Observations on Court and Territorial Baronage

It seems that every year brings new efforts to augment and enhance the Court Baronies that former Landed Baronage receive, above and beyond the Court Barony that is traditionally bestowed at the end of a successful reign. Several methods are already in place, from reserved structure of coronets (such as Midrealm’s reservation of coronets of twelve pearls, vs. six for those who never ruled) to exclusive armory (such as Caid’s set of baronial badges surrounded by eight crescents) to special titles, additional awards and preferential placement in the Order of Precedence (such as Atenveldt’s Order of the Thegns and Bannthegns).

Most of these recognitions, both established and proposed, spring from the well-intentioned premise that Territorial Barons and Baronesses “earn” their rank in defined ways that other Court Barons and Baronesses do not, and so require additional recognition for their unique service to Crown and Kingdom.

I’m of the opinion that these automatic enhanced recognitions, while nobly intended, are wholly unnecessary. In this article, I’d like to address some of the common claims that lead these efforts, and demonstrate through evidence that the claims are unfounded.

A Court Barony alone isn’t enough to recognize the unique service of the Territorial Baronage!

This is the typical starting position for someone who seeks to add a new structure of recognition for former Territorial Baronage. A Court Barony is small thanks for someone who has devoted 3-5 years of their life to ruling a Barony. To evaluate this claim, we need to briefly discuss the nature of the SCA’s award system.

Most awards in the SCA are given at the whim of the Crown or their designees. Almost every award and honor, from non-armigerous Royal favors, through Awards and Grants of Arms, to membership in Peerage Orders, is given at the will and pleasure of the King and Queen. Usually, these awards are given upon recommendation by members of the populace.

One cannot simply earn these honors by meeting certain requirements; one’s efforts must then be recognized through the structure of recommendation and bestowal. As much as we like to think that our award system is merit-based, the combination of Royal whim and reliance on letters of recommendation give the actual bestowal of these awards a level of arbitrariness that leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of some.

The exception to this structure is Royal Peerage. Per Corpora, if a reigning King, Queen, Prince, or Princess meet the written expectations in Corpora1 with no issues, are admitted into the Royal Peerage automatically. By tradition, most kingdoms treat the Baronage with the same consideration; if a Territorial Baron or Baroness gets through their reign without major incident, they will automatically be given their permanent coronet and title.

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.

Yes, but arbitrary bestowal of Court Baronies after the establishment of automatic recognition for former Territorial Baronage has undermined the tradition and cheapened the award!

This claim occurs frequently. After all, one cannot become a Duke, Duchess, Count, Earl, Countess, Viscount, or Viscountess by Royal whim, so one should not be able to become a Court Baron or Baroness without going through the struggle of serving as Territorial Baronage. After all, Court Baronies were created to recognize former Territorial Baronage, right?

In January, AS 3 (1969), at West Kingdom’s 12th Night event, the newly crowned King Caradoc ap Cador established Awards and Grants of Arms, where before there were only peerages (Knighthood, Laurel, and Rose). He also established the rank and title of Court Barony, and gave the first to Sylvanus Andere, to set him apart from the other AoAs.2 According to commentary on the West Kingdom history site, Sylvanus frequently traveled to the east coast, both on his own and with his knight, Sir Ardral Argo verKaeysc, acting as emissaries and couriers to help found the Kingdom of the East in 1968, and it was for these actions that Sylvanus was recognized. Commentary also notes that Sylvanus had access to his father’s car on the east coast, which was invaluable to their mission, but led to statements like “Silas’ award was for driving Caradoc to events,”3 that make it appear like the award was given for personal service to the king who bestowed the award. It didn’t help that the award was given the second and third time in the West two years later, when King Jean recognized his father, Louis de la Grande ‘Anse, and the head of his household, Robert of Dunharrow, as Barons.4

In any case, the award was established nearly a year before the first territorial barony was established in the SCA,5 and was originally designed to be a mark of prestige, not precedence: “Court Barons would not accrue any precedence for the rank, which was in addition to any other rank, and was not an armigerous award.”6

The practice of recognizing former Territorial Barons and Baronesses with Court Baronies did not begin right away, and was inconsistent in the early years. Researching all the reasons why certain Territorial Barons and Baronesses received Court Baronies while others did not is a much greater project than the scope of this article will allow. Suffice to say that not all who served as Territorial Baron or Baroness have received Court Baronies for their service. Some, like Founding Baron of Gyldenholt Armand de Sevigny, received Court Baronies before their reign began. Others, such as Founding Baroness of the Isles Jessica Llyrindi of Northmarch, never received a Court Barony despite seven years of service as the sole Baronial head of her branch.

Okay, so Court Baronies were created before Territorial Baronies. The arbitrary nature of their bestowal still dilutes the recognition for those who have served the Crown and the people of their Barony!

By this point in the discussion, tempers definitely start to rise. This claim asserts that those who did not serve as Territorial Baronage have not truly earned Court Baronies, and requiring former Territorial Barons and Baronesses to share the rank and honor with unworthy persons degrades the award and their work to receive it.

From my own perspective, Court Baronies are given in the SCA for one of seven reasons.

