Tag Archives: medieval

St Winifred and the Shrewsbury captives

I am currently working on a paper which focuses on rather hostile intervention by the Welsh in the medieval English borderlands (on William Herbert and associates, and their foray into Hereford in the 1450s) but, while looking at the King’s Bench plea rolls for 1456, came across a case which highlights a rather different sort of cross-border intervention, namely the help said to have been given by St Winifred to a Shrewsbury man, (allegedly) held captive and tortured by extortioners in North West England.
There is a petition in the National Archives (SC 8/96/4769) relating to this incident, presented by or on behalf of Shrewsbury men, William Bykton and Roger Pountesbury, but I don’t think the related KB document has been collated with this before – so I’m claiming it as a ‘find’. KB 27/781 m. 110 is also quite a lot clearer than the petition (even though it is in Latin rather than the petition’s English) which helps with working out the story.

Bykton and Pountesbury alleged that they had been seized, carried off to various lairs of Robert Bolde and his associates in Lancashire, tortured in creative and prolonged ways, and made to promise and hand over large sums of money. St Winifred comes in in the story of Roger Pountesbury, who gave a particularly detailed narrative about being hung up in specially constructed stocks – he put his eventual escape down to the saint’s intercession.

St Winifred (in Welsh, Gwenfrewi, and in the KB roll, it’s ‘Wenefride’) was, according to the ODNB entry by T.M. Charles-Edwards, around in the mid-7th century. She was a nun, and the most memorable part of her story involves being decapitated by a prince, incensed that she would not give in to his sexual desires, followed by the miraculous rejoining of head to body and subsequent virtuous nunnish life. Needless to say, where the head dropped, a miraculous well sprang up (with, of course, healing powers), and there were many posthumous miracles.

It is interesting in terms of my current article that there is this positive story about a Welsh saint in English records, relating to English people. It may not be hugely surprising that a Shrewsbury man held Winifred in high regard – since her relics had, by the time of these events, been in Shrewsbury for more than 300 years (see ODNB), but it is interesting to see mention of her in a document intended to have an impact on ‘national’ authorities. Even in a century which had seen Welsh rebellion and highly discriminatory laws, as well as a Welsh-English (or Welsh-Marcher-English) dimension to lawlessness, it is assumed that talking about a Welsh figure is a good move for an Englishman in want of a favour from Englishmen. Just another ingredient in the fascinating bara brith of the Welsh borderlands.

There is a lot more to think about here: no doubt the underlying incidents need to be fitted into a wider English political context too – I’m on the trail of Robert Bolde and his associates, who seem interesting. Also, from a more purely legal-historical point of view, this raises issues about the on-off inclusion in legal records of accounts of the divine and supernatural, about the petitioning process and the efficiency or otherwise of justice at this difficult period for ‘central government’. My ‘to do’ list has just expanded by several lines: thanks a lot, St Winifred.

28th April, 2017.

The Damsel of Brittany rides again


Eleanor of Brittany (1182×1184-1241) is somebody who kept popping up in my research on female imprisonment, and I tried to draw together some thoughts about her in an article back in 2007: ‘Eleanor of Brittany and Her Treatment by King John and Henry III’, Nottingham Medieval Studies 51 (2007): 73–110. Given this, I was very interested to see a very good new article focusing on this unfortunate and under-explored Angevin princess – Stephanie Russo (2016) ‘The Damsel of Brittany: Mary Robinson’s Angelina, Tyranny and the 1790s’, English Studies, 97:4 (2016), 397-411. This looks at the creative use made by the late 18th century novelist Robinson of the story of Eleanor of Brittany. Eleanor – or a fictionalised version of her – features as part of the mental world of the more modern characters in the epistolary novel Angelina, and as a point of comparison for some of the characters’ own situation.

Robinson’s Eleanor gets a bit of a romance – wouldn’t it be good if that was actually true, if there had actually been some such highlight in her life? But sadly very unlikely! It is rather intriguing that Robinson was a Bristolian by birth – did the story of the princess imprisoned in Bristol castle linger even in her day?

Anyway – good to see some attention being paid to Eleanor. I am secretly hoping that the current craze for digging up lost royals (Richard III, Henry I etc.) might mean an increased chance that somebody might have a go at locating her in Amesbury, and maybe find some clues to why she was apparently so keen to be buried there rather than Bristol (or why Henry III chose to say that she was).

Prisons and aliens: new articles of legal-historical interest, January 2016

Prisons and aliens: new articles of Legal Historical interest, January 2016

Two to note on ‘early release’ from Historical Researchhttp://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/journal/10.1111/(ISSN)1468-2281/earlyview

J.M. Moore, ‘Reformative rhetoric and the exercise of corporal power: Alexander Maconochie’s regime at Birmingham prison 1849-51’, explores the wide gap between what was said and what was actually done by this former Australian penal settlement gaoler in the new prison at Birmingham, and provides an important correction to  the former positive view of his practices. Maconochie’s ‘mark system’ ideas of task-based sentences leading to mental submission are quite well known. The lack of political approval of a trial of the mark system in the domestic context is interesting, however, and the evidence on actual practice in Birmingham given here is, however, illuminating (in a dark way). Unable to link tasks/behaviour and length of sentence, Maconochie linked these things to food and conditions in a very harsh way, and was rather keen on flogging boys and imposing lengthy physical restraints on women. A lack of respect for the need to record such punishments, and the use of his family members in various unofficial roles in the prison combine to give the impression of an arrogant man who did not respond well to frustration, and was determined to try and push through his theories, despite opposition. (I would like to hear more about his wife’s attempts to use mesmerism and homeopathy in the reform of prisoners though).

B. Lambert and W.M. Ormrod, ‘A matter of trust: the regulation of England’s French residents during wartime, 1294-1377’ looks at the treatment of suspect aliens during periods of uncomfortable relations with France, under the first three Edwards. The article notes the flexible response of government at various levels to the ‘problem’ of aliens. ‘Nationality’ was not regarded as a simple or conclusive matter at this point, before the late-14th C introduction of the formal process of ‘denization’ became established. Important differences between the treatment of ‘alien priories’, nobles and those of lower social rank are noted here, with the suggestion of a move from heavy to more flexible regulation in the case of the last group which may be at odds with expectations from earlier research on alien priories and nobles. The central argument is well made and there is much hard-won and useful detail on practice. From a local point of view, it is interesting to see the lack of desire to aggravate foreigners evident in the report of a mayor of Bristol, asked in 1337 to assess and identify the property in the city which was held by Frenchmen, for purposes of confiscation, who chose to say that there just wasn’t any (which was surely untrue) (p.12). Thinking more widely, this article provides very useful ideas and material to include in historical (and current political) work on the nature of nationality and allegiance, and on immigration, beyond the medieval period.

