The Golden Company were a company of sellswords founded by the Great Bastard, Aegor Rivers. They were considered the largest, most famous, and most expensive sellsword or mercenary company in the Free Cities. Despite the notorious unreliability of sellswords, the Golden Company were reputed to have never broken a contract. Their motto was "Our word is good as gold."
Following their aid in Aegon VI Targaryen's conquest of the Seven Kingdoms, the Golden Company was disbanded, and many of it's higher officers granted lands and titles.
The Golden Company was founded by Aegor Rivers, called "Bittersteel", a legitimized bastard of King Aegon IV Targaryen, after he fled Westeros with the younger sons of Daemon I Blackfyre at the end of the First Blackfyre Rebellion. When Aegor saw all the exiled lords and knights signing on with other sellsword companies, such as the Ragged Standard or the Maiden's Men, and saw the support of House Blackfyre ebbing away, he created his own sellsword company. Since then they have fought mainly in the Disputed Lands.
The Golden Company's reputation was quickly established when Qohor refused to honor the contract it had made. The sellswords of the Golden Company sacked Qohor as an answer to Qohor's refusal.
The Golden Company is said to be made up of exiles and the sons of exiles. The Golden Company were once headed by Maelys the Monstrous, the last of the Blackfyre Pretenders. Daemon Blackfyre, a cousin to Maelys, fought him over command of the Golden Company. Maelys killed Daemon's by twisting his head until it was torn from his shoulders. During the War of the Ninepenny Kings Ser Barristan Selmy cut a bloody path though the Golden Company's ranks to slay Maelys the Monstrous in single combat.
Their war cry, "Beneath the gold, the bitter steel" pays homage to their founder.
After the Second War of Conquest ended in 303AC, most of the Golden Company disbanded - some becoming landed lords, others knights and retainers, others still men of the King's Landing City Watch. The rest returned to Essos with gold and glory, joining other sellsword companies or founding their own.
As the heirs of Bittersteel, discipline was like mother's milk to the men of the Golden Company. They were able to march quickly after a haphazard and disorganized landing without the chaos that would have inevitably delayed a hastily assembled host of household knights and local levies.
The high officers displayed a rude splendour. Like many in their trade they kept their worldly wealth upon their person: jewelled swords, inlaid armour, heavy torcs, and fine silks are very much in evidence.
The captain-general’s tent was made of cloth-of-gold and surrounded by a ring of pikes topped with gilded skulls.
These houses trace their current origins to members of the Golden Company that crossed with King Aegon VI Targaryen in the Second War of Conquest.
- House Strickland - granted the castle of Harrenhal with all its lands and holdings. Ruled there until the year 333AC, when the house went extinct following it's participation in the War of the Lords Scorned.
- House Mandrake - granted the castle of Dunstonbury near Highgarden, which was later renamed to Mandrake Hall. They now serve as bannermen to House Tyrell.
- House Lothston - granted the holding of Belfry Tower and minor lands west of Harrenhal, they now serve as bannermen to House Tully through House Targaryen of Harrenhal.
- House Mudd - granted lands near the Blue Fork, House Mudd is a minor house in the Riverlands that swears fealty to House Tully of Riverrun.
- House Strong - granted the holdfast of Stronghold and minor lands east of Harrenhal, this once great house serves as vassals to House Tully through House Targaryen of Harrenhal.