We know personal skills are not that important in a medieval battle. Discipline was one of the two crucial aspects of almost all medieval battles, the other being numbers. In fact, this is something Stannis acknowledges as well.

Romans usually tried to withdraw and regroup when they lost formation. Their formation, a.k.a, discipline enabled them to conquer 60% of the known world.

Of course, there are many exceptions. I bet the most classical example is Battle of Keresztes, where the Crusader army routed the Ottoman army but repelled by the military logistics group, i.e., cooks, pages etc.

In this era, there are so many fabled elite units, famous for their discipline. The obvious example is Polish Hussars, while Swiss Armored Pikemen are just a little behind. If we intend to extend the list, Janissaries, Tercio Pikemen, Varangian Guards and Catapracts would come next. These elite troops were to rally routing troops, keep formation, break through enemy lines etc. None of these tasks could be performed by peasant levies.

However, with the exception of Kingsguard, there are no elite troops in Westeros

This is not specific to Westeros. The only elite troops we have heard of in Essos is Unsullied. It seems like no one in Planetos cares about elite troops. In fact, it is even worse for Westeros. How does Kingsguard fight in formation, where discipline is way more important than combat skills? It feels like seven thickly armored troops would jeopardize the entire regiment.

I am not suggesting they are useless. They may be used to break the formation (as much as seven men can do), reach and kill the enemy general or protect their own general. Their primary purpose is protecting. We also see Kingsguard represent the king in his absence.

Now comes the single combat part. If the enemy general, without loss of generality lets call him Rhaegar, were to face single combat with the allied general, who shall be called Robert, where are the Kingsguard? Of course, this is apart from those protecting someone else, who we shall name Lyanna. If the single combatters are not generals, i.e., two prominent knights, do the rest of the troops around them stop fighting?

It feels like warfare in Medieval Europe is quite off compared to warfare in Westeros, or Planetos in general. The final part of my question is if we know any famous single combats in battlefield in Medieval Europe.

  • 7
    Kingsguard are however not elite troops. They are elite bodyguards.
    – Aegon
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:35
  • 5
    Also, Kingsguard do not fight in formation as a unit. They take command of different units and lead them
    – Aegon
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:36
  • Ghulams and janissaries were also elite bodyguards but they were used in battle as elite troops. I object to the idea that elite bodyguards cannot be elite troops.
    – user65648
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:40
  • 3
    You seem to have disregarded the structure and numbers of Janissaries and KG. KG are seven men. Janissaries are a corps
    – Aegon
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:47

2 Answers 2


Kingsguard are not a battle unit

Kingsguard are elite bodyguards, not elite shock troops. They do not fight in formation i.e. 7 armored knights whacking anything that comes their way. They are used to take command of different battle units or to protect someone of Royal blood during battle. E.g. Barristan Selmy was sent to take command of dispersed Targaryen troops after Battle of Bells. Prince Lewyn Martell was given command of Dornish Troops at Trident.

So Kingsguard are usually commanders, not foot Soldiers.

What do Kingsguard do in Single Combat?

Kingsguard are first and foremost sworn to obey those of the Royal Blood. If they are explicitly commanded to do so, they would most likely stay away. Example would be how King Robert commanded Ser Barristan to stay aside while he takes the boar alone.

The only scenario that I can recall which comes very close is Trial of Seven between King Maegor and Warrior's sons. King Maegor was supported by Kingsguard but they all fought. In the end everyone died, Except King Maegor, who fell into coma right after killing his last foe.

If Single Combatants are not Generals, what happens?

Then nobody knows what happens because no one is important enough to be written down in annals of history. They would most likely be interrupted by other soldiers of both sides who may come to support their comrade.

In response to your edit regarding Prominent Knights, since we do not know of enough Knightly Single combats, it would be speculation.

Knights and highborns are captured for ransom so It is unlikely that any man who believes he is good enough to win the ransom would let it pass.

But on the other hand, The only mention of two prominent knights fighting in a huge battle that I can recall right now is fight between Lyn Corbray and Lewyn Martell. Since Lyn is credited for the Kill, it appears no one interfered. Another mention would be the fight between Ser Arthur Dayne and the Smiling knight. That battle also seems to be uninterrupted by other soldiers.

Disciplined units

The majority of Armies in Westeros is made up of untrained levies who are poorly equipped and untrained. They gain experience on job. To support them and harden them, there are trained sworn swords and Knights who are well disciplined.

Rallying routed troops, keeping formation, breaking through enemy lines

You are right, Peasant levies do not do that. That's why they have heavily armored mounted Knights. They lead the charge on their warhorses and break enemy lines with their lances. They enjoy mobility and can move freely to rally the running foot soldiers.

Kingsguard can however play a role in rallying shattered levies using their charisma and reputation. Ser Barristan Selmy and Ser Jonathor Darry were sent to rally the broken remnants of Lord Jon Connington's troops.

Do we know any single Combats in Europe?

That's off-topic. You can take it up on History Stack Exchange. Nevertheless, One Example that I have found is single combat between a Russian Monk and a Mongol Soldier before Battle of Kulikovo.

