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Dukhasinov

the "Law" in Westeros

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Much is made of Jaehaerys I unifying and standardizing legal codes throughout the Seven Kingdoms, but I can`t think of what those laws might be. There doesn`t seem to really be any kind of Rule of Law in Westeros. It seems as if anyone can pretty much do whatever he wants to whomever he wants, as long as he`s rich and powerful enough to get away with it. When Tyrion is taken prisoner and taken to the Vale, he demands a trial, but, does so solely on the basis of his high birth and standing at court, rather than an appeal to any codified law. As Tyrion correctly perceives that any trial he gets under the authority of Lysa Aryn will be a joke, he appeals to what seems to be the only universally accepted method of jurisprudence on the continent, the Trial by Combat, which is lunacy even by the standards of the Judicial Duels that were fought in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Nothing as asymetrical as the fight between Gregor Clegane and Oberyn Martel would have been allowed to occur, and the convening authority would have been expected to stop the fight and declare a winner in the event that one combatant was so clearly incapacitated, especially when both combatants were champions, rather than the actual defendant. 

 

When Mad King Aerys murders Lord Stark and his heir, and demands the head of Robert Baratheon, he is not accused of murder and overthrown on the basis of having illegally overstepped his authority as king, but on the basis of having alienated a group of his Lords powerful enough to overthrow him. I wouldn`t expect to see something as progressive as a Bill of Rights in Westeros, but there doesn`t even seem to be a set of rights and protection for the Nobility, as in the English Peerage. Eddard Stark, paragon of honor and virtue that he was, in his capacity as Hand, condemned and attainted Gregor Clegane in absentia, based only on a few eye-witness descriptions of a very large man in plate armor. Clegane was not even summoned to court to answer for his crimes, or given a chance to demand a Trial by Combat. Ned did not, interestingly, summon Tywin to court to answer for the behavior of his bannerman. This is not because Tywin, as a Peer of the Realm, is entitled to some form of due process. It`s just because Tywin is rich and powerful enough to refuse the Hand without suffering consequences.

 

I think some of this, at least early on, was due to Martin having not fully fleshed out his world when he started writing. Having already set precedents, he had to stick to his guns. And I`m not even saying that that makes it bad writing. It`s just that Westeros is very much a "Rule by Man" kind of place, where personal wealth, power, and relationships are much more important than procedures or institutions. While Westeros is somewhere in the early Renaissance technologically, socially, it`s pretty much back in Carolingian times. 

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I'd agree with you insofar as the whole talk about 'the feudal contract' and 'the rights of lords' people often talk about are actually not properly established in the books. The rights of a lord against his king and the duties the monarch has towards his lords are nowhere actually hinted at or laid out in any way.

However, there are strong hints, especially in AGoT, that all power derives from the king; and especially during the conversation of Ned and Cat about the Handship it becomes clear that even the Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North cannot really afford to antagonize his king or even cause him to mistrust him - never mind that they have been close friends since the days of their childhood.

This puts things somewhat into perspective.

In relation to 'tyrannical precedents' we do have Maegor's and Aerys' eradication of entire houses (the Harroways and Darklyns/Hollards) which did not, in fact, cause widespread rebellion or harsh criticism of the king (at least we are not given any evidence for that).

Taken as such - and taken it in combination with Tywin's treatment of the Reynes and Tarbecks - there seem to be few limits to what you can do if you are the guy wearing the crown (or more or less act in his name, which is what one assumes Tywin did back then - the Tarbecks and Reynes were breaking the King's Peace and he put an end to that.

In relation to Gregor one has to keep in mind that the man is not, in fact, a lord, and Ned was not speaking as a lord or even the Hand when he made that judgment - he sat on the Iron Throne and spoke with the King's Voice. His ruling there was Robert Baratheon's ruling until such a time as the king changed it (which he never did).

