I’ve been skewing a little negative on the SCA lately and one could get the impression that I’m down on the Society, so I think it’s time for a positive post: I’m considering applying to fight in my first Crown Tourney.
For the non-SCAdians, Crown Tourney is how we determine who gets to be King and Queen in the SCA; twice a year the fighters of the Kingdom gather and fight in a great tournament to establish who gets to be in charge; you spend a few months as “Crown Prince and Princess”, which for first-time Royals is a chance to learn the ropes, then you step up for half a year. Please note that you don’t fight for the right to make yourself King or Queen, you fight for the right to crown your consort; it’s a minor detail, but one which is important in a chivalric sense.
You can’t just show up on the day and announce you’re fighting, though: it’s technically an invite-only affair. In order to get an invite, you have to apply before the deadline so that the tournament organizers can put the whole thing together. The current Crown Prince and Princess, although still a month away from stepping up, have already published the application requirements for the tournament which will be occurring a month after they take the Thrones.
I’ve never, ever fought in a Crown Tourney but I’ve had the honour of attending on a couple of noblemen who were fighting in past Tourneys, so I have an inkling of how intense it can be. (Quick aside for all the new SCAdians out there: if you can attend on a serious Crown Tourney combatant, do so: you’ll learn a lot more about feudal service in a few hours than from all the books and lectures ever presented on the subject.) I’ve been reading over the qualification requirements, and I meet them: I’m a subject of the Crown and will remain so throughout the reign; I’m armigerous; I’ve been “clearly involved” in the SCA for the past 12 months; my fighting kit is up to snuff… and I can submit the required documentation to prove its historical accuracy. (Those last two requirements are specific to this particular Crown Tourney, according to the will of the Royals hosting it.)
I’m also happy with their Highnesses’ decisions on the Weapon Standards and Restrictions: No form of two-weapon fighting will be permitted; no plastic shields will be allowed even if covered (and all shields should be of a reasonable size in proportion to the fighter); the combatants’ armour, weapons and shields should be in good repair (as befits the honour of the day) and it is expected that shields will be in good repair and freshly painted so that all may see the fighters’ heraldry. They’ve also disallowed the appearance of modern sports logos as per current Society armour standards and will not permit visible plastic armour of any sort – not even basket hilts, shield bosses and gauntlets.
As a wise man once said: “That’s an awful lot of caveats and addendums, miss.” Those restrictions have been put in place for variety of reasons: to promote the historical accuracy of the day and to encourage the pageantry and display appropriate to such an important event – and ultimately to increase the dignity and majesty of the Kingdom itself. They also serve to discourage what we call “sport fighters” — heavy combat enthusiasts who care less about historical accuracy and more about working the rules for the greatest possible advantage on the field. I’m definitely not a sport fighter: sport fighters try and minimize the bulk of their kit in order to gain an edge in speed and mobility, and my “lightweight” kit currently weighs in at 38lbs… and if I go to Crown I’m considering wearing the Big Green Brigantine because it’s prettier than my globose breastplate, but which will bump me up another 15lbs or so.
I think I need to make something very clear here: There is no way I’m going to win Crown Tourney. None. Nobody wins Crown Tourney on their first time and even on my best day I’m near the bottom of the “moderately skilled” tier of fighters in this Kingdom. A lot of very good fighters bring out their “A-game” for Crown – I maintain no illusions that even at my best I’d be more than a speed bump for some of the higher-end fighters. Even advancing to the quarter-finals would require a highly unlikely combination of a very good day for me, a freak October snowstorm, and a dodgy batch of bacon at a local diner where every other combatant spontaneously decided to eat breakfast before the tournament. In short, it’s Not Going To Happen.
So why would I even consider it? I mean, it’s a fairly standard 21st Century attitude that you need to win, that you should “go big or go home.” Why would I take the time and effort to drive about five hours just to put on fifty pounds of armour and most likely get eliminated in the first round? Because I’m not looking at it with a 21st Century attitude: I’m looking at it with a 14th Century one… and a knight errant of the 14th Century would think nothing of travelling halfway across the Kingdom to fight honourably in a tournament of renown for the exaltation of his Lady. Judging from the list of rules and requirements for this tournament, the bar on historical accuracy and chivalric behaviour is going to be set very high indeed, and I’d like to be a part of that, however small a part.
And if the timing doesn’t work out for this Crown Tourney (we’ll still be in our first month of marriage, and The Fiancée™ is finishing up her last year of school) I’ll probably apply to the next one. Or the one after that. Frankly, I’m feeling the itch to up my game a bit, and Crown Tournament definitely offers the opportunity to do that. My goal, whether I fight in this one or the next is not going to be to win; my goal will be to acquit myself honourably and with skill, to prove in that I can meet the standards set, and to to honour to my Lady love… who will by that point be my Lady wife.
That’s why I’m considering it. Not for my own glory and renown (although I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to earn those things) but for the renown of my Lady. It would be a statement, publicly and privately, that this person who is my partner is worthy of my best effort even in the face of certain defeat. Honore de Balzac once said “The motto of chivalry is also the motto of wisdom; to serve all, but love only one”… and I think I’m starting to understand what he meant.
So, feeling this way, why haven’t I considered applying for Crown Tourney before this? Because even if the odds are ridiculously stacked against you, sometimes bacon happens. There could be a snowstorm, or an e-coli outbreak, or I could just get shit-hot for a day while everyone else on the list gets an attack of nerves. Stranger things have happened and at the end of Crown Tourney the one thing that the winners cannot say is “Um, yeah, we never expected this so could you give the Crown to somebody else, please?” If you go to Crown, however unlikely your victory, you are saying that you’re prepared to give up a year of your life to serve the Kingdom and the Society. If you’re Crown Prince and Princess, much less King and Queen, you have to go to every single event in your Kingdom, and a bunch of events outside of the Kingdom as well.
Being King and Queen in the SCA is not just about being able to wear a shiny hat or getting the best seat at feast and it’s not even about being the ones to make the decisions: it’s about representing the Kingdom to itself and to the world; it’s about being the type of fairytale royalty that people want to see; it’s about living up to strangers’ dreams of the Middle Ages. And that’s a huge commitment and an almost mind-boggling responsibility.
Which is, of course, why the Crown Tourney application process exists: if the Throne doesn’t think you can meet that obligation, they turn down your application.
Winning Crown Tourney is the clearest example I can think of to demonstrate Balzac’s motto of chivalry: To serve all, but love only one. I’d apply to Crown Tournament because I love my partner and want to display that to the Society… but in the astronomically unlikely outcome that we win and take the Throne I think we could do a reasonably good job of shouldering the responsibility. We’ve talked about it, and we take that possibility seriously. And for the first time in our lives, we’re at a place where we could take on that burden and serve that role if necessary. For the first time, we’re in a place where we think we can make the statement: “We’re prepared to serve.”