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Free Northman Reborn

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

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48 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

I think the error that underlies a lot of your interpretation is that you are too fixated on the Targaryens. And as a result you then insist on interpreting everything else in a kind of trickle-down approach from the Targaryen/Iron Throne as a starting point.

It is a far simpler affair if you look at the state of Westeros as it was for 7700 years, with regional kings, major vassals, their vassals, petty lords and landed knights in layers beneath each King. That is a very nice, tiered system (obviously with its eccentricities, localized exceptions and various Houses with "special" origin stories that place them in somewhat unique positions).

And then add the Targaryens afterwards, as a kind of Imperial House on top. Don't try and change the entire system just because you want to link them all to the Targaryens. I know you like the concept that all power flows from the Iron Throne downwards, and like to have that flow through any narrative that you propose. But in actual fact, the system has existed for thousands of years, and the Iron Throne is a mere added layer on top.

The regional ruling Houses are Kings in all but name, and each region can have its noble classes allocated accordingly, flowing from there. No need to confuse the system by trying to link them all to the so-called Imperial House.

Have you even read my post above? I'm suggesting an imperial model, too, you know, but that would force us to change the system as it was created by George. The other model, the one with the Targaryens establishing a single royal monarchy in Westeros has nothing to do with them but the feudal hierarchy as such. If titles reflect ranks, and if rank is an important concept in such a society, governing pretty much everything in day-to-day life, then it makes no sense for the Starks to have the same title as the Manderlys or Stouts. Titles mark and reflect on rank.

I suggested the possibility of the King on the Iron Throne as an emperor. Then it would make sense not to change the feudal hierarchy beneath it, leaving everything as it were before the Conquest. But if we go with the realties, meaning that there was only one king in Westeros after the Conquest, then this should have had ripple effects on all the other titles in the Seven Kingdoms if there were different titles before the Conquest. Presumably this is the reason why there are no other titles because George wanted to go with a simplified hierarchy.

You cannot think about this and not also consider what happened when a Stark king conquered another kingdom in the North. What titles did the Boltons retain after they gave up their crowns if there were a feudal hierarchy in Westeros? They would likely become dukes, just as the formerly royal Reynes would be under the Lannister regime. Yet after the Lannisters and Starks were demoted this demotion should be passed on downwards or else there would be confusion. Who would take precedence at table etc. if both the Reynes and the Lannisters were royal dukes? And does it make sense that a Lord Paramount holds the same title as one of his subjects? No, that's the very reason why we discuss this topic in the first place. It makes no sense that there is a mere lord is the overlord of another lord.

One could also imagine the Targaryens creating the titles of dukes after the Conquest as a way to distinguish the new great lords from their vassals. Then the various houses beneath the great lords could be earls, counts, barons, and lords, with some fancy marquesses between the earls and the dukes (which could work pretty well for the Hightowers, Redwynes, and other rather powerful former royal houses).

Oh, and it seems you didn't get the newsflash from George's recent talks in Mexico? He actually confirmed there that the Targaryens established an absolute monarchy (using exactly those words) in Westeros with their dragons, and the power of that absolute monarchy only severely eroded in the days of Jaehaerys II (because of his early death), Aerys II (because of his madness), and (most importantly) due to the successful Rebellion (explicitly blamed on a lovesick prince) and Robert's inability to rebuild and maintain the power of the Iron Throne (I think we are all in agreement that King Robert Baratheon doesn't have the same prestige or aura as the Targaryen kings before him). This is George's explanation why there are no powerful institutions besides the Iron Throne in Westeros. There is no parliament or permanent council of the great lords as a counterweight to the power of the Crown, after all. And the Small Council is especially identified as a body that is there to serve the king, too, because the Targaryens had no interest in sharing their power when they build the institutions of their Realm in the dragon days.

The whole thing has been discussed in the last version of the R+L=J thread.

This all fits very well with the way the King on the Iron Throne is introduced in the beginning of the story. It is quite clear that he is seen as the absolute ruler of the Realm, with Ned and Cat both fearing what he might do to them if they displease him. Only when Ned reconnects with his old friend does he slowly realize that Robert isn't ruling anything but allows his advisers to manage his kingdom for him. Ned lives far away from court and didn't know about the state of affair at court. He still thinks the system works as it did in the Targaryen days.

The fact that the Starks apparently had so much leeway in their lands as they have in AGoT is most likely simply because nobody in the South (the Iron Throne included) cares enough about the North to interfere there personally. But that is a special situation in their case. They might have interfered much more directly into the affairs of the other regions outside Dorne. We see how casually and easily even apparent weaker (and dragonless) monarchs like Aegon IV could interfere with the lords they wanted to interfere with. There is no reason to believe the Targaryens couldn't have treated the Lannisters and Starks in similar fashion if they played their cards right. And even Aerys II nearly got away with his demands that Robert and Ned be put down. There were many lords in the Vale, the Riverlands, and the Stormlands following his commands despite the fact that they must have known the man was crazy and that they were (also) supposed to follow their liege lords.

Edited by Lord Varys

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The way I see it would be the following:

The Targaryen would be king then the former kings Stark, Arryn ,Lannister should be Dukes but I think it should also be the title of the newer lords paramount so the Tyrells, Tully's and Greyjoy should also be Dukes. Then would come the other big house like the Manderly, Bolton, Harlaw, Rowan, Royce, Hightower, Yronwood.... they should be Marquess to show theyre old royal blood and big power. Then other main bannermen should be Earls to show that they are still under the ancient lines. The Earls should be like the Frey's, the Mooton, Velaryon, Connington of old, Corbray, most marcher lords. Then Barons, they should be the lowest of lords with no alot of power like the Mormont, Webber maybe the Master's like the Glovers. And then finaly at the very bottom the landed knigth wich dont have any real legal power but can be quite powerfull like the Templeton's. Like that they would be alot more depth in the titles and problems with old royal house would be less likely to happen because they would have a higher title than younger house like the Frey's.

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On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

Oh, and it seems you didn't get the newsflash from George's recent talks in Mexico? He actually confirmed there that the Targaryens established an absolute monarchy (using exactly those words) in Westeros with their dragons, and the power of that absolute monarchy only severely eroded in the days of Jaehaerys II (because of his early death), Aerys II (because of his madness), and (most importantly) due to the successful Rebellion (explicitly blamed on a lovesick prince) and Robert's inability to rebuild and maintain the power of the Iron Throne

Which contradicts both previous statements of his.  So, since his view on this changes, we can only really interpret it through the lens of what is written in the novels.

And Westeros is very clearly NOT an absolute monarchy, nor was it established as such, even in the days of the dragons.  Lords are called upon to approve the heir to the Iron Throne on regular occasions, which in and of itself is an explicitly feudal model.  We know that Aegon V was no an absolute monarch, because he relies on marriage contracts to garner support for his agenda.  That right there means it cannot be an absolute monarchy in practice (and nominally was never one), and that predates Jaehaerys II.

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

There is no parliament or permanent council of the great lords as a counterweight to the power of the Crown, after all

Nor was there in any feudal society, really.  The English and French Parliaments were both called when the King wanted to exact additional taxes, and the Elector system in the Holy Roman Empire was only formalized in the Golden Bull in 1356, which is the way way way tail end of the medieval period.  If anything, those systems indicate a transition into the Early Modern period - prior to their formalization, in theory ALL lords had some say and influence, because they were technically independent outside the bounds of their feudal contracts.

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

because the Targaryens had no interest in sharing their power when they build the institutions of their Realm in the dragon days.

Uh.... what?  Aegon I doesn't build ANY institutions.  He leaves the Faith alone, with it's own military arm that can (and will, successfully) dispute Targaryen policy.  He allows all the lords that bend the knee, especially the kings he conquers, to retain their own laws, rights, and privileges, a situation which doesn't change til Jaehaerys.  He does nothing in the way of infrastructure building to knit his kingdom together.  All of this only begins in an embryonic phase under Jaehaerys.

Aegon wants to be acknowledged as King of Westeros.  He's not bad at it, but he realizes he has no way of enforcing his power as an absolute monarch, so he leaves the existing feudal structures in place, making Westeros more of a federal monarchy than an absolute one.  He basically takes the existing power system of the Seven Kingdoms, slots himself into the top of it, and calls it a day.  Not only is he sharing a TON of power, it's arguable that he's barely aggregating any to himself from the conquered kings except their nominal titles.

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

It is quite clear that he is seen as the absolute ruler of the Realm, with Ned and Cat both fearing what he might do to them if they displease him. Only when Ned reconnects with his old friend does he slowly realize that Robert isn't ruling anything but allows his advisers to manage his kingdom for him. Ned lives far away from court and didn't know about the state of affair at court. He still thinks the system works as it did in the Targaryen days.

