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Ranks of nobility in Westeros - Dukes, counts and barons in all but name

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So in recent threads we have had some interesting discussions around trying to figure out how the hierarchy of the nobility works in Westeros. Having pondered on it a bit, and after doing some research, I came to the conclusion that there is a fairly logical correlation of the Westerosi system to the real world Medieval noble ranking system, despite the lack of clear titles next to a lord's name.

Firstly, we know that Martin deliberately stayed away from the minefield of assigning a complicated set of titles to the hundreds, or more likely thousands, of lords he has created across the Seven Kingdoms. This is confirmed by the 2008 quote from him below:

"The number of titles of medieval nobility multiplied over times, as the feudal system became more complex and the social structure more layered, with various degrees of precedence, etc. In the earlier periods -- say, England around the time of Henry I and William II Rufus -- all those different titles did not exist. I prefered the simplicity of those times. In hindsight, I probably should have added a least one more title to differentiate the great houses from their vassals, but I am glad I stayed clear of using the whole roster of noble stylings".

So it is clear that he stayed away from titles largely as a matter of convenience. But that there are different levels of lords is nevetheless clear. He just wants the freedom to write the interactions of various lords as his narrative demands, unconstrained by having assigned a certain level of title to lord X or Y back in Book 1, and now being constrained by that when he wants to take the plot in a certain direction in Book 5 or 6. So in short, he has certain broad levels in mind, but he doesn't want to have to research what each title would imply in any particular social interaction in the plot.

The above quote does state that he feels that there is not enough of a distinction between the Great Houses and their vassals, however. And this is corroborated by another 2008 quote from him below:

"Sansa is more than just a young lady. She's the daughter, not just of a noble, but of one of the most powerful nobles in Westeros. The great houses stand far above the lesser nobles, as the lesser nobles do above the smallfolk".

So we can see that there is a hierarchical structure in place with the ruling Houses of each region in undisputed first place, far above any of their vassal lords. The hierarchy below the level of Great House is further fleshed out in this 2002 statement from George, in answer to a question on the social structure of Westeros:

Q: "I am also a bit curious as to the social structure of westeros. I understand the seven high lords, and the slightly lower lords (ie. Boltons, Karstarks, Freys etc.). However, do these lords also have sub lords below them? Lords who maybe raise 10 or 20 men for the Karstarks?"

A: "Yes, it is a feudal system. The lords have vassals, the vassals have vassals, and sometimes the vassals of the vassals have vassals, down to the guy who can raise five friends."

So, what we are left with is a pretty clear picture, in my view, on how the noble structure works in Westeros. And by doing some quick Wikipedia searches on various noble titles from the Middle Ages, it is even possible to assign the most likely titles that can be attributed to the various lords based on the evidence at hand. I will use the North as my example, as this is the region I - and probably all of us - know the most about as far as individual lords' domains are concerned.

Grand Duke: House Stark - The monarchic title Grand Duke (feminine: Grand Duchess) ranked in order of precedence below Emperor and King, and above that of sovereign Prince and sovereign Duke. It is or was used in some independent nations or states in Europe. It arose because the title of Duke had gradually lost status and precedence during the Middle Ages by having been granted to rulers of relatively small fiefs (feudal territories), instead of the big tribal regions or even nation territories to which the title was once attached.

So it seems to me that this ties in very well with George's comments about the ruling Houses being so far above other nobles that they are effectively Kings in all but name. They are former Kings after all, and Grand Duke is the closest you can get to their status, in the Medieval noble list of rankings.

Count: Houses Umber, Karstark, Bolton, Manderly, Hornwood, Mormont, Dustin, Ryswell, Reed, Flint, Locke, Slate, Cerwyn - Count (male) or countess (female) is a title in European countries for a noble of varying status, but historically deemed to convey an approximate rank intermediate between the highest and lowest titles of nobility. The British and Irish equivalent is an earl.

A count was essentially in charge of a county, which was a large area of territory that formed a constituent part of a Duchy. I think this ties in very well with what we know of the Umbers ruling land for a hundred leagues next to the Kingsroad and the Bay of Seals, the Dustins ruling the Barrowlands, The Ryswells ruling the Rills, the Reeds ruling the Neck, and so on and so forth.