In relation to the various trials one has to keep in mind that the king has due representatives doing justice in his name. That means that if somebody is accused of a crime in the Vale the king's highest representative there - which would be the Lord of the Vale - would actually dispense justice there. One can argue that not forwarding a case involving the brother of the queen and brother-in-law of the king to the king would be ... well, a very risky and stupid decision, but it doesn't seem that Tyrion has as such a right to be tried only by his king.

If that were the case he would have demanded that it happen, and Lysa would have been forced to go against that well-established practice.

It also seems clear that trial-by-combat nonsense is not *really* well-defined. You have a right to demand it, yes, but as Lysa showed you cannot postpone it indefinitely until your champion of choice shows up.

One also assumes that kings and even lords can refuse to grant you that right when they want to do that, just as they can take your head for a crime deserving of execution despite the fact that you want to take the black.

My personal gut feeling is that trial-by-combat is an ancient tradition mostly used as a cop-out by the wealthy and powerful who stand accused of a crime which they are not likely to get out of by ways of a normal trial. Only they actually can hire/convince a great warrior to fight as their champion - or, of course, for great warriors who are accused of wrongdoing. Something like Dunk's trial of seven should be very, very rare - and that also only works because Dunk is (allegedly) a knight.

In relations to the unifying of laws one assumes that it would involve the unifications of inheritance laws, punishments, taxes, tariffs, privileges and rights, marriage laws, etc.

Westeros is not a lawless place as such, it is just that the books don't *really* focus on the day-to-day legal crap lords and kings have to do.

In fact, the first book(s) don't even focus much on the ceremonies that make kingship a lot - we hear that Joff is going to get a coronation, but we never see it, nor do we see Renly's or Stannis' or later Tommen's - some of them should actually be rather lavish affairs (at least Tommen's should). Even Robb just gets a proclamation, but no actual coronation where all his new vassals and subjects do him homage and acknowledge him as their crowned king.

Robert Baratheon's own coronation is also still a mystery to us. Was it done with the blood of the Sack still on everybody's hands, or only much later when the city had been properly cleaned and the king could actually parade through the city without having to fear riots from the good folk of KL?

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he is not accused of murder and overthrown on the basis of having illegally overstepped his authority as king, but on the basis of having alienated a group of his Lords powerful enough to overthrow him.

"Robert, I ask you, what did we rise against Aerys Targaryen for, if not to put an end to the murder of children?"


Sure sounds like at least one of the major players in the rebellion saw it as a direct response to Aerys's murders.

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7 hours ago, Ran said:

Sure sounds like at least one of the major players in the rebellion saw it as a direct response to Aerys's murders.

But that's a specific context, no? Ned invokes Aerys the Murderer of Children to prevent his friend from becoming the Murderer of Children as well.

We are never given any indication that Robert, Jon, Ned, Hoster or anyone, really, rebelled against the king because of the families of some mistresses Aerys II killed, or because of Darklyn and Hollard children. If the Mallister or Royce of Brandon's companions still count as children, Ned may have referred to them, but we don't know. Elbert would definitely not count as a child at this time.

If Ned had the moral high ground there it sure as hell was awfully convenient that the king had not only put children to death but also his father and adult brother after demanding his own grown-up head.

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I'm not sure context matters. What matters is that from Ned's point of view, the rebellion was a response to the king's murderous injustice. Sure, his family were the victims, but even so, Ned saw rebellion as an act against an unjust king. One might look at Stannis who gives a different view: he explicitly chose duty to his brother over duty to his king, so he has a very different definition view of what was going on than Ned did.

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3 hours ago, Ran said:

I'm not sure context matters. What matters is that from Ned's point of view, the rebellion was a response to the king's murderous injustice. Sure, his family were the victims, but even so, Ned saw rebellion as an act against an unjust king. One might look at Stannis who gives a different view: he explicitly chose duty to his brother over duty to his king, so he has a very different definition view of what was going on than Ned did.