Except we know that in the Targaryen days, lords rebelled, and somewhat successfully at that.  Lyonel Baratheon and Dagon Greyjoy both go rogue, and both do so with almost no consequence, and that is just off the top of my head.  Yes, Ned and Cat fear what Robert could do, because they have no intention of rebelling, they want to preserve themselves and their family and lifestyle without resorting to violence.

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

The fact that the Starks apparently had so much leeway in their lands as they have in AGoT is most likely simply because nobody in the South (the Iron Throne included) cares enough about the North to interfere there personally.

The Dornish also have a ton of flexibility and independence from the Iron Throne, and they have it as a legal right.  The ironborn certainly seem to flout the conventions of the mainland (e.g. thralls and salt wives), and mostly get away with it.  Tywin Lannister gets away with brutally exterminating "rebel" Houses in his lands, which goes against every Westerosi norm.  We don't have much info about other regions, but what we hear is that as long as Lords Paramount keep the peace and are nominally loyal to the Iron Throne, they can do pretty much what they want.

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

We see how casually and easily even apparent weaker (and dragonless) monarchs like Aegon IV could interfere with the lords they wanted to interfere with.

Such as?  Really the only evidence we get of this is that Aegon IV transfers ownership of the legally disputed Teats between the Brackens and Blackwoods, I think.  In other words, he's using his judicial authority to favor one side in a judicial matter with no "right" answer.  His other excesses and shitty behavior are all either towards his own son, or with "willing" courtiers (of course, how willing all these women are is debatable, but I don't think it's germane to the conversation).

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

There is no reason to believe the Targaryens couldn't have treated the Lannisters and Starks in similar fashion if they played their cards right.

They try with the Baratheons and get a full fledged rebellion on their hands, which is only settled by personal combat.  When they DO treat all those Lords as if they have no rights, you get Robert's Rebellion.

On 12/29/2016 at 8:26 AM, Lord Varys said:

And even Aerys II nearly got away with his demands that Robert and Ned be put down. There were many lords in the Vale, the Riverlands, and the Stormlands following his commands despite the fact that they must have known the man was crazy and that they were (also) supposed to follow their liege lords.

And this is a major error of worldbuilding, to me.  But even so, what does he get?  The Reach supports him wholeheartedly, and that's it.  Literally, the only constituent kingdom that rises for him (the hostage situation of Elia and her kids means Dorne's support isn't for him, but for them).

 

But to address the original point of the thread, it seems pretty obvious how the Houses are ranked (though I can't speak to real world equivalents).

Lords Paramount are at the top.  After that are Houses sworn directly to them, like the Boltons, or the Reynes, or the Hightowers.  These Houses generally seem to be ones that held onto royal titles in their respective regions for the longest.  Obviously wealth also plays a factor, but we see that the Houses considered the most prominent have royal descent from the Age of Heroes, and thus social cachet, and are also very wealthy (at least by the respective standards of each kingdom).

After that comes Houses sworn to those greater Houses.  Then, in terms of prestige at least, impoverished nobles with good lineage.  Then knightly/Masterly houses.

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5 minutes ago, cpg2016 said:

Which contradicts both previous statements of his.  So, since his view on this changes, we can only really interpret it through the lens of what is written in the novels.

And Westeros is very clearly NOT an absolute monarchy, nor was it established as such, even in the days of the dragons.  Lords are called upon to approve the heir to the Iron Throne on regular occasions, which in and of itself is an explicitly feudal model.  We know that Aegon V was no an absolute monarch, because he relies on marriage contracts to garner support for his agenda.  That right there means it cannot be an absolute monarchy in practice (and nominally was never one), and that predates Jaehaerys II.

Nor was there in any feudal society, really.  The English and French Parliaments were both called when the King wanted to exact additional taxes, and the Elector system in the Holy Roman Empire was only formalized in the Golden Bull in 1356, which is the way way way tail end of the medieval period.  If anything, those systems indicate a transition into the Early Modern period - prior to their formalization, in theory ALL lords had some say and influence, because they were technically independent outside the bounds of their feudal contracts.

Uh.... what?  Aegon I doesn't build ANY institutions.  He leaves the Faith alone, with it's own military arm that can (and will, successfully) dispute Targaryen policy.  He allows all the lords that bend the knee, especially the kings he conquers, to retain their own laws, rights, and privileges, a situation which doesn't change til Jaehaerys.  He does nothing in the way of infrastructure building to knit his kingdom together.  All of this only begins in an embryonic phase under Jaehaerys.

Aegon wants to be acknowledged as King of Westeros.  He's not bad at it, but he realizes he has no way of enforcing his power as an absolute monarch, so he leaves the existing feudal structures in place, making Westeros more of a federal monarchy than an absolute one.  He basically takes the existing power system of the Seven Kingdoms, slots himself into the top of it, and calls it a day.  Not only is he sharing a TON of power, it's arguable that he's barely aggregating any to himself from the conquered kings except their nominal titles.

Except we know that in the Targaryen days, lords rebelled, and somewhat successfully at that.  Lyonel Baratheon and Dagon Greyjoy both go rogue, and both do so with almost no consequence, and that is just off the top of my head.  Yes, Ned and Cat fear what Robert could do, because they have no intention of rebelling, they want to preserve themselves and their family and lifestyle without resorting to violence.

The Dornish also have a ton of flexibility and independence from the Iron Throne, and they have it as a legal right.  The ironborn certainly seem to flout the conventions of the mainland (e.g. thralls and salt wives), and mostly get away with it.  Tywin Lannister gets away with brutally exterminating "rebel" Houses in his lands, which goes against every Westerosi norm.  We don't have much info about other regions, but what we hear is that as long as Lords Paramount keep the peace and are nominally loyal to the Iron Throne, they can do pretty much what they want.

Such as?  Really the only evidence we get of this is that Aegon IV transfers ownership of the legally disputed Teats between the Brackens and Blackwoods, I think.  In other words, he's using his judicial authority to favor one side in a judicial matter with no "right" answer.  His other excesses and shitty behavior are all either towards his own son, or with "willing" courtiers (of course, how willing all these women are is debatable, but I don't think it's germane to the conversation).

They try with the Baratheons and get a full fledged rebellion on their hands, which is only settled by personal combat.  When they DO treat all those Lords as if they have no rights, you get Robert's Rebellion.

And this is a major error of worldbuilding, to me.  But even so, what does he get?  The Reach supports him wholeheartedly, and that's it.  Literally, the only constituent kingdom that rises for him (the hostage situation of Elia and her kids means Dorne's support isn't for him, but for them).

 

But to address the original point of the thread, it seems pretty obvious how the Houses are ranked (though I can't speak to real world equivalents).

Lords Paramount are at the top.  After that are Houses sworn directly to them, like the Boltons, or the Reynes, or the Hightowers.  These Houses generally seem to be ones that held onto royal titles in their respective regions for the longest.  Obviously wealth also plays a factor, but we see that the Houses considered the most prominent have royal descent from the Age of Heroes, and thus social cachet, and are also very wealthy (at least by the respective standards of each kingdom).

After that comes Houses sworn to those greater Houses.  Then, in terms of prestige at least, impoverished nobles with good lineage.  Then knightly/Masterly houses.

Agreed. And the irony of it all is that the very premise of the "Game of Thrones" itself is reliant on the need for a delicate political balancing act in order to attain, hold and exercise the power of the Iron Throne. An absolute monarchy eliminates most of this game.

In short, George NEEDS a politcal struggle between finely balanced powers across the whole of Westeros for his novels to work. Not an all powerful dicator on the Iron Throne who can do as he pleases, the Lords Paramount be damned.

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2 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Which contradicts both previous statements of his.  So, since his view on this changes, we can only really interpret it through the lens of what is written in the novels.

And Westeros is very clearly NOT an absolute monarchy, nor was it established as such, even in the days of the dragons.  Lords are called upon to approve the heir to the Iron Throne on regular occasions, which in and of itself is an explicitly feudal model.  We know that Aegon V was no an absolute monarch, because he relies on marriage contracts to garner support for his agenda.  That right there means it cannot be an absolute monarchy in practice (and nominally was never one), and that predates Jaehaerys II.

The problem here is that quite a few people seem to make more about the concept of 'absolute monarchy' than it actually entails. It doesn't (necessarily) mean a king can do whatever the hell he wants. It just mean there are no legal boundaries to the king's power or institutions limiting it.

And in principle that was the ideal throughout the entire middle ages. Those 'feudal monarchies' were not, in principle, feudal monarchies, they were absolute monarchies were the kings simply didn't have the means to enforce the power the society they lived in granted them in principle. There are lots of reasons. When the modern days finally came and the kings got the means to enforce their power they did it, and there are little indications that the noble opposition to all that was based on legal principles.

