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When we look at past examples, Kingsguards' history for most part has been illustrious and a shining example of chivalry and honour. There have been rare exceptions every two or three decades or so but that doesn't match up to what happened in Robert's reign.

Robert's Seven could perhaps be called the worst seven ever assembled in the history. Even staunch Baratheon loyalists like Eddard Stark agreed on that much. When we look at the 7:

  1. Ser Barristan Selmy - Although famous in the seven Kingdoms for his honour, Selmy had indeed dishonoured himself by taking Robert's pardon rather than dying for Targaryens like his sworn brothers did. As his Lord Commander and comrades said, "Our knees don't bend easy [....] Kingsguards do not flee [...] We swore an oath". Yet Selmy didn't follow them in their example even though he was arguably made of the same stuff; True Steel.
  2. Ser Jaime Lannister - The worst Kingsguard ever on face-value. He slew his King and took Robert's pardon, just like Selmy.
  3. Ser Arys Oakheart - Although well-meaning and not without some honour, he was weak-willed and we often see him dishonouring himself, although at least he shows some resistance to evil. And then we see how he sold Princess Myrcella to Dornish serpants for some sweet nothings whispered in his ear in a fashion that would have enraged old Ser Gerold Hightower or Prince Aemon the Dragonknight.
  4. Ser Boros Blount - A well known coward with little to no martial skills who was dishonourable beside. Even Ser Arys didn't shame himself as much as Boros did in his yielding of Prince Tommen.
  5. Ser Mandon Moore - Although a most puissant knight, he was known to be a bit psychotic, robotic and dishonourable as we see him in the affair of Joff ordering KG to beat Sansa up. Ser Arys at least objected before hitting her, Mandon Moore needed no pressure at all.
  6. Ser Meryn Trant - A cruel, dishonourable man who was a stain on the White Cloak he wore.
  7. Ser Preston Greenfield - Seems to be somewhat gifted with the sword but characterwise he was not much different from other paragons such as Blount, Moore and Trant.

Among the seven, the only real steel were the two surviving member of Aerys II's seven. The five that Robert himself chose were singularly unsuited for the job. How did Robert have such a knack for picking the worst possible aspiring white cloaks? Is there any background information or author's comments available on those appointment?

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    I don't have enough for an answer at the moment, but I wonder if it is less related to the character of the current Kingsguard and more related to us not seeing the flaws in prior Kingsguards. Basically the "good old days" weren't actually as good as they seem. This would be consistent with GRRM's style of gray characters vs black and white characters. For example, Aerys' Kingsguard watched him burn people alive. Who knows what atrocities they accomplished in his name. – kuhl Jun 10 at 17:30
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    Also, for #1, can't really blame Selmy on that front. He fought until he was in critical condition, Robert sent his own healer to save him, and then offered him the pardon after the Targaryens were dead. It's not like Selmy chose not to die fighting for his King, he just didn't really have a choice to make until after his King was dead and Robert was the new King. – DariM Jun 10 at 21:40
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    @kuhl: Exactly! The reputation of prior Kingsguard is surely as much propaganda and legend as fact. – Jack Aidley Jun 11 at 13:43
  • The knock against several of these is, basically, “Dishonored himself by betraying his King and accepting a pardon from Robert Baratheon.” When Robert Baratheon is usurping the throne and handing out offices, that’s kind of baked into the cake. – Davislor Jun 11 at 23:52
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    If you read the books it's very clear that GRRM tries to portray Robert as a very poor judge of character. It even leads to his demise. The writing is all very heavy handed. – Darth Egregious Jun 12 at 19:09
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Because Robert Baratheon was not a good king.

Many characters repeatedly emphasize that Robert Baratheon, while a mighty warrior and a worthy knight in his prime, did not have the judgment, skill or temperament to make a good king.

Robert was never the same after he put on that crown. Some men are like swords, made for fighting. Hang them up and they go to rust.

A Clash of Kings, ch. 6

He was a good knight but a bad king, for he had no right to the throne he sat.

A Dance with Dragons, ch. 11

Even Robert himself did not feel that he was qualified for the task, and he spent much of his time getting drunk, sleeping around, and reminiscing about his glory days.

I swear to you, I was never so alive as when I was winning this throne, or so dead as now that I've won it.

A Game of Thrones, ch. 30

Because Robert was so unhappy doing the work of the king he allowed his advisors and his wife to influence many of his decisions, leading to several appointments to the Kingsguard that were for their loyalty to third parties rather than their worth. Varys explicitly notes as much to Eddard Stark.

Ser Boros and Ser Meryn are the queen’s creatures to the bone, and I have deep suspicions of the others. No, my lord, when the swords come out in earnest, you will be the only true friend Robert Baratheon will have.

A Game of Thrones, ch. 30

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From the Citadel, GRRM replied to a similar question in this way:

5) Why were men like Meryn Trant, Boros Blount, Preston Greenfield and Arys Oakheart ever accepted as White Swords? Nobody thinks much of their skill.

