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There are two categories of housecarl in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: those who serve the Dragonborn at one of his/her homes, and those who serve the Jarls of the holds.

Dragonborn's housecarls[]

All the Dragonborn's housecarls are potential marriage candidates as well as followers.

Jarls' housecarls[]

A Jarl's housecarl acts as their personal bodyguard and rarely leaves their side.