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The skill of nobles vs soldiers


Mark O'Kane
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Is it not more realistic for the noble houses to all have average or slightly below average fighters? 

If they command from the rear then surely the warriors in the vanguard would be elite and should rise to prominence and feature more in the books? E.g. should someone like Loras Tyrell not have a champion to do his fighting?

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Typically speaking there are relatively few actual professional soldiers in Westeros. There are the nobles and knights who train professionally on some level depending on their birth and circumstances. While every household seems to have at least some trained lowborn men at arms to serve as guards the vast majority of armies are filled with conscripts when the banners are called. They tend to be minimally armed and minimally trained. 

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Elite warriors tended to be nobility in the real Middle Ages. They had the wherewithal for the best armor, the best horses, the best weapons, the best the training, etc. William Marshal, Jacques de Lalaing, Boucicaut, Bertran du Guesclin... all nobility, though some were of minor and relatively impoverished noble families it must be said.

There were men who rose from humbler beginnings to become famous knights in their own right, though mostly their fame came as mercenary captains rather than necessarily as great individual fighters. Sir Robert Knolles, who took part in the Combat of the Thirty, probably began his career as a yeoman archer.

Edited by Ran
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We see Bronn fight for Tyrion, and rise in his service.

No doubt at his age Tywin would use a champion. But that would probably have been Gregor Clegane, for obvious reasons.

Loras, OTOH, is a great knight and champion. Why would he use someone to fight for him? Same with Jaime or any other talented knight. Or indeed most knights, talented or not, like the men Lyn Corbray has killed in duels, because reputation matters.

 

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16 hours ago, Mark O'Kane said:

Is it not more realistic for the noble houses to all have average or slightly below average fighters? 

No. Medieval nobility largely exists in order to produce professional fighting men. As Ran says, nobles are better fed, healthier, they have the money to buy the equipment needed, and since they don't have to struggle constantly to make a living they actually have time to train. Most noble sons will train with a professional every day for at least a couple of hours for up to a decade before they take the field - and yes, training isn't combat experience, but it's the next best thing. The average commoner might train with a militia a couple of hours a week.

Noble fighters are like professional sportsmen up against amateurs. The only comparison would be with mercenaries, but those guys are more like the amateur who turns pro. They sometimes make the top leagues, but it's rare. Generally it'll be the players who were on scholarships or in academies from their early years.

 

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20 hours ago, Mark O'Kane said:

Is it not more realistic for the noble houses to all have average or slightly below average fighters? 

If they command from the rear then surely the warriors in the vanguard would be elite and should rise to prominence and feature more in the books? E.g. should someone like Loras Tyrell not have a champion to do his fighting?

There will be variability. The nobility trains to fight but there are cowards and underachievers among them. They are not culled like the Unsullied, Wildlings, and Dothraki. Samwell is not the only XXL skirt among the men.  The commons will also vary in skills. They are not professionals. War is not their occupation. 

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I saw a tv show a few years ago that touched on this - it was experts examining some knightly bones (not sure from when, but pre Tudor and after the normans).

These experts observed that the man had trained and fought so hard and so long that his skeleton was abnormally robust in some features - iirc they made it sound something like a deformation (maybe asymmetric, like longbow archers).

Plus his bones showed many injuries over his fighting career, and afterwards he must have lived out his life impaired and in pain. And this literally was a rich, noble landowner! Amazing really.

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4 hours ago, Moiraine Sedai said:

There will be variability. The nobility trains to fight but there are cowards and underachievers among them. They are not culled like the Unsullied, Wildlings, and Dothraki. Samwell is not the only XXL skirt among the men.

Well, that's techically true. But on the other hand those who don't want to or can't fight usually just, y'know, don't. Sam is an exception to the rule there: his father keeps trying to make him fight. But we see plenty of other nobles who just take another path. So the weaker fighters tend not to be on the battlefield one way or the other. You don't need to 'cull' people to achieve that.

If you've read the books, it's clear Sam is not a coward or an underachiever. He's just not a warrior.

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15 minutes ago, mormont said:

Well, that's techically true. But on the other hand those who don't want to or can't fight usually just, y'know, don't. Sam is an exception to the rule there: his father keeps trying to make him fight. But we see plenty of other nobles who just take another path. So the weaker fighters tend not to be on the battlefield one way or the other. You don't need to 'cull' people to achieve that.

If you've read the books, it's clear Sam is not a coward or an underachiever. He's just not a warrior.

He’s a man of the watch. In terms of fighting, which is what we are talking about, he would lower the strength of his squad. But yes, you are partly correct because a Westerosi boy has options besides soldiering. 

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As noted above, the assumption that the nobility can't (or don't) fight, or don't fight well, is wrong. Rather, the nobility in general should be the cream of Westeros soldiery. They are the closest the society has to professional warriors, and their privileged upbringing means they will have been better-fed and healthier on average than those below them, meaning they will probably be bigger and stronger too.

As to the suggestion that not all nobles are warriors, this is true, but I can't actually think of many exceptions either. The usual option for "unsoldierly" sons seems to be for them to become maesters. In a normal family, this is what Sam would have done. Elsewhere, there is Willas Tyrell, but he was clearly training as a knight before he was crippled (in a jousting event).

And Tyrion Lannister, who was never going to be a warrior, but it's also clear that Tyrion presents a problem not just because of his dwarfism but because he doesn't fit into the conventional mould for a major lord's son, and Tywin struggles to work out what to do with him. Even then, Tyrion, an obviously incapable fighter, ends up at the front of a battle leading a charge twice in the first two books, because that's what's expected of a man of his station.

This doesn't mean that good commanders don't sometimes, or indeed often, lead from the back. It is probably decades since Tywin Lannister personally crossed swords with anyone. Most of Robert's reign has been sufficiently peaceful that a whole generation of the higher nobility probably went without seeing combat on a large scale (as, Balon's rebellion aside, most of the fighting that did happen would be smaller squabbles between minor bannerlords). But Tywin will still have been fully trained in combat as a youth and was probably more personally engaged in his early battles with the Reynes and Tarbecks than he later becomes in Robert's rebellion or the War of the five kings. Indeed, both his sons fight on the front lines repeatedly, and this seems to be the norm for younger members of all major houses (both able-bodied Tyrell sons do, so does Robb Stark, and Theon and Asha (and their older brothers previously)).

And there is a difference, I suspect, between being seen to be leading from the back because that's the best place to coordinate from, or because you don't have to, and leading from the back because you're a coward. If the Lannister front lines were smashed and victory were in doubt, I expect his men would expect him to be in the thick of things trying to rally his men, rather than doing a runner at the first sign of trouble. (Compare with the morale crisis it causes at King's Landing when Joffrey refuses to do the same). Performing warfare is part of what's expected for a Westerosi noble and failing or refusing to do so is not just putting your army at risk, it's an implicit acknowledgment that you're unfit for the social position you occupy.

The same would probably extend to personal challenges, like trials by combat, too. The trials by combat we see in the (ASoIaF) books are between principals who are for whatever reason considered to be incapable of fighting and therefore appoint champions on their behalf (Lysa vs Tyrion; Cersei vs Tyrion). Rickard, on the other hand, intended to fight personally, as did Lyonel Baratheon on a historic occasion.

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On 1/19/2022 at 8:04 AM, mormont said:

As Ran says, nobles are better fed

I feel like it is often underappreciated when considering a comparison to reality.

The difference between being well fed and not for your entire youth/childhood is hard to overstate.

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