they got bought out by Microsoft and got defrauded by this guy who ran a Ponzi scheme out of Merrill Lynch. He promised them 10% return and guaranteed principal, and these college-educated people who were actually being quite cautious and went to Merrill Lynch because they wanted a safe investment because they needed to pay their taxes didn’t see it coming.

      • Sean C. says:

        Yes, they do.

        Littlefinger has made it widely known that revenues have increased by a factor of ten (supposedly). Arryn has been around a long time. If the Crown was spending more than ten times as much as it did under Aerys, that’s something he would notice. Where’s the money going? He would have a sense of what costs money.

        People can be taken in by promises of gain. When they’re awash in red ink, that’s when you start getting critical. Did nobody at any point ask for a rundown of what all this money is being spent on? Indeed, your article is founded on the premise that what information we have on Robert’s reign is devoid of the kinds of things that drove up medieval budgets.

        Nobody would believe that the USA’s national debt is the result of Obama buying a new diamond-plated Lamborghini each week (okay, maybe FOX News), and Robert holding a tourney every so often wouldn’t pass muster either.

        • Murc says:

          Did nobody at any point ask for a rundown of what all this money is being spent on?

          Yes. We see that in the books. Tyrion Lannister is very, very interested in what all this money is being spent on and he goes right to the documentation.

          And is very, very confused by it.

          Was Jon Arryn smarter than Tyrion Lannister? When he went to Littlefingers books, was he more or less confused by the numbers?

          • This.

            Now keep in mind, Robert probably took on some debts before LF got there. So I think it was an issue where these noblemen were already at the limits of their understanding (I doubt they’ve been educated as to ideal debt to incomes ratios or the like) and here comes someone to help.

            Another good example. Necker, in his Compte Rendu right before the French Revolution, got the entire political and economic elite of France to buy a basically fraudulent report on the French government’s finances.

        • Grant says:

          Really? Because everything we see of most nobles is that they live well, consider looking too much into the figures as not that important, focus on martial values and see wealth in terms of good land. If Baelish is reporting to Jon Arryn that the Vale is getting more money and the Vale actually is getting more money (and more importantly the Arryns are able to maintain their standard of living), then even if the Vale isn’t getting as much as Baelish is reporting Arryn probably won’t notice. What’s he going to do, track down every single financial report, every investment, every merchant and every good to see whether or not it matches the reports?

          He won’t. Jon Arryn was never trained for that kind of financial forensics, he’s a lord ruling an entire region and he has a lot to oversee on a daily basis, everything seems to be prosperous and maybe that Baelish kid is taking a little bit off the top but hey, he’s doing a good job and money-grubbing work like this is a good thing to leave to money-grubbing commoners. In the meantime, Arryn has to work out a very delicate alliance to deal with this nutjob king on the throne, properly raise the Baratheon heir and the Stark boy and keep the Vale under control. And he’s old. He has to get an heir and properly set him up so those conniving minor houses don’t go around causing trouble when Jon Arryn is gone. The figures can definitely wait.

      • Renata says:

        Maester Steven,
        You said that Varys knows about Littlefinger’s embezzlement and that he only allowed it to continue to weaken the Baratheon dynasty. Because Varys can reveal the truth whenever he wants, and once Varys takes control, it would be very easy for him to reveal the truth about Littlefinger’s betrayal, declare his lost possessions, and renegotiate the debts.
        Your reasoning is perfect.
        But is not Varys being overly optimistic when he thinks he can make up for all the embezzlement with Littlefinger’s possessions?
        I mean, Littlefinger’s intention was not only to embezzle, but to create a financial house of cards.
        So, either the embezzlement is going to be too gigantic or Littlefinger has hidden much of his possessions in this point. (Sorry for my English, I dont speak well).

    • Steven Xue says:

      To be fair the amount of extravagant tournaments and feasts thrown year round with 10-20,000 gold dragons as prize money for most competitions, that does add up and I think would give someone very frugal like Stannis the impression that the money is being drained by Robert’s foolhardy generosity and lavish lifestyle. And lets face it Stannis never had any faith in Robert to be even a mildly competent administrator so there’s no reason he wouldn’t blame the mismanagement of the crown’s finances solely at Robert’s feet. And I’m pretty sure Littlefinger whenever he gets probed by the likes of Stannis or Jon Arryn, he would simply deflect it all on the king requiring more money for his hunting trips, lavish toys and tournaments among other frivolous pleasures and anyone questioning him would shrug their shoulders and not inquire any further because as Tyrion finds out auditing Littlefinger’s books is truly a herculean task.

