28

Are the maesters assigned to a family or to a castle in Westeros?

  • They're assigned to a place. Grand Maester Pycelle had previously served the Targs He has been the Grand Maester of the Seven Kingdoms for forty years, serving Aegon V and Jaehaerys II Targaryen before Aerys II Targaryen.[6] Pycelle wrote Observations Upon the Recent Blood-Letting on the Stepstones about the War of the Ninepenny Kings. – Edlothiad Oct 30 '17 at 7:24
47

They serve the Seat, not the House

Maester Luwin makes it abundantly clear how the order works. Stating that they serve not the Lord but the Seat that the Lord currently holds.

The small grey man was unafraid. "My order serves."
"Yes, but whom?"
"The realm," Maester Luwin said, "and Winterfell. Theon, once I taught you sums and letters, history and warcraft. And might have taught you more, had you wished to learn. I will not claim to bear you any great love, no, but I cannot hate you either. Even if I did, so long as you hold Winterfell I am bound by oath to give you counsel. So now I counsel you to yield."
A Clash of Kings - Theon VI

This is re-affirmed with Grand Maester Pycelles long tenure ranging from the final few months of Aegon V the Fortunate to Robert Baratheon (at the time of the quote)

"Near forty years I have been Grand Maester of the Seven Kingdoms," Pycelle replied. "Under our good King Robert, and Aerys Targaryen before him, and his father Jaehaerys the Second before him, and even for a few short months under Jaehaerys's father, Aegon the Fortunate, the Fifth of His Name.
A Game of Thrones - Eddard V

Pycelle had (obviously) gone on to serve both King Joffrey and King Tommen before his death in 300 AC.

The usually very accurate and well sourced wiki by Elio M. Garcia and Linda Antonsson (who started westeros.org) states that although Maester Cressen left his seat at Storm's End and joined Stannis a Dragonstone, it was very uncommon for Maesters to do because of their role at one House.

When Robert Baratheon gave Dragonstone to Stannis, Maester Cressen followed him to the ancient stronghold. As a maester is sworn to advise and serve a specific castle, regardless of changes in control of that holding, this is very uncommon.
A Wiki of Ice and Fire - Maester Cressen

Cressen likely accepted to follow Stannis because Stannis was like a son to him. After the death of their Father Steffon Baratheon, it was left to Maester Cressen to raise the three boys, of which Cressen love Stannis the most.

Maester Cressen blinked. Stannis, my lord, my sad sullen boy, son I never had, you must not do this, don't you know how I have cared for you, lived for you, loved you despite all? Yes, loved you, better than Robert even, or Renly, for you were the one unloved, the one who needed me most.
A Clash of Kings - Prologue

Another piece of evidence that a Maester serves a castle and not a House comes from Pate the Novice. He says he used to dream of serving a castle, although he now dreams of running away with Rosey

Once he had dreamed of being a maester in a castle, in service to some open-handed lord who would honor him for his wisdom and bestow a fine white horse on him to thank him for his service.
A Feast for Crows - Prologue


One contradiction to this is Roose Bolton taking three Maesters from the seat they serve and having them serve at Winterfell after he kills Maester Luwin.

Before the war, Medrick had served Lord Hornwood, Rhodry Lord Cerwyn, and young Henly Lord Slate. Roose Bolton had brought them all to Winterfell to take charge of Luwin's ravens, so messages might be sent and received from here again.
A Dance with Dragons - The Prince of Winterfell

Maester Colemon also followed his Lord, Jon Arryn, to King's Landing abandoning (albeit temporarily) the seat he was assigned. He was sent back after he was succesfully purging Jon Arryn of his poison because the "queen needed him dead"

"I have heard that you sent Maester Colemon away." The Grand Maester's nod was as slow and deliberate as a glacier. "I did, and I fear the Lady Lysa will never forgive me that. Maybe I was wrong, but at the time I thought it best. Maester Colemon is like a son to me, and I yield to none in my esteem for his abilities, but he is young, and the young ofttimes do not comprehend the frailty of an older body. He was purging Lord Arryn with wasting potions and pepper juice, and I feared he might kill him."
A Game of Thornes - Eddard V