We don't know much about Aegon V's reforms, but the quote we have from one of his most outspoken lordly enemies indicates the man's reforms interfered with very ancient and (from the POV of the aristocracy) self-evident rights and privileges the lords had since time immemorial. That indicates that Aegon V was interfering with the relationship between the lords and their peasants, strengthening the legal position of the latter at the expense of the former. That is a major change in any feudal society you can think of, comparable to the attempts of various Romanov Tsars - whose monarchy was as absolute as it could possibly get - to abolish serfdom in Russia.

Even absolute monarchs need a power base. In modern absolutist monarchies those power bases usually were the army and the aristocracy, in the Seven Kingdoms said power base seems to have been the aristocracy and - to a much smaller degree - the Targaryen-worshiping smallfolk in KL, the Crownlands, and elsewhere.

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Nor was there in any feudal society, really.  The English and French Parliaments were both called when the King wanted to exact additional taxes, and the Elector system in the Holy Roman Empire was only formalized in the Golden Bull in 1356, which is the way way way tail end of the medieval period.  If anything, those systems indicate a transition into the Early Modern period - prior to their formalization, in theory ALL lords had some say and influence, because they were technically independent outside the bounds of their feudal contracts.

That is why those monarchies - especially the Holy Roman Empire in its earlier days, under the powerful imperial dynasties - were 'absolutist' in principle to various degrees.

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Uh.... what?  Aegon I doesn't build ANY institutions.  He leaves the Faith alone, with it's own military arm that can (and will, successfully) dispute Targaryen policy.  He allows all the lords that bend the knee, especially the kings he conquers, to retain their own laws, rights, and privileges, a situation which doesn't change til Jaehaerys.  He does nothing in the way of infrastructure building to knit his kingdom together.  All of this only begins in an embryonic phase under Jaehaerys.

I spoke about 'the Targaryens', not Aegon the Conqueror. Since you quoted me there I also assume you read what I wrote, right?

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Aegon wants to be acknowledged as King of Westeros.  He's not bad at it, but he realizes he has no way of enforcing his power as an absolute monarch, so he leaves the existing feudal structures in place, making Westeros more of a federal monarchy than an absolute one.  He basically takes the existing power system of the Seven Kingdoms, slots himself into the top of it, and calls it a day.  Not only is he sharing a TON of power, it's arguable that he's barely aggregating any to himself from the conquered kings except their nominal titles.

It is pretty clear from Gyldayn's account on the Conquest that Aegon made the Lannisters, Arryns, and Starks the lords they are now. They humbled themselves at his feet and were lifted up by him, and received everything their families hold till this day back from his hands.

Those are very powerful symbols within a medieval framework - which is all about symbolic actions and the like. The Norman and Plantagenet kings may have been Kings of England but when they were forced to do homage to the Kings of France for their French possessions they publicly acknowledge and show that they are vassals and subjects in relation to those possessions.

Your claim that the Targaryens were just an additional layer with little real power at the top of an existing machine which continued to work the way it had worked before them isn't proven by the text.

I agree that this is how it should have been considering that the Targaryens had no armies or many royal officials (aside from the lords themselves) to enforce their will but apparently their will was done simply by said lords without the Targaryens threatening them with the stick all the time - although they definitely did threaten them with dragonfire for 150 years. Apparently that was enough to drill obedience into their heads.

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Except we know that in the Targaryen days, lords rebelled, and somewhat successfully at that.  Lyonel Baratheon and Dagon Greyjoy both go rogue, and both do so with almost no consequence, and that is just off the top of my head.  Yes, Ned and Cat fear what Robert could do, because they have no intention of rebelling, they want to preserve themselves and their family and lifestyle without resorting to violence.

Dagon Greyjoy and Lyonel Baratheon were both defeated by the Targaryens. Aegon V took the field against the Laughing Storm, and Duncan the Tall sealed the deal. And Aerys I was also victorious against Dagon Greyjoy. The Lannisters and Starks (presumably) dealt with the man in the king's name, right? A king can act through his representatives, you know. It is still the king who acts.

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The Dornish also have a ton of flexibility and independence from the Iron Throne, and they have it as a legal right. 

Nobody said anything about there not being privileges and special rights. The Dornish definitely got them.

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Tywin Lannister gets away with brutally exterminating "rebel" Houses in his lands, which goes against every Westerosi norm. 

Does it? Maegor the Cruel, Prince Daemon, Aegon II, Aegon IV, and Aerys II would (or did) applaud Tywin for taking 'decisive action' the way he did.

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We don't have much info about other regions, but what we hear is that as long as Lords Paramount keep the peace and are nominally loyal to the Iron Throne, they can do pretty much what they want.

That isn't really the case. It is, in a sense, the case with distant (and pretty much irrelevant) regions like the North or the Iron Islands. But even there the feeling of 'relative freedom/independence' would have disappeared quickly enough when a royal progress came knocking at the gates or a dragonrider was seen in the sky.

There are no hints that the lords of the Vale, the Riverlands, the Crownlands, the Stormlands, or the Reach could do whatever the hell they wanted. The Targaryens were very present in those regions. I'd say the Lannisters were the most independent of the great lords after the Starks, considering their enormous wealth and insanely powerful castle, but the others either sucked up to the Targaryens - like the Arryns and Hightowers - or were basically Targaryen creatures - like the Baratheons, Tyrells, and Tullys.

The best example to the power of House Targaryen at its peak are the men fighting in Maegor's name in TSotD. The man just commands his subjects. And they come. He doesn't have to go through or talk with any great lords. He can completely ignore them. And the men still come. Because the king commands it.

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Such as?  Really the only evidence we get of this is that Aegon IV transfers ownership of the legally disputed Teats between the Brackens and Blackwoods, I think.  In other words, he's using his judicial authority to favor one side in a judicial matter with no "right" answer.  His other excesses and shitty behavior are all either towards his own son, or with "willing" courtiers (of course, how willing all these women are is debatable, but I don't think it's germane to the conversation).

The man just does whatever the hell he wants. He takes whatever woman he wants, destroys people at will, and even legitimizes a literal army of bastards on his deathbed. That's pretty much the epitome of absolute power.

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They try with the Baratheons and get a full fledged rebellion on their hands, which is only settled by personal combat.  When they DO treat all those Lords as if they have no rights, you get Robert's Rebellion.

Which was basically a war between two branches of House Targaryen. The male line descendants of Aegon V against the female line descendants of Aegon V. It was also a rebellion against an tyrannical/mad king but it was also struggle between two branches of the royal family.

Robert's Rebellion wasn't 'a rebellion of the lords'.

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And this is a major error of worldbuilding, to me.

See above. I agree with that. But we can't simply go by 'The Targaryens (and Targaryen-Baratheons after them) must have been weak figurehead monarchs by real world standards'. We have to go by what we actually see in the books.

And we see how far above the Targaryens among 'lesser men' (high lords included) in the Dunk & Egg stories. And that's the case long after the dragons are gone.

Baelor, Maekar, Daeron, Aerion - and even Egg and Daemon II Blackfyre - aren't even remotely in the same league as Robert, Cersei, Stannis, and Joffrey. 

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But even so, what does he get?  The Reach supports him wholeheartedly, and that's it.  Literally, the only constituent kingdom that rises for him (the hostage situation of Elia and her kids means Dorne's support isn't for him, but for them).

Parts of the Stormlands, the Vale, and the Riverlands stood with him. Battles are fought and the loyalists lost them (in part because Robert was a very good general in the beginning and the aptly named Mad King and the Hand underestimated the threat).

Kings like Aegon V or Maekar would likely have crushed (or otherwise ended) rebellions such as Robert's rather quickly (assuming they would have been mad enough to provoke three great lords without good reason which is not all that likely).

The Laughing Storm's rebellion seems to resemble Robert's Rebellion very much.

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3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

The problem here is that quite a few people seem to make more about the concept of 'absolute monarchy' than it actually entails. It doesn't (necessarily) mean a king can do whatever the hell he wants. It just mean there are no legal boundaries to the king's power or institutions limiting it.

Well, an absolute monarchy is one in which the king has no legal restriction on his power.  Now, this is obviously bounded by certain political realities (e.g. even if Aerys was an absolute monarch, going around murdering subjects without trial is bound to excite revolt).  I don't think this is applicable to Targaryen Westeros, though I'll grant that its highly debatable.  For example:

Loren Lannister was captured the next day. The King of the Rock laid his sword and crown at Aegon's feet, bent the knee, and did him homage. And Aegon, true to his promises, lifted his beaten foe back to his feet and confirmed him in his lands and lordship,

The language here implies a reciprocal, legal relationship.  Loren Lannister kneels and swears to be Aegon's vassal, and in return is confirmed in a set of rights and privileges.  In other words, the very concept of the feudal contract - the vassal owes fealty and service, and the liege has obligations of protection, justice, etc.  If there is a feudal contract, that means that Aegon IS bounded by certain laws and obligations, which means he isn't an absolute monarch.  Now, the presence of the dragons means that Aegon effectively has absolute power, since no one is willing to risk the wroth of dragonfire, but that isn't the same.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

And in principle that was the ideal throughout the entire middle ages. Those 'feudal monarchies' were not, in principle, feudal monarchies, they were absolute monarchies were the kings simply didn't have the means to enforce the power the society they lived in granted them in principle.