Baron/Baronette: Various lower level lords sworn to the Counts. The ruler of a barony. A modern geographic barony, in Scotland, Ireland and outlying parts of England, constitutes an administrative division of a country, usually of lower rank and importance than a county. Baronette: A lord of lesser stature than a Baron.

These seem to be petty lords in the North, such as House Stout. A Baronette is of a lower level than a Baron and this is the level where most of the confusion in Westeros exists, as there seems to be some fluidity between Barons and Baronettes. Martin does not seem to distinguish between them, and rather uses a kind of sliding scale, depending on the actual power and strength of the individual lord. So Barons and Baronettes may be largely the same thing in name, although the term "petty lord" may be used colloquially to refer to what would be a Baronette in the real world.

Knight: The basic rank of the aristocratic system. This is the lowest level and would effectively be the Landed Knights and then below them the Household Knights of Westeros. AT the lowest level would be the Hedge Knights, travelling around in search of employment.

So in conclusion, I think that while Martin has not assigned titles overtly, he has nevertheless imlicitly given us the information to construct the general social order of Westerosi nobility. And it goes, from top to bottom, with a single example included for explanatory purposes:

Grand Duke: House Stark

Count: House Dustin

Baron/Baronette: House Stout

Landed Knight: One of the hundred landed Knights sworn to House Manderly

Household Knight: Ser Rodrik Cassell

Hedge Knight: The Mad Mouse (not Northern, but the only example I can recall).

Of course there are many unique Houses - due to their specific histories, past deeds, connections to the Crown etc. who don't fit precisely into this structure. But they merely make the setting richer, and shows us the exceptions to the general system, rather than negating the system that nevertheless is in place. Examples of these would be the Mountain Clans, the Skagosi lords, the Glovers and Tallharts who are Masterly Houses, and of course the many similar examples in the South, which I have not delved into for purposes of this initial post.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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2 minutes ago, Ser Something said:

Seems good to me!

Though, what do you mean by Glover and Tallhart being 'Masterly Houses'?

They are apparently not Lords but Northern equivalents of very powerful Landed Knights, called Masterly Houses.

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4 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

They are apparently not Lords but Northern equivalents of very powerful Landed Knights, called Masterly Houses.

Where is this info from?

Just looked at the cast list at the back of one of the books, we have 'Master of Deepwood Motte' listed between 'Lord of Karhold' and 'Lady of Bear Island'.

Do you have any other info beyond these cast lists?

Interesting, I would argue perhaps they are lords like the rest of them, but for some reason Deepwood Motte and Torrhen's Square also give their rulers the title 'Master of-'. These places are just castles, right? For the former, it could be perhaps something to do with Deepwood Motte's position in the wolfswood. Perhaps the ruler of Deepwood Motte has a certain responsibility over large swathes of the forest, giving him the additional title 'Master'?

Also, household knights in the north.... As we know, knights aren't that common in the north, Ser Rodrik seems to be one of the few exceptions to the rule. What do you think the equivalent title or position would be when they don't worship the Seven? Just 'household man'?

Is a household knight just a loyal, well-equipped retainer with an upjumped title? Perhaps just because his lord knighted him at some point in the past? So you could be Dave the archer, who has been in the service of Lord Mooton for all his life, rises through the ranks a bit to become commander of Mooton's household archers at the age of 30. He fights very bravely in some battle, perhaps helps defend his Lord from harm, and is knighted for it? Leading to Ser Dave, a household knight of Maidenpool. 

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Works for me, in general. The specifics are way more complicated though. I's rather use "Elector" for the Lords Paramounts, due to the Seven Kingdoms more closely resembling the HRE, and a bunch on details down below.

 

"Master of XY" lacks the lordly right of pits and gallows (and some additional ones), tying them closer to their liege. In the South, they would be called by their knightly title, with the masterly one being just a backup, but the Northmen lack knights.

 

A household knight is a younger son of a landed knight or a Lord, who got the full education, training and initial equipment, but not the lands snce those went to his big brother. Instead he takes service (elsewhere) and gets his bills paid that way.

Knights being made knights for bravery exist, but are exceedingly rare.