      • Yep.

        It reminds me a lot of how people have problems understanding the frames of reference of the Federal budget in comparison to their own circumstances. $50 million sounds like an unimaginable amount of money, but it’s very hard to wrap your head around how much money $4 trillion is.

        • thatrabidpotato says:

          I remember a blogger once tried to put into physical terms how much $1 trillion is: take ten dollar bills, and stack them ten feet high, over every square inch of a football field.

      • Lucerys says:

        IIRC Stannis was highly suspicious of the financial situation and when addressing Janos Slynt’s Lord Commander candidacy he mentioned bringing accusations against him and other individuals to the small council only for Robert to dismiss his concerns.

  2. thatrabidpotato says:

    No wonder Sam I is late: you’ve been stealthily working on something completely different the whole time! Has something happened to GRRM, because I fear you may be channeling his spirit, Steven.

    In seriousness, though, really interesting.

    • Murc says:

      Steven wrote this years ago. It was previous available only in one of the e-book anthologies; he’s now bringing it to us free of charge because Steven is awesome like that.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Oh, really? I’m a broke student and as much as I would love to contribute to the site there’s only so much money to go around, so I don’t know what’s in Hymn for Spring and other such books.

        • Murc says:

          Neither do I! Not because I do not have the money, but because I refuse to get into the Kindle ecosystem on matters of principle.

          I intend to make up for this by buying Steven’s books when they come out in dead tree form. Indeed, Steven, I would be prepared to pay a premium for a couple of inscribed copies of same.

    • To be fair, Sam is also late b/c I’m also writing Parcel of Rogues Part II.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        Hey, take your time man. At the end of the day, you’ve already covered 2 1/5 books in the time it’s taking GRRM to write one, and every essay’s been brilliant. Look forward to Sam I when you can get it out.

  3. Murc says:

    Dang, Steven. Thank you for freeing this essay from A Hymn for Spring. You should archive it with your economic development essays if you haven’t already. I’d been wanting to read this for many months. Never let it be said you aren’t all about your readers!

    It seems worth noting that the myth of Littlefinger is so well-established among the Lannister/Tyrell coalition, and his machinations are hidden so well, that even after the house of cards begins crumbling around them they don’t actually think to blame him. In AFFC/ADWD, when Cersei Lannister is scrambling around trying to find coin, she only thinks I should get Littlefinger back from the Vale, we need him and never wait a minute… Littlefinger got us into this mess!

    Now, that’s just Cersei, but the Kevan Lannister Regency also seems none the wiser. Kevan, likewise, is scrambling for coin, and he doesn’t think of recalling Littlefinger because by this point Littlefinger is Lord Protector of the Vale and, nominally, is keeping it locked down for the Lannisters, but he also never comes to the conclusion that Littlefinger is the one who put them in this position. All blame seems to accrue to Robert and/or Cersei.

    And that’s very interesting because of the information the Lannisters would have had access to.

    Tywin is Lord of Casterly Rock in addition to being the Hand of the King in ASOS. Cersei nominally holds that position after him, and Kevan was deep in Tywin’s counsels and would have access to all that Lannister information as well. Debt to House Lannister comprises roughly half of all the crowns debts, as cited in Eddard IV:

    “We owe Lord Tywin some three million dragons at present, what matter another hundred thousand?”

    And Tywin, of course, is unwilling to forgive this debt, as seen in Tyrion IV of ASOS:

    “Why? I have seen Littlefinger’s accounts. Crown incomes are ten times higher than they were under Aerys.”

    “As are the crown’s expenses. Robert was as generous with his coin as he was with his cock. Littlefinger borrowed heavily. From you, amongst others. Yes, the incomes are considerable, but they are barely sufficient to cover the usury on Littlefinger’s loans. Will you forgive the throne’s debt to House Lannister?”

    “Don’t be absurd.”

    Also worth noting here: Tywin has seen Littlefingers accounts. He, like his son, has also gone over the written records and just doesn’t have a clue what’s going on here.

    Like I said… this is interesting, because the Lannisters now have access to both the full suite of royal accounts, and also their own accounting books. And the Lannisters, like Robert before them, are having trouble servicing the crowns debts… despite being the crowns primary debtholder!

