Wednesday, January 21, 2015

SCA Peerage Kerfuffle

If you have no interest in the Society for Creative Anachronism, move along, nothing to see.

If you do:

The following is an excerpt of a message was sent out to the SCA, Inc. Announcements mailing list.

The Board Votes.

The Board was split on the question of the rapier peerage. Three directors voted to approve the Corpora changes and the resulting establishment of a rapier peerage because they believe that while rapier should really be recognized by the Chivalry, trying to force inclusion in the Chivalry by Board fiat would not work, and they were willing to vote yes on the proposal as a good compromise. Two directors felt rapier should be recognized as part of a peerage that recognizes all non-rattan martial arts and not a separate peerage. Two directors believed rapier should be recognized in the Chivalry. So, with a 4-3 vote against the proposed Corpora changes, which would have established a separate rapier peerage, no change will take place at this time. 
The only other action the Board took concerning rapier in the SCA was removing language dating from 1979 saying that rapier was an “ancillary” activity of the SCA and, to make it clear that we are not discarding the traditions of Crown Tourney, the Board then made it very clear that only rattan combat may be used in a Royal list. This change to Corpora received the unanimous approval of the Board. 
Response to Social Media Discussions. 
First, the Board received commentary from less than 2% of the membership over the entire 3 years and all requests for comments on the rapier peerage issue. Many people wrote in more than once, but repeating an opinion doesn’t count as a separate opinion. However, it was not the lack of commentary that influenced some Board members to vote against the proposal; it was the fact that the small amount of commentary the Board did receive trended against a separate rapier peerage. The majority of comments received in favor of recognizing rapier with a peerage said that rapier should either be included in the Order of the Chivalry or in a new peerage that included all non-rattan combat. The result of such a relatively small number of people commenting is that the opinions the Board did receive were given greater weight – if a larger number of those who supported the separate rapier peerage had commented, a different result might very well have resulted. There’s no way to know that for sure, but it underscores the importance of writing in to let the Board know your opinions about proposed changes to Corpora. 
Second, the Board did not open the Order of the Chivalry to inclusion of rapier fighters. There is a 1999 policy interpretation from the Society Seneschal (upheld by the Board at that time) specifically stating that the Order of the Chivalry is intended for rattan combatants only. It would take a new policy interpretation (which would need to be upheld by the current Board) or other Board action to change that fact. The Board’s intention in removing the “ancillary activity” language had nothing to do with making rapier knights. The Board removed the “ancillary activity” language because it was simply no longer accurate or true. It may have been true long ago when it was added to Corpora, but times have definitely changed. Rapier has permeated the fabric of the Society, and the Board felt that the language needed to be removed. However, in order to clarify that we weren’t changing the rules regarding Crown Tourneys by the deletion of the “ancillary activity” language, the Board added language restricting Crown Tourneys to rattan weapons.
I think this was the right call. A bestowed peerage wasn't the only way to recognize excellence in the Middle Ages and it isn't the only way to do it in the SCA. And often it isn't the best way. For rapier combat, an officially recognized guild-like organization like the Company of the Masters of Defense of London seems far more historically appropriate. There's no reason why the masters of such a company couldn't be given social rank equal to the bestowed peerages if the kingdom desires to. And if the people of a kingdom don't think the best rapier fighters are equal to the chivalry in dignity, making them a bestowed peerage isn't going to change that.

We need to be more aware of the many ways that rank and dignity could be recognized in the Middle Ages. The Order of Chivalry was only one approach, and it wasn't considered a peerage. There were paths to high status that didn't involve the crown at all. You could rise through the church, civic government, law or academia and the crown often had little or no involvement in the process.

That said, I think some martial arts could be profitably recognized within the current Order of Chivalry.  it seems to me that a splendid horseman who is an average rattan fighter is a more fitting member of the Order, as a medieval knight would have seen it, than a splendid rattan fighter that never rides. And a cut and thrust fighter who has studied his Fiore well, and fights accordingly, is perhaps a more worthy knight than a man who fights well with rattan because he has tailored everything he does to the specific rules of SCA sport combat.

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