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|T.I. #90, Spring ’89. I skipped the column in T.I. #89, because the ten pages of Corpora updates and proposals I wrote for that issue seemed like plenty’nuff of Hilary’s voice for one issue, even if my name wasn’t on it!|
My cousins, the proud values we cherish—courtesy and chivalry, loyalty, hospitality
and honor—were by and large reserved in the Middle Ages and Renaissance for use
among people who regarded themselves as equals by blood and birth. That is,
peers. Most of our brilliant and gracious models expected only meekness
and subservience from those of other classes, and felt a positive obligation to
react savagely when they didn’t get it. However, that’s not an attitude we’ve chosen
The society of the Society places everyone in the highest class. We are each my lord or my lady, whether we wear velvet or burlap. In that sense, we all start out as peers. On the other hand, the pageantry and drama that draw us to our period reflect a complex social hierarchy. We can’t evoke the feeling of life in the Middle Ages and Renaissance if everybody is entirely equal, so we have set up a structure of ranks and titles for ourselves.
Mostly, our Peerage system is a good thing. It gives us something to aspire to, something to live up to—and something to gossip about when the standards slip. As long as we remember that we’re dealing with a game within a game, and that the possession of high rank depends as much on time and luck as on destiny or inborn merit, we can afford to make much of capital-p Peers and even expect much of them.
The problem comes with the idea that influence in the Society is reserved to people of rank. My blood runs cold when people tell me they’ve heard they can’t head households unless they’re Peers, can’t teach classes, can’t have a say in the operation of their branches....
Now, no Peer has ever said this to me, either to “put me in my place” in the years before I received the Order of the Pelican, or as a matter of policy since then. I hope it’s just a misunderstanding, but it’s not uncommon—I keep hearing it—and even as a myth, it’s dangerous. (There are NO rules for forming households. Teaching is one of the main criteria for ENTERING the Peerage. EVERY member in a branch should be part of the consensus by which it operates.) If the idea develops that there are people in the SCA who are not worth considering, if we start to have a real underclass, that’s scary, my cousins, that’s not fun any more.
In the Peerage councils I’ve attended—in all three orders and in several kingdoms—there’s been a strong feeling that a person should be acting as a Peer before joining the order. “We recognize Peers, we don’t create ’em!” is the usual catch-phrase. If this is true, there can be no limits on the things a member can do except that member’s own ability. You can’t set up a household if nobody will trust you. You can’t teach if you’re so boring or inaccurate no one will listen. You can’t lead your branch into places it doesn’t want to go. However, your success depends on what’s in your heart and head, not what’s hanging around your neck.
The SCA combines the positive values of the warrior-aristocracy of the Middle Ages with the Renaissance ideal of multi-competence and the modern regard for the dignity of the human spirit. In the original Middle Ages one could easily dismiss most of the human race as beneath consideration, but we are trying for “the Middle Ages as they should have been.” We do not (as many in our period did) define any class of persons, inside or outside the Society, as a proper target for physical, economic or emotional brutality. We are all peers. We are all capable of becoming Peers. We must address and nurture the Peer within the newest of us, or we fail in our obligation to ourselves.
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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).