25-years-late-art - 9/18/00
"Why I Was Twenty-five Years Late, Swearing Fealty to the Crown" by Duke Arthur of Lockehaven, MSCA, OL, OP.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
[This article was originally published in the Atenveldt Kingdom newsletter "Southwind", during a time when it seemed to me that the issue of "fealty", and its meaning, was very much at issue. That original article has since been expanded here to include a larger discussion of the differences between the "Knights" and "Masters at Arms". This article attempts to present only the views of the author, (and even that it may do imperfectly) and it clearly does not speak for, nor does it necessarily represent, the views of anyone else.]
Why I Was Twenty-five Years Late, Swearing Fealty to the Crown
by Duke Arthur of Lockehaven, MSCA, OL, OP
One of the problems we, in Atenveldt, have suffered from has been a disagreement over the issue of "fealty" and what it means, and what it should mean, in the SCA. This issue has produced conflict as different people have arrived at somewhat differing meanings of this oath. Opinions vary considerably. Is such an oath so binding that, once taken one must obey the Crown in all matters without question? Or is this oath so weak that no real obligation is placed upon us by taking it, and even after taking it, we are allowed to "pick and choose" the issues, or Crowns, we wish to support? Such differences of interpretation are very important as they profoundly affect the way in which our Kingdom is run, and more importantly, how we treat each other.
Although I have always felt a close personal bond of obligation towards my Crown - which I have always attempted to live up to - I am embarrassed to say that I let over twenty-five years pass between the time I first became a "peer of the realm" and the time I first formally swore fealty to the Crown. I would like to explain why it took me so long in the hopes that such an explanation might be of some value to others. (I certainly speak only for myself, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what their oath of fealty should mean.) My own understanding, regarding this obligation, however, can be summarized as follows: as we all "serve the Crown" the Crown must serve "the game". Let me attempt to explain.
Fealty is, and has always has been, an important part of the SCA. I believe that it is one of those things that makes our organization essentially different than any other. I am sure that I am not alone in this belief. Even though we may not all arrive at identical understandings of what our "oath of fealty" means, most of us must be taking this oath pretty seriously - or else it wouldn't continue to be the "hot" issue that it has been, for over thirty years!
SCA history tells us that right from the beginning, from the creation of the first Knights and Masters and Arms - the first Dukes, and the first Laurels - fealty was a significant issue. It was enough of an issue that the "separate-but-equal" rank of Master at Arms was created to honor those who had the qualities of a Knight, but who were unwilling, or unable, to take the oath of fealty. (I can only assume that a Master at Arms meets all of the other requirements for Knighthood, as it seems to be typically, - and it certainly was in my case - offered only after the rank of Knighthood was offered, and rejected.) I must assume that if the candidate was not worthy of Knighthood, then the offer would not have been made in the first place. The tradition I was taught (thirty plus years ago) and the tradition I still hold today, is that the Master's loyalty is never in question, and that the reasons for their decision are their own, and need not be explained or discussed.
The creation of the rank of Master at Arms has, in my mind, simply left an avenue open for those whom the Chivalry, the Kingdom, and the Crown wished to honor, but who, for personal reasons, could not/would not, take an oath. I know that most, (if not ALL), Knights take this oath very seriously, (as I believe they should), but becoming a Master at Arms, in my mind, is not to be taken lightly either. Accepting the title Master at Arms has is not just a "trophy on a shelf". Clearly, either title carries with them, a common tradition, of loyal service to their Kingdom and the Society in general.
Service - the Common Obligations of all Peers:
So what might be some obligations of the "fighting peer" who wears the white baldric instead of belt; and who chooses to whom (or if) they swear fealty? With ANY Peerage (fighting or no) comes an expectation of behavior, and an obligation of service, on the part of the recipient. I suspect that most (if not all) Masters at Arms feel that they have accepted at least some, ongoing obligation of service, on their part, when they were elevated to this title and station, even if they do not formally "swear fealty".
When I accepted the title of Master at Arms I did not "swear fealty" to the Crown of the West, but I did accept an oath which included, (among other things), my agreement to "sharpen my own skills, and knowledge", "to, at all times, promote honor on the field" and to be prepared to "teach all who came to came to me for help in all aspects of the fighting". I took these obligations seriously and have always attempted to fulfill these obligations diligently.
