Wood and Fish and Bears, Oh My
The Incredibly Non-Historic History of Bear Island
House Mormont is an old house of The North, though not an ancient house like The Starks. However, as of the events of ASoIaF, The Mormonts are one of the principal families that are sworn to House Stark. Perhaps even more so with events that have transpired during ASoIaF if we base our assumptions on the yet-to-be-published-yet-already-adapted-material that takes place during HBO‘s Game of Thrones.
Their sigil is a black bear standing over a green wood and their motto is ‘Here We Stand.’ They are one of a handful of Houses that possess a weapon of Valyrian Steel… or they were… the bastard sword Longclaw is most closely associated with Jon Snow but it was gifted to him by Jeor Mormont upon Winterfell‘s Bastard saving his life.
Despite having one of the few Valyrian weapons left in The Known World, House Mormont is quite poor. Their seat is not a castle but a hall made of logs and surrounded by an earthen palisade instead of great walls. The Log Hall has no official name but is called Mormont Keep by most of the fandom and those in the know (Elio?). Upon the gate to Mormont Keep is carved what could be considered a second, unofficial sigil- a woman in a bearskin with a babe in one arm suckling at her breast, and a battleax in the other. This is to signify the need for the women of House Mormont, like all the women of Bear Island before them, to defend their children and land from Ironborn Raiders and Wildings.
House Mormont‘s seat is Bear Island– a remote island that lies in The Bay of Ice. It is north of Deepwood Motte and south of The Frozen Shore. Bear Island is made of tall pine trees, moss-covered stones and rock, steep hills, and old oak trees.
House Hoare, of Harrenhal infamy, allegedly added a green tree into the second quarter of their sigil to represent their former possession of Bear Island.
The culture of women as warriors, as represented by the unofficial Bear Island sigil on Mormont Keep‘s gates, originates from the constant raiding of the island, mostly by Ironmen, and the women’s need to defend as the majority of men would be out fishing The Bay of Ice. We will speak more of this later on.
In fact, through Westeros‘ history, Bear Island has been disputed territory between The North and The Iron Islands. Bear Island was once ruled by House Woodfoot, and other than this factoid there is little mention of House Woodfoot… other than the rumor that The Night King, who had been the 13th Lord Commander of The Night’s Watch and ruled The Nightfort with his corpse queen for 13 horrible years, had been a Woodfoot.
The Woodfoots lost Bear Island to Ironborn conquest. It was used as a reaving base by Ravos Hoare, who was the son of Harrage Hoare, The King of the Iron Islands.
Theon Stark, The King in the North, drove the Ironborn from Bear Island. He slew Ravos Hoare himself.
Loron Greyjoy, The Driftwood King, took back Bear Island, although, after The Old Kraken‘s death, the Island was lost again.
Legend says that King Rodrik Stark won the Island in a wrestling match. Who did he wrestle? If he wrestled an Ironborn King I would think the Ironborn be the heel. All we can really say for sure is that if it had been Eddard Stark that wrestled for Bear Island, he would have lost to The Ironborn King a la Montreal Screwjob.
King Rodrik granted Bear Island to House Mormont. Many scholars of The Citadel are skeptical of this story and rightly so. It is a tad bit ridiculous.
It is more likely that the Ironborn lost Bear Island along with many other possessions after Gerold Lannister, The King of the Rock, led a campaign to The Iron Islands and took many Ironborn hostages. It is said that he hung an Ironborn captive every time his shores were raided by The Iron Islands.
It seems Bear Island‘s resources are wood and fish. The inhabitants must sustain themselves as their resources are not much to offer the rest of Westeros, especially The North.
“Bear Island is rich in bears and trees and poor in aught else.” – Jorah Mormont.
For The Ironborn, Bear Island served as an excellent staging ground to prepare assaults and invasions of more lucrative lands beyond the shores of Westeros. It is almost as though Bear Island is a vacation island- a shitty vacation destination that different Kings in the North and Kings of the Iron Islands decided they wanted to visit. It was upon these wants and desires for peace and quiet or a place to get away from it all, that a King in the North or a King of the Iron Islands would make an attempt to capture the shitty island from the other.
It seems Ironborn interest in Bear Island completely drifted away upon Rodrik Stark taking control of it. This is likely due to a focus on the more valuable prize found in The Cape of Kraken and the battle for Cape Kraken between The Iron Islands and Winterfell– started by King Theon Stark and renewed by King Rodrik Stark.
So there it is- that’s the history that we can find of both Bear Island and House Mormont. In an attempt to dig up more Mormont history and detail between King Rodrik Stark‘s wrestling match and the events of ASoIaF, we took a look at the history of Longclaw. All we found there was that the Valyrian bastard sword had been in Mormont possession for 500 years before Jeor Mormont gifted the weapon to Jon Snow.
How did The Mormonts come to possess Longclaw? How did they come to be awarded Bear Island by the KiTN? The history of House Mormont is non-existent prior to Bear Island, though math would argue their possession of Longclaw was prior to Bear Island. Either way, this makes The Mormonts look like an upstart House- one that came out of nowhere to become… not a major noble house but a shitty noble house in better standing than it was before Westeros Wrestlemania 1.
In fact, as of ASoIaF, despite Jeor Mormont‘s decision to take the Black and Jorah‘s decision to assault Ned Stark‘s honor, House Mormont is not even in the upper echelon of Northern powers.
The Major Noble Houses that were sworn to Winterfell before Eddard Stark is named Hand to the King–
House Manderly of White Harbor
House Bolton of the Dreadfort
House Umber of The Last Hearth
House Flint of the Mountain Clans
House Wull of the Mountain Clans
House Norrey of the Mountain Clans
House Liddle of the Mountain Clans
House Flint of the Mountain Clans
House Flint of Breakstone Hill
House Flint of Flint’s Finger
House Flint of Widow’s Watch
House Cerwyn of Cerwyn
House Dustin of Barrowton
House Locke of Oldcastle
House Glover of Deepwood Motte
House Hornwood of Hornwood
House Karstark of Karhold
House Reed of Greywater Watch
House Ryswell of The Rills
House Tallhart of Torrhen’s Square
As of ASoIaF, which Northern Houses other than House Stark are the most powerful?
House Bolton– House Manderly– House Umber– House Karstark– House Cerwyn– House Dustin– House Glover– House Reed– House Ryswell– House Tallhart– House Mormont?
We’d have to say House Manderly– they are of Southron origins and follow The Faith of the Seven. They command the most heavy-horse north of The Neck. They have silversmiths and The Old Mint, which is basically a lesser Bank of Braavos. Lord Wyman‘s plan is to mint a currency specific to The North during the beginning days of Robb Stark‘s reign as KiTN.
House Bolton is vicious and it is said that The Greystarks– a cadet branch of House Stark, was absorbed by The Boltons and rebelled against Winterfell. House Umber and House Karstark are loyal Stark Houses and perhaps can hold their own against House Bolton in theory but we believe The Dreadfort would prevail.
I think even The Cerwyns, The Ryswells, and The Dustins are militarily stronger than House Mormont.
The Mormonts are more of a third-tier Northern Power- along with the likes of House Tallhart and House Glover.