GRRM: Sometimes the best knights are not eager to take such stringent vows, and you have to settle for who you can get. Other factors also enter into the choices -- politics, favoritism, horse trading, rewards for past service, etc. It's a plum appointment for a younger son, or a knight from a minor house. Less so for the Great Houses. Also, Robert had five vacancies to fill all at once, an unusual situation -- imagine the nominations we might get if six of the nine members of the Supreme Court all died within a few months.

Institutions like the Kingsguard change over time. The original Knights of the Garter were warriors all, the strongest, bravest, deadliest men of their time, with an average age under thirty. The present Knights of the Garter are octagenarians, and their parades are processions of wheelchairs and walkers.
So Spake Martin - The Kingsguard

He similarly absolve Jaime and Barristan on claiming pardon on technicalities.

4) Does the oath of a Kingsguard include to serve whoever is the king, even if the new king rebelled against the old one, or did Jaime and Barristan choose to continue their service as Robert was crowned?

GRRM: The oaths did not envision rebellion, actually. Robert pardoned Barristan and Jaime, and they accepted the pardon and continued to serve.
ibid

So it seems that political motivations paved the way for more controversial appointments when we look at the members. The criteria over the years for picking Kingsguards seems to be, judging by the common traits, the following:

  1. The candidate must be good with sword, lance or spear.
  2. The candidate must not come from a too influential family although exceptions like Jaime Lannister, Prince Aemon, Gerold Hightower, Raymont Baratheon etc exist.
  3. The candidate must be honourable.

We also have precedent where KG cloaks are used as an incentive to get political support of different houses e.g. Loras Tyrell or Young Griff holding out white cloaks. So politics definitely plays a role.

  • Preston Greenfield is likely a kin to Lord Greenfield who is a vassal to Lord Tywin Lannister, Robert's father-in-law. He seems to be appointed to appease Westerlands and Lord Tywin. The family has no significant political power.
  • Ser Arys Oakheart comes from a Targaryen loyalist family from the Reach. This seems to be a conciliatory gesture towards the former loyalists just like Aegon III's seven included members from both Black and Green families. The family is a major one but not one of the Great Houses.
  • Boros Blount comes from a minor house from Crownlands. Seems to be the same case as Oakheart. The family has no significant political power.
  • Mandon Moore comes from the Vale and since he came to KL with Lord Jon Arryn, it seems Robert appointed Moore on Lord Arryn's request as a reward for Vale's support for Robert in the war. The family has no significant political power.
  • Meryn Trant comes from a minor family in Stormlands, Robert's own ancestral holdings. This seems to be a case favouritism or reward for service of the family.
  • Jaime Lannister, presumably pardoned to bind Lord Tywin to Robert's cause. The significance for making sure that most KG came from minor families should become clear from Jaime's case. The political considerations in case of powerful families are too huge to let honour be a nuisance.
  • Barristan Selmy, technically not in any wrong at all according to the author. He also comes from Stormlands and is the son of the Lord of Harvest Hall, a key vassal to Baratheons.

Kuhl's comment about not seeing the flaws of prior KG is worth noting. We condemn Robert's Seven for standing by Joffrey as he lurched from one evil to another, even beating his betrothed for him. But Aerys' seven, who are considered shining paragons of chivalry, did nothing more than Joffrey's seven did as Aerys tortured his wife in a bestial manner even though they were sworn to protect the women (Jaime tried to intervene once when he stood guard outside the Queen's door but he was stopped by his comrades who said they were sworn to defend the Queen but not from the King) or burnt his "opponents" even though they were sworn to defend the helpless. Maegor's and Aegon II's seven did the same (Although there are rumours that it was the KG who killed both of them eventually).

So in conclusion:

  1. Robert faced the virtually unprecedented situation of filling five vacancies. The only time something of this magnitude happened before was when the order was founded and Queen Visenya picked 7 men. He was bound to make some mistakes.
  2. Best suited men might not have been eager to take the strict vows so Robert had to make do.
  3. Political considerations like rewarding his supporters, appeasing the former enemies, doing a favour to crucial allies played a role in the appointments.
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    "The candidate must not come from a too influential family" - source for this being a criterion in choosing? As you mention, there are quite a number of exceptions. I see your reasoning for why it might be a good idea, but are you sure it actually was a conscious criterion? – Rand al'Thor Jun 11 at 6:27
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    @Randal'Thor As I noted, The criteria over the years for picking Kingsguards seems to be, judging by the common traits, so it's delving into the realm of speculation really, not canon. We see 1 Velaryon, 1 Baratheon, 1 Tyrell, 1 Targaryen 1 Martell and 1 Lannister in all history of KG which basically makes all the Great Houses that ever had a son wear the white cloak. (Velaryons added by virtue of being the 2nd house of the realm during most of Targ era). – Aegon Jun 11 at 6:48
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    In Major houses we see 2 Darry, 7 Darklyns, 1 Bracken, 1 Strong, 1 Redwyne, 1 Marbrand, 1 Peake, 2 Oakhearts, 1 Crakehall, 1 Corbray, 1 Hightower and 1 Whent. Which makes all of the Whiteswords from Major houses. Evidently, the representation of minor houses and lowborns is much higher than that of the Great Houses and Major Houses. – Aegon Jun 11 at 6:50
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    Jaime Lannister, presumably pardoned to bind Lord Tywin to Robert's cause. Also note that the decision to make Jaime a white sword to begin with was also very much political in nature. – JAD Jun 11 at 7:05
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There are counterarguments to some of the listed men though.