His departure is later confirmed by Ned,

"A pity Lysa carried them off to the Vale," Ned said dryly. "The gods are doing their best to vex us. Lady Lysa, Maester Colemon, Lord Stannis … everyone who might actually know the truth of what happened to Jon Arryn is a thousand leagues away."
ibid.

and Catelyn meets him in the Eyrie, showing that he indeed returned there with Lysa:

"The sun was well above the mountains by the time Catelyn Stark finally reached the Eyrie. A stocky, silver-haired man in a sky-blue cloak and hammered moon-and-falcon breastplate helped her from the basket; Ser Vardis Egen, captain of Jon Arryn's household guard. Beside him stood Maester Colemon, thin and nervous, with too little hair and too much neck."

A Game of Thrones - Catelyn VI

  • 1
    To be fair, Roose Bolton isn't exactly known for following the rules, now is he... – corsiKa Oct 30 '17 at 19:44
  • "I am a maester of the Citadel, bound in service to Castle Black and the Night's Watch." --- Maester Aemon. – TheMathemagician Nov 1 '17 at 11:37
  • @TheMathemagician I'm aware of the quote and was close to putting it in, but I struggled to convince myself that the Night's Watch counts as a family/House and therefore adds strength to the answer. It does say he is in service to Castle Black, but followed by "and the Night's Watch" is throwing me off. – Edlothiad Nov 1 '17 at 11:49
6

They are assigned to a place.

Grand Maester Pycelle was assigned to the Red Keep in King's Landing and remained at that post through 6 different kings of 2 (really 3) different families. Aegon V, Jaehaerys II, King Aerys, King Robert, King Joffrey, and King Tomnen.

Maester Wolkan served the Seat of Winterfell when then Boltons were there. Then he served the Starks when Jon Snow defeated Ramsay Bolton.

Here is a scene where Wolkan announces the birth of Roose Bolton's son.

In this scene, Archmaester says he will write to Maester Wolkan in Winterfell to confirm rumors of white walkers. This was after the Starks retook Winterfell

So Wolkan served one family and then another. Whomever held Winterfell.

4

They are assigned to a seat, but their lords will dispatch them where they will.

They are assigned to a seat

Maester Luwin tells Theon that he is bound to serve him because Theon holds Winterfell.

The small grey man was unafraid. "My order serves."
"Yes, but whom?"
"The realm," Maester Luwin said, "and Winterfell. Theon, once I taught you sums and letters, history and warcraft. And might have taught you more, had you wished to learn. I will not claim to bear you any great love, no, but I cannot hate you either. Even if I did, so long as you hold Winterfell I am bound by oath to give you counsel. So now I counsel you to yield."
A Clash of Kings - Theon VI

Winds of Winter spoiler - in it, a maester is identified as being "maester at ...".

Stannis did not reply at once. He studied the man before him, his brow furrowed. "Get up." The maester rose. "You are maester at the Dreadfort. How is it you are here with us?"
The Winds of Winter - Theon I

There are multiple cases where maesters stay at their post after a change of leadership:

  • Maester Luwin at Winterfell
  • Grand Maester Pycelle after the Sack of King's Landing
  • Maester Medrick at Hornwood after the castle was taken by the Ramsay Snow (he is shown at Winterfell working for Roose Bolton)
  • Maester Vyman stays at Riverrun after the Freys have taken the castle (he is shown bringing Cersei's message to Jaime at the end of A Feast for Crows)

There are also a few known cases of maesters being imprisoned or killed when a castle is taken:

  • Grand Maester Gerardys (Rhaenyra's Grand Maester during the Dance of Dragons) was killed by Sunfyre at Dragonstone when it was taken by Aegon II
  • Grand Maester Orwyle was imprisoned by Rhaenyra when she took King's Landing
  • The nameless maester at Griffin's Roost was thrown out of the window when the Golden Company took the castle

Seeing these examples, it seems that in general, a maester will go along and serve the castle's new masters after the castle is taken, unless the takers do not want him to.

