Of Knights and Knaves
Customs and Laws
The most recent age of the Seven Kingdoms can be traced back to Aegon the Conqueror and spans 300 years, but the history of many castles and families in Westeros goes back thousands of years. The following is a list of some of today’s most prevalent key customs and laws of Westeros:
- Authority runs from the king, who is believed to be empowered by BBthe gods, whether old or new.
- Nobility have more rights and responsibilities than the smallfolk. BBNobility are born to their status.
- Higher-ranked individuals have more rights and powers than those BBof lower status.
- Men have more rights than women (except in Dorne, where age is BBthe determining factor, not sex).
- The children of nobility inherit the same rights as their parents, BBunless they are born out of wedlock.
- Inheritance law is a key issue among the nobility. First-born sons are BBthe legitimate heirs, followed by their brothers. Sisters—no matter their rank in birth order—only inherit if no sons exist to do so.
- Bastards (natural sons and daughters) may be acknowledged by BBtheir parents, and they may even be given rights of inheritance in unusual situations, but normally they lose out to legitimate siblings in all cases.
- The lord of a region is the chief authority and can administer the BBking’s justice. It is a lord’s duty to keep the peace, hear petitions, and mete out justice and punishments, all in the name of his lord and, ultimately, in the name of the king.
- Punishments for criminals can include maiming, death, and stripBBping of lands, wealth, and titles; an alternate punishment is to be forced to “take the black” on the Wall. By joining the Night’s Watch, all crimes and sins are forgiven, but one must give up all lands and rights (including the right to wed) and be forever sworn to the Brotherhood of the Night’s Watch. Women are not allowed to take the black.
- Lords have the right of “pit and gallows,” which means they have BBthe king’s authority to imprison subjects or have them executed if the crime warrants it.
- In the tradition of the First Men, the man who passes the sentence BBshould look into the subject’s eyes and hear his final words, and he should be the one to swing the sword. The people of the North still cling to this belief, but in the south, lords often keep a headsman, like the King’s Justice.
- Landed knights may also carry out justice, but they do not have the BBright of “pit and gallows.” They cannot, therefore, execute someone or imprison someone on their own initiative.
- A thief may lose a hand, a rapist may be castrated, and floggings are BBdoled out for many minor offenses.
- Most executions are done by the gallows or the headsman’s axe or BBsword, but cruel lords may use the “crow cage,” a wrought iron cage barely big enough for a man, in which the victim is imprisoned without food or water until death. Its name comes from the throng of crows who often descend upon the poor soul, pecking at his or her flesh through the bars.
- The king can pardon any criminal, as King Robert did to many who BBstayed loyal to the Targaryens during the war.
- A lord who is accused of a crime may request a trial by combat (of BBwhich there are several variations over the ages) or trial by lord, in which several other lords listen to the facts and pronounce judgment upon him.
- Another tradition of the First Men still held throughout Westeros BBto this day is that of the “guest right.” Any visitor who eats at his or her host’s board is protected from harm for the duration of the stay. By custom, a guest may request bread and salt, and any visitor who does not trust his or her host may request such immediately upon arrival. It is said that those who betray this pact are cursed by the gods.
- The age of majority is 16, before that, a youth may be “almost a man BBgrown.” A girl’s first menstruation (getting her moonblood)—often at a younger age for noble girls—is also an important milestone.
- Marriage vows are normally not said until adulthood, though there BBis no law prohibiting it. Nobles often betroth children at a very early age, and sometimes it is politically crucial to marry children younger than 16, such as when an inheritance is at risk. Regardless, no one would bed a girl before her first moonblood; to do so is seen as perverse and profane.
- Those who follow the Seven are wed by a septon, while those who BBfollow the old gods may say their vows before a weirwood.
- No one can be forced to marry if they refuse to say the vows, though BBfamilial pressures, and even threats of force, are not unheard of.
- Marriage contracts can be broken, especially if the marriage has BBnot been consummated.
- Family allegiances are often made by fostering sons of another lord BBfrom the age of 8 or 9 until they reach the age of majority. These lads serve as pages and squires, and they will often become fast friends with the family they serve.
- Wards are similar to fostered boys, but in this case the youths are BBkept as political hostages. While they may be treated well, a shadow of the true meaning of their extended stay always remains.
- Bastards, or natural children, are often looked down upon with BBsuspicion and distrust. Born of “lust and lies,” a common belief is that they will grow up to do no good. Each region has a distinctive surname for noble bastards:
The Reach: Flowers
The Iron Islands: Pyke
The Riverlands: Rivers
King’s Landing(and Dragonstone): Waters
The Vale of Arryn: Stone
The North: Snow
The Westerlands: Hill
The Stormlands: Storm
“Justice… That’s what kings are for.” -—Daenerys, A Storm of Swords