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15 minutes ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

I's rather use "Elector" for the Lords Paramounts, due to the Seven Kingdoms more closely resembling the HRE, and a bunch on details down below.

Not really. Their weren't many wars and succession crisis in Westeros compared to the HRR (especially since only two dynasties ever competed for the thrown), and the king isn't elected.

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Several Great Councils disagree. Westeros resembles the stronger periods of the HRE, not the weak emperors you refer to.

 

But the true kicker is the independence the Lords Paramounts show. And of course that "Grand Duke" is not a medieval title. Up until Napoleon rubberstamped a bunch of those, only the Grand Duke of Tuscany existed. Neither would "Archduke" help, because that applied solely to members of the Habsburgs, not to the more indepent electors or other important rulers.

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But Great Councils were never institutionalized. And for example many french lords showed a great deal of independence too, that's not a unique characteristic of the Holy Roman Empire. 

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24 minutes ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

Several Great Councils disagree. Westeros resembles the stronger periods of the HRE, not the weak emperors you refer to.

 

But the true kicker is the independence the Lords Paramounts show. And of course that "Grand Duke" is not a medieval title. Up until Napoleon rubberstamped a bunch of those, only the Grand Duke of Tuscany existed. Neither would "Archduke" help, because that applied solely to members of the Habsburgs, not to the more indepent electors or other important rulers.

Yeah, Duke is really what is meant, rather than Archduke, especially given that Houses Stark and Lannister were really based on the Dukes of York and Lancaster in England, originally. The term Archduke was introduced later when the original meaning of "Duke" was devalued by smaller and smaller fiefdoms being ruled by Dukes. Duke here is used in the highest possible sense, thus the term "Archduke"  being used to try and portray the very high status of the position in Westeros.

Of course what they really are, is a bunch of conquered Kings, who are now ruled by a High King. These conquered Kings then rebelled and tossed this High King aside, only to voluntarily agree to submit themselves to his replacement, who was chosen from their own ranks, by mutual agreement.

Until one or more of the "Dukes" decided to claim independence again, in the recent war of the Five Kings.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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3 minutes ago, John Doe said:

But Great Councils were never institutionalized. And for example many french lords showed a great deal of independence too, that's not a unique characteristic of the Holy Roman Empire. 

It's not a perfect fit, far from it, but it's basically the only one. Unless you truly want to go the 19th century.

1 minute ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Yeah, Duke is really what is meant, rather than Archduke, especially given that Houses Stark and Lannister were really based on the Dukes of York and Lancaster in England, originally. The term Archduke was introduced later when the original meaning of "Duke" was devalued by smaller and smaller fiefdoms being ruled by Dukes. Duke here is used in the highest possible sense, thus the term "Archduke" relaly being used to try and portray the very high status of the position in Westeros.

Of course what they really are, is a bunch of conquered Kings, who are now ruled by a High King. These conquered Kings then rebelled and tossed this High King aside, only to voluntarily agree to submit themselves to his replacement, who was chosen from their own ranks, by mutual agreement.

Until one or more of the "Dukes" decided to claim independence again, in the recent war of the Five Kings.

Duke doesn't fit, because of the association to (mostly) english history, small territory, still very dependant on the king instead of being basically sovereign rulers -  and Archduke doesn't fit because it's a purely habsburgian term, disregarding real power structures, and closely tied to the ruling dynasty without sovereign policy.

 

As you say, kings under a common emperor would fit better. Or the generic princes. Or electors. But no variant of duke.

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5 minutes ago, Bright Blue Eyes said:

As you say, kings under a common emperor would fit better. Or the generic princes. Or electors. But no variant of duke.

Yeah. Agree about the level of independence exceeding that of a traditional Duke. It's just that Duke is the highest ranking available under King, in general.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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@Free Northman Reborn

Hey, there. It's great to see that stuff I write is actually read and takes effect.

I actually thought a lot about those things when we made the new German editions in which a lot of the English names were finally translated. But thanks to me getting on board too late we are still stuck with the title of 'lord' and the honorifics connected to that.

