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I'm currently reading book 4 in the Wheel of Time series and while most forces can easily be seen as either Good or Evil, there is one faction that I don't quite understand, namely the Whitecloaks. They appear to be on the side of good, trying to root out Darkfriends and fighting against the Lord of Shadow, but they do that in apparently evil ways, slaughtering entire villages and trying to find the Dragon Reborn.

It might be explained later on what the motivation of the Whitecloaks are, but I currently don't understand what side they are on, which confuses me when they appear to be hopping between Good and Evil.

Who are the Whitecloaks and what side are they on?

Please mark any spoilers from book 4 onward. I have already read book 1-3 and am currently partway through 4, and while I'm not that bothered by spoilers, I find that some spoilers might ruin more than just the revealed plot point, reducing the effect of certain other plot twists.

  • I know it's been answered already, but I just wanted to say it does get answered as you keep reading. You'll see a lot more of the Whitecloaks and some more in depth looks at what they do and why – childcat15 Dec 12 '15 at 6:03
  • This and similar issues of morality (e.g. Seanchan, Shadar Logoth) are one of my favourite aspects of the WoT series, so thank you for the opportunity to wax lyrical here :-) – Rand al'Thor Jan 16 '16 at 13:52
  • I disagree with these people. They aren't on their own side, they're trying to be good guys and walk in the light and stuff, but they are just so stupid that they end up hindering the good guys anyway. Their like the ministry under Fudge in Harry Potter – CHEESE Jan 24 '16 at 21:09
  • i wonder what the wolves meant in the first book when they said to Perrin that the WCloaks smell 'wrong'... – user68762 Dec 13 '16 at 17:58
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Not all evil is in the servants of Shai'tan.

As an organisation, the Whitecloaks genuinely believe that they are on the right side and are serving the Light. Their primary motive is not evil, per se, but much of what they do in pursuit of that motive is. For instance, they believe that all Aes Sedai are Darkfriends, and will often put more effort into working against the White Tower than into finding real Darkfriends.

The Whitecloaks, like the Seanchan, are not a wholly evil organisation; there are characters in both of these factions with whom one can, at least to some extent, sympathise. However, as a whole, both are responsible for a great deal of suffering, particularly among women who can channel. One could say that the answer depends on whether you measure evil by intentions or by results.

In my opinion, this is one of the greatest strengths of the Wheel of Time series: while good and evil do exist, it is often not entirely clear which characters are good and which are evil, and not all evil is concentrated in one place. Just as in the real world, there are factions which claim to be combatting evil while in fact being almost as evil themselves, albeit in a different way. Mordeth and the forces at work in Shadar Logoth are another primary example: in fighting the Shadow, they became as evil as the Shadow itself.

Disclaimer: Whitecloaks who are also Darkfriends, such as Jaichim Carridin aka Bors, are excluded from the above.


Robert Jordan has commented many times on the moral issues in his books, in fantasy in general, and in literature and the world in general. See item 21 here, my favourite out-of-universe RJ quote (emphasis mine):

The reason for the popularity of fantasy, and the reason science fiction is fading in comparison, is quite simple, really. Increasingly in books and films, including science fiction but also in everything from mysteries to so-called "main stream literary" novels, the lines between right and wrong have become blurred. Good and evil are more and more portrayed as two sides of the same coin. This is called realism. People by and large want to believe that there is a clear cut right and wrong, though, and that good and evil depend on more than how you look in the mirror or whether you're squinting when you do. In fantasy, you can talk about good and evil, right and wrong, with a straight face and no need to elbow anybody in the ribs to let them know you're just kidding, you don't really believe in this childish, simplistic baloney. That seems to be less and less so in other genres.

Does that mean fantasy all has to be goody-goody on the side of right and black-as-the-pit on the side of evil. No. In my own work telling right from wrong is often difficult. Sometimes my characters make the wrong choice there. Sometimes they do things are quite horrific. But they try to find the right choice. This is the way I think most people see the world and their behavior in it—trying to do the right thing with the knowledge that sometimes you're going to make the wrong choice, and with "right" defined as more than simply being of benefit to yourself—and they want to read books that reflect this. Right and wrong are not simply different shades of gray. Good and evil are not simply a matter of how you look at them.

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They are on their own side.

One way to understand the Whitecloaks is to understand the models/tropes that Jordan drew from to form them into a composite. I recognized what he'd done when I read these books some years ago.

  1. The Spanish Inquisition
  2. The Knights Templar/Teutonic Knights, even the Ku Klux Klan and the Taliban
  3. Witch burning/Witch Hunting (this reflects their relationship with Aes Sedai)

Jordan commented on that in a discussion during different web interviews:

Robert Jordan: The Whitecloaks are based on any number of groups who knew the truth, > who know the truth and they want you to believe the truth. They want you to know the truth too. And if you don't know the truth, if you don't believe the truth they'll kill ya. There's been a lot of them, all over the world. They're the basis for the Whitecloaks.