Oh, the concept of a 'tyrannical king' definitely exists in Westeros. We get that when the High Septon denounces King Aenys as 'a pretender and a tyrant'. Apparently rebellion is justified when a king is a tyrant.

But we don't know exactly what makes you a tyrant (in King Aenys' case 'tyranny' is apparently defined as marrying your son to your daughter in defiance of the gods - that doesn't tell us anything what constitutes 'tyranny' from the point of view of the aristocracy or even the smallfolk).

I mean, if we take the variation of the 'Aerys command' from the Dance, Rhaenyra's command to Lord Mooton to kill Nettles, then the result of the order is the same as Jon Arryn's, basically, yet nobody actually says the queen didn't have the right to issue such a command. Such a command puts a lord in a very uncomfortable position - your monarch vs. guest right/your personal honor, etc. - but nobody ever says that some 'feudal contract' or 'sacred law' has been broken by such a command. There seems to be 'decency line' you should not cross as a king, but there is no indication that this part of codified or unwritten law.

In case of the Rebellion it is a rather interesting - and as of yet not properly answered question - what the hell the plan/intention of the rebels actually was. Unlike Rhaenyra or Daemon Blackfyre (and all subsequent Blackfyre pretenders) Robert Baratheon and his followers didn't seem to have known that they wanted to replace King Aerys with King Robert when they began. If Robert truly only began to think he could, as Rhaelle's grandson, also sit the Iron Throne, then originally the Rebellion would have a war to topple the madman and the rapist, to be replace either with Prince Viserys, Prince Aegon, or one of the women, just as the movement to topple Maegor also replaced him with a close heir.

In Stannis' case the question whether his brother also might be his future king may also have been important. Yes, Aerys was the crowned and anointed king, and also part of Stannis' extended family, but Robert was his brother. If he would become king, Stannis would be much closer to the Iron Throne (and would possibly even become the Lord of Storm's End) than he was with Aerys remaining there.

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21 hours ago, Ran said:

Sure sounds like at least one of the major players in the rebellion saw it as a direct response to Aerys's murders.

Sorry to disturb the conversation, but ... what children ?

 

13 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

But that's a specific context, no? Ned invokes Aerys the Murderer of Children to prevent his friend from becoming the Murderer of Children as well.

There are cryptic hints about child sacrifices throughout the books, but they are never told. Instead we gain the uprising and a line that we can "maybe" see as an argument for "Ned and Robert were children". But that is reversed law. And not very logical, seeing that half of the Lord of Westeros ignore the "law" anyway and support Aerys. If the "law" is not executed, then it is not existent.

And I agree with @Dukhasinov. We never get an example of those children. Westeros seems to be abolutism embedded in a high medieval society.

Edited by SirArthur

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We do get some killed children for Aerys II. He killed the entire families of at least one of his mistress, and he killed all the Darklyns and Hollards, children included.

I've also tossed around the idea that he may have eradicated House Staunton, too (possibly during the war). Neither Rook's Rest nor its house show up in the novels, never mind the fact that they are historically pretty important, and their lord or lady should thus be mentioned - or be even as prominent - as the lords of houses Rosby, Stokeworth, Duskendale, etc. Lord Symond Staunton was Aerys' Master of Law around the time of Harrenhal, but that's no guarantee he lasted long in the office, or that he and his family survived Aerys' paranoia after the war had begun. At this point we have only talk about Aerys burning a lot of people, but there must have been some significant people among them, especially after the war had begun.

We just don't have any children Ned Stark would particularly care about - unless, of course, Brandon's companions Kyle Royce and Jeffory Mallister (somebody should ask George whether that's the usual Joffrey misspelling ;-)) do count as children. We don't know how old they were when they were killed. Elbert Arryn must have been an adult already, and Ethan Glover seems to have been of fighting age, too.

I find the idea not bad to give Ned's sentence more meaning by making Kyle and Jeffory boys in their early teens, say, 10-12 or so.

