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Aegor Rivers, a Great Bastard, fathered by Aegon IV Targaryen - by Marc Simonetti ©
A bastard daughter of Prince Oberyn Martell - by Magali Villeneuve. © Fantasy Flight Games
Jon Snow, the acknowledged bastard son of Eddard Stark - by Natascha Roeoesli. © Fantasy Flight Games

A bastard is a person whose parents, at the time of their birth, were not married to each other. There is a certain stigma that comes from being born as a bastard, as their nature is often seen as lustful and deceitful. As a polite way of referring to someone who is bastard-born, someone may be referred to as a "natural son" or "natural daughter". A less polite term, indicative of the social stigma against bastards, is "baseborn", although this term does not apply if both parents are noble. A euphemism for being bastard-born is "being born on the wrong side of the sheets".[1]

Family Life and Status

In A Song of Ice and Fire, it is not unexpected for noblemen to have bastard children. While it is not typical for a noble to bring his bastards home and raise them with his own children, it is usually expected that he will see to the child's well-being to some degree.[2] A noble-born wife has the right to take insult at her husband's bastards being introduced into her household and being commensurate in rank with her legally-born children.

Bastards whose parents are both of the nobility may be considered non-baseborn, although even a royal decree has considerable difficulty in removing the stigma of a bastard[3] and trueborn children of a bastard might change their surnames to show their legitimate nature. For example, a legitimate son of a Waters might change his surname to Longwaters.[4][5]

At any point, the biological father of a bastard may acknowledge him and bring him formally into his house. King Robert I Baratheon acknowledged Edric Storm, although the boy was raised at Storm's End.[6] After the death of Domeric Bolton, Lord Roose Bolton brought Ramsay Snow to the Dreadfort, although Roose did not recognize Ramsay as his heir.[7][8]

A more drastic measure is legitimization, a power traditionally reserved to monarchs alone. Queen Rhaenyra Targaryen legitimized the brothers Addam and Alyn of Hull as heirs of Lord Corlys Velaryon.[9] Aegon IV Targaryen legitimized many of his bastards of noble birth on his deathbed (the so-called Great Bastards).

Far more often a bastard is acknowledged but not legitimized. For example, Eddard Stark acknowledged Jon Snow as his son and a member of House Stark, but did not legitimize him. Snow retained the bastard name of the north and the social status it conferred, and did not enter the line of succession of House Stark. Many bastards, such as Gendry, are never acknowledged and do not know who their fathers are.

Bastards in Dorne

Due to its unique history and culture, bastards in Dorne are not looked down upon the way they are in the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Many present-day Dornishmen are descended from the Rhoynar people who migrated to Westeros a thousand years ago, and who possessed an urban culture based around city-states along the Rhoyne River in Essos. The culture they passed down to the present-day Dornishmen has relatively relaxed attitudes towards sexual matters. While the Rhoynar who came to Dorne did convert to the Faith of the Seven, they basically just ignored the rules they didn't like, and follow the religion much less strictly than other parts of Westeros. Many Dornish nobles have formalized lovers known as paramours, and they do not possess the same stigma against homosexual behavior that the rest of Westeros does.

These relaxed sexual mores in Dorne extend to bastard children. The Dornish feel that bastards are born of passion and love - unlike the rest of the Seven Kingdoms that consider them born of lies and deceit - and thus would not disdain a child for such a parentage. While it is rare and scandalous for a lord from outside of Dorne to raise his bastard child in his home castle alongside his trueborn children (as Eddard Stark did with Jon Snow), it is actually commonplace in Dorne to see bastards living at the court of their noble parents; Oberyn Martell raised his eight illegitimate daughters in Sunspear, alongside his brother's legitimate children. The Dornish are also much more likely to acknowledge bastard children in the first place: they would consider it cruel for a lord to abandon his own flesh and blood, as King Robert Baratheon ignored the many bastard children he fathered over the years. Because Dornish culture holds little if any stigma against bastards, it is not unusual to see bastards work their way up to important social or court positions there, holding castles or leading armies for their families.

