In fiction, oaths are powerful things. They bind demons. They bind honour. They create pacts that grant great power. They are things to be respected, feared, and fulfilled.
And then there is the Oath-Breaker.
This is the character that has broken a oath of some sort be it magical or mundane and now is forever branded by his misdeed. Sometimes they see this as almost a trophy. Sometimes this is seen as a mark of shame. It almost always brands the character as a pariah until they manage to restore their lost honour.
This is not just a character that has broken a social taboo. They need to have broken something that they have personally sworn. May be the result of a Frequently-Broken Unbreakable Vow.
Some characters will feel this even after Releasing from the Promise or the oath's becoming impossible to fulfill.
At other times such character is a Dangerous Deserter.
It is not unknown for a character to beg another to allow something that would technically fulfill the vow to avoid this.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, the Wolkenritter are forced via Sadistic Choice to break an oath they made to Hayate. Namely, Hayate asked them to promise not to complete the Book of Darkness, since doing so involves severely injuring or killing people to extract their Linker Cores, which they agree to. However, when they later find out Hayate will eventually die if the Book of Darkness is not completed, they decide they have no choice but to do it. They do this without telling Hayate, and strive to extract people's Linker Cores without killing them, in token adherence to Hayate's wishes. Since they come from a Medieval European based culture, this ends up causing them a great deal of grief (especially Signum, who places the most emphasis on her honor and was the one who made the promise in the first place). Note that all the pain that it causes them is self-loathing since the rest of the cast (including Hayate) follows a modern sense of ethics and tend to be more forgiving when it comes to those sort of things.
- Saruhiko Fushimi in K defects from the Red Clan and joins the Blue Clan. He, and his childhood friend Misaki who joined the Red Clan with him, swore an oath and received power from the Red King, along with a mark in the form of a tattoo of the Red Clan insignia on their chests near their hearts. When he leaves, he burns the mark off, but it stays, along with his Red powers. Several of the Red Clansmen don't forgive him for "betraying" them, and he lives with some degree of shame over it, even though the Blue Clan is where he truly belongs.
- In Planet Hulk, Hiroim the Shamed is a member of the Hulk's Warbound, sworn allies for life. Hiroim, however, was ostracized from his people for breaking a previous Warbound pact, and accordingly given the appellation of "the Shamed" to forever mark his treachery.
- In The Sandman, written by Neil Gaiman, Roderick Burgess says this to the cultist who betrayed him. : "As this blood is shed, so spills your blood, Ruthven Sykes, adept of the 33rd, whose secret name is Ararita... Traitor and Oath-Breaker." Cue skull implosion.
- While Cyclops of the X-Men has numerous other issues, one thing that people throw in his face every now and then is how he married Madelyne Pryor, fathered a child with her, and then ditched them the minute Jean Grey came back from the dead. (During Inferno, Mr. Sinister claims to have psychically manipulated Cyclops into that betrayal, but even Chris Claremont, the guy who wrote that story, considers it a blemish on Cyclops' character.)
- In An Alternate Keitaro Urashima, Granny Hina tries to guilt-trip Keitaro into taking over the Hinata Inn by talking about how disappointed she is that he's forgotten all about his Childhood Marriage Promise. Keitaro retorts that he made that back when he was five. When she keeps pressing the issue, he reveals that she previously promised the Inn to his aunt Marumi, a more serious vow that she's since broken.
- Queen of All Oni: This is how Karasu refers to Drago, as the latter swore an oath of loyalty to the Matriarch (Jade's future self) after she freed him from Verde's control, only to eventually betray her.
- In the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic fic Machinations in the Dark, Princess Celestia regularly consults an imprisoned murderer for his useful advice, but even when she swears an oath to him, she never gives him what he asks for in return, even something as petty as a piece of string (no matter how many times this happens, he still gives her his advice in the hopes she'll keep her word this time, getting angrier each time). When Princess Luna finds out, she is appalled that Celestia would break her word, while Celestia tries to justify it by saying the murderer doesn't deserve anything. Eventually, he escapes, hellbent on revenge and leaves a message assuring she will pay him back everything he is owed.
