Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do
Creativity in Kings
Ælflæd of Duckford
You may have known a king or two (long ago, I hope) who thought the only way
for people to know he'd been there as royalty was to do some permanent damage
(which he called "change") to the kingdom, at least to mess irreversibly with
a barony or two.
Tradition and creativity are not mutually exclusive. A total lack of
creativity may lead to discontent, but traditions not actively promoted
begin to decay. a king should be aware of and sensitive to traditions and
behavior patterns that provide comfort and familiarity for the people of the
kingdom. Some things might seem petty, but consider: If people are really
used to a lunch break during a day-long tournament, a king shouldn't schedule
so that his lunch is brought to him and no one else can eat without missing
something. If a kingdom is used to a half-hour warning, and then a
ten-minute warning, holding a court after one announcement of "Court will
begin in five minutes" is a slap in the face of the people who are counting
on the traditions of their kingdom. Is this to suggest that the king doesn't
have the power or authority to "order his court" any way he royally pleases?
Of course not. Kings don't always do what first pops into their minds,
contrary to some people's views. The path of least resistance for a king
might be to do what he pleases on five minutes notice, but this path leads to
great unpopularity for the king and unhappiness in the kingdom.
If a king wants to take the middle road, he should play from memory of
what the best kings he can remember have done. He should be fair to as
many people as possible—maybe even considerate of people when he schedules
courts, meetings, tournaments, etc. If there's a way to do things which
has worked well in the past, he should try to do it again. If there's
an idea from a previous reign which was well-received, he might borrow
it and credit the king or queen who did it before. (The example I'm thinking
of is gifts given to all scribes and calligraphers who prepared scrolls
during the reign.)
The harder path, but the most glorious, is to be creative. Hard paths can be
dangerous. If you want to do something no king in your kingdom has ever
done before, you need to consider the ramifications:
- Will it offend someone or hurt someone's feelings?
- Is it in keeping with the goals of the Society?
- Is it something the people will be glad for and proud of?
- If it were to become a tradition, would it be to your credit or
to your blame?
Changing things just for the sake of changing them could amount to social
vandalism, and I never advocate that. Embroidering traditions with new,
removable embellishments is all I'm suggesting, or trying something which may
or may not be continued by royalty after you.
A warning about kingdom loyalties: There are certain traditions which
transplant easily from one place to another; others do not. There are
certain kingdoms in which if you said "They do a really neat thing in
the West ..." the crowd would gather around and listen with merry expectation.
The same statement in other groups might be met with, "Well then we're
not going to do it here!" even if the plan would've been of great benefit.
A way to get around that, if you're trying to import an idea from a kingdom
not particularly popular this season in your own, is to drop the reference.
Say "I'd like to experiment with X, and see what people think of it."
If they like it or care to discuss it, then you might say it was an idea
you got from the Midrealm (or wherever), or you might wait until successful
completion to recite the lineage of the idea. This applies to officers
or autocrats with great new ideas from other kingdoms as well as to kings.
I'm not saying it's good, or that it should be that way, but it's my experience
that a wonderful plan can be squashed because of its place of origin.
Don't lie and say it's your own personal thought if it's not, but get
people to like it before you say where you got it if you can, so that
it stands on its own merit.
Creativity—Real Accounts (projects either completed or discussed before)
Some of these were joint efforts of royalty and officers, but I'll tell them
in this section knowing that they're not all wholly royal plans. They're all
the sorts of things that kings and queens can take some credit for whether
they had the idea and did the work or not.
- Having a yearly seneschals' meeting to foster intergroup relations and to
train new seneschals and other interested parties in kingdom policies and
practices. (It works better in smaller geographical areas than large, and
best if it can be a full weekend or full day, at least.)
- Gifts to non-peers who swear fealty. (In kingdoms in which non-peers are
not privileged to swear fealty, this offer is null and void.)
- Asking laurels who they think should be knights and pelicans (not with a
long discussion, just to name names), and so forth through the circles.
- Taking a week's vacation and visiting different groups on weeknights
during that week. (It'll drive heralds crazy for years if awards are given
on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, but shires love the attention.)
- A gift or token from the Queen to all who enter a queen's champion
tournament (or another significant tournament).
- Inviting a new peer to sit at the head table the evening of the elevation.
