- "I'll find a ship heading south in White Harbor."
White Harbor is the only city in the North. It is one of the major cities of Westeros, located where the White Knife River flows into the Bite. It is the seat of House Manderly, a vassal house holding fealty to House Stark of Winterfell. White Harbor is the main seaport of the North and is one of only five settlements in Westeros large enough to be called a city, though it is the smallest of the five (the other four being, in decreasing order of size: King's Landing, Oldtown, Lannisport, and Gulltown).
Centuries ago, the White Knife River was infested with pirates, until the Stark Kings of Winter drove them away. Generations later (but still before the Targaryen Conquest), the Starks granted the rich lands around the mouth of the river to House Manderly, an exiled family fleeing from the Reach where they used to hold lands along the Mander River. Under the rule of House Manderly, White Harbor prospered and grew into the North's main port, and only settlement large enough to be called a "city".
Roose Bolton brings King Robb and Catelyn Stark the news of Theon Greyjoy's Capture of Winterfell, Robb cannot bring himself to believe this treason, yet Bolton assures him that they have had ravens from White Harbor, Barrowton and the Dreadfort confirming it.
After the Battle of Castle Black, Maester Aemon eulogizes the dead and mentions the fifty late black brothers came to them "from White Harbor and Barrowton, from Fairmarket and King's Landing, from north and south, from east and west."
As he is about to be hanged for mutinying against Jon Snow, Othell Yarwyck pleads with the rest of the Night's Watch to send word to his mother living in White Harbor that he just died fighting wildlings beyond the Wall.
Jon Snow declares to a gathering of Northern lords at Winterfell his intention to depart with Davos Seaworth and ride to White Harbor, from which they will board a ship and sail to Dragonstone and meet Daenerys Targaryen.
After attending a truce meeting in King's Landing, Jon and Daenerys discuss a plan to send their troops to the North to fend off the White Walkers. Eventually, they decided to sail to White Harbor to travel to Winterfell in order for the North to see Daenerys as an ally to Jon.
In the books
In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, White Harbor is the main center of trade and merchant activity in the North. Though the smallest of the major cities of Westeros, it is still far larger than any other settlement north of Gulltown and Braavos.
The city's harbor is defended by an outer sea wall almost a mile long, with tall towers located every 100 feet along the wall. The mouth of the White Knife River is guarded by the Seal Rock, named for the animals that dot its flanks. The city itself contains an old, mostly-abandoned godswood, with most religious worship taking place at the Snow Sept. The oldest building in the city is the old keep, the Wolf's Den, which now serves as the city prison. The city is built around the flanks of a hill, with the Manderly keep, New Castle, located the summit of the hill, which commands a wide view of the harbor and surrounding land.
The original settlement was formed around the Wolf's Den fortress, founded at the order of King Jon Stark several millennia ago to provide a trading link with the rest of Westeros, and defend the mouth of the White Knife River against raiders from the sea (both from other kingdoms and from Essos). Previously, pirates would pass up the White Knife to plunder and capture slaves from the heart of the North, even near Winterfell. The Starks would bestow rule of the Wolf's Den on various loyal retainers, or younger Stark sons and cousins who wound create their own cadet branches of the family. The most successful of these was House Greystark, which ruled the Wolf's Den for five centuries, but then joined House Bolton in a revolt against their Stark cousins, by the end of which the Greystarks were exterminated. After that it changed hands several times: House Flint held it for one century, and House Locke for two.
Raiders from the Three Sisters, small islands in the Bite notorious as pirate's dens, once captured the Wolf's Den and used it as a base to attack the rest of the North before they were repulsed. About two thousand years ago, the North turned the tide and invaded the Three Sisters - but in response, the Sistermen turned south to the Vale of Arryn and begged that if the Arryns would help them repulse the Northmen, they would bend the knee to them and become part of the Vale. This led to a thousand years of on and off war between the North and the Vale over the Three Sisters: under Osgood Arryn the Wolf's Den was besieged, and it was later captured and burned by his son Oswin. The Sistermen, however, really didn't want to be ruled by anyone except themselves, so they then switched sides to join the Northmen against the Valemen. The wars seesawed back and forth like this for a thousand years: when the North gained enough strength to retake the Wolf's Den and then recapture the Three Sisters, the Sistermen would ally with the Arryns against the Starks, but when the Arryns gained enough strength that they could recapture the Three Sisters and then threaten the Wolf's Den, the Sistermen would switch back to the Starks' side. The wars continued until about a thousand years ago, when the North simply lost interest in ruling the Three Sisters.
At some unspecified point in time, old King Edrick Stark ruled for nearly a hundred years, but by the end of his reign grew so feeble that slavers from the Stepstones captured the Wolf's Den and used it as a permanent base for slaving raids against the rest of the North. They held it for some time, until Edrick's great-grandson King Brandon "Ice-eyes" Stark attacked the slavers in the middle of a long and cruel winter, and gave the survivors over to the freed slaves, who hung their former captives' entrails in the local Weirwood heart tree as a blood offering to the Old Gods.
The Manderlys, exiled from the Kingdom of the Reach, were given control of White Harbor a thousand years ago. The skilled rule of the Manderlys helped grow "the Wolf's Den" from a large town into a true southern-style "city", "White Harbor", albeit the smallest of the five cities in Westeros. It is thus the only settlement of the North in which a significant portion of the population follows the Faith of the Seven instead of the Old Gods of the Forest, but there have been no major religiously-based tensions between the Manderlys and their neighbors.
Located on the southeastern coast of the North, White Harbor has faced various external threats such as directly facing the hostile border with the Vale of Arryn, and frequent attacks from pirates (coming from the Three Sisters, the Stepstones, or the parts of western Essos that became the Free Cities). On the other hand, White Harbor has never been attacked by wildlings: they have made raids along the northern coasts of the North by sailing small boats around the Wall, but they do not possess large sea-worthy vessels capable of sailing nearly as far south as White Harbor. Being located on the east coast of Westeros, White Harbor has also never been attacked by the ironborn: any ironborn raiders would have to sail all the way around Westeros to get that far, passing all four of the larger cities in Westeros (Lannisport, Oldtown, King's Landing, and Gulltown), each of which has its own defensive fleets which would intercept them first. Even then, as White Harbor is the smallest and least wealthy of these five cities, the ironborn would have little to gain by making such a long voyage. Indeed, during the Dance of the Dragons, Aegon II offered that if the Greyjoys joined his side, they would be free to attack White Harbor, which had declared for his sister Rhaenyra. The Greyjoys, however, didn't see much to gain from that, preferring to attack the wealthier and closer cities of Lannisport and Oldtown, so they declared for Rhaenyra instead.
In the novels, Catelyn Stark and Ser Rodrik Cassel use a ship from White Harbor to get to King's Landing around the same time that Eddard Stark and his party, travelling overland, arrive. However, in the television series there is no indication they used this method of travel.
Bear Island · Last Hearth · Karhold · Dreadfort · Winterfell (Winter town) · Deepwood Motte · Torrhen's Square · Castle Cerwyn · Hornwood · Ramsgate · Widow's Watch · Barrowton · White Harbor · Oldcastle · Moat Cailin · Flint's Finger · Greywater Watch · Rillwater Crossing · Ironrath · Highpoint
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