WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE MOST RECENT EPISODES OF THE SHOW AND SOME OF THE BOOKS!
Today we are going to talk about the newest political player in the show and one who threatens to turn the entire balance of power upside down: the Faith Militant.
Members of the Faith Militant are easily recognizable from their plain black robes, the seven pointed star of the Seven scarred into their head, and their rabid devotion to the fundamental teachings of the Faith and hatred of all vice and foreign influence. Over the course of just a couple of episodes the Faith Militant has essentially taken over Kings Landing after being shrewdly backed and re armed by Cersei Lannister. With their new power they patrol the streets forcefully removing activities such as gambling, prostitution, and worship of foreign idols. They have also proven to be completely fearless and even the king himself must submit to their authority.
Before the events of the show the Faith Militant had a long and often troubled history. They were established during the early reign of the Targaryans when they perceived the Targaryen family as unfit to rule (they didn’t like the practice of each Targaryen marrying a family member, incest is a big no no in the Faith of the Seven) and rose up in revolt. The early faith was divided into two groups. The Poor Fellows, who were recruited from the lower classes and women, were light foot soldiers who looked exactly like the zealots running around in King’s Landing now.
And the Warrior’s Sons, who haven’t shown up in the show but are mentioned in the books.
The Warrior’s sons were different from the Poor Fellows in that they were nobles and knights who fought with full armor and better weapons while the Poor Fellows had nothing more than clubs and axes.
After the Faith rose up against the Targaryens they met serious opposition with the rise of King Maegor the Cruel.
Maegor lived up to his name and brutally suppressed the revolts of the Faith, but any attempt at crushing them would be met with horrendous casualties and even more revolts to put down.
The Faith Militant would eventually be disbanded with the death of Maegor and the rise of Prince Jaehaerys who agreed to pardon any member of the faith who had revolted in exchange for peace. The revolt was over and the Faith remained peaceful until the War of the Five Kings and the new rise of the Faith Militant.
The role of the Faith Militant and the power that orders like the Warrior’s Sons and the Poor Fellows wielded follows a direct parallel to real world organizations such as the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.
Like the Warrior’s Sons, military orders like the Templars recruited from the nobility and knightly class. They were originally founded to help guard the routes to holy sites like Crusader occupied Jerusalem (a service which they charged fees for) and protect the well being of Christians everywhere. While orders like the Templars are among the most well known they were certainly not the only ones and each order enjoyed the privilege of have to answer only to God, an authority that would help lead them to do terrible things in the name of their faith.
The Poor Fellows of Game of Thrones have a slightly different origin then their wealthier brothers. During the Medieval Ages it was not uncommon for large groups of poor and downtrodden penitent sinners to gather into large groups and wander around the country performing penitence for their sins and others. They would often beat and whip themselves in their shame and became what we call flagellants today.
The flagellants became infamous in the mid 1300’s when the Black Death was sweeping Europe.
Since it was believed that the Death was divine punishment from God large bands of people gathered together to whip and beat themselves in an act of penitence. This culminated in a large number of revolts such as the Peasant Revolt of 1381, when a large number of English peasants who were fed up with lousy pay and the fear of death, revolted against their former masters demanding substantial change.
With rich knights and lords defending the Church with their lives and swords and the peasants using their faith to rally and punish those they saw fit the Church/Faith Militant was and continues to be a powerful political force that lords and nobles must pay heed to.