Crown Tournament is coming up this weekend. Good luck to all combatants who seek the Crown! But before you enter the list, you should know what you just might be getting yourself into. Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope sought comments from past and current royalty on what it takes to be King and Queen of Æthelmearc. Here are their replies.
Duchess Morgen of Rye summed it up this way: “The most important thing to remember about winning crown is this: ONCE THE FINAL BLOW FALLS, IT IS NO LONGER ABOUT YOU!!! As the Crown, everything you do should be for the good of the Kingdom. Not so you can have a good time (although that certainly happens), not so you can give your friends awards (unless the orders or populace think it’s a good idea), not so you can feel important (although you will be – at least for 6 months)
So what is really needed for a good reign?
Being on the throne takes time, and lots of it. In addition to the time spent at and traveling to and from events, there are countless emails to read and write, phone calls to make, meetings to attend with officers, orders, and staff, and a LOT of planning. Being King and Queen is not a weekend hobby; it requires attention on weekdays as well.
Queen Gabrielle, now in her second reign as Queen of Æthelmearc and her fourth reign overall, said, “Those fighting in Crown should anticipate that they will be spending at least 30 hours a week handling correspondence and probably more like 40 to 50 hours. Crowns can choose to delegate some of those responsibilities to other members of their staff, but it is still up to them to make sure it all gets done.” She continues, “It is critical for at least one pair of a reigning couple to have easy and frequent access to a computer and smart phone. Answers to questions and issues are expected to be handled in a timely fashion.”
Duchess Líadain ní Dheirdre Chaomhánaigh said, “Time was one of the biggest aspects of the “job”. A reign takes over your life. And then if you’re home for a weekend – [you’re] doing all the household chores you’ve neglected for a month, plus loads and loads of laundry!”
Count Andreas Morgan noted: “This really was like working a part-time (sometimes full-time) job. I cannot begin to count the hours that we spent in front of our computers. Kallista and I worked in tandem reading award recommendations, checking sources, consulting the OP, and preparing a docket spreadsheet for each event. All of this needed to happen well in advance of each event to ensure that the Signet could arrange for scrolls to be prepared. If one does not have clerical or secretarial skills, you will quickly acquire them.”
Duchess Morgen agreed: “We generally attended 3 [or sometimes 4] events per month (and maybe 2 -3 per month as heirs). Once you are King and Queen, EVENTS ARE NO LONGER OPTIONAL. Once you commit to an event, it becomes a Royal Progress and people are expecting you to be there. Gone are the days when you could decide not to attend an event because you had a headache that morning, had a rough week at work, felt a cold coming on, or just didn’t feel like going. Another consideration is how many weekends you have to devote to travel. If you work every other Saturday, that may be a problem. If you are often mandated to overtime, that may be a problem. If your children are committed to weekend activities and someone else can’t take them, that might be a problem.”
Duchess Morgen continued, “At events, your time is not your own. You need to be out and about at the event, watching things you don’t do, doing some (but not all) of the things you do, and generally “being on stage”. It is your obligation to support all the things we do in the society and to do your best to give each person at an event the experience they want to have. That means you need to be visible and interested in ALL the activities that are going on, not just the ones you like.”
Royal couples can spend a lot of money being on the throne. Or they can spend a really huge amount of money. Yes, the Prince, Princess, King, and Queen receive stipends, and people often donate to the royal travel fund, but you should not expect those amounts to cover the entire cost.
Queen Gabrielle says, “Financially, you need to budget at least $5000 on top of what is reimbursed from the Kingdom for travel.”
Duchess Liadain thinks it can be done for less – but believes that perhaps it shouldn’t be. “Financially, you can honestly do a reign somewhat inexpensively thanks to the generosity of the populace, but ultimately, a King and Queen should exude nobility and largess. As such, we spent the greatest portion of our funds on largess (favors, tokens, gifts), fabric and accessories. Also, county and ducal coronets are fairly expensive. You should plan accordingly if your budget is already tight.”
Duchess Morgen revealed, “This is not meant to scare you, but in a discussion among Royal Peers a few years back, the typical OUT OF POCKET (not reimbursed by the Kingdom) expense was about $5,000-$10,000 for a reign. Ok, maybe it is meant to scare you. This is an expensive endeavor. The Kingdom will reimburse for reasonable travel expenses for the royalty (usually gas, lodging, tolls) but there are caps for in-kingdom and out-of-kingdom expenses. Generally, the Royalty is “comped” for event costs, which helps, but that is a courtesy, not a rule. Any gifts, fabric, accessories, etc. that you purchase are by and large not reimbursable. Donations may be raised for these items sometimes, or for additional expenses, but that still needs to go through proper channels and there are limitations.”
If you’ve read past Gazette articles on being a Royal Retainer and serving on the Queen’s Guard, you know that Royalty need a staff. Those people don’t just materialize automatically. Sure, some of your friends may volunteer to help out during your reign, but you need to make sure you have people with organizational skills, and plenty of them, from a wide array of groups around the kingdom. You’ll also need some people willing to do the unglamorous “grunt” work of setting up and tearing down thrones and pavilions, gathering feast gear, babysitting kids, etc., because you’ll be too busy to do it yourself.
Count Andreas said, “First and foremost, when coming to Crown you will want to have your staff ready, because as soon as the coronets are placed on your heads you will need retainers and a chamberlain. We were fortunate that we had many friends on hand to step up and fill these roles. The retainers are needed to take care of you and the chamberlain will take care of loading all of your regalia (there is a lot of it: multiple coronets, thrones etc.).”