Exactly what is the difference, between the Knight and the Master at Arms, in the SCA? We have all heard many different views expressed on this subject. The basic document of the SCA, Corpora, tells us very little. Only one difference is presented in Corpora, between these two equal Orders of Chivalry: "To join the Order of Knighthood, the candidate must swear fealty to the Crown" where as Masters "may choose to swear fealty". (Corpora: p. 28 a. "The Chivalry" (1) "specific requirements" (b)). Beyond that, all additional meanings and interpretations are left as unclear today as they were three decades ago. This leaves each locality, Kingdom, and person, to "work it out" themselves. For this reason we find no real definitive answer to this question, other than "Masters don't have to swear fealty".
Atenveldt - AS 4:
At the beginning, in Atenveldt, I can attest that the issue of fealty was discussed a great deal; (at least it was amongst the fighters.) When I was first offered Knighthood, by the King of the West, (in April of AS 4 when Atenveldt was still a Principality of the West), I chose to decline and become a Master at Arms, in part because of our/my (mistaken) belief/understanding that "once you accepted Knighthood you had to do anything the King told you to do!" (I should emphasize that we seemed to come up with this idea on our own, as it was not proselytized by anyone from the West, as far as I remember. Exactly how this view was generated in Atenveldt I am not entirely sure; but it was what we thought, and it was what I was told, and it is what I mistakenly believed to be "true".)
Once I had heard this explanation of fealty, (and mistakenly accepted it as fact), I knew that I could never accept Knighthood in the SCA. I could never take an oath that would require me to trust someone else (and anyone who succeeds them in the future!) to make all of my decisions, on all issues (even if limited to only the SCA). Fealty to me, (then 19 years of age) sounded like a form of slavery and I wanted no part of it. I told King Stephan, "such a chain would weight far too heavy on my neck".
Today, I don't believe the preceding view to be valid at all. I think that it was a long time ago (and some of us were a lot younger then) and "the game" was as of yet very poorly formed. To elaborate on this point; the official creation of the SCA, (at least where its structure, awards, titles were defined, clarified, codified and announced,) took place at a Twelfth-night Revel in 1968; Atenveldt was founded not long after, in 1969. During this period of time - literally "before duct-tape;" - it was unclear to many/all of us what some of these traditions would evolve into. It was not yet clear (at least it wasn't to me) what making "an oath of fealty in the SCA" would come to mean.
I became a Master at Arms and have never regretted my decision. For many years this "absolute" notion of fealty prevented me from formally taking any such oath, in my Kingdom. This did not prevent me from always attempting to act exactly the same as any who did take the oath, and to support my Kingdom as jealously and honorably as anyone. But today I have no issue with "taking an oath of fealty" as "what it means" is much more clear, in my own mind. So, I am now a "Master" who swears fealty - but as a Master I am still not obligated to do so. This means that each time I do so I am again choosing to do so, and I reaffirming my decision, and my obligation, to the Kingdom and Society as a whole.
Is Absolute Fealty Historical?
We are an organization which purports a "medieval style" structure. So, is "absolute fealty" even medieval? My reading of history suggests to me that the medieval King was seldom (if ever) an absolute monarch. Historically the monarch existed in a relationship between themselves and other powerful nobles. When King John signed Magna Carta (for one English history example) it didn't do much for the common subjects, but it did establish some of the rights of the nobility in resistance to the power of the King. Knights, Barons and Kings, in the middle ages, could even have conflicting loyalties, in a time of war, when those to whom they had differing obligations, opposed each other. (One of the many reasons that they never seemed to be wanting of something to "fight about!")
Medieval European Kings had other significant restrictions on their power as well, which we don't have in the SCA, and the biggest would probably have to be the power of the church. So a Crown's power never was absolute historically, and neither is it in the SCA. Consequently, one's oath to the Crown is not "absolute" either.
