- "So many vows. They make you swear and swear... Defend the king, obey the king, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak. But what if your father despises the king? What if the king massacres the innocent? It's too much. No matter what you do you're forsaking one vow or another."
- ―Ser Jaime Lannister
Oathbreaking is the direct violation of an oath, and a serious crime in Westeros. Those who belong to monastic orders take explicitly religious vows. Even the bonds between secular lords and their vassals are typically backed by religious oaths. Oathbreaking is therefore considered not only a crime but a sacrilege, breaking holy vows - though some sets of vows are considered more sacrosanct than others.
Members of the Night's Watch, the Maesters, the Kingsguard, and the religious orders of the Faith of the Seven all swear holy oaths promising a lifetime of obedience, chastity, and a rejection of any previous family ties or claims to inheritance.
The penalty for oathbreaking is often death, though this may depend on the severity of the oath broken. Secular lords who rise up in rebellion but who then surrender are often forgiven (to encourage them to surrender). At other times, high treason is punished with execution. Septons of the Faith of the Seven or Maesters who break their vows are often simply expelled from their orders.
The Night's Watch, however, operates under a strict code that oathbreaking, particularly desertion, will be punished by death. In practice, due to the declining numbers and stretched resources of the Watch, officers will usually turn a blind eye if some men ride off to the nearby settlement of Mole's Town to have sex with prostitutes now and again. Also if a recruit attempts to desert, but changes his mind on the road and quickly returns, their leaders will often pretend that no harm was done.
Regicide is considered an extreme form of oathbreaking, particularly for a king to be killed by his own personal bodyguard. The Kingsguard swear the holiest of vows to serve and defend the life of their king. Thus it was considered shocking when the Kingsguard Jaime Lannister slew King Aerys II Targaryen at the climax of Robert's Rebellion.
Oathbreaking, even regicide, is still not considered quite so despicable as kinslaying, or worst of all, violating guest right. Breaking guest right could itself said to be the most utter, extreme form of oathbreaking: violating the basic social promise that guest and host will not harm each other while under the same roof. Meanwhile, oathbreaking is considered worse than the shame of bastardy.
While the Faith of the Seven is the dominant religion in Westeros, it never entirely replaced the Old Gods of the First Men, which is still the majority religion in the North. Therefore many oaths are often sworn by "both the Old Gods and the New" (that is, the Seven). The Iron Islands also worship a third, local religion devoted to the Drowned God. Men and women typically swear by whatever religion they personally follow.
Officially, it is impossible to force anyone to take holy vows, and oaths made only under duress are not considered binding in the sight of the gods. That being said, there have been many instances in which daughters of noble families were forced against their will to enter into arranged marriages to secure political alliances. Such alliances will, however, at least outwardly pretend that the match is consensual, forcing the bride (or in some cases, groom) to physically utter the oaths during the wedding ceremony.
Particular cases of Oathbreaking
- Ser Criston Cole swore an oath to a dying King Viserys I Targaryen to pass the crown onto his daughter Rhaenyra but instead crowned her half-brother Aegon II Targaryen.
- Despite his marriage to Elia Martell and her betrothal to Robert Baratheon, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark broke their oaths when they ran away together and secretly married. Rhaegar also fathered Jon Snow with Lyanna.
- Ser Jaime Lannister, who betrayed his oaths as a Kingsguard and slew King Aerys II Targaryen during the Sack of King's Landing, to prevent him from carrying out his wildfire plot and destroy the city of King's Landing, earning the nickname of "Kingslayer" because he kept his reason a secret.
- Despite his marriage to Cersei Lannister, Robert Baratheon broke his oath with his constant whoring. Meanwhile, Cersei also broke her oath by continuing an illicit, incestuous relationship with her twin brother Jaime.
- Despite his marriage to Catelyn Stark, Eddard Stark claimed to have fathered a bastard son, Jon Snow, with a woman named Wylla. This was not actually the case; Jon is actually Lyanna Stark's son, thus making him Eddard's nephew. Eddard accepted the dishonor of having supposedly fathered a bastard and the strain this put on his marriage with Catelyn because the alternative was worse on every count; Lyanna's alleged kidnapper, Rhaegar, was the father, meaning Robert Baratheon, who had developed a murderous hatred for Targaryens during his uprising, would almost certainly have had the innocent boy killed simply for his heritage.
