I'm three quarters through the third book, "Storm of Swords" right now (so please, no spoilers from too late in the book or any subsequent books). I just read a part where Tyrion is discussing with Prince Oberyn and they mention the difference between Dornish law and Westerosi law in Line of Succession (ie women can rule under Dornish law).

I'm a little confused trying to puzzle out what the exact LOS rules are.

At first I though it was: at the moment a king/lord dies, to find who holds the title next, you do a depth-first search down the family tree starting with the oldest sibling (ignoring anyone who isn't true-born or has given up their claim ie as Night's Watch or Kingsguard etc.). Then, for Dornish law you take the first living person and for Westerosi law the first living male person found in this way (so succession can pass through a woman in both cases, but only Dornish law actually allows them to claim the title). If there are no valid living heirs, then you work backwards along the paternal line until you find an ancestor who has living heirs and start from them.

But there were various references to if Sansa's brothers were all dead, then her child would claim Winterfell. It seems to me that that's only true if somebody else doesn't get it first. In other words, if Sansa's brothers are killed before she has a child (even if she's already married), doesn't that mean Winterfell would pass to the nearest cousin along her father's line (whomever that may be)? And then because that cousin has already held Winterfell, when they die the next in the line of succession starts from them so Sansa's children's family would not have claim to Winterfell again unless that cousin has no valid heirs.

What am I missing here? Is there some exception? Are there no valid cousins?

  • I recognize given the context of Tyrion's discussion with Oberyn, this question is worded somewhat funnily, but it's only because I'm trying to avoid giving any spoilers
    – dspyz
    Jul 7, 2013 at 11:18
  • I would assume that female children inherit only after all male heirs are gone. Such as is the case with the Mormonts, with Daenerys, with Harry the Heir, etc.
    – TLP
    Jul 7, 2013 at 11:41
  • 9
    Monarchies are often dictated by the end of the sword, so if you have a large enough army you can make up whatever rules you want. The series shows several characters trying to support their claim mostly through military might. The real question is can you get enough people in your army without a direct claim, and I'm pretty sure some characters who attempt to become king mostly through force only have a minor claim to the throne. Jul 7, 2013 at 15:45
  • 1
    I think that it would go down like this: the cousin would have Winterfell, until Sansa had a son and that son became of the right age. Then armed conflict would ensue between the current ruler and those still loyal to the original bloodline.
    – Champo
    Jul 7, 2013 at 18:21
  • 1
    Also see discussion at: asoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/topic/… Jul 16, 2013 at 10:03

4 Answers 4


Except for the Dornish, Westerosi succession goes like this:

  1. Succession goes to the King's eldest male child's line, meaning that even if the eldest male child is dead the succession passed through to his heirs, and only after that line is explored do we go to the next step.

  2. When a King has no male children or their lines are extinguished, succession goes to the eldest female child's line.

  3. When a King has no children or their lines are extinguished, we go through the same steps 1 & 2 but among the King's siblings (i.e. His father's children).

  4. If we still have no heirs we go up a level. In other words we search through the King's grandfather's children. If that fails we continue going up until an heir is found (or we run into a stack-overflow exception ;) )

However, one must remember that these are ideal world rules. In practice, when the succession gets convoluted by the lack of direct heirs opportunists will rise up claiming succession (usually backed up by a large army).

Since I'm sure a lot of us here are coders (the OP definitely is) here's my attempt at pseudo code implementation. I'm sure it could be done much better, so feel free to fix.

function FindNextKing ( DeadKing ) {
    Let NewKing = FindDirectHeir(DeadKing)
    While(NewKing == null)
        DeadKing = DeadKing.Father
        NewKing = FindDirectHeir(DeadKing)

function FindDirectHeir ( inheritor ) {
    if ( inheritor is alive )
        return inheritor //We have found an heir!
        if ( inheritor.children.count > 0 )
           Let heirs = inheritor.children
           heirs = heirs.SortByAge()
           if ( Dornish != true ) heirs = heirs.StableSortByGender(MaleFirst=true)
           foreach(child in heirs)
               Let Result = FindDirectHeir(child)
               if (Result!=null) return Result
    // search failed 
    return null         
  • 4
    Too bad they didn't have a line of succession rule library... Jul 7, 2013 at 18:05
  • 14
    I like that in this psuedo-code language, x.LongLive! is synonymous with return x
    – dspyz
    Jul 8, 2013 at 5:55
  • 20
    Fatal Error #1554 in Westeros.exe(1) : TargaryenInvasionException in FindDirectHeir.
    – WOPR
    Jul 16, 2013 at 5:26
  • 14
    Oh, this so needs an if ( overwhelmed by force ) { throw new TheThroneIsMineException() } Jul 16, 2013 at 9:45
  • 3
    @IlariKajaste - Well spotted! That's the problem with MaesterScript 3.0. It doesn't enforce explicit variable declaration. Jul 16, 2013 at 14:52

There are some regional exceptions to the rules listed by @PearsonArtPhoto. (These are outlined nicely in Customs - A Wiki of Ice and Fire)

  • In Dorne, which follows Rhoynish influence, primogeniture does not distinguish by gender (it goes strictly by order of birth).

