Wednesday, February 01, 2012

SCA Errata Sheet: Sir and Master in the 14th and 15th Century

When speaking or writing in the third person, sir was used as a prefix to names of knights and priests. In direct address it was used much more broadly: in the Canterbury Tales the innkeeper is addressed as sire hoste, and a monk, friar, canon, summoner, cook, doctor, man of law, yeoman and Chaucer himself are all addressed as sir.

In the Paston letters master is used as a third person prefix for clerks, either lay or religious, as well as when the writer is an employee of the person described. Where the individual is identifiable these seem to have been the only uses in the letters. The records of Mercer's Company of London used master in the same way, and as a prefix for officers of the gild: the masters of the gild, aldermen and wardens. Ordinary masters of apprentices who were not officers were named without the prefix. Civic aldermen and mayors also received the prefix of master.


SM said...

Could you explain the SCA mores which this contrasts with? I know that they have knights and laurels with a system of insignia but I don't know the details.

Will McLean said...


There are knights, a rank bestowed by crown, who are addressed as sir. This always requires a high level of martial skill within the SCA's modern recreation of medieval combat.

You can claim to be a priest, but this confers no rank or honorific. Some clerical titles can not be assumed in the SCA. You can't proclaim yourself rector or pastor, for example, since they implied rights to landed income.

There are three ways to be called master in the SCA. All are bestowed by the crown. You can be a master of the orders of Mastery of Arms, the Laurel and the Pelican.

All, like knighthood in the SCA, require the candidate to behave in a noble fashion, and be courteous and generous and share their knowledge. Within the Society these are called peer-like qualities, or PLQs.

Mastery of Arms is exactly like knighthood, except that swearing fealty to the crown is optional. For SCA knights it is compulsory.

The orders of the Laurel and Pelican resemble Mastery of Arms in that fealty is optional and PLQs are required.

Laurels are bestowed for excellence in skill and/or knowledge in some area of the arts or sciences. Pelicans are bestowed for excellent service to the Society.