How does one start a Deed? This is what I’ve been wondering lately. There are a handful of 14th-century style Chivalric Deeds at various SCA events, and I think it would be interesting to have one here in Ealdormere as a way of boosting both the prestige of the Kingdom raising the bar on our game. I’m thinking something along the lines of the Combat of the Thirty which is held at Pennsic each year; a 14th-century-specific hastilude held at a larger event where enthusiasts can gather.
Why am I putting so much emphasis on the 14th century? When we talk about prowess and knight-errantry, of pas d’armes and formal challenges, of all the great romance and honour (all the stuff mocked by later authors such as Cervantes as foolishness) associated with the Age of Chivalry, we’re talking about the 14th century in western Europe. Later ages imitated that time period , but the 14th century was the original, authentic thing. This was the age of the Hundred Years War, when the Anglo-Norman noblity of England fought the Franco-Norman nobility of France for possession of the French throne. This was the age of Chaucer, and of Edward the Black Prince, and yes, of the Black Death.
It’s the 14th-century upper classes which fascinate me: the French-speaking chivalric class was a culture unto themselves; a Norman-descended English knight had far more in common with his French opponents than with his Saxon-descended tenants. The entire structure of the nobility was self-contained and one which was enormously focused on warfare. In response to that pressure they developed a fascinating, almost stylized approach to conflict; one which simultaneously limited the effects of conflict on the upper classes and made conflict constant and inevitable. When the Black Death came and altered Europe forever, their response was to ever-more-fervently embrace that culture of chivalry and pagentry. Worth, among the male nobility of Western Europe, was entirely linked to martial prowess… but mere thuggery was despised. The historian Johan Huizinga summed it up neatly: “The source of the chivalrous idea is pride aspiring to beauty, and formalized pride gives rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life.”
For me, that really clicks with the kind of game I’m trying to play in the SCA.
After almost a decade within the Society for Creative Anachronism I’ve noticed four rough streams which (very broadly speaking) most players tend to end up in: The first is Migration Period Norse and Anglo-Saxon, because let’s face it, vikings are cool; The second is the period of the Crusades and the Crusader States, which is an absolutely fascinating time; The third is “SCA generic”, which is more focused on the the SCA itself and the artificial polities we’ve created as part of our game — an emphasis more on the LARP aspects of the SCA than the re-enactment ones; The fourth is the 14th Century, mostly because of the pageantry and chivalry associated with that era.
That’s not to say that those are the only periods that people do, of course: go to any event and you’ll see plenty of people portraying Tudors or Romans or even Japanese, but I have noticed the broad trends into those four general time periods. For my first few years in the SCA my emphasis was on the 12th century, and then I made a shift towards the 14th century style. Partly that was the influence of a couple of prominent 14th-century enthusiasts locally, partly it was because I rather like the clothing of the 14th century and partly it was because 14th-century style armour can be done in a very historically-accurate way and still really work for what we’re doing in terms of SCA combat.
I flatter myself, but I think I’m getting there.
Over and above the garb and armour, though, one of the reasons I drifted into the 14th century fold is that I really do enjoy the notion of formal “deeds of arms“; the hastiludes wherein warriors would fight — sometimes to the death — merely for the sake of honour and renown. The Combat of the Thirty is perhaps the most famous — an emprise where thirty Englishmen and thirty Frenchmen fought each other over a minor point of honour and earned great renown for both the winners and losers of the contest. Such hasiltudes are a romantic notion, but one which has endured from then until now; indeed in many ways the pas d’armes of the 14th Century are what shaped our definition and imaginings of chivalry… and these deeds are very well suited to the SCA.
The 14th-Century subculture within the Society places a big emphasis on chivalric deeds. Most famously, every year at the Pennsic War there is a re-creation of the Combat of the Thirty between “French” and “English”, but there are other Deeds throughout the SCA, such as winning the Couter of Chivalry and the right to defend it as Tenan of the Couter, and so on. Unfortunately, there are no such chivalric Deeds being hosted here in Ealdormere, aside from a couple of tournaments that might fit the bill (the Rose Tourney at Trillium War, for example, or the chivalric processionals at Tournoi du Coeur de Glace or the Lady Mary Memorial Tournament annually) and I’ve been wondering if we could change that.
I’ve done some looking, and there doesn’t seem to be any set process for establishing a deed, beyond a general announcement, which I suppose is actually rather historically-correct. As near as I can tell, any such Deed in the 14th century was simply announced, generally under the auspices of a prominent figure. I’m rather wondering if could convince a prominent 14th-century person into supporting a hastilude at a local event next summer… especially if I can find someone who isn’t me to do the actual organizing of it.