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The Origins of the SCA

The origins of the SCA go back to the year 1965, when David Thewlis (now Duke Siegfried von Hoflichskeit) and Ken de Maiffe (now Duke Fulk de Wyvern) were studying the medieval orders of chivalry and the art of sword and shield fighting. In February of 1966 they began practicing sword and shield fighting in the backyard of Diana Paxson (now Countess Diana Listmaker), a medieval history major at the University of California at Berkeley. David and Ken had made the swords out of wood and the shields out of plywood, and were trying to teach themselves how to fight and thereby learning how it was really done. They based their actions on the old order of chivalry. Diana was enthralled with the idea and remembered the fabled "Last Tournament". This was an event which took place in Scotland in 1839. The Earl of Eglanton, a high-minded young nobleman, complete with castle, serfs, and a head full of the novels of Sir Walter Scott, decided to dramatize the values of the Middle Ages, which were Scott's and his own answer to the problems of the Industrial Revolution, by having a tournament. Costumes were prepared, banners were sewn, and the springs of the London hansom cabs broken by the weight of men in armor being born to practice. In was the social event of the year. The Great Day arrived and the splendid procession processed and the jousting commenced. And then it began to rain ... Do you know what happens to armor in the rain? And banners? And respectable English noblemen without any shelter? That was the end of the Romantic Period in England. (This is taken from Diana Paxson's fanzine, Patterns, which gave an account of the first tournament of the SCA.)

Diana, David and Ken came up with the idea of holding a new "Last Tournament." They would invite all of their friends over to Diana's backyard at 2219 Oregon St., in Berkeley, California for a tournament. Everyone would come in costume and the men could all be knights and fight with wooden swords and shields for the right to crown their lady Queen for the day. Diana was going to graduate in June and this would be a last fling before the end of the quarter and finals. The event was set for May Day, May 1, 1966. It was intended to be a single time event, just for fun. Nobody ever expected it to continue.

From an email by Siegfried April, 2014:
"The point that I think never got made (if it matters) is that we were not practicing in Diana’s back yard, initially we were practicing at our own place at 1909B Delaware Street (Ken, Mary (of Tamar) and I moved out from the East Coast in late June of 1964, and found a place together in Berkeley at that address). Diana (whom we met through the Little Men) visited us once, saw the heaters and the stuff we were doing for practicing, and that was the origin of the notion of holding a Tournament for May Day. (She was a fencer.) We might well have practiced at her house as well, I don’t remember, but we didn’t start practicing there — we’d been working on it for a while when she visited us.

Also, the origin was long before 1965, it really dates back to when Ken and I were both stationed in Bremerhaven, and learned to fence in the attic in the residential barracks; the location was an old German Army site. You have probably seen this attachment before at some point but just in case, it’s at the bottom and dates from 1985. " -- Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

The discussion below, along with most of the first 13+ years of history of the West Kingdom was held in email over a span of two years ...:

[... a medieval history major at the University of California at Berkeley ...] “Diana, I think, was actually at Mills College, not UCB, though Mills could have come later in her academic career. Ken and Dave were doing their practicing with padded maces (hardwood handles and cloth wrapped heads, as I recall. The shields, however, were out of steel backed with leather. The steel was sufficiently good to shatter an arrow from a 75 lb bow with essentially no penetration.”    “Diana was going to be going into the Peace Corp. Part of the genesis of the idea was to be the only one in the Corp who had ever had a tournament in their back yard. Stefan de Lorraine and I knew her through fandom, primarily because of a shared membership in al local SF group, The Elves, Gnomes, and Little Men's Science Fiction, chowder, and marching society. We got the announcement from her and Henrik Olsgaard (later Henrik of Havn) saw it pinned to our bulletin board in our dorm room. He was interested and asked if he could come as well. In the end, Stefan, Henrik, two other guys whose names I can't remember, and I all went, catching a ride with another friend of ours, Felice (later Felice of Mayhem House).” – Steven MacEanruig

