Was Ser Duncan a Knight?
Based on the writing, the fandom continuously wonders if Ser Duncan the Tall was a knight by title or self-entitled.
The introduction of Ser Duncan the Tall to the reader is not done without pain and turmoil. Evidently, George R.R. Martin maintains his passion for writing about the “human heart in conflict”.
The author has always left it clear to the fandom that writing about the human heart in conflict with itself is the only thing worth writing about
Ser Duncan is first presented as “Dunk”. As he lays his former master, Ser Arlan of Pennytree, to rest, he considers his prospects and thinks he can find another knight to squire for: "I could find another hedge knight in need of a squire to tend his animals and clean his mail, he thought, or might be I could go to some city, to Lannisport or King's Landing, and join the City Watch. Or else . . ." He takes his former master’s belongings and makes them his own – not as theft, but rather as a conscientious choice: 'it won’t serve him, it can serve me' – and while collecting the items and considering the sword, which would fit his hand just as well as it fit Ser Arlan’s before him, he thinks of the Tourney of Ashford Meadow which is the one they were going to when Ser Arlan unexpectedly died. From that moment on, Ser Duncan introduces himself as a “Knight”: "The blade was straight and heavy, good castle-forged steel, the grip soft leather wrapped over wood, the pommel a smooth polished black stone. Plain as it was, the sword felt good in his hand, and Dunk knew how sharp it was, having worked it with whetstone and oilcloth many a night before they went to sleep. It fits my grip as well as it ever fit his, he thought to himself, and there is a tourney at Ashford Meadow."
A young man of 16 or 17 (nobody knows which) who remembers mischievously selling rats at shops in Flea Bottom so they can make the “brown” (a stew for the poor made in the slums of Kings Landing - usually consists of unrecognizable pieces of meat, barley, carrots, and any other ingredients that they have on hand.) until Ser Arlan takes him in to substitute his squire who had perished. While raising Dunk, Ser Arlan teaches him valor, honour and inspires the boy to follow a positive path. Evidently, Ser Arlan, as the knight, made sure that Dunk was fed and trained as well as he guaranteed the boy safety and a better life he would have had on the streets of Flea Bottom, while showing him that, as the knight, he himself was not to sacrifice his comforts for the boy. It was Ser Arlan who had the first choice of meat, the best bed and the money. As Dunk thinks, he leads the reader to the possibility that he isn’t really a knight, although he was trained to one day become one.
When he finally meets “Egg”, Dunk takes him for a stableboy and tells him: “I am a knight”. But his knighthood came without any consideration for what he would be called or how to go about it. That might be the only unreasonable part of the story when considering how meticulous the writer tends to be. Evidently, throughout his life growing up to one day become a knight, Dunk would have considered, even dreamed of how he would be called, so not having a name to give was unrealistic, but considering again the writer, it was probably done so to offer the reader the idea that, had Ser Duncan been dubbed ‘Knight’ by Ser Arlan, he would have picked a name. That was part of the ceremony.
But Dunk was a good, honest, honourable and loyal young man. The lie is against his character and adds nothing to the story, except that, to his character, it does. At first, he enjoys the pleasures of being the knight and not a squire: "The lamb was as good as any he had ever eaten, and the duck was even better, cooked with cherries and lemons and not near as greasy as most. The innkeep brought buttered pease as well, and oaten bread still hot from her oven. This is what it means to be a knight, he told himself as he sucked the last bit of meat off the bone. Good food, and ale whenever I want it, and no one to clout me in the head." and through his journey, he reminds himself of the lessons Ser Arlan taught him: “A true knight is clean as well as godly”, “A knight defends the innocent”, “A knight should never love a horse”, “A knight owes his lord the truth”.
His internal dialogue suggests that he either wasn’t knighted or that he questions his worth as such. He blushes when it’s time to enlist for the tourney and is asked if he is a knight, then he compares himself to every other man in the story, them all being better and worthier of the title than he is. Until then, it seems that Dunk is not a knight, but rather trying to do what he trained and was taught to do, but had the opportunity taken from him by a simple misfortune.
Historically speaking, however, knighthood was a title exclusively made for Roman Catholics. So, the English monarch – the head of the Church of England (Protestant Anglican) – gives a title that they don’t actually have the right to give. Roman Catholicism is the religion that inspired the “Faith of the Seven” used in the books. Back when England was Roman Catholic, knighthood was either bestowed by knights, members of the clergy, lord/monarch, or - and that is the important point – by worth. When a man proved himself as one with the qualities required to become a knight, that made him one. As there was no registration system and no log book of who was and who wasn’t a knight, valor and principle were far more valuable than the actual dubbing. Furthermore, once the heir to the throne granted Ser Duncan the right to participate, he validated beyond reproach that Ser Duncan was to be seen and treated as one.
The fact that the English monarch, head of the Church of England, grants Catholic knighthood, shows that the only worth of the title is valor.
Ser Duncan continuously questions his knighthood, but the matters that validate it are far more compelling than the possible lack of ceremony. He was recognized by the heir to the throne as such, then later by the king himself; he fought as a knight against and alongside other knights; he obeyed the rules of knighthood – to be brave and just, to defend the young and innocent, to protect all women, to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to obey your captains, liege lords, king; to fight bravely when needed and do tasks that are laid upon you, however hard, or humble or dangerous they may be – and despite the continuous questions from the fandom, Ser Duncan the Tall – my all time favourite character – was undoubtedly, a Knight. #SerDuncanTheTall #TheHedgeKnight #ASOIAF #WasSerDuncanKnighted