One of These Things is Not Like the Others

I received a Court Baronage on September 9th, 2005. That was the day that Caid made its first Kingdom Bard. I was not expecting to become a Baron that day. I was not displeased, but the message was not lost on me, or my wife, or my friends.

I was never going to be a Laurel for Bardic Arts. The times had changed, and my contribution to the kingdom and the SCA, valued though it was, did not meet the authenticity requirements for peerage. The Court Baronage was my consolation prize for 20 years of music, service to the SCA and to the bardic community.

Still, it wasn’t a bad prize. The title of Baron is popular in the SCA, in large part because it’s actually a period title, secondarily because it is still, relatively, uncommon. My wife is a Laurel, but she goes by Baroness. Master/Mistress is a craftsman’s title, not a noble title, and a number of Laurels and Pelicans I know don’t use it if they have recourse to Baron or Baroness.

And that’s how I’m Baron Thomas Bordeaux.

A little less than a year later I became Baron of Lyondermer. That came with a lot of changes. My own arms went in the closet and were replaced by the Arms of Lyonderme. My surname went away and was replaced by “Baron Lyondemere.” Sometimes my entire name was replaced by “Your Excellency Lyondemere.” None of these changes were unexpected. From that day until the day I stepped down my own goals and interests, as well as my choices about what events I’d go to, how I would spend my time there, and who I would spend that time with, would be dictated by the requirements of the Barony I served and the Crown I represented.

I was Baron of Lyondemere for the next three years. When I stepped down I returned the Baronial Arms, the title, the Coronette and the Throne to the Crown, who in turn vested those rights and responsibilities in my successor. I did not become a Court Baron because I had served as a Landed Baron. I became a Court Baron because I wasn’t worthy of a Peerage. For my three years of service as Baron of Lyondemere I received a polite thank you from the Crown.

So let’s dispense with the biggest objection I hear to giving former Territorial Barons and Baronesses a title other than Court Baronage. My contribution is not cheepened because I share the title of Court Baron with people who were never territorial leaders. My contribution to the Barony, and the Kingdom I served, was effectively unrewarded because I was already a Court Baron and a Court Baronage is does not reflect the level of service that position required or the amount of work it took to do the job well.

There has been for sometime a discussion about changing the title for former Territorial Barons and Baroness to something other than Baron. Marquis has been suggested, but it’s not the title that’s the cause of disagreement. The thing that’s got people talking is the idea of making any distinction at all between those who hold a Court Baronage for service as a Territorial, and everyone else who holds that title.

When the Crown decided to bestow an award they are subject to a few criteria.

  1. The person receiving the award must be a member of the Kingdom that the Crown is reigning over
  2. If the award is a peerage the Crown required to consult with the peerage order.
  3. Depending on the award and the Kingdom the Crown may also be required to consult with non-peerage polling orders.

Assuming for a moment that the first condition is true, and the second and third are false, the Crown is free to act on their “whim” should they chose to. The most common award that meets these criteria is the Award of Arms, which is generally accompanied by the title “Lord” or “Lady,” though culturally equal titles (i.e. “Don”) are not uncommon.

It’s clear that Court Baronage is also falls in this category. The Crown may, at their desecration, award the title to anyone they please, for any reason that they like.

The process for creating a Territorial Baron or Baroness is significantly more demanding.

  1. It is expected in many Kingdoms that the populace will be presented with a number of candidates, though it is often the case that there are only one or two.
  2. The candidate(s) that the Barony selects must be acceptable to the Crown.
  3. The populace must be polled regarding their support for the candidates, and the Crown is forbidden by Corpora from installing a Baron or Baroness in the face of “significant” objection of the Baronies populace.

Here is the first of many major differences between the Court Baronage and the Territorial Baronage. The former is an award given at the Crowns sole discretion. The latter is a job which the Crown is forbidden by law from giving on a “whim.”

At this point a reasonable person might stop trying to compare the two, and some reasonable people might begin to ask themselves how it came to be that a person whom an individual Crown favored for their own reasons, and a person who served multiple Crowns as a territorial leader for years came to have the same title at all?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that for the first 15 – 20 years of its existence a Territorial Baronage was effectively for life. There was no expectation that a Territorial Baron or Baroness would ever step down, and no mechanism for removal. Eventually this lead to predictable problems. But even in the face of strong agitation from the populace Crowns found it socially and politically difficult to force a Territorial Baron or Baroness to step down. Once it became clear that something had to be done there was a secondary issue. How to recognize the service of the soon to be former Territorial Baron or Baroness?

The answer, for several reasons, was the Court Baronage.

  1. It already existed which is good because creating new awards is hard.
  2. It required no changes in kingdom law which is good because changing kingdom law is hard.
  3. It is given at the sole discretion of the Crown, meaning no objections need be considered.
  4. It allowed the former Territorial to retain the title of Baron which helped ease the pain of being told to step down.