GS 16/1/2016

The Art of Law: important article on images in rolls of the late medieval Court of Common Pleas

An area in which many legal historians have become increasingly interested in recent years is the visual composition of legal records. I gave a paper on this at the British Legal History Conference in 2013 (http://www.gla.ac.uk/media/media_282282_en.pdf ), highlighting the need to integrate the images from the Common Pleas rolls into the King’s Bench-dominated view acquired from Erna Auerbach’s work, and have also made some comments on visual material in this blog (http://vifgage.blogs.ilrt.org/2013/04/07/p-is-for-profile-henry-viii-in-the-rolls-of-the-common-pleas/ ). The appearance of a thought-provoking study of the visual material in the CP rolls in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is a welcome addition to this area, and certainly one for reading lists in medieval legal history.

Elizabeth A Danbury and Kathleen L Scott, ‘The Plea Rolls of the Court of Common Pleas: an unused source for the art and history of later medieval England. 1422-1509’. The Antiquaries Journal, 95  (2015), 157-210 looks at the rise of decoration and illustration in the CP rolls in this period, and explored the iconography of the images and the meanings of words and mottoes associated with them. There is much of interest in the identification of particular kings and other characters, and the discussion of the way in which particular images fit in with contemporary political events. I am also intrigued by the mysterious popularity of dragons in these records. Helpfully, there are several good-quality photographs of key images.

Medieval historians are naturally drawn to the political ramifications of the images. I think that legal historians can and should also consider the implications of the illustration and decoration which relates to the image or self-image of particular courts. Auerbach’s work saw the inclusion of loyal, royal pictures in the KB rolls as something which flowed from the particular connection of the monarch with that court. Noting that the CP also included such images makes that conclusion less secure. There is also the issue of the inclusion of decoration and mottoes associated with the names of judges, which deserves some consideration in connection with the image they were trying to project. Finally, there is the intriguing issue of the expected ‘consumers’ of these images: who would have seen them? Did our ‘clerk-illustrators’ imagine that they were drawing only for their immediate colleagues and contemporaries, or for posterity?

Gwen Seabourne


Dealing with medieval aliens

A new article concerning the denization process in medieval England has appeared in the English Historical Review: B. Lambert and W.M. Ormrod, ‘Friendly foreigners: international warfare, resident aliens and the early history of denization in England c. 1250-1400’ EHR 130 (2015), 1-24. A major question which the article addresses is why royal intervention in this area, granting denizen status to aliens, began when it did, in the late fourteenth century.  Disagreeing with previous suggestions of Romanist influence in the Chancery, legislation and long-term developments, the authors make out a case for the influence of practices in the late 1370s, connected to dealing with citizens of enemy countries during times of hostility. Interesting reading, particularly in the current climate of heated debate about immigration.

Curtesy and crying

A Year Book note on curtesy, and the requirements which a man must meet in order to claim to hold by the curtesy of England (proof of a live birth to his wife – specifically a baby’s cry being heard) YB Trin. 20 Edw I pl 39; Seipp 1292.88 refers to the case of Richard Danyel v Richard de la Bere (Herefordshire Eyre 1292) JUST 1/303 m. 6.  Richard Danyel, claiming the land formerly held by his mother, argued that Richard had not had qualifying issue with Cecily. De la Bere claimed that Cecily had given birth to his (qualifyingly noisy) child at Bishopston. A jury was summoned (the Year Book has some comments on the appropriate place from which to draw a jury when the alleged birth was in one place and the land in another). The jury told a sad tale of a very sick baby and an emergency baptism at home, then a brief visit to the church, after which it died, without having qualified, in auditory terms, as the right kind of offspring to give the father a right to curtesy. The crying test for curtesy is being taken seriously – and, as this case shows, could be used to exclude severely unwell children, even if they appear to have been viewed alive by at least a priest. Richard Danyel did not pursue the case, and should have been amerced for this failure, but was forgiven because he was a minor. Exactly what his role was in this story is unclear, but it does not suggest a happy family.

Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective Part II E: Property Law

Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective

Part II E:

Property Law

Individual ownership of personal property and land (though with feudal overtones) is the norm in Westeros, and acquisition by sale, gift and inheritance is in evidence. Real property may be lost by abandonment [V:42]. Little more is revealed. One possibly problematic area is property in dragons. Daenerys Targaryen appears to see them as (her) property [II:528], but whether they can be regarded as truly under her control, or should be so regarded, is not entirely clear.

Some marginal and ‘foreign’ cultures take a different view of the appropriate relationship between people and things or land, and the appropriate modes of acquisition of property.

A notably different view persists amongst the Ironborn. Fittingly, the motto of House Greyjoy is ‘We do not sow’ [II:154], and their ‘Old Way’ praises and asserts religious justification for those who ‘reave and rape’ [ibid.]. An interesting gender distinction is made: in the Old Way, whilst ‘women might decorate themselves with ornaments bought with coin’, there was a more demanding requirement for ‘warriors’, who were allowed to wear only the jewellery they took from ‘the corpses of enemies slain by his own hand’. This was known as ‘paying the iron price’ for the jewels [II:166].

The Dothraki do not acquire property through sale, but through a system of (semi-) reciprocal gift-giving [V:73], and do not have a strong concept of individual property since they see it as appropriate for members of a former khalasar to remove the ex-khal’s herd: ‘it is the right of the strong to take from the weak’ [I:733].

Also far from Westerosi concepts is the view of the Wildings. Ygritte expresses views reminiscent of some native American or aboriginal peoples, disputing the idea of individual ownership of (some?) land and chattels, which are worth quoting in full: ‘The gods made the earth for all men t’ share. Only when the kings came w their crowns and steel swords, they claimed it was all theirs. My trees, they said, you can’t eat them apples. My stream, you can’t fish here. My wood, you’re not t’ hunt. My earth, my water, my castle, mu daughter, keep your hands away or I’ll chop them off, but maybe if you kneel t’ me I’ll let you have a sniff. You could call us thieves, but at least a thief has t’ be brave and clever and quick. A Kneeler only has t’ kneel.’ III:462.


The feudal element

Lordship and feudal ties are much in evidence, though little explained. High lords have bannermen, bound to them by oaths, though the connection with land grants has not been explored, and no doubt there is more to say about the rights and responsibilities of lords and ‘smallfolk’. It is clear that (some?) people can choose to whom they swear themselves – e.g. Brienne of Tarth swears to Catelyn Stark [II:508] in what seems more like a personal bond than something land-related.

Wardship is a known institution, though it is not always well-distinguished from fosterage and hostageship. Thus Theon Greyjoy is said to be the ward of Ned Stark [I:12] but is in reality a hostage for his father’s good behaviour following a rebellion against Robert I Baratheon [See also I:22; I:37].

