Britain At War
The obligations of hospitality are taken very seriously in Britain. It is socially difficult for nobles to refuse hospitality to other nobles, even if they turn up unexpectedly. Of course, turning up with an army changes the situation, as does a time of war.
The real obligations arise after hospitality has been offered and accepted, symbolized by the “bread and salt,” which now means any food. If the host welcomes the guest, offers food, and the guest eats it, then both sides have accepted hospitality and its responsibilities. Both host and guest are bound not to use violence against each other and to fight together against any assaults against the host. Ideally, they will also be mutually courteous, but in tense situations, it is more important to overlook minor insults than to declare the rules of hospitality void. This relationship lasts at least until dawn the following day, at which point the host can ask the guest to leave. The relationship is not truly over until the guest has left and, according to etiquette, traveled out of sight of the host’s home.
Hospitality is normally respected, even between enemies. When it is broken, it is universally regarded as a particularly base act — treachery of the highest order, and any lord with a reputation for honor would instantly lose it. Other lords might use it as a reason to break an alliance, and a serious breach of hospitality could certainly be grounds for war — or even for the king to intervene. However, these serious consequences exist because, despite everything, lords do occasionally break the bond; those who trust to the tradition too much can lose a great deal, with the most egregious examples being their lives.
Many serfs also maintain the tradition to a certain extent among themselves, but it is a much less exalted matter. Very few nobles would think it reasonable, or even possible, to extend formal hospitality to one of the serfs.
A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide is © 2010 Green Ronin Publishing, LLC.
A Song of Ice and Fire is © 1996-2010 George R. R. Martin.