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


What Really Happens in Peers' Circles continued [1]

Are Royal peers real peers? Occasionally a discussion comes up about "real peers" and, folks, it's just not worth fighting about. "Peer" means one of the same rank, so "peers of the realm" means the king's peers/peers of the king. "Royal Peers" in SCA concept refers to dukes, duchesses, counts, countesses, viscounts, viscountesses and maybe ruling barons (they've been off some lists and on some I've seen). Court barons aren't considered to be peers, as far as I know, in any kingdom by any definition. Another way to define peers in the Society is as those with Patents of Arms. In that case all of the members of the chivalry, laurel and pelican are peers, and only those former-royalty who specifically received patents of arms. Check with some knowledgeable heralds in your own area to see what the distinctions are where you live.

The only time I've seen this really matter was in the case of a meeting of all the peers (I've been to three or four in my whole life) at which candidates would also be discussed. It's bad enough to discuss laurel candidates in front of the belts and pelicans (especially if some of them are candidates and therefore left out of the day's discussions, since they're sitting right there), without discussing such things in front of former royalty who are not going to be back in the circle again. It's like a snapshot of the circles - one discussion with no history and no follow-up. I don't personally like such circles, because if I change my mind I'd like for it to be among people who know what I thought before and why, and what I think now and why. I have friends who do like mixed circles. Anyway, that's a time when it becomes necessary to decide whether the Order of the Rose is an order to be included, and if so what about viscountesses or countesses who are not members of an order of peerage, unbelted former princes or kings. It depends on who's running the meeting and why. If you're royalty and you find yourself involved in a circle which is more open than usual, you need to be aware that the peers might be less open than usual, and the comments you get might be politely, warily watered down.

Isn't it more fair just to poll by mail? Some kingdoms poll by mail, and the advantage is every single member of the order has an equal opportunity to comment. The disadvantages, from the point of view of a person comfortable in a kingdom where polling is done in person at events, are that you lose the brainstorming aspect of a group discussion, where one person's comments can affect another's thought, and nebulous ideas can be clarified. It can also be a disadvantage that every peer gets an equal chance to comment, as those who haven't been active will not have as clear an idea what's going on, and in person that can be dealt with easily enough. Either an inactive person isn't there (and especially when it's a kingdom event in his or her own group, it's a pretty strong statement of inactivity) or, if he's there and says he has no idea who a candidate is, the others can say "He's been at five of the last six major events." When a peer is totally unfamiliar with a candidate it can mean either that the candidate needs to be around longer, or the the peer needs to get around more. It's possible that a king and queen will take that into consideration in a mail polling, and if you become king or queen you might try to make such considerations within whatever system you work.

What if the members of the order and the Crown don't agree? This is another "it depends" answer. Corpora requires that the Crown consult with the order before elevating someone. It doesn't say, nor mean to say, that they can't do it without unanimous approval, or even majority approval. If the king goes around the circle and asks people to vote yes or no, it's not a "vote" as we in 20th Century Western Civilization are used to thinking of it. The word "vote" is related to "voice," and its linguistic roots have to do with swearing, or speaking solemnly. The word "nominate" just means to name. So in circles when we're "nominating and voting" we're naming people and saying stuff. That's all. This is an advice gathering activity, not a democratic process.

If a great number of the peers feel that a candidate is ready and the Crown does not, it is usually possible for the Crown to just stall and avoid the issue, leaving it for the next reign. Some kings and queens have been willing to be vocal in their disagreement, and to say that they cannot in good conscience elevate that candidate, and for what reason. Sometimes such speeches have been known to cause members of the circle to re-think their support, and a few months later it's considered anew. Other kings and queens have been hesitant to speak out in a circle of which they are not ordinarily members, and so they just say they'll think about it and it doesn't get done during that reign. If a person really deserves peerage, he'll get it, and if one reign is going to make all the difference in the world to him, he didn't really deserve it anyway.

If a large portion of the peers are against the elevation of a candidate, a king and queen may go ahead and do it anyway. It won't be popular, and it may hurt the new peer more than help him, but kings and queens who would go against the wishes of so many peers have already shown that they don't much care about the feelings of individuals. It's a shame, though, that in trying to help their friends they sometimes kill any chances of their becoming peers in a positive and memorable manner. Even if a person "earns the peerage" after the fact, the stigma stays for a long, long time. (There's more on this right of kings in the section on royalty.)