Money It is interesting to note that there is no equivalent to the medieval Christian horror of usury. The Iron Throne pays ‘usury’ on its loans [III:361] and Cersei tells merchants to pay usury on their own loans from the Iron Bank of Braavos [IV:604].


I:          George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

II:        George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

III:       George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords

IV:       George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

V:        George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

World: George R.R. Martin, E M Garcia Jr, L. Antonsson, The World of Ice and Fire: the untold history of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Number references refer to pages in I – V, but to Kindle locations for World.

Gwen Seabourne


Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective IID: criminal law

Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective

Part II

Substantive Law


D: Criminal Law

The Song of Ice and Fire mentions a variety of different ‘criminal’ offences, many of which are broadly similar to (medieval) English offences (pleas of the crown), though often there is insufficient evidence to allow exploration of the definition of the individual crime. There are offences against the person, against property and the state or crown.


Treason is a recognised concept, though, as in medieval Europe, its definition appears somewhat uncertain or contested. It includes at least killing the king and adultery by or with the queen [IV:515, 653]. Those in power might try to extend the concept, thus Cersei Lannister states that saying that Joffrey is not the true heir to Robert Baratheon is treason [I:509] and Joffrey says failure by those instructed to swear fealty to him to do so is treason [I:598]. Ultra-loyalist Eddard Stark considers it treason not to reveal that Joffrey is not the son of Robert Baratheon, and so is not the true heir to the Iron Throne. Littlefinger, however, taking a more pragmatic approach, says it is only treason ‘if we lose’[I:495].

A glimpse into (at least popular understanding of) the law of treason by adultery can be seen in the statement of Lancel Lannister to his cousin Jaime, that while he had had sex with Cersei, he was not a traitor because he had withdrawn before emission, and ‘It is not treason unless you finish inside’ [IV:515]. Clearly, then, assuming that such withdrawal is seen as a reliable method of contraception, Lancel understands the treasonous element of this version of the offence to be activity which would endanger the purity of the royal line, rather than any sort of sexual activity with the queen.

Women and children connected with rebellious males can be adjudged traitors, suggesting, perhaps, an idea of treason by contagion, or at least, in the case of children, a low threshold for capacity for guilty intention [I:598]. Joffrey, as king, calls a woman a traitor, and has her locked up, when she comes to his court and asks for the head of an executed traitor whom she loved, as she wants to ensure that he has proper burial. The royal logic is that  ‘If you loved a traitor, you must be a traitor too’.[I:721]. The context, however, indicates that Joffrey is not acting in accordance with law or custom in his determinations.

There is, perhaps, a wider idea of offences of ‘lesser’ treason, or sedition, lurking in the popular understanding. Jaime Lannister notes that the ‘old penalty for striking one of the blood royal’ was losing a hand’ [IV:517]. This suggests that action short of ‘high’ treason, and extending beyond the persons of the king, queen, heir and heir’s wife, could be taken particularly seriously. Also, those who disparage those in power may face disabling punishment. So a tavern singer who made a song that ridiculed the late King Robert, and Queen Cersei, is subject to mutilation [1:721]. Cersei also presses for mutilation of anyone speaking of incest or calling Joffrey a bastard, though this is not accepted by others [II:208].

Perhaps to be regarded as akin to treason is the offence of ‘deicide’ with which the High Septon wants to try Cersei Lannister. Killing the High Septon (or complicity in his homicide) is so regarded because the person in this role ‘speaks on earth for the gods’ [V:727].


Killing another subject other than in war or in execution of justice is a crime, and is designated murder. A more expansive view of the conduct which can amount to murder is taken than would be found in the medieval common law – thus, not feeding one’s wife might be regarded as murder [II:474]. It is seen as a plausible defence to a murder charge that one was acting on the orders of a superior: e.g. when Beric Dondarrion’s brotherhood try the Hound, Sandor Clegane, for crimes including murder [III: 384 ff], the Hound denies guilt, and says, in relation to the accusation that he murdered the butcher’s boy, Mycah, that he ‘was Joffrey’s sworn shield. The butcher’s boy attacked a prince of the blood’, and when  Arya Stark says it was she who attacked Joffrey, the Hound argues that he ‘heard it from the royal lips. It’s not my place to question princes.’ [III:386]. This defence does not, however, convince his accusers (though, as he is successful in a trial by combat under the auspices of R’hilor, the Lord of Light, perhaps there is some approbation of his argument).

Vengeance is not regarded as an excuse or justification for homicide, so Robb Stark executes Rickard Karstark for his vengeance killing of two Lannister prisoners [III:231]. Likewise, being ‘mad with love’ is not an excuse (or not a complete excuse?) for homicide [IV:173].

There is room for differing views on the borderline between killing made lawful by war and murder. Thus Eddard Stark regarded as murder the killing of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen’s wife and children, during the war which led to the defeat and deposition of the Targaryens by Robert Baratheon, but Robert regarded it as legitimate action during a time of war, however troubling (and , initially at least, ordered the killing of Daenerys Targaryen and her unborn heir once he heard that she was pregnant) [I:106].

In Westeros, tournaments may end in death, without condemnation of the killer [I:286], and at Dothraki weddings, fights to the death over women are unpunished [I:97]  Beyond Westeros, some cultures enjoy homicide as a spectacle, akin to Roman gladiatorial games. This is not acceptable to (at least some) Westerosi sensibilities. Thus, Daenerys Targaryen bans the fighting pits of Meereen. She is, however, obliged  to reopen them, to ensure political  stability. There is pressure both from the populace who wish to watch ‘the mortal art’, and the fighters who want the chance to fight for glory [V:155]. She tries to make these arenas less offensive and cruel than they had been, insisting that fighters must choose freely to participate, or else be in certain classes of criminal (murderers and rapers may be forced to fight, as may slavers, but not thieves or debtors) and all fighters must be of age [V:693] She does not manage to do away with the ‘humorous’ fights of ‘cripples’ and dwarfs.

Particularly condemned are the kingslayer, the kinslayer and the killer in violation of guest-right [II:578; World: 3852; III:83]. Violations of guest-right, , under which it was forbidden to kill one who had eaten at one’s board, and for the guest to kill his host, are condemned particularly amongst the Northmen [World: 3852; III:83], but guest right is mentioned in relation to widely spread parts of Westeros, for example: the Wall [V:142]; the wildings and the North [III:83], Dorne [V:511]. There is a suggestion that it is a matter of the laws both of gods (old and new) and of men [IV:276; III:83]. Kinslaying is likewise described as an offence against the laws of gods and men [II:578].

