Feuds and Feudalism

Margaret Janse van Rensburg
120193030
For: A. McKenzie; ML300Q
April 6, 2015

Feudalism is a term that was created by modern historians in attempting to understand the political, social, and economic systems of the Middle Ages. It is understood as a ranked system of government that has elements of a highly organized social system.[1] Kings were at the top, creating a hierarchy of vassals who pledged allegiance to him directly. The kings’ direct vassals would themselves have vassals, creating a hierarchy of lords and vassals whose relationships were based on obligations that they owed to one another.[2] It is popularly believed that feudalism was the backbone of society in the Middle Ages. It was represented by scholars as a uniform feudal government that ignored the variation was found in socio-political relationships in the European Middle Ages.[3] In George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the author is inspired by the ideas of a feudal hierarchy in his medievalist world.[4] Instead of depicting a world that depends on the strict following of feudal obligations, though, Martin is able to show the complexity of the socio-political systems of the Middle Ages. He draws on historical influence to depict to his audience that the popular idea of feudalism was not as simple as historians may explain it to be. Rather, through ASOIAF, Martin displays a fractured feudalism using historical influence to show how this socio-political organization was not as solid, stagnant, and simple as depicted in other popular media representations of feudalism in the Middle Ages.

The Structure of Social Groups[5]

The origins of feudalism are rooted in Germanic socio-political organization.[6] The soocio-political institutions of England developed throughout the Middle Ages. Anglo-Saxon England saw the development of a feudal society deriving from the vassalage between warlords and their followers. This system depended upon three institutions: dependent tenures, private jurisdictions, and military service as an element in land tenure.[7] Such a feudal system was established by Germanic invaders of Britain. Warlords would establish vassals who owed them service for their protection.[8]

The Andal Invasion[9]

Similarly in Westeros, feudalism derived from the Andal traditions. They “fought in bands behind chieftains who the later septons would name kings.”[10] The Andals conquered and consolidated Westeros over a thousand years, establishing chiefs who later became kings.[11]. Similar to Britain’s history, Westerosi history proves to be multi-factoral. The Andals established such a feudal system with the influence of the First Men, who farmed the land, raising “ringforts[12] and villages.”[13]Martin seems to have been influenced by early medieval England and Ireland. In early medieval Ireland prosperous families or powerful lords lived in ringforts: enclosed settlements that are often defined by banks and ditches.[14]

The Andals[15] left behind castles from the Age of Heroes, where “petty kings and powerful lords proliferated.”[16] The kingship and establishment of nobility in this period lacks a complex hierarchy, but the legends associated with this age established some of the noble houses that are seen in ASOIAF and Game of Thrones, who created the Seven Kingdoms.[17]Martin draws on the idea of differing kingdoms from Early Medieval Anglo-Saxon England. This society was graded where royal power was derived from lordship over an armed following and the majority of the populace depended on a lord in personal or economic bondage.[18] England between the fifth and ninth century was politically divided into seven major kingdoms, often called a Heptarchy.[19]This included the kingdom of Kent, the kingdom of the East Saxons (Essex), the kingdom of the South Saxons (Sussex), the kingdom of the West Saxons (Wessex), the kingdom of the East Angles (East Anglia), the kingdom of the Mercians (Mercia), and the kingdom of the Northumbrians (Northumbria).[20] Martin’s Westeros was divided and ruled individually before it was conquered by Aegon I Targaryan.[21] His kingdoms are made up of the kingdom of the North, the kingdom of Mountain and Vale, the kingdom of the Isles and Rivers, the kingdom of the Rock, the kingdom of the Reach, the kingdom of the Stormlands, and Dorne.[22]

W3YEE[23] Britain As It Was Devided in the tyme of the Englishe-Saxons especially during their Heptarchy[24]

