Postscript: On Polls and Chains

Essay 9 in a Series (of 8; so I can't count) by Hector of the Black Height

After re-reading my series of essays on Peerage, I think there are several points I have left out which are relevant to the topic. One is the actual process used by the Peerage Orders to advise the Crown on the elevation of new members, and another is the relationship between the bestowed Peerages and the Crown.

First, let's look at the nitty-gritty that seems shrouded vaguely in mystery and misconception: polls! I am advised that different Kingdoms use different methods to obtain the opinion of the Peerages. In the Midrealm, the bestowed Peerages are polled by mail to obtain opinions on candidates being considered for elevation (thus the phrase "polling Orders"), with occasional face-to-face meetings of the various Orders at large events to discuss poll results and to elaborate on issues raised by those results.

The poll is simply a list of names of candidates being considered, plus the name of a sponsor in the Order and a tabulation of the previous poll's results. Due to the diverse nature of the arts and sciences, the Laurel poll also includes a column which indicates for which particular art or science a candidate is being considered (sometimes very important; consider the many SCAdians you know who practice several different arts and sciences at once).

The sponsor listed in the poll is not necessarily a candidate's Peer. It's somebody (usually someone who lives near the candidate) who can answer questions about what the candidate is doing right now in his or her field of endeavour. The sponsor also makes sure that, through a clerical error (which happens once in a blue moon) the candidate isn't overlooked or otherwise falls off the poll.

Sponsors always are supportive of their candidates, but in my experience they're generally sensible. I've spoken to sponsors who've had a name put on the poll solely to be watched, with no thought of elevation to the Peerage for literally years. I've also heard sponsors say that So'n'So is no longer sufficiently active to be considered by the Order -- life happens -- and should be removed from the poll.

Due to the size of the Midrealm, the polling Orders have evolved a two-tier system of consideration. Candidates enter the poll on the "watch list" and Peers of that Order are asked if the candidate should be dropped from the list, left on the watch list or elevated to the "vote list". Please note that a drop vote is not a punitive measure, it merely means the individual is not ready to be considered at this time. After going through the watch list, Peers then look at the candidates on the vote list and decide whether they think the candidate should be elevated to the Peerage, left on the vote list or moved back to the watch list.

Candidates can -- and do -- move from watch list to vote list and back to watch list several times. Some candidates are dropped from the list and re-appear on more than one occasion.

When the Orders meet (obviously I haven't attended a Chivalry meeting, but this is how the Laurels and the Pelicans do business), and given the size of the Midrealm and the number of candidates under consideration, the priority for discussion is given to the candidates on the vote list. After the vote list has been discussed in its entirety, if there's any time left in the meeting the Order will talk about candidates on the watch list.

Order discussions, by custom and now by Midrealm law, are held in confidence. Polls and poll results are kept in confidence also. This allows the Peers to be honest and open in their comments. It also makes sure that candidates are not aware that they are being scrutinized. The SCA is supposed to be fun; the fun can evaporate if you know that people are looking very closely at what you do. Nobody needs that pressure in his or her life and especially not in a hobby which is supposed to relieve tension accumulated elsewhere!

If you're interested in knowing if you're on a Peerage poll, you can ask a member of the appropriate Order, but I believe few will tell you anything. I donít think it's fair to the Peer to be asked to betray a confidence. It's not fair to the non-Peer, either. What do you want to hear? A list of your faults and failings? A detailed description of how close you are, with no way of telling you when the shoe will drop? The fact that no, you're not on the poll, because nobody's noticed what you do? If someone needs to change something they're doing, there are better and more subtle ways than a Peer saying "You're on the Laurel poll but everyone thinks your basket-weaving is shoddy and needs to be neater." Peers encourage people to learn and in the SCA we learn by doing. If a Peer says, "Have you considered trying this?" indeed it may mean you should try this, as it will help you move up in a poll. It may also mean you should try this as it's fun or will make your work easier or better. Read whatever you want into whatever a Peer says. If you believe that everything a Peer says to you relates to your imminent elevation to the Peerage, all I can give you is the counsel of my Yorkshire granny: "He who expects nothing is seldom disappointed."

