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The Royal Decree that officially legitimizes Ramsay Snow as Ramsay Bolton

"From this day until your last day, you are Ramsay Bolton, son of Roose Bolton, Warden of the North."
Roose Bolton to the legitimized Ramsay Bolton, formerly Ramsay Snow.[src]

Legitimization is the process by which a bastard receives the rights and social status of trueborn offspring by royal decree.


Season 1

The infamous Great Bastards, legitimized bastard children of King Aegon IV Targaryen, are mentioned in The Lineages and Histories of the Great Houses of the Seven Kingdoms.[1]

Season 3

Catelyn tells Talisa that when her husband's bastard, Jon Snow, became ill as an infant, she prayed to the Seven to let him live, and in return promised to love him and ask her husband to legitimize him. Jon recovered, but Catelyn did not stay true to either of her vows.[2]

Season 4

As a reward for Roose Bolton's role in the Red Wedding, his bastard son Ramsay Snow is legitimized by the crown, but Roose does not present the decree to Ramsay until he succeeds in liberating Moat Cailin from the ironborn. This makes him an official Bolton and Roose's heir, with the right to inherit his lands and titles when he dies. Ramsay is grateful for this, and promises to uphold his father's name and traditions.[3]

Season 5

"Kneel before me, lay your sword at my feet, pledge me your service and you'll rise again as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell."
―Stannis Baratheon to Jon Snow.[src]

Stannis offers to legitimize Jon as "Jon Stark" and make him Lord of Winterfell, in return for pledging his allegiance to him and helping him retake the North from the Boltons. Jon confides to Sam that this was the first thing he ever wanted, often wishing that his father would ask Robert Baratheon to legitimize him (though he never did out of respect for Catelyn), but decides to politely decline Stannis's offer. As Jon explains to Sam, he feels that even if Stannis formally released him from his vow to the Night's Watch, the vow is meant to be taken for life, so he wouldn't make a very good Lord of Winterfell: any future oaths he made as Lord of Winterfell would be doubted and distrusted, if he was even willing to renege on his vow to the Night's Watch.[4]

Although Ramsay Bolton has been legitimized as a true Bolton, his status as his father's heir is placed in question when Walda Bolton, Ramsay's stepmother, becomes pregnant with Roose's child, whom Maester Wolkan says will be a boy. Sansa herself brings this up while antagonizing Ramsay, telling him to his face that while he may have been legitimized, he is still a bastard-born son who was legitimized by a bastard king and who will likely be pushed behind his trueborn half-brother in the line of succession.[5]

Season 8

After the Battle of Winterfell, Daenerys decides to legitimize Gendry, the last surviving son of Robert and a bastard, as the lord of House Baratheon, and grants him his new House's ancestral seat of Storm's End.[6]

Known legitimized bastards

House Blackfyre was founded by the legitimized bastard Daemon I Blackfyre

In the books

In the A Song of Ice and Fire novels, bastards can receive a bill of legitimacy, allowing them to take their father's surname and formally join his House, or to take a new surname and found a new House (some bastards take new names altogether, like "Blackfyre", while others add a prefix to their bastard name, such as "Longwaters"). For example, House Baratheon was founded by Orys Baratheon, the legitimized bastard half-brother of Aegon the Conqueror.

However, while bastards stand outside the lines of succession and inheritance, there are still exceptions which have caused immense problems. King Aegon IV Targaryen legitimized three of his bastard sons and one of his bastard daughters on his deathbed. His eldest bastard son, Daemon I Blackfyre, later claimed the Iron Throne and led a bloody civil war known as the First Blackfyre Rebellion. His sons and descendants launched four more attempts to take the Iron Throne before their final claimant, Maelys the Monstrous, was slain by Ser Barristan Selmy during the War of the Ninepenny Kings. This is sometimes used as an example of what happens if a bastard is treated too well and given too much power and legitimacy. It should be noted that the social stigma is not automatically removed even after the formal legitimization is performed.

George R.R. Martin has stated that in-universe, legitimization happens so rarely that there is no set legal principle for where a legitimized bastard ranks in the line of succession: whether they should go after all of a lord's trueborn children, or whether they should be placed according to birth order. For example, if Eddard Stark ever had Jon Snow legitimized, there is no established rule for whether Jon would go behind or ahead of his younger but trueborn half-brothers Bran and Rickon. In the case of the First Blackfyre Rebellion this was a moot point, because Daemon Blackfyre was not only bastard-born, but simply younger than Daeron II Targaryen. Daemon's followers therefore had to promote the rumor that Daeron II was himself a bastard of his father's younger brother.

In the novels, Ramsay receives his decree of legitimacy signed by King Tommen Baratheon as a reward for the part his father played in the Red Wedding, as he was in need of an heir after the death of his trueborn son Domeric who apparently died of a stomach virus. Roose believes Ramsay to have poisoned Domeric out of jealousy of his status as their father's heir. He wins Ramsay's legitimacy despite this, as he believes that due to his age he will not live to see any children he might have with his new wife Walda live to adulthood, and suspects that Ramsay will kill them anyway. Ramsay is very sensitive to his origin, and reacts very violently if someone calls him "bastard" or "Snow", even without offensive intention.

The TV series actually has Walda Bolton announce that she is pregnant in Season 5. In the novels, no such announcement is made. The only reference to her pregnancy is in the last of Theon's chapters in "A Dance with Dragons", when he sees Roose entering the Great Hall at Winterfell accompanied by his plump and pregnant wife. Roose anticipates that there will be strife between Ramsay and any children he has with Walda. In Season 5, Roose uses Walda's pregnancy as a warning to Ramsay that he should shape up and restrain his behavior, because Roose now has a fallback option for an heir instead of him. Roose confides to Ramsay, however, that he sees much of his younger self in him (after recounting that he fathered Ramsay through the brutal rape of a commoner), and would much rather that Ramsay improve himself, without having to resort to disinheriting him. As Martin said, there is no established legal principle for what place a legitimized bastard takes in a line of succession, so Roose can name or unname Ramsay or Walda's child as the heir to House Bolton entirely at his own discretion.

Robb Stark had planned to legitimize Jon Snow and name him his heir until a son was born to him from Jeyne Westerling - given that he falsely believe that his other trueborn brothers were dead, Arya was probably dead, and Sansa was a prisoner of the Lannisters. He signed the decree in the presence of several lords as witnesses. However, it is unknown what became of the decree, as it is no longer mentioned in the books. It is speculated that Robb gave it to Maege Mormont and Galbart Glover, but their current location is unknown. So far Jon has not received the decree, and has no idea of its existence.

In the novels, Jon finds Stannis's offer to legitimize him very tempting, but explains that he is bound by his oath to the Watch. Melisandre tells him "R'hllor is the only true god. A vow sworn to a tree has no more power than one sworn to your shoes. Open your heart and let the light of the Lord come in. Burn these weirwoods, and accept Winterfell as a gift of the Lord of Light". Jon thinks it over, recalling how when he was very young, too young to understand what it meant to be a bastard, he used to dream that one day Winterfell might be his. Later, when he was older, he had been ashamed of those dreams. Now, in order to claim his father's castle, he must turn against his father's gods. The more Jon thinks about it, he grows to loathe the notion of destroying the weirwood of Winterfell. He looks at Ghost, whose white fur and red eyes remind him of a heart tree, and this is what makes him reject the legitimization offer.