“Bo of York (Howard Friedlander) was one. Alan Burafato (fencer, SF State) may have been the other one since he did attend at least one event (at Cragmont Park - later).” – Henrik of Havn
“I could remember Bo, though not anything more of his name. I don’t think the other one was Alan, but I can’t remember it clearly. I think his name was something like Don or Dan.” – Steven MacEanruig

[... were trying to teach themselves how to fight ...] “By the time of the first tourney, both Ken and Dave had made themselves very impressive leather and metal heater shields that had all of us agog. Dave’s was later burned in The Fire – though he kept the metal face for years and may have it still. The arms he painted on the shield are the ones he bears today.” – Stefan de Lorraine

“16 gage steel with 2 or 3 layers of 1/8" thick leather.” – Henrik of Havn
“As far as I know, Ken still has his shield, and it caused an initial contretemps when the heralds became prominent, as the arms depicted on the shield were those of the actual de Maiffe family, to which, as far as I know, Ken is Connected but not the arms holder. I’ll wait to see if anyone who was there will comment on the origin of the name Fulk de Wyvern (Ken used his own in the initial tourney) before I pass along second-hand gossip on the subject.” – Stefan de Lorraine
“I think he changed the charges from the real arms, but the colors and placement are the same as the real arms.” – Henrik of Havn
“Did he ever pass along secondhand gossip? The arms on Ken's original shield were in fact the de Maiffe arms. The charges were changed from roses to boars' heads in his "registered" arms and I recall this coming from one of a number of decorative shields we made for the (second tourney?) but Ken's shield was never repainted and he stopped fighting before it would have been a real issue anyhow.” – Siegfried von Hoflichskeit
“The invitations were run off the mimeograph belonging to Felice (then) Rolfe (Felice of Mayhem) and distributed to many of Felice’s friends in fandom. That’s how Steve Henderson (Sir Steven MacEanruig) and I got involved. A friend of ours in the dorms at San Francisco State, one Henrik Olsgaard (Duke Henrik of Havn), saw the notice on our bulletin board and said "I do that kind of stuff." We invited him along and he showed up with a pile of fencing sabers, lath weapons, and a broadsword he’d made from a truck spring that was truly the 20 pound sword you keep hearing about in the fantasy novels that no real knight ever swung. Impressive, though.” – Stefan de Lorraine
“It only weighed 5 1/2 lbs. (the pommel was solid brass and the handle was 3/4" thick solid steel), but compared to Steve’s Knight Templar small sword it was heavy.” – Henrik of Havn
“For the sake of accuracy, I didn’t have the Knight Templar sword until some months after the SCA got started. For the Blessing of the Swords I held one of Henrik’s fencing sabres.” – Stefan de Lorraine
“It may have only weight 5 pounds but it felt a lot heavier at the time. Of course the pommel counterweighted it nicely. It was heavy but balanced.” – Steven MacEanruig

“The Eglinton Tournament is dealt with at length in the book The Knight and the Umbrella. Sorry, I don't recall the author's name. “The fanzine Niekas was and is published by Ed Meskys, not Felice. She was a regular contributor.” – Karina of the Far West

[The origins of the SCA go back to the year 1965 ...] “Or back to 1962 when Ken and I were learning to fence in a Luftwaffe barracks attic in Bremerhaven, Germany ...” – Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

[David and Ken had made the swords out of wood and the shields out of plywood ...] “We were using both wooden swords and old-sock-maces -- no rattan until about the third tourney. But the commenter is right that the shields were steel and leather (glued on) heaters.” – Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

The following was sent to someone else who had been compiling some information about the early days of the SCA and posted elsewhere, from Jon de Cles, I received a copy of the email July 4, 2004, Comments by Siegfried sent August 6, 2004:

"Paul and I (Jon DeCles and Edwin Bersark [Paul Zimmer]) were living in the Old Lovecraftian Farmhouse in Upstate New York. To this place came Dave (Siegfried von Hofflichskeit) and Ken (Fulk deWyvern). Mind you, this was all long before the SCA had been thought of.

