Birth of a Religion
When we first explore the Lothric capital, we come across a peculiar sight: lines of armor suits — Lothric Knights — each missing their heads. And patrolling around them right in the barracks plaza is the beheader: a hefty warrior wielding a weapon of absurd weight, soaked in blood. More of these rotund warriors, both living and dead, can be found throughout the city and castle. Item descriptions reveal them to be called the Winged Knights, presumably because of the model wings on their backs. However, they are more executioners than knights as demonstrated by the indentation for their twinaxes, or rather, “decapitation axes”; (断頭斧) even their heavy halberds seem to share in this design philosophy. Even if we ignore this peculiarity, how does a small army of knights suddenly appear out of seemingly nowhere and begin informally executing Lothric’s own? The answer can be surmised from the kingdom’s crest born on their surcoat. These are or, to be specific, were Lothric Knights. The country is in the midst of civil war.
Beheading axes of knights who swore allegiance to angels. They are designated Winged Knights.
One of the twin blade weapons.
The weapons of executioners rather than knights, and it is said that the blades’ dents are perfectly suited to the roundness of the human body.
Although this suggests that the Winged Knights still think of themselves as men of Lothric, the conflict itself isn’t rooted in national pride. Cut content portrays the rebels wearing the country’s historical lion symbol on their surcoats instead, and we can still see this in their armor’s menu graphic in the final game. This would put them in direct opposition to the royalists who bear the dragon symbol introduced by King Oceiros. The developers had clearly considered motivating the Winged Knights’ insurgence upon disapproval of Lothric’s direction under their Bewitched King at one point. However, FromSoftware’s deliberate change to the more universal Lothric banner indicates that the mad monarch’s administration isn’t their primary point of contention. Rather than current political or cultural policy, the fundamental ideological divide lays in the state religion. The Winged Knights have sworn allegiance to the “angels” as part of their new faith, which none of the country’s three Pillars recognize as anything but heresy. Put simply, this is the rebels’ holy war against infidels.
In that case, what are the origins of this angel faith? It began when an “angel” appeared to Gertrude and taught her the story which manifests the miracle Divine Pillars of Light, or the “Angel’s Light Pillars”. (天使の光柱) This story the holy woman was ultimately imprisoned for became scripture to some, forming the basis for the heretical cult; this is why she was later known as the Heavenly Daughter, or “Angel’s Maiden”. (天使の娘) Right off the bat, this annunciation event begs two questions of its own, namely who the angel is and why it approached Gertrude for its revelation. The symbol of the angel has been central to Lothric religion since Frampt first interceded into their culture, but it can’t be him or another primordial serpent — Kaathe is dead, and his ilk’s presence are equally lacking. This messenger must be someone else who Gertrude and others could recognize as an angel.
The maggot-man loitering near Gertrude’s prison is an obvious candidate. The grub casts similar white light magic as the angel’s miracle, complete with spontaneous feather generation, and undoubtedly holds interest in Gertrude, enough to climb all the way up to one of Lothric’s innermost places even. However, this can just as easily be because of their similar magic, not the cause of it. Moreover, the grub’s curiosity might relate to Gertrude and Rosaria sharing a mother, wanting to get somehow closer to its goddess much like the maggot-man who journeyed to Irithyll. Some might still insist on a deeper connection due to the symbol employed in both Gertrude and Rosaria’s prisons, but this style is just a generic asset used for fancy fencing at both the broader Cathedral of the Deep and Ariandel’s Corvian Village. And are we really supposed to believe that both women’s captors intentionally fashioned a cage reflecting their shared affiliation? The entire premise is nonsensical.