But this isn't true!  The entire concept of a feudal system is one in which the king is NOT an absolute monarch.  For example, Edward I of England, despite being a powerful and well respected king, was not able to unilaterally raise taxes.  He had to call Parliaments and get buy in from his vassals from that.  Ergo, there is a legal restraint on his actions, one which he was forced to acknowledge.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

We don't know much about Aegon V's reforms, but the quote we have from one of his most outspoken lordly enemies indicates the man's reforms interfered with very ancient and (from the POV of the aristocracy) self-evident rights and privileges the lords had since time immemorial. That indicates that Aegon V was interfering with the relationship between the lords and their peasants, strengthening the legal position of the latter at the expense of the former. That is a major change in any feudal society you can think of, comparable to the attempts of various Romanov Tsars - whose monarchy was as absolute as it could possibly get - to abolish serfdom in Russia.

I agree we know very little about his reforms.  But the very fact that Aegon's lords have rights and privileges which the king cannot unilaterally interfere with, means it's not an absolute monarchy.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

That is why those monarchies - especially the Holy Roman Empire in its earlier days, under the powerful imperial dynasties - were 'absolutist' in principle to various degrees.

But that doesn't follow.  Even the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors are reliant on the Papacy to be crowned, meaning there is technically a legal check on their power.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

It is pretty clear from Gyldayn's account on the Conquest that Aegon made the Lannisters, Arryns, and Starks the lords they are now. They humbled themselves at his feet and were lifted up by him, and received everything their families hold till this day back from his hands.

Agreed entirely.  But this is a feudal relationship, not an absolutist relationship.  Those lords are raised up and have certain legal privileges.  And the very existence of a legal privilege on which the king cannot infringe undermines the concept of absolute monarchy.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Those are very powerful symbols within a medieval framework - which is all about symbolic actions and the like. The Norman and Plantagenet kings may have been Kings of England but when they were forced to do homage to the Kings of France for their French possessions they publicly acknowledge and show that they are vassals and subjects in relation to those possessions.

Again, agreed.  Symbolism is a powerful force.  But it's not the same as absolutism.  If the king of England has to do homage to the king of France in order to legally come into his possessions, how can this be an absolutist system?

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Your claim that the Targaryens were just an additional layer with little real power at the top of an existing machine which continued to work the way it had worked before them isn't proven by the text.

Sorry, I did not mean to claim the Targaryens have no power.  They have lots of power, but their power, in a legal sense, is a feudal power.  Their possession of nuclear weapons (essentially) in the form of dragons, means there isn't a pressing need to enforce their power, because whatever the de jure system may be, de facto they are absolute monarchs as long as the dragons live.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Dagon Greyjoy and Lyonel Baratheon were both defeated by the Targaryens. Aegon V took the field against the Laughing Storm, and Duncan the Tall sealed the deal. And Aerys I was also victorious against Dagon Greyjoy. The Lannisters and Starks (presumably) dealt with the man in the king's name, right? A king can act through his representatives, you know. It is still the king who acts.

This is explicitly not right.  First off, Aerys I does NOT deal with Dagon Greyjoy.  The Lannisters build ships and the Starks rally men, and they defeat him.  There is no evidence at all that Aerys (or rather, Bloodraven) acts.  And if the kings vassals are acting without his help or explicit command, then the king is NOT acting.  And the fact that the Targaryens were triumphant against Lyonel Baratheon, says nothing about their legal (or feudal) relationship.  Ronald Reagan managed to undermine the Constitution in the Iran-Contra Scandal, doesn't mean it was legal or right.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Nobody said anything about there not being privileges and special rights. The Dornish definitely got them.

You're argument that the Targaryens have an absolute monarchy is in direct opposition to this, though.  If the high lords of the realm have "rights and privileges" on which the king cannot legally infringe, it is by definition not an absolute monarchy.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

The best example to the power of House Targaryen at its peak are the men fighting in Maegor's name in TSotD. The man just commands his subjects. And they come. He doesn't have to go through or talk with any great lords. He can completely ignore them. And the men still come. Because the king commands it.

Yeah, and the text is pretty clear that his actions were about to cause an outright revolt in favor of Jaehaerys.  Some men will ALWAYS come, because men are greedy and opportunistic.  And moreover, for all that Maegor was a psychopath, in fighting the Faith he's actually asserting the most basic legal privilege, that of the state to have a monopoly on force.  Within the context of a feudal relationship, the Targaryens theoretically control all the levies of the Seven Kingdoms; the Faith Militant don't fall into that, and so can be considered extra-legal from a royal perspective.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

The man just does whatever the hell he wants. He takes whatever woman he wants, destroys people at will, and even legitimizes a literal army of bastards on his deathbed. That's pretty much the epitome of absolute power.

Yeah, but not a single thing in there is illegal.  Kings have a well established right to legitimize bastards.  It's irresponsible, but well within Aegon IV's legal rights.  The strong suggestion (and outright statement in many cases) is that the women he's bedding are being willingly offered up by their male relatives in hope of advancement.  Which is why I said the consent issue is problematic, but not from the legal standpoint.  And he doesn't destroy any people "at will" that I recall.

Aerys II destroys people at will in an obviously extralegal manner, and it causes a revolt that unseats and nearly destroys the dynasty.  Aegon IV, for all that he's a despicable character, doesn't go nearly that far.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Which was basically a war between two branches of House Targaryen. The male line descendants of Aegon V against the female line descendants of Aegon V. It was also a rebellion against an tyrannical/mad king but it was also struggle between two branches of the royal family.

Robert's Rebellion wasn't 'a rebellion of the lords'.

This is false.  Canonically so.  For several reasons.  First, Robert's Rebellion is well under way against Aerys before Robert is crowned.  Thus, this isn't a Dance-redux, because individual lords are rebelling to protect their rights (read: their lives), and the whole "unseating the Targaryens" comes later.  In fact, Robert only announces his intention to take the Iron Throne around the time of the Battle of the Trident, meaning that it came only after Rhaegar joined the fight against Aerys.  Which means there is a possibility that despite Rhaegar's abduction and almost certain rape of a major noblewoman, if he had come out against his father and called for his deposition, the Targaryens might have held their throne.

Second, the first person to raise their banners is not a Stark or a Baratheon, but an Arryn!  A House with perhaps some of the closest ties, historically, to House Targaryen.  So it cannot be considered a female-branch descendant trying to claim the throne, at least not at the outset.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

See above. I agree with that. But we can't simply go by 'The Targaryens (and Targaryen-Baratheons after them) must have been weak figurehead monarchs by real world standards'. We have to go by what we actually see in the books.

And we see how far above the Targaryens among 'lesser men' (high lords included) in the Dunk & Egg stories. And that's the case long after the dragons are gone.

I did not mean to say or imply that the Targaryens were figureheads.  All I say is that they had an incredibly weak and underdeveloped central monarchy from an institutional perspective, which never really developed because they relied on their dragons to enforce their will for ~150 years, and afterwards became far less able to enforce their will on the nobility.

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Parts of the Stormlands, the Vale, and the Riverlands stood with him. Battles are fought and the loyalists lost them (in part because Robert was a very good general in the beginning and the aptly named Mad King and the Hand underestimated the threat).

Minorities, it seems.  But this is analogous to the Blackfyre Rebellion, in the sense that there are always grasping lords who want to rise higher, socially and materially, by supporting the existing power structure against their immediate superiors/betters.  Aside from the Tyrells, all the Lords Paramount support the rebels (or at least do not willingly/enthusiastically support the Targaryens).  And most of the major lords go with the rebels as well!  Think who supports Aerys.  In the Vale, the major player is Lord Grafton, an important lord, but only one of many (and not a Royce, who are clearly the second fiddle in the Vale).  In the Stormlands, the rebels are Houses Cafferen, Grandison, and Fell.  None of these are particularly important Houses, certainly not on the level of the Marcher Lords.  And House Connington, of course, but their lord is literally in love with Rhaegar, so there is a personal element there.  Even the Penroses, with blood ties to House Targaryen, don't rise.  I don't even know that we hear of any Riverlands Houses that rise for Aerys, though you may remember better than I.

The point being, the biggest power players ALL side with Robert, except in the Reach, and in Dorne (which, again, there is a very different motivation at play).

3 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

Kings like Aegon V or Maekar would likely have crushed (or otherwise ended) rebellions such as Robert's rather quickly (assuming they would have been mad enough to provoke three great lords without good reason which is not all that likely).

Aegon V was so unsure of his ability to triumph in combat/siege that he resorted to individual combat.  To say further is impossible.