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1 hour ago, SirArthur said:

Sorry to disturb the conversation, but ... what children ?

SSM July 2012, translated from Spanish:

Quote

When Ned and Robert are arguing over the murder of Daenerys in Game of Thrones , Ned says "Why did we rise up against Aerys Targaryen, Robert, if it was not to end the killing of children?" Since Aerys did a lot of atrocities but never talk about killing children again, is it a slip of Ned or is there something we still do not know? 
Well, there were times when Aerys ordered the killing of children. It is discovered in later books, as in the Defiance of Duskendale, when they take the city and give most people to the sword, including the younger children of the Houses that challenged them, such as the Darklyns and Hollards. And I imagine that there would be other situations in which the same thing happened: the whole line of a House is eliminated, you do not limit yourself to simply killing the father and you let the children grow up so they can take revenge. But this becomes an endless circle, the Targaryen children themselves are killed. 

 

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2 hours ago, zionius said:

SSM July 2012, translated from Spanish:

 

Hmm. Makes Ned kind of a hypocrite, going against Aerys but not against Tywin. (Tarbeck, Rayne and later Targaryen). 

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17 hours ago, SirArthur said:

Hmm. Makes Ned kind of a hypocrite, going against Aerys but not against Tywin. (Tarbeck, Rayne and later Targaryen). 

I don't see how you can call Ned and hypocrite. :blink:


Eddard goes against Tywin every time he has the opportunity. He was outraged at the murder of Rhaegar's children, and urged Robert to punish Tywin for it. He was so much angered at his childhood friend and new-made king that a "great rift" was formed. And many years later, it's still clear that he still resents the Lannisters and constantly cautions Robert to restrict as much as possible their influence at court.

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2 hours ago, The hairy bear said:

I don't see how you can call Ned and hypocrite. :blink:


Eddard goes against Tywin every time he has the opportunity. He was outraged at the murder of Rhaegar's children, and urged Robert to punish Tywin for it. He was so much angered at his childhood friend and new-made king that a "great rift" was formed. And many years later, it's still clear that he still resents the Lannisters and constantly cautions Robert to restrict as much as possible their influence at court.

Yes, I called him a hypocrite and I stand by it - within the context of this law discussion. Either he defends the "law" or he doesn't. If he chooses when to fight he is opportunistic, pretty much the observation of the OP.

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2 minutes ago, SirArthur said:

Yes, I called him a hypocrite and I stand by it - within the context of this law discussion. Either he defends the "law" or he doesn't. If he chooses when to fight he is opportunistic, pretty much the observation of the OP.

Ned wasn't yet born when Tywin put down the Reynes and Tarbecks - and it never was his business to deal with that. It would have been Lord Tytos' and Jaehaerys II's duty to do something about, and if neither of them got around to it, then it would have fallen to Aerys II - who made clear what he thought about the affair when he made Tywin his Hand.

But if we entertain the notion for a moment that Ned and Robert had fought against the Lannisters in the wake of the revelation of the twincest, and if they had prevailed, then I actually could see Ned laying the innocent Reynes and Tarbecks - their children and especially the servants and retainers who all drowned in Castamere - at Tywin's feet. And he would have demanded justice for them.

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You are right about the Reynes and Tarbecks, but the point of the OP still stands that there is no law preventing it. So an uprising "for the children" against Aerys, who didn't interfere, seems not the case. So no "law" about that.

The other thing are the Targaryens. Robert was wounded at the Trident and Ned marched towards KL. Here is what Ned remembers:

"I was still mounted. I rode the length of the hall in silence, between the long rows of dragon skulls. It felt as though they were watching me, somehow. I stopped in front of the throne, looking up at him. His golden sword was across his legs, its edge red with a king's blood. My men were filling the room behind me. Lannister's men drew back. I never said a word. I looked at him seated there on the throne, and I waited. At last Jaime laughed and got up. He took off his helm, and he said to me, 'Have no fear, Stark. I was only keeping it warm for our friend Robert. It's not a very comfortable seat, I'm afraid.'"

