The Universal Undefined and Contractual Obligation

Essay 3 in a Series by Hector of the Black Height

In my last essay I mentioned the concept of a specific type of relationship between Peers and their dependants within the Society. Like the Peerage itself, this relationship, so fundamental to the status and role of the Peer, is recognized throughout the Known World. While the white belt is reserved by Corpora for the Knights of the Society, most Kingdoms recognize the sumptuary custom that a Knight's squire and Laurel's apprentice wear coloured belts (red and green, respectively) as a mark of their relationship. Pelicans give their protégés yellow belts in many -- but in my experience not all -- Kingdoms. This suggests that the relationship between, for instance, a Knight and squire is a constant within the Society. Some Knights have squires who live in different Kingdoms from their Peer, and yet their red belt is still worn and, in the squire's home Kingdom, the relationship represented by that belt is respected.

So what is this universally respected relationship? There's the rub! The relationship is not defined in law or custom. In a move of surpassing wisdom (or blinding common sense) the Society has not defined the form or nature of this particular sort of interpersonal relationship. Some squires wear the belt and, well, that's about it. Others are expected to be at their Knight's local fight practice twice a week and all the SCA events the Knight attends, fight alongside their Knight at War, camp in his or her War camp and occasionally wash the Knight’s car in the off-season.

The relationship between Peer and dependant is a contract, not a form letter. Some contracts are more demanding than others; some contracts demand little or nothing from one side or the other. Each relationship, each contract, is different, depending on the needs and abilities of the parties involved.

One facet of the "universally respected relationship" is fealty. If you read Corpora you’ll see that fealty as a subject is ignored almost completely. It’s recognized that the way we as SCAdians understand and honour fealty is a very personal, specific portion of the individual games we play within the great game of the Society. Some Peers expect their dependants to swear fealty to the Crown of the Peer’s Kingdom. Others believe that a dependant who swears fealty to a Peer in fealty is, by virtue of the Peer’s bond to the Crown, also in fealty through the Peer. Some Peers with out-of-kingdom dependants make it clear that the dependant is NOT to be in fealty to anyone except the Peer. Other Peers don’t really care. Fealty is part of the game we play and thus is subject to wide interpretation. Fealty can be the contract between Peer and dependant; it can be a side-bar to their contract; it can be of no consequence. That’s up to the Peer and the dependant who choose to enter into a contractual relationship.

Based on horror stories I've heard, some first-hand, I believe there are Knights in the Society who treat their squires like dirt. They demean their squires with menial tasks and use excessive measures, verging on brutality, while teaching them to fight. So what? I won't treat my dependants that way. As a non-Knight I wouldn't accept a dependant relationship with a Knight who would treat me that way. However, people who are squires to such Knights as these (and no, don't look for an agenda; no-one I'm thinking of lives in Ealdormere and none of our Knights treat their people that badly) are willing to put up with such a contractual relationship, for whatever reasons they want. Not my problem; not my business. If I were in such an abusive relationship I would turn in my belt and sever my contract in the blink of an eye; all SCAdians have the right as individual members of a voluntary organization to vote with their feet.

Each Peer brings different strengths and weaknesses to the Peerage. Each dependant brings different strengths and weaknesses to a relationship with a Peer. The permutations are infinite. Some people see a benefit to putting up with crap, and maybe for some this is a benefit. Hey, it's a life-style choice. It's not one I'd want for myself or for my dependants; that's my judgement and my business.

Relationships all are different. Relationships change. Sometimes people's expectations change and then contracts have to be re-assessed. Sometimes expectations don't change but circumstances do; one party or the other has an attack of real life, and there just isn't room for the contractual relationship in their life. Sometimes relationships grow stale. In any of these circumstances people will sever contractual relationships; does this sound like "real life" yet? It's all part of growing up and being a SCAdian. My point is that this re-evaluation of the Peer-dependant contract isn't a dispassionate process, just as the Society is more than a casual theme party. We play this game hard, especially when we set up formal relationships within the cultural framework of the Society, and our emotions seem to take the wear and tear. The giving of a belt is a joyful thing; the taking back of a belt or a belt's return can be hard or hurtful.

In my next essay, let's look at people and emotions and the Peerage.

On to Part 4 

Copyright 1997, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.