There is some idea of sacred spaces in which special rules of peace apply. Bloodshed is forbidden in Vaes Dothrak, the sacred city of the Dothraki [I:477]. Nevertheless, there is a loophole, and traders there employ stranglers to kill thieves, so as to kill without offending against the ban [I:478], and Khal Drogo kills Viserys without offending against the ban by crowning him with molten gold [I:483]. Places sacred to the Faith are also not to be used for bloodshed. The High Septon regards the beheading of Eddard Stark on the steps of the Great Sept of Baelor as a profanation {II:36, 52].

Interestingly, and unlike the situation under the laws in medieval Europe, there is no suggestion that suicide is regarded as a crime.Shara Dayne’s suicide is seen as something to pity rather than to condemn [V:879 – though note that she was ‘mad with grief’ at the time]. The supposed suicide of Ser Cortnay Penrose is not particularly condemned [II:583]. Tyrion considers killing himself with poisonous mushrooms, rather than allowing Cersei to capture him alive [V:353], and although that does not prove that suicide would not be condemned, there is no sense that he has moral reservations about it.

Cannibalism, whether or not involving homicide, however, is a capital offence, at least under Stannis Baratheon’s rule, and even if the person in question is starving [V:818]. The Dothraki clearly did not consider that any laws forbade leaving ‘deformed children’ to be eaten by feral dogs [I:314]. How Daenerys’s smothering of the living but incapable Khal Drogo {I:736] would be viewed in Dothraki  or Westerosi law is unclear. She clearly saw it as a mercy killing, and the right thing to do. Euthanasia is a contested issue, but there is some support for it. It is suggested that Bran should be put out of his misery after his fall and paralysis, and that Patchface the fool should be given milk of the poppy as a method of euthanasia when he has lost his mind, but these options are not taken up [II:7; III:823] and Val, the ‘wilding princess’ advocates killing children with greyscale – smothering, stabbing or poisoning them [V:708]. Beric Dondarrion, Sandor Clegane and others approve of giving the dying (after a fight) ‘the gift of mercy’ [III:441;728]. The House of Black and White in Braavos (in which Arya Stark ends up) also gives out the ‘gift of mercy’ or ‘gift of who shall live and who shall die [which ] belongs to Him of Many Faces’- [IV:350].

Whether or not abortion is an offence is unclear. Lysa Arryn and Littlefinger’s baby was aborted, Lysa being tricked by her father into drinking an abortifacient [III:912], but, although the dying Hoster Tully feels guilt, it is not clear whether this would be regarded as a crime.


Sexual offences

Rape is certainly a criminal offence, but it is widely practised.

It is unsurprising in a patriarchal, quasi-medieval world to see at least some men of Westeros blaming women for their own rape, if they act outside certain norms. So Lord Randall Tarly tells Brienne of Tarth that she will have ‘earned it’ if she is raped, because of her ‘folly’ of taking arms and acting as a knight. If she is raped, he tells her not to look to him for justice [IV:234]. He had made a similar statement in the past, when a group of knights had had a bet as to who could take Brienne’s ‘maidenhood’. Tarly thought they would have taken her by force eventually, but he laid the blame for the knights’ conduct squarely upon Brienne: ‘Your being here encouraged them. If a woman will behave like a camp follower, she cannot object to being treated like one…’ [IV: 238]. Jokes and bawdy stories about non-consensual sex were also current [World: 5560], and it is regarded as plausible that women make false claims of rape [I:261].

The description of bawdy stories concerning Lann, trickster ancestor of the Lannisters, which have him ‘stealing in night after night to have his way with the Casterly maidens whilst they sleep’ do not use the word ‘rape’ about this conduct, and it seems unlikely that it would be so regarded [World, 5560].

Rape is regarded as normal after a battle victory, though Daenerys Targaryen is unhappy with this practice, and tries to rein in the Dothraki when they behave in this way [I:644]. Stannis Baratheon actually manages to keep his soldiers in check during the fighting in the North, and it is remarked that only three wilding women were raped after his victory [III: 858].

It is accepted, even by the ‘abolitionist’ Daenerys Targaryen, that a master having sex with his slave does not commit rape, because the slave is his property [V:42].

Signs of changes over time and different views on the relevance of women’s consent to sex can be seen in discussions of the ‘right of the First Night’. This seems to have been present in at least some parts of Westeros, was valued by ‘many lords’ and was banned by King Jaehaerys I Targaryen, at the behest of his sister/wife [World: 1620]. Even at the time of the Song cycle, however, some lords maintain the right. Roose Bolton states that ‘where the old gods rule, old customs linger’ – and suggests that this justified his raping a miller’s wife, who became the mother of his bastard, Ramsay Snow [V:429]. Bolton said that another northern family, the Umbers, also keep the first night rule (though there is a suggestion that they are secretive about this) as do some of the mountain clans and those on Skagos [ibid.]. The potentially savage enforcement of the right is shown in Bolton’s description of his treatment of the mother of Ramsay. Since the marriage of the miller to this woman had been conducted without the permission or knowledge of Roose, the lord had been cheated. He therefore had the miller hanged and chained ‘and claimed my rights beneath the tree where he was swaying [V:429].

Abduction of women, perhaps linked to the old ‘wife stealing’ custom maintained by the wildings, was made a crime by Aegon the Dragon, apparently ‘at the urging of Queen Rhaenys [World: 5065]. Such crimes could be destabilising, as was the case with Prince Rhaegar’s ‘infamous absduction of Lyanna Stark, which contributed to a war and the overthrow of the Targaryens [World, 3691].

Homosexuality is disapproved in Westeros (thus the former rent boy, Satin, is despised on the Wall, and a chronicler notes with surprise that the Dornish are not concerned by either male or female homosexual acts [World:6893]), but there is no sign that it is contrary to the law, except, perhaps amongst the Ironmen. Thus, Victarion Greyjoy, finding himself in charge of a group of slaves, weighs the ‘perfumed boys’ down with chains and throws them into the sea, regarding them as ‘unnatural creatures’ [V:832]. Septon Utt hanged by Beric for killing boys he molested. III:441

Prostitution is generally legal, and brings in tax revenue for the Crown. Cersei Lannister justifies allowing prostitution as a safeguard against ‘common men’s tendency to ‘turn to rape’ if prostitutes are not available to them [IV:606]. Others had not taken the same view. The pious Targaryen king Baelor I the Blessed had tried to outlaw prostitution within King’s Landing, expelling the prostitutes and their children [World: 2552]. Stannis Baratheon similarly wanted to outlaw brothels [I:265]. Neither was successful. The guilt for spreading sexually transmitted diseases might be attached to prostitutes, leading to their punishment, as when Lord Randyll Tarly, orders that ‘a haggard grey faced whore’, accused of giving the pox to four … soldiers’ be punished [IV:233].


Piracy and smuggling

These are crimes in most of Westeros, [II:11] but piracy in particular was regarded as admirable by one group – the Ironborn. There were attempts by Harmund the Handsome, a convert to the Faith, to make sea-reaving a capital offence, but this did not catch on [World: 5248].

