Laws and Justice

Pit & Gallows

“Pit and Gallows” is the traditional name for the rights of justice held by a landed lord; the “pit” refers to the right to throw people into a dungeon, and “gallows” refers to the right to execute them. However, lords may apply other punishments as well, such as flogging, if they feel they’re appropriate. The rights are limited, in that they only apply on the lands held by the lord. If a criminal flees to another county, he is, in theory, safe. In practice, fleeing only helps if exceeding the lord’s rights in that way is likely to cause him trouble. This rule might apply if the lord of the second set of lands is hostile and of at least comparable power, or not hostile yet known to be very sensitive about infringements on his authority. Of course, the first lord can always ask the second to take the case up himself.

Lords are not required to follow particular laws when making their judgments; their word is law. However, lords who wish to hold on to their positions generally do follow laws of their own devising and ensure the laws are at least somewhat reasonable. Arbitrary “justice” is a prime cause of serf uprisings.

Common Punishments

Execution is a very common punishment, typically hanging or beheading. Other methods may also be applied in particular cases, though most are considered barbaric. As a rule of thumb, beheading is a nobler death. Nobles are more likely to be beheaded than hanged, but similarly, a high noble is more likely to command a beheading than a hanging.

Fines are only common when the criminal is wealthy, but they are very popular in those cases. Members of the nobility who commit crimes are likely to face no punishment (if the victim was one of the serfs), a fine, or execution if the crime was very serious.

Flogging is a more common punishment for members of the lower social classes, and the severity of the flogging can be determined by both the number of strokes and the nature of the whip.
Imprisonment is not a common means of punishment (due to the belief that criminals will never better themselves), but it is a common way to hold people for trial or for ransom.

Taking ‘the Vow’

In some cases, usually if a Lord takes a liking to a criminal, the criminal is allowed to take a vow of servitude. The vow is much like that of a Knight’s but without any of the privileges. While one who has taken ‘the Vow’ is usually seen as lower than a serf in status, the vow-taker can still climb in rank. Some advisors and Knights started out as criminals until they took a vow of servitude.


Because lords have complete discretion in making judgments, they can choose to pardon anyone who commits a crime within their jurisdiction. Similarly, a lord can pardon anyone condemned by one of his vassals. A few lords pardon criminals on compassionate grounds, but the overwhelming majority of pardons are offered for political reasons. Most pardons are conditional on the pardoned criminal taking the black, as described above, and any crime can be pardoned for this reason.

The crime most likely to be pardoned, perhaps surprisingly, is treason — it is often essential to turn a powerful noble into an ally after defeating him in battle. A pardon requires the noble to accept that he did wrong, which is useful, and displays the new king’s magnanimity.

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.

Laws and Justice

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