Who's kidding who; if you win Crown Tourney or Kingdom A&S pentathlon or if you autocrat Pennsic, it's reasonable to assume the Orders will be aware of your activities. "Aware of your activities" doesn't necessarily mean "on the poll". Just because you do these splendid things doesn't mean elevation to a Peerage (or even serious consideration for a Peerage) is automatic. These wonderful accomplishments mean that you've accomplished something wonderful. Anything beyond that is up to the Orders and the Crown.

This leads nicely to my next point. The Orders poll their membership to achieve a consensus of counsel. This counsel is offered to the Crown, the two people acting in concert who bestow any honour in the Kingdom, including the bestowed Peerages. The Crown is responsible for the actual poll paperwork for the Orders; The Order Secretary, a volunteer within each Order, mails out the polls that the Crown provides, and each Peer returns them to the Crown directly. I am not aware of any legal requirement for the Crown to poll its Peerages. Most Crowns poll twice in a reign; some poll three times and a few years ago Jafar and Catherine polled the Laurels (if not the other Orders) five times. The Crown tabulates the results of these polls and draws conclusions from the results.

The Crown sets the list of names on the various Orders' polls. If the Crown has a strong opinion about a candidate on a poll, that candidate may be moved up or down within the poll or may be dropped from the poll entirely. The Order may be unanimous in supporting the elevation of Lady Sew'n'Sew to the Laurel, but if the Crown doesn't want her made a Peer it won't happen during that reign. The Order is free to keep recommending (even if the candidate has been dropped from the poll, people can write in a name or raise the name at a meeting) but the Crown is free to say "no". This is true right up to Coronation day and the next reign, when the Order will offer its advice to the new Crown.

This leads to my view on the overall relationship between the Crown and the Peerages. Again, this is a personal relationship and everyone puts his or her own spin on the subject. I believe that, as I chose to become a Peer within the Society (I was asked in court if I would accept elevation to the Peerage, not told, and I could have said no), I am bound by the duties of a Peer as set forth by Corpora. I am required by SCA by-law to "support the Crown". That doesn't mean I have to like the King and Queen (though, to be fair, I've found almost all SCAdian Royalty to be really nice people doing the best they can in a very hard job). I am expected to uphold the institution they represent. I am not to undercut their authority. I am to abide by their laws. Finally, as a Peer I am expected to offer them "wise counsel". Part of this is telling the Crown what I think about important issues. Part of this is filling out my Laurel poll and my Pelican poll and mailing them in. I am obliged to give the Crown the best guidance I can. They are obliged by custom (and Midrealm law, in such circumstances as changing Kingdom law when the Crown must consult its Great Officers) to ask for advice and to consider it. Having considered that advice, they are not obliged to agree with me or with anyone else.

The Peersí obligation to support the Crown is universal. It includes those Peers who are not in fealty to the Crown, such as Masters at Arms. In fact, Corpora states that a Knight must be in fealty to the Crown (i.e. a Knight not in fealty is a contradiction in terms within the Society) and therefore is honour-bound to support the Crown. As noted above, Corpora states explicitly that all other Peerages must support the Crown. This is another common factor uniting the Peerages.

Please note that I am not in fealty and I never have been. The gold chain worn by Knights and, in some Kingdoms, by other Peers in fealty has never bound me. As a member of a culture based on familial bonds, I cannot in good faith place any bond -- such as fealty to the local King -- above the bond I owe kin in other Kingdoms. That doesn't mean I do not respect and honour the Crown and Coronet, nor does it mean I am not committed to the causes of Ealdormere and the Midrealm. It merely means I won't say the customary set of words which, in my mind and in the way I play the great game, would put me in a crisis of conscience if I faced one of my kin on the battlefield. My ethical inability to offer the Crown my fealty does not diminish my happy acceptance of the primacy of the Crown in such matters as the Peerage.

Among other services, the polling Orders provide continuity of counsel -- in part through the mechanism of the poll -- from reign to reign, but elevation to an Order is not a right or a guarantee. Elevation to the Peerage is a privilege bestowed by the Crown alone. As the institution of the Peerage is a bastion of the Society, so too is the Crown's privilege to elevate to the Peerage a reflection of the Crown's role within our Society.

Which strikes me as a good place to end this essay and this series. Perhaps someday I'll write an essay or two on my view of the Crown?

Copyright 1997, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.
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