In SFF, organisations seem reluctant to change their names, often retaining the same names, designations and hierarchy unchanged for centuries or millennia. In real life these things change much more often. Remember when the G8 was the G6? Or when the Solar system had nine planets?
Of course, in Westeros the number seven is sacred, being the number of the dominant Faith of the Seven, so thus the desire to keep the number down to seven becomes more understandable. It does, of course, require some arguing to make the count accurate for all of Westeros's history. Even the producers of the TV show seemed to recently get confused over whether the real count is seven or eight and I daresay it will come up from the new fans that come aboard with the TV show.
George R.R. Martin has of course been asked about this point. His explanation is simple: when Aegon the Conqueror set out to invade Westeros, there were seven kingdoms extant on the continent. These were:
- The Kingdom of the North - ruled from Winterfell by House Stark.
- The Kingdom of the Vale - ruled from the Eyrie by House Arryn.
- The Kingdom of the Isles and Rivers - ruled from Harrenhal by House Hoare.
- The Kingdom of the Rock - ruled from Casterly Rock by House Lannister.
- The Kingdom of the Reach - ruled from Highgarden by House Gardner.
- The Kingdom of the Stormlands - ruled from Storm's End by King Argilac.
- The Kingdom of Dorne - ruled from Sunspear by House Martell.
First off, when he invaded the Riverlands - at this time occupied by the ironborn - he was assisted by a popular uprising led by House Tully of Riverrun. Aegon burned out Harrenhal with his dragons (with King Harren Hoare still inside) and chased the ironborn pack to the Iron Isles, where the surviving lords chose Vickon Greyjoy of Pyke as their new overlord. Greyjoy swore fealty to Aegon, but Aegon also accepted an oath of fealty from Lord Edwyn Tully of Riverrun and appointed him overlord of the Riverlands. So he was already up one kingdom anyway.
The order in which the other kingdoms fell is unknown, but the North and (apparently) the Vale both signed up to the Aegon Plan (accept me as your king or I will burn you alive) enthusiastically, whilst Aegon's half-brother Orys demonstrated his badassery by taking over the Stormlands and founding a new house, the Baratheons. The Reach and the Rock both also surrendered after being defeated at the Field of Fire. During the battle the Gardners of the Reach were wiped out and Aegon raised up their stewards, the Tyrells, in their place.
At this point, possibly crucially for the numbering system, Aegon was welcomed into Oldtown and blessed by the High Septon of the Starry Sept, his mission to unite Westeros officially blessed by the Seven. Aegon went off and invaded Dorne and didn't get very far before withdrawing. It's possible that the North signed up later in the war and Aegon withdrew from Dorne to meet King Torrhen Stark on the Trident and decided not to return. It's also possible that the Dornish, who adopted guerrilla tactics in the war, simply could not be brought to a dragon-tastic decisive battle and Aegon didn't want to bleed his troops with a long march through the desert (a choice accepted by his descendant King Daeron I, with accompanying huge losses). So, for whatever reason, Aegon left Dorne untaken. He may have liked the idea of having Seven Kingdoms for the Seven Faces of God. For all we know he may have received advice from his financial advisor that having Dorne as an independent place where they could stash their money was a great idea.
So, anyway, after the invasion Aegon was left in control of seven kingdoms, which now looked like this:
- The North - ruled by House Stark from Winterfell.
- The Vale - ruled by House Arryn from the Eyrie.
- The Iron Islands - ruled by House Greyjoy from Pyke.
- The Riverlands - ruled by House Tully from Riverrun.
- The Westerlands - ruled by House Lannister from Casterly Rock.
- The Stormlands - ruled by House Baratheon from Storm's End.
- The Reach - ruled by House Tyrell from Highgarden.
This was the happily logical situation for about two centuries. However, in 195-196 After the Landing the realm was torn apart by a bloody civil war, the Blackfyre Rebellion. After a lengthy struggle and the mighty Battle of the Redgrass Field, King Daeron II managed to secure his rule and chased off the Blackfyre Pretenders to the eastern continent. In the wake of this war, which had been won with the help of the Dornish, Prince Maron Martell of Sunspear married Daeron's sister, Princess Daenerys (not the one from the novels, who was around a century later, but possibly the person whom she was named for). Since King Daeron had already married a Dornish princess, this tied Dorne to the Seven Kingdoms and it was formally absorbed into the realm.
Of course, this gave Daeron a headache, since it now meant he ruled eight kingdoms. Possibly for religious reasons he didn't want to rename the kingdom, so he had to demote one of the existing kingdoms. Checking them over, there was an obvious candidate: House Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. They'd been pretty much independent anyway, rarely interacting with the politics of the mainland, and at the time of the war had happily taken advantage of the chaos to raid and reave along the coastline, which was basically not cool.
So the Greyjoys were demoted and the Martells promoted. This left the count as:
- The North.
- The Vale.
- The Riverlands.
- The Westerlands.
- The Stormlands.
- The Reach.
This is the count at the time that A Game of Thrones begins. The Iron Islands are out of the count and don't seem to particularly care very much (although in one memorable scene, Joffrey does propose reinstating them for kicking the arse out of one of the other kingdoms) and that sorts that out.
Next time: were there always seven crewmembers in Blake's 7? What is up with SFF and the number 7 anyway?