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The Law of Westeros


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Warning: Long Post

As someone interested in the law and who likes to analyse the actions of characters from a legal perspective, I would like to discuss what exactly we know about the Laws of Westeros. Frequently I have to 'fill the gaps' by using modern or historical law, but I find this unsatisfactory as it is not really how those well versed in law would see it in-universe. 

From what I can tell so far, Westeros seems to have a system based on customary and common law. There are some crimes that have a generally accepted punishment, such as outlaws being hung, deserters from the Watch being sentenced to death, and thieves losing fingers, but the lord pronouncing the sentence also has quite a bit of leeway in interpreting the crime and altering the punishment as they see fit.

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The law was plain; a deserter's life was forfeit.

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"I was hanging outlaws and robber knights when you were still shitting in your swaddling clothes. I am not like to go off and face Clegane and Dondarrion by myself, if that is what you fear, ser. Not every Lannister is a fool for glory."

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"Lord Umber," said Robb, "this one was only the watcher. Hang him last, so he may watch the others die."

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"It is customary to take a finger from a thief," Lord Tarly replied in a hard voice, "but a man who steals from a sept is stealing from the gods." He turned to his captain of guards. "Seven fingers. Leave his thumbs."

It also seems to be customary that smugglers lose fingers.

Law and custom are often put together.

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"When the queen's honor is at issue, law and custom require that her champion be one of the king's sworn seven. The High Septon will insist, I fear."

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Law and custom gave the baseborn few rights.

In regards to succession law (a complex topic deserving of its own post) custom seems to be used interchangebly with law.

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Criston the Kingmaker had set brother against sister and divided the Kingsguard against itself, bringing on the terrible war the singers named the Dance of the Dragons. Some claimed he acted from ambition, for Prince Aegon was more tractable than his willful older sister. Others allowed him nobler motives, and argued that he was defending ancient Andal custom.

We know that King Jaehaerys codified the law, but I would question how successful this was since people are not seen using or referring to his books of law at any time. It reminds me of Justinian's institutes and the digest, which were used extensively when he was alive (because he banned lawyers from using anything else and supressed all critisism of them) and then fell out of use until they were rediscovered later (I am not saying Jaehaerys did this). Though it does not seem the law varies much from place to place, so perhaps he was more successful after all. People refer to the 'laws of the Seven Kingdoms' though that wouldn't necessarily exclude different regions having different laws, just that some laws were common to all.

Prior to this the different regions of Westeros had different laws which Aegon I kept in place, though he did allow a few new laws to be made. The Rule of Thumb and the Rule of Six are mentioned in Fire and Blood.

It seems the King is the main maker of law, and so the law can change from one king to the next.

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"Aegon the Dragon made the Kingsguard and its vows, but what one king does another can undo, or change. Formerly the Kingsguard served for life, yet Joffrey dismissed Ser Barristan so his dog could have a cloak.

The King also grants the Right of Pit and Gallows, which allows lords to execute and imprison criminals.

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"The king's law gives lords the power of pit and gallows on their own lands."

The Night's Watch may have its own seperate body of law.

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"Craster is his own man. He has sworn us no vows. Nor is he subject to our laws."

The Iron Islands also seemingly have their own separate set of laws.

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"I am their lawful prince," Theon said stiffly.
"By the laws of the green lands, you might be. But we make our own laws here, or have you forgotten?"
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Before the priest could answer Gorold Goodbrother, the maester's mouth flapped open once again. "By rights the Seastone Chair belongs to Theon, or Asha if the prince is dead. That is the law."
"Green land law," said Aeron with contempt. "What is that to us? We are ironborn, the sons of the sea, chosen of the Drowned God. No woman may rule over us, nor any godless man."

There are also special laws regarding the Kingsmoot: it can be unlawfully called if an heir of the last king is absent.

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"Even if you did find your uncle Damphair, the two of you would fail. You were both part of the kingsmoot, so you cannot say it was unlawful called, as Torgon did. You are bound to its decision by all the laws of gods and men. You—"

The Thenns also have their own set of laws.

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The Thenns have lords and laws.

And we know Dornish succession law is different, but there could be other differences. There is a Rhoynish influence.