Limitations on Fealty:
I have found my own answer to this question. I take this oath seriously but I do not think that it means that any of us have to do "anything the Crown/King tells us to do". I do, however, think that it means that I owe our Crown - any Atenveldt Crown - my loyalty and support. But, there are always areas in which I will owe even greater loyalty; to my children and wife, to my religious understanding, and ultimately even to my self. Shakespeare tells us "This above all else to thy own self be true". Ultimately, we all have to make our own decisions, and we all have to take responsibility for them. We can not blame others for what we do. We should never use "an oath" as an excuse to do something which we know is unjustifiably hurtful, spiteful, or just plan wrong. My oath, therefore, does not eliminate my autonomy, it only sharpens it, and forces me to clarify my obligations, in my own mind.
I believe that my fealty, the fealty I swore, and the fealty I intend to swear to each Crown of Atenveldt in the future, guarantees to them my support in "all things medieval" and "in all things which are their right", within the structure of the SCA. This support comes automatically and freely to all who wear our Crown. A even greater degree of personal loyalty, and trust, can occur in the SCA, as it can (more rarely I find ) else where. Such close personal bonds form relationships with others which can be one of the rich benefits of life in the SCA. This form of loyalty is even more demanding, but it must be earned over time.
Our founding documents ("By-laws", "Corpora", "Rules of the Lists" etc. ) also make it very clear that the power of the Crown, is not absolute. It does not extend into all areas of the organization (each Crown is subject to the demands of the Board and our founding documents, among other things) and it certainly does not extend outside the organizational structure of the SCA.
We all have to obey Corpora, and the decisions of the Board of Directors, (oh, almost forgot, mundane law as well!) regardless of taking an oath or no; regardless of being a Knight or Master, Laurel, Pelican, Lord or peasant. This obligation is clear in the charter of the organization, which exists as a 20th Century non-profit corporation. Without universal support for the founding documents, and principles of our Society, the future of the organization would truly be in jeopardy. So everyone, Knights & Masters, even the person at their very first event, are under an obligation to "obey the rules".
So are their special obligations of the fighting Chivalry? The Chivalry (Knights and Masters at Arms) are both required to "set an example of courtesy and chivalrous conduct on and off the field" (Corpora p. 28 (2) "Duties of the Chivalry"(a)) and both are required to "respect the Crown of the Kingdom" and to "support and uphold the laws of the kingdom and the governing documents of the Society". (Corpora p. 28 (2) "Duties of the Chivalry (b)).
The Master at Arms, like all other fighters, is obligated to "behave in a knightly and chivalrous manner" on the field, (Rule #6 "Rules of the Lists"). To simply become an "authorized fighter" we all had to agree to "behave as a lady or gentleman" (p. 27, "Marshal Handbook" 1994). We are all therefore, oath or no, bound by Corpora, Kingdom Law and all of the other obligations of any member of the organization.
A Knight, as far as I can see, only makes the additional obligation to swear to "continue to swear" fealty. A Master may choose to do the same thing, and their oath would have all the same meaning, but they are not obligated to do so.
So what does my "oath of fealty" mean to me personally?
I have come to believe that the primary "fealty" we ALL have is to the game. The good King/Queen to me, is one who best represents and supports the game - for all. I am told that the Crowns worn in another Kingdom have a quote which (perhaps not perfectly paraphrased here) states, "You rule because they believe". This sums it up far better than I can. The King is the King, not because "he is the guy who won the tournament;" he is only the King when we all believe that he is. We have all entered into an agreement that only works when both the King and the population work together.
The King, Prince or Baron who maintains this belief in their realm will always have the support they need, because the majority of the populous truly wants the Crown to succeed. When the Crown is successful, the Kingdom is successful, and the game works for all - and when the game works, it's a lot of fun! (In addition to all the work involved, the financial costs and headaches, aren't we supposed to be having fun?)
I believe that my fealty includes my support and that includes my best work and efforts, and my advice and true counsel, when it can be offered in an appropriate and respectful manner. The consultation offered would vary, of course, depending upon 1) ones experience in the SCA, 2) ones office or position, in the group at the time, 3) ones familiarity with the subject at hand, 4) the seriousness of the issue and 5) the Crown's desire to accept, and trust, the person offering the advice, as a worthy advisor. Once appropriate advice and opinions have been presented privately, I believe that my fealty requires that, even if my opinions are rejected totally, I still give my Crown all of my support and try to make their edicts work . . . as long as the issue falls within their proper powers, in the SCA structure.