  • It also seems that the Targaryen customs for LOS may have (at some point) had gender-blind primogeniture. According to The Cycle of Inheritance in A Song Of Ice And Fire

The Dance of the Dragons was a devastating civil war fought between two siblings: Rhaenyra Targaryen and Aegon Targaryen. Their father Viserys I had been king, and Rhaenyra had been his eldest (and only) child for many years before their father finally managed to have a male son who survived the cradle. Viserys had taken to bringing Rhaenyra to his councils, and all ways preparing her and the realm to follow him as heir. Matters became more ambiguous later, after Aegon survived and prospered, but it seems very possible that Valyrian custom before the Dorm was gender-blind primogeniture, and Viserys was merely keeping with the customs that the Targaryens had had before. Regardless, on his death bed, it seemed Rhaenyra was still heiress... but the Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, Ser Criston Cole, convinced Aegon to crown himself as Aegon II.

As a result of the devastation wrought by this civil war:

To prevent any more situations like that in the future, it became law—or at least custom—that from there on out, a Targaryen woman could never inherit the throne. Her male kin were always preferred. This is why such a spirited young queen such as Daena Targaryen (and both of her sisters) were passed over when Baelor the Blessed died.


The typical succession rule is as follows (From the perspective of the former ruler)

  1. It goes to the oldest son who are alive. If they are not old enough, a regent is found.
  2. If no sons are alive, then it goes to the oldest daughter. It does not go to a daughter in law, however.
  3. The next step is a brother, and then sister, of the person who died, in order of male age, then female age.
  4. It seems the next in line is nieces/nephews, again, in order of age, but also taking in to account age of the father, following step 3 in other words.

Also, married women seem to defer their throne to their husbands, I haven't seen an instance of a married woman who ruled as the primary ruler.

Beyond that, there is considerable fighting, and it is rather unclear. There is some debate as to whom would rule Winterfell if all of the Starks disappeared/were killed, for instance, and there isn't a clear path forward.

  • 1
    This succession rule has the great drawback that the order in which people die affects who will inherit the throne. This isn't the way it worked in real life in Europe, and this isn't the way it works in Westeros ... the firstborn son's sons inherit the throne even if their father dies before their uncle. With this rule, phrases like "fifth in line for the throne", which I'm sure I've seen in Song of Ice and Fire, don't make any sense, because it depends on who dies first. Jul 30, 2013 at 16:31

Most of other points have been already cleared; so I'll focus on the Stark's inheritance:

Ned had five true-born children - Robb, Sansa, Arya, Bran and Rickon. The man are supposed to be dead/surely going to die; so the inheritance goes for Sansa & her offspring. Failing that, it goes to Arya & offspring. Since they wouldn't welcome a Lannister ruler (for Sansa's husband would be the ruler in fact); the plan is to have a Regent (Bolton? Not sure what's Tywin's speech at this point) that will rule until the child is old enough.

While the claim COULD have passed to any of her cousin's; Sansa doesn't have any. Neither Brandon nor Benjen got married, so they have no true-born children; and even if Lyanna -had- a true-born son (which she didn't), he would come AFTER Sansa's child in the succession line, as would any daughters from her uncles. Ned's father didn't have any siblings (at least that survived to adulthood); so there are also no second cousins. Even Ned's grandfather didn't have any brothers (apart from Old Nan's first Brandon, that died as a child), only a sister (that married into House Royce).

Even if we look further into the past, we'll find out that some Stark's siblings died fighting Wildlings, some (but not long) time before Maester Aemon's father's reign. So as far as Tywin is concerned in A Storm of Swords, House Stark has died out through the male line, having NO surviving male heirs in four/five generations.

  • Sansa would inherit before her (non-existent) cousins. Sep 12, 2013 at 1:38
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    There is speculation (about which I won't go into detail here for fear of spoilers) that Lyanna might have had a true-born son. But Sansa and Arya would still be ahead of him in the Stark succession.
    – Mike Scott
    Dec 15, 2013 at 7:22
  • @MikeScott There's tinfoil speculation about everything in the series.
    – mrr
    May 23, 2014 at 0:07
  • Sansa's husband may rule in her name but he won't be the de-jure ruler in the scenario you mention unless he is chosen to be the de-jure ruler by a council of Northern lords.
    – Aegon
    Jul 26, 2016 at 11:18

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