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Like Dornish food and Dornish law, Dornish speech was spiced with the flavors of the Rhoyne

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During the daylight hours she would try to read, but the books that they had given her were deadly dull: ponderous old histories and geographies, annotated maps, a dry-as-dust study of the laws of Dorne

I would also assume the Faith had its own laws since they previously could try people. There may be some overlap as people often refer to 'the laws of gods and men'.

It seems that being a trueborn son of someone also gives you some automatic rights.

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Men's laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colours

Jon expands on this point a bit, though I would assume 'girls can't fight' is not an actual law but more of a convention.

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Jon shrugged. "Girls get the arms but not the swords. Bastards get the swords but not the arms. I did not make the rules, little sister."

Egg sheds more light on this.

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"By law, only a trueborn son is entitled to inherit a knight's arms. You must needs find a new device, ser, a sigil of your own."

So from the above it seems that all trueborn sons (and possibly daughters, though they may be excluded from taking a knight's sigil going by a literal interpretation of the above quote) have an automatic right to their parents' arms. Bastards do not have this right, but whether they don't have the automatic right but can be granted permission or can't use the arms at all isn't clear. We know from various examples that there is an accepted convention of bastards being able to use modified versions of their father's sigil, with inverted colours and possible additional ordinaries added to the field, as seen with Walder Rivers.

There is reference to the 'Laws of Hospitality' as well, seemingly based on custom, which I assume would include guest right. There seems to be particular emphasis on these given how many times they are mentioned.

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The laws of hospitality are as old as the First Men, and sacred as a heart tree."

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"The gods will curse us," he cried. "There is no crime so foul as for a guest to bring murder into a man's hall. By all the laws of the hearth, we—"

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"'Tis scarcely chivalrous to threaten your host over his own cheese and olives," the Lord of the Dreadfort scolded. "In the north, we hold the laws of hospitality sacred still."

(Bit rich coming from Roose)

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"Robb, listen to me. Once you have eaten of his bread and salt, you have the guest right, and the laws of hospitality protect you beneath his roof."

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 "The Red Wedding was an affront to all the laws of gods and men, they say, and those who had a hand in it are damned."

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The Freys had broken all the laws of hospitality when they'd murdered her lady mother and her brother at the Twins, but she could not believe that a lord as noble as Yohn Royce would ever stoop to do the same.

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"Murdered in breach of all the sacred laws of hospitality."

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… but even robber lords and wreckers were bound by the ancient laws of hospitality.

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The laws of hospitality protect him.

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"You have no right to hold me. The laws of hospitality—"

We also know that death by trial in battle is not murder.

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"He was slain in single combat during a trial by battle," Prince Doran said. "By law, that is no murder."

Joining the Night's Watch wipes the slate clean. It would also appear that a guilty man always has the choice of going to the Watch, and once you are going there you cannot be harmed.

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"Your Grace, by law a man's past crimes and transgressions are wiped clean when he says his words and becomes a Sworn Brother of the Night's Watch."

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"You'll have no one," Yoren said stubbornly. "There's laws on such things."

We also have various references to there being taxes and such.

I plan to make another post in this thread on succession law in Westeros, and a separate thread on Stannis and the Law.

Thank you very much for reading.

Edited by Craving Peaches
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It does seem that the Laws of Westeros are in fact a lot more based on tradition then on a actual book of laws or code, it also seems that each kingdoms have not completely unified in the matter of law, but it could also just be the lords doing what they want since, it does not seem that there is any supervision of the lords justice. After all it is heavely implied that at least in the North the right of first night is still commonly used, and to had to that Ramsay's crimes seem to have gone unpunished for quite sometime, and the extend of Roose possible crimes is not really touched on. It also seems that there is absolutely not recourse for the peasant in the case of a tyrant lord other then revolt. It differ quite a bit from reality where in most realms kings have continually tried to unifie and moniter their lords. And even if having Dragons could help keep the main lords in check and make sure they dont threaten the kings power, but that would do little to make sure that a lord applies the actual laws that seem to have been made after Jahaery's. In short it does seem that Westeros is almost completely based on the interpretation of the tradition by the lord who passe judgement but also to is mood and character, after all Joffrey does seem to do what he wants, condemning Dontos to death for being drunk at a Tourney, I know it is suppose to show that Joffrey is just a tyrant, but the fact that only Sansa and to some extent Sandor seem to have a problem to that does make me think that the law in Westeros is a lot more a idea then it was in our real world.

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