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Needlework, and The Iron Bank in A Song of Ice and Fire

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Needlework as a Beauty Standard

Beauty standards don't stay in time. The definition of beauty changes with time. In the books of A Song of Ice and Fire, there are no fixed physical beauty standards, such as body shape, skin color, etc. But we come across several nonphysical criteria that are considered beautiful and even necessary.

Speaking of Old Nan and her needlework, it is essential to say that having a skilled hand in needlework was necessary for royal ladies. Sansa spends many hours sitting with her Septa and doing needlework. Sansa was always good at needlework.

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Sansa's needlework was exquisite. Everyone said so. "Sansa's work is as pretty as she is (simile)," Septa Mordane told their lady mother once. "She has such fine, delicate hands (epithet)." When Lady Catelyn had asked about Arya, the septa had sniffed. "Arya has the hands of a blacksmith." (A Game of Thrones 1996:67)

Back in time, needlework was considered a female vocation and was dominated by women. It was through spinning or needlework that a young woman could prove her mettle and win a husband. (Zipes 1994)

The job of spinning and needlework was so essential for a young woman that her beauty could not be described detached from it. It is worth mentioning that in numerous fairy tales, marvelous beauty and outstanding spinning skills or proficiency in needlework go together. (HZH, vol. VIII, 113)

And nowadays, what inner beauty standards do we have? Some would state that intelligence is essential; having an education is a privilege, but not a must. But above all, social status and financial state is the most important one for many people.

The Iron Bank

The Iron Bank of Braavos is central to Braavos. It is the first thing that many think of when they think of the city, the source and home for its wealth and political power, and in many cases, the source of the city's influence across the whole world.

The Iron Bank is nothing if not discreet and hidden from the small folk. Its origins, however, are as old as the city that was founded by slaves who had taken control of ships from the Valyrian freehold, throwing off their former masters. In Essos, they had nothing but their clothes and the ships they arrived on. But, as is always the case, people find ways to make money. When Braavos grew into a thriving town and then a city, some of the original settlers needed to store their valuables away from any potential thieves. So the wealthiest joined forces: sixteen men and seven women. They discovered an abandoned iron mine outside the city and stored their valuables there, setting guards in place and installing massive gates to keep everyone else out.

At some point, the 23 realized that if they pooled their wealth between them, they had control of a seriously large amount of capital, that other would-be merchants, artisans, and entrepreneurs sorely needed. Hence, the key holders started lending parts of their wealth to others for a small charge, at first.

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Everything connected to Braavosi politics is complicated; what is not complicated is the bank's impact on world politics. The bank no longer loans money to artisans or merchants, but kings and rulers, and this is now the source of their power. The Iron Bank finds itself in the position of having cities and a nation's owe the money, not just individuals. The bank gained its fearsome reputation by pursuing its individual debtors. The iron bank always gets its dues. With cities and nations, the debt carries on even when a ruler who took out the original debt has long since gone.

Cersei: A Lannister pays his debts.
Pycelle: The Braavosi have a saying too. The Iron Bank will have its due, they say. (A Feast for Crows: 217)
—Cersei Lannister and Pycelle

When there are rivals for a throne that owes the bank money, the bank decides on who to support: a support that is always dependent on the new ruler agreeing to take on the debt of their predecessor. The Bank always gets its due and increasingly decides on who sits on which Thrones, not only in Braavos.

The Iron Bank is always glad to be of service. (The Winds of Winter)
—Tycho Nestoris to Stannis Baratheon

The first law of Braavos engraved on the archway states quite clearly that in Braavos, no man, woman, or child will ever be a slave, thrall, or bondsman. They are free, and they value that freedom, above all else.

The Iron Bank has its historical equivalent, the Italian banks of the late medieval period and the Renaissance. Braavos itself is a broadly drawn parallel to Venice. The Medici Bank was probably the most famous of these Italian banks, although it was associated with Florence, not Venice.

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The Medici Bank met its match with the Wars of the Roses, which ties it closer to an Iron Bank parallel even if Venice is more like Braavos than Florence is. Edward IV, not unlike his counterpart Robert Baratheon in A Song of Ice and Fire, ran up a lot of debt that he couldn't pay off. The London branch of the Medici Bank had also made out loans to the Lancastrians, playing both sides like the Iron Bank, and the Lancastrians past a certain point couldn't pay back their loans because they were, well, dead.

In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Iron Bank is the actual power behind the Iron Throne, as it can choose who can sit on the throne. It can be said that power and money coexist and are dependent on each other; money expresses itself through power, confirming the idea that money is power, and vice versa, one can seek and find power through money.

We who serve the Iron Bank face death full as often as you who serve the Iron Throne. (A Dance with Dragons: 513)
—Tycho Nestoris to Jon Snow

In Armenian reality, a parallel can be drawn between the Iron Bank and Russia, which plays both sides selling weapons to Armenia, their long believed brother-country, and our enemies, at the same time.