- The man gracing the page image is Jaime Lannister from A Song of Ice and Fire; the broken oath and consequences thereof define large chunks of his character, as well as earning him the nickname "The Kingslayer" after killing Aerys II Targaryen, who he swore to protect. Even though Aerys had a nickname of his own ("The Mad King"), the circumstances he and Aerys' body were found in made it seem he only did so to benefit his father Tywin, if not himself. Jaime's refusal to explain himself doesn't help matters much. He eventually deconstructs this by pointing out the Conflicting Loyalty of his oaths mean he can't possibly keep them all. He killed Aerys when the Mad King attempted to burn down King's Landing and told Jaime to kill Tywin. Trapped between oaths, Jaime chose the option that saved 500,000 innocents. At the same time, ironically enough, he kept his vow to keep the king's secrets, the only oath which didn't conflict, even though it destroyed his honour and good reputation as a Knight in Shining Armour. Talk about being an Oathkeeper!
Jaime: So many vows. They make you swear and swear... Defend the king, obey the king, obey your father, protect the innocent, defend the weak... But what if your father despises the king? What if the king massacres the innocent? It's too much. No matter what you do you're forsaking one vow or another.
- Those that leave the Night's Watch are condemned to death for breaking their vows and deserting The Wall. Ned Stark tells his son that there's nothing more dangerous than an oath breaker whose life is now forfeit. They will do anything to survive.
- Lord Frey is generally viewed with suspicion because he is infamous for not picking sides until the odds are heavily stacked, and his late arrival to a battle to defend his liege lord earned him the In-Series Nickname "The Late Lord Frey." However, House Frey as a whole stepped it up several notches when they violated the law of Sacred Hospitality at the Red Wedding.
- Jorah Mormont is treated as this by Daenerys once his spying for Lord Varys is revealed. In the fifth book, he attempts to capture and bring her Tyrion to win her favor again.
- The worst example is/was The Night's King, who broke every vow of the Night's Watch good and hard. So much so, that what he did has tainted the reputation of the Nightfort. In fact, he's practically blamed for metaphorically cursing the place to constantly have horrendous things happen in and to it.
- In Harry Potter:
- Marietta from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix told the location of a secret hideout to Professor Umbridge after signing a magical contract claiming she wouldn't do that. As a result she had the word "SNEAK" appear on her face made out of pimples and was shunned by her classmates.
- Peter Pettigrew was the Secret Keeper magically charged with concealing the Potters' location when they went into hiding. He betrayed them to Lord Voldemort, resulting in James and Lily being murdered and Harry orphaned.
- Merry Gentry's cousin Cel has broken his oath. It's a huge scandal because among the fey this carries a death sentence, but everyone is so afraid of his mother that they don't do anything about it.
- Merry also becomes head of The Wild Hunt for a night in order to punish an oathbreaker.
- Vorkosigan Saga:
- Ekaterin's husband was killed in a accident immediately after she told him she was leaving him. Because she never went through with the divorce her honor remains intact in everyone else's eyes; but she knows she's an oathbreaker, and suffers the shame of it.
- Miles himself qualifies, for the events in the first part of Memory. He also provides a more balanced perspective: sooner or later, "death before dishonor" means everybody is either dead or forsworn.
- Generally avoided in The Lord of the Rings; words have power, and breaking one's word, be it through a lie or forsaken promise, can have devastating and sometimes immediate consequences. As such, even the most villainous of characters tend to be scrupulously honest, though they may use metaphorical truths to suit their ends. A prime example of what happens to those who are less careful can be found with the Cavalry of the Dead. Isildur cursed them when they swore to help him fight and then refused; three thousand years later, they break the curse by helping Aragorn — the Heir of Isildur — instead.
- The novel Oathbreakers, from the Heralds of Valdemar series, is about the heroic duo, Tarma and Kethry, avenging the murder of the leader of their mercenary company at the hands of her brother, the king of Rethwellan. When they find out what he did, they invoke the Oathbreaker's Curse on him and enact some spectacularly karmic revenge.
- In The Dresden Files,
- Harry has a literal Fairy Godmother. But... this is The Dresden Files. It's not what you think. He made a deal with her a long time ago that says that she can now do with him as she pleases - and it turns out that that is to transform him into one of her hunting dogs. He's had to dodge her attempts to collect on his debt. However, it turns out that she really does want to him safe since she made a deal with his mother, and part of her reason for wanting to transform him is to keep him safe at her side.
