How To Be A Peer In One Easy Lesson

Essay 8 in a Series by Hector of the Black Height

So, having read all my opinions about Peerages and their place in the Society, let's assume you want to be a Peer. Do you want sure-fire advice on how to become a Peer? It's easy:

Do what you love, and love what you do.

Countess Kobiakawa Ariake, a Lady of the Rose and a Mistress of the Laurel, once explained to me her views on Peerage. She said the bestowed Peerages should be available to anyone who is willing to work to a certain standard. The standard isn't impossibly high but it will demand sincere and extended effort to reach. She's right, of course. No Peer in any bestowed Peerage has done the impossible. They've all worked hard mastering a craft or the rising snap or some aspect of service to others. The point is, if you want to achieve that level of excellence in a field of endeavour you have to practice that field for several years. If you don't enjoy that field, why on earth would you practice it? Just for a belt or a medallion? Honestly, I don't understand that attitude. A Peerage and a quarter will buy you a phone call. Anyone can teach. Anyone can assemble a household of friends. Anyone can recognize worth and reward merit. You don't need Royal approbation to do these things.

If you do what you love and love what you do, you'll find yourself spending hour upon hour getting better at whatever your field of expertise is. You'll find that it's fun (why else spend hour upon hour doing what you're doing?) and after a while you'll want to share the fun. Next thing you know you're teaching what you do and you're adding to others' experience within the SCA. At that stage you'll be well along a road, perhaps to Peerage, perhaps to someplace else. The most significant characteristic of whatever road you're on is that journeying along it is enjoyable.

If you are making yourself miserable in the quest for a Peerage, what's the point? First, you are having no fun. Second, if you're having no fun how will you teach others to have fun? Third, as the Orders look at possible candidates so that they can advise the Crown on whom to elevate to the Peerage, the Belts or Bushes or Birds will say, "She's in absolute misery" and will move along in their deliberations to consider someone having fun. Someone who finds joy in what he or she does will be able to share that joy with others; the creation and spreading of joy is fundamental to the health of the Society. Joy is fundamental to the Peerage; why else would you want to take dependants? If you are frustrated because you're not yet a Peer, frustration is often a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Do you have to be a squire to become a Knight, or an apprentice to be a Laurel? No. A squire does have an advocate in the Chivalry meeting when candidates for elevation are discussed (though some Peers will not discuss their own dependants in an Order meeting, on principle), but one Peer's opinion caries little weight when compared with the body of work the candidate has performed. The most politically connected person in the Society won't become a Knight unless he or she can swing a pretty good stick. The craft, the skill, the body of work, is the basic entry requirement to any Order. To be fair, as a squire you can expect to receive coaching from an acknowledged master in the art of the sword. This has to help you get that little bit better than the rest. If you can reach that level of excellence on your own, without a Knight’s personal tutelage, you will get there and a Peerage may follow. Incidentally, I believe truly that, regardless of any other factor, excellence in what you do will earn anyone close consideration by the appropriate Peerage. Other factors may intervene, but if your body of work is there for the world to see, the Peerage will be aware of it and cannot ignore it.

If excellence is the key are you there already? Congratulations! You may have reached one of the important steps towards mastery. Every Peer I've ever talked to has told me the same thing. You start off knowing nothing. Then you learn a bit, and you know something. Then you learn more and more and, eventually, you know everything. Then you realize how wrong you were, how little you really do know and how much there is to learn. THAT's when you've started to master your field. Been there; done that.

I remember when I decided I wanted to be a Bardic Arts Laurel. I met Mistress Morgana bro Morganwyg, then of Calontir, when she came to Ealdormere's first Coronet Tourney. Morgana is, in my opinion, one of the two real legends in the Bardic Arts community within the Society (the other is Master Ioseph of Locksley, from out west). Morgana showed me just what level of excellence one could aspire to, and I said to myself, "Y'know, if I work hard for twenty years I could start to be as good as she is." Three years later Mistress Morgana begged a boon of Queen Katya, and I became a Master of the Laurel in the Bardic Arts. Was I as good as Morgana when I became a Laurel? No. Will I ever be that good? I'd love to try. Will I ever know all about Bardic Arts? Never. Just because you're a Peer doesn't mean you've ended your growth as an artist or artisan or worker bee or warrior. It just means you've reached a standard that your peers judge to meet their expectation of excellence. If you truly find joy in what you do, you won't be able to stop doing it. With practice you will continue to grow in expertise and excellence; what a wonderful thing to be able to say!

