Inheritance and Lordship

The lordships of Britain are, for the most part, hereditary. Lordship passes automatically to the proper heir, according to the rules of succession, on the death of the previous lord — in most cases, to the eldest son. However, if the lord has no sons, then his daughters can inherit in some lands. If there are no daughters, then brothers or their children inherit. It is even possible to trace up the family tree and then back down again, looking for living heirs. Once you start doing this, however, things get complicated and politicized. In theory, men take priority over women, and older siblings over younger. Once you have started going down a branch of the family tree, you are supposed to go all the way down before looking for other heirs; thus, the great-grandson of the eldest son of the lord has a better claim than the lord’s second son, even if the great-grandson is a babe in arms with a mother from a rival house and the second son a mighty warrior. Those are, however, exactly the sorts of situations in which politics are likely to trump the theoretical rules.

There are regional variations on this rule. Most notably, inheritance in Cornwall and Devon is determined by order of birth, with women having equal rights with men. In Strathclyde, the kingship was originally determined by popular vote at a kingsmoot, but that custom has long fallen into disuse.

In theory, then, it is all but impossible for a noble house to become extinct; enough poking around in dusty archives can turn up heirs for just about anyone. In practice, however, a distant relative is unlikely to inherit, particularly if the king has other plans for the lands or if the reputed heir is living like a commoner. However, such situations do not prevent people from fighting for their “rights.”

A variation on this practice is that nobles sometimes dig around in their family history to find hereditary justification for taking on a certain position. House Blakemore claims some hereditary right to the Kingdom of Mercia, for example, but no one really believes they justifies their rule by hereditary right. Such discovered justifications are used to excuse acts of aggression or to bolster the security of a position taken by force. A noble with such a claim might launch a legal case first, but such action would merely be a part of demonstrating the “validity” of his right; he would not expect to actually win unless he had stitched matters up with the liege lord beforehand.

Some positions are not hereditary. These posts include placements on a king’s council and the posts of Warden. Many of them, particularly the Wardens, are strongly associated with particular lordships and are effectively hereditary. Although a king must make the appointment, it would be a brave, or foolish, monarch who made anyone other than a Galath of Exeter Warden of Dumnonia. Kings have more freedom in appointing their council and in accepting knights into the King’s Guard.

A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide is © 2010 Green Ronin Publishing, LLC.
A Song of Ice and Fire is © 1996-2010 George R. R. Martin.

Inheritance and Lordship

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