The Real History of Medieval Knights Makes Brienne's Big Game of Thrones Moment Even More MeaningfulHistorians in the News
tags: military history, Game of Thrones, medieval history
Warning: This post contains spoilers for Game of Thrones
Despite her protestations that she didn’t even want to be a knight, Game of Thrones fans knew better. By the time Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) was knighted by Ser Jaime in the series’ final season, the scene was a hailed as a milestone moment for the beloved character. The fact that the episode was titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was just one more reason to feel Brienne was finally getting the recognition she deserves.
For Joëlle Rollo-Koster — a professor of medieval history at the University of Rhode Island who was herself knighted by the French government as a Chevalier of the Ordre des Palmes Académiques — the moment held another layer of meaning: Brienne has long drawn comparisons to Joan of Arc, and now there’s even more complexity to the relationship between the fictional character and the real 15th century Frenchwoman, who defied the conventions of her time, led an army to victory and was killed for her transgressions.
But first, that knighting ceremony. Game of Thrones is known to often draw inspiration from medieval European history, so how did Brienne’s big moment compare to what we know about the real thing?
Rollo-Koster points to the Arthurian romances written by Chrétien de Troyes in the 12th century as perhaps the earliest source for a narrative description of dubbing someone a knight — a word related to the French adouber, a verb meaning to give someone weapons. The scholar Jean Flori traced a turning point to that body of work, citing the year 1180 as the moment when the word switched from meaning principally “to arm a knight” to meaning “to make someone a knight.”
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