This leaves the most straightforward option: an angel of Londor. This enemy not only vaguely resembles the common depiction of angels, but also attacks with the same feather-spawning light magic. The stone-humped hag confirms their potential for intelligence, and their ability to fly makes infiltrating the castle to privately meet with a princess feasible. On top of all that, pilgrims of Londor whom these angels stem from have been visiting the kingdom since before the civil war, placing them there around the time of Gertrude’s annunciation. Therefore, the holy woman’s angel is most likely the one enemy actually called an angel in official material. As to why one of these creatures chose to visit Gertrude specifically, it had probably pegged Lothric’s royal saintess as the most receptive to its message.
As the Queen’s daughter, Gertrude inherited her mother’s divine power, albeit weaker thanks to her shared human and medial parentage the same as the Twin Princes. It comes as no surprise then that she seems to have been raised within the priesthood. Given Oceiros’ motive for siring children with his Queen to begin with, Gertrude was most likely their firstborn, passed over as a potential King of Kindling due to her gender — it is no accident that all of the King’s preferred candidates are male, perhaps believing it would better project strength for the royal line. In that case, Gertrude’s talent for miracles was best suited to the clergy, where she could be raised to become a holy woman dedicated to her mother; the princess even received her own sacred chime, though presumably not the same care from the High Priestesses as her brothers. Among her contributions, the girl encapsulated her power in the story of Bountiful Light, the derivative spell even making it into the kingdom’s scriptures. And since the religious and military Pillars were allied, her duties included teaching the knights this miracle.
Miracle that Gertrude, the Queen’s holy woman, is said to have imparted to knights.
Slowly greatly recovers HP.
The later “Angel’s Maiden” Gertrude is said to have been the Queen’s own child.
While her brothers were expected to inherit their own thrones, Gertrude was only expected to support their kingdom from the sidelines, similar to her mother. But by all indications, the princess-turned-clergywoman was earnest in this regard. Such sincerity is likely what attracted the angel who appeared to her. After all, its revelation required an open mind with genuine belief in the premise of Anor Londo religion while not tangled up in its gods’ arbitrary strictures. It had shown her that light can derive from Dark, making fire wholly unnecessary for its continued existence. Any rational person of faith would be ecstatic to hear this news. The whole reason to fear the Dark was the presumed loss of supreme light, the power that they had grown so accustomed to in the current age. But now, sunlight evidently wasn’t the only source of it in this world. They didn’t need to sacrifice so much in order to keep the First Flame alive. The next era wouldn’t have to be that different. What joy, Gertrude just had to tell everyone the good news!
However, the Pillars weren’t so warm to this concept. With the entire power structure built around the survival and sovereignty of the First Flame, the church in Lothric was never going reassess its dogma; the military and Grand Archives either didn’t care or felt the same. With no support from Knight, Scholar, or High Priestess, Gertrude was instead labeled a dangerous heretic and imprisoned in a cage hanging from the ceiling of the Archives. The fact that the Pillars of faith and reason cooperated on this front speaks to the church’s fear of her message — you don’t simply hand over one of your clergywomen to a faction you also fear might succumb to heresy. Nothing speaks to Gertrude’s unimportance to the Royal Family like seemingly doing nothing to intercede in her arrest. She was just a bit player in everyone’s game, perfectly disposable when she went off-script; unloved. In the end, her status is likely the only reason she wasn’t immediately killed for her transgression.
Armor of knights who swore allegiance to angels. They are designated Winged Knights.
In Lothric, the angel faith is heresy, and none of the three pillars recognize it.
It is said that “Angel’s Maiden” Gertrude was thus imprisoned in the Great Archive’s ceiling cell.
It is most likely at this juncture that the Angel’s Maiden went mute and blind. There is no reason for the angel, who wanted to deliver the message she shared, to cause this versus her captors, who had every incentive to limit her abilities to communicate with anyone. Plucking out the girl’s eyes and cutting out her tongue likewise aligns with how they treated her belongings. The scholars “toyed” with her holy bell by trying to incorporate the power of magic crystals, succeeding in making the miracle catalyst also capable of casting sorcery. A blessed gem that Carim holy women carry as a charm is on a corpse among the rafters. One of the holy waters that her mother gifts is in a chest at the bottom of the ladder to those same rafters; next to it is another chest containing twinkling titanite — clear indication of imbuing bond stones with holy power through crystallization. The Archives evidently confiscated everything Gertrude owned to use in their own experiments. And if they are willing to do as they please with her property, then why not her body?
