A knight is a member of a warrior tradition that is heavily interwoven in the feudal culture of the Seven Kingdoms and the Faith of the Seven. Knights occupy a social standing between that of lords and smallfolk. In contrast to nobility, this rank is not hereditary. Knights are referred to with the title "Ser".
Knighthood likely has its roots in Andal culture due to its association with the Faith of the Seven, which was brought to Westeros with the coming of the Andals. Legends of the Reach claim chivalry was brought by the First Knight, John the Oak, however. The military success of mounted knights and their steel armament proved vital to the Andals' conquest of most of Westeros. Knighthood holds less cultural significance in areas of Westeros that are less assimilated to Andal culture, such as the north and the Iron Islands, though there are knights from these regions.
Any man can be knighted, no matter their birth. Social pressure keeps knighthood from being exploited by unscrupulous knights who might give the accolade for money. Knighthood is seen as primarily a martial position, so even the sons of powerful lords are not necessarily knighted if they are incapable of fulfilling the requirements. Doing otherwise would lose honor rather than gain it, and would make a lord and his family be held up to ridicule. Regardless, at times, a lord's son is knighted without fulfilling the requirements. For example, Lord Caswell of Bitterbridge had his only son and heir, a weakling, knighted. Further, a young knight's repute partially derives from the honor of the man who conferred knighthood on him. Receiving your knighthood from a king, prince, Kingsguard knight, or legendary knight holds great prestige.
Although lords hold certain legal rights (e.g., the right of pit and gallows) which knights do not have, and outrank knights at tourney’s and feasts, certain landed knights can be lord in all but name. It is mostly the title which sets the two apart, as the title of lord is generally considered to be more prestigious than the title “ser”. However, the title of a knight has its own prestige, as it cannot be inherited. And although knights are often ranked below lords, certain landed knights might actually be more powerful than lesser lords. It is certainly possible that a landed knight has more lands and wealth than a small lord. Especially landed knights who come from ancient houses, and who have extensive lands and a large, strong castle may actually be more powerful than many smaller lordlings. Such a peculiar status if often reflected by taking a style that incorporates the name of their castle, such as the Knight of Ninestars.
Lordly houses can be reduced to landed knights as punishment from the crown. The Conningtons, originally a lordly house, were reduced to landed knights by King Robert I Baratheon as a punishment for Lord Jon Connington's participation in Robert's Rebellion on the side of House Targaryen. Instead of being the Lord of Griffin's Roost, the head of House Connington is now known as the Knight of Griffin's Roost. Knighthood can also be stripped from individuals, through attainder or royal decree.
The Warrior's Sons were a military order of knights who gave up worldly possessions and swore their service to the High Septon. They were outlawed during the Faith Militant uprising, however. According to Ser Jaime Lannister, three hundred dragons is a fair ransom for a knight from a noble house.
Armor worn by Westerosi knights and warriors does not correspond one to one with any single period in European history, according to George R. R. Martin. Instead, it corresponds a mix of armor styles from several different time periods. Armor tends to "later" styles in southern Westeros. For example, plate is more common in the Reach, while mail is more the rule in the north. The armor used by free folk living beyond the Wall is rather primitive.
Knights can wear several different kinds of helmets. The "halfhelms" correspond to classic Norman helms from the Hastings era, conical helmets with open faces and a nasal bar. Other types of helmets are greathelms, both visored and closed, and elaborately shaped helms, such as the ornate lion helmet worn by Jaime Lannister.
Knights display a coat-of-arms on their shield and surcoat to identify themselves. Those who are nobly born often wear the arms of their house. Some might chose to use variations of their house's sigil, however. Examples are Garlan and Loras Tyrell, who use two and three golden roses instead of one to indicate their positions are second and third son. A knight can also chose a completely new coat-of-arms. Many knights wear large crests on their helms that embellish the theme of their arms, such as a black trout for Ser Brynden Tully and a unicorn horn for Ser Flement Brax.
At the time of the tourney at Ashford Meadow in 209 AC, a plain yet complete set of good steel armor with greaves, gorget, and greathelm could cost eight hundred stags, which equals almost four golden dragons.
Becoming a knight
Pages and Squires
Although not an absolute requirement for becoming a knight, boys, often nobly born, can serve as pages and later squires. Boys can become pages at several different ages. It appears to be normal to become a page from the ages of six or seven onwards. Robert Arryn was six years old when his father, Lord Jon Arryn, planned on having him fostered at Dragonstone and serving as a page, although circumstances were not entirely ordinary. According to Brienne of Tarth, boys near the age of six or seven are pages. Edric Dayne became a page at the age of seven, and the Princess of Dorne suggested taking on Jaime Lannister as a page at that age as well. Kevan Lannister was made a page at the age of eight. Boys as young as eight might serve the Night's Watch as pages.