(If this is a tradition in your area, it wouldn't be "creative" to do it,
but if it's not. . .)
- Inviting someone to share the head table—the winner of a tournament,
or of an arts competition, or a bard who's written a new song, or a
newly-appointed kingdom officer, or a member who's about to move to
another kingdom. It's symbolic, it's memorable, it's generous, it's
wonderful. (If a space at head table's not available or a poor choice
for some reason, have a chair brought near the throne during a tournament
or entertainment, and invite the person to share lunch or fruit and
wine with you.)
- Write to a subset of the subjects of the kingdom and ask their advice
on some matter. A letter from the king and queen is always exciting,
and gathering information is wonderful all the way around. The worst
thing is you might not be able to use the great ideas you get. (Examples:
Ask good non-belts an opinion concerning fighter training, or ask all
local seneschals something directly rather than through the kingdom
seneschal, just for the pleasant effect it will have on them. Ask two
people from each shire something about what could be done to assist
smaller groups, and then use and credit some of the ideas.)
Don't reject an idea just because it comes from someone else. If you've just
read an idea here that you'd already had independently, don't reject it just
because you're afraid someone will think you got it from this book. If
there's someone in your kingdom you can hardly stand to be near but he comes
up with a truly good, workable idea, go with it and give him credit, for the
good of your soul and all involved.
What if there's a regular tradition that I can't stand and would like to
dump? Who are you? I'm assuming you mean as king or queen, but are you a
really old-timer (as old as the tradition?), or a fair newcomer, or are you a
transplant from another kingdom? It's a harder question than it seems. If I
moved from the Outlands to Atlantia, became queen and decided these people
would be having more fun if they played just like the Outlands, that would be
a pretty harmful and dangerous attitude. The most I could get away with,
socially and morally, would probably be the addition of a couple of minor
Outlands' practices, and those probably shouldn't have anything to do with
coronations or creation of peers. If I want to introduce some little bardic
circle tradition, or a kind of tournament, or a queen's favor kind of
tradition it might be well received, but to indicate either blatantly or
subtly a disdain for the kingdom I'm in would be a bit like mooning the
court. We're in a sort of love-it-or-leave-it environment.
What do you think would happen if someone really did press to change things
radically? When royalty makes major changes in traditional life without the
approval of the populace, it usually begins a series of snubs which terminate
with the royalty losing the support of a number of peers and officers. The
same kind of people who can decide to go against traditions and then actually
do it are sometimes the same kinds of people who don't notice that the more
intelligent and hard-working members of the populace have all stayed home to
work on their cars or something, and they're surrounded by opportunistic
"Opportunistic toadies!?" Sycophants. Brown-nosers.
But they're always there, aren't they? Maybe, but as long as the king and
queen have surrounded themselves with good people, the harmful effects of
those who will kiss up just to get their own way is limited. If the good
people become hurt or disgusted and leave, that leaves more room and more
time for those who don't usually have as great an access to the Crown to
become their best advisors.
But back to the other question about what would happen if someone changed
things with no consideration for the opinions of the populace: If royalty
has no regard for the kingdom, the feeling will be mutual. People have long
memories, and damage done to a kingdom is not the kind of service kings and
queens swear to provide. If a person is being king for his own benefit, for
his own amusement, and doing exactly what he wants just because he wants to
do it, he is not being a good king. He'll have to live with the consequences
for the rest of his SCA life.
What is the best way to try to change things? As in mundane politics or in
management, you need to make the people want the change. If you determine
that enough people are unattached to a tradition, or even unhappy with it,
then you tentatively discuss a change, get some support, write up an article
or good speech to explain it, approach it as an experimental change (don't
say "this is the way it will be from now on"), and try it. If you spring it
on people with no warning, they might hate it even if it's good. If you
have an innovative idea for a knighting ceremony (even if it's an innovative
idea like using a more period ceremony), you need the support of the herald,
the candidate, and the other people involved in it.
All articles from the Royalty section:
Considerations · Etiquette
Royalty · Being an Officer · Seneschal · Heraldry and Heralding ·
Arts and Sciences · Chronicler · Treasurer · Chirurgeons · Autocrat · Welcoming Newcomers · Peerage · Language Use · Last-But-Not-Least Ideas
Contents and Search · Preface and credits