Holy bell that the wise men of the Great Archives toyed with. Thing of “Angel’s Maiden” Gertrude originally.
Borrowing the power of crystals, the wise men were granted a degree of success. That is to say, this mysterious holy bell can use the magic of both sorceries and miracles.
Exalted Gertrude was the figurative bird in a not-so-figurative gilded cage, perhaps owing to her name’s connection to the Norwegian fairy tale Gertrude’s Bird. She was given the minimum care needed to survive and otherwise treated as another subject for wise men’s curiosity and cruelty. And yet, even then, she was still dedicated to spreading the angel’s truth to the world. With only paper and pen, Gertrude committed her heresy to writing, creating a mountain of notes detailing her story and a miracle along with it. This requires that someone supply her with these materials. Who? Perhaps the same person who needed to regularly check up on her, bring her food plus drink, and keep the rafters from leaking: her prison guard.
We do see that knights were stationed at the Grand Archives. And although the allegiance of these remaining Hollows seem to have turned away from the priesthood in favor of the sorcerer scholars, that hasn’t necessarily always been the case. Moreover, at least one knight would have surely been assigned the added warden duty up top. And no matter who it was, he must have known Gertrude by virtue of her teaching scripture to the order in general. It is feasible that at least a few would become incredibly curious about the nature of her crime. She was a princess, daughter of divinity, more faithful than any, and now she is being treated worse than a common slave? What was her blasphemy? Why did she utter it? They just had to know.
There was only one problem: all the notes the blind woman had written were utterly incoherent to the average reader; she couldn’t overcome her disability. But this gap in their communication seems to have only further enticed these curious knights, likely helped along by her demonstration of their power if the feathers littering her cage are anything to go by. Whether it was at first one knight or more, someone closely studied the text until it was finally deciphered, learning the angel’s revelation — for some, even how to perform the miracle for themselves. For men who had already gone so deep down the rabbit hole, their ultimate conclusion is to be expected. Gertrude was right, and the elites had betrayed everything the kingdom stood for — self-sacrifice for the greater good, service to the forces of light, respect for the royalty. It was abominable, unforgivable. The country needed a course correction, and they were the only ones who could do it.
Miracle of “Angel’s Maiden” Gertrude.
Spout many pillars of light in the surroundings.
It is said that Gertrude, who was the Queen’s holy woman, saw an angel, as she states, and learned its story.
She lost her light and her voice, but continued to jot down the story. For the mountain of incoherent notes no ordinary man can understand became the origin of Lothric’s angel faith.
Thus began the angel faith in earnest, spreading amongst the knights in secret. We see that a very small number have achieved a sort of enlightenment, sprouting feathery wings from their back. These individuals have mastered control over their humanity and taken the form of an angel to symbolize their ascension to Lothric’s ideal. Naturally, this form has been committed to painting, with a portrait of one such knight kept in a hidden balcony behind one of the armories. Already this warrior was depicted with an executioner’s axe and the Winged Knight armor, only colored gold to highlight their transcendence. Before the painting sits a corpse wearing their standard armor, a brother in faith who seemingly had been staring at his ideal. Another body close by holds the Sacred Bloom Shield, emblazoned with white and resistant to magic. These men were readying for war from the start, discreetly building up arms and armor both old and new as they gained converts — likely helped along by the growing infamy of their “Consumed King”. The Way of White probably once used the Sacred Bloom Shield in its battle against sorcerers, but the Winged Knights in all likelihood have a different kind of magic in mind.