Offences of dishonesty

Theft is an offence, and its definition is wide enough to include such conduct as cheating at dice [IV:233].

There is evidence of regulations concerning adulteration of food, or cheating customers – as in many medieval European cities. Thus Tywin Lannister, acting as Hand for Aerys II (Mad) ‘sternly punished bakers found guilty of adding sawdust to their bread and butchers selling horsemeat as beef.’ [World: 3312], and Lord Randyll Tarly sentences a baker, found guilty of mixing sawdust in his flour, to a fine of fifty stags or whipping [IV:232].


Punishment for crime

Mutilation and capital punishment are the expected consequences of a conviction for serious crimes.

Those found guilty of murder or treason might be hanged or beheaded, often with a sword on a block of wood [I:12].or, in the reign of ‘Mad King’ Aerys II, or under Stannis Baratheon, burned [World: 3519; V:818]. The Eyrie has its own rule or custom with regard to execution – convicted felons are ‘sent out through The Moon Door’ [I:406] – falling to their death from this lofty exit. An alternative – though whether this is to be considered a post-conviction punishment, or an extra-judicial method of disposal is unclear – is confinement in the ‘sky cells’, cells open on one side over a sheer and fatal drop. This was the fate of Marillion the singer, who confessed to having killed Lysa Arryn, (though he had not) when mad with love. It was thought that ‘the blue would call to him’ (i.e. he would have an insane longing to die) and he would jump [IV:173]. On one occasion, in the Iron Throne jurisdiction, a man who has killed his wife by beating is sentenced to be beaten a hundred times, by the dead woman’s brothers – which, presumably, resulted in his death [World: 1313].

Execution seems always to be done publicly. One custom which has no obvious medieval parallel is the Starks’ practice of the man who passes the sentence also carrying it out [I:12].. This, claims Eddard Stark, dates to the times of the First Men, whose blood he claims runs in the veins of the Starks. [I:14]. Stark justifies this by saying ‘If you would take a man’s life, you owe it to him to look into his eyes and hear his final words. And if you cannot bear to do that, then perhaps the man does not deserve to die…. A ruler who hides behind executioners soon forgets what death is’ (ibid.). He insists that his seven year old son, Bran, watches him execute a deserter from the Night’s Watch, to familiarise himself with the practice and gain experience for the day when he has to ‘do justice’ in this way. Clearly, Eddard Stark finds it an unpleasant, unsettling experience, since after he has executed somebody, he goes to ‘seek the quiet of the godswood’ [I:19]. Robb Stark also executes in person, beheading Rickard Karstark with an axe [III:231]. This episode tells us that the formula for such Stark executions is to ask the prisoner before he is killed if he wishes to speak a final word. The Starks do not keep up ‘aspects of the of culture of the North’ such as hanging the bodies and entrails of executed criminals and traitors from the branches of weirwoods [World: 3836]. In the Iron Throne’s jurisdiction, bodies, or body parts, may be exhibited after an execution, to deter others from committing crimes [e.g. IV:232]. It is not clear that the Starks perform mutilations in person, though Stannis Baratheon did amputate Davos Seaworth’s fingers himself, at the insistence of Davos [I:913].

Joffrey beheads Eddard Stark for treason[I:718], though he claims that he could have had him torn or flayed [I:718]. Special dishonour is done to the bodies of traitors, so, for example, after execution, Stark’s head is held aloft by the hair for the crowd to see, by Janos Slynt II:39], and Joffrey has it exhibited, though Tyrion orders the removal of spiked traitors’ heads[II:56].

Tyrion is sentenced to death when his champion loses in the trial by battle to determine his guilt or innocence of poisoning Joffrey [III:791]. Men are burned as traitors by the regime of Stannis Baratheon – thus Alester Florent is burned as a traitor [IV:800]. This is likely to have been influenced by Stannis’s conversion to the religion of R’hilor, Lord of Light, which emphasises sacrifice by burning. Differential punishment for treason, by gender, is noted in IV: 151 – the male rebels of Duskendale, in the time of King Aerys, were beheaded, while the lord’s wife was mutilated and burned alive. Some traitors and rebels might be pardoned, once they come to the king’s allegiance [see, e.g. III:819, pardons temp. Tommen ‘Baratheon’].

In addition to corporal penalties, traitors (and rebels, if there is a distinction) are subject to property penalties, their lands and titles being forfeit to the crown [I:598]. Joffrey passes bills of attainder against various people who rebelled against him as their lawful king, stripping them of their lands and incomes [III:818]

Gelding appears to be the accepted punishment for rape. Daenerys assumes this [V:42],though after the fall of Meereen, she  ‘had decreed that …. rapists [were to lose] their manhood.’ [III:806]. Gelding as a punishment for rape is noted in Westeros, [I:114]. Stannis Baratheon gelded the soldiers in his army who raped wilding women after his victory in the North [III:858]. Removal of fingers was the punishment meted out by Stannis on Davos ‘to pay for all his yrs of smuggling’[II:11.]. A cheat is sentenced to lose a little finger, though is allowed to choose which hand should be mutilated [IV:233, Lord Randyll Tarly]. Losing a hand might be the consequence of poaching [I:2], and was formerly the penalty for ‘striking one of the blood royal’ [IV:517]. A sailor who had stabbed an archer through the hand for cheating at dice is sentenced to have a nail driven through his palm (even though it seems to have been accepted that the archer had, in fact, been cheeting [Lord Randyll Tarly, IV:233]. Those criticising or ridiculing people in power may be disabled from repeating their offence in future. This can be seen in the treatment of a tavern singer and harpist accused of making a song ridiculing Robert and Cersei: he is put to his election of keeping his tongue or his fingers [1:721], and tongue-ripping is suggested by Cersei for anyone who questions Joffrey’s legitimacy [II:208]. Alleged responsibility for spreading ‘the pox’ could be punished by rough and painful cleaning followed by (indefinite) incarceration, as when Lord Randyll Tarly, sentences a ‘whore’, to have ‘her private parts’ washed out with lye before she is thrown in a dungeon [IV:233]. Punishment mutilations do not seem to be done in public, or at least not immediately after sentence, though it is noted that Joffrey, as king, dispensing ‘what it please[s] him to call justice’ from the Iron Throne [I:720]  has a thief’s hand chopped off in court.

Financial penalties may be deemed appropriate for offences of economic dishonesty – so Lord Randyll Tarly sentences a baker, found guilty of mixing sawdust in his flour, to a fine of fifty stags. Corporal punishment in the form of whipping could be substituted if the baker could not pay, at the rate of one lash per stag unpaid [IV:232].