I believe that it is also important that I clearly and appropriately point out potential problems I might foresee (if my position and relationship allows me to do so) and to do everything possible to avoid having the Crown's problems multiply, (if it can be avoided,) and certainly not to see them increase due to own my actions (or lack of action).
I believe that my oath requires me to give every possible support and aid to the Crown and to totally exhaust all possible channels of influence, before I could consider any option in opposition to them, and then only for the most serious of issues. Even at that point any opposition should only be expressed appropriately within the structure of the organization, and with the understanding that we are all human beings. We all have feelings and none of us deserve to be tortured. We are all due at least some personal and social consideration for the fact that we are human, we all make mistakes, and that we all exist in the same organization. Whether one "likes" another person or not, to me, is irrelevant in this context. We owe each other a degree of personal and social respect because we need each other - to play at all, we must play together.
What if a Crown's demand's upon me does not fall within the powers of the Crown, (which I believe is very rare and with proper support, should never occur), and I have done all I can to positively restructure the issue so that it may legitimately fall within the power of the Crown, what do I do? I believe that at this point my primary responsibility is no longer to the Crown (represented by the man or woman whose head is temporarily, heavy with that responsibility) but now my greater obligation is to the organization overall, and to its future. (It goes without saying that I must, at this point, also be willing to accept any consequences which might befall me due to my actions.)
Obligations of the Crown / Obligations of the Peer:
Fealty has two sides. Being asked (theoretically) to knowingly and willfully break Corpora, mundane law, or the Rules of the Lists, etc. would mean, to me, that the Crown has already broken their bond with me, and my oath, by demanding that I cast aside my primary responsibility - to the organization. I support the Crown because it personifies the organization and an organization must support its own law in order to survive. If a Crown knowingly and willfully violates this structure - the very structure which supports it - then it has broken it's fealty and has lost its rightful authority. My oath is held dear, and I take it seriously, and it can even force me to accept some things which I don't fully agree with (but which do not violate any law), but my oath is not absolute.
As is often pointed out; one does not swear fealty to the "person" wearing the Crown; but to the Crown itself. Or, more accurately, to the ideals the Crown represents, in the SCA. In this view all Peers can be seen as a bastion created to (however imperfectly) maintain and promote the ideals our organization promotes. The "fighting Peers", the combined "Chivalry", have the additional obligation of doing so "on the field of combat" as well as at Court, and everywhere else. The Knights have sworn to continue to swear to uphold these values; where as the Master at Arms may do so, but are not obligated to do so; but they still have the same obligations that any Peer would have.
Some Modern Views of the Master at Arms:
I must say that I am confused at the negative reaction I have found common in some parts of the SCA, and in some Kingdoms, regarding the title of Master at Arms. I can only assume that they must have evolved from a different set of understandings, and beliefs than I have, regarding this issue. I would not presume to suggest to any other member of the Chivalry, let alone to to any other Kingdom, how they should do things. I would only say that, in my mind, if a candidate for elevation to the Chivalry does not agree to "follow the rules" (Corpora, Rules of the Lists, Kingdom Law etc.) then that candidate should NOT be elevated. But if someone fulfills ALL of the requirements for elevation to Knighthood, and yet for some personal reason finds themselves unable to take the specific oath, then they should be offered the title Master at Arms.
If a candidate does not fulfill all of the requirements for Knighthood, then they should not be offered the title "Master at Arms" either. The title, "Master at Arms" is not (in my mind) "a lesser form of Knighthood", nor it is for someone who is "almost" a Knight; it is ONLY for one who would be a Knight except for the one statement of difference, found in Corpora, and that is being required to "take the oath".
The Importance of the "Rule of Law" and Not of Individuals:
Reigns are each limited to only six months; but the game has lasted over thirty years - (which is much longer than any of us would have "dreamed" it would.) We all have a responsibility to preserve this structure, this game, for the future; for those who are not yet involved, and even for those who are not yet born.
I would like to end with a quote from a former Supreme Court Justice, Tom Clark;
"Nothing can destroy a government more quickly than its failure to observe its own laws, or worse . . . the charter of it own existence."
In fealty to the Crown of Atenveldt,
Arthur of Lockehaven (AKA - Michael Cady)
Copyright 2000 by Mike Cady. e-mail: <MHCady at aol.com>. Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.