What were you guys laughing about? This matter of who should be elevated to peerage is not a very funny one, but sometimes laughter is coming out of the circles. Don't be paranoid! If a person is brought up and the circle has reservations, they will not be laughing about it. When we're laughing, we're usually laughing at each other, at some funny turn of phrase, or at a funny suggestion made to break tension. I've been in very few circles where a discussion turned really negative, and when it does, the Crown can just end the discussion with something like "it's obvious you feel the person needs more time, so let's go on to the next one."

If peers come out of a circle looking happy, they may be happy about no more than that the king and queen didn't rush them, or that the discussions were very friendly and productive. It doesn't mean there's going to be a peerage offered.

If peers come out of a circle looking really cranky, they're probably not upset with any non-peer, but with one another. There are days when people just can't agree, or someone's really adamant about a point the others just can't see or don't support. It's hard when people you have to work with are having differences. Just because it was a frustrating circle doesn't mean the next one won't be better. Frustrating exchanges sometimes inspire better thinking afterwards than very agreeable exchanges do. (This is not a recommendation to induce frustration, just not to panic over it.)

When somone needs specific advice about changing his behavior, isn't it the duty of the peers to tell him so? This thought has been expressed differently by different people, and the saddest is when someone finds out after several years that his or her behavior was irritating or inappropriate, and then comes to a member of the peerage and says "Why didn't you tell me?" It's awkward. In the case of knights and squires, there's a tradition of advice giving and of primping and preening. In some kingdoms this has been extended to laurels and pelicans taking apprentices or proteges. When people can make this relationship work well, I'm in favor of their doing so. Ideas for improvement which come from the circle should never be presented as such, though, but rather as a natural suggestion. When a knight comes out and says "The circle says you don't take blows," that's violating a circle (especially if names are named; that's not honorable). The knight should just watch more closely and critique the blow-taking as it happens.

They say you don't travel enough Do you want to ride with me?
I heard you don't take blows. Tell me about why you didn't take that blow.
Mistress X hates your documentation. Let me proofread your documentation.
You gossip too much Does it really help for you to run them down?

The circle's information should serve as a critique of the person training the candidate (if there is one), to show that certain lessons haven't been taught, and the knight or mentor should take the information into himself, not over to the student.

One of my proofreaders wrote at this point: "If the person has no mentor suggest that one of the circle address its issues in an informal setting. Perhaps one could take a greater interest in that person, or have them invited to a philosophy practice." [This is a local-style solution; see the explanation of "philosophy practice" in the back of the book.]

My own opinion about peerage is that candidates should be observant and aware enough to learn on their own what the ideals are, and to follow them without a coach. If I train someone to act and be a certain way, and the person then is made a peer, won't he always then be that one level below, because he didn't have what it took to figure out on his own what needed to be done? Being the way peers should be is better, to my thinking, than acting the way peers should be.

I think all peers should encourage all non-peers, and train anyone who will come for training in whatever art or skill the peer has If someone comes for knowledge you don't have, arrange for them to learn it from someone who does know. Every non-peer is a candidate for peerage, and we should treat them that way and expect them to behave that way, but we shouldn't tell them so. When I first joined I learned that all the gentlemen of the Society were very chivalrous "because they're either knights or they hope to become knights." That's a great thought. I learned later it wasn't quite true of everyone, but it is true of most, and it applies to ladies as well. If the peers behave chivalrously because they've sworn they will, and if non-peers behave chivalrously because they aspire to peerage, the Society will be as wonderful as anyone ever hoped it would be.

If the question hasn't been answered for you yet, my answer is that it is not the duty of the peers to lead other people to peerage, but to recognize those who have gotten there on their own.