An element of religious symbolism can be seen in several punishments. A good example is the sentence by Lord Randyll Tarly, doing justice Maidenpool, on a man who has stolen from a sept. While the customary sentence for theft is apparently loss of a finger, this man is to lose seven fingers, since he has stolen from the (seven) gods. [IV:232]. Similar religious symbolism can be seen in the sentence passed by Rhaenys Targaryen on the man who beat his wife to death [World: 1313]. Other ‘meanings’ can be attached by varying punishment. For example, Robb Stark  condemns a man who complains that he was  ‘only a watcher’ of treason to be hanged last – so that he can watch the others die [III:227].

Enlisting in the Night Watch might be an alternative to corporal or capital punishment. Those who take the black to escape punishment include poachers [I:2], ‘rapers’ [I:114], ‘debtors, killers and thieves’ [I:498]. Even traitors may hope to be allowed to take the black [I:542; IV:656]. Deserting the Night’s Watch is itself an offence, and appears to be one of very strict liability. Eddard Stark condemns such a deserter as an oathbreaker, and executes him, even though he seems not to be wholly sane [I:14].

There is room for discretion in sentencing convicts. An interesting exchange occurs between two Lannisters and the Master of Whisperers over the appropriate penalty for goldcloaks who deserted during the battle of the Blackwater battle. Cersei Lannister wants them put to death (as oathbreakers). Varys suggests the Wall. Tywin, whose view prevails, orders their knees to be broken with hammers. His argument is that, if this is done, they ‘will not run again. Nor will any man who sees them begging in the streets’ [III:216]. His aim, therefore, is deterrence as well as retribution.

There is a suggestion that punishments are less severe in other jurisdictions. Thus Ollo Lophand, a man of the Night’s Watch, wants to return to Tyrosh ‘where he claimed men didn’t lose their hands for a bit of honest thievery, nor get sent off to freeze their life away for being found in bed with some knight’s wife’ [III:5].

‘The Faith’ in its criminal jurisdiction is not allowed to impose death sentences, and uses humiliatory punishments, as when Cersei has to perform a naked ‘walk of shame’ through her people for her fornication, her hair being cut and shaved, as was the custom with medieval prostitutes, [V:849].

Note that the wild Mountain Clans such as the Stone Crows and Moon Brothers, encountered and used by Tyrion, operate some sort of feud/blood price system in the event of homicide [I: 652]


I:          George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

II:        George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

III:       George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords

IV:       George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

V:        George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

World: George R.R. Martin, E M Garcia Jr, L. Antonsson, The World of Ice and Fire: the untold history of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Number references refer to pages in I – V, but to Kindle locations for World.

Gwen Seabourne


Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective IIC: Marriage

Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective

Part II

Substantive Law

C: Marriage

Marriage is important in Westeros, as it was in medieval Europe, for the regularisation of sexual conduct and the orderly transmission of property. In the world of Song of Ice and Fire, marriage laws and customs differ on religious, cultural and territorial lines.

In ‘the Faith’, (the ‘new’ religion of seven gods, or a seven-fold God), marriage must be between one man and one woman [World: 5058]. This also appears to be the case in those following the way of the Old Gods of the North. Not everyone has always stuck to the monogamous model, however. Some Targaryens took more than one wife [World: 1399] while the Ironborn have only one ‘rock wife’ at home, they are allowed as many ‘salt wives’ as they can capture and keep [World: 5058]. Despite attempts to outlaw the practice of taking these additional, captured, wives, [World: 5248], the Ironborn maintain it at the time of the Song cycle. The Dothraki seem to allow at least khals more than one wife, and amongst traditionalist Dothraki, the khal’s bloodriders share his wives {I:379]

Marrying close family members is regarded as wrong (‘seen as a sin by the Faith’, ‘hated by the gods’ [II:236] and ‘a monstrous sin to both old gods and new’ {II; 451]) by most in Westeros, but the Targaryens frequently married siblings or other close kin, sometimes justifying this as necessary to keep pure ‘the blood of the dragon’ [World: 1399; I:29]. The twins Cersei and Jaime Lannister also have a long term incestuous relationship, but keep it secret [I:468], though Jaime dreams of marrying Cersei, and also marrying their children to each other [III:236].

Marriage is prohibited to the Kingsguard and the Night’s Watch, [I:72, 498], to silent sisters and septons and septas [III:261]. and the maesters also are celibate [II:17]. At least for a man of the Night’s Watch, marriage could lead to capital punishment  [IV:435], though less permanent breaches of the oath of celibacy are not taken very seriously (Jon Snow notes that men of the Night’s Watch visiting prostitutes ‘was oathbreaking too, yet no one seemed to care’ [I:751], and Dareon does not regard visiting prostitutes or undertaking a one night ‘marriage’ to a prostitute as serious or dangerous breaches of his oath [IV:435].

There appear to be at least social conventions concerning the requisite age or level of maturity for completion of the marriage. Thus, when Robert Baratheon proposes that Sansa Stark and his heir, Joffrey, are betrothed, Sansa is eleven and Joffrey twelve. He says that the actual marriage ‘can wait a few years’ [I:45]. Tyrion proposes that Myrcella weds Trystane Martell of Dorne when she reaches her fourteenth year [II:289]. Menstruation rather than a set age seems to be enough to make a girl old enough for marriage. Magister Illyrio noting that Daenerys Targaryen ‘has had her blood. She is old enough for the khal’ [I:30]. One marriage which does not seem to fit this pattern is that of the baby heiress Lady Ermesande Hayford to Cersei Lannister’s thirteen-year-old cousin, Tyrek (a match motivated by a wish to obtain the child’s lands) [II:363, 896; III:48]. This appears to be regarded as a full marriage rather than a mere betrothal, despite the bride’s tender age and presumed lack of consummation. Perhaps it is technically a betrothal, or open to disavowal when she reaches majority, though practically and politically, such a disavowal would be extremely unlikely (In the event, Tyrek disappears, presumed dead, so the point is moot).

Marriage may involve two stages – the contract or betrothal, which may be revoked, though it is considered binding in honour, and the final marriage [I:45; II:479]. A royal betrothal or marriage contract is considered void, and vows are cancelled, according to the Faith if the bride’s family are involved in treason against the groom, as is alleged against the Starks by Joffrey and his supporters [II:819].  The marriage ceremony itself, in the Faith, involves the making of vows before witnesses, in the presence of a septon, and symbolic removal of a ‘maiden’s cloak’ (with her father’s sigil or colours) from the woman, and its replacement with the bride’s cloak (featuring her husband’s emblems), demonstrating her move from her father’s protection to that of her husband [III:318, 669]. Consummation is also necessary, and might be preceded by the bawdy ‘bedding’ custom, which functions as confirmation that bride and groom at least had the opportunity and capacity to consummate. There may  also be the exhibition of sheets after the wedding night, as an additional confirmation that the marriage has been consummated.