The Peerages guard their implicit standard of excellence, and rightly so. They also make sure that potential Peers possess the infamous intangible, Peer-like Qualities. What are Peer-like Qualities, referred to by some as PQs? Every answer is different. I like Master Sir William of Fairhaven's parallel concept of balancing "services rendered" against "chaos engendered". If Lady Sadie works like a dog in service of her canton, that's a positive factor. If, after Lady Sadie's work is over, all the canton's officers have to spend three days cleaning up the administrative mess she's created, that's not a good sign.

People skills are essential for a Peer; after all, a Peer is a bastion of the Society and a society is a group of people. Can the potential Peer teach? Is that person willing to teach? Can the Peerage candidate correct mistakes without making people feel like dirt in the process? There's no point in a master cook correcting students so brutally that they give up cooking. How do frustrated and bitter students reinforce the Society?

A Peer must not work against the best interests of the Society. If a Society member is interviewed by the local press and describes the SCA as a bunch of drug-using anarchists, what good does that do the rest of us? If a subject stands up in Royal court and calls the King an incompetent jerk, how does that meet Corpora's requirement for a Peer to support the Crown? How does that inspire the Crown, the fount of honour for the Kingdom and the agency which elevates people to the Peerage, to offer this person high honours? If a member's opinions are cruel and that member’s political activities divisive, how does such behaviour build the Society?

Peerage isn't a race. It's not an automatic reward after certain holes have been punched in your SCA ticket. Peerage is something that grows within the individual until the Crown recognizes, thanks to the counsel of the appropriate Order, that a Peer has emerged in our midst. It's a common truth that the Crown does not "make" a Peer; the Crown recognizes someone who by his or her own hard work, dedication and sense of joy in what he or she is doing, is a Peer already.

Peers are expected to set a high standard of behaviour, in part because bad conduct reflects badly on the Peer's Order and in part because a person with low -- or no -- moral fibre would make a terrible person to entrust with dependants. Honour is a very personal concept and standards of honour vary. A person with no honour cannot aspire to the Peerage, because the Crown cannot (and must not!) entrust a person bereft of honour with a license to take dependants. Not to mince words, who'd want to be protégé to a sleaze-ball? What does it say about the Pelicans of the Kingdom if they advise the Crown to elevate to their ranks that sleaze-ball? I've known of people with wonderful skills, who have achieved undoubted excellence in a particular field, who will never be Peers because the appropriate Order has looked at these people and said "Yeah, but can you imagine them with dependants?"

Peerage is a wonderful honour and a splendid reward. It is not worth ruining your hobby to obtain. Remember, Peerage is an institution within the Society, and a society is made up of people. This means there is fallibility built into the process. The Orders can't see everyone. The Orders will overlook the deserving and reward the less deserving. People will fall through the cracks. Sometimes the Orders find their mistakes and other times they don't. Perhaps the best comment on this is found in Cariadoc's Miscellany, where His Grace observes:

And as kings and knights are but men and fallible, so may they be mistaken, and some may wear the three tokens who are not knights, and some be truly knights who wear neither belt, spur, nor chain. But Allah alone knoweth all.

Be a Peer, even without the tokens of estate. Achieve excellence, teach others and serve the Society that has given you a venue to achieve that excellence. Above all else, do these things with joy and you will grow into what it is to be a Peer. After that, formal recognition of what you have made yourself (the trappings of high estate) may or may not follow. In the face of both excellence and joy, I hope the trappings do not really matter.

On to the Postscript

Copyright 1997, 1998 Arthur McLean. All rights reserved.