Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

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.

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.)
  5. A gift or token from the Queen to all who enter a queen's champion tournament (or another significant tournament).
  6. 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. . .)
  7. 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.)
  8. 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 toadies.

"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.

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Copyright Sandra Dodd, 1991 Original site design by Marie de Blois
Revision, AElflaed