Somewhat speculative: it makes sense that the Citadel would assign maesters per castle, because:

  • Maesters are indispensable for the raven communication network to function;
  • By making maesters "part of the furniture", they have better chances of survival and continued influence when the ownership of the castle changes;

There are multiple cases of maesters who go out of their assigned castles, as required by their duties

While maesters are assigned to their castles, we see multiple examples of maesters being sent out from their castle for a reason or another, generally in order to be able to send messages through the raven network.

Maester Colemon, who serves House Arryn, was sent away by Grand Maester Pycelle after Jon Arryn was poisoned. That implies that Maester Colemon already was in King's Landing, even though he would probably have been assigned to the Eyrie. (And, given that the Eyrie is deserted in winter, he would not be able to stay there permanently even if he had to).

"I have heard that you sent Maester Colemon away."
The Grand Maester's nod was as slow and deliberate as a glacier. "I did, and I fear the Lady Lysa will never forgive me that. Maybe I was wrong, but at the time I thought it best. Maester Colemon is like a son to me, and I yield to none in my esteem for his abilities, but he is young, and the young ofttimes do not comprehend the frailty of an older body. He was purging Lord Arryn with wasting potions and pepper juice, and I feared he might kill him."
A Game of Thrones - Eddard V

"Robert's maester" was available after the Battle of the Trident to see to Barristan Selmy. It is unclear what castle that maester would have been assigned to, but it is likely that that maester was following Robert's army to tend to the wounded.

"Mercy is never a mistake, Lord Renly," Ned replied. "On the Trident, Ser Barristan here cut down a dozen good men, Robert's friends and mine. When they brought him to us, grievously wounded and near death, Roose Bolton urged us to cut his throat, but your brother said, 'I will not kill a man for loyalty, nor for fighting well,' and sent his own maester to tend Ser Barristan's wounds." He gave the king a long cool look. "Would that man were here today."
A Game of Thrones - Eddard VIII

Maester Aemon would have accompanied the Night's Watch in the Great Ranging, had he not been blind and old - implying that there is no hard rule for maesters to stay at their assigned castles.

The gods play cruel jests, Jon thought. Pyp and Toad, all a lather to be a part of the great ranging, were to remain at Castle Black. It was Samwell Tarly, the self-proclaimed coward, grossly fat, timid, and near as bad a rider as he was with a sword, who must face the haunted forest. The Old Bear was taking two cages of ravens, so they might send back word as they went. Maester Aemon was blind and far too frail to ride with them, so his steward must go in his place. "We need you for the ravens, Sam. And someone has to help me keep Grenn humble."
A Clash of Kings - Jon I

Roose Bolton has brought 3 maesters to Winterfell (from 3 houses that have sworn fealty to him) to handle Maester Luwin's ravens.

She might have said more, but then she saw the maesters. Three of them had entered together by the lord's door behind the dais—one tall, one plump, one very young, but in their robes and chains they were three grey peas from a black pod. Before the war, Medrick had served Lord Hornwood, Rhodry Lord Cerwyn, and young Henly Lord Slate. Roose Bolton had brought them all to Winterfell to take charge of Luwin's ravens, so messages might be sent and received from here again.
A Dance with Dragons - The Prince of Winterfell

Winds of Winter spoiler:

Arnolf Karstark is accompanied on Stannis' march by maester Tybald, maester at the Dreadfort.

We do not know what happens if a castle is taken when the castle's maester is not inside

A good test of a maester's oath of service in case of a contested castle would be to know what happens when a castle is taken without the castle's maester being inside. I do not know of such cases.

I will only note that it is hard to imagine that a maester would not continue serving his assigned lord if he was following that lord at war when the castle was taken. (Legally, that lord would still claim to be lord of the castle, and would not recognize the takers' right to hold it.)

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