 

Look, here's my basic point.  Aegon I conquers Westeros, and doesn't institute a centralized monarchy, even in a feudal sense, because he has an unbeatable weapon in the dragons, and wants his conquest to be as easy as possible by rocking the proverbial boat as little as possible.  His sons continue this policy for the same reason.  Jaehaerys I begins the process of centralizing legal, formal power in the hands of the king (restricting noble privileges where possible, building common infrastructure, centralizing laws) but also simultaneously formalizes a centripetal force by legitimizing the Great Council of 101, which gives power to his lords to ratify the succession.  The comes the idiot Viserys, and then the Dance, and then no more dragons - after which time, the Targaryens are reliant on traditional, non-absolutist policies in order to build consensus.  I don't think its crazy to suggest that after Aegon III, the great lords are perfectly happy to acknowledge the Targaryens as their lieges, but are extremely unwilling to obey orders which contradict their traditional privileges without being given some kind of reward (e.g. a marriage alliance).

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I think that adding more noble titles would help to differentiate between various Houses and nobles quicker than its currently possible. I understand why you wouldn't want the whole real world, world of nobles titles but some more grades could be useful. The way I'd do it would be this.

King

Lord Paramount

Earl

Lord

Baron

Landed Knight

That would effectively add two more ranks and I think that the general read could handle that well enough.

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8 minutes ago, LionoftheWest said:

I think that adding more noble titles would help to differentiate between various Houses and nobles quicker than its currently possible. I understand why you wouldn't want the whole real world, world of nobles titles but some more grades could be useful. The way I'd do it would be this.

King

Lord Paramount

Earl

Lord

Baron

Landed Knight

That would effectively add two more ranks and I think that the general read could handle that well enough.

I would be interested in an example allocation per level based on known lords in the books. Particularly in the middle ranks.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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22 minutes ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

I would be interested in an example allocation per level based on known lords in the books. Particularly in the middle ranks.

Sure.

King - Baratheon

Lord Paramount - Lannister

Earl - Crakehall

Lord - Falwell

Baron - Webber (I know, its not in the West and drawn from the Sworn Sword, but it was the best option I could come up with)

Landed knight - Clegane

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8 minutes ago, LionoftheWest said:

Sure.

King - Baratheon

Lord Paramount - Lannister

Earl - Crakehall

Lord - Falwell

Baron - Webber (I know, its not in the West and drawn from the Sworn Sword, but it was the best option I could come up with)

Landed knight - Clegane

Webber is sworn to House Rowan, if I recall correctly. The Rowans, being a very powerful House, would be at the level of Earl, implying a level down from them is "Lord" in your system. How do you distinguish between Webber and Falwell's levels?

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Just now, Free Northman Reborn said:

Webber is sworn to House Rowan, if I recall correctly. The Rowans, being a very powerful House, would be at the level of Earl, implying a level down from them is "Lord" in your system. How do you distinguish between Webber and Falwell's levels?

Well, to start with I don't think that its true that you only have "one step down" bannermen. For example I see no problems Clegane, landed knight, being sworn directly to House Lannister at the same time that House Lannister would also have "Earls" bannermen like Crakehall and so on. Thus being Early I would imagine that the Rowans would have both lords, barons and landed knights bannermen sworn directly to them. 

Feudalism is a kind of messy system after all.

As for Webber and Falwell I kind of just took a Westerland House for Falwell, as we really know to little about the West to make the kind of specific and relatively detailed guesses that's possible with the North. And Webber, well I kind of took an example of what I would be consider a lord on the small side in Westeros. I did think about taking Westerling as an example but decided that due to them having their prestigeous legacy they would probably be of a higher rank than their power would really be on level with. Thus I would rank them to be socially lords but wealth and power-wise more like barons, who are trying to maintain a lord's lifestyle.

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6 minutes ago, LionoftheWest said:

Well, to start with I don't think that its true that you only have "one step down" bannermen. For example I see no problems Clegane, landed knight, being sworn directly to House Lannister at the same time that House Lannister would also have "Earls" bannermen like Crakehall and so on. Thus being Early I would imagine that the Rowans would have both lords, barons and landed knights bannermen sworn directly to them. 

Feudalism is a kind of messy system after all.

As for Webber and Falwell I kind of just took a Westerland House for Falwell, as we really know to little about the West to make the kind of specific and relatively detailed guesses that's possible with the North. And Webber, well I kind of took an example of what I would be consider a lord on the small side in Westeros. I did think about taking Westerling as an example but decided that due to them having their prestigeous legacy they would probably be of a higher rank than their power would really be on level with. Thus I would rank them to be socially lords but wealth and power-wise more like barons, who are trying to maintain a lord's lifestyle.

Sure, I get what you're saying, and totally agree that you can have Landed Knights sworn to a Lord Paramount, for example. The point I was making was simply that Martin appears to have duplicated every level on your list, except for the middle one of "Lord". Because there does not appear to be a way to distinguish between the levels of Lord and Baron on your list. For example, House Mormont has very high status and influence in the North, but appears to be quite poor.

They are on your level of Earl, from a status point of view, but if you use wealth as a yardstick, might be close to petty lord level. Which corresponds to Baron on your list.

What Martin has is:

Lord Paramount

Great Lord (earl)

Petty lord (Baron)

Landed Knight

And seemingly no way to clearly distinguish between stronger and weaker mid tier lords. They all appear to fall under the loose collective term of "petty lord".

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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3 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Sure, I get what you're saying, and totally agree that you can have Landed Knights sworn to a Lord Paramount, for example. The point I was making was simply that Martin appears to have duplicated every level on your list, except for the middle one of "Lord". Because there does not appear to be a way to distinguish between the levels of Lord and Baron on your list. For example, House Mormont has very high status and influence in the North, but appears to be quite poor.

They are on your level of Earl, from a status point of view, but if you use wealth as a yardstick, might be close to petty lord level. Which corresponds to Baron on your list.

What Martin has is:

Lord Paramount

Great Lord (earl)

Petty lord (Baron)

Landed Knight

And seemingly no way to clearly distinguish between stronger and weaker mid tier lords. They all appear to fall under the loose collective term of "petty lord".

Well, the point I was gunning for seems to kind of be the same as yours, namely that the title of "lord" is to vague and should be further defined. Also I was not aware that Great Lord or Petty Lord were formal titles but rather subjective designations of where a certain lord stands.

When I imagine that someone has a status it would primarily, but not always, be social status made possible through wealth and power. The only way we could get a system which perfectly aligns between social and economical strength would be to do follow the ancient Greek model (or Athenian...) of census based classes which would however take away a number of different areas of conflicts from Westeros. And which would demand that the central authority is vastly more powerful than the Iron Throne ever was.

The main thing I wanted to abolish with splitting the title "lord" into three ranks was that when people refer to someone as lord they can be from Crakehall (or even Lord Paramount) to petty lord and we won't have a clue about where they stand socially. By calling them earl, lord or baron we would instantly get a general idea about it before its further defined for us. And while barons can amass power and wealth and earls slip into decline I imagine that in the long run the ranks will keep a rough relation with each other.

And we could naturally extend the number of ranks but the reason I wanted to avoid doing so was not to drawn a reader in endless ranks which may not be different enough in the context of the story for them to be justified to make the reader learn. We are after all in Asoiaf mostly going with the absolute top of the feudal pyramid and as such I think that while lower ranks could be of importance in Dunk & Egg stories, they are probably not so important to differentiate between for top tier in society.

A really long list could for example be with both historical ahistorical elements like this below. The problem is, is the minutae designation of different titles to this degree something that aids or hinders readers from understanding the story?

Ranks

King

Viceroy (Lord Paramount)

Earl

Lord

Lordling

Eldorman

Thane

Baron

Baronnet

Landed knight

 

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@cpg2016

It really comes down to what you mean by 'absolute monarchy'. The whole 'feudal contract' thing you see between the Targaryens and their vassals would just as well be there between King Louis XVI, Frederick the Great, and the Romanovs and their armies. If you don't feed/pay your soldiers whatever 'absolutist power' you think you have is very quickly gone.

A king has always obligations to his subjects, especially those who constitute his power base. In Westeros that power base are made up, for the most part, of the lords and the knights who are (the commanders) of the armed forces and to a lesser part of the smallfolk concentrated in the large cities of the Realm (especially the Kingslanders).

The bottom line is that there is no real difference between a monarchy where the king should better not provoke or anger the army and his own bureaucracy and a monarchy where the king shouldn't anger/provoke his lords.

The Targaryen and Baratheon monarchies don't have legal institutions limiting the power of a king in any way. You cite the right of the parliaments in questions of taxation in France and England. We have it confirmed that the king alone has the power to raise taxes in the Seven Kingdoms. In the Epilogue, Ser Kevan realizes that he might be forced to raise the taxes if the Iron Throne doesn't get additional loans. He realizes that this might be seen as tyranny and/or give the lords a pretext for rebellion but there is no indication that he as Lord Regent has to ask anyone for their permission or advice when he decides whether to raise the taxes or not.