My intention would have been to make the great lords all Herzöge (Dukes) and all the other houses just Barone (Barons). That would stuck pretty much with George's setting. Translating Lord/Lady as 'Herr/Herrin' would sounded very weird in German ears (because it is today the way you talk address somebody in polite conversation, not an noble title).

Perhaps one could have granted the Tyrells the special honorary title of 'grand dukes' and retain the Hightowers as overly powerful vassals and former royalty as dukes as well. But I never put all that much thought into that.

The feudal hierarchy in the Holy Roman Empire allows the Landesherrn (i.e. Herzögen - Dukes - and Fürsten (Princes)) much more power than mere Grundherren (Barone, Freiherren). For instance, the right of pits and gallows wouldn't be granted to mere Grundherren, they are just allowed to exploit their tenants and rule over their lives (permission of marriages, etc.) but they are not allowed to kill them nor do they have the right to conscript them.

Not to mention that a lot of real world nobility in the middle ages were Ministerialis, officials in the service of the emperor or king, or another Landesherr, who oversee fiefs, castles, and other holdings in the name of their lieges, but were still above the commoners, of course. A castellan pretty much is something like that, but in the real world there many more of this sort and their offices could also get hereditary and stuff. The Westeros system of a noble family essentially only holding one castles with very few exceptions is just very unrealistic because power and wealth is always concentrated in very few hands over time, and there is no possible good reason why anyone in Westeros should ever part with a castle, land, or fief he has laid his hands on.

The Holy Roman Empire was essentially a federation of many states, not a state. And in this sense it is unlike Westeros. Which is why I think George was right to not make the Targaryen kings emperors of Westeros. Retaining the great lords as kings would have given the wrong impression that they were actually (semi-)independent which they are not. Power, rights, and justice all come from the king in Westeros, so setting up the great lords as independent princes via their titles would misconstrue things.

More importantly, the honorific 'Your Grace' was the usual styling for the English kings in pre-Tudor times. I think Henry VIII was the first who was addressed as 'Your Majesty'. George clearly wanted to create the atmosphere of early medieval England, not so much a the complexities of the later days.

But if there would have been dukes we would most likely have gotten 'Your Grace' for them while the kings would be addressed with 'Your Majesty', demanding a change in conception.

Therefore one should really make most of the king's noble subjects see barons. They were powerful enough in England to cause major troubles for quite a few Plantagenet kings, after all.

Technically the early dukes were all of royal blood (i.e. all the sons and grandsons of Edward III given such titles) which sort causes problems with the great lords being dukes but not of royal Targaryen blood. But I see no inherent conceptual problem with that because Westerosi dukes would certainly not be the same as English dukes in any case. They would have been hereditary royal officials given charge and oversight in the king's name over various baronies.

There is no problem with there being greater and smaller baronies. Those differences must not necessarily be expressed in titles, especially considering that George also has his petty lords and landed knights categories.

George's intention never was to confuse the reader with to intricate a feudal hierarchy. And as I've said before titles do not necessarily express the real power structure. One could have all sorts of fancy titles dating back to the petty kings of old for the Brackens, Blackwoods, Mootons, Darklyns, and so on without them having all that much real power now. There are echoes of such thinking in the later books with the long string of the Manderly titles and the honorific 'the Bloodroyal' for the Yronwoods.

But the Freys are new men, essentially, yet have grown very powerful. But they would still be normal barons just as anybody else. Unless we go with the weird assumption that the Crown always updates titles to mirror the real power structure.

Renly and Stannis easily could have been made royal dukes by Robert, by the way.

The idea that the Great Council is some sort constitutional institution or has a general right to elect a king makes no sense at all. It is just an assembly of the lords which can advise the king on his terms or give their opinion on a muddled succession but that's it. And the succession is always discussed on the basis on princes of the blood, no non-royal claimants were ever considered as claimants to the Iron Throne (or any other kingship in Westeros).

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3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

@Free Northman Reborn

Hey, there. It's great to see that stuff I write is actually read and takes effect.

I actually thought a lot about those things when we made the new German editions in which a lot of the English names were finally translated. But thanks to me getting on board too late we are still stuck with the title of 'lord' and the honorifics connected to that.