Bastards in Dorne still face a few restrictions, but these are relatively minor compared to the rest of the Seven Kingdoms. Bastards in Dorne must still use the special bastard surname "Sand", and they are less likely to inherit from their parents. But the Dornish feel that an older bastard does have a place within the family and is not shameful. A bastard child is also treated somewhat like a younger child in order of inheritance. For example, if the Starks lived in Dorne, Jon Snow would be treated as a younger brother behind even Rickon Stark in the line of succession, but otherwise, he would be treated as a full member of the family.

Another minor stigma against bastards in Dorne is that it would be considered marrying beneath one's station for a powerful lord to marry a noble-born bastard. Often, this is simply due to the practical reason that a bastard is less likely to inherit, and thus the marriage would probably not bring with it any new wealth or lands. This stigma is somewhat similar to a nobleman marrying a daughter from another House who was trueborn, but who was also the youngest of five daughters, and thus a very poor match. Ellaria Sand is an acknowledged bastard of House Uller, one of the more powerful noble families in Dorne. Even in the relaxed social mores of Dorne, however, it would still have been beneath his station for Prince Oberyn Martell, younger brother of the ruler of Dorne, to wed Ellaria. While Oberyn could not marry Ellaria, he simply made her his formal paramour, his wife in all but name.

Rights of Inheritance

The baseborn have few rights under law and custom when it comes to rights of inheritance. A bastard may inherit if the father has no other trueborn children nor any other likely kin to follow him. Additionally, a bastard can inherit if he is legitimized by a royal decree. It is unclear whether a legitimized bastard would be placed in the succession according to birth order, or would be placed at the end, after the trueborn children.[10]

Heraldic custom regarding bastards is fairly loose; bastards who take arms (noble born, knighted, etc.) often, but not always, take the coat of arms of their fathers with the colors reversed.[11] A bend sinister is sometimes added, as exemplified by Ser Walder Rivers's sigil.[12] A bastard that wants to emphasize his filiation and minimize his own bastardy may decide to use the same sigil as his father, as did Glendon Flowers,[13] perhaps illegally.[14][15]

However, any man can be knighted, even a bastard. A bastard may even be appointed to the Kingsguard; two such knights, Robert Flowers and Addison Hill, rose to become Lord Commander of the Kingsguard.[16] In the Night's Watch, any man may rise to command, no matter the circumstances of their birth. Such were the cases of Cotter Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, and Robin Hill, who became Lord Commanders.

Social Status

It is considered rude to pry into the origins of a man's natural children. Men say that bastards are born from lust and lies, grow up more swiftly than other children, and their nature is wanton and treacherous.[17][18]

A bastard may study at the Citadel and become a maester. It's also possible for bastards, males and females, to join the Faith of the Seven and become Septons/Septas.

Coat of Arms

Bastards do not have the right to use the arms of their families. The custom is thus a bastard using arms (when knighted for example) adds a distinction, called breaking. This can be in the form of a color inversion on their own coats of arms, with the addition of a possible bend sinister.

House Targaryen House Blackfyre Arms of House Blackfyre, founded by a bastard of the House Targaryen, has the colors reversed.[19]
House Frey  personnel arms of Walder Rivers The personal arms of Walder Rivers, bastard son of Lord Walder Frey, has the Frey colors reversed and a red bend sinister added.[20]
House Blackfyre House Bracken  personnel arms of Aegor Rivers The coat of arms of Aegor Rivers "Bittersteel", a bastard son of Aegon IV Targaryen. He has combined the sigills of House Bracken (his mothers house) and House Blackfyre.


Each of the nine constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms have bastard surnames decreed by custom, not law.[5] Bastards with a high-born parent are given these surnames to hold them apart from their fathers' houses. The parents may give a bastard a different surname if they wish, e.g. Tyrion Tanner. Bastards with no known relation to a noble house have no surname, like other smallfolk.

Region Surname Example
Crownlands Waters Aurane Waters
Dorne Sand Nymeria Sand
Iron Islands Pyke Wex Pyke
North Snow Jon Snow
Reach Flowers Robert Flowers
Riverlands Rivers Walder Rivers
Stormlands Storm Rolland Storm
Vale of Arryn Stone Mya Stone
Westerlands Hill Joy Hill

As the surname is applied depending on the region where the bastard is raised, bastards who are half-siblings may have different surnames. For example, King Robert I Baratheon's eldest bastard, born in the Vale, is called Mya Stone while his bastard from the stormlands is called Edric Storm.