In relation to Aegon's treatment of the defeated kings we clearly see a pattern that Aegon gives the newly created lords certain rights and privileges. But we never get a clear picture what duty a king has towards his lords.

I'd say it is to treat them fairly, to do his best to keep the King's Peace (which is what the king is all about - guaranteeing peace in the land), to not break his word, to enforce justice and the laws of the Realm in the best possible way, etc. Kings do have certain functions even in absolutist monarchies. If you go back to Hobbes then we all need the big guy in charge with the stick to ensure we all behave.

But this is still not a deal or contract among equals. The king is the one running the show. And the king interprets the laws and the contracts/deals he makes with his subjects - be their lords or commoners. If the only means a lord has to oppose a decree, ruling, or act of a king is a bloody rebellion then the king has all the legal power and the lord has pretty much none.

After all, you can always rebel. Anyone can, in every system of government you can think of. If the Seven Kingdoms were not an absolutist monarchy then there would be legal institutions you could go through to get your right even if the king was opposing you.

Sure, a smart king wouldn't force certain issues if he realized that doing so would likely cause a bloody rebellion he might lose. But that's not a sign that the monarchy isn't absolute. An absolutist monarch could easily cut the wages of the soldiers and royal bureaucrats. He has the legal power to do that. But it is still a stupid idea if the majority of the military and bureaucracy actually want higher wages...

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

But this isn't true!  The entire concept of a feudal system is one in which the king is NOT an absolute monarch.  For example, Edward I of England, despite being a powerful and well respected king, was not able to unilaterally raise taxes.  He had to call Parliaments and get buy in from his vassals from that.  Ergo, there is a legal restraint on his actions, one which he was forced to acknowledge.

See above. The Targaryen kings do not face any such restrictions.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

I agree we know very little about his reforms.  But the very fact that Aegon's lords have rights and privileges which the king cannot unilaterally interfere with, means it's not an absolute monarchy.

I'd disagree with that. An absolutist monarchy doesn't mean that certain classes of people cannot have certain rights. Absolutist kings granted and preserved special rights and privileges for many different groups of people, most importantly the clergy and the aristocracy.

It only means that the ultimate legal power of the government is in the hands of the monarch. What we know about Aegon V's reforms indicates that the man issued decrees that were widely ignored by his lords. Nothing indicates the people were under the impression the king was breaking the law by issuing such decrees.

Here you see the difference between the ideology of the absolutist monarchy - as it existed throughout most of the middle ages - and the actual realization of that ideology in modern times. In the real middle ages the kings lacked the means to actually enforce the power they legally had within their societies but when they build modern armies and bureaucracy they acquired that power.

Aegon V lacks those means, too. But that doesn't mean that he doesn't technically have the legal power to do what he does. It just happened that the system he lives in ignores his decrees and he lacks the means to ensure that those decrees are followed.

His attempt to resolve this problem was to try to get the dragons back. Another way could have been to build a standing army or a proper royal bureaucracy.

But reforms are very difficult to enforce in any system, but especially in a monarchy if they affect the power base - aristocracy, army, clergy, bureaucracy - in any way. If the people you need to keep and maintain your power are unhappy with or opposed to your reforms they will inevitably fail.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

But that doesn't follow.  Even the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors are reliant on the Papacy to be crowned, meaning there is technically a legal check on their power.

That is a different issue entirely. That's about the legitimacy of power, not so much about the extent of power when you finally have it.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Agreed entirely.  But this is a feudal relationship, not an absolutist relationship.  Those lords are raised up and have certain legal privileges.  And the very existence of a legal privilege on which the king cannot infringe undermines the concept of absolute monarchy.

See above.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

This is explicitly not right.  First off, Aerys I does NOT deal with Dagon Greyjoy.  The Lannisters build ships and the Starks rally men, and they defeat him.  There is no evidence at all that Aerys (or rather, Bloodraven) acts.  And if the kings vassals are acting without his help or explicit command, then the king is NOT acting. 

That is wrong. The subjects of the king are acting in the name of the king whenever they do anything. King Robert didn't command or give Eddard Stark permission to execute the deserter Gared of the Night's Watch. Yet Lord Eddard still executed the man in the name of King Robert. All legal acts in the Realm are done in the name of the king. Whether the king is aware of them or approves of them or not. And in that sense the Warden of the West and the Warden of the North did indeed act in the name of King Aerys I Targaryen.

King Aerys I could have given them more support and could also have done something himself. But that is not really necessary.

And keep in mind that we don't know that the Lannisters and Starks actually did defeat Dagon Greyjoy. Could be. Or not. We don't know yet. Could be that Bloodraven sent the royal navy after him in the end. Whitewalls surely would have given the Iron Throne more than a break to turn to other matters. The Blackfyres suffered a major defeat there.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

And the fact that the Targaryens were triumphant against Lyonel Baratheon, says nothing about their legal (or feudal) relationship.  Ronald Reagan managed to undermine the Constitution in the Iran-Contra Scandal, doesn't mean it was legal or right.

I'm not following. Lord Lyonel was clearly a rebel and a traitor. There is no law giving you permission to rebel against your king and friend just because that king's son doesn't want to marry your daughter.

I'm inclined to believe Egg gave Lyonel the opportunity to save his face with the whole trial-by-combat thing. He wanted to heal the rift between them. Else he would have never agreed to marry his youngest daughter to Lyonel's heir.

But we should not overly speculate about the details there. We know very little about that. We don't even know how Dunk won that trial-by-combat. With the Dunk & Egg stories in mind things might not be exactly the way they appear in a short summary.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

You're argument that the Targaryens have an absolute monarchy is in direct opposition to this, though.  If the high lords of the realm have "rights and privileges" on which the king cannot legally infringe, it is by definition not an absolute monarchy.

See above.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Yeah, and the text is pretty clear that his actions were about to cause an outright revolt in favor of Jaehaerys.  Some men will ALWAYS come, because men are greedy and opportunistic.  And moreover, for all that Maegor was a psychopath, in fighting the Faith he's actually asserting the most basic legal privilege, that of the state to have a monopoly on force.  Within the context of a feudal relationship, the Targaryens theoretically control all the levies of the Seven Kingdoms; the Faith Militant don't fall into that, and so can be considered extra-legal from a royal perspective.

This happened early on during Maegor's reign, when his rule wasn't yet secured and the Targaryen dynasty itself in danger.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Yeah, but not a single thing in there is illegal.  Kings have a well established right to legitimize bastards. 

Actually, King Aegon IV is the first Targaryen king to legitimize any bastards of his own. Rhaenyra legitimized the alleged bastards of her husband, Laenor Velaryon, during the Dance, but Aegon IV is the first king in Westerosi history to legitimize any bastards. King Benedict Rivers was never legitimized. He just took the name Justman when he had conquered all the Riverlands. And King Ronard Storm usurped the throne of his half-brother yet never ruled as a Durrandon.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

It's irresponsible, but well within Aegon IV's legal rights.  The strong suggestion (and outright statement in many cases) is that the women he's bedding are being willingly offered up by their male relatives in hope of advancement.  Which is why I said the consent issue is problematic, but not from the legal standpoint.  And he doesn't destroy any people "at will" that I recall.

Sure he does. Terrence Toyne, for instance, or Lucas Bracken, the father of Barbra and Bethany (who is executed for no reason aside from being the father of a woman who slept with a Kingsguard).

Maegor and Aerys II would be better examples for destroying people at will, I agree, but Aegon IV really crossed a lot of boundaries in relation to women. And apparently nobody cared.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Aerys II destroys people at will in an obviously extralegal manner, and it causes a revolt that unseats and nearly destroys the dynasty. 

Only when he goes very far with that. Destroying the families of his mistresses and the Darklyns and Hollards was perfectly fine, wasn't it?

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

This is false.  Canonically so.  For several reasons.  First, Robert's Rebellion is well under way against Aerys before Robert is crowned.  Thus, this isn't a Dance-redux, because individual lords are rebelling to protect their rights (read: their lives), and the whole "unseating the Targaryens" comes later.  In fact, Robert only announces his intention to take the Iron Throne around the time of the Battle of the Trident, meaning that it came only after Rhaegar joined the fight against Aerys.  Which means there is a possibility that despite Rhaegar's abduction and almost certain rape of a major noblewoman, if he had come out against his father and called for his deposition, the Targaryens might have held their throne.

Robert ended up on the throne and replaced King Aerys because he was a great-grandson of Aegon V. I agree that King Aerys could also have been defeated and perhaps even be deposed, but then he would have simply been replaced with another Targaryen descendant.

This wasn't a public uprising, it was a rebellion led by a cousin of the king. And it is very much like the Blackfyre Rebellion in that regard which apparently also began as (or was justified as being) Daemon Blackfyre's attempt to defend his person against an unjust king who intended to arrest or kill him.