  1. Ser Barristan Selmy

First of all, it makes little sense for Robert B to punish someone for (surprisingly) bending the knee to him.

But in my opinion more importantly, Selmy was well aware of what the Mad King had become, and has always been portrayed as someone who understand honor rather than abiding by rules he doesn't understand (quite similar to Ned).

It's this character trait that ends up getting him exiled (pretty much voluntarily) as he stood up for what he believed was the right thing to do. If Selmy at some point sees Aerys' madness and is convinced that he's a danger to the realm, then Selmy is going to act on his conscience more than his oath.

This makes Barristan capable of understanding that an oath sworn to a king who turns on his own people is effectively invalidated. Selmy swore an oath to protect his king to the death, but when Aerys stops being regnal, you can argue that Selmy's oath no longer applies either.

  1. Ser Jaime Lannister - The worst Kingsguard ever on face-value. He slew his King and took Robert's pardon, just like Selmy.

Same argument as Barristan, but even more poignant because Jaime stopped the Mad King.

Jaime was also a renowned swordsman. Being a Kingsguard doesn't just require honor, it requires actual skill in combat, of which Jaime had plenty.

You have to understand that "kingslaying" is only a crime to those who still considered Aerys a rightful king. Robert very much utilized the demonization of Aerys' madness to justify his rebellion.
Robert can't then punish Jaime for killing Aerys while Robert himself was trying to kill Aerys. And even if he could, why would he want to?

  1. Ser Arys Oakheart - Although well-meaning and not without some honour, he was weak-willed and we often see him dishonouring himself, although at least he shows some resistance to evil.

Notice how much of that description fits Robert B to a tee. People are usually blind to their own traits, and that extends to people who are like them.

  1. Ser Mandon Moore - Although a most puissant knight, he was known to be a bit psychotic, robotic and dishonourable

The same applies to the Mountain and (at that time) the Hound. The Cleganes have a clear purpose: they are deterrents. I have little good to say about ruling through fear and savagery, but it does keep people in line.

Think of it as good cop (e.g. Selmy)/bad cop (Moore). Every criminal tends to start liking one over the other and opening up (or yielding) to them. Different people yield to good knight/bad knight differently.

we see him in the affair of Joff ordering KG to beat Sansa up. Ser Arys at least objected before hitting her, Mandon Moore needed no pressure at all.

One man's eager abuser is another man's deeply loyal servant who immediately obeys a command. I can spin this to use it as proof of loyalty to the king.

  1. Ser Preston Greenfield - Seems to be somewhat gifted with the sword but...

Robert's reign was peaceful, but it was taken by violence. His initial reign was shaky and under possibly counterattack from Targaryen loyalists. It makes sense for Robert to favor swordsmen (loyal to him) over (pure) honorable men as his personal bodyguards.


I do agree on the other mentions, but most Kingsguard had sufficiently valid credentials for Robert to consider giving them the white cloak.

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    The overarching point is that most of these are not those that you would trust with your life to protect you... the whole point of the Kingsguard. Your argument does little to convince otherwise that these would protect the king with their lives when it comes down to it. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 11 at 10:22
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    @TheLethalCarrot: My opinion doesn't matter. Robert's does. I agree that the KG lineup was a bunch of bad choices, but that doesn't mean that Robert knowingly made bad choices. He's a flawed human with flawed reasoning (like pretty much everyone), but that doesn't mean he didn't have some reasons (even if misguided) about who to make his KG. Repurposing OP's quote to apply to Robert: "Although well-meaning and not without some honour, he was weak-willed and we often see him dishonouring himself, although at least he shows some resistance to evil." Even flawed men have their reasons. – Flater Jun 11 at 10:25
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    @Flater And I think you're not giving Robert enough credit, he might not be the wisest or cleverest man but he's smarter than you're interpreting him to be. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 11 at 10:29
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    @TheLethalCarrot: I'm not sure how that factors into the answer. If you argue that he's smarter than the KG choices he made, does that mean you're arguing he knowingly appointed a worse KG than he could've had? Because that would need elaboration in an answer of its own as to what his ulterior motives were. – Flater Jun 11 at 10:32
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    @Flater As Aeg's answer states maybe he wanted to appoint better Kingsguard but they refused and/or didn't want to join. If these were his first choices, and you could prove that, my stance would change but as far as I know we don't have any information on whether or not he wanted to appoint others beforehand. And I'll leave the discussion there. – TheLethalCarrot Jun 11 at 10:35

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