  1. Former Territorial Baron or Baroness (if the award is not previously held, and if the recipient completes a length of service expected within their kingdom without major incident)
  2. Lifetime achievement (for those, typically peers or those in non-peerage activities e.g. archery, who have received all other honors and accolades the Crown can bestow, and who continue to serve with distinction)
  3. Up-and-comer (for those who are not yet peers but who are well on their way, whom the Crown wishes to spotlight for greater attention)
  4. Distinguished Unofficial Leadership (e.g. long-serving heads of great households who run the equivalent of a Barony in all but name, and who encourage their group to work for the betterment of the Realm, or whose household activities encourage recruitment and retention beyond their own household rolls, but don’t have enough work directly with the kingdom to recognize beyond their current awards through the usual award structure)
  5. Heroic Deeds (for single acts of excellence that transcend awards, whether of benefit to the group, like successfully running an insanely large and complicated event against insurmountable odds, or to an individual, like saving a life)
  6. Consolation Prize (for those who, for whatever reason, will not be accepted by the Peerage Order that most closely matches their activity or interest in the SCA, when the Crown feels that the recipient is worthy of said recognition but doesn’t want to destroy their game by forcing them upon an unwelcoming Order)
  7. Miscellaneous (a family member, household member, or other person that the Crown wishes to recognize for personal reasons)

Most who feel that recipients in the first category aren’t getting sufficient recognition usually focus on the last category when making their claim that a Court Barony has been “cheapened” to the point that it’s worthless. They typically provide examples of people receiving Court Baronies for washing the king’s car, or for babysitting the princess royale, or for reasons which are not appropriate for discussion in polite society. But they tend to ignore the other categories, which make up the overwhelming majority of Court Baronies given, at least in my experience.

Awards of every level and type in the SCA, from the non-armigerous Baronial attaboy through Society-level awards, including the unique and awesome exemplar orders of some kingdoms7, have been given, at times, for dumb and petty reasons. Newcomers have received awards of arms at their first event. Fighters have been knighted because they beat the king in a single tournament. Augmentations of Arms have been bestowed upon members of entire armies on Royal whim, just for being present. Yet, in each case, the circumstance was considered as a one-off, a unique situation, and dealt with accordingly. The value of the award and the ideals it represents are not diminished, and their meaning is not cheapened by the presence of those few who were elevated solely because they were friends of the Crown exercising Royal prerogative.

The sole exception to this seems to be the Court Barony which, if given for any reason other than serving as Landed Nobility, is held as an example of cheapening the award for former Territorial Barons and Baronesses. However, the converse of this, a former Territorial Baron or Baroness who left the Barony in a much poorer state than they found it receiving a Court Barony because they held the seat for the right length of time, is not considered a cheapening of the recognition as a whole.

For those who feel that their own award is lessened by the presence of another person’s OP entry, the heart of the matter seems to be their own insecurity. I suspect that this occurs with both current and former Territorial Baronage because they fear that their years of service to their baronies will fade into obscurity. This leads them to seek unique designators for their particular type of service. However, separation of the Court Barony into greater and lesser stations perpetuates this myth that those who truly earned their Court Baronies outside of territorial service are “cheap,” which is harmful to hundreds of worthy Court Barons and Baronesses, and an unnecessary complication of a long-established tradition.

So how do we recognize when a Territorial Baron or Baroness goes above and beyond?

The work that Territorial Barons and Baronesses put into the Society is incredibly difficult. It’s financially deleterious, physically taxing, and emotionally draining. It’s the biggest single institutional commitment anyone in the SCA can make to advance the cause of Crown and Kingdom, and those who succeed in their role are worthy of recognition. The standard form of that recognition is the retention of their rank and title in perpetuity as a Court Baron or Baroness. But how do you recognize those Barons and Baronesses who go above and beyond?

One way to answer that is to reframe the question: If a Territorial Baron or Baroness held a Court Barony prior to their investiture, what tools might the Crown use to recognize them for their work? The Crown wouldn’t give another Court Barony, of course. However, there are myriad tools that the Crown has at their disposal to recognize such individuals, from the universal Society awards e.g. Grant of Arms, Augmentation of Arms, and Peerage Orders, to the ones unique to Their own kingdom, e.g. the aforementioned exemplar Orders, Grant-level Orders, Royal or personal favors, and other non-armigerous awards and recognitions defined by kingdom law and custom. There are also unofficial recognitions that can be done by the Crown or the Baronial populace that have intense personal meaning, such as making or commissioning a permanent coronet for the recipient.

With these tools in hand, the Crown can, at Their discretion, recognize exemplary service by Territorial Barons and Baronesses in ways that are not automatic, and that can be tailored to the individual’s level of service and special contributions to the Realm.

Yeah, but…

I know this is a contentious issue, personal and emotional to a great many people, myself included. I hope that this article has not grievously offended you, the reader. However, if you wish to discuss it, I encourage you to contact me privately.

  1. Corpora ,” , Article IV, Section C, duties of the Crown require attendance at their Coronation/Investiture and the Crown/Coronet tourney and Coronation/Investiture of their heirs, as well as other events required of them by kingdom law, maintenance of membership through the end of their reign, and the bare minimum of paperwork and award bestowal
  2. Twelfth Night Coronation and Revels,” History of the West Kingdom, accessed 10/1/2016
  3. James Greyhelm, quoted in “First Crown and Coronation Tourney, Kingdom of the East,” History of the West Kingdom, accessed 10/1/2016
  4. Commentary of Robert Dunharrow”Autumn Crown Crown Tourney,” History of the West Kingdom, accessed 10/1/2016. The East Kingdom Order of Precedence notes that Frederick of Feolildwyn received a Court Barony on January 16, 1969, one week after the award was established in the West, but I can find no record of reasons for which it was given.
  5. The Barony of Atenveldt, November 1969, which was made a Province in January 1970 due to lack of a Territorial Baron, before being made a Principality the following month, and a kingdom the following year.
  6. “Twelfth Night Coronation and Revels,” ref. note 2.
  7. e.g. the Lions of An Tir, Atenveldt, and Ansteorra, the Tyger of the East, the Great Bear of Northshield, the Walker of the Way (Outlands), the Nonpareil (Atlantia), the Jewel of Æthelmearc