Inspiring Order: The Night’s Watch a Teutonic Inspiration

George R.R. Martin is known for creating his characters and organizations within A Song of Ice and Fire from a historical basis. While it is known that Martin never uses a single historical order to make what is in his stories, the Night’s Watch may have been largely inspired by the Teutonic Order of Crusading period.


The Night’s Watch

The Night’s Watch could be called the first militant order of the Seven Kingdoms. Their first duty is to defend the wall and all are trained in the use of weapons to this day. The Watch was formed after the Long Night to defend the Wall, the barrier that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the land of the Others (i.e. White walkers). The Watch has continuously defended the Wall over centuries and millennia. From before the Age of Aegon’s Conquest, the Night’s Watch has declined in membership and continues to do so to this day. They no longer defend the realm of men from Others, wights, giants, greenseers, wargs, skincangers and other monsters. They now defend against attacks from the barbaric Wildlings, who are simply men wielding stone axes and clubs. These men and women are no match against the disciplined warrior’s of the Night’s Watch.[1]

Wildling Battle_of_the_Wall

Wildlings Attacking the Wall With A King-Beyond-The-Wall[2]

The Watch have declined since the Others (i.e. White walkers) have disappeared and are no longer a threat to the realm of men. Additionally, the only serious threat the Wildlings ever pose is when there is a King-Beyond-the-Wall, which is a rare position that is difficult to manifest. Only three of the nineteen strongholds of the Night’s Watch are still manned and the order’s size has decreased to a tenth of the original size. Many in the Seven Kingdoms believe that the Watch should be disbanded and the responsibility of deterring the Wildlings should be given to the Lords of the North by expanding their rule beyond the Wall. The Northmen, however, have great respect for the Watch and are the sole reason the strongholds, Castle Black, Shadow Tower, and Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, keep from starving. The Lords accomplish this by sending many gifts to the Wall as tokens of their support and esteem.[3]

The Teutonic Order

The Teutonic Order started as a hospital by the crusaders from Bremen and Lübeck during the Third Crusade. They were principally known at the time as the Hospital of St Mary of the Teutons. Their original goal, as recorded c. 1264 in the prologue to the order’s statutes, state that their order, which signifies both heavenly and earthly knighthood, promises to avenge God’s dishonouring at the hands of the infidels, that took over the Holy Land, and reclaim the land for Christianity. Each member was expected to make a personal commitment to the order’s goal at the time of admission into the brotherhood, because the vow contained a promise to defend the Holy Land.[4] This purpose of defending the land from infidels or invaders is similar to the Night Watch’s purpose to defend Westeros from the Others and then the Wildlings. The Teutons were also expected to take a personal oath much like the brothers of the Night’s Watch.

Pope Innocent III militarized the Teutonic Order, which to this point was simply a hospital, in 1199. This was done under the suggestion of crusading commanders from the failed Crusade of King Henry VI from 1195 to 1198. The Teutonic Order was to embody the rules of the Templars for military personnel and the rules of the Hospitallers for their care of the sick and poor. Though they now had the mandate to wage holy war, they did not have the military resources to accomplish this. However, the patrons who proposed and supported the militarization of the order were prepared to fund the growth of the order’ infrastructure.[5] The Teutonic Order having now become militarized has started to take a form that is recognizable in Martin’s Night’s Watch.

teutonic-knights charge

Teutonic Knights Ride into Battle [6]

Purpose & Oath

The Night’s Watch

The Purpose of the Night’s Watch is to defend the realm of men from the dangers beyond the Wall. They have no allegiance to any kings, since they defend all men and therefore do not have to answer to summons or royal decrees. When the recruits are determined ready to “take the black,” they take their oath in either a sept, if they worship The Faith of the Seven, or in front of a heart tree (often a weirwood tree) if they worship the Old Gods.[7] The oath includes a vow to take no wife, father no children, hold no lands and serve until death.


“Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the fire that burns against the cold, the light that brings the dawn, the horn that wakes the sleepers, the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”[8]

The Teutonic Order

Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly Swearing Oath to Heart Tree [9]
The purpose of the Teutonic Order once they became militarized included tending to the sick, defending the Holy Land and bringing the Holy Land under Christian control. Similarly to the Night’s Watch, the brethren of the Teutonic Order made an oath vowing to embrace poverty, chastity and obedience. Though the words of their oath are lost the obligations are clear. These obligations were meant to keep the brothers pious.[10] In contrast the oath of the Night’s Watch was meant to keep the brothers loyal to the Watch and no one else.