Other than middle-ages. there is John Smith who reportedly killed and beheaded three Ottoman soldiers in single Combat during campaign of Michael the Brave.

  • Good enough, but I edited the single combatants are not general part. I meant prominent knights, not peasants.
    – user65648
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:52
  • And the reason I ask single combat in medieval Europe is because when we answer questions, we borrow so many aspects of medieval Europe, from succession to warfare or even to what people eat in winter. Single combat seems to be one crucial aspect that is missing in medieval Europe, and I wonder why that is stressed in Westeros.
    – user65648
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:56
  • @C.Koca I refrain from doing that as a policy. ASOIAF is inspired from a lot of things of a lot of regions. I don't think using inspirations to answer questions is not as good as answering from canon.
    – Aegon
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 13:58
  • This is better. Another good example of single combat is Smalljon Umber vs Tormund, where the troops continued their fight, unaffected by it.
    – user65648
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 14:05
  • @C.Koca Ah I did not notice the show tag
    – Aegon
    Commented Jul 25, 2016 at 14:08

Something worth remembering is that all-out open warfare is not that common. Many if not most knights historically never experience it in their lifetimes: the closest they'd normally come is smaller campaigns like Ned, Jorah and co vs the Iron Islanders, or Barristan, Jaime and co vs the Kingswood Brotherhood. Therefore knightly fighting isn't especially optimised for big pitched battles and open warfare. While these get immortalised in songs and stories, they're not a knight's normal bread and butter.

Many of the European examples in your question are from where there were frequently-warring neighbours, clashes of great civilisations or conquering empires who needed standing armies that included elite troops optimised for warfare - not a Westeros-like island that occasionally explodes into internal political conflict. There weren't cataphracts in War of the Roses-era Britain, either.

Regular knightly fighting is optimised more for the types of fighting such knights do all the time, including in peacetime:

  • Tournament meelees and other such sport fighting. These happen all the time, are a good moneyspinner for a good fighter, and are one of the most reliable ways to establish your reputation. They're typically knights-only, small numbers, with an audience (so honour counts for something), based on one-on-one fighting because ganging up on someone is bad PR. Under normal circumstances they're what most knights focus on and train for (which is why in real life-and-death fights, people unaccustomed to caring what the audience thinks like Bronn have such a natural advantage over opponents accustomed to fighting honourably). We see Brienne win one in Season 2, and Robert reliving many happy memories of them in Season 1.

    For more on how focused knights are on this sort of fighting in peacetime, I recommend reading the "Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" novellas (particularly Hedge Knight and Mystery Knight) which give an interesting angle on the culture and economics of this sort of thing.

  • Duels and other forms of settling scores which tends to be one-on-one or very small numbers. Trials by combat are an obvious one we've seen plenty of examples of. Also consider standoffs where two knights square off against each other and everyone's thinking about each others' reputations, who's likely to win, and therefore who should compromise (e.g. Bronn vs Kingsguard at the start of Season 3), or times individuals fight one-on-one over something e.g. Sandor and Brienne fighting over Arya.

    For an example of how this sort of thing is a routine part of a knight's job description in peacetime - not just the fighting itself but also being the big tough presence in the negotiating room - check out the second "Knight of the Seven Kingdoms" novella, Sworn Sword (which also includes a good account of how awful all-out warfare was, with conscripted armies of hopeless exploited peasants).

  • Skirmishes between small groups representing factions. In Season 1 we hear Barristan and Jaime telling stories of fighting the Kingswood Brotherhood, and we see Jaime and Ned plus their small groups of trained guards fight over a matter of family honour in what was (nominally) still peacetime. As war breaks out there are many more examples like this: probably the majority of actual fight scenes in the show are like this, and it's not just because they're cheaper to film than pitched battles.

    Obviously there's another example of a peacetime life-and-death skirmish between knights breaking out in A Knight of The Seven Kingdoms, but I won't say which story it's in.

All-out war is colossally expensive (mostly from the opportunity costs of all that farming your conscripted peasants aren't doing) and is decided as much by economic factors like food supplies (think the ravaging of the riverlands, Northern Lords wanting to go home and prepare for winter) and politics (think Freys) as battles.

Battles make for better songs, so they get much of the attention within-world and out-of-world (there's a reason GRRM chose not to set the main story during the peaceful rule of Baelor the Blessed). Despite this disproportionate attention, they're not the norm and tend to be hellish and chaotic.

  • You are right. Westeros seems peaceful compared to medieval Europe. However Free cities are always fighting. I wonder whether they have such elite troops, and if they don't why not. They might be handier than contracting with sellsword companies.
    – user65648
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 15:12
  • @C.Koca "I wonder whether they have such elite troops" - sounds like an interesting question to ask! Unsullied are one obvious example, I'm sure there are more in the other various sellsword companies (whatever the champion of Mereen was, for example?). The frequently-warring neighbouring city states would be a perfect environment for them to develop. Commented Jul 28, 2016 at 16:16

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