    What that means is… the Lannisters get to decide when and how the crown pays back House Lannister, because they’re working both sides of that equation. They can literally put that debt into abeyance any time they want, either by forgiving it outright, or by deciding that the throne doesn’t even have to pay the interest on it and they won’t even keep charging interest on it. And again, that’s half of all crown debt.

    So even if they completely de-prioritize the money they owe themselves… the Lannister/Tyrell coalition still can’t service their other debts. They can’t even scrape together the interest; you can be damn sure that if Kevan Lannister could make the interest payments on the Iron Bank part of the debt (and if that’s more than a million gold I’d be surprised; they’re into the Faith for a full million, I have a hard time seeing them being into the Iron Bank for more than a million, million and a half) he would be doing so, and the Iron Bank would be happy to accept that as a show of good faith instead of feeling like it has to go the extreme of backing Stannis Baratheon. Instead, Kevan is having to send his father-in-law to Braavos to beg and plead.

    And Kevan and Mace Tyrell still don’t think to blame Littlefinger. At all.

    Now, some of this can be chalked up to war. The North and the Iron Islands are no longer remitting tax revenue. The Riverlands are in no fit state to provide much revenue even if they are remitting it, and the Stormlands are probably… somewhat indifferent to it at this point as well. I’m sure that Dorne is ponying up because Doran Martell plays a quiet game, as are the Vale, the Reach, and the Westerlands, but the War of Five Kings definitely blew a huge hole in revenues. Still, tho.

    Another thing that doesn’t seem to ever be considered is bankruptcy. Now, maybe that’s because the Lannisters would still like, eventually, to get their moneys back from the crown. But you’d think it would be discussed? It literally doesn’t even come up. Cersei treats the debt that the crown owes the Faith as some kind of, I don’t know, sacred contract? She doesn’t even play the card of “you know, we’re the motherfucking Iron Throne, we can just declare this debt to be nonexistent if we feel like it.” Kevan doesn’t consider this either; when he’s ruminating on whether he’ll have to raise taxes or not, which he super doesn’t want to do, he never thinks “hey, wait a minute. Bankruptcy!” There might be good reasons to not declare bankruptcy, but it isn’t even on the table for them.

    Which brings me to another conclusion.

    Steven, this essay is amazing, one of your best ones. And I think that it’s absolutely on-point and correct.

    I also think it is incorrect at the same time.

    I believe we’re dealing, at the meta level, with another example of what I call “narrative superposition,” where two things are true at the same time. Edmure Tully’s actions at the Battle of the Fords, where he simultaneously was completely in the right based on what we know of Westerosi hierarchy, culture, and authority, but the narrative treats him as completely in the wrong and the people in-universe accept that, are one example, and I think this is another.

    Basically, I think that the reason nobody notices what Littlefinger has done, and does something about it, is because Martin hasn’t thought this through to the extent you have. Martin is famously… I’m not going to say innumerate, that’s deeply insulting, but he famously doesn’t pay that much attention to numbers and infrastructure and first causes and the economic foundations of states and armies. He especially didn’t pay that much attention to it for the first couple of books, although he’s gotten better about this as time goes on.

    I don’t think he sat and considered “for Robert to be spending this much money, he must not just be living la dolce vita, he must be building grand palaces and fighting wasteful wars and rewarding cronies left, right, and center.” I think he thought “Robert is in debt because that’s a great way for me to highlight what an irresponsible ruler, uninterested in governing, he is. I will highlight this by displaying his extravagant lifestyle in the form of a gratuitously unnecessary and costly tourney, and I’ll double-highlight it by having financial wizard Littlefinger unable to keep up with him.”

    Later on, I think his thought process was “Littlefinger truly is a gifted financial wizard, but he’s also corrupt; his books are obfuscated to conceal his embezzlement of portions of these vast new revenues he is generating. And they must be REALLY obfuscated if Tyrion, who I have spent a book and a half demonstrating is one smart cookie, can’t untangle them.”

    And finally, “once Littlefinger no longer gives a shit about the Iron Throne and abandons his job in favor of less competent men, the finances of the crown become absolutely dire while Littlefinger is living large in the Vale.”

    Essentially, I’m prepared to argue that the facts established by the world Martin has built absolutely and completely support your conclusion, but that this is something of an accident; the actual narrative being woven through said world is much simpler and less complicated: namely, that Robert really was a profligate and wasteful spender, and Littlefinger is a crooked bastard who has committed financial malfeasance but has not deliberately and with malice aforethought brought an entire continent to its knees.

    Thank you again for making this essay available. You must have spent so much time on it! Lavish footnotes, in-line links to other sources… you don’t mess around.