Structure of Military Order

The Night’s Watch

At one time joining the Night’s Watch was one an honour for knights, nobles and honourable men who willingly volunteered. Now the Night’s Watch is a way of avoiding punishment for crimes of any nature and to separate the criminals from society. The recruits are largely gathered by wondering crows, brothers of the Night’s Watch who are responsible for traveling Westeros to bringing in recruits. The Watch is now largely made up of criminals, disgraced nobles, bastards, and unwanted legitimate offspring who are suggested to gain some honour by taking the black. Any man who joins the watch voluntarily may leave while still in training. However, once the vow is taken to leave the watch it is to sentence oneself to execution. In addition to their oath to take no wife, father no children and hold no land, the men are also encouraged to sever any ties they have with family.[11]

The sworn brothers are divided into three groups: the Rangers, Builders and Stewards. Rangers are the main fighting force of the Watch but all brothers must be ready for combat to defend the wall, therefore all men receive at least basic combat training. They travel past the wall and into the Haunted Forest to make war upon the Wildlings to ensure the Wall’s safety. The Builders maintain the Wall and the castles integrity. They are made up of masons, carpenters, miners and woodsmen. The Stewards are the largest of the three orders. In addition to day-to-day services they hunt, farm, tend horses, gather firewood, cook meals, make clothing, maintain weapons, and trade with the South to get supplies essential to the Watch’s survival. Each group is led by its own officer appointed by the Lord Commander, First Steward, First Builder, and First Ranger respectively. [12]

The Teutonic Order

The leader of the Teutonic Order is the Master, followed by the Marshal who takes command of military forces. The Marshal’s responsibilities include all matters concerning military personnel and equipment. Although he had this control, if the Master was present then he would have to wait for his command before starting the attack. The Master rarely took part in military undertakings in the eastern Mediterranean. He was also able to command the Order’s forces on raiding expeditions.[13] Under the command of the Marshal were a number of groups that made up the field force:

Central Command: The order was lead by the Master, followed by the Marshal, whose party consisted of a crier to relay orders, the Vice-Marshal, the Grand Commander, the Vice-Commander, and the Drapier .[14]

Brother Knights: These knights represented the core of the host. They usually consisted of knightly, noble or at least ministerialis origin, this was not an absolute requirement until the end of the thirteenth century. An esquire, who would have been allotted to him by the Master of Esquires while on campaign, could support each Brother Knight. Esquires were paid retainers, whose wages were managed by the Master of Esquires. The status of the Master of Esquires is unclear; he may have been a sergeant brother, as his counterpart was in the Hospitallers. The Teutonic Order did not prescribe weapons, but allowed Brother Knights to choose their own weapons based on the local conditions. All members of the order were expected to refrain for adorning their weapons, armour, or equestrian harness with gold, silver or bright colours. This was in observance of their statutes Templar roots.[15]

Turcopoles: The Turcopoles were the light cavalry of the militant order. They acted as scouts and skirmishers for their order, and formed the vanguard or rear-guard of their forces. The Turcopolier, a subordinate to the Marshal, led the Turcopoles who were allowed to ride under their own banner. The Turcopolier is elected by both the Marshal and the Master.[16]

Drapier: The primary role of the Drapier was to store and maintain the brother’s clothes and armour. He was subject to the authority of the Marshal but his appointment required the mutual agreement by the Master and the chapter. He could also give old clothing to the Marshal and Grand Commander to be distributed to the Order’s servants.[17]

Brother saddler and Brother in charge of small smithy: Manufactured or repaired the leather or metal items which were required for the Order’s horses (included stirrups, spurs and reins, etc.)[18]

Teutonic Order hierarchy

Teutonic Order Hierarchy [19]
The Night’s Watch holds many similar positions to the Teutonic Order, though they are less subdivided. The key difference is that nobility and status mean little to brothers of the Watch, while it seem important to the Teutonic Order. This difference is clearly seen in the equivalency of the Rangers to the Brother Knights. Both positions hold the same status and responsibilities within their orders, though one can only become a Brother Knight if he was already knighted or is a member of a nobility or high society.


