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


Ducal Perogative/Ducal Privilege (Folklore in Action)

The first year I joined the Society I learned a concept in Atenveldt (which was then the fourth of four kingdoms. It was "ducal prerogative," and was explained to me as the right of a duke to drop out of crown tournament anytime he wanted to. There were only a very few dukes then, all in Phoenix, and they didn't come to tournaments outside of there much, so it didn't matter to me personally. This was just about the time Meridies became a kingdom.

Soon I was seneschal of Atenveldt, and asked for more details on this oddment. By then the story had grown: Ducal privilege was then, with a few more dukes around, held to be the right of a duke to enter a crown tournament at any point along, and then to drop out. "The last round?" I asked. "Sure," came the sure answer. In a long discussion one day with a current king/near Duke, I pointed out how ludicrous the whole idea was, and drew out from this soon-to-be-duke the good-natured truism that the right of a duke is to get away with anything he can get away with. Well, that's true of everybody - a guy with an award of arms can get away with whatever he can get away with, but he's just not as likely to get away with as much. I held up two arguments: that the sword oath was required for entry into a crown tournament, and that it said the person intended to try to win, and that anyone could drop out of a tournament, so that the dropping out part was no big deal. "Precisely," came the answer, "Dukes can do whatever they can get away with."

These are the only two stories I know of this "ducal prerogative" having been used or attempted. I witnessed the first; the second I did not. 1) Once a duke who had not entered a crown tournament stood by the field in armor, looking ominous, through several rounds, and when there were only about four guys left left in the tournament, he left his post and announced to a few people that he no longer had the need to exercise his ducal prerogative. No names were named as to which fighter(s) he'd been prepared to [attempt to] whup out of the tournament. 2) In a poorly attended Outlands coronet (principality) tournament a few years later a duke who was entered dropped out in the semi-finals to the advantage of a member of his household, who went on to win the tournament. This was considered odious by people all over the kingdom, but anyone has the right to drop out of a tournament. It might cost him a big chunk of honor if the reason is not good, but he certainly cannot be physically forced to stand up and fight.

After this happened, Duke Siegfried von Hoflichskeit, who is one of the founders of the Society, told me the origins of "Ducal Prerogative." In the early days of the Society, one of the duties of knighthood was entry into every crown tournament. If one had already served twice as king, he was excused from that duty; entry was optional for him. This was garbled in transmission to Phoenix and points east to include something about an option to enter, and something about dukes, but no understanding of what they were talking about.

Another garbled tradition having to do with Aten Crown Tournaments in the big-Atenveldt days (when Meridies/Trimaris, Ansteorra, and Outlands were all part of Atenveldt) was qualifying rounds. I believe this may have been carried over for a while into Meridies and Ansteorra; if not, that's good. The concept of having to be "a qualified fighter" existed in Phoenix (the Barony of Atenveldt), and their local guys were assumed to be qualified (kind of like the fighter authorizations used nowadays, only they didn't have cards and records kept then). Non-belted fighters from outside were not so considered. Before A.S. XII there was not a single Aten crown tournament outside of Arizona; before every tournament each fighter from out of town was required to fight two fights with a qualified fighter so that the marshals or the king could determine his suitability for entrance in the crown tournament. I know no tales of anyone being declared unfit. After the tournament moved out of "the capital of the kingdom" (a true concept according to the Corpora of those times), the tradition of qualifying continued, with two "qualifying rounds" held before every tournament, usually as "challenge matches." There were cards printed which were used just for this purpose. The lower-ranked fighters had to go up to two belts and challenge them, and if the belted fighter accepted, the challenge card was filled out with both names and the reason for the challenge ("honor," if the guy couldn't think of anything more exciting for the heralds to announce) and then given to the lists officer. Usually there were two rounds fought on Saturday, and then the whole tournament on Sunday, but sometimes it was all the same day so the first two rounds just didn't "count."

There are many examples both within and without the Society of traditions which are holdovers from obsolete or misunderstood practices. If people like them and they have a usefulness of their own, they should be kept. If they are being held onto out of loyalty to a tradition which was not good in the first place, reconsideration might be in order. Sometimes traditions are good just for the comfort familiarity brings, so if they're harmless there's no problem.



Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991
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