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fealty-art - 1/18/94


"The Feudal Contract: On Fealty in the SCA" by Ioseph of Locksley.


NOTE: See also the files: fealty-msg, knighthood-msg, Chivalry-art, chivalry-msg, courtly-love-msg, courtly-love-bib, Fealty-n-t-SCA-art, Rules-of-Love-art.





This file is a collection of various messages having a common theme that I have collected from my reading of the various computer networks. Some messages date back to 1989, some may be as recent as yesterday.


This file is part of a collection of files called Stefan's Florilegium. These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


I have done a limited amount of editing. Messages having to do with separate topics were sometimes split into different files and sometimes extraneous information was removed. For instance, the message IDs were removed to save space and remove clutter.


The comments made in these messages are not necessarily my viewpoints. I make no claims as to the accuracy of the information given by the individual authors.


Please respect the time and efforts of those who have written these messages. The copyright status of these messages is unclear at this time. If information is published from these messages, please give credit to the originator(s).


Thank you,

    Mark S. Harris                  AKA:  THLord Stefan li Rous

                                          Stefan at florilegium.org



Newsgroups: rec.org.sca

From: locksley at indirect.com (Joe Bethancourt)

Subject: Re: Baronial Power/Author

Date: Tue, 18 Jan 1994 07:47:00 GMT


Mc> From: mchance at nyx10.cs.du.edu (Michael Chance)

Mc> Subject: Re: Baronial Power/Authority


Mc> I'd also like to see a TI piece on the historical usage of "fealty",

Mc> and how the SCA does (or, more closely, doesn't) use the term

Mc> correctly.  My understanding is that you need a fief to be in fealty

Mc> (historically speaking), which implies a land grant of some sort.  By

Mc> that model, only landed princes/ses and landed barons/baronesses can

Mc> truly by in fealty to the Crown.  Does this mean that every one else

Mc> really pledges hommage, not fealty (especially the Knights)?


*sigh* Follows is the article on just that....rejected by TI as not being

in keeping with the "thrust" (whatever that is) of the magazine.....



                                    -Ioseph of Locksley, OL, Pel, &c.

            (c) copyright 1992 W.J. Bethancourt III


(note: to avoid awkward language constructions, the usage of gender-

specific words in this article should be construed to cover both male and

female persons.)


        One of the major problems in the SCA (and one of its' major

advantages, in my opinion) is the enormous cultural sweep that the group

covers. We have 17th Century Cavaliers interacting with 9th Century Vikings

talking to 7th Century Irishmen and leering at a 12th Century lady while

practicing 15th Century Italian politics and eating God-knows-what.

        Each of these historical periods, and cultures, had differing

concepts of the world, and we -can- accomodate all of them, with a little

effort -not- to be ethnocentric; to not take the attitude that our -personal-

period-of-choice, or our personal -interpetation- of that period, is the "One

True Medievalism."

        One of the major dividing lines is "fealty." In the SCA, we use

something that we call "fealty," but there seems to be a great deal of

misunderstanding about it .... many people seem to think that "liege-fealty"

is the only "real" kind .... so why do we allow "Masters of Arms" and other

non-fealty swearing Peers?

        First of all, we must discuss what "fealty" really is, keeping in

mind that I have formed my opinions as expressed here from much study of the

period, and from more than twenty-five years of discussion and observation

within the SCA itself.


        Fealty is a very complex, interlocking structure of oaths,

obligations and loyalties that enables a feudalistic form of social structure

to work.

        It is also a very -personal- concept, differing in intensity from

person to person.

        From a study of medieval law and history, however, we see that fealty

is primarily a -contract- between two persons or entities. The act of

entering into this contract is called "doing homage." Each party in the

contract promises certain things to the other, and if this contract is

violated, then the fealty can be "de-fiefed" or "de-fied" with no penalties

nor legal difficulties; there is no "felony," in the medieval legal sense of

the word.

        Fealty comes in three basic forms. All of them are -conditional.- In

order for them to be operative, each party must fulfil certain pre-set


        The first, and most well-known, is exemplified by the oath sworn by a

Knight to the Crown. This is called LIEGE FEALTY, and is a promise of

-absolute- service and obedience to the Crown of his Kingdom, or to an

individual person. The Crown, or the individual person, in turn promises to

defend that liegeman's "rights and privleges," and in general to be an

honorable Lord to that vassal. One swears this kind of fealty -once.-  Any

other re-swearing of it is simply a renewal, or re-affirmation of the fealty,

and should not be required of anyone, but merely optional.