Recent Events

A Clash of Kings

Joffrey Baratheon was believed by King Robert I Baratheon to be his trueborn son, and therefore heir to House Baratheon and the Iron Throne. The revelation of Joffrey's bastardy, as the product of adultery on the part of Queen Cersei Lannister, causes Joffrey's claim to the Iron Throne to be disputed after Robert's death by Robert's brother, Stannis Baratheon.

A Storm of Swords

Ramsay Snow's official bastard status is removed by a royal decree, as a reward for the Boltons betraying the Starks and bowing to the Lannisters, and he becomes the heir of House Bolton. The social stigma of his bastardy is not lifted, however.

Robb Stark, as King in the North, planned to legitimize his bastard half-brother Jon Snow and proclaim him as his heir; however, this would only be considered valid by those who supported Robb's claim to be King in the North. Following Robb's death, Stannis Baratheon, having proclaimed himself King of the Seven Kingdoms, also proposes to legitimize Snow and make him Lord of Winterfell, but Jon declines Stannis's offer, electing to become Lord Commander of the Night's Watch instead.

Notable Bastards



Iron Islands


The Reach



Vale of Arryn



The old High Septon told my father that king's laws are one thing, and the laws of the gods another. Trueborn children are made in a marriage bed and blessed by the Father and the Mother, but bastards are born of lust and weakness, he said. King Aegon decreed that his bastards were not bastards, but he could not change their nature. The High Septon said all bastards are born to betrayal ...[21]

- Egg to Dunk

Your mother was milking goats the first time I gave her my seed.[22]

Walder Frey, to Ryger Rivers

Go away, I wanted only Freys up here, the King in the North has no interest in base stock.[23]

Walder Frey, to little Walda Rivers

{{Quote|Orys Baratheon was a baseborn half brother to Lord Aegon, it was whispered, and the Storm King would not dishonor his daughter by giving her hand to a bastard. The very suggestion enraged him.[24]

Bastard children were born from lust and lies, men said; their nature was wanton and treacherous. Once Jon had meant to prove them wrong, to show his lord father he could as good a true son as Robb Stark.[18]

Jon Snow

Well, Aerion Brightflame did not stay in Lys all his life, only a few years. He may have fathered a few bastards there, which would mean Dany has "relatives" of a sort in Lys... but they would be very distant relatives, from the wrong side of the blanket.[25]

- George R. R. Martin

References and Notes

  1. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 34, Catelyn VI.
  2. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 6, Catelyn II.
  3. The Sworn Sword, Legends II, ISBN 978-0345456441, page 97 of 73-152.
  4. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 8, Jaime I.
  5. 5.0 5.1 So Spake Martin: SF, Targaryens, Valyria, Sansa, Martells, and More, June 26, 2001
  6. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 10, Davos I.
  7. A Clash of Kings, Chapter 16, Bran II.
  8. George R. R. Martin's A World of Ice and Fire, Ramsay Snow.
  9. The Princess and the Queen.
  10. So Spake Martin: The Hornwood Inheritance and the Whents, November 02, 1999
  11. The Sworn Sword, Legends II, ISBN 978-0345456441, page 104 of 73-152.
  12. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 38, Jaime VI.
  13. The Mystery Knight, Warriors 1, ISBN 978-0-7653-6026-7, page 279 of 251-394.
  14. The Hedge Knight.
  15. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 7, Arya I.
  16. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 16, Jaime II.
  17. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 5, Jon I.
  18. 18.0 18.1 A Storm of Swords, Chapter 73, Jon X.
  19. The Sworn Sword.
  20. A Feast for Crows, Chapter 39, Cersei IX.
  21. The Sworn Sword, Legends II, ISNB 0-00-715436-4, page 160 of 88-190.
  22. A Game of Thrones, Chapter 59, Catelyn IX.
  23. A Storm of Swords, Chapter 49, Catelyn VI, p 560.
  24. The World of Ice & Fire, The Reign of the Dragons: The Conquest.
  25. So Spake Martin: Many Questions, October 14, 1998

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