A bit of news came in this morning: The Society for Creative Anachronism is creating a “Fourth Peerage.”
For the non-SCAdians, a bit of background: All titles and ranks in the SCA are awards; you can’t just walk in and call yourself “Duke Such and Such” or “Sir Poncypants the Bold.” Even a newbie at their first event is addressed as “my Lord” or “my Lady” as a courtesy, but until one earns an Award of Arms one is not permitted to style themselves as “Lord Newbie the Generic” or whatever. The benefit of this is that it provides a concrete and easily recognizable system for acknowledging people’s contributions… the downside is that a few people regard awards and titles as prizes for which one needs to compete.
There are three “tiers” to the award system — Awards, Grants and Patents of Arms. One may earn an “award” level award and earn the right to style themselves “Lord” or “Lady”. A grant of arms level award means that style becomes “The Honourable Lord” or “The Honourable Lady” (we tend to shorten that to “THL” in correspondence.) The highest tier, Patents, makes one a Peer and allows one to style themselves “Master” or “Mistress”, except in the case of one branch of the Peerage known as the Order of the Chivalry Knights — they alone can style themselves “Sir.” Other ranks, such as Barons, Dukes, Counts and so on are mostly tied to having served in a specific office, usually having won Crown Tournament and served as King and Queen for a time, or for serving as a “territorial” Baron and Baroness, that is, a regional administrator (this is somewhat complicated by the habit of giving out the titles of “court” Baron or Baroness as another award.)
In any case, there are three Peerages in the SCA (leaving aside the Order of the Rose, which is technically a Peerage for former Royals and which doesn’t fit into the model I’m trying to explain.) The Order of the Laurel is awarded for excellence in the fields of Arts and Sciences and recipients often are informally referred to a Laurel of whatever field they excel in: I know an “Archery Laurel”, a “Pottery Laurel” several “Textile Laurels” and, amusingly, a “Stuff Laurel” (whom I would refer to as a bit of a “Renaissance Woman” if she weren’t so focussed on the 14th Century.)
There’s also the Order of the Pelican, a Peerage for given service to the Society. Pelicans are people who’ve spent years giving selflessly to ensure that the Society itself continues to function. I was warned recently, only half in jest, that if I keep doing what I’m doing “for ten or fifteen more years” that I’d probably “get Pelican-ed”. (The very thought is exhausting.)
The third Peerage is the Order of the Chivalry, and it’s divided into two halves, the Knights and the Masters at Arms. This peerage is given for martial excellence in armoured combat combined with chivalric behaviour and leadership. The primary difference between the two branches of the Chivalry (aside from the right to style oneself a “Sir”) is that Knights, alone of all the Peers, are required to swear fealty to the throne, and Masters of Arms don’t have to if they don’t want to. There’s lots of perfectly valid real-world reasons why one cannot swear fealty to a pretend polity, which is why the Order of the Chivalry has two branches.
A careful read of the above paragraph, however, reveals a subtle problem if you know to where to look: The Order of the Chivalry is for martial excellence in armoured combat. Our armoured combat, full-force armoured fighting with rattan weapons, is only one of the martial disciplines the SCA; there’s also “rapier combat.” Basically, SCA Rapier is a recreation of late-Medieval and early-Renaissance fencing forms, touch-fencing with blunt steel blades. I’m reminded of something the character Syrio Forel, from George R.R. Martin’s novel A Game of Thrones (the book, not the TV series), says: “Remember, child, this is not the iron dance of Westeros we are learning, the knight’s dance, hacking and hammering, no. This is the bravo’s dance, the water dance, swift and sudden.” It’s a fundamentally different form of combat recreation than the SCA Armoured Combat branch, and one which requires players to have just as much (or in some cases more) prowess as their armoured cousins. But until now, there’s been no way to officially recognize them as a Peerage on par with the Chivalry.
As of this morning’s announcement, the SCA is committed to creating the Order of Masters of Defence as the “fourth peerage”; recipients will be able to style themselves “Master” or “Mistress” (I expect “Maestro” will be popular) and the badge of the order will be a white or silver “livery collar“, which is a late-Medieval/early-Renaissance emblem of rank. It’s been a long time coming — the debate as to whether or not live-steel fighters “deserve” a Peerage of their own has been happening for at least as long as I’ve been in the SCA, and doubtless a lot longer. And you know what? I support it wholeheartedly.
This is where I’m coming from: I am not a Rapier fighter in the SCA. I’m a “heavy” fighter, an Armoured Combat fighter. I really have no interest in SCA Rapier fighting because I like to hit things, as hard and as fast as I can. But I have worked with Rapier fighters, especially those with an interest in longsword work, because there’s a lot to learn from studying period techniques and if there’s one thing that irritates me about SCA armoured combat it’s the casual (even dismissive) attitude that some people show towards technique. So I’m aware that there are fundamental differences between the fighting forms… and between the attitudes of the people who participate in them. I respect the Rapier fighters because even though they’re doing something different than what I’m doing, I can recognize the validity of their efforts and the genuine skill they’re trying to develop. Just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s inferior, which is a fact sometimes forgotten.
And I think that this move to create The Order of Masters of Defence is an acknowledgement that the efforts of the live steel enthusiasts are just as valid as those of us who fight with rattan. The Society grows and changes, and the rules have to grow and change with it; today’s announcement is a step in the right direction.