- Breaking a vow by using Powers of God is something no mortal can do and is the bane of the Power. Twice Harry is in a position where he is wielding a Holy Sword with a nail from the Crucifixion in it and is tempted to use the blade to violate his oath.
- The first time against said godmother, the blade had its protection weakened so a mildly evil being like the Godmother could touch the blade and carry it against its intended purpose.
- The second time was against some villains trying to make him wield a different blade in anger and violate a truce where the blade was being offered in exchange for a girl's life. Had Harry not seen through the ruse, realizing the parallel from when he tried the same thing with his Godmother, he could have seriously damaged or muted the power of the blade.
- In Skin Game Karrin Murphy, wielding one of the Holy Blades, breaks the implicit promise for anywho take up the sword: You are not the judge nor executioner, do not strike down the defenseless in wrath. When Harry's life was threatened and her enemy had "surrendered", she is goaded into striking the then defenseless and weaponless man and it broke the power in the blade.
- A human wizard loses power if they break an oath, the faerie are incapable of lying, and many of the creatures adhere to old-world laws of conduct so promises tend to be kept even between bitter enemies (though playing with Exact Words is permissible). The Denarians are the exception; they break their word regularly, and as such tend to be pariahs in the magical community, tolerated only because they're too dangerous to simply ignore.
- Nick Seafort from the Seafort Saga broke an oath to save his ship from a Well-Intentioned Extremist. Although other people see nothing wrong in his actions, he considers himself damned to hell for it.
- In the Discworld novel Jingo, "71-hour" Ahmed got his nickname from violating Sacred Hospitality and killing his host (Klatchian Sacred Hospitality lasts for three days, or 72 hours). He wears the nickname proudly as a way of inspiring fear and distrust, which is a good thing for him since he's a Cowboy Cop for an entire desert land, and being feared by criminals is a definitive bonus. As for the man he killed, he was an admitted mass-murderer. Achmed's tribe, the D'regs, take great pride in being renowned as oathbreakers. If you want a solemn promise to be held, they have to give you their word.
- The man who's name is not Jack Bannister apparently got quite rich by being one of these, according to Fisk in the Knight and Rogue Series.
- In The Chronicles of Prydain, breaking oaths is one of Arawn's most infamous habits. If this guy makes a deal, he WILL break it. No matter how little it might cost him to keep it. Or how much more dangerous NOT keeping it could be. And SOMEHOW, there are always more idiots willing to make deals with him.
- In Jane Austen's novels:
- In Northanger Abbey, when Isabella breaks her engagement with Catherine's brother to take up with Captain Tilney, it is taken as a matter of great gravity. Henry and Eleanor only manages to persuade Catherine to stay as their guest by assuring her that their brother would not dare bring her to their father's house.
- In Sense and Sensibility, Lucy's breaking her engagement with Edward Ferrars for his brother is treated as shocking — even though Edward no longer wants to marry her and maintains it out of pure duty.
- In Dante's The Divine Comedy, the lowest sphere of Heaven, the Moon, holds the oathbreakers. Dante meets two women there who had taken vows in a convent and then been taken out to be married. He objects to Beatrice that they had been forced; Beatrice says that if you gave The Promise and are forced not to fulfill it, it doesn't count as oathbreaking, but you are not forced if having been forced for a time, you don't even try to fulfill it as soon as the force is removed, you break the oath at that point.
- In Seanan McGuire's October Daye novel Rosemary and Rue, Toby thinks how Sylvester would do Releasing from the Promise if she asked. So she never will, given changelings' reputations as The Oathbreaker.
- In Poul Anderson's "The Live Coward", at one point the narrator observes that a member of the Patrol must be willing to make promises that he will break without hesitation.
- The Book of the New Sun:
And they swore me never to reveal it save—as they did—to one about to enter upon the mysteries of the guild. I have since broken that oath, as I have many others.
- In Andre Norton's Ice Crown, Princess Ludorica talks to Roane about the crown, taking her for a Guardian. When she realizes that she is not, she is distressed at revealing what she had promised not to.
- Rana Sanga in Belisarius Series is less an oathbreaker then an oathdodger. He manages to avoid an oath which has bound him to fight for an evil empire simply by using the Exact Words.
- In Andre Norton's Catseye, Troy reacts with fury when he was promised safety and was attacked. Later he realizes that the men who attacked were not those of the man who had promised and apologizes.