The people of Westeros adhere to different religions, and marriage rites vary. Generally, there do not seem to be arguments as to whether a marriage conducted according to one rite is regarded as valid by the adherents of other religions. Some may choose to make sure that there will be no problem by holding a double ceremony, in both godswood (for the Old Gods) and sept (for the Seven or New Gods)  [II:474]. There may be problems of ‘conflict of laws’ with regard to more foreign traditions, however. Thus, a Westeosi rite marriage would not be recognised in Meereen – unless Daenerys Targaryen marries Hizdahr according to the rites prevailing in Meereen, they will not be regarded as being lawfully married, so that any children they have will be illegitimate [V:478]. Since Daenerys more or less complies with this, one must conclude that she assumes this ‘foreign’ marriage would be seen as valid in Westeros.

Marriage may be arranged, and strong pressure may be brought to bear, but some form of consent is necessary. Daenerys does not want to marry Drogo, initially, but her brother Viserys orders her that she will. [I:35]. She ‘consents’ to sex (and therefore ‘completes’ the marriage) with Drogo on their wedding night (it is presented in this way, though there is so much mention of fear that one must presume that a low threshold was being employed] [I:103]. Similarly, even a marriage forced upon a vulnerable woman, with the threat of violence and mistreatment, might be regarded as not sufficiently outrageous as to be impossible to maintain Thus, ‘the Bastard of Bolton’ forced Lady Hornwood to say her vows to him in appropriate form, in order to acquire her land, later starving her to death. A maester pronounced that ‘Vows made at swordpoint are not valid’, but it is thought that the Boltons would be unlikely to accept the invalidity of this marriage which brought them valuable lands [II:474]. The wildings’ custom of bride-stealing [World: 571] was not seen as excluding consent. The stealing was, rather, a way of showing stealth and bravery, such as a wilding woman might be thought to admire.

At least in the upper echelons of Westeros society, lords have a role and a responsibility with regard to female tenants. A liege lord has a duty to find a suitable husband for widowed female tenants [II:229]. This right or responsibility may be politically useful. Theon Greyjoy, for example, speaks of making a marriage alliance using his sister, Asha [II:350]. The right may be used vindictively, as when Joffrey and Cersei arrange a marriage between Tyrion and Sansa Stark. Joffrey has this right because Sansa is a royal ward, and her brother – who would otherwise have the right – has been attainted a traitor  [III:317]. The right is not available to those below the rank of lord: thus a castellan cannot make marriage pacts [V:653].

As was the case in medieval Europe, marriages can, on certain, restricted, grounds, be ‘undone’ (which seems to mean that, as with divorce a vinculo matrimonii, it was as if it had never happened). The marriage of Tyrion Lannister and the peasant girl or ‘whore’, Tysha, for example, was ‘undone’ at the behest of his father Tywin, (perhaps on the ground that it had been entered into through deception) [II:581], and a marriage not consummated – such as Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa Stark – can be set aside ‘by the High Septon or a Council of Faith’ [III: 364].

Once married, Westerosi husbands have considerable control over their wives’ person and property. They can chastise an adulterous wife [World: 90]. Again, though, this was not uncontested. Dorne, influenced by the rules of the Rhoynar, did not allow husbands to chastise wives in this way [World: 90] According to a decree from the reign of Gaemon Palehair, ‘husbands who beat their wives should themselves be beaten, irrespective of what the wives had done to warrant such chastisement’ [World: 6916].

Even in mainstream Westeros, there are limits. In particular, the chastising husband was restricted in that he must use ‘a rod no thicker than a thumb’ [World:1313] – an echo of the post-medieval distortion of common law spousal chastisement limitations known as the ‘rule of thumb’. And Queen Rhaenys Targaryen, doing justice in the absence of King Aegon, whilst accepting that ‘the gods make women to be dutiful to their husbands’, so that it was lawful for them to be beaten, decided that the number of blows should be limited to six (representing each of the gods, save the Stranger, who was Death) [World: 1313]. In a case in which a man had beaten his wife to death, she judged that the blows exceeding six had been unlawful, so that the brothers of the dead woman could ‘match those blows upon the husband’ [World: 1313].

It appears that the law in Westeros includes something along the lines of common law coverture, since Daenerys notes (implicitly as a difference’ that ‘in Qarth man and woman each retain their own property after they are wed’’[II:528]. She discovers, however that they also have a ‘custom that on the day of union, a wife may ask a token of love from her husband and the husband from the wife’ – these ‘requests’ not being amenable to denial [ibid.] Also suggesting the husband’s power over property brought to the marriage by the wife is the description of the Boltons using a (forced) marriage as a way of acquiring immediate rights in the wife’s lands [II:474].



I:          George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

II:        George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

III:       George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords

IV:       George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

V:        George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

World: George R.R. Martin, E M Garcia Jr, L. Antonsson, The World of Ice and Fire: the untold history of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Number references refer to pages in I – V, but to Kindle locations for World.


Gwen Seabourne


Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective IIB: Succession

Laws of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin, Song of Ice and Fire cycle from a legal historian’s perspective

Part II

Substantive Law

B: Succession

Medieval common law (and other medieval legal systems) had somewhat different rules for succession to the throne from those prevailing in relation to land (and different rules again for succession to personal property). There is, likewise, some suggestion of a distinction in the laws of Westeros at the time of the Song cycle between rules for inheritance of land and rules for succession to royal and noble titles, but the matter is not always clearly differentiated. In both sorts of succession, the model which seems to be predominant is male primogeniture, for legitimate children only. The eldest son is regarded as heir to family land, titles and also to such personal property as Valyrian steel swords {I:259 – Tarly family]. There are, however, ways to alter the succession, some local differences, and some disputed issues.

There are signs that there was, in the time before the Song cycle, a less absolute tendency to male primogeniture in Westeros. It is noted, for example that there had been some question of female succession in the Riverlands, though this was rejected [World: 4395], and that Alysanne, sister and wife of Jaehaerys I Targaryen argued with her brother/husband over succession, taking the position that males did not always have to be preferred to females – so that the granddaughter of an eldest son should succeed to Dragonstone in preference to the second son’s heir apparent [World:1637].