Look over the hidden balcony, and you can see a chamber for the High Priestess down below. Like stalkers to their prey, the Winged Knights watched, waited, seethed even, as they prepared for the coming day when they would challenge the religious Pillar, and any who supported them. Or perhaps it would be more to say judge? Indeed, the Winged Knights’ obsession with the weapons of executioners implies they think of themselves as agents of justice. Add that self-image to Lothric symbolism, and beheading of their fellow knights sends a political statement: you have failed to fulfill your duty, so we have rectified that. If the Pillars won’t prop up the greater good, then they can at least get out of its way. However, that “greater good” goes beyond the kingdom just adopting light derived from the Dark. For close inspection of the hidden portrait reveals the “halo” behind the Winged Knight’s head to actually be the eclipse.
In short, the Winged Knights are proponents of ending the Age of Fire, their disruption of Lothric’s public order doubling to herald a sign of its imminent fading. This makes sense so far as their ethos is concerned. If fire is no longer necessary, then Lothric continuing with its firelinking system is pointless, damaging even. Better the world move on. But this objective just so happens to put them in lockstep with Londor. How convenient that one of the country of Hollows’ angels just so happened to plant the seeds for this conflict just around the time that pilgrims were beginning to move in and prepare their own offensive. It is almost as if the Sable Church have used Gertrude and her followers to sow chaos as it advances its own goals. If so, then these worshipers never had the backing of their angels. The messenger from heaven was a deceiver looking to sacrifice pawns, spinning half-truths to Lothric citizens. The entire scenario was too good to be true. But it worked.
A Kingdom in Pieces
With preparations complete, the Winged Knights made their move, most likely seizing upon the Consumed King’s timely seclusion to the royal garden. Lothric clearly wasn’t prepared for an ambush from within their ranks, especially one so sporadic throughout the city and castle. The rebels must have seemed to be coming from nowhere. And despite their few numbers, just one of these Winged Knights were apparently capable of matching dozens of royalists. Compounding this was the typical problem of undeath, with the number of Hollows swelling. There couldn’t have been a worse time for the kingdom to be lacking leadership. But while the rebels did succeed in disrupting normal operations, things were at least salvageable. The castle set up defenses, and the panicked populace looks to have mostly fled to seek sanctuary from atop the city’s walls or barracks rooftops. When the critical hour came to link the fire, the royalists could still rely on Prince Lothric to tide things over while they restored order. But then the unexpected happened — the prince refused.
From there, all hell broke loose. The First Flame waned, causing the pus of man to explode among the local Hollows. The kingdom’s wyverns similarly went insane and began attacking indiscriminately. Coinciding with this, the High Wall arose, breaking the bridge along with contact and travel with the outside. For at least a brief time, the royalists were trapped with even more foes all around them, and the result was absolute bedlam. Most of the wyvern attacks were, naturally, concentrated around the dragon training ground and the city walls, with every human there — army man and civilian alike — ending up dead or Undead. Another attacked the soldiers stranded on the destroyed bridge, evidently the garrison for the viaduct’s checkpoint; two corpses among the group carry the fire-warding Dragon Crest Shield and dragonslaying Light Spear miracle right across from one flying dragon’s crashed cadaver. But even as the army contended with this betrayal from their own steeds, the Hollows manifesting the pus were still running rampant within the castle.
In response, the scholars shut the doors to the Grand Archives, locking themselves in and safely away from the rampaging Dark. But despite the sound logic in hunkering down, the Archives has fared no better than the castle, with practically all of its inhabitants becoming Hollows by the time we arrive. What happened? One possibility is that they began killing each other en masse, blaming one another for the heresy causing all this chaos. Had only those scholars stayed true to their piety, their King wouldn’t have gone mad and their Prince wouldn’t have ignored his calling. However, this alone doesn’t explain the number of corpses with souls of soldiers, warriors, and knights lying around the library. In all likelihood, the blame game was a tad more organized, with the military men taking sides between royalist and heretic factions — a civil war within a civil war.