So Ned arrived when the blood was still warm, so to speak. Yet he did ... nothing regarding Aegon's (maybe he did there, we will see) or Rheanys' murderer. 

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50 minutes ago, SirArthur said:

You are right about the Reynes and Tarbecks, but the point of the OP still stands that there is no law preventing it. So an uprising "for the children" against Aerys, who didn't interfere, seems not the case. So no "law" about that.

Again, if Kyle Royce and Jeffory Mallister actually were children, then this may have been part of their reason to rebel. I doubt the Darklyn or Hollard children figured into all that in a meaningful way.

50 minutes ago, SirArthur said:

So Ned arrived when the blood was still warm, so to speak. Yet he did ... nothing regarding Aegon's (maybe he did there, we will see) or Rheanys' murderer. 

That is true, but I actually assume Tywin did not tell anyone outside his own circle about the fate of Elia and the children before Robert arrived. Tywin's men had taken Maegor's Holdfast, and there is no indication that Ned was allowed in there, or that Tywin told him what his men had done.

It is an interesting question how much time passed in KL between Ned's arrival and Robert's arrival. It is also interesting to know how many men Ned had in comparison to Tywin's. One assumes not enough to turn against him. If he had had enough men he may have just taken Jaime's head then and there in the throne room.

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Yes, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of what we would consider Law in Westeros.  At least at the time of the 5 kings, even Lords don't seem to have hardly any rights they can't enforce with pure power.   There's certainly no magna carta.  No common law.  Just however your local strongman feels that day.  You can rise on a tide, and then be sunk the next morning, like what happened to  Janos Slynt.   Or like how captured Northern lords were treated.  And they were expected to be ransomed.  

In our own world, when things are like that it leads to a lot of banditry, chaos and anarchy.  The common people generally suffer a lot  as a result, and the social order starts to shatter.  Farmers don't stay on their land, but run off into the woodloods.   I wonder if this is supposed to be a recent devolution due to the civil wars, or if this was how GRRM saw the whole Targeryen reign as being.

Edited by argonak

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4 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

then I actually could see Ned laying the innocent Reynes and Tarbecks - their children and especially the servants and retainers who all drowned in Castamere - at Tywin's feet. And he would have demanded justice for them.

Why especially them?

Indiscriminate mass killing of civilians along with combatants by burning, collapsing etc. of defended buildings immediately spares lives of attackers. Whereas killing civilians already taken alive does not do so.

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I think it's more accurate to look at "law" in Westeros through the prism of how it existed in real medieval history.  Yes, there are "laws" but just as important are traditional rights and privileges.

The King may have absolute power, but that power is resting on a base of support of the acceptance of the nobility.  Strong tradition and self-interest keeps most parties loyal and enhances the bonds of the feudal contract, because rebelling against your King sends an implicit message to your social inferiors that they can rebel against you.  So we see with Aerys II; eradicating the Darklyns and Hollards is seen as drastic, but at least somewhat justified because they defied him and laid hands on the person of the monarch.  Whereas when Aerys burns Rickard, Brandon & Co, there is far more widespread discontent, which probably turns into Robert's Rebellion even without the obviously unjust calling for the murder of Ned and Robert.  Speaking of an absolute law isn't right, and speaking of the absolute right of kings isn't right either.  Aerys II isn't an absolute monarch and if he violates his end of the bargain, his vassals are well within their rights (and by this I mean traditional rights) to disavow the legitimacy of their overlord.

On 9/25/2018 at 10:52 AM, argonak said:

Yes, there doesn't seem to be much in the way of what we would consider Law in Westeros.  At least at the time of the 5 kings, even Lords don't seem to have hardly any rights they can't enforce with pure power.   There's certainly no magna carta.  No common law.  Just however your local strongman feels that day.  You can rise on a tide, and then be sunk the next morning, like what happened to  Janos Slynt.   Or like how captured Northern lords were treated.  And they were expected to be ransomed.  