Taken together these qualities made the Court Baronage the easiest solution to a difficult problem, and there few things we like better than easy solutions. At the time no one anticipated that there would be a new batch of former Territorials, who had been installed after the populace was polled, served their three or five year terms with honor, and would feel that their service was effectively erased in the public sphere when they were handed the same title the Crown could (and had) give their Dad or their best drinking buddy.

This, in essence, is the heart of the current dispute. The title of Court Baron or Baroness does not acknowledge service. It may be given for service, or it may be given because the Crown thinks you’re funny, but nothing about the Court Baronage says “The holder of this title served their Kingdom.”

Which brings me to the most glaring error in the article that provoked me to write this essay. The idea that Territorial Barons and Baroness are unquietly rewarded for their service by retaining the title of Baron or Baroness after they step down. The author states:

Now, when a King and Queen of an SCA kingdom step down at the end of their reign, they cease to hold that title and the style of “Your Majesty,” and instead receive the permanent but lesser rank of Count and Countess, or (if they’re slow learners) Duke and Duchess. Likewise, when a Territorial Prince and Princess relinquish their roles, they lose their title and the style of “Your Highness” and assume the lesser station of a Viscount and Viscountess.

But such is not the case for a former Territorial Baron and Baroness. Unlike their Royal counterparts, the heads of Baronies don’t take a lesser title upon retirement, but instead retain in perpetuity the same rank, title, and stylization they’d held for the past several years: Baron and Baroness. This lateral transfer from temporary role to permanent rank is unique in the SCA, and is an honor that even the most successful Crown cannot receive. The idea that a Court Barony is insufficient to recognize Former Territorial Baronage simply does not hold up on its own.

It is hard to ignore the unsupported conclusion that the contents of these two paragraphs show that “The idea that a Court Barony is insufficient to recognize a Former Territorial Baronages simply does not hold up on its own.” and it becomes much harder when you realize that the author has, in fact, presented a clear and compelling reason for making a distinction.

“…when a King and Queen of an SCA kingdom step down at the end of their reign, they cease to hold that title and the style of “Your Majesty,” and instead receive the permanent but lesser rank of Count and Countess, or … Duke and Duchess.”

This is, of course, absolutely correct;  Every single Viscount, Viscountess, Count, Countess, Duke, or Duchess was a Territorial leader!

Everyone that hold the “lesser” rank of Count, Countess, Duke, or Dutches has previously been King or Queen. There are no Counts for six months of sewing for the Crown. There are no Dukes for being a fun person to hang out with, no one has ever been awarded the title of Duchess because they did a great job during their two years as a kingdom officer.

Let me be very clear. Every single one of the people I just described deserves to be recognized for their service, and it is the Crowns job to determine how. Some of them may deserve a Court Barony, some may deserve an Augmentation of Arms, and some of them may deserve a Sigile. But none of them did anything comparable to the job of a Territorial Baron or Baroness. And the truth is that most of them would not take the job of a Territorial Baron or Baroness if it were offered to them.

Why?

Your days are taken up with the needs of the barony. Your event attendance is determined by the requirements of the Crown, the expectation of the other territorial groups, and the need to support your populace in their activities. Your time at events is not your own, you have little or no discretion in who you spend your day with because you’re on stage and these are your people. All of them, but especially the poorly socialized, the new people trying to learn their way around, are looking to you. You are their community, you are their support network, you are their Baron or Baroness and it’s your job to look out for them, smooth out the rough spots, and do what you can to help them have as good a time as possible.

You spend the nights you’re not in meetings writing letters of recommendation, trying to solve scheduling and logistical problems, and fielding questions about who in your area might be a good candidate for Royal Court

But the most difficult part of the job is that someone always hates you. Some because they believe they should be in charge, some because they distrust anyone in the public eye, some because they think you’re holding them back, and some because they liked the old Baron and Baroness and you’ll never measure up. This is the part of the job that kills people, and it’s the reason that so many former Territorial Barons and Baronesses leave the SCA after they step down. This is why I tell people who are considering service as a Territorial leader that “It’s the best job that will ever break your heart.”

The term of office averages for a Territorial Baron or Baroness  is three years, which is a year longer than a Kingdom Officer’s warrant, and six times longer than the Crown or any member of Their Court serves. Even in those kingdoms where Crown is fought in the weeks right after Coronation the Territorial Baronage servers at least three times longer. Oh, and if you’re not doing the job, or if you screw up, you can be fired.

In my opinion it’s well past time for this situation to be addressed and corrected. It’s time to admit that a Court Baronary is not an appropriate way to acknowledge the service of Territorial Barons and Baronesses, and instead treat them like we do the all other former territorial leaders, with a title that reflects their specific service.