Leadership & Election

Lord Commander and Leadership of the Night’s Watch

The Lord Commander has final authority and oversees the entire order. The majority of officers and leadership in the Watch are upper echelon of Westerosi society. An aristocratic or knighted man is almost always guaranteed an officer’s position, such as Janos Slynt, who other than his former position as Commander of the City Watch in King’s Landing, is all but useless. Men of common blood such as Qhorin the Half-Hand, Blane, and Cotter Pyke may also earn these officers positions. The Lords Commander is appointed by election, voted for by all brothers of the Watch, no matter their current or former position. The brother who has the most votes takes the position of Lord Commander until his death. This custom has long served the watch well, and any attempt to subvert it has failed, such as when Lord Commander Runcel Hightower tried to leave the position to his bastard son. It is strongly suggested that the Lord Commander was once a Ranger, though any brother of the Watch can be nominated and elected.[20]

George R.R. Martin Explaining Lord Commander Election [21]

The Master of the Teutonic Order

The Master was head of the order and responsible for the institution as a whole. While present at military engagements the Master had a prerogative to command the attack. He could also dispense with any of the stipulation of the statutes except the fundamental vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. These are similar roles to those held by the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. [22]

Similarly to the Lord Commander, the Master of the Teutons is an elected position. In 1196, Pope Celestine III granted the brethren of the order the right to elect their new master. When a master believed they were going to die soon they would appoint a brother to act as deputy and call for an election. The deputy assembled the provincial governors of the Order. Once the governors have assembles the deputy appointed a Brother Knight to act as the ‘commander of the election’. His duties consisted of selecting a total of thirteen brethren to form a chapter; the brethren must consist of one priest, eight knights and four others. The chapter would then elect a new Master. Though not all members of the Order were allowed to vote, as the Night’s Watch brothers were. The election process was designed to pick representatives from each faction of the Order to best represent all parties. Unlike the Night’s Watch who allowed any brother to be nominated, to become a candidate for Master one must be part of the military faction of the order. This implies that even in the early days the military function was deemed superior to the medical.[23]


The Teutonic order occupied a few fortresses, though very little in comparison to their contemporary orders the Knights Templar and Hospitaller. The Fortresses they occupied and defended included Amudain and Harunia in Armenia and Moontfort, the Cave of Tyron and Castellum Resis in the kingdom of Jerusalem. They also held a number of lesser castles. This small amount of fortresses can be compared to those the Night’s Watch has along the Wall. The Watch erected nineteen strongholds along the Wall, however, unlike other strongholds, theirs has no curtain walls or other defensive fortifications, as the Wall itself is protection enough. Like the Night Watches Castle Black, the Teutonic fortress Montfort was build with weak defenses. The steep slopes, which descended to the valley floor, protected three sides of the fortress. Only the east could be approached with ease. The flaw was that the spur of land in which the fort was located was not far enough from the valley’s southern slopes to be out of range of war machines. The fortress fell within seven days. Castle Black was also built with weak defences since they have the Wall defending them in the south, like the steep slopes of Montfort, and they believed that no enemy would approach from the south. Though Castle Black did not fall when the Wildlings attacked, it was easily breached and the Watch suffered heavy losses. [24]

Montfort_Teutonic Fort

Tuetonic Stronghold Montfort [25]

Work Cited:

[1] George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2014. 145-146.

[2] A Wiki of Ice and Fire Battle of Castle Black

[3] George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2014. 145-146.

[4] Nicholas E. Morton. 2009, The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 9-11.

[5] ibid, 12-13.

[6] Life in Russia

[7] A Wiki of Ice and Fire Night’s Watch

[8] George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Spectra, 1996. 522.

[9] Night’s Watch Oath Youtube

[10] Nicholas E. Morton. 2009, The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 11.

[11] A Wiki of Ice and Fire Night’s Watch

[12] George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2014. 146; A Wiki of Ice and Fire Night’s Watch

[13] Nicholas E. Morton. 2009, The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 145-146.

[14] ibid, 146.

[15] ibid, 146-148.

[16] ibid, 147-148.

[17] ibid, 148.

[18] ibid, 148-149.

[19] ibid, 149.

[20] George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2014. 146; A Wiki of Ice and Fire Night’s Watch.

[21] Night’s Watch Election

[22] Nicholas E. Morton. 2009, The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 159-161.

[23] ibid, 159-161.

[24] Nicholas E. Morton. 2009, The Teutonic Knights in the Holy Land 1190-1291. The Boydell Press, Woodbridge. 154-157; George R.R. Martin, Elio M. García, Jr., and Linda Antonsson. The World of Ice and Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones. New York: Bantam Books, 2014. 145-146.

[54] Bible Place