"Fealty in the SCA" by Baron Hrolf Herjolffsen OP.
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Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous
stefan at florilegium.org
[NOTE: This was written when Lochac was a principality of the West Kingdom. A few details may have changed since then – Stefan]
by Baron Hrolf Herjolffsen OP
Please observe that this is a personal note. There are as many different conceptions of Fealty as there are of Chivalry. I believe that my conception is fairly close to a median West Kingdom opinion. This does not necessarily make it a common one in Lochac. My qualifications for writing this are that I have spent 17 years in the SCA. I am a landed Baron and have been a Member of the Order of the Pelican for some 11 years. I have a Queen's Order of Grace and a whole pile of other awards. I have also spent a lot of time thinking, talking to others and arguing about this issue. Whether what I say is right for you, only you can judge.
Fealty, however, is not about the jewellery you wear. For a Landed Baron or Baroness, being in Fealty means that you are in a direct personal relationship to the Crown. You have a right of access directly to the Sovereign's ear and they must listen to you. If they do not at least give you a hearing on an issue, it is them that is at fault, not you. By the same token, you must listen especially hard when the Crown speaks. You have to obey their words and advise them. Obedience is, however, not blind. If you see the Crown about to break a Law, or stumble over a precipice, it is your duty not to follow blindly, but to warn them of the consequences of their actions (after you have done this, you must still obey them). Because of their habit of advising the Crown (whether wanted or not), Barons and Baronesses will thus not always be popular with the Crown.
My Lady and I were Peers before we became Landed. We have always held that Peers have a similar relationship to the Crown. There is a big difference however in that for a Peer, the relationship is a personal one while a Baron and Baroness are in Fealty for, and on behalf of the populace of an area. Speaking historically, the personal nature of the relationship a Peer has is along the lines of the landless or household knights. They owed direct personal obedience to a Lord. Their only obligation to their Lord was for themselves. The landed nobility (in period this was Dukes, Counts, Earls, Barons, landed Knights) had, not only a personal obligation, but also a responsibility for the health of the Kingdom through their stewardship of a part of it.
In accordance with this, voluntary fealty may be sworn by the people of a Barony to their Baron and Baroness. Note that this cannot be compelled. Such an Oath carries the responsibilities of landed Fealty further down the chain. This relationship is summed up in the words of the Fealty Oath we use in Ynys Fawr which is (briefly) modelled on period examples.
Oath-taker(s) "Here do I (name) swear fealty to the Baron and Baroness Ynys Fawr, saving only any Fealty that I may have to the Crown of the West or the Coronet of Lochac. I swear to defend the Barony by any means within my power, to obey the lawful commands of the Baron and Baroness, to advise the Baron and Baroness to the best of my ability, and to act in all ways as a true liegeman ought. This I swear until I formally revoke this oath or the Baron and Baroness depart from their thrones. So swear I, (name)."
Baron "In our part we swear to serve and protect you, our liegemen, to regard your council, and promote your good works to the Crown and always bear you in our minds. This we swear until we do formally revoke this oath or until we depart from our thrones. So say I (name), Baron Ynys Fawr."
Baroness "So also say I (name), Baroness Ynys Fawr"
On looking at this, you will note that Fealty is a two-way street. Not only do both sides swear an Oath, but both have obligations to the other. Period examples can go on for several printed pages, laying out each side's obligations in great detail. Much as we must advise the Crown and be mindful of the health of our group, a person who has sworn fealty to us has voluntarily assumed some of that burden. By placing themselves in Fealty, they swear to obey and to act "as a true liegeman ought". By implication, this includes a care for the lands of the Barony and the health of the group.
Peers may have other people in fealty to them as apprentices, proteges or squires. Unlike those in Fealty to a landed person, they swear Fealty to a Lord or Lady as a part of their household. Depending on what is sworn, this may mean obedience et al. This however is a personal alliegance (note that word) and the liegeman (there is no ungendered expression) is only responsible for themselves and their acts.
In conclusion, the giving and taking of an Oath of Fealty is the voluntary assumption by two parties of a series of relationships. It is a contractual arrangement and, as such, should never be entered into lightly. Both parties should be well aware of what they are involving themselves in. There are two levels of these Oaths. One is personal, to a Peer or the Crown. The other is an assumtion of some of the corporate life of the SCA and as a member of the group. For those who have thought about what it means, and have had an opportunity to swear to the Crown or Coronet, the usual response is: "I now really feel a part of the Kingdom of the West". I hope you have this opportunity, now, or as a Peer.
References: These are well written and will give you an idea of how the concept of fealty came about and how it tied in with the feudal system. They will be available in any good library. If you want more, ask.
Ari¸s, Phillipe and George Duby (general editors) A History of Private Life Vol 1 From Pagan Rome to Byzantium Paul Veyne (1992) (translated Arthur Goldhammer) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ISBN 0 674 39974 9.
Ari¸s, Phillipe and George Duby (general editors) A History of Private Life Vol I1 Revelations of the Medieval World editor Georges Duby (1992) (translated Arthur Goldhammer) Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, ISBN 0 674 40001 1.
Bloch, Marc, translated L. A. Manyon (1975) Feudal Society, (2 vols) London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
Copyright 2002 by Cary J Lenehan, 16 Maweena Pl, Kingston, Tasmania, 7050, Australia. <lenehan at our.net.au>. 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.