Don't Peers Hold Up Bridges?

Essay 1 in a Series by Hector of the Black Height

In the simplest of terms, Peerage is membership in one of three, four, five or six different groups within the Society, depending on how you want to count things. These groups are the Order of the Laurel, the Order of the Pelican, the Order of the Chivalry (which in itself consists of the co-equal Orders of Knighthood and of Mastery of Arms), the Order of the Rose and the Royal Peerage. The Rose and Royal Peerages may or may not be bestowed upon the recipient with a Patent of Arms, depending on the desire of the Crown and the custom of the Kingdom. I will discuss the Royal Peerage and the Rose in a later essay. For now, let's stick with the so-called "bestowed Peerages": the Chivalry, the Laurel and the Pelican (or, as some refer to them, the Belt, the Bush and the Bird). These are awards defined in the Corpora of the Society and recognized by all the Kingdoms of the Society. A Laurel in Caid is a Laurel in Ęthelmearc. Were I to move to Trimaris I'd be considered a Laurel and a Pelican there, while my Midrealm Willow or Ealdormere Bee would mean absolutely nothing.

The bestowed Peerage is a universal in the great game we play. It's a constant our Society has created. We have institutionalized this status and its responsibilities, both implicit and explicit. If you're interested in what the explicit characteristics and responsibilities of a Peer of every Kingdom are, read the Corpora (by-laws) of the SCA. The "laundry list" is pretty straightforward. Is the status of Peer yet another example of the Society's desire to reward individual accomplishment? In part, yes; when you consider the many awards within the Society for various endeavours, the Peerages came first. Consider Duke Finnvarr de Taahe; when he was Knighted there were few or no lesser awards to win; as I recall from the order of precedence, His Grace's first award was the belt, chain and spurs of a Knight, not an Award of Arms.

That other, lesser, awards came after the Peerages says something interesting and important; we wanted -- and continue to want -- to make Peerage special. If anybody and everybody could be a Peer we'd have no lesser awards; in that case would Peerage be special? Perhaps, but it would be difficult to define that special status or, in some cases, to sustain that special feeling. So we've established lesser awards to mark special accomplishment but not Peerage. The Peerage remains a goal to aspire to as well as a duty to fulfill.

Peerage within the Society, as we now understand it, began at the First Tournament in Diana Listmaker's back yard, when Sir Ardral was knighted on the field. The first Laurels were created a matter of months later. As I recall from my research the Pelican was created in A.S. VII. What does this say about Peerage?

First, Peerage marks what we as a Society consider to be -- or recognize to be -- mastery AT THE TIME. On the first day of the Society, when we were a theme party based on a vague idea of a medieval passage of arms, participants in that passage of arms judged Ardral good enough to be considered a master, and he was so recognized. I know, there are many issues wrapped up in that statement and no, I don't believe that a Knight of AS I was as capable with arms as our Chivalry today. Still, you bloom where you're planted and in AS I Ardral was considered very good, so he won his Knighthood. I am sure none of the participants in Diana's back yard would have dreamed Ardral's dubbing on the field would lead in a direct chain of events to the splendid Knighting ceremonies -- and the years of training and effort of the candidates -- we see today. Still, if Sir Ardral walked into an Ealdormere event in belt, chain and spurs, who would dispute his right to wear the tokens of that estate?

After a while, the Society stopped being an occasional, recurring theme party and started taking on lasting form. In that environment there was scope for artistic expression and the time to work on long projects in the arts and sciences, which would enrich the reenactment experience when participants did get together. In such an environment I think it was inevitable that the Laurel would evolve. The first Laurels were rewarded for bringing their arts and sciences from outside into the Society; later Laurels were able to start from scratch and, within the confines of the Society, to grow into mastery.

Finally, the Society became an ongoing entity and the SCAdian community saw that ongoing work, at events and at other times, was needed to make it run and keep it alive. Through the passage of time service was seen as a valid, necessary field of endeavour on its own within our culture. The Order of the Pelican was created to recognize excellence in that endeavour.

There have been other attempts to recognize mastery of a field of endeavour within the Society; in some Kingdoms there is or has been an active campaign to create a new Peerage for any or all of fencers, archers and shinai fighters. The Board of Directors of the Society has, after deliberation, decided against this. My opinion on this issue is immaterial. I think the Board's opinion (and what follows is not necessarily my own opinion) is that we have a stable, vibrant Society which now is well served by three Peerages. To be fair, there now are archery Laurels and fencing Laurels in some of the Kingdoms, so the issue of additional Peerages, if not moot, now is not pressing. If we create a fourth or fifth Peerage or what-have-you, we may clutter what is a now an elegant and simple landscape. Further, as the Peerage seems to work right now, I think the Board is asking why it should fix what isn't broken?

This seems a logical place to conclude this essay. In my next essay in this series let's look at the mechanism of the Peerage.

On to Part 2

Copyright 1996, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.