        We occasionally see liegemen absenting themselves from the renewal of

fealty at Coronation, in order to make a "political statement" about the new

King or Queen. This should not be considered as "de-fieing" the Crown, for

they are -not- formally renouncing their fealty to the Crown, but rather

choosing not to renew it thru this particular person. It's -rude,- but not


        Some in the SCA take fealty very seriously indeed, taking it to mean

a "real life" loyalty, that bleeds over into many aspects of the mundane

world. Looking at the SCA in the light of a "sub-culture" of the "real"

world, this is not a surprising development.

        The second is "SIMPLE FEALTY," and is merely a pledge of loyalty by

the fief-holder to his or her Lord. This can mean any number of things, from

pretty much absolute obedience, to specified services from both parties. We

can see a form of this in the standard marriage vows that are taken in the

mundane world.

        The third is "SERVICE FEALTY," being an oath of -service- to the

Lord, with no -personal- obligations attached. This is the oath that Officers

of an SCA branch can take with (usually) no legal complications with any

other fealties they might have. This is the only thing I expect of my

Apprentices and Proteges, and I consider it to specifically exempt any liege-

fealty that might be required of them by any Crown or Coronet (though if they

wish to swear liege-fealty to me, I will accept it .... after trying to talk

them out of it!) This type of fealty will be shown to be very significant

later in this article.

        When someone swears "service," they are simply promising to do a job

that is required of them. They are -not- swearing absolute loyalty, nor liege

fealty. They are simply taking an "oath of office," if you will.

        Note that these are -basic- types of fealty. It is quite possible to

have some pretty fine shadings between the three, depending on the

individuals concerned, and the fact that you do not have to be a Knight, or

even a Peer, to swear liege-fealty.

        A Peer, or a Landed Baron/ess, or a Prince/ess, is a "tenant-in-

chief" with a "fief ligium;" they hold their title -directly from the Crown.-  

These titles (and all titles in the SCA, for that matter) fall under the

concept of "mainmorte," i.e. they are -not- inheritable, but revert to the

Crown (or the SCA) on the holder's death.

        I must here remind my readers that when we in the SCA say "the

Crown," we mean that abstract entity that is symbolized by the Crowns (both

the King's and Queen's) of the Kingdom. We do -not- mean the person(s)

sitting underneath them. They are most emphatically -not- "the Crown" to

which one swears fealty.

        For the origins of this concept, let us look at the first Knightings

in the SCA, back in AS 2 in the Kingdom of the West:


----------from the Western 12th Night AS 2---------------------------


     "... And that the Crown may endure, and our Kingdom prosper,

     these Gentlemen will be asked to give fealty , in matters

     concerning this Society, and -only- this Society; not to the

     King, who shall, in his time, pass from the throne; but to the

     Crown of this, the Society of (sic) Creative Anachronism. And

     if these Gentlemen will give that fealty, then they shall be

     created Knights...."


----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------



        In period, the vassal owed certain things to his Lord, and the Lord

promised certain things to the vassal. In general, there are certain items

that can be considered "universal" for the fealty contract:


        The military service ("auxilium") owed fell into five types:


            1) the defense of the Lord's castle

            2) the ransom of the Lord, if he was taken captive

            3) the costs of the knighthood of his eldest son

            4) the costs of the marriage of his eldest daughter

            5) participation with the Lord in a Crusade


        Two thru four can be pretty much ignored in an SCA context, though

some will provide gifts when a Lord reaches a Peerage .... and sometimes the

Lord will provide these to the vassal, in the context of the "fief de bursa."

Number one can be expressed in an SCA context by defending the Lord against

his enemies, both on -and off- the field, and number five is simply showing

up at Wars and such like, to fulfill the obligation of "expeditio," or

service in warfare for 40 days at the vassal's expense. These are the basic

obligations of a "fief militum" or "fief loricae;" a Knighthood, or Prince,

or Landed Baron.

        The vassals also have the rights (and obligations) of "consilium," to

advise their Lord of their opinions, and of "fidelitas," or faithfulness

to their Lord.

        We also see "purveyance," or the right of the Lord to ask hospitality

of his vassal. In the SCA, this works both ways: the two parties can expect

food and shelter, or at least help with it, from each other at an event.

        "Scutage" is not much used in the SCA. This was a payment of money in

lieu of military service, and used to hire mercenaries .... and could stand

to be adopted within the SCA to add to a vassal's fighting force; to ask (not

-require!-) the non-fighting Peerage to provide a substitute to fight in

their place at a War would be quite period .... and very useful to add to a

Kingdom's fighting strength.

        A vassal can expect protection; the "justice" concept, if you will.