Many scholars claim that feudalism was not brought into England until 1066 with the arrival of William the Conqueror.[25] With the Norman conquest, England saw the reorganization and augmentation of the existing feudal society, where the aristocracy was divided into numerous strata.[26] Similarly, it can be argued that Aegon I Targaryen, known as Aegon the Conqueror, formalized the feudal system of Westeros. While similar in name, the conquerors have vast differences in their political reorganization. In his conquest of Westeros, Aegon I consolidated the seven quarrelsome kingdoms under a single king who sits on the Iron Throne.[27]The ruling classes of Westeros lost their sovereignty, but those who “bent the knee” kept their titles and land holdings.[28] During the Norman Conquest of England, William established a centralized government in which the king held absolute authority. He did this by distributing his land amongst barons or nobility who supported his claim to the English throne.[29] William the Conqueror may have inspired Martin. It seems that it is only the name he adopted. Martin only recognizes that the difference between the two is that Aegon was married to his two sisters and was accompanied by dragons in his invasion.[30] The major difference between their conquests though, is found within their adoption of a centralized feudal state. While William kept the socio-political system but put his Norman supporters into power, Aegon I allowed the current aristocratic families to maintain their positions.[31] How realistic would it be for the current lords of Westeros to remain loyal to a foreign ruler? Did Aegon I really have no supporters who were more deserving of such titles and territory?

Aegon the Conqueror[32]

William the Conqueror[33]

The establishment of a feudal socio-political system in ASOIAF is maintained, where vassals owe their lords military service and lords owe their vassals protection. The wars for the iron throne prove threatening to major population, as Tyrion recounts, “That was the way of war. The smallfolk were slaughtered, while the highborn were held for ransom.”[34] Martin drew upon much historical influence in his recognition of status during times of war, such as Richard the Lionheart being held for ransom in 1192 by Duke Leopold V of Babenberg, a supposed ally.[35] The protection provided by a lord during times of war can be illustrated by Cersi’s necessity to entertain the “flock of frightened hens,” during the Battle of Blackwater.

[36] Arya additionally depicts the dependence of vassals on their lords for protection when speaking with an innkeeper who comments, “What folks are left are walled up inside their holdfasts.”[37]

The Norman Conquest brought an Anglo-Norman aristocracy of barons, knights, and serfs to England.[38]Similarly, Martin depicts the complexity of this social hierarchy by including various titles for vassals to the king. This includes seven high lords who control the major regions of the seven kingdoms, who have sub-lords who have sworn fealty to these high lords (such as the Boltons), who have knights as sworn vassals, who can be landed (hold and rule over territory) or hedge (with a lower status than landed knights).House Stark and Sworn Vassals[39]The lowest class, who has the least autonomy, dominated both feudal England and Westerosi populations. Martin, though, fails to indicate whether his “smallfolk” are free.[40] According to William the Conqueror’s Domesday book, typical villagers were “villanus” or serfs, lacking civil rights and legally unfree.[41] In Martin’s Westeros, the smallfolk do not seem to lack freedom. This is illustrated by Arya’s depiction of peasants making their way to King’s Landing as Arya is travelling North to the Wall: “they walked south, toward the city, toward King’s Landing.”[42] From this section, it appears that the smallfolk are not tied to the land. This differs from medieval feudalism, where serfs could not leave their lords’ land, and if they did leave, they could be sought out by their lords.[43]

[44]

As a mass, though, the smallfolk prove to have enough power to influence decisions made by overmighty subjects in Westeros, as “a lord must protect his smallfolk”.[45] Not only do they have the power to influence political affairs through rumour, but through the fear of riot.

[46] Similar to Joffrey, in 1381, the overmighty subjects’ power caused civil unrest in England. King Richard II at the young age of 14 was directly part of the peasants’ revolt that formed against the kings’ ministry.[47] Although this revolt did not attain much for either set of commoners, the fear and effects of such uprisings depict that strict socio-political hierarchy and organization caused civil unrest.

Bronn Meme: a sellsword with no lineage[48]

The Great Houses of Westeros closely resemble the importance of the aristocratic class of England during the Central and High Middle Ages. Martin claims his storyline in ASOIAF is closest to the War of the Roses.[49] During this war, the aristocracy was concerned about who ruled due to how centralized the government was.[50] Major inspiring houses include the houses Lancaster, Neville, and York during the War of the Roses.[51] During the War of the Roses, England suffered from a weak monarchy that was controlled by overmighty subjects of noble lineage. Martin draws on this idea of overmighty subjects of the king in many of his characters, including Tywin Lannister.