Both rebellions got as much support as they did because Daemon Blackfyre was who he was and Robert Baratheon was who he was.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Second, the first person to raise their banners is not a Stark or a Baratheon, but an Arryn!  A House with perhaps some of the closest ties, historically, to House Targaryen.  So it cannot be considered a female-branch descendant trying to claim the throne, at least not at the outset.

Jon Arryn defended his former wards in the Vale, but the rebellion as a larger movement began with Robert's successes in the Stormlands. That's why this thing is called Robert's Rebellion and not Jon's Rebellion.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

All I say is that they had an incredibly weak and underdeveloped central monarchy from an institutional perspective, which never really developed because they relied on their dragons to enforce their will for ~150 years, and afterwards became far less able to enforce their will on the nobility.

I wholeheartedly agree on the first sentence. I have often said that the power the Targaryens (and even the Starks) have in their vast kingdoms is entirely unrealistic if you think about the infrastructure and the degree of development.

However, there is really no good indication that the Targaryens lost much authority after they lost their dragons. They lost much real power, but not really much authority because the people had really come to see them as their rulers.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Minorities, it seems.  But this is analogous to the Blackfyre Rebellion, in the sense that there are always grasping lords who want to rise higher, socially and materially, by supporting the existing power structure against their immediate superiors/betters.  Aside from the Tyrells, all the Lords Paramount support the rebels (or at least do not willingly/enthusiastically support the Targaryens).  And most of the major lords go with the rebels as well!  Think who supports Aerys.  In the Vale, the major player is Lord Grafton, an important lord, but only one of many (and not a Royce, who are clearly the second fiddle in the Vale).  In the Stormlands, the rebels are Houses Cafferen, Grandison, and Fell.  None of these are particularly important Houses, certainly not on the level of the Marcher Lords.  And House Connington, of course, but their lord is literally in love with Rhaegar, so there is a personal element there.  Even the Penroses, with blood ties to House Targaryen, don't rise.  I don't even know that we hear of any Riverlands Houses that rise for Aerys, though you may remember better than I.

The Whents, Darrys, Mootons, and a bunch of minor houses stood with Rhaegar at the Trident. And the Freys didn't show up at all. Hoster had perhaps half his strength at the Trident, perhaps even less.

How many lords in the Vale and the Stormlands actually stood with the rebels completely unclear, actually. Robert hadn't yet assembled his banners when he won the three battles at Summerhall with a small force. And then later the Tyrell army defeated him, sending him fleeing to Stoney Sept with pretty much no army left. Unless a strong contingent of Stormlanders later joined Robert later (unlikely with the Tyrell army there) there weren't many of them at the Trident. The bulk of the strength of the rebels there would have been Northmen, Vale men, and Riverlanders.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Aegon V was so unsure of his ability to triumph in combat/siege that he resorted to individual combat.  To say further is impossible.

See above. The men involved in that struggle were friends.

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

Look, here's my basic point.  Aegon I conquers Westeros, and doesn't institute a centralized monarchy, even in a feudal sense, because he has an unbeatable weapon in the dragons, and wants his conquest to be as easy as possible by rocking the proverbial boat as little as possible.  His sons continue this policy for the same reason.  Jaehaerys I begins the process of centralizing legal, formal power in the hands of the king (restricting noble privileges where possible, building common infrastructure, centralizing laws) but also simultaneously formalizes a centripetal force by legitimizing the Great Council of 101, which gives power to his lords to ratify the succession.

The Great Council of 101 AC didn't ratify anything. It advised the king on the succession and he chose to follow their advice (which was the reason why he asked the lords in the first place).

13 hours ago, cpg2016 said:

The comes the idiot Viserys, and then the Dance, and then no more dragons - after which time, the Targaryens are reliant on traditional, non-absolutist policies in order to build consensus.  I don't think its crazy to suggest that after Aegon III, the great lords are perfectly happy to acknowledge the Targaryens as their lieges, but are extremely unwilling to obey orders which contradict their traditional privileges without being given some kind of reward (e.g. a marriage alliance).

If you look at the ridiculous things that happened in the dragonless days - Daeron's mad war with Dorne (if a fourteen-year-old can force an entire kingdom into a war that fourteen-year-old was very powerful), Baelor's peace and mad pious projects, and Aegon the Unworthy.

Nobody rebelled against those kings despite the fact that they were all pretty mad and eccentric and caused grief (or at least irritation) to many powerful people.

If the Targaryens had lost significant authority after the death of the dragons then Daeron's mad war - and the losses the people suffered in this pointless war - should have marked the end of the dynasty. 60,000 corpses are a lot. Especially if nothing is gained in the process of such a slaughter.

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When people refer to "legal rights and duties" in Westeros it always makes me chuckle. There is no law in Westeros. I have not seen a single judgment carried out by a judge or magistrate or "Maester of Laws", or any application of legal principle with regard to any act, other than "might makes right".

The rights or obligations of the King or the Lords are not enshrined in some law in a thick book that gets dragged out to judge who was right or wrong in any particular case. All that exists in Westeros is power, tradition and custom. And when power is sufficient it seems to outweigh even custom and tradition.

Aegon most likely was an absolute monarch, because his dragons pretty much gave him absolute power. Laws and social contracts had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Except in Dorne, where he did not have absolute power because he could not conquer them. And if another region managed to revolt successfully, he would not have absolute power there either.

Fast forward to the Dance and we see how the Targaryen factions desperately needed the support of the various Lords Paramount, and by then it was clear that absolute power had long since ceased to exist for the Targaryen on the Iron Throne. And after the last dragons died, the Targs ruled by the consent of their Lords Paramount. They could not afford to alienate too many of them, and once they did, well, we got Robert's Rebellion.

Legal rights and obligations? It had nothing whatsoever to do with it. Power was what counted.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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6 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

There is no law in Westeros.

That is just nonsense. The Seven Kingdom are a medieval monarchy with the legal institutions of such monarchies. They are not lawless wastelands. If they were, there wouldn't be any lords, knights, kings, and other classes of people there.

They don't have our legal standards there but they have the standards from which, by and far, our legal standards grew. They have universally acknowledged rulers, they have a justice system, they have precisely defined crimes and punishments for those crimes that are executed, they have taxes and financial system, they have a currency system based on minted coins, and much more.

The way things are in AGoT isn't the rule. Robert Baratheon was a weak king surrounded by schemers and ambitious traitors in a time when pretty much everyone was sharpening their knives. That's not what happens always in this world. 

Power exist within a legal framework in this world. The lords have certain powers, rights, and privileges because laws and customs give them those powers. They don't exist in a void. They are entitled to them by birth because that's the legal reality of this world.

The Seven Kingdoms are very much a world ruled by law. It only gets controversial or lawless at the very top. But everybody else finds himself in a society where you cannot do what you want. The authorities tell you want to do, and they do that pretty efficiently.

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6 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

That is just nonsense. The Seven Kingdom are a medieval monarchy with the legal institutions of such monarchies. They are not lawless wastelands. If they were, there wouldn't be any lords, knights, kings, and other classes of people there.

They don't have our legal standards there but they have the standards from which, by and far, our legal standards grew. They have universally acknowledged rulers, they have a justice system, they have precisely defined crimes and punishments for those crimes that are executed, they have taxes and financial system, they have a currency system based on minted coins, and much more.

The way things are in AGoT isn't the rule. Robert Baratheon was a weak king surrounded by schemers and ambitious traitors in a time when pretty much everyone was sharpening their knives. That's not what happens always in this world. 

Power exist within a legal framework in this world. The lords have certain powers, rights, and privileges because laws and customs give them those powers. They don't exist in a void. They are entitled to them by birth because that's the legal reality of this world.

The Seven Kingdoms are very much a world ruled by law. It only gets controversial or lawless at the very top. But everybody else finds himself in a society where you cannot do what you want. The authorities tell you want to do, and they do that pretty efficiently.

Well, it is the very top we are talking about here. The relationship between the Lords and the King. And the fact is, any enforcement of norms and customs in Westeros is done by the lords. If someone murders or steals, the lord exercises judgment over him. Not some independent judge or magistrate or priest empowered by a code of laws. And if the lord decides at a whim to do nothing, because the murderer is of value to him, or it does not serve his interests to do so, then the only recourse of the victims is to appeal to a more powerful lord up the social hierarchy -  meaning the original lord's liege lord. And then, once again, the issue will not be decided by an independent code of laws, but by whether the liege lord is powerful enough to act against the lesser lord without major repurcussions, or whether he is interested in doing so.

If Gregor Clegane murders his smallfolk, Tywin Lannister is free to turn a blind eye because Gregor serves his interests in other ways. And the only way for any other lord (read, the King) to force Tywin to act against Clegane, is if the King feels he has the power to overrule Tywin without suffering too large a political price for doing so.