Their Lord has the absolute obligation to defend them against anything that

might harm them, and to see that they are treated fairly and chivalrously by

others, and the vassal should return the obligation by standing with the Lord

when he needs it.

        The vassal can also expect their Lord to behave in an honorable

manner towards them; to refrain from taking an unfair advantage, or "using"

them to advance the Lord's own personal agenda .... and the Lord can expect

the same from them.

        Do you see some of the qualities of behaviour that we name as

"chivalric" coming out here?

        There could be other conditions, such as the Lord giving the vassal

"livery," i.e. a piece of garb that marks them as that Lord's vassal such as

a surcoat or a House badge, or giving them armor to fight in .... whatever is

acceptable to -both- parties concerned.


        One can also swear multiple fealties, but you -must- specify your

"fief ligium," your -primary- Lord. This is the Lord that takes precedence

over other obligations, and such obligations must be considered -before-

swearing an additional fealty oath. This was a common practice in period, and

many times led to some rather sticky situations indeed; such multiple

fealties should be considered most carefully, as it could land you between

two (or more) loyalties and cause much heartache and problems for all


        Now let's look at another period form of fealty that is not quite so

well-known: COMMUNIO JURATA. This is fealty that has been sworn by a group of

people to themselves; a bonding together. This is what the Dark Horde is, and

some of the other SCA "households" too. They are in fealty -with each other,-

not with any titular head, and act together as a "corporate body," The three

basic forms of fealty enumerated above can fit with varying degrees of ease

within this. The KaKhan of the Dark Horde, for example, is a "primus inter

paris" sort of figure; a "first among equals" as opposed to an absolute


        I might add that the concept of an "absolute monarch" is blatantly

out-of-period for the SCA. The SCA's monarchs are, in fact, "constitutional

monarchies," being limited in their powers by Kingdom Law and Corpora. Some

Kingdom's monarchs are more limited than others, however, and the usual

saying about "anything you can get away with is legal" tends to apply ....



        So what one of the parties breaks the contract? And what would be

considered legitimate breaches? We have seen three things, at least, that

would be obvious breaches of the fealty contract:


    1) Failure to protect the vassal/Lord

    2) Refusal of justice to/from the vassal/Lord

    3) Dishonourable conduct towards the vassal/Lord


        And, of course, any specific clauses in the fealty oath that are

broken or ignored (such as a Peer -not- teaching his Squire / Apprentice /

Protege) would be considered good and sufficient reason for "de-fieing" the

Lord and finding another. If one party violates the conditions set, then the

contract is null.


        Feudal society was considered to be "pyramidal" in structure, with

the Crown at the apex, and the rest of the populace, in descending order of

"rank" forming the rest of the pyramid. We could illustrate this by showing

what could be considered a "typical" feudal structure, using SCA terms:


                           The Crown-------The Crown Prince/ess

                          /    |   \

The Coronet of Principality A |  The Coronet of Principality B

     |       |        |        |         |       |            |

     |       |        |      Peers       |       |            |

     |       |        |                  |       |            |

Baron/ess C  |      Baron/ess D    Baron/ess E   |       Baron/ess F

     |       |           |             |         |            |

Barony C     |      Barony D        Barony E     |         Barony F

         |---|     /       \                     |---|         

         |     Canton G  Canton H                    |         

      Shire I                                   College J


        But Peers hold directly of the Crown, as their oaths, whether of

liege-fealty or service or whatever, are to the Crown on their creation.

Thus, the pyramid is a good bit more complex than the above idealized


        In practice, a person in liege-fealty to a Peer who is in liege-

fealty to the Crown should be considered "in fealty" to the Crown....unless

the person has made their fealty to the Peer their "fief ligium." At this

point, it gets a bit sticky. The same could be considered of a person in

liege-fealty to the Coronet of a Principality or Barony.



        So...what about Masters of Arms, and other Peers that swear no


        First of all, back in the dim days of the SCA's beginnings, one

Richard of Montroyal, called "the Short," was given the Belt .... but he

could not swear fealty for (religious, I am told) reasons. Thus (Duke) Master

Richard of Montroyal, of West Kingdom, became the SCA's first "Master of


        We see it in the original Knighthood ceremony of the Kingdom of the



----------from the Western 12th Night AS 2---------------------------


     "... But if one of this company shall not give his fealty, or if

     thru prior commitment, he -may- not give this fealty, as this

     would do wound his honor, then may he yet be awarded acclaim; and

     this acclaim shall take the title of 'Master.' ...."