Key to the front door of Lothric’s Great Archives. Ever since the fire darkened and the pus of man within the castle ran rampant, the Great Archives shut its great doors tight.
Very few possess their key. This one is probably that of Gotthild, one of the King’s Black Hands who left the castle.
Some apparently tried to escape this mayhem by going out onto the roof, boarding up the side entrances from the outside as an extra precaution. The fact that we find a corvian storyteller instructing a small congregation of crow men out there suggests that many of these displaced individuals turned to the heresy of Ariandel when its preacher happened to be flying by. As for the rest, this infighting left practically no one but Undead alive by the end, with the arrival of the Outrider Knights certainly only complicating matters — although it seems that they were ultimately able to contain that variable, though not eliminate it. The heretics won out if all the surviving knights employing Crystal Magic Weapon is any indication, but the reality of their hollowing makes it a Pyrrhic victory at best.
By the time we arrive to the scene, most of the wyverns have been put down, and the pus of man already running wild have been evidently eliminated everywhere except for the Consumed King’s Garden — unsurprising, given its insulation from the rest of the conflict. But the fighting is yet ongoing, even if most left to continue it are just mindless monsters; even those cursed soldiers who attempted to escape their executioners by barring themselves within the barracks only lost heart in isolation. Denizens of the Undead Settlement have already taken advantage of the kingdom’s instability to climb the High Wall and return with spoils stolen from the city. What citizens survived as Undead have been pleading and praying toward Lothric Castle or their compatriots who dendrofied doing so — growing tall in their desperate attempt to reach him with their words. Thanks to propaganda, the populace have all hollowed hoping for the exalted prince to be their savior, and those cries have fallen on deaf ears. The only fate that awaits them is developing more pus for the army to combat.
Without the King to give orders during this tumultuous time, his hunters unsurprisingly began acting on their own. Assassins can be found skulking about or lying in ambush throughout Lothric, having shared the same fate as the soldiers they seemingly supported. However, none of them are explicitly tied to hunters, and their lack of equipment might indicate them to instead be deserters turned thieves. By contrast, there is no doubt that the Black Hands began taking sides. Kamui looks to have placed his bets on the most likely next King, joining Albert and Kriemhild in defending Prince Lothric from assailants. Gotthard on the other hand left the castle, though he didn’t necessarily “flee” like the localization claims. We can summon the royal assassin for two bosses. The first are the Abyss Watchers, who block our path to the Boreal Valley. The second is Pontiff Sulyvahn in that same valley. We don’t encounter Gotthard again until coming across his corpse in front of the Grand Archives, so killing Sulyvahn was probably the man’s objective from the start.
Being a former knight, as he continues to showcase with his swordplay, Gotthard would be among the more patriotic hunters. In that case, the Black Hand has probably pegged Sulyvahn as responsible for much of the chaos — the Pontiff did enable the King of Lothric’s worsening mental state and later bring an unwanted invasion into an already complicated situation, after all. By setting out on a bout of vigilante justice, Gotthard likely hopes to stymie Irithyll’s invasion as much as punish its pope for messing in Lothric’s domestic affairs; no wonder his Japanese name is Gotthild, (ゴットヒルト) meaning “god-battle” in old German. Once Sulyvahn is dealt with, he had evidently planned to infiltrate the Grand Archives. Perhaps he too hopes to appeal to Prince Lothric past the library, or perhaps his aim was the source of the other enemy knights: Princess Gertrude. Gotthard’s knightly background might have made him sympathetic to the royal holy woman, and he could negotiate for the Angel’s Maiden to stop her followers — such as free her from her cruel confinement to then personally appease them. If so, then finding the man dead at the front door is doubly suspicious.
Twin blades of a hunter called the King’s Black Hand. Weapon of choice of Gotthild, who left the castle.
One of the twin blade weapons.
Gotthild comes from low-rank knights, and one can catch a glimpse of a knight even in his sword technique.