Again, it all comes back to the relative power of the parties in question. Not the code of laws.

Edited by Free Northman Reborn

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5 hours ago, Free Northman Reborn said:

Well, it is the very top we are talking about here. The relationship between the Lords and the King. And the fact is, any enforcement of norms and customs in Westeros is done by the lords. If someone murders or steals, the lord exercises judgment over him. Not some independent judge or magistrate or priest empowered by a code of laws. And if the lord decides at a whim to do nothing, because the murderer is of value to him, or it does not serve his interests to do so, then the only recourse of the victims is to appeal to a more powerful lord up the social hierarchy -  meaning the original lord's liege lord. And then, once again, the issue will not be decided by an independent code of laws, but by whether the liege lord is powerful enough to act against the lesser lord without major repurcussions, or whether he is interested in doing so.

If Gregor Clegane murders his smallfolk, Tywin Lannister is free to turn a blind eye because Gregor serves his interests in other ways. And the only way for any other lord (read, the King) to force Tywin to act against Clegane, is if the King feels he has the power to overrule Tywin without suffering too large a political price for doing so.

Again, it all comes back to the relative power of the parties in question. Not the code of laws.

You can go to the king to intercede on all those matters. Tytos Lannister couldn't keep the peace in the West, so the Iron Throne intervened repeatedly. Gregor Clegane apparently invaded the Riverlands, so the Riverlords went to King Robert to rule on the matter.

It might be difficult for a peasant to do this, but there is no indication that they are legally barred from doing so.

What you claimed above was that the Seven Kingdoms are a lawless vacuum where only strength and power prevailed. And that's clearly not the case since all the powers the lords have are legally defined and granted powers. The kings grant those powers to their lords, and they can take them away.

We know that kings can make and unmake lords at a whim. It is customary to allow a son to succeed his father as a lord but there are precedents all across the Seven Kingdoms - not only during the Targaryen era but before that, too - or kings eradicating troublesome noble bloodlines or simply taking lands and titles from one family and given them to another.

And in the end - the lords are, in a sense, effectively hereditary royal officials. Ned's duty as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North is to keep the King's Peace and uphold the king's laws in the North. That is his duty in that capacity. 

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I'd say: 

 

1. Duke (great houses)

2. Count (lesser houses)

3. Landed knights

 

I don't think we've really seen anything that goes beyond that in the books.

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On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

After all, you can always rebel. Anyone can, in every system of government you can think of. If the Seven Kingdoms were not an absolutist monarchy then there would be legal institutions you could go through to get your right even if the king was opposing you.

There are.  One of those is a Trial by Seven.

On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

That is a different issue entirely. That's about the legitimacy of power, not so much about the extent of power when you finally have it.

And I think, and most scholarship I've read agrees, that legitimate power is intimately tied into effective power.  We see Daeron II has less authority than he might due to the allegations of his bastardy (that the accusers have reasons to want more independence is obviously related, but still).

On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:
On 1/4/2018 at 11:23 PM, cpg2016 said:

But this isn't true!  The entire concept of a feudal system is one in which the king is NOT an absolute monarch.  For example, Edward I of England, despite being a powerful and well respected king, was not able to unilaterally raise taxes.  He had to call Parliaments and get buy in from his vassals from that.  Ergo, there is a legal restraint on his actions, one which he was forced to acknowledge.

See above. The Targaryen kings do not face any such restrictions.

At least two separate kings, and kings with multiple dragons, no less, feel they are bound to get buy in from their vassals in order to guarantee their choices of successor (Jaehaerys I and Viserys I).  Edward I acted without consulting Parliament whenever he could get away with it, too, but at the end of the day he DID require their assistance in some matters.  Likewise, the Targaryen monarchs also need to call Great Councils to settle weighty matters, and on a less formal basis, the Small Council itself can be seen as something of a sounding board for noble opinions.

On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

That is wrong. The subjects of the king are acting in the name of the king whenever they do anything. King Robert didn't command or give Eddard Stark permission to execute the deserter Gared of the Night's Watch. Yet Lord Eddard still executed the man in the name of King Robert. All legal acts in the Realm are done in the name of the king. Whether the king is aware of them or approves of them or not. And in that sense the Warden of the West and the Warden of the North did indeed act in the name of King Aerys I Targaryen.

But in that case there can be no legal or illegal action, as long as one acts in the name of the king.  We need to inject some sense of common sense into this debate.  Roose Bolton can't enforce the (explicitly illegal) right of First Night, say it's in the name of the king, and have it be kosher.  Dagon Greyjoy isn't acting in the name of the king when he raids the North and Westerlands.

Similarly, vassals have wide latitude to act on their own, both in-universe and IRL.  Ned Stark is executing (heh) a very specific legal duty laid on him by the Crown when he executes Gared, presumably.  But one of his legal duties is not necessarily to fight the ironborn, who are fellow vassals. 

As you say elsewhere, one of the primary duties (if not THE primary duty) of a feudal monarch is to maintain peace and order.  Bloodraven and Aerys explicitly don't do this.  We're told that they don't stir to help their vassals; it isn't that they told the Starks and Lannisters to handle it, we know that the Starks and Lannisters had to handle it of their own accord, when one of the expectations they should have of their liege is material assistance when attacked.  That is WHY the whole episode is phrased that way; GRRM is making a further case to undermine Targaryen legitimacy by showing that they are more concerned with a possible threat to their line than an actual threat to their vassals.

On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

I'm not following. Lord Lyonel was clearly a rebel and a traitor. There is no law giving you permission to rebel against your king and friend just because that king's son doesn't want to marry your daughter.

I'm inclined to believe Egg gave Lyonel the opportunity to save his face with the whole trial-by-combat thing. He wanted to heal the rift between them. Else he would have never agreed to marry his youngest daughter to Lyonel's heir.

You can't have this both ways.  If Lyonel Baratheon is a rebel, then Aegon V wouldn't be willingly committing another of his rapidly dwindling dynastic pawns to the heir of a defeated rebel.  The very fact that Egg is giving this guy the opportunity to save face, and THEN giving this defeated rebel even more royal favor, speaks incredibly eloquently to the fact that there is a lot of sympathy for the Baratheon position in this dispute.

My point being, you are dismissing every single instance of lords asserting rights and privileges as them being clearly in the wrong, and rebels, when perhaps it makes more sense to consider that all of these instances come to pass because those lords consider themselves to be legally wronged, or have traditional privileges (which are basically laws, in a feudal sense) that have been violated.  A betrothal, by the way, is a marriage contract - which means Aegon V is technically breaking the law in allowing said contract to be broken.

On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

The Whents, Darrys, Mootons, and a bunch of minor houses stood with Rhaegar at the Trident. And the Freys didn't show up at all. Hoster had perhaps half his strength at the Trident, perhaps even less.

The Whents are sworn to the Crown, so that isn't quite fair, and Walder Frey shows up a day or two late, but is still leaning Tully.  Besides which, that is far less than "half" of the Tully's strength. We know the Mallisters, Brackens, Blackwoods, Vances, and Pipers (at least) are lords on par with almost any in Westeros (save exceptional cases like the Hightowers, Redwynes, and Whents).

On 1/5/2018 at 1:30 PM, Lord Varys said:

How many lords in the Vale and the Stormlands actually stood with the rebels completely unclear, actually. Robert hadn't yet assembled his banners when he won the three battles at Summerhall with a small force. And then later the Tyrell army defeated him, sending him fleeing to Stoney Sept with pretty much no army left. Unless a strong contingent of Stormlanders later joined Robert later (unlikely with the Tyrell army there) there weren't many of them at the Trident. The bulk of the strength of the rebels there would have been Northmen, Vale men, and Riverlanders.

Well the numbers at the Trident are typical GRRM being bad at math nonsense.  But I think it's fairly safe to say that the Houses which are noted to be Targaryen loyalists are basically the only major Targaryen loyalists in those regions.

 

In any case, I'll cut off there and summarize, because I think the specifics of the argument are actually less important than the general concept.  Absolute monarchy as we know it is pretty tightly tied to the notion of divine kingship, and certainly to the ability of monarchs to compel their subjects to obey them.  Feudalism implies a much looser control, one in which the vassal not only owes obedience, but is also owed certain rights and privileges in return.  Obviously there is a large swatch of gray area separating these two.

When the Targaryens had dragons, they had de jure absolute power.  However, because they didn't use this advantage to create the kind of centralized state that would allow them to have de facto and de jure legal power in the case the dragons all died, they end up being much closer to the typical definition of a feudal monarch by the time of the Blackfyre Rebellions til the present day.  Obviously the Targaryens were bound by laws, since they are overthrown specifically for the crime of calling for Ned and Robert's heads.  There are lines they cannot cross.  By definition, this means they are not an absolute monarchy, but even within the context of how absolute monarchy is generally implemented, they have less actual power than absolute monarchs like Louis XIV.

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