My intention would have been to make the great lords all Herzöge (Dukes) and all the other houses just Barone (Barons). That would stuck pretty much with George's setting. Translating Lord/Lady as 'Herr/Herrin' would sounded very weird in German ears (because it is today the way you talk address somebody in polite conversation, not an noble title).

Perhaps one could have granted the Tyrells the special honorary title of 'grand dukes' and retain the Hightowers as overly powerful vassals and former royalty as dukes as well. But I never put all that much thought into that.

The feudal hierarchy in the Holy Roman Empire allows the Landesherrn (i.e. Herzögen - Dukes - and Fürsten (Princes)) much more power than mere Grundherren (Barone, Freiherren). For instance, the right of pits and gallows wouldn't be granted to mere Grundherren, they are just allowed to exploit their tenants and rule over their lives (permission of marriages, etc.) but they are not allowed to kill them nor do they have the right to conscript them.

Not to mention that a lot of real world nobility in the middle ages were Ministerialis, officials in the service of the emperor or king, or another Landesherr, who oversee fiefs, castles, and other holdings in the name of their lieges, but were still above the commoners, of course. A castellan pretty much is something like that, but in the real world there many more of this sort and their offices could also get hereditary and stuff. The Westeros system of a noble family essentially only holding one castles with very few exceptions is just very unrealistic because power and wealth is always concentrated in very few hands over time, and there is no possible good reason why anyone in Westeros should ever part with a castle, land, or fief he has laid his hands on.

The Holy Roman Empire was essentially a federation of many states, not a state. And in this sense it is unlike Westeros. Which is why I think George was right to not make the Targaryen kings emperors of Westeros. Retaining the great lords as kings would have given the wrong impression that they were actually (semi-)independent which they are not. Power, rights, and justice all come from the king in Westeros, so setting up the great lords as independent princes via their titles would misconstrue things.

More importantly, the honorific 'Your Grace' was the usual styling for the English kings in pre-Tudor times. I think Henry VIII was the first who was addressed as 'Your Majesty'. George clearly wanted to create the atmosphere of early medieval England, not so much a the complexities of the later days.

But if there would have been dukes we would most likely have gotten 'Your Grace' for them while the kings would be addressed with 'Your Majesty', demanding a change in conception.

Therefore one should really make most of the king's noble subjects see barons. They were powerful enough in England to cause major troubles for quite a few Plantagenet kings, after all.

Technically the early dukes were all of royal blood (i.e. all the sons and grandsons of Edward III given such titles) which sort causes problems with the great lords being dukes but not of royal Targaryen blood. But I see no inherent conceptual problem with that because Westerosi dukes would certainly not be the same as English dukes in any case. They would have been hereditary royal officials given charge and oversight in the king's name over various baronies.

There is no problem with there being greater and smaller baronies. Those differences must not necessarily be expressed in titles, especially considering that George also has his petty lords and landed knights categories.

George's intention never was to confuse the reader with to intricate a feudal hierarchy. And as I've said before titles do not necessarily express the real power structure. One could have all sorts of fancy titles dating back to the petty kings of old for the Brackens, Blackwoods, Mootons, Darklyns, and so on without them having all that much real power now. There are echoes of such thinking in the later books with the long string of the Manderly titles and the honorific 'the Bloodroyal' for the Yronwoods.

But the Freys are new men, essentially, yet have grown very powerful. But they would still be normal barons just as anybody else. Unless we go with the weird assumption that the Crown always updates titles to mirror the real power structure.

Renly and Stannis easily could have been made royal dukes by Robert, by the way.

The idea that the Great Council is some sort constitutional institution or has a general right to elect a king makes no sense at all. It is just an assembly of the lords which can advise the king on his terms or give their opinion on a muddled succession but that's it. And the succession is always discussed on the basis on princes of the blood, no non-royal claimants were ever considered as claimants to the Iron Throne (or any other kingship in Westeros).

This is the one area you seem particularly partial to, for some reason. Which is that the lords are all lords of the same level, regardless of whether they are Lord Rowan or Lady Webber. And with the real distinction being between the levels of lords and the almost Divine level of Royalty.