In our own world, when things are like that it leads to a lot of banditry, chaos and anarchy.  The common people generally suffer a lot  as a result, and the social order starts to shatter.  Farmers don't stay on their land, but run off into the woodloods.   I wonder if this is supposed to be a recent devolution due to the civil wars, or if this was how GRRM saw the whole Targeryen reign as being.

Yeah but this is the entire point GRRM is making.  Tywin isn't a badass, and his argument about killing a dozen men at dinner versus 10,000 in battle is refuted by exactly what you're saying here.  Tywin especially is violating all the norms of his society, and it's having drastic repercussions on society as a whole and on his cause and House in particular.  Or look at Janos Slynt; he's corrupt as all hell and gets his position as Lord of Harrenhal through treachery.  Is it any wonder no one speaks up for him at court when he's brought low, or that Cersei herself barely gives a shit?  We see over and over again that the people who act against the unspoken social contract reap what they sow.  The Red Wedding achieves some of the ends of the Freys, Boltons, and Lannisters, but now that they've violated social norms, they're finding themselves strung up by bandits despite being under a truce banner, or being killed and baked into f**king pies!  

And for what it's worth the Magna Carta wasn't a set of laws, it was just a written version of the expected reciprocal relations of kings and barons.  Barons are free to do whatever the hell they want to commoners, who aren't even mentioned.  Feudalism as a economic, social, and political system exists precisely because prior to it, everyone was at the mercy of the local strongman.  The oaths and traditions and rights and privileges which bind everyone in feudal society together are explicitly for the purpose of getting away from the "might makes right" way of doing business; the whole process of becoming or taking a vassal is to bring order out of chaos.

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The problem is that the Westerosi kings clearly seem to have more power than the actual medieval monarchs who had to made concessions to their lords and who were facing real and powerful rebellions to restrict the power of the monarchy - or prevent it from develop into such.

Whatever 'the feudal contract' is, is not well-defined in Westeros, nor is there an indication if/what are the limits of the king's powers, or what rights the lords have the king cannot take from them.

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2 hours ago, Lord Varys said:

The problem is that the Westerosi kings clearly seem to have more power than the actual medieval monarchs who had to made concessions to their lords and who were facing real and powerful rebellions to restrict the power of the monarchy - or prevent it from develop into such.

Whatever 'the feudal contract' is, is not well-defined in Westeros, nor is there an indication if/what are the limits of the king's powers, or what rights the lords have the king cannot take from them.

Yeah, my head canon is that the "dragonfear" was kept alive even after the dragons had passed on.  The Targeryens had a long period where they essentially rode around on WMDs and didn't have to care paticularly much for the feelings of their vassals, (but did so anyway, which was probably due to Aegon's political savy).  So they were able to build up a long tradition of authoritarian rule when they were actually able to enforce it, and it has taken several generations for it to fade away.  This is similiar to what the ancient Deified monarchs had, but on a greater level because they serious could come burn your castle down if you pissed them off. 

There's some other pecularities as well, as it seems that taxes are being kicked up to the King from all over rather than only collecting rents from his personal properties that he hasn't let out to vassals.  The King also directly rules an improbably large capital city which would represent a signficant source of labor and power.  King's Landing is said to be somewhere near half a million people, the local militia alone of such a metropolis ought to be able to compare well to many of the armies we see the Lords Paramount raising.  Even with a 5% participation rate, thats 25,000 men who can be called up relatively quickly.  And that ignores the rest of the crown lords who owe direct feality to the iron throne.

If the whole seven kingdoms are kicking up signficant tax revenues, any Targeryen King ought to be able to muster a major force to put down any potential rivals just with the demesne we see.  There's probably almost as many people in King's Landing as there are in the whole North.

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