Duchess Morgen notes, “Having a large and active household helps a great deal. Having a reliable group of associates is essential. You need people that you trust with almost anything from regalia to private information or messages, to whom you can delegate things and know that they will be done and done correctly. At a minimum, you need a good Head Retainer and a good Captain of the Guard. You also need at least 10 staff people to cover a typical all-day event. Some of these can be recruited from the local populace, but some need to be individuals you are familiar with and who know your preferences and style well enough to take care of things while you are busy elsewhere.”
Sovereigns are expected to dress well. Remember that you do not just represent yourself – once you are wearing a coronet or crown, you are Æthelmearc, both to your populace and to other Crowns. No more wearing ratty T-tunics or running around in just your chemise on a hot day; you need to look good at all times in public. Most gentles do not have the sumptuous wardrobes of royalty, so be ready for a lot of sewing.
Duchess Morgen says, “The most common need, especially for first-time Royalty, is for appropriate garb. Even if you sew, you will not have time to do it all yourself. If you come from a mostly fighting household, you will need to recruit help on garb as soon as Crown is over. This may mean reaching out to friends and/or reaching out to the arts orders and community for help. Back to money, don’t expect others to give you cloth/trim/accessories. Expect to buy it, and be grateful when it is given.”
One of the cool things about being on the throne is that you get lots of stuff: thrones, crowns, pillows, feast gear, banners, even tents. One of the challenging things about being on the throne is that you have to store and transport all that stuff.
Queen Gabrielle says “Having a reliable large vehicle, preferably one with a tow hitch, is an absolute must.”
Duchess Morgen notes, “Regalia take up lots of room. If you live in a 2 bedroom apartment and drive a SmartCar, you will have to rely on others to store and transport all the stuff you need to pull off an event. Consider that your friend with the minivan may not want to let you use it all the time. You can’t just throw a tarp over the thrones in your yard and hope for the best.”
Political and Social Skills
Kings and Queens must work with a wide array of people, not all of whom will agree with everything the Monarchs want to do. Many will have concerns they want you to address, ideas they’d like to see implemented, or even arguments they want you to settle. Diplomacy is an important part of being on the throne. Being on the throne can also strain your personal life. Some Monarchs have found that it was hard on their friendships and even their marriages.
Count Andreas commented: “There are many social and political aspects of the job. You will find yourself being pulled in many directions at once as people will be constantly seeking your attention to address their concerns with the kingdom and the SCA. You will encounter people who wish to gain your influence regarding their own personal agendas. Some of this is bad and some is good. You must balance everything carefully. That being said, nobody can be perfect and you will undoubtedly step on someone’s toes. How you deal with that situation can be a great learning experience for both parties. The truest piece of advice that I received was “No matter how good of a King you are, you will piss people off.” So essentially you can’t let negative things deter you. You must carry on and do your job to your best capacity.”
Duchess Morgen agreed, “You need good basic social skills. Fortunately, you don’t have to go too far past Kindergarten to have the right ones under your belt. All it takes, really, is LISTENING, and saying PLEASE and THANK YOU. Very simple things, but critically important to the success or failure of any reign.”
Her Grace went on to note, “The Royalty are obligated to listen to the counsel of the Peers of the Realm. It is common to include hearing counsel as part of the Oath of Service that royalty swear on stepping up. That means when someone who is a peer wants to bend your ear about something, you need to listen. When you are in order meetings, you need to listen. Do you have to agree or do what someone suggests? No. But you have to listen. Seek and take counsel from those around you. Many of those who are in Peerage level orders have been around much longer than you and will likely be around long after you step down and take up skydiving or fly fishing. If you intend to stay active after your reign, remember you still have to play with these folks, so be respectful of their opinions even when you disagree. Thank people for sharing their thoughts with you, regardless.”
Finally, Her Grace said, “In addition to LISTENING, one of the most critical things you can do is to say “please” and “thank you”. Many, many people will do a great deal to help make your reign the best it can be for you and for our Kingdom. Many of them will have donated time, talent, materials, monies — blood, sweat and tears. Many want little in return, but a sincere “thank you” from the Royalty can often feel really good at the end of an exhausting effort. Thank the kitchen staff by stopping by the kitchen (not just addressing the head cook). Thank the autocrat in person. Thank the marshals, tollners, etc. It may not seem like much, but taking time out to acknowledge the work of others is noticed and appreciated.”
Being On Stage All the Time
Duchess Morgen notes, “There is no time when you are not the King/ Queen/ Prince/ Princess. You represent the Kingdom now, and it is a responsibility to make Æthelmearc look good to the Known World and to inspire the subjects of Æthelmearc. There’s nothing inspiring about Royalty changing in public, being drunk at a party, or having a screaming fight with someone (even if they are a total butthead). When you win, you are Æthelmearc. Welcome to the fishbowl.”
Duchess Liadain noted that some people have the misconception that being on the throne is all about the glory, whereas it’s really hard work to have a good reign. “When you are in the public eye, everything you do or say is under scrutiny.”
Of course, one of the chief responsibilities of royalty is to attend events all over the Kingdom. While Æthelmearc is not as large as some Kingdoms, if you are from one of the far ends of the realm, you may end up driving as much as 10-12 hours to get to an event at the other end of Æthelmearc. Most weekends, you will be driving long distances, in good and bad weather. And remember all that regalia? Most of it needs to go with you on every trip.
Duchess Liadain says, “Some Kingdoms do not expect their royalty to attend events every weekend. Æthelmearc does. If your progress has a weekend free, expect serious pressure to travel to an event that weekend – and