And even when, in another thread, we showed you the quote from George himself where he emphasized that Sansa being from House Stark was as far above lesser lords as lesser lords are above smallfolk, you initially expressed disagreement with that, stating that this is not reflected in the text, or some such objection. And only after that quote do you seem to have grudgingly placed the Great Lords at a level equivalent to Duke, while still going to great lengths to demonstrate how subservient they are to the Crown, and how they really should have had Targaryen blood to be true Dukes.

And then after making the grudging concession that indeed the Lords Paramount are of a higher level of nobility than other Lords, you immediately fall back into your earlier argument of placing all the remaining lords at the same level (which in your system would be barons). Making everyone from Lord Umber to Lady Webber a Baron. This is simply not the case.

The Umbers, Karstarks, Rowans, Freys etc. are far more equivalent to Counts or Earls in terms of the intermediate step down in power and holdings to them from the "Dukes" above, than they are to Barons.

A Lord Rowan and Lady Webber are not on the same level. A Lord Rowan and Karstark are on the same level, but Lady Webber is clearly a massive step down from there. One would be a Count or Earl, and the other a Baron.

Your system is simply too flat. George has not provided us with titles, for the sake of simplicity, but it is clear that the hierarchy is there.

In short, I think you are too invested in the power of the Iron Throne and the relative equivalence of all Lords that fall below the level of Crown, as if they all just exist at the Crown's sufferance. In truth, once you took Dragons out of the equation, it turns out that the Crown has already been overthrown once, and only been reinstated based on the will of the "Dukes".

And less than a decade after that experiment, the first Duke (Balon Greyjoy) rose up against that reinstated Crown, and 15 years into the "elected" Crown's existence, three of the eight Dukes (Robb Stark, Edmure Tully and Balon Greyjoy) rejected it again in the War of the Five Kings, with two remaining neutral (House Arryn and House Martell) and only three supporting it (Houses Lannister, Baratheon and Tyrell).

This war is not yet over and it is clear that this Crown's power is not nearly as absolute as some make it out to be, and is in fact greatly dependent on "rule by consensus of the Grand Dukes".

In short, the hierarchy is not flat. The most powerful figures are the "Dukes". With clear tiers below them. And if there is any practical flattening of the structure, it is between the levels of Duke and King on the Iron Throne. In the time of the current series, the King is extremely reliant on the practical support of the Dukes, and cannot simply rule by decree if he hopes to retain his position indefinitely.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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It's houses like Hightower, Dayne, Velaryon, Rowan, Blackwood, Yronwood, Mallister, and Royce that strike me as being entitled to the rank of Duke or Marquess. I see the great houses being princes in all but name as the Martells are.

The houses on Earl/Count level (I'm focusing on the south since the north has been covered) seem like they would be Tarly, Penrose, Frey, Florent, Celtigar, Allyrion, Swann, Bracken, and Blackmont.

I do wish that GRRM had made the system a little bit more intricate at least in terms of the great houses because I agree that there's a clear difference between a house like the Hightowers and the Cranes.

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16 minutes ago, Rhaechyll Targaryen said:

It's houses like Hightower, Dayne, Velaryon, Rowan, Blackwood, Yronwood, Mallister, and Royce that strike me as being entitled to the rank of Duke or Marquess. I see the great houses being princes in all but name as the Martells are.

The houses on Earl/Count level (I'm focusing on the south since the north has been covered) seem like they would be Tarly, Penrose, Frey, Florent, Celtigar, Allyrion, Swann, Bracken, and Blackmont.

I do wish that GRRM had made the system a little bit more intricate at least in terms of the great houses because I agree that there's a clear difference between a house like the Hightowers and the Cranes.

How do you figure that the Blackwoods and Mallisters are a tier ahead of the Brackens?

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@Free Northman Reborn

Well, I guess that has to do with me being somewhat reluctant to actually rewrite the story or to add meaning where is none intended by the author (I mean, I actually do stuff like that when working on the German editions of the books).

I see that the great lords should be (and are) set apart from the other lords, but the intricate feudal relationships and hierarchies between the vassals of the great houses is completely unclear to us as readers.

I mean, assume we'd have had such a discussion when only AGoT was out and we would do this on the basis of the appendix of that book then the Fossoways or Templetons might have become counts/earls, right?

