Kingdom Arms by Robin of Thornwood Calligraphy by Robin of Thornwood Populous Badge by Robin of Thornwood

Long Stewardship

Hilary of Serendip

©2004, Hilary Powers

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T.I. #94, Spring ’90. In 1993, the Board decided to implement a system of “instant” membership, so that people will be eligible for the privileges of membership as soon as the Registry receives their payments. Nonetheless, some activities still require positive proof of membership, and I expect there’ll still be times when it’s tempting to try to put together a good solid Pardon Tale. It still won’t work....


My cousins, a brief reminder: No matter how complete the environment we create for ourselves in the Current Middle Ages, we still live in the 20th Century, under its laws and customs. Most of our rules and customs fit in well with the modern ones, but we have to remember that our dress code looks weird to the rest of the world. In particular, our steel jewelry—all those beautiful swords and daggers we wear and care for and never, ever use for any sort of threat—carry penalties as deadly weapons in many modern statute books. These edged-weapons laws vary a great deal from place to place, but their complexity doesn’t excuse us from thinking about them. Fortunately, we don’t seem to have a problem at our events; most jurisdictions, either explicitly or in practice, make an exception for costume accessories and for display among collectors. However, when you’re on the road or out shopping those exceptions may not apply, and you could wind up in jail if your steel jewelry causes offense. So be sensible. Try to learn and abide by laws on the transport of edged weap­ons. If you don’t know the laws in the areas where you’ll be travelling, pack your steel where it’s out of sight and inaccessible. Leave your blades in camp when you go into town, unless you know for sure they won’t be a problem there. If you’re running an event, put a note in the announcement if there’s anything unusual about local weapons-laws. SCA members, steel jewelry and all, have enjoyed a quarter century of excellent relations with the civil authorities—let’s keep it up!

     The idea of avoiding trouble with the law ties in neatly with this column’s main theme: the old custom of “Pardon Tales.” In the latter part of our period, the French had what amounted to a system for talking their way out of trouble when they didn’t manage (or chose not) to avoid it. If you broke the law, you had a chance to get away if you could gain an audience with the King. You told him how you came to fall into error and how sorry you were and how you’d never do such a thing again, and if he was charmed and moved by your tale, he might well remit all or part of the penalty. Especially if you made him a nice little gift on the side....
     This isn’t a part of period culture we’ve chosen to adopt, at least at the corporate level of the SCA. In the blend of ancient and modern ideals we call “recreating the Middle Ages as they should have been,” our goal is to combine the best of both eras. We want an environment that is attractive and exciting and a little dangerous, but also reasonably predictable. In short, a game. And it’s a well-established principle that the rules of a game ought to bear equally on all the players.
     The Society’s rules take some getting used to because there are two separate sets, one compounded of kingdom Law and the royal wish and whim, and the other set up by the Board as an overall framework. The rules that stem from royal authority within the kingdoms are designed to be personal and rather unpredictable, because the emo­tional reality of living with and in a stratified society forms a large part of the Society’s educational experience. This experiment with personalized royal authority within the kingdoms makes it particularly necessary for the external framework of rules—especially those governing access to positions of royal authority—to be both impersonal and even-handed.
     That’s why the Registrar has been instructed to take such an unimaginative view of the SCA-wide rules on qualification for Crown and Coronet Lists and service as royal heirs and royalty. The rules are simple to state and compliance is simple to define: in order to fight or be fought for in royal Lists, people must be on the Society’s membership rolls for the month in which the tournament takes place. The victors must stay on those rolls for their entire tenure as royal heirs and on the throne. The only way to escape the letter of these rules is to establish that the Registry or the Postal Service mishandled an applica­tion that was sent in good time.
     As I write, it takes four to eight weeks from the time you send in your membership for it to become effective, and many people question why it has to take so long. I’d like to see the lead time shortened myself, but it isn’t easy to design a faster system that would still provide a quick and inexpensive way for officers at the kingdom level to find out whether or not someone is a member at any given moment. Collecting memberships at events is not the answer—forms and checks accepted at events are extremely subject to delay or outright loss, and it is almost impossi­ble to trace what happened to a membership caught in that kind of problem. If you have any ideas on the subject, please share them with me!
     Meanwhile, whatever membership system we work out, I’m afraid there are always going to be people excluded from royal Lists because of membership prob­lems. It will remain true that worthwhile people can find their memberships have lapsed, often with clear extenuat­ing circumstances. However, if we were to accept any explanation for a lapse that was within the control of the would-be member, then those who simply observed that they were not eligible under the rules and accepted the situation without requesting a variance would be penalized. And for those who did choose to request variances, the quality of their reasons would inevitably become mixed with the quality of their narratives and the attractiveness of their personalities as reflected on the phone or in their letters. The Society has to keep the Registrar from making personal judgments based on modern-day Pardon Tales, or nice people, important people, and quick talkers would have an advantage wholly outside the rules of the game. So plan ahead, my cousins; uncomfortable as it may be to deal with the rules as they stand, a system with enough leeway to talk your way out of would be much harder to accept in the long run.

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