- In Andre Norton's Forerunner Foray, the sensitive who reanimated Turan's body has enough of his memories to throw at Zuha, his widow, her oft-repeated promise to revive the custom of joining her husband in his grave.
- In Connie Willis's To Say Nothing of the Dog, Verity tells Ned that Terence can't break the engagement, only Tossie can. When Terence meets Maud, he is keenly aware that this would be reprehensible.
- In L. Jagi Lamplighter's The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, those who walk the Dark Path were greatly strengthened when a Vestal Virgin broke her vows in the Back Story.
- In The Familiar of Zero, 6000 years ago, the great mage Brimir summoned the elf Sasha and made her his Familiar. A familiar is bound to protect and serve their master. Eventually, Sasha broke her oath and murdered Brimir. The author died before the series was finished and a full explanation was given, but it is implied that she did it because Brimir was planning genocide against her race.
- The Stormlight Archive:
- The Knights Radiant are so reviled because, thousands of years ago, they turned on humanity. We see it at one point, and it was much less violent than people think. They just left, abandoning their Shardblades and Shardplate on the field. In the second book, Words of Radiance, context makes that more horrifying: The Blades were their spren, their bonded companions, and by breaking their oaths they were murdering them and abandoning their corpses like trash.
- Also in Words of Radiance, Kaladin struggles with his spren, Syl. While she wants him to do what is right, she also wants him to fulfill his promises, and he made the mistake of promising two diametrically opposed things: He promised Dalinar that he would protect the king, while he promised Moash that he would let him be killed. He wonders if this is the sort of thing that broke the old Knights Radiant.
- In The Goblin Emperor the person who betrayed Maia by helping the conspirators is an oathbreaker, which means that not even the emperor is able to pardon him.
- In the Warrior Cats book Forest of Secrets, Fireheart promises not to tell anyone about Stonefur and Mistyfoot originally coming from ThunderClan. He immediately goes back to Bluestar and blurts out the secret for absolutely no reason other than because the plot required it, and then tells Stonefur and Mistyfoot themselves in A Dangerous Path to save Bluestar's life (he feels bad about telling the secret, regardless).
- Invoked in the Apprentice Adept series, where multiple characters state that oath breaking is A Very Bad Thing. But nowhere in the series are the actual consequences of oath breaking spelled out.
- Discussed in Ranger's Apprentice. When the Senshi rebel against their Emperor, Horace and George ask how they can do so, when they are sworn to follow him. The messenger responds that they view the Emperor as the oathbreaker, since he's committed the (to them) unpardonable sin of trying to give the lower classes a voice in political proceedings.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor considered his past self, the War Doctor, to be his own oath-breaker:
The Doctor: My name, my real name, that is not the point. The name I chose is the Doctor. The name you choose, it's like, it's like a promise you make. He's the one who broke the promise. He is my secret.The War Doctor: What I did, I did without choice.The Doctor: I know.The War Doctor: In the name of peace and sanity.The Doctor: But not in the name of the Doctor.
- Game of Thrones:
- Deserters from the Night's Watch are summarily executed as oathbreakers.
- Jaime Lannister is widely reviled for killing the king he swore to protect, it being a literal backstabbing makes matters even worse and he provides the page quote. He makes it clear that his oaths were inherently contradictory, but few people pay heed to his side of the story. His refusal to go public with the depths of Aerys' madness didn't help matters much.
- In "Two Swords," Jon Snow must defend himself from accusations of oathbreaking for his unplanned stint as The Mole among the wildlings.
- Ramsay does it constantly. At Moat Cailin and at Winterfell, he kills men who surrendered after he promised them safe conduct home. In the books Roose points out that Ramsay is known as an oathbreaker, meaning their enemies will now fight to the death rather than surrender to them.
- Robb breaks his oath to marry one of Lord Walder Frey's daughters by marrying Talisa. Walder perceives it as a major insult and slaughters him.
- Played With with Brienne; she swore two oaths: to keep Cat's children safe and to kill Stannis. By deciding to abandon her vigil to wait for a signal from Sansa, instead deciding to go after Stannis, she basically broke her first vow. Thankfully, she manages to uphold her first oath by rescuing Sansa from Bolton hunters shortly after her escape from Winterfell.
