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Why so many small noble houses?


Craving Peaches
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Lannisters, Tyrells and Arryns have multiple branches, and there are two seperate branches of the Vances and Fossoways, but apart from them the rest of the noble houses are really small. Some of them are limited to like one nuclear family, with maybe an uncle or two if they are lucky. How were there only three Baratheons at one point? Surely Robert, Stannis and Renly should have had other relatives (a 'Harbert' is mentioned but that's about it, and it's not clear whether he was a Baratheon). There should be way more Starks around as well given they've been around for thousands of years, but we only have two cadet branches total (and one was killed off five hundred years ago). Especially since Westeros is so large, they have plenty of land to give to relatives.

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With the Starks, they may have developed a deliberate policy of shipping younger sons off to the Watch in order to limit the number of cadet branches and thereby keep the patrimony intact. Overall though, I entirely agree. That so many houses can be so old and yet be down to one or two members at the time of the current story does seem strange. With the Starks at least, this is presumably for narrative reasons.

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10 minutes ago, Alester Florent said:

With the Starks, they may have developed a deliberate policy of shipping younger sons off to the Watch in order to limit the number of cadet branches and thereby keep the patrimony intact. Overall though, I entirely agree. That so many houses can be so old and yet be down to one or two members at the time of the current story does seem strange. With the Starks at least, this is presumably for narrative reasons.

Aren’t the Templetons of the Vale related to the Starks

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If you look at it another way, 75% of major Reach houses are the same dynasty, all the descendants of Garth Greenhand.

But yes, this is an issue that's present in every single case, even the ones you mention.

This is mostly just George's worldbuilding. There's a pattern here. George keeps the certain (agnatic) lineages small, but they still manage to overcome the millenias.

IRL, I think you have 'houses' that are traceable back for about 2500 years (that's the most I've heard of, personally), but they are like the extremely few, and these people bear little to no significance at this point. 

ASOIAF kind of sets up the stage for the never-ending medieval setup, but it's still not humanly possible to have so many ancient houses with such limited numbers. They keep good track of branches going off centuries, or millenias before. They certainly have agnatic descendants among the very end of the line of hierarchy (peasnats, commoners), but that's still no explanation. Significance of blood is on steroids, just like in LotR or Dune.

If you want the truth, it's George's style (or early, unretconable mistake, which has its enormous beauty). If you want the in-world explanation, then: magic.

 

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It's not that outlandish, there's a million ways to die in Westeros, most won't make it. For example the average life span of a woman is childbirth.

Also I'm sure Stannis has like second or third cousins two or three times removed, they're all kinda related, that's just what the aristocracy is. But it's removed, like Rhegar so they only see each other around Christmas, and these cousins have their own houses and agenda so their loyalty won't lie with Baratheon or Stark or whomever 

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Just now, Craving Peaches said:

If that were the case there would be no population growth in Westeros unless every woman had triplets or quadruplets. We know that is not the case, and we are told there is population growth.

Perhaps among the smallfolk, though I don't remember being told that.

Besides it was a joke, and average. But Westeros is a wartorn land filled to the brim with bandits, cruel lords and dark magic, it's not exactly safe

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Just now, Hugorfonics said:

Besides it was a joke, and average. But Westeros is a wartorn land filled to the brim with bandits, cruel lords and dark magic, it's not exactly safe

But it's not always been like that, yet noble houses have remained small, the small size doesn't seem to be in response to anything, just the way things are....

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2 minutes ago, Craving Peaches said:

But it's not always been like that, yet noble houses have remained small, the small size doesn't seem to be in response to anything, just the way things are....

How do we know what it was like? Stannis' dad I guess was just an only child, it happens. Ned's siblings all died early so that's why there's no cousins there.

But Stark has second cousins, Cat wanted Robb to make them heir, but they're really Vale folk, they loved their whole lives under another house which is I think the majority of Westeros cousins. After all, they have to marry each other, smallfolk don't count, so it's a small pool just constantly getting recycled which can't be good for, well anything really 

 

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We have two great houses with multiple collateral lines, Lannister and Tyrell.  Everyone else is pretty thin.

It doesn't take much bad luck to thin a house out quickly.  Girls will generally marry outside the family, and their offspring will generally not inherit unless they're within a couple generations of the last survivor (eg, Harrold Hardyng).  Have enough generations with one or two boys, who have limited sons, you can thin out quick.  And as I said, it's unlikely they will go back too far, as they would have no real connection.

Plus I expect it's GRRM making families no bigger than they need to be for the story.  Creating collateral lines would be a pain, especially if they aren't needed to do anything.

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6 hours ago, King Maegor the Cool said:

Aren’t the Templetons of the Vale related to the Starks

Yes, but through a female line. That's why they're Templetons, not Starks. IRL, houses have passed through the female line while retaining their name, most notably probably the Habsburgs, but also the Bagrationi (twice) who are so far as I've been able to determine the oldest (recorded) surviving royal house in Europe and one of the oldest worldwide (especially if we treat the Japanese Imperial House as essentially legendary in its origins).

Most European noble/royal houses in the male line can only be traced back to around AD 900 which is partly for lack of records but most of them don't even make it that far. There are some tenuous links allowing some to be traced back further: if the Capetians are really descended from the Merovingians in the male line (highly speculative) then that allows them to be traced back to the early 5th century: around 1500 years.

And there are dozens of Robertians around now, despite the work of French revolutionaries attempting to trim the family line. By the 17th century there were so many of them that a whole cadet line was disinherited out of convenience, because they had become so impoverished they were basically an embarrassment. The same goes for other old surviving houses: the Welfs, the Wettins, the Oldenburgs, the Stuarts, the Lorraines (the whole surviving Habsburg family is a Lorraine cadet branch), the Hohenzollerns.

In reality this is disguised a bit because they often don't go under the "family name": the current king of the UK (a "Mountbatten-Windsor") is an Oldenburg, for instance. But in Westeros nobles are much more protective of their family name and we tend to be told when it's been changed up (Iike the Karstarks).

A house that is thousand of years old like the Starks, you would expect to see hundreds of Starks kicking around now unless their numbers have been controlled through regular culling. Maybe there are loads and loads of Karstarks, but they seem thin on the ground, as do some other ancient houses like the Boltons, the Darrys, etc.

Elsewhere, there are quite a lot of Lannisters, including at least one cadet branch, and the Arryns have a cadet branch too. We don't, I think, have a full family tree for the Tyrells, but the Martells seem few in number especially since they can inherit the name through their mothers too.

 

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It's possible that there are a lot more Starks, Lannisters, Tyrells, etc. in Westeros.  We just haven't read about them because they aren't relevant to the story line.

Westeros is the size of a continent, but the maps show only a few dozen towns, villages, and castles.  There must be a lot more.

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We know there aren't any close relatives of the Starks; it's mentioned when Robb is deciding on an heir.  Catelyn mentions distant relatives in the Vale.  If I had to guess, I would say they probably branched off at least a couple generations before Rickard.

The Lannisters and Tyrells have plenty of collateral lines.  They're mentioned in the appendix.

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