    • medrawt says:

      I think what you say is true of a bunch of the ASOIAF commentary out there, in terms of producing more detail than Martin likely had in mind*, but as you say: the text says what it says, and absent the future novels providing information that somehow contradicts or complicates the plain implication of the text, there you go. I’d say it’s a feature of Martin’s worldbuilding that it’s richly detailed enough, and with just enough grounding in real-world parallels to justify some of the analogical evidence Steven deploys here, to allow this kind of detective work to “legitimately” uncover the most logical explanations for those things which have so far gone unsaid in the text.

      I just finished reading The Name of the Rose, and Eco has an interesting postcript in this edition where he covers several topics related to the novel, his process in writing it, and its reception. He does some gracious “death of the author” stuff in terms of respecting the legitimacy of interpretations he not only didn’t intend, but would find perverse, but he also specifically points out examples readers brought to his attention where the text has content he did not intend. In particular there’s one fascinating moment where William of Baskerville, disillusioned former inquisitor watching an inquisition, mutters to his young comrade that above all else in these matters he fears “haste”. the Inquisitor Bernard Gui, an enemy of William’s, on the same page then proclaims that “Justice is not inspired by haste”. You could say a lot about this juxtaposition, and reach several different conclusions. But Eco says that he was embarrassed when shown the passage because William’s line isn’t in the original manuscript; he quickly inserted it into one of the final drafts to improve the rhythm of dialogue passing between the public events and William’s private conversation, and didn’t realize he had already written Bernard using the same word; the text has a meaning (or several possible meanings) that Eco never intended.

      * Though I’m hesitant to count him out after the first book, which can be quite sloppy about logistics (as well as bearing the ghosts of earlier versions of the story and characters). Given his supposedly haphazard method of plotting and worldbuilding, Martin’s command of consistent detail and foreshadowing is astounding to me. He’s in enough control that people arguing there must be some meaning in a discrepancy about the description of Jeyne Westerling’s hips a thousand pages apart don’t seem completely off-base in their thought process (as opposed to the Euron = Daario people).

    • Glad the essay was worth the wait!

      So regarding Littlefinger’s necessity and ability to slide away from blame: absolutely. It’s especially interesting that Tyrion as Hand, who has the most reason to see LF as a threat to his own personal security, doesn’t think he can do away with LF.

      Regarding the Lannisters, I think the reason they don’t put two and two together is that they think of money in political terms: I’ve got the gold, I lend it out to get the crown to owe me favor. Kevan doesn’t know finance, Tywin actively despises the merchant class so he’s not going to learn it. However, I do find it interesting that an internal write-off doesn’t come up under Cersei, it’s literally debt they owe themselves as that point.

      Regarding bankruptcy, it does come with the Iron Bank, tho. Which is funny, because prior to the Sparrows being re-armed, the Faith is the institution you could probably most afford to stiff, since the crown technically crontrols it.

      And yes, it’s possible I have made this all up, or at least the fine details. However, I do think that GRRM as written enough with regards to LF’s crookedness that there’s some scheme out there and that this is all plausible. If I ever meet the man in person.

      • thatrabidpotato says:

        I don’t know if you have a NotABlog account Steven, but if not you should definitely get one and ask GRRM these things in person. I’d do it for you, if GRRM hadn’t banned me for saying mean things about Syrian “refugees”.

        • Murc says:

          Saying mean things about war refugees is kind of a dick move, my fine friend.

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            Not if you think they’re likely terrorists and our vetting procedures are wholly inadequate. But now we get into politics, so let’s just leave the subject with the observation that I was trying at the time to stay in the realm of “civilized disagreement”, and GRRM apparently didn’t think I’d succeeded.

        • I don’t have a NotABlog account. I was more talking about interviewing him at a con or something

        • Summer says:

          The empirical evidence is strongly in your disfavour.

          Both in the “I think perhaps they would have committed a terrorist attack by now” sense, and also in the “how many people do you imagine even are terrorists at all also have you even SEEN the US refugee vetting procedure?!?”

          also ISIS hates refugees because they prove its attempted state is somehow not paradisaical. 😐

          • thatrabidpotato says:

            I could write an essay the length of anything Steven’s ever produced about why you’re wrong and Syrian “refugees” are distinctly a threat, but this is not the place. Let’s all just drop it.

          • Murc says:

            And goddamn near every word of it would be wrong.

