On Theme Parties and Priesthood

Essay 5 in a Series by Hector of the Black Height

In my last essay I discussed my concept of a hierarchy of relationships within the contractual bond of Peer and dependant. After consideration I wish to elaborate upon the cultures that shape my thinking.

Within the Society I'm a 13th century Scotsman from the west islands. The west islands Scots were not very feudal at the best of times. As a result I play in the SCA in a somewhat tribal style. In the truest sense a clan or tribe is a family, and my dependants are my direct SCA family, my "belt-sons" and "belt-daughters". This is one particular style of playing the great game within our all-embracing Society. Those whose personas are set in the high middle ages might find this clannish concept, central to my SCA experience and the joy I draw from it, crude and inappropriate. Such persons, whether Peers or dependants, might prefer a much more feudal approach. This is not to say that a feudal approach is less effective or bad; it's just not my thing. The personal, individual nature of the Peer-dependant contract asserts itself here.

I don't think that a Peer who advocates a more feudal version of the Peer-dependant contract, or any other cultural or temporal variation on the root of the contract, is in any way invalidating the fundamental strength of my hierarchy of relationships. Whether you're a hairy-leggit Scotsman, a Cavalier fop or any point in-between, if you're not friends with the other side of the contract I think you're doomed to eventual failure. When we play the great game of the SCA, there has to be a foundation of reality. I believe truly that friendship is that foundation, regardless of the medieval trappings you may hang off the game-play.

We must also consider historical and historiographical pressures that shape this contract. It's no accident that the first Peerage to emerge within the Society was the Chivalry; the myth, the archetype, of the Knight in shining armour is central to both Diana Listmaker's theme party in AS I and Western culture's concepts of the middle ages. If the popular images of the middle ages were plague, disease and poverty -- as opposed to round tables and damsels in distress -- how many of us would have the SCA in our lives as an uplifting, enjoyable hobby? Part of the archetype of Chivalry is the Knight and his squires, and in our culture we have recreated the institution of the squire in a Knightly house. There have been excellent articles in Tournaments Illuminated that discuss the roles of SCA squires and the squires of the medieval period, in both function and social standing. See T.I. #101, Winter 1991, "On Squires For Squires" by Sovany Barsci Janos for one perspective on the role of the SCAdian squire, and T.I. #90, Spring 1989, "Of Squires And Other Military Matters" by Kenneth de Lyon for an interesting historical analysis. I shall not repeat all Kenneth's points here; suffice it to say that the idea of a dependant training for the Peerage isn't necessarily the description a medieval Knight would have used for his squires.

Having said all that, what about the Laurel and the apprentice? They had people like Laurels in period; they were called guild-masters or guild-mistresses, and such people definitely took on apprentices. There was a servile, pecuniary relationship fundamental to a medieval apprenticeship but the apprentice did aspire to elevation, into the guild in question and perhaps to mastery within that guild. That's a neat parallel within the form and function of our Laurelate. Does it also assume that a guild-master and a Knight were equivalent in period, as they're supposed to be now? I believe that if you told a medieval Knight he was the equal of some upstart tradesman (or tradeswoman. Ack! A woman!) you'd get a cuff across the ear -- if you were lucky the Knight would remove his iron gauntlet first!

Did the medieval world have people like the Pelicans we have today? Many, if not most, Pelicans have served diligently as Kingdom officers and thus are the Society's civil servants. Did they have civil servants back then, outside clergy taken in service by the Crown because they could read and write? I know we've made the SCA a deliberately irreligious organization for well-known reasons (having to do solely with the 20th century), but in single-hearted devotion to "The Dream" of the Society, are the Pelicans our clergy? In such a case, are protégés acolytes? If this extreme metaphor is taken to its logical conclusions, what does that say about the nature of the Pelican-protégé relationship?

I think we have to look at form and function. If we try to make our modern Peerages fit a period model, the closest we'll come is the Chivalry. There were people in period who would be recognizable as prototypes for the Laurelate and those with imagination can draw parallels between one or more medieval institutions and the Pelicanate. However, there is no way these medieval people were all Peers of the Realm and co-equal with feudal Knights in their socio-political environment. That's okay; we're Laurels and Pelicans and Knights of the Society, not medieval people.

I believe the Society has evolved institutions to perpetuate itself. Peerage is a way of rewarding individual achievement. It also is a way of making sure that there is a body of people bringing along the next wave of wood-wrights, warriors and worker bees. All three Peerages do these things. All three provide for "SCA: The Next Generation". All three bear equal burdens of care and responsibility and excellence. Thus, all three are co-equal within the SCAdian culture that, like 13th century Scots culture, has shaped my thinking profoundly and, I hope, in a positive manner.

On to Part 6 

Copyright 1997, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.