----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------


        This tradition has been continued thru the Society's history, and is

even embodied in Corpora:




     VII.A.4. Patent Orders


     a.) The Chivalry consists of two equal parts, the Order of

     Knighthood and the Order of Mastery of Arms. No one may belong to

     both orders at one time. When a member is admitted to the

     Chivalry by the Sovereign the choice of which order to join is

     made by the new member.


     1) Specific requirements:


     b) To join the Order of Knighthood, the candidate must swear

     fealty to the Crown of his or her kingdom during the knighting

     ceremony. Members of the Order of Mastery of Arms may choose to

     swear fealty, but are not required to do so.

----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------


        We can see pretty clearly here that it is -not- up to the Crown to

decide if a person may or may not be a Master of Arms or a Knight. Such a

choice is up to the person being offered the Belt.

        But is it "period," to have a Peer that does not swear fealty?

In the context of medieval legal thought as applied to the SCA, the answer

seems to be an unqualified "Yes!"

        First of all: look at the oaths that are taken when the Peerages are

given in Atenveldt:




     Knighthood: (N), you stand before us this day having

     indicated your willingness to accept the noble Order of

     Knighthood in the Society for Creative Anachronism. Having

     been adjudged fit for this honor do you (N) swear by all you

     hold sacred and true that you will honor and obey the Crown

     of Atenveldt, honor and defend all ladies and those weaker

     than yourself, give courtesie to your Peers, both Knight,

     and Master of Arms, and Masters and Mistresses of the Laurel

     and Pelican, and conduct yourself in all matters as befits a

     knight, drawing your sword only for just cause and being

     chivalrous to all to the greater glory of yourself and the

     Crown of Atenveldt?


     (The King then says:) Then We, (N), by right of arms King of

     Atenveldt, do swear to defend you and your household until

     Death take Us, the World end, or the Crown shall pass from

     Our Hands.


----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------


        It should be noted that the combination of the Knight's Oath and

the King's response, along with the gift of the Chain, result in a liege-

fealty contract.




     Master of Arms: Place your hands on this, the Great Sword of

     State, and swear by all that you hold sacred and true, that

     you shall conduct yourself in all ways as befits a Peer of

     this Realm, to be at all times an example of Chivalry and

     Courtesie, to give honor to the Crown and the Kingdom, and

     to your Peers, to further your knowledge of the Arts of

     Peace and War, and to aid others in this pursuit. All this

     you should swear, by this Sword and by your honor.


     Laurel (Pelican): Place your hands on this, the Great Sword

     of State, and swear by all that you hold sacred and true,

     that you shall henceforth conduct yourself in all ways as

     befits a Peer of this Realm, to be at all times an example

     of Chivalry and Courtesie, to give honor to the Crown and

     the Kingdom, and to your Peers, both Knights and Masters of

     Arms, and Masters and Mistresses of the Pelican (Laurel) to

     further your knowledge of the Arts of Peace and War, and to

     aid others in this pursuit. All this you should swear, by

     this Sword and by your honor.


----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------      


        ALL Peers promise to -teach- their Art, and to improve themselves in

their chosen field. This is a "service" contract prima facie. They take what

amounts to an -oath of service.- Also, the Peerage cannot even be -offered-

if the person has not shown obedience to Kingdom Law and respect for the





     VII.A. Patents of Arms


     1) General requirements: Candidates for any order conferring a

     Patent of Arms must meet the following minimum criteria.

     Additional requirements may be set by law and custom of the

     kingdoms as deemed apprpriate and necessary by the Crown.


     a.) They shall have been obedient to the governing documents of

     the Society and the laws of the kingdom.


     b.) They shall have consistently shown respect for the Crown of

     the kingdom.


----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------


        And let us go back to Corpora once again:






     b.) The Order of the Laurel. Members of the Order of the Laurel

     may choose to swear fealty, but are not required to do so.


     c.) The Order of the Pelican. Members of the Order of the Pelican

     may choose to swear fealty, but are not required to do so.


----------------------------end of quote-----------------------------


        We can see pretty clearly here that to deny a person the Laurel or

Pelican soley on the basis of their refusal to swear fealty would be a clear

violation of Corpora. To be "obedient to ... the laws of the kingdom" and to

"consistently show respect for the Crown" does -not- require a fealty oath.

        Further, listen to the Monarch's oath (in the Kingdom of Atenveldt)

at his Coronation:




        "I (name of Crown Prince) do for my part swear fealty to these

    knights of Atenveldt and all their households; to protect and defend

    them and their rights and duties against every creature with all my

    power; and to hold as my sacred trust this, the Crown of Atenveldt.