- Despite his marriage to Elissa Forrester, Gregor Forrester broke his oath and fathered two bastard children, Josera and Elsera Snow.
- Mance Rayder, who deserted his post as a Ranger of the Night's Watch to live among the Free Folk and install himself as King-beyond-the-Wall.
- Will, a ranger of the Night's Watch, deserted his post after witnessing an attack by the White Walkers. Beheaded by Eddard Stark.
- The Mutineers, led by Rast and Karl Tanner, who mutinied against Lord Commander Jeor Mormont. All were slain during the Raid on Craster's Keep.
- Robb Stark, King in the North, broke an oath made on his behalf by his mother Catelyn Stark to marry any eligible daughter or granddaughter of a crucial ally Walder Frey, choosing instead to marry Talisa Maegyr. Lord Walder retaliated against the Starks by having Robb, Catelyn, and Talisa killed along with most of their bannermen and men-at-arms.
- Despite his marriage to Selyse Baratheon, Stannis Baratheon has sex with the priestess Melisandre to conceive a shadow for assassinating his brother Renly Baratheon.
- Roose Bolton, who betrayed his oaths as a bannerman of House Stark and personally slew Robb at the Red Wedding, in exchange for rulership of the North.
- The mutineers, led by Alliser Thorne, who mutinied against Lord Commander Jon Snow. Thorne was later hanged along with Olly, Othell Yarwyck, and Bowen Marsh by Jon himself.
- The Sand Snakes, led by Ellaria Sand, who betrayed their oaths to Prince Doran Martell by murdering him and his son Trystane.
- Cersei violates a pact she has made with Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow by deciding not to send soldiers to fight for the Army of the Living in the Great War. This leads to another case of oathbreaking; Jaime, finally seeing that Cersei cannot be trusted and realizing that to maintain his oath with her would be to break an oath to humanity itself, deserts House Lannister and rides to Winterfell.
Acts considered Oathbreaking
- Violations of guest right are also considered a form of oathbreaking as hosts swear a holy oath to protect their guests for the duration of their stay. Likewise, guests are also expected to uphold the same oath.
- Knights take sacred oaths to defend the innocent and protect the weak. However, due to their oaths of obedience, and the social abyss between nobility and smallfolk, knights often find themselves doing the exact opposite to their vows, particularly in times of war. Unless they find themselves on the losing side of the war, these knights will seldom be branded oathbreakers and face justice.
- The refusal of a vassal, regardless of their station, to answer the summons of their liege lords, are considered acts of oathbreaking and even treason.
- "I know I broke my oath. I know I'm a deserter."
- Jorah Mormont: "You can go, you can't have the eggs."
- Viserys Targaryen: "You swore an oath to me. Does loyalty mean nothing to you?"
- Jorah Mormont: "It means everything to me."
- Viserys Targaryen: "Yet here you stand."
- Jorah Mormont: "Yet here I stand."
- — Jorah Mormont committing a willful act of oathbreaking.[src]
- "Some men take their oaths more seriously than others."
- ―Catelyn Stark
- Greatjon Umber: "I will lead the van or I will take my men and march them home."
- Robb Stark: "You are welcome to do so, Lord Umber. And when I am done with the Lannisters, I will march back North, root you out of your keep, and hang you for an oathbreaker."
- Greatjon Umber: "Oathbreaker, is it!? I will not sit here and swallow insults from a boy so green he pisses grass!"
- — Greatjon is infuriated when accused of oathbreaking.[src]
- "You already swore me one oath, right here in my castle. You swore by all the gods that your son would marry my daughter!"
- ―Walder Frey hypocritically faults the Starks for breaking an oath they made to him.
- Ramsay Bolton: "Why would I trust a man who won't honor tradition?"
- Smalljon Umber: "Your father honored tradition, knelt for Robb Stark, called him King of the North. Was Robb Stark right to trust your father?"
- Ramsay Bolton: "Then it appears we're at a bit of an impasse."
- Smalljon Umber: "Fuck kneeling and fuck oaths. I've got a gift for you."
- — Smalljon Umber forges an alliance with Ramsay Bolton without swearing an oath.[src]