By Ken Mondschein
One frequently-heard critique of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) is its manner of choosing the “kings” and “queens” of its imaginary kingdoms—through armored stick-fighting tournaments in which the victor crowns their “consort” queen (or king) for a “reign,” which is usually six months. This system is established by the SCA’s governing documents and has remained unchanged in the SCA’s almost 60 years of history.
The importance of the make-believe royalty to SCA culture cannot be understated: they are the central social focus of the group’s activities, the top of the social hierarchy, and all higher awards and recognition for all activities whatsoever ultimately come from them. Michael A. Cramer, in his book Medieval Fantasy as Performance, gives an academic analysis of this custom. Through the “king game,” he writes, SCA members “have created a community, or better yet a tribe, which gives them romance, companionship, and identity, a literate/filmic/academic/ludic Middle Ages. And at the center of this Middle Ages is a king, part Aragorn, part Charlemagne, part King Arthur from Malory, and part King Arthur from Monty Python…”
However, critics charge that this method of choosing the highly-significant figureheads is, even if no longer always compulsorily heterosexual, it is inherently sexist, ableist, and patriarchal, and therefore has bad optics that give the lie to the SCA’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. For instance, the winners of the tournament are almost always men, which means that even though same-sex consorts have been permitted—at the current Crown’s discretion—since 2012, this has ironically led to less female representation.
It further reinforces a “benign sexism” of men as active fighters, protectors, and conquerors; and women as passive, receptive, and protected. On top of this, the stick-fighting game favors men with a certain sort of body, a certain athleticism, a certain tolerance for pain, and the ability to devote resources and attention to training.
Furthermore, this selection process does not indicate either leadership ability or moral character. In the recent past, kings have committed offenses as wide-ranging as wearing swastikas on their raiment during official events and murdering their intimate partners. Because of the prominence of the SCA royalty, these have become high-profile cases (at least in medievalist circles) and detrimental to the SCA’s reputation as a whole.
In light of this, the Kingdom of Lochac, an independently-incorporated SCA affiliate that encompasses Australia and New Zealand, recently petitioned the California-based organization’s corporate Board of Directors for permission to change the affiliation agreements so that the Australian and New Zealand affiliates could allow royalty to be chosen by another, as yet unspecified, means. (According to Section IV A of the SCA’s governing documents, “Crowns or Coronets who wish to conduct a royal list in a manner other than individual combat must obtain the prior approval of the Board of Directors.”) The American Board of Directors denied the request.
Controversy over the idea of changing the organization’s procedures immediately erupted on social media. “The SCA culture was created and founded on idealized Victorian/Arthurian chivalry,” Mark Hollingshead, an SCA member who had himself formerly served as King of the West Kingdom, wrote on Facebook. “Knights in shining armor fighting to display prowess and courage to crown their consort the Queen of Love and Beauty. Armored combat is… literally what the Society and its culture is based on. There comes a certain point that if you change a thing too much, it is no longer that thing. Armored combat to choose our Queen… [is] all fundamental to what the SCA is and how it functions.”
Other voices presented an opposing perspective. “ ‘Tradition’ is a nice word that means you’re letting dead people tell you what to do. In this case, the ‘dead people’ in question were using colonialism, [and] white supremacy based on horrifically bad early anthropology theory,” wrote SCA member Angela Costello in a blog post. (Costello’s entire post is highly recommended reading for a precis of critiques of choosing Crowns by combat.)
Furthermore, many critics, fearing a greying, shrinking SCA, have held that disrupting the “old guard” in such a way would help greatly with recruitment and retention. “We only stand to gain by increasing the pool of people who are able to serve as Crown…. Our kingdom, and the SCA as a whole is made richer by the diversity of our populace, and we ask that you reconsider your ruling on the change to the affiliation agreements,” Chris Stanley and Lauren Plant, a former “King” and “Queen” of Lochac, wrote in an open letter to the Board of Directors on Facebook.
@distressing_damsel Why we chose not to consult the populace, and the official response from the US BoD Full proposal from the Lochac BoD and Committee here: https://sca.org.au/posts/alternative-crown-selection-processes/ #mysca #lochac ♬ original sound – Distressing Damsel
“I do not speak for the Board of SCA, Inc. but in lieu of any specific offered replacement system it was, I believe, thought best to not give an unlimited approval now,” John Fulton, the President of the SCA, Inc., said in an email reply. However, he added, “I believe future communication on this subject between all involved Boards is more than possible.”
Accordingly, many hope that Lochac will present a definite plan to the SCA’s board, that it will be approved, and that it will hopefully point a way to a better future for the reenactment organization.
Update: There has been an official response from the SCA: “The Society has continued to grow and evolve throughout our 56 years while ensuring it remains true to its core values and SCA Inc. does not see any reason why this would change in the future. Proposals for change are always considered seriously by the Board of Directors in terms of equity, sustainability and growth. Respectful, productive conversations and examination of ideas are welcomed.”
See also: Alternative Crown selection processes
Ken Mondschein is a scholar, writer, college professor, fencing master, and occasional jouster. Ken’s latest book is On Time: A History of Western Timekeeping. Click here to visit his website. You can also fellow Ken on Twitter @DrKenMondschein
Top Image: Photo by Michael Zonca / Flickr