"This was Paul's family's farm near Albany. I found Paul because he wrote into a F&SF letter column saying of all the LotR characters he'd most like to be Golum. I visited Paul and his Mom (Mimi was no longer living there) in 1961, and again in 1963." -- Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

"Ken taught me how to fence, a thing he had learned in Europe. He was very good at it. So was Dave. They used to hold up a pillow in the living room at night, and I would have to lunge as they dropped it. If I pointed it, then I got a shot of the bottle of Napoleon Brandy that Ken had brought home. (They were spies during the Berlin Crisis, but that's another story.)

"I don't remember visiting Albany with Ken actually; this may have happened later when the Zimmers (and Don) had gradually relocated to Berkeley in the 1965/6 timeframe." -- Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

"Exactly why I do not remember. It might have been the fulsomeness of brotherhood. In any case, I knighted Ken (Fulk). At the First Tourney, at which I was one of the two judges (we hadn't invented the Kingship by then, but that is an even sillier story) David (Ardral Argo verKaysc) did such a bonny job that Ken (Fulk) rushed onto the field and knighted him. He, in turn, (once we had established the principal that 'only a knight...etc.' after period principals), passed on that knighthood to the first King, and thence it came down from the Kings themselves. --Well, until Richard the Short informed us that he wouldn't accept knighthood, and we had to figure out the 'Master' business.

"No, Don 'knighted' both of us before the first tourney. I knighted David on the field; he was my squire so it was appropriate." -- Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

"Where did my knighthood come from, you may ask?

"Well, the story is too tawdry to tell, but it came from the hand of Joseph Mayhew, who assured me at the time that it came legitimately to him from his West Virginian ancestors, who received it from the Stuarts of Scotland. When last I saw Joe, at a science fiction convention in Baltimore, he said that he had become involved with the SCA, and was quite bemused by the idea that all the knighthoods came down from him. I think his sense of humor was tickled by the idea. I am told he just won Fan Artist of the Year in some competition or other (maybe the Hugos?).

"This sounds correct although I don't understand "tawdry" - unless there's a lot Don never told us either (quite possible). I don't think either Ken or I put much store in its legitimacy. But when the "is it real" story started to circulate, this provide the initial emphasis that you didn't bring real-world names, titles or honors into the SCA; it was internally consistent and the outside world was irrelevant." -- Siegfried von Hoflichskeit

"What is probably most important about all this is that it all comes from a Virginia family background; Virginia being the only place I know where a little boy (when I was young) might still be scolded with "Now, that's not being a chivalrous little gentleman!"

"In later years I was shocked by an SCA officer asking me "What chivalry got to do with it?"

"And that is the real, true story of how it happened. There is a good chance that you will be the only one ever to know, because frankly, the idea of it coming down from the Knights of Malta or some such is far more romantic; and people would much rather believe the romantic version. (Read some James Branch Cabell, a Virginia writer who could conjur the Middle Ages in the most amazing way, and who knew the value of romance.)

"As far as the SCA goes I died many years ago, and it is always a shock to the elderly and still living to see my ghost on those rare excursions into Other Ages. I ran into Henrik at the Ren Faire a few years ago, but that is about it."

-- Jon DeCles, called The Red Baron

Description of this event, © Copyright 1980 by William R. Keyes (Wilhelm von Schlüssel)
This is from The History of the West Kingdom, Volume 1 (the only volume produced). When reading this text, please keep in mind the following disclaimer:

Disclaimer: This history may have errors in it, as much of the detail is “remembered” history, or as one of the cover pages of the original type-written manuscript states “The material within is derived from the information printed in The Crown Prints and in The Page, and from the memories of the participants.” The original document was typed on onion-skin paper, with hand-written notes (often in the margins). All attempts have been made to reconcile the notes with the original document.

Annotations, when they are added, are from The Annotated History of the West, Volume 1, which is the same text as Master Wilhelm's mentioned above, with commentary from members of the SCA who were active at the time of the event, and are added to help clarify questions and expand on what happened and why. This volume is copyright © Ken Mayer (Hirsch von Henford).

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The West Kingdom History Website was created by and is maintained by Hirsch von Henford (mka Ken Mayer).