A Valentine for Tywin Lannister[52]

Overmighty subjects were the greatest of feudal lords and were often subsidized by the crown.[53] These powerful houses though could also be a source of revenue for the crown. During the War of the Roses, the crown faced a large debt owed to house York deriving from the Hundred Years War that was probably never reimbursed.[54] This is also found in Martins’ story world. The crown requires funding from the major houses. In ASOIAF, Lannister gold is the means of much of the crown’s expenses. This is illustrated by the discussion between Tyrion, newly made master of coin, and Tywin:

House of Lancaster Family Tree[55]

House of Lannister Family Tree[56]

“As are the crown’s expenses. Robert was as generous with his coin as he was with his cock. Littlefinger borrowed heavily. From you, amongst others. Yes, the incomes are considerable, but are barely sufficient to cover the usury on Littlefinger’s loans. Will you forgive the throne’s debt to House Lannister?”[57]

[58]

House Lannister Sigil[59]

England during the War of the Roses did not have traditional feudalism. Rather, scholars refer to the feudal relationships at this time as “bastard feudalism.” Bastard feudalism consisted of services, military or other, being exchanged for money, rather than lands. This feudal system was the result of the Norman Conquest.[60] Equivalently, in Westeros, both land and money was traded for services. This is demonstrated by the use of sellswords by Cersei in protecting Kings Landing from at the Battle of Blackwater.[61] Additionally, land and castles are still a means of maintaining power in Westeros, for example Janos Slynt is raised up to Lord of Harrenhal by Cersei.[62]

[63]

The importance of family for the nobility was definitely imbedded into the complex socio-political system seen in the English Middle Ages. Local lords were given territory by kings or higher lords. Such a “fief” would pass down to the lord’s son through primogeniture.[64] Thus, it became absolutely necessary for noble families to know their genealogical history, as this maintained the individual and the family’s titles and advantages they attained through their blood.[65] Martin draws directly on the importance of family lineages in ASOIAF. Early in his story it is explained that as the first trueborn son of Ned Stark, Robb will inherit Winterfell, “commanding great armies as Warden of the North.”[66] Martin adds to his story the complexity that could arise from lineage in claiming titles and lands. He recalls the unrestricted power of the King in Medieval England in Westeros.[67]

[68]This is made clear in the conversation between Robb and Catelyn when discussing naming his heir in case of his death. Robb notes that although Jon is illegitimate, he can be “legitimized by a royal decree.”[69] In feudal England, those who wished for the legitimization of bastards had to obtain permission from their overlord in order for the bastard to inherit both land and titles from their fathers.[70]

[71]

ASOIAF is a text that was inspired by real historical events from the Middle Ages. Martin uses medieval England as inspiration for the development of a complex socio-political system in Westeros. While feudalism is the basis of this socio-political system, Martin allows his audiences to understand that this political system was more complex and did not run as smoothly as past historians had assumed. By looking at parallels between Martin’s work and the medieval history of England, one can begin to use Westeros in ASOIAF and GoT to better understand the complexity and influences on feudal relationships in Medieval Britain.

Footnotes:

1. BBC, “The feudal system and the Domesday Book,” BBC, last edited 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks3/history/middle_ages/feudal_system_domesday_book/revision/2/.
2.Reilly Freeman, “Middle Ages Project,” weebley, last edited 2010, http://reillyfreeman197.weebly.com/feudal-system.html.
3.Diana Lin, “The Feudal System,” Indiana University Northwest, last edited 2014, http://www.iun.edu/~hisdcl/h113_2001/feudalism.htm
4.Amanda Traina, “Feudalism in Medieval Europe,” Georgian Court University, last edited 2009, http://gcuonline.georgian.edu/wootton/Medieval.htm.
5.Ws28tai, “The Structure of Social Groups,” wordpress, last edited 2014, https://ws28tai.wordpress.com/2014/02/05/the-structure-of-social-groups/.
6.Elizabeth A. R. Brown, “The Tryanny of a Construct: Feudalism and Historians of Medieval Europe,” The American Historical Review, 1974, 79(4):1063-1088.
7.Paul Lacroix, “Medieval Life: Manners, Customs & Dress During the Middle Ages,” Arcturus eBooks 2011, preface.
8.Carl Stephenson, “Feudalism and Its Antecedents in England,” The American Historical Review 1943, 48(2): 248.
9.Joe, “Nerd School: The Races of Westeros,” planet arbitrary last edited 2012, http://planetarbitrary.com/2012/06/nerd-school-the-races-of-westeros/.
10.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), The Riverlands.
11.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), Arrival of the Andals.
12.Ireland Reaching Out, “The Ringfort,” irelandxo, last edited 2012, http://www.irelandxo.com/node/2826.
13.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), The Coming of the First Men.
14.Steve Linnane, “Fort Baronstown? Exploring the social role of an impressive ringfort on the M3,” The NRA Archaeology Magazine: 59
15.Soul Games Inc., “Westeros Lore: The Andal Invasion,” youtube last edited 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEvhM7mBBo8&feature=youtu.be&t=1m.
16.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), The Age of Heroes.
17.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), The Age of Heroes.
18.D. P. Kirby,The Earliest English Kings (New York: Routeledge, 2000): 2-3.
19.D. P. Kirby,The Earliest English Kings (New York: Routeledge, 2000): 5-6.
20.Bazmerelda, “Can you name the major kingdoms of the heptarchy in Anglo-Saxon England?” sporcle, last edited 2007, http://www.sporcle.com/games/bazmerelda/heptarchy-map—englands-anglo-saxon-kingdoms.
21.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), The Age of Heroes.
22.Matt Poole, “Can you name the Game of Thrones: The Seven Kingdoms?” sporcle, last edited 2013, http://www.sporcle.com/games/mattpoole94/game-of-thrones-the-seven-kingdoms.
23.DoomZ_lla, “My Map of Game of Thrones,” reddit, last edited 2012, http://www.reddit.com/r/gameofthrones/comments/rm64t/happy_season_2_everyone_heres_my_map_of_the_seven/.
24.John Speed, “Britain As It Was Devided in the tyme of the Englishe-Saxons especially during their Heptarchy,” Barry Lawrence Ruderman Antique Maps Inc. last edited 2015, https://www.raremaps.com/gallery/detail/21612/Britain_As_It_Was_Devided_in_the_tyme_of_the_EnglisheSaxons_especially/Speed.html.
25.Anonymous, “William the Conqueror,” pinterest, last edited 2001, http://hoocher.com/William_the_Conqueror/William_the_Conqueror.htm.
26.D. P. Kirby,The Earliest English Kings (New York: Routeledge, 2000): 5-6.
27. “Seven Kingdoms,” A Wiki of Ice and Fire, last edited 2015, http://awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Seven_Kingdoms.
28.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), Aegons Conquest.
29.Guy Fourquin, Lordship and Feudalism in the Middle Ages, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1976): 47.
30.Andrea Warner, “George R. R. Martin: Fantasy for Non-Fantasy People,” Abebooks, last edited 2006, http://www.abebooks.com/docs/Fantasy/george-martin.shtml.
31.asoiaf university, “Why Not an Emperor,” tumblr, last edited 2014, http://asoiafuniversity.tumblr.com/post/88257727475/why-not-an-emperor.
32.Deviant Art, “Aegon I,” Deviant Art, last modified 2015, http://www.deviantart.com/morelikethis/363831410/fanart/wallpaper?offset=20&view_mode=2#skins.
33.Celebrity Cutouts, “William the Conqueror,” Celebrity CUtout, last modified 2015, https://www.celebritycutout.com/H10142-William-The-Conqueror-Cardboard-Cutout-Standee.
34.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Two, Chapter 4: Tyrion.
35.Richard P. Wright, Kidnap for Ransom: Resolving the Unthinkable (Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis, 2009): 7.
36.Sniper Mage, “Cersei and Sansa Battle of Blackwater part 2,” youtube, last modified 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5t5F1NYr-WU&feature=youtu.be&t=1m42s.
37.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Two, Chapter 6: Arya.