  1. Question: Are Whitecloaks based on the Ku Klux Klan?

    Robert Jordan: Amongst others. Any group that believes to know the Truth with a capital T and want you to believe the same. Mostly it's based on groups like the Teutonic Knights, however, since they don't hide behind anything ... the Taliban now, are people who know the Truth, and they will kill you if you don't believe the truth.

  2. Question: What are the Children of Light in the Story for?

    Robert Jordan: The Children of the Light are all of those people who say I know the truth, my truth is the only truth, you must believe my truth. You must believe my truth, if you refuse to believe my truth I will kill you. I wanted them in there because there are always people like that in any world, and they have a tendency to organize and start killing people that don't believe what they believe, so it is really their similitude. I don't think there can be a world without the haters. Haters exist.

    One More Time:(Robert Jordan) For Children of the Light, the Whitecloaks were inspired by the Inquisition, the SS, the Teutonic Knights and others. In fact, they were inspired by all those groups who say, "We know the truth. It is the only truth. You will believe it, or we will kill you."

Weaving Historical references into the story

Jordan makes numerous allusions to things you'd recognize in other stories or in the histories from our world; see "Artur Pendrag" as an iconic legendary figure. For historical examples:

  1. Jordan uses the term Questor for some of the officials in the White Cloaks. That was an office in the Spanish Inquisition.
  2. As a militaristic order that acted independently of any kingdom. The Knights Templar, Knights of Malta, Knights Hospitlar were extranational orders. In the case of the Knights Templar, their independence (and wealth?) eventually earned them the enmity of the French King.

  3. The rigid zealotry: Jordan's caricature fits them model of RL Crusaders to the Holy Land or the Teutonic Knights. While in name they were holy orders, in practice a rough case of "the ends justifies our righteous means" was in evidence. The consistent theme of a profound belief in the rightness of the cause Jordan captured very well. Another similarity he adapted was the Albigensian crusades which were to stamp out Heresy in the 1200's, which led to the slaughter of the Cathars among others.

  4. Witch hunting vis a vis the Aes Sedai captures the anti-witch campaigns in medieval Europe pretty well.

    All said and done, Jordan made a nice composite out of all this in the Whitecloaks.

    For reference on actual religious orders of knighthood, The Monks of War by Desmond Seward is a pretty good source.

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The simplest answer is they are on their own side.

They believe that, as a group, they are on the side of Light. Their zeal leads them to believe that only they are working towards the Light, and from that flows the logic that anyone that opposes them is a servant of the Dark One, whether knowing or unknowing. That belief, as you pointed out, does not align with the reality of their actions. For further examples of such misguided narrow-minded thinking, please see most of human history, or rather more in-series, the story Moraine told of Shadar Logoth, formerly known as Aridhol before their zeal of the Light plunged them into Shadow.

The story at the point you're reading it is potentially more confusing, simply because you have seen several different individual Whitecloaks, all of whom have different approaches and varying levels of that zeal. You know the organization is infiltrated by Darkfriends in direct opposition to what the Whitecloaks stand for. The Lord Commander has his own ambitions that aren't good or evil, but follows the logic of uniting the world in in service of some greater good. Then there's Geofram Bornhald, who actually represents a brighter side of the order.

Those are largely the exceptions though. Just about every other Whitecloak named or unnamed that you've seen thinks the Light walks with them, and only with them.

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Here is some additional info about the Children of the Light from their excerpt from the Wheel of Time Companion:

A society of men who followed strict ascetic beliefs, owing allegiance to no nation and dedicated to the defeat of the Dark One and the destruction of all Darkfriends. Founded by Lothair Mantelar in FY 1021 during the War of the Hundred Years to proselytize against an increase in Darkfriends, they evolved during the war into a completely military society. They were extremely rigid in their beliefs, and certain that only they knew the truth and the right. They considered Aes Sedai and any who supported them to be Darkfriends. Known disparagingly as Whitecloaks, a name they themselves despised, they were headquartered at the Fortress of Light in Amador, Amadicia,

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but were forced out when the Seanchan conquered the city.

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Their sign was a golden sunburst on a field of white, and the sunburst was displayed on their cloaks and tabards. An exception was the garb worn by the Hand of the Light (also referred to pejoratively as Questioners), a relatively independentinvestigative branch within the Children’s organization; their cloaks were adorned with a red shepherd’s crook behind the sunburst. Questioners reported to the High Inquisitor, who only wore the red shepherd’s crook, suggestive of his independent authority. The Children were a cavalry force, and their largest unit was a legion, which was roughly two thousand troops. Officers wore golden knots to indicate rank.

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The last known leader of the Children was Galad Damodred. They fought alongside the armies of the Light in the Last Battle.

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