            You’re the one who swooped in and started implying that refugees from brutal sectarian warfare somehow aren’t legitimate refugees by putting the word in what were either scare quotes or sarcasm quotes. You don’t want people to push back against that kind of ridiculous bullshit? Don’t start none, won’t be none.

      • Murc says:

        It’s especially interesting that Tyrion as Hand, who has the most reason to see LF as a threat to his own personal security, doesn’t think he can do away with LF.

        I believe you, and indeed many others, have mentioned a time or two that that plot thread kind of peters out; Littlefinger actively attempts to frame Tyrion for murder, Tyrion finds out about this and resolves to investigate, and it kind of… goes nowhere.

        Tywin actively despises the merchant class so he’s not going to learn it.

        I actually think Tywin is likely to know more about finance than a lot of lords. He grew up watching merchants and lesser lords fuck his father over, and spent a lot of his youth taking revenge and making things “right.” I think he’d have learned quite a lot about debt and interest and finance in the course of figuring out precisely who was taking the most advantage of House Lannister and making them pay for it.

        He’ll still be outclassed by Littlefinger, tho. Littlefinger may be deeply flawed as a conspirator when it comes to other aspects of the game of thrones, but he is a genuine financial savant. If he used his powers for good instead of evil he’d be another Corlys Velaryon, a man who briefly eclipsed even the Lannisters when it came to filthy lucre.

        However, I do find it interesting that an internal write-off doesn’t come up under Cersei, it’s literally debt they owe themselves as that point.

        Cersei nothing, it’s interesting it doesn’t come up under Kevan.

        Kevan is a thoughtful, intelligent, diligent man who is very, very concerned about the crown’s lack of gold and revenue and the trouble he is having servicing its debt; indeed, worry about this comprises a lot of word count in his one POV chapter.

        You’d think that… okay. The crown owes six million, let’s call it 6.5 to cover additional expenses incurred since AGOT like Cersei’s warfleet.

        House Lannister controls three million of that: Kevan can put on his Regent hat and say “House Lannister, can we forgo all payments until we’re back on our feet?” and then put on his House Lannister hat and say “Why yes you can, my lord regent, glad to help.” That gets you down to 3.5.

        Cersei got the Faith to forgive its portion of the debt. Let’s round up a bit and say that’s a million, that gets you down to 2.5 that are owed to a collection of other creditors and… the Iron Bank.

        Now, if I’m Kevan Lannister, what I do at this point if I still can’t cover expenses is stiff the little fish and go to the Iron Bank with whatever I can scrape together, possibly even kicking in some House Lannister money, and be all “here’s a hundred thousand as a show of good faith. We’re still sorting out this whole civil war thing. Can we have some easier terms until that happens?”

        It is possible that Kevan doesn’t fear the Iron Bank enough; you could write him that way if you wanted to, the Iron Bank hasn’t had a huge impact on Westerosi history and politics and you could have him be like Cersei, “they’re just another bank.” But that clearly isn’t the case; Kevan is more concerned about the Iron Bank than almost anything else and is dispatching his father-in-law to treat with’em.

        And yes, it’s possible I have made this all up, or at least the fine details. However, I do think that GRRM as written enough with regards to LF’s crookedness that there’s some scheme out there and that this is all plausible.

        Oh, yes, absolutely. Could easily go either way. The beauty of this essay is that it not only fits the facts, it fits the facts better than the more simple explanation I feel the narrative itself is pushing. This is more than plausible; it’s actually at this point preferable.

        For myself, I do think Littlefingers crookedness is going to come up as a major plot point, but I think it is going to be in the context of whatever localized scheme he has running in the Vale re: those import/export controls he’s imposed, rather than in the context of a hypothetical grand conjob. I think that part of his story is “behind” him, as it were.

        • Hedrigal says:

          I have to assume that the Iron Bank would only take the Lannisters back at the same or harsher terms than they had to deal with before Cersei ruined the relationship. They made the fairly drastic choice to back Stannis against the Lannisters, and in the short term I doubt good faith gestures will work to repair the relationship. The Iron Bank has committed elsewhere, and the instability in Kings Landing doesn’t really help anything given how in less than a year they have switched from Cersei’s coterie to the Kevan/Mace duumverate, and they have no reason to think leadership won’t shift yet again.