At a Great Council held in the year 101 AC (After the Conquest), however, there was a decision that, with regard to succession to the Iron Throne, women were to be excluded. Not only were men to be preferred to women, but women simply were not to be allowed to take the throne, and, furthermore, nor could a woman transmit a claim to the Iron Throne to her descendants [World: 1673, 1703]. This, of course, looks somewhat like the ‘Salic Law’ insisted upon by the French from the fourteenth century, to exclude the descendants of Isabella, wife of Edward II of England. Not everyone accepted this as an ‘iron precedent’, however, and King Viserys I Targaryen declared his daughter his heir, and continued to take this view even when he had a male child with a subsequent wife. Clearly seeing that this might be opposed, this king, like Henry I of England, had tried to ensure that his settlement would be respected by demanding the promises of his nobles, many of whom did homage to the nominated heiress [World: 1797]. As in Henry I’s case, however, such promises did not prevent a civil war over the issue [World: 1823]. The strong ‘no women’ rule seems to have gone by the time of the Song cycle, since it is assumed that Myrcella has a chance of succeeding, and even the pedantic Stannis Baratheon assumes that his daughter Shireen will inherit the Iron Throne which he takes to be his, if he and his wife do not produce male heirs [III:410].

By the time of the Song cycle, it is clear that descendants trump collaterals – so a maester in White Harbor tells Davos that a son must come before a brother (in terms of royal succession: ‘the laws of succession are clear in such a case.’ [V:246]), so that Tommen beats Stannis as heir to the Iron Throne after Robert I Baratheon, assumed father of Tommen, and definitely brother of Stannis, though not, of course if Tommen was shown to be a bastard. The law also provides that the child of the first son took priority over the second son [II:470], and that girls are not barred from succession – just postponed to males of the same rank. Thus Alys Karstark notes that a daughter comes before an uncle [V:591]. As with many actual medieval realms, the existence of agreed inheritance customs or laws does not necessarily stop those with tenuous claims having a go – thus Renly, Robert’s younger brother also tries for the crown. Renly accepts that Stannis has the better claim in law, but calls it ‘a fool’s law’, asking ‘Why the oldest son and not the best fitted?’ [II:435]. He rejects Catelyn Stark’s suggestion for a Great Council to decide who should reign, considering that the outcome should rest on strength, not talk [II:454]. He argues that Robert did not really have a right either, though various arguments based on past marriages to the Targaryens  were made. He argues from strength of numbers {II:320].

A major counter-current to the hegemony of male primogeniture can be seen in the law and customs of Dorne. Under Dornish rules, it is the eldest child who inherits, whether male or female [World: 6893]. Thus, by Dornish law, Myrcella should succeed to the Iron Throne before Tommen [III: 747; IV:48].The Dornish rule that females should be equal to males in inheritance terms is attributed by one Archmaester to a decree of the reign of Gaemon Palehair (allegedly prompted by a lesbian prostitute) [World: 6916], and, more generally, to the influence of the ideas of the ancient people of the Rhoyne, who settled in Dorne, amongst whom women were ‘regarded as the equals of men’ [World: 621, 760]. In Westeros, Cersei Lannister is unhappy with women’s exclusion from power [III:748].

A degree of dissent from the mainstream Westerosi pattern of succession may also be seen in the evidence concerning the Iron Islands. While Theon Greyjoy asserts the rule which would favour his own case, that a woman may inherit [lordship] only if there is no male heir in the direct line’ [II:160], and so tells his sister he is the lawful prince, Asha replies that this may be so by ‘the laws of the green lands’, but ‘we make our own laws here…’ [II:356]. A third view is that of Aeron Damphair, who sees any such fixed succession as ‘green land law’, and demanding (and obtainint) an election, according to The Old Way, rather than a succession to the Seastone Chair [IV:25, 31].

In most of Westeros, legitimacy depends on wedlock, and those born outside wedlock have ‘no name of their own’, [I:17]. Particular simple and nature-based surnames are by custom given to bastards: in the North, for example, they are called Snow [I:17], they are called Rivers in the Frey/Tully lands [I:285], Stone in the Vale, Flowers in Highgarden [I:357], Storm at Storm’s End [II:146].

Proof of bastardy seems similar to the rules of the medieval common law, in that, if there is a marriage, there is a presumption of legitimacy for offspring born to the wife. Thus, Tywin tells Tyrion ‘Men’s laws give you the right to bear my name and display my colours, since I cannot prove that you are not mine.’ [III:52].

As well as the absence of inheritance rights [I:309]. bastards are regarded as in some sense tainted. Thus, seating Jon Snow at table with the royal family might, thinks Lady Stark, be seen as an insult [I:50], and, presumably because of such slights, Jon Snow swears that he will never father a bastard, which is part of his reason for volunteering for the (celibate by oath) Night’s Watch [I:51]. Bastards can, however, be declared legitimate by royal order, as can be seen from the order for legitimation of Ramsay Snow, bastard of Roose Bolton, which was signed by Tommen [III:819]. There is also a suggestion that the Starks have a less rigid view on bastardy than many in Westeros, at least in some respects. Though Eddard Stark’s bastard was given a ‘bastard name’ – Jon Snow – they were ‘not like other men’ in the way in which they treated such children, and Eddard Stark ‘brought his bastard home with him, and called him “son” for all the north to see’ and brought him up at Winterfell with his legitimate children [I:62].

Dorne and the Iron Islands are again somewhat out of line with mainstream Westerosi law on this issue. What is described as a Dornish custom dictates that illegitimacy does not necessarily bar a child from succession [World: 6893, 6916], though Dorne does differentiate the legitimate and illegitimate to the extent that it has the customary name Sand for bastards [III:431].Also less rigid were the rules of the Iron Islands. In the law of the Ironborn, although the children of subsidiary ‘salt wives’ cannot inherit before the children of the principal wife (the ‘rock wife’), they are not wholly excluded, and can inherit in the absence of salt sons (or perhaps children) [World: 5065].

It is not clear to what extent lords may withold an inheritance from the person designated heir apparent by the general law. Tywin Lannister purports to do this, refusing to name Tyrion as heir to Casterly Rock, even though he does seem to be the rightful heir, since  his elder brother, Jaime, is a kingsguard. and his other sibling, Cersei, is postponed to him as she is female. Tywin justifies this refusal on the grounds of Tyrion’s conduct with ‘whores’ [III:52]. Wills of land appear to be allowed [II:474], so that it is presumably possible to escape the strict rules of primogeniture in this context to some extent (and there is no need for devices such as the use, employed in late medieval England for this purpose, and to avoid feudal dues), though exactly how this relates to succession to lordships rather than simply land, is not clear.

If an heir joins the Night’s Watch, or the Kingsguard, he will lose his place in succession [I:260] so this can be used to alter the succession in order to have lands and other property descend to a preferable candidate, as was done by Samwell Tarly’s father, Lord Randyll [ibid.].


I:          George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

II:        George R.R. Martin, A Clash of Kings

III:       George R.R. Martin: A Storm of Swords

IV:       George R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows

V:        George R.R. Martin, A Dance with Dragons

World: George R.R. Martin, E M Garcia Jr, L. Antonsson, The World of Ice and Fire: the untold history of Westeros and the Game of Thrones

Number references refer to pages in I – V, but to Kindle locations for World.


Gwen Seabourne 27/12/2014