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

The Authority of Kings
Ælflæd of Duckford

Over the years people have expressed to me in various forms the idea that there is no authority greater than kings, that kings can do whatever they want to, and that it's no business of the board of directors what kings want to do in their own kingdoms. There have been even peers and former royalty who were surprised by my response and explanation.

Kings are only kings because of the board of directors. The West Kingdom was going without a board, and they were also prepared to dissolve if they stopped getting along; the "founders" weren't trying to "found" any club that would last forever and spread all over the earth. The East Kingdom started fine, and shared a newsletter with the West, which wasn't too efficient. When the East kingdom had a disputed crown tournament where two people claimed to be the rightful winner, it was a good thing there was a board of directors, or there probably wouldn't be any SCA on the East coast.

Let's use Calontir as an example—it's smack in the middle of all the kingdoms, and it's fairly new. There could be no king of Calontir if there weren't over 400 subscribing [1] members of the Society living in that area, with a majority of them wanting to be a kingdom and have their own king. So that happens. Enough Society members request to have a kingdom. Then a tournament is held exactly in accordance with Corpora and kingdom law. If the tournament isn't advertised in advance to the membership, if the tournament is held with no marshals, if people enter who aren't members, or there are blatant violations of the rules of the lists, the tournament can be declared null and void. Every time the results of a tournament are allowed to stand, it's because the rules were sufficiently followed that the victor will be recognized as the legitimate heir to the crown of that kingdom. It's not through birth or even might; it's through following the rules.

All kings in the Society are bound by the rules—their own kingdom's and the corporation's. There's no sense reminding people verbally of this at every turn, of putting something mundane or yucky into the king's oaths, or of doing anything that destroys the image of the king as sovereign lord of his people. The medieval aspect of what we do is the main point after all. If you ever hear anyone say the king should just ignore the board, though, call a time-out to discuss reality.

Once a person is crowned king of a kingdom, the other members of that kingdom are bound by law and Corpora to show deference to him, to allow him to make certain kinds of decisions (about laws and peers), to bow to him, to go away (at least a little ways away) if he tells them to. The board will enforce these rights of kings. If people don't do what kings rightfully tell them to do, the board (or their representatives in the steward or the kingdom seneschal) will remind them that they have to do it or they just can't play. If the board were to say "You don't have to do anything the king and queen tell you" chaos would break out right about then.[2] At the same time the board defends the rights of kings and queens (which are outlined in Corpora), they also expect the royalty to follow the rules. It's not quite fair to claim the benefit of being a duly-chosen sovereign of an SCA kingdom and then turn around and thumb the royal nose at the source of the authority.

I know of a couple of kings who said that it didn't matter what the board thought, or what the people of their kingdom thought, that they were king, they were the law, and that was that. Poor guys. Their reigns are laughed at in retrospect and people don't have any respect for them. It's not quite the kingly effect they were hoping for.

If you're a king or queen who considers honor and chivalry to be more important than personal gain, who knows the rules and works within them, then people will respect you for yourself and not because the rules say they have to.

[1] "Subscribing" membership isn't listed on the membership form. It's a term used to denote sustaining, contributing, or patron (i.e., a member who gets a newsletter, not family or associate). It's easier to use one word than having to say "sustaining, contributing, or patron."

[2] In absolute truth, if you don't have to do anything any king or queen tell you, but in that same truth you don't have to play in the SCA. It's a club, and it's a club with pretty loose rules as clubs go. There are other clubs in the world, and you could go join one of them.

All articles from the Royalty section:
Considerations · Etiquette · Royalty · Being an Officer · Seneschal · Heraldry and Heralding · Tournaments Arts and Sciences · Chronicler · Treasurer · Chirurgeons · Autocrat · Welcoming Newcomers · Peerage · Language Use · Last-But-Not-Least Ideas

Contents and Search · Preface and credits

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