Why does it seem that peers only hang around with other peers? It seems to peers, on the other hand, that newcomers come in clumps and families - little gangs of friends, sticking together as though they have some secrets in common. Ask your friendly neighborhood old-time laurel why she befriended some of her regular laurel-buddies, and you'll probably find that they've been friends since they were newcomers. Ask a couple of dukes who pal about and you might find they were knighted the same year. At his vigil, a laurel candidate once brought this up, and said he felt very uncomfortable about the idea of actually socializing with the other laurels. How could he begin to talk to them as an equal since he had taken some pride in avoiding them in the past? Having felt a little like that myself at one time I suggested that he would find that once he had a real reason to deal with them on kingdom business and in circles, he would discover that each one was a person just like him, a former newcomer, who later had been thrilled at receiving an award of arms. He would find some interested in the same arts and sciences he loved himself. Not only might they be able to teach him something more, but some would be eager to learn from him.

That's where friendships come from.

Members of the Order of the Pelican all have worked with other officers and autocrats, as service often involves teamwork, and the best workers, the most likable officers, those easiest to deal with and of the most value in future projects are likely to be future fellow pelicans.

There is a Buddhist concept referred to in English as "Right Livelihood." It concerns following a life-path which is in tune with your talents and interests, and which doesn't require you to set aside or violate your deepest self. It touches on living an honorable life, which should be the goal of each Outlander (or at least each persona). People who live their lives in joy are a benefit to all around them. People who choose consciously to pursue the arts for art's sake will associate with artists who have similar motives. Fighters who fight because of the thrill and the challenge will befriend other happy fighters and avoid those who do it grudgingly because someone else wants them to or because they want what might be earned. If you hold office or autocrat events or help set up tents because you enjoy the process and the interaction, your life and the kingdom are enriched. There's a book out by Marsha Sinetar called Do What You Love, The Money Will Follow [3], in which she discusses right livelihood. If you read it, consider its applications to your life in the Society as well. Although the Society's most common rewards are scrolls, medallions and titles, the greatest reward is the positive regard of people you respect. If you find yourself looking at peers who joined a dozen years ago and wishing you were there, look at what you're doing today and whether you enjoy doing it. [4]

If a peer gets tired of the duties of peerage, can't he just take off his regalia and declare a time out? Never. Not only does everything a peer does "count" at all times, it's also the business of the general public.

Why should the peers' lives and actions be so discussed? It gets worse the higher your rank. Being set apart in public as an example of something higher, better, good or special makes one visible and responsible for the example he sets. Royalty, ruling nobility, royal peers, officers, knights, laurels, pelicans-in varying degrees these are the celebrities of our Society, and people discuss their latest accomplishments and failures. In another way they are like nuns, ministers, elementary school teachers-people expect them to be the living embodiments of goodness - living examples of the way life should be lived. In exchange for the glory and honor received for holding these positions, the royalty, peers, and officers must live with public scrutiny, and a record-keeping system that can't be found and can't be stopped. The best way to get out unscathed is to be honorable, hardworking and as fair as possible.

What about dropping out completely? Well, you can't do that, either. Having become a major character in this play, you can't just disappear and never have it discussed where and why you've gone, and under what circumstances you might come back. If you do come back, you pick up in the same position in precedence you had before, and are expected to explain your absence. This is true all up and down the line, because even getting an award of arms puts you on the order of precedence, so your name and dates are public record, and anyone who ever sees the listings is free to ask "Who's so-and-so and where'd he go?" The awards don't dissolve just because the person becomes inactive. Maybe it should've been set up like that a long time ago, but it wasn't, so we live with it.



[1] In the Outlands and some other kingdoms I'm familiar with. This is not guaranteed to apply fully to any "Eastern Rite" kingdoms (East & Atlantia; Middle & Calontir), but I trust that members of kingdoms where the ways I know are unusual will be interested in the differences. The opening and closing of the circles has been added in the Outlands following some serious breaches of confidence, and are a reminder of the effect such actions can have.

[2] The Society for Creative Anachronism Organizational Handbook, which includes Corpora and By-Laws, and other information, is available from the Stock Clerk, SCA Inc., P.O. Box 360743, Milpitas CA 95035-0743. As of this writing the price of the 1989 edition is $3.50.

[3] 1987, Paulist Press (hardbound) or Dell Publishing (paperback).

[4] This question and answer first appeared in The Outlandish Herald, September 1990. Thus the reference to Outlanders.


Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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