First is the nature of the death. During our cooperation with Gotthard, we can see him drink Estus to heal. This is odd considering that his corpse isn’t hollowed as is the case with other Undead characters, like Orbeck. Perhaps it is an oversight — the body does erroneously bear the hilts of Kamui’s twin blades instead of his, and blinks. However, we find plenty of soldiers in possession of Estus shards if not entire flasks despite the ongoing civil war and recent epidemic of undeath with it. This kingdom is the center of the firelinking ritual, so Fire Keeper souls are certainly not in short supply. These circumstances make it possible for Gotthard to have acquired a flask of his own without having first turned Undead. From this, we can infer that the assassin was simply killed and not put down as a mad Hollow. Who then did he encounter in this courtyard devoid of enemies? Considering the location and his intentions, the answer is clear.
When we arrive at Gertrude’s cage, it is already open, only a corpse inside. This corpse clutches a copy of Divine Pillars of Light close to the chest, and is the only one in the base game to smile — a calm smile, at peace even when faced with death. With such attention to detail for one body before the DLCs reused the asset, there is no doubt that this is Gertrude in all her sincere religiosity, or rather was. Someone opened her cage and killed her. But who? Follow up the open door at the roof of the cage, through the open door to the Archives’ dome roof, then up its lantern. There we find another corpse carrying the Hunter’s Ring. With the crest of a shadowy figure in a wide-brimmed hat in-mind, this is most likely the otherwise unaccounted for third Black Hand. He would possess the keys to access both the cage and the archives, and quickly slipping out onto the roof after sneaking in through the front door is the most logical route for assassination — any other way and the body might be discovered before he can escape, leaving him trapped in a locked down library on high alert.
In that case, this Black Hand is most likely the culprit behind Gotthard’s own unexpected death just outside the entrance, an assassin assassinating an assassin. In all likelihood, they both sought an end to the fighting, but the former knight wanted to show the princess mercy where his comrade evidently did not. As a result, Gotthard was stabbed in the back before he could enact his plan, and another Black Hand went forward with eliminating the source of the rebels’ heresy. Gertrude probably wasn’t the last royal on his hit list either. Upon close examination, we can see that the hunter spent his final moments looking straight at Prince Lothric’s chamber. He was another traitor to blame for this chaos, and would have presumably been targeted next given that there was nowhere else to go from the Grand Archives — heading up the tower might have been to survey the surroundings and plot the path forward.
But the third Black Hand was himself killed, seemingly not long after slaying his mark. His body is leaning on a broken stone railing, as if something powerful destroyed it whilst killing him. With this in mind, what welcomed him after his successful escape were most likely the three flying Winged Knights. These golden knights with inhuman strength are standing on that same side of the railing before soaring down to confront us, making them the probable perpetrators — not to mention implying that this entire chain of events occurs not long before we come upon Gotthard’s corpse. Given that they are named “Gertrude’s Three Knights”, (ゲルトルードの三騎士) it seems that these ascendant followers have styled themselves the princess’ personal guard, eliminating any who dare approach her; if these events are recent, then they may not yet even be aware of having arrived too late.
Perhaps word of Gertrude’s death did demoralize the rebels, as we can find no Winged Knight in Lothric after it has become part of the Dreg Heap. By contrast, the kingdom’s hollowed knights continue to do their duties in these stagnant ruins, even as some have become part of the stagnation themselves. But whether thanks to a Black Hand’s precise murder or our own actions, the Lothric Knights’ ultimate triumph over the angel faith rings hollow, in more ways than one. What statues of beheaded knights haven’t been largely destroyed are covered in a drape, a clear signal that their self-sacrificial duty has in fact come to rest. Moreover, the only civilians we find are either murkmen or more dendrofied figures, this time reaching down toward the Ringed City alongside the pilgrims of Londor. It doesn’t matter who won — Lothric is still no more.