And just look how different the interpretations are. We all agree that the great lords should be set apart from the others but how exactly there is no consensus.

The problem with the smaller houses adds the problem that lords/houses that are just mentioned in passing are difficult to pin down. Would house x first introduces in book y fit into the baron or count category?

In regards to the status of Sansa I argued against George's own interpretation of things on the basis that he did not include any honorific or title to set Sansa apart from all the other girls and women styled 'my lady'. That is a problem. If we had truly established different titles for the lords in the German edition then the children of the dukes and counts would all have become 'princes' and 'princesses' because in the German sphere any children of ruling nobility on that tier were entitled to be styled in this fashion.

Thus Sansa and the Frey daughters (if the Freys are earls) both would have become princesses. Partly also because rank-wise counts were on the same tier as dukes. This would have all gotten very confusing.

I mean, we don't know how powerful or wealthy the various mid-tier houses are, or who is necessarily sworn to whom. I'd have to check, but weren't a lot of Reach houses re-invented as vassals of the Hightowers in the appendix of AFfC?

If I understand you correctly you would want to have different titles for each different level of nobility. Anyone sworn to a vassal's vassal should have a different title than the vassal of a vassal, right? That could work if George gave us a full list of all the houses and their feudal relations but we don't have such a thing.

And inventing (or rather adopting various real world feudal titles and relations) might actually misconstrue George's intentions because his work don't include such titles.

As to the power of the Iron Throne:

You really read the book wrong. King Robert Baratheon is in charge. He grants and withholds titles as he sees fits, in his name justice is dispensed, even in the North. It is him and his wrath Catelyn fears when she urges Ned to accept his offer. And then, when Ned is Hand he can do anything against Robert's will.

This is by no means resembling the HRE. There the emperor was essentially nothing but a figurehead and he had no right to interfere with the internal matters of all the princes (which included princes, dukes, and counts). Not to mention that he didn't get any money or taxes from them or from the people trading in the lands of his subjects.

This is not true for the Westerosi society. Here the king is actually 'the king'. He is in charge. He gives commands, and he is obeyed. England may not have been an absolute monarchy in the earlier Plantagenet days, but the monarch's person was always 'holy' in a sense, thanks to his coronation. That was a trait going back to Anglo-Saxon days (and is also existent in Westeros).

Whatever titles one tries to use in one's head (because we are not going to change the books) should best reflect how things actually are in the books and you can guess at that best by checking how relations of power are actually described in the books.

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Houses like Dayne and hightower make is especially complicated. House Dayne is incredibly old and incredibly noble. The reason they do fealty to the Martells has everything to do with the Martells bending the knee to Aegon first (if I am remembering correctly, correct me if I am wrong). I can reasonably see a Dayne looking down his nose at the Martells based on the fact that their power derives from their willingness to surrender.  With the Hightowers it is similar. They are maybe the oldest (and if not one of the top 3 oldest) noble families in Westeros. They were sworn to the Kings of the Reach prior to the Tyrells and if not for the field of fire and harlen tyrell, the hereditary stewart,  subsequently surrendering highgarden to Aegon the Hightowers might have been the Lord Paramount of the Mander. 


So while families like Hightower and Dayne do their fealty to houses like Tyrell and Martell respectively, depending on the current political landscape, they may actually be more powerful than their feudal lords. It isn't as clear cut for houses like that as it is houses like Glover, Karstark and Umber which do Fealty to the Starks.

Like Catelyn says about Walder Frey, some people take their oaths more seriously than others. The lords of the crossing, when push come to shove, and in certain circumstances can hold their leige lords hostage.

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1 hour ago, thelittledragonthatcould said:

How do you figure that the Blackwoods and Mallisters are a tier ahead of the Brackens?

I went back and forth on this one but I can see Missy being instrumental in getting the house a bump in status including a title bump kind of like how Barbara Castlemaine did because of her relationship with Charles II. I can see the Brackens totally being resentful of something like this and since GRRM seems to refer the Blackwoods to the Brackens, I can see them edging out the Brackens in this regard if all of these titles were in play in this world. 

With the Mallisters I admit that I was swayed by their words but I also think it's likely that they'd get a bump from the first Aegon for being of assistance during the conquering.

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