    And I do swear that no man who will not guard the honour of the

    people of Atenveldt, nor defend the principles of Chivalry; nor

    protect rigourously the rights of all subjects of the Crown of

    Atenveldt, and in particular those privileges ordained by Statute and

    established by custom to be the exclusive perogatives of the

    Nobility; nor who will swear this solemn oath so to do shall hold

    this, the Crown of Atenveldt, after me. So say I (and here the Crown

    Prince shall state his name), Prince of Atenveldt"


----------------------------end of quote------------------------------


        He promises to defend and protect -all- subjects, not just his

liegemen. This constitutes (in my opinion) a legal fealty contract, though it

is not "liege" fealty per se (except in the case of the Knights, of course.)

It's actually a pretty strongly worded pledge, and should be studied and

thought about, HARD, by -every- contender for the Throne.


        Period feudalism was based on -land.- We in the SCA must transfer

this concept to the simple Peerage-honor (the Belt/Baldric, Laurel and

Pelican), since within the SCA only Kings, Landed Barons and Princes (and

their Consorts, of course!) are "landed" titles; they are the only ones that

"control" an area of land. Therefore, the concepts of "allodium," or land

that is held in "feodum solis" or "fief francum," meaning a fief that had

-no- Lord superior to the Landholder, and little or no service to the Crown

required for its holding, would apply very easily to the Master of Arms, or

to any Peer that does not swear liege fealty. It is evidently a very period

concept indeed.

        This is not to say that these Peers cannot swear a -personal- fealty

oath of any kind to a Lord. Some Masters of Arms have sworn such an oath to

the -person- of the King or the Queen and not to "the Crown" (with that

particular feudal contract therefore ending at the end of that reign) and

this is considered quite acceptable over the whole of the SCA.

        To complicate matters even more, one can choose to swear fealty in

the context of an Office and not in one's "private" persona.

        I swore fealty as Baron of SunDragon .... not as "Ioseph of

Locksley," who cannot and will not swear such, but as "The Baron of

SunDragon." In other words, when the Baronial Coronet was on my head, I was

the King's Man, and spoke and acted as the King's Representative. When the

Coronet was -not- on my head, I reverted back to a simple, non-fealty

swearing private person. When I made music, or went off raising hell, I -took

off- the Coronet. My "private" persona and my "public" persona were kept

-strictly- separate (especially because "Ioseph" had opinions that might not

be quite in line with the opinions and agenda of "The Baron!")

        This would be an acceptable "out" (in my opinion) to an Officer who

cannot swear liege-fealty as a private person, but who holds a Society Office

under a Crown or Coronet .... but it -must- be an individual decision. If

that individual decides they cannot do it in good concience, then their

decision should be respected.

         I would not recommend this to persons who have no strong personal

feelings nor very strong personalities. It is a hard and delicate line to

walk, and can only be done with great attention to details, like saying

-every time- "I am now talking as my private persona and NOT as (name of

office)" and MAKING IT STICK.


        Much of this may seem like logic-chopping, or making a big to-do out

of semantics, but it seems necessary. We are dealing with some pretty

delicate matters here, that impinge on both "legal" and emotional issues.

These issues tend to be extremely important for many people, and thus, an

understanding of them can only be had by some pretty close reasoning, and

some drawing of fine lines.

        I also must add that I have -not- talked about the various mundane

considerations that might preclude the swearing of fealty. There -are-

several good mundane reasons why a person could not swear fealty, even in the

SCA in its' aspect as a "hobby" ..... but those mundane reasons are

ultimately -entirely up to the person concerned.-

        I hope that this helps to clarify what is admittedly a rather

confusing subject .... and I hope my unavoidable pedantry hasn't put too many

readers off.




The passages from "The Organizational Handbook of the SCA Inc (Corpora)"

are (c) copyright 1989 The Society For Creative Anachronism Inc. and are

used under the blanket permission given for such usage by the SCA Inc.


The passages from Western 12th Night AS 2 are taken from the only existing

copy of the ceremonies as written (probably) by Master Randall of Hightower

as posted on InterNet rec.org.sca 08 May 1981 CE.




Permission is granted to reprint this article in newsletters of the SCA or

similar groups. Please send a copy of the newsletter reprinting the article

to: Joe Bethancourt, PO Box 35190, Phoenix, AZ 85069. Any editing without the

author's permission will be considered a violation of copyright.



... still grumpy after all these years  


locksley at indirect.com                               Locksley Plot Systems

Inc. White Tree Productions                             CyberMongol Ltd.


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.


<the end>

Formatting copyright © Mark S. Harris (THLord Stefan li Rous).
All other copyrights are property of the original article and message authors.

Comments to the Editor: stefan at florilegium.org