38.Carl Stephenson, “Feudalism and Its Antecedents in England,” The American Historical Review, 1943, 48(2): 249-250.
39.George R. R. Martin, Elio Garcia, Linda Antonsson,A World of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2014), House Stark.
40.asoiaf university, “Feudalism in Westeros: The Commoners,” tumblr, last edited 2014, http://asoiafuniversity.tumblr.com/post/86345921685/feudalism-in-westeros-i-the-commoners.
41.Edward Miller & John Hatcher, Medieval England: Rural Society and Economic Change 1086-1348, (New York: Longman Inc., 1978): 112.
42.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Two, Chapter 6: Arya.
43.Guy Fourquin, Lordship and Feudalism in the Middle Ages, (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1976): 45.
44.British Library, “Peasants’ Revolt (death of Wat Tyler)” British Library last edited 2015, http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item132518.html.
45.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Two, Chapter 5: Bran.
46.John Lescano, “Game of Thrones: Kings Landing Riot,” youtube last edited 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_N9M4R47nRU.
47.Briana Brooks, “Morality and Social Order in the Great Rising of 1381: the Problem of Legitimacy,” University of California, Santa Cruz, 2009, 4.
48. Know your Meme, “Bronn Hipster Meme,” last edited 2015, http://knowyourmeme.com/photos/131697-hipster-glasses.
49.Empire Online, “George R. R. Martin Webchat Transcript,” empireonline, last edited 2014, http://www.empireonline.com/interviews/interview.asp?IID=1496.
50. J. P. Sommerville, “Accounting for the Wars of the Roses,” University of Wisconsin-Madison, last edited 2009, http://faculty.history.wisc.edu/sommerville/123/123%20191%20Causes%20WRs.htm.
51.Michael Hicks, “Bastard Feudalism, Overmighty Subjects and Idols of the Multitude during the Wars of the Roses,” History, 2000, 85(279): 394.
52.Jamie Adair, “A Valentine for Tywin Lannister: That (Bastard) Feudalism Poster Boy,” History Behind Game of Thrones, last edited 2014, http://history-behind-game-of-thrones.com/warofroses/tywin.
53.Michael Hicks, “Bastard Feudalism, Overmighty Subjects and Idols of the Multitude during the Wars of the Roses,” History, 2000, 85(279): 394.
54.Michael Hicks, “Bastard Feudalism, Overmighty Subjects and Idols of the Multitude during the Wars of the Roses,” History, 2000, 85(279): 397.
55.Luminarium, “House of Lancaster,” last edited 2007, http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/houseoflancaster.htm.
56.Joanna Lannister, “Lannister Lineage,” tumblr, last edited 2014,http://joannalannister.tumblr.com/post/101158183991/lordbryndenrivers-the-world-of-ice-and-fire.
57.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Three, Chapter 33: Tyrion.
58.Wikimedia Images, “House of Lancaster,” wikimedia images, last edited 2014, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Lancaster.
59.Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, “Major houses in A Song of Ice and Fire,” last modified 2015, http://en.academic.ru/dic.nsf/enwiki/11509280.
60.Carl Stephenson, “Feudalism and Its Antecedents in England,” The American Historical Review, 1943, 48(2): 246.
61.Scogull, “Game of Thrones Season 4 – History and Lore of Westeros – Sellswords & Hedge Knights – Bronn,” youtube, last modified 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZFdm-JVIFRU.
62.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Three, Chapter 33: Tyrion.
63.Nineteen1900Hundred, “Tyrion doesn’t need Janos Slynt,” youtube, last modified 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0VXYz7cjGE&feature=youtu.be&t=24s.
64.Carl Stephenson, “Feudalism and Its Antecedents in England,” The American Historical Review, 1943, 48(2): 246.
65.Michael Hicks, “Bastard Feudalism, Overmighty Subjects and Idols of the Multitude during the Wars of the Roses,” History, 2000, 85(279): 398.
66.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book One, Chapter 6: Jon.
67.BBC, “The feudal system and the Domesday Book,” BBC, last edited 2014, http://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/ks3/history/middle_ages/feudal_system_domesday_book/revision/2/.
68.OwlWhite87, “Game Of Thrones-Eddard Stark’s Death,” youtube last edited 2011, https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=166&v=PW6wfXPeJTw.
69.George R. R. Martin, A Song of Ice and Fire, (New York: Fantasy Flight Publishing, inc., 2011), Book Three, Chapter 46: Catelyn.
70. S. F. C. Milsom, The Legal Framework of English Feudalism, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977) 103.
71.LibCom, “10 reasons communism will win,” last edited 2013, http://libcom.org/blog/10-reasons-communism-will-win-15072013.

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