After several years of serving as a page, a boy can become a squire. Boys are not required to serve as a page before becoming a squire, so the age of squiring can range widely. While Samwell Tarly was supposed to become a page and cupbearer at the age of ten, multiple boys are known to have been squires by that age or by an even younger age. Examples include Doran Martell, Aegon V Targaryen, Rollam Westerling, and Elmar Frey, who were all already squires at the age of nine, and Barristan Selmy and Edric Dayne were made squires at the age of ten.
Pages and squires train at arms. Squires run errands for their masters, tend to their master's animals, clean his mail, and help him into his armor whenever required. In times of war, they ride beside their masters, assisting them and fighting by their sides. During tourneys, squires will provide their masters with new lances, or with a sword. A boy who is being fostered but who is not training for knighthood (e.g., because he does not follow the Faith of the Seven), can perform the duties of a page and squire without strictly being one.
Age at knighthood
Most knights have already come of age when they receive their knighthoods. When Prince Maegor Targaryen was knighted at the age of sixteen in 28 AC, he was the youngest knight in the Seven Kingdoms at the time. Glendon Flowers, Prince Aerys Targaryen, Daemon Targaryen, Barristan Selmy, and Kevan Lannister were also sixteen years old when dubbed.
Exceptional fighters can be knighted at a younger age, however. Loras Tyrell, Jaime Lannister, and Prince Daeron Targaryen were fifteen years old upon receiving their knighthood. Daemon Blackfyre received his knighthood at an exceptionally young age, as he was only twelve years old when he was knighted by his father, King Aegon IV Targaryen.
Rhaegar Targaryen was newly knighted at seventeen, and Quentyn Martell, Tywin Lannister, and Denys Mallister were even older, being knighted at the age of eighteen. Ser Duncan the Tall claimed to be a hedge knight at the age of sixteen or seventeen, which nobles at Ashford Meadow did not seem to find objectionable. Young squires who have proven themselves in battle might be promised knighthood when they come of age.
Conditions for knighthood
Most squires are knighted some time after coming of age. Some men are knighted before then, by demonstrating their prowess in tourneys, such as Daemon Blackfyre, or in battle, such as Jaime Lannister. Underage squires might be knighted on the battlefield as they lay dying, such as Tywald Lannister. Men can also ask for knighthood before being executed, such as Trystane Truefyre.
The motivation for receiving knighthood can be political. Laenor Velaryon was knighted because he was to marry Rhaenyra Targaryen, the Princess of Dragonstone, and it was thought that the prince consort of the Seven Kingdoms should be a knight.
Knighthood can also be acquired in less honorable ways. Tales are told of knights who gained their knighthoods with favors, coin, and threats. It was said that Glendon Ball sold his maiden sister's virginity in exchange for receiving his knighthood. During the Dance of the Dragons, Perkin the Flea gave the honor to "every sellsword, thief, and butcher's boy", to recruit hundreds of gutter knights for Trystane Truefyre's army amid the riot of King's Landing.
Conditions preventing knighthood
Men with physical disabilities that prevent them from taking on the expected duties of a knight cannot gain knighthood. For example, Bran Stark, Willas Tyrell, and Mollander cannot be knights because of their disabilities. It can be assumed that other cripples of noble birth, such as Albin Massey, Larys Strong and Lothar Frey, were denied knighthood for the same reason. As a squire, Merrett Frey was denied knighthood by Lord Sumner Crakehall due to the head injuries he received in the campaign against the Kingswood Brotherhood, which caused blinding headaches from even the lightest blow to his head. Tyrion Lannister knew from an early age his dwarfism would prevent him from becoming a knight. Other physical conditions that hinder a knight's duties, such as obesity and disinclination to martial training (for example, Samwell Tarly), would be another reason men do not become knights. Mental disabilities also preclude knighthood.
Some men do not become knights for lack of interest, although they are physically qualified. Followers of the old gods do not tend to be knighted, as knighthood is an Andal tradition usually requiring standing a vigil in a sept and vows to the Seven. (However, there are exceptions, such the battlefield-knighted northerner Jorah Mormont, and the knighthood process performed by the R'hllor-worshipping Beric Dondarrion and his brotherhood without banners.) Some men reject knighthood for personal reasons, such as Sandor Clegane. Some warriors cannot be knighted on grounds of their sex, such as Brienne of Tarth and Jonquil Darke.
Some squires choose to never become a knight, and live the rest of their lives as squires. This may be because the individual does not have the inclination to live a knight's martial lifestyle, or does not have the funds to properly equip himself. According to George R. R. Martin:
We tend to think of squires as teenaged boys, knights in training, but that is only part of the truth. Historically, there were many men who spent their entire lives as squires, and never became knights. It was quite common to have thirty- and forty-year-old squires, even some in their fifties. Such men perhaps did not have the wealth to become knights (knights had to pay for their own equipment), or perhaps did not have the inclination. They were the medieval counterparts of the career army sergeant who has no desire to be promoted to lieutenant, let alone general.
Any knight can make a knight. However, kings can make knights as well, even if they were never knighted themselves. On the other hand, lords cannot dub someone a knight if they have not previously been knighted themselves.