      • Steven Xue says:

        I think the reason why Littlefinger has gotten away with it for so long is because aside from being an indispensable wizard of finance, he probably also does a good job at masquerading as the dutiful treasurer trying to reign in the excesses of his monarch. He essentially puts on airs as one of those concerned accountants/financial managers to rich celebrities you see in pop culture who spend more than they bring in, and its their accountants/financial managers who have to urge them to be more careful with how they spend their money or go bankrupt, and their council always gets fallen on death ears.

        I bet Littlefinger does this a lot and he does it so well that its enough to fool most people who would otherwise suspect him of embezzlement. During Small Council meetings he probably does bring up how the Crown is wasting this much money, how they need to cut spending to balance the budget, only to then move the goal posts by changing the agenda of like how the dungeons of King’s Landing need new jailers, the Goldcloaks need new equipment and the Court needs new staff or demand a pay raise and so forth and how they’ve got to borrow more money to pay for all that. And of course nobody on the council would suspect Littlefinger of any funny business because none of them understand finance as well as he does and he’s the one who’s actually been bringing it up. Why would he do that unless he genuinely is concerned about the kingdom’s debt ceiling and wanting to make fiscal reforms.

    • thatrabidpotato says:

      I’m actually in agreement with you about what seems to have happened here, and in agreement with medrawt that this is just further part and parcel of the glory of ASOIAF: Martin has created a universe so mindblowingly rich and detailed that this kind of in depth analysis is possible, fits the facts, and indeed tells a better story than he meant to tell originally.

  4. I must say it really is impressive the work you put into this, especially as I barely understand a lot of this, economics is more the area of my father and brother while I’m more history and literature. Though I suppose the complications of economics is sort of the point here, most people, even nobles, won’t understand it, and thus LF has an advantage, putting his own particular set of skills towards creating long-term chaos, while making himself invaluable to the economy of King’s Landing. Even Tyrion, one of the smartest people in the series, can only understand that Baelish’ finances can’t be understood, though suspects something is rotten in the city of King’s Landing.

    Yep this is certainly true. LF was behind the bankrupting of the Kingdom. It fits. Robert is too busy spending and partying to notice the rot that has crept into his Kingdom. At first Robert comes across as a jolly, friendly monarch, and we hear things are pretty good under him. As the book progresses and as you look back you realize just what a bad man and bad monarch he was. Not bad in the scale of Aerys and Tywin. But neglectful and abusive, even to his ‘children’… and his actual children. His spending helped Baelish cover up their finances.

    And of course it’s why he would be terrified of the idea of Stannis gaining more power. I don’t like it when people use Baelish’s talk to Ned as evidence for why Stannis shouldn’t succeed, LF clearly does not have the best interests of the realm at heart, it’s his own personal interests threatened. An austere guy like Stannis would soon realize something was wrong with the finances and then Baelish will be losing more then his position as Master of Coin. After the incest Stannis might have moved on to going over the finances, we know him and Jon Arryn were trying to take steps to repair the problems, such as Janos Slynt (seriously Robert, if you execute a corrupt Officer the next guy in that position will probably be less eager for corruption).

    Though on the subject of the Antler Men couldn’t the Crown seize all their property on the (false of course) grounds of treason? Or would their heirs hide their property or flee the city later? Or are we later going to hear of the Antler Men’s families joining Aegon? I wouldn’t mind some mention of that in the last books.

    Anyway, your essays are always great to read. Even something like this that I have such trouble understanding is still really interesting from a literary perspective, addressing the themes of the books such as the difficulty of ruling.

  5. […] Season 7’s over, my essay about LF’s schemes is up, and Sam I is around 11,000 words long (contender for longest ever, to be sure!). I’m still […]

  6. rekker says:

    My only thoughts on this is why would LF want to sit on the throne of a bankrupt monarchy?
    Unless he knew it really wasn’t bankrupt because he hid all the money.

  7. Ioseff says:

    What I will never understand is why Cersei never try to convince Littlefinger to make Robert ask debts ONLY to the Lannisters, this way, the Baratheons would be highly, absolutely dependent on them, instead of going to the Faith, the Iron Bank, the Tyroshi and Pentoshi cartels, House Tyrell, etc. I just will never understand that. I can even understand waiting that the Crown gets indebted to those and when the debt is half a million, have it bought by House Lannister, so now they can charge great interest and all.

    And yeah, Cersei is no economist, neither I am. She is knowledgeable to a higher degree than I on political abilities though, so if I thought that, there shouldn’t be any problem for her. Of course, without those debts, GRRM couldn’t have rearmed the Faith, made the Iron Bank call up their loans, etc.

    But I guess since I posted this too late, I shall not get an answer.

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