A bastard is a person whose parents, at the time of their birth, were not married to each other. 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." A euphemism for being bastard-born is "being born on the wrong side of the sheets." If both parents of a bastard are nobles then the child is not considered "baseborn."
Family Life and Status
In the series, it is not unexpected for noblemen to have bastard children, however, it is not typical for a noble to bring his bastards home and raise them with his own children. It's more usually expected that he will see to the child's well-being to some degree. A nobly 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 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 their surname to Longwaters.  
At any point, the biological father of a bastard may acknowledge him and bring him formally into his house; for example, Ramsay Snow was acknowledged by his father Roose Bolton, and Edric Storm was acknowledged (but not fostered) by King Robert Baratheon. A more drastic measure is legitimization, traditionally reserved to Kings alone; Aegon IV Targaryen legitimized many of his bastards of noble birth on his deathbed, and almost a century later Ramsay Bolton's official bastard status was removed by royal decree (as a reward for the Boltons betraying the Starks and bowing to the Lannisters), and he became the heir of House Bolton. The social stigma of his bastardy was not lifted, however.
Joffrey Baratheon was acknowledged by Robert Baratheon as his son, and therefore heir to House Baratheon and the Iron Throne. Joffrey's bastardy, as revealed after Robert's death, caused his claim to the Iron Throne to be disputed by Robert's brothers, Stannis and Renly.
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 are never acknowledged and don't even know who their fathers are. One example is Gendry.
Rights of Inheritance
The baseborn have few rights under the 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. However, a legitimized bastard falls in the order of succession at the end, after all trueborn offspring, including daughters.
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. A bar sinister is sometimes added, as exemplified by Ser Walder Rivers's sigil. 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, perhaps illegally.
However, any man can be knighted, even a bastard. A bastard may even be appointed to the Kingsguard. In the Night's Watch, any man may rise to command, no matter the circumstances of their birth, such was the case of Cotter Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-sea, and Jon Snow and Robin Hill, who became its Lord Commanders.
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.
Coat of Arms
The 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 bar sinsister.
|Arms of House Blackfyre, founded by a bastard of the House Targaryen, has the colors reversed.|
|The personal arms of Walder Rivers, bastard son of Lord Walder Frey, has the Frey colors reversed and a red bar sinister added|
Each of the nine constituent regions of the Seven Kingdoms have bastard surnames decreed by custom. Bastards are given these surnames to hold them apart from their fathers' houses.
|Reach||Flowers||Ser Robert Flowers|
|Iron Islands||Pyke||Wex Pyke|
|Stormlands||Storm||Ser Rolland Storm|
Even if a bastard has a half sibling by the same father, the bastard surname is still applied by region. For example, Robert Baratheon's eldest bastard, born in The Vale, is called Mya 'Stone'; his bastard son in the Crownlands is called Gendry 'Waters'; and his bastard from the Stormlands is called Edric 'Storm'. All three are half siblings of the same noble, yet all carry bastard names from the place of their birth.
- Jon Snow, is the widely believed bastard son of Lord Eddard Stark and the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
- Ramsay Snow, is the recognised and legitimised son of Lord Roose Bolton. Commonly known as the Bastard of Bolton or the Bastard of the Dreadfort.
- Larence Snow, is the son of Lord Halys Hornwood.
The Iron Islands
- Cotter Pyke, is a member of the Night's Watch and the current Commander of Eastwatch-by-the-sea.
- Wex Pyke, is the baseborn son of Sargon Botley and the squire of Theon Greyjoy.
- Ser Aegor Rivers, better known as Bittersteel, is the recognised and legitimised son of King Aegon IV and Barba Bracken. Founder of the Golden Company.
- Brynden Rivers better known as Bloodraven, recognised and legitimised son of King Aegon IV and Mylessa Blackwood. Former Hand of the King and Lord Commander of the Night's Watch.
- Walder Rivers, recognised eldest bastard son of Lord Walder Frey.
- Mya Stone, the eldest bastard of King Robert Baratheon.
- Alayne Stone, the bastard daughter of Petyr Baelish, actually Sansa Stark.
- Joy Hill, recognised daughter of Gerion Lannister.
- Sweet Donnel Hill, claims to be a bastard of the Lannisters.
- Aurane Waters better known as the Bastard of Driftmark. He was part of Queen Cersei's small council as the Grand Admiral and Master of Ships.
- Humfrey Waters is the current Commander of the City Watch of King's Landing.
- Gendry, is an unrecognised bastard of King Robert Baratheon. Unaware of his heritage but is the spitting image of Robert when he was young.
- Ser Robert Flowers, is a former member of the Kingsguard.
- Edric Storm, is the acknowledged bastard son of King Robert Baratheon and Delena Florent.
- Ser Rolland Storm better known as the Bastard of Nightsong, is the baseborn son of Lord Bryen Caron.
- Ellaria Sand, is the bastard daughter of Lord Harmen Uller. She is also the paramour of Prince Oberyn Martell.
- The Sand Snakes is the collective name for the bastard daughters of Prince Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper. They are Obara Sand, Nymeria Sand, Tyene Sand, Sarella Sand, Elia Sand, Obella Sand, Dorea Sand and Loreza Sand.
- Daemon Sand better known as the Bastard of Godsgrace, is the bastard son of Ryon Allyrion.
References and Notes
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 6, Catelyn II.
- The Sworn Sword, Legends II, ISBN 978-0345456441, page 97 of 73-152.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 8, Jaime I.
- [So Speak Martin], June 26, 2001
- The Sworn Sword, Legends II, ISBN 978-0345456441, page 104 of 73-152.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 38, Jaime VI.
- The Mystery Knight, Warriors 1, ISBN 978-0-7653-6026-7, page 279 of 251-394.
- The Hedge Knight.
- A Game of Thrones, Chapter 7, Arya I.
- I: 45, III: 830
- The Sworn Sword.
- A Feast for Crows, Chapter 39, Cersei IX.
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