Knighthood is partially a religious matter, as it is usually open only to followers of the Faith of the Seven. There are several variations of ceremonies. It is customary to stand vigil in a sept the night before one receives knighthood. This vigil is carried out before the figure of the Warrior. The sword might be placed before or upon the figure, and the armor in a pile at the statue’s base. At times, the knights-to-be might walk barefoot from the sept to the location where they are to receive their knighthood, to prove their humble hearts. The six hundred knights who were dubbed after the Battle of the Blackwater, also wore shifts of undyed wool, and marked receiving their knighthood by the putting on a swordbelt after being dubbed. Before taking a knight's vows, a septon might anoint the knight-to-be with the seven oils. Being anointed by the High Septon is considered to be a great honor. However, men can also be dubbed a knight without exercising these customs, for example on the battlefield (e.g., Tywald Lannister). Witnesses might be present at the moment of receiving knighthood, although this is not a requirement.
When knighting someone in a formal manner, the dubber speaks the knight-to-be's name and House, if he has one. The dubber touches the subject on the right shoulder with his sword, and while placing the sword on the other shoulder following every sentence says:
In a less formal knighting ceremony, the dubber lays his sword upon the knight-to-be's right shoulder, and says:
[Name of knight-to-be], do you swear before the eyes of gods and men to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to protect all women and children, to obey your captains, your liege lord, and your king, to fight bravely when needed and do such other tasks as are laid upon you, however hard or humble or dangerous they may be?
After the subject who is being knighted confirms that he will do as asked, the sword is moved to the left shoulder, and the dubber will say that the newly-made knight can rise.
Knights are supposed to be honorable and follow the chivalric codes. They are expected to be brave and just, and to defend the innocent, the weak, and women. Knights are expected to train and lead a group of men-at-arms.
Knights preferably have multiple horses, including one to travel on and another to ride in tourneys and in battle. Some knights refuse to name their horses, so they are less likely to feel attached to them, as horses are likely to die in battle.
The host of a tourney decides whether only knights, or also sellswords, squires, and freeriders are allowed to compete. The Reach, the heart of the chivalric tradition in the Seven Kingdoms, is the most likely place to encounter a tourney only for knights. During the joust, the man who loses the tilt usually has to give up his armor and horse. For a poor knight, this might represent a danger. So long as a knight is armed and horsed, he remains a knight of sorts, but without, they are little more than a beggar.
Types of knights
Several different types of knights can be identified:
- Landed knights are knights with a keep and lands of their own. Although members of nobility, and wealthier landed knights might hold more land than the poorest lords do, they do not have the authority to deliver law and justice.
- Hedge knights are so called because they "sleep in the hedges as often as not". They are nearer to common servants than noble knights in the eyes of most lords. They spend their lives riding from keep to keep, taking service with different lords until the lords have no more need for them and sent them off. Hedge knights have an unsavory reputation, and merchants are notoriously mistrustful of them. Hedge knights gone rogue are referred to as robber knights.
- Household knights are landless knights who have been taken into the service of a lord.
- Knights inquisitor are agents of the Iron Throne tasked with investigating and punishing threats.
- The term true knight refers to an ideal knight who upholds all qualities for which knighthood stands for. Each knight, no matter which kind of knight, should ideally aspire to live up to these standards.
As knighthood is associated with the Faith of the Seven, there are fewer knights in the north than in southern Westeros, as only a few northern houses worship the Seven. Northern cavalry are just as fierce, loyal, and honorable as knights are. However, despite being the northern equivalent of knights, it is not quite the same as being a knight, on account of the prestige that a knighthood contains. Most northern knights live in the southern regions of the north, although not in the Neck. House Manderly specifically, originating from the Reach, still holds to the Faith of the Seven, and White Harbor, their seat, has been most exposed to southron influences. Not all northern knights hold to the Faith of the Seven, however. One such an example is Ser Bartimus.
Because most ironborn follow the Drowned God instead of the Seven, knighthood is also rare in the Iron Islands. Two examples of ironborn knights are Ser Harras Harlaw and Ser Aladale Wynch.
I am a knight. I shall die a knight.
What do you think a knight is for, girl? You think it’s all taking favors from ladies and looking fine in gold plate? Knights are for killing.
Any knight can make a knight, and every man you see before you has felt a sword upon his shoulder.
Sandor: Might be you are knights after all. You lie like knights, maybe you murder like knights.
Beric: Say what you mean, Clegane.Sandor: A knight's a sword with a horse. The rest, the vows and the sacred oils and the lady’s favors, they’re silk ribbons tied round the sword. Maybe the sword’s prettier with ribbons hanging off it, but it will kill you just as dead.
Some knights are dark and full of terrors. War makes monsters of us all.
Night work is not knight's work.
Without honor, a knight is no more than a common killer. It is better to die with honor than to live without it.—Barristan Selmy to his squires
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- So Spake Martin: Comic-Con (San Diego, CA; July 20-23) (July 23, 2006)
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