- In Deadlands: Hell on Earth, Oathbreaker is specific disadvantage sykers can take. It means that they have broken 'the Oath of Unity', a promise to never attack a brother syker (generally interpreted as a syker from the same unit or one of its allied units).
- Changeling: The Dreaming featured Oaths quite heavily. Characters who made oaths gained sizable bonuses, but those who broke their oaths lost far more. An oathbreaker was also heavily ostracized, and an entire noble house of The Fair Folk were treated as pariahs because they had broken a forgotten oath in ages past.
- Changeling: The Lost also puts heavy weight on oaths, but for different reasons. Breaking an oath earns you a measure of disrespect in changeling society, likely has tertiary consequences if you swore it on something important (e.g., your faith or your fortune), is a sin against Clarity... oh, yeah, and your Keeper is perfectly aware that you did it, and may likely be hobbled by the conditions of the broken pledge.
- ''Dungeons & Dragons has Blackguards and/or Oathbreakers for Paladins who Fall and break their vows. Typically this results in the loss of most, if not all, Paladin abilities, instead trading them for sufficiently spooky and evil-ish powers.
- As The Other Wiki says, the most commonly accepted etymology derives the word "warlock" from the Old English waerloga meaning "oathbreaker" (from waer "promise, agreement" and loga "deceiver").
- Book of Judges has Samson. As a Nazarite, he is not supposed to drink alcohol, touch a dead thing or cut his hair. By the end, none of these were kept.note
- Cassiopeia of League of Legends was once a beautiful human woman who served as a spy for Noxus by seducing foreign diplomats. However, upon breaking an oath of secrecy to a certain Freljord noble, she was cursed and transformed into her current snake-like form.
- The premise of God of War: Ascension, which takes place before the first game, is that Kratos betrayed his blood oath to Ares when he left Ares' service after the god of war tricked him into killing his wife and child. The Furies who punish oath-breakers and are complicit with Ares' plan to conquer Olympus with Kratos' aid hunt Kratos and torment him with illusions trying to force him to return to Ares' service. Kratos eventually kills the Furies, then kills their son and oath-keeper Orkos at his request, freeing himself from Ares' service.
- Illidan Stormrage of World of Warcraft has not only turned his back on the kaldorei- his native people- but has also spurned the aid of Sargeras and Kil'jaeden, the highest commanders of the Burning Legion. He has thus been branded as "The Betrayer" and is loathed by both mortals and demons.
- In Girl Genius, Captain Vole is the only person who underwent the transformation into a Jagermonster who has broken his oath of Undying Loyalty to the Heterodynes. As a result, he is no longer considered a Jager by the others. Nor by himself, as he calls the other Jagers weak and takes pride in no longer being one of them.
- Eugene Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick went through his life leaving everything he ever started only half finished. The Blood Oath of Vengeance he took as an (ex-)apprentice is the first commitment of his to catch up to him. Leaving the oath unfulfilled by the time of his (permanent) death resulted in him being stuck on the wrong side of the heavenly gates in his afterlife. He spends most of his time in the series harassing his eldest child Roy to complete the oath for him by proxy. When Roy dies, he gets let into the Seven Heavens because he actually tried to fulfill that oath... which pisses off Eugene to no end.
- In Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger, a Confidantine skirts the edge of her vow in which she reveals to Quentyn, and they pounce on this clue. The crime they are trying to identify must have been terrible or she would never have gone so far. A Confidatine who breaks their oath is disconnected from their collective regressing them to infancy which is considered a Fate Worse than Death.
- The Oathbreakers from Modest Medusa were sworn to protect the ruler of their land. But after the death of said ruler, they found his successor unworthy of their protection, and decided to protect the land from him instead.
- In Superman: The Animated Series, Mxyzptlk is eventually put on trial by his people for breaking his promise to leave Superman alone. His people say going back on one's word is a very serious offense.
- This used to be the worst thing a man could do. In pre-modern times without functioning police services or the like, personal trust was a vital element of a functioning society, hence tropes like Sacred Hospitality or this one. Oaths were solemn vows you were meant to uphold on both ends and breaking them meant you could barely be trusted by anyone else who heard about it. This is why in the fantasy genre and myths being an oath breaker is one of the worst things someone can be.
- Of course, the modern world still operates on oaths to some extent, except now we're all more literate so we sign documents.