Article: Are the Fighters the Rock Stars of the SCA?
By Duchess Willow de Wisp OP, OR, OL
When I first came into the SCA and for the next 25 years the Heavy fighters were the Rock Stars of the SCA. They were the most important group that we had. Any other form of fighting or activity took a second place to the Tournament fighter. There were several reasons for that and I listed them in an article I wrote back in A.S XX.
In the article for the Opinion, an underground SCA paper, under the pen name of Clio, I listed the following reasons why the Heavy fighter and especially the Knights, Counts, and Duke seem to have more prestige.
1. The creation of a medieval world needs Knights. It isn’t a fluke that the first nobles created in the SCA were knights. I believe that knights were made before the first “real” king. The first Kings were just the winners of the tourneys and were grandfathered in. In fact the first SCA Knight was made before the end of the tournament and so there were no “kings”. It is the world of “Knights in Shining Armor” that describes the SCA. It was on the dreams of Chivalry and Gallantry that we shaped our kingdoms and it is to the best of these dreams that we aspire to in our “ought to have been”. This is even true in the Renaissance World, because the “courts” around the Kings and Queens of Europe all look to the Dreams of the world of Arthur and his Knights and Charlemagne and his Peers. The Medieval Dream could do without “Kings and Queens”, but it needs Knights to express itself.
2. The values that we aspire to come from the values of Knighthood. In the Corpora I came into the SCA with every one of us were supposed to strive for virtues of Knighthood. We looked to the Knight to define and model those virtues.
3. We all are part of the “knightly class” and every one of us is of lineage worthy of being the Crown. Members of the knightly class didn’t just mean fighters it meant men, women and children. As members of that class whether early or late time periods we have the responsibilities to maintain our culture and kingdom, teach the up and coming peers, provide leadership and to work to keep the kingdom going. Knights, those people who got the titles to go with the class, were doubly responsible for keeping the SCA and our kingdom growing.
4. Knights because of their closeness with the Crown were supposed to provide leadership in time of War and Peace. Since one of the requirements of Knighthood is that your display leadership in on a Kingdom and local level this should not be too hard
Societies give Prestige and Power to individuals and groups that are important to the maintenance of the societies and who define values. Those people have “limelight” within the society.
The Knight portrayed correctly models all the values of the SCA. He makes the dream come true. His behavior toward the rulers makes them seem real. His belief in our kingdom makes the kingdom feel real.
By watching The Knight we learn about the knightly virtues and we can model that behavior to fit what we are doing. By looking at his model we learn to treat others with courtesy and never to attack from behind. These virtues smooth the way whether we are judging A&S or autocrating an event.
The knights are the Crown sworn men and as so they have a special link. If they take their duties to heart they support justice and the rights of those noncombatants who cannot take to the field to defend themselves. It is their special duty to talk to the Crowns about what is needed by the people and what the Crown needs to do to support the kingdom.
Lastly at that time the tournament was a place where all the people got together and the Heavy weapons fighter shone on that field. In theories about the adolescent culture the importance of the football player and football games to gluing the culture together is stressed. In studies about club cultures the special place bartenders have is discussed. Finally the glue that popular music stars give to large groups has been discussed. In all of these situations a kind of limelight showers down on these people. If a famous football player is at a social gathering everyone would know that person and if in a public setting he says that your dress is pretty then everyone around you would be impressed even if he doesn’t know a thing about style.
Limelight in the SCA is found in these situations:
1. The list field where the person’s name is clearly told to everyone. More limelight is gathered when the loser falls down and the winner’s name is again told to the populace and lastly when the winner of the tournament is proclaimed in public. In the past tournament were mostly won by knights or soon to be knights and they reaped the rewards of limelight. In period this was called “Worship”.
2. In Court the area around the Crown and on the platform is covered with limelight. To be seen with the Crown is an automatic Power and Prestige point. When someone solely and alone is given awards or word fame that person gets limelight. The limelight is shared by any person who comes up with the individual being honored. In the old days the Knights, because they were the Crown’s men took that position and even provided the arm for a lady to lean on. If someone was helped by a knight it was part of the package of the honor and the individual did not lose any of their personal limelight. The whole essence of “word fame” is about limelight.
3. The last place Limelight is found is with performances at feast and around the fire. This only works if the performer is good enough and if the fire is public. The kind of performance defines what kind of “limelight” you get. If it doesn’t build the illusion of a period world then people will think of you as mundane and if doesn’t t maintain the SCA and our special dreams you won’t receive “limelight”. People will think of you as an anti-dreamer. They might really like the piece, but it doesn’t make you into a “folk” hero. All you need to see what I am talking about is the song “Born on the List”. That has made its writer a folk hero.
For the first 35 years Knights, Masters and Heavy fighters got limelight on the field and in Court and with Bardic arts. They used their personal limelight to teach values and inspire the populace. .The Chivalry was very active in the Bardic fields and many of them gained fame for their pieces. Fifteen years ago things started to change and now things are very different.
First the List field is handled differently. We have gone into multi-fields and the populace can’t really see what is going on. Often things are packed between 10 and 5 o’clock and the fighters do not get to do the other activities and people at the other activates do not get to watch the fighting. Fighting is treated more like a sport then a Martial art and it is done at a less exciting pace and the fighters do not make a show for the populace. Also many groups have tournaments that do not bring out the best in fighting. Bear pit, Snow balls and speed tourneys might give young fighter lots of fighting and they often do not have a real winner, and they do not attract or create Champions. People’s names are rarely called out. These styles of tournaments provide little for the true hero because there is little or no recognition gained.
There is also another problem with tournament in general. People don’t fall down so the populace is not sure who won. While it is very equalitarian and late period to nod your head and walk off it really takes away from the honor your opponent gets. By dying bravely you bring attention to the field and to the wining fighter. By stepping aside and letting your opponent stand alone on the field and getting the glory you give a demonstration of your courtesy and generosity, two of the knightly virtues.
Having an opponent fall down brings a kind of excitement to the field. This is a kind of fighting that knocks people off their feet.
The Heavy Weapon list was the prime “medieval environment” that we did to promote the medieval culture and while they changed they were still part of the upper class Renaissance world.
As a lady, I have found that the acts of gallantry happened most often around a formal tournament. It was there that ladies were courted and treated with the most respect. It was with the salutes and favor giving that ladies get to play their personas. Most of the gentle interaction took place at the formal SCA Tourney. If the gentlemen are so busy fighting and the list gives them no time to interact with the ladies what good do they do for the ladies. The ladies use to have a high investment in the fighters, but now it is like all events are big fighter practices.
As I write this I know people are thinking, “I don’t care about those things. I like what we are doing right now.” Of course you are happy. These didn’t bring you into the SCA or keep you here, but you have to wonder if the watering down of the SCA dream isn’t why so many people have expressed their opinion by leaving or it’s the reason we are not recruiting as many people. Old SCA had room for many different mind sets and people managed to work together and everyone did their thing. Why not now?
The limelight around the Court. I am sorry to say Court has gotten too relaxed. The activities around the Crown should be very real. For some people they come to see the Court doing things. When I say the Court I mean the people and activities around the ruler. Now there is little fanfare. There is little or no attempt to teach people how people in our time interacted.
Court in period was very political. I do not mean because they gave people things, but in the concept of the spectacle. Today in the SCA Court feels more like award dinner at a Social Club than the Court of their Stellar Majesties. I believe some Crowns are working hard at building more of the show, but I know most Crowns fill the front of Hall with their entourage and the people at the back are getting almost nothing. The Crown should be showing off to the populace. And their entourage is part of that show not the audience. It is this kind of thing that brings people to the Ren-fairs in ever increasing numbers. We can give them great spectacles but we need to make the populace feel a part of the spectacles. The period spectacles did just that.
The knights are up there but they no longer guard the King’s back. Some Officer, and what is King’s Champion but an office, stands with the King and when you put in the A&S Champion and the other Champions the dais is very confusing. It just doesn’t feel like a medieval world and so another unique aspect of the SCA is lost. It is just one step to an Everyday award ceremony and it is one step closer to a republic. For many people the Crown Courts and the Courts of their men-the Barons are a waste of a perfectly good evening at an event.
If an activity does not strengthen and bind a community it is not important to the community.
1. The Bardic field no longer gathers limelight so few people get any Limelight for doing it. About the only thing that builds anything is the toast to the King and Queen. Everyone knows that only a Knight or a Don gives the toast. The toast gives a face to the order.
The lack of persona is also taking a toll on the status of the Heavy fighters. In the time periods we study, the fighter, the Knight, and the King were all part of a ruling elite. When our events reflect those time periods the King and Knights are more important. Just as most of the fighters at the first SCA tournament styled themselves Knights most of our event that reflect the persona of Ansteorra, (by that I mean we all pretend to live in a medieval kingdom) need rulers and knights to be there a play their roles.
In the first 35 years the knights, I knew, really played their roles. They were always around the Crown and they took turn holding the great sword of state. Everywhere the King went the sword was there. The populace learned the faces and then names of the Knights and the Knight received limelight. The Knights walked the hall or the event encouraging people and interacting with the ladies in a gallant way.
The Knights knew that they had limelight to share so they looked for workers and artisans that have improved the kingdom and when they found them they greeted them and praised their work and behavior. Others modeled this behavior and we had a system of encouragement up and down the social structure. Many people have wondered why the feeling of being encourage has gone away. It went away because this using of limelight stopped and all the pieces of paper do not hold a candle to being praised in front of your family and friends by someone you think is important. Yes, all awards come from the Crown but all enforcement should not. The Crowns needs to use their knights/peers and other nobles, dukes/duchess and counts, countess to expand its reinforcement into places time will not let it get to.
The concept of knighthood is one of the strongest element of the SCA, but that element is weakened by introducing too much of the modern world into our kingship system. It is one of the nice things that are going away in the casual framework of the Kingdom. Speaking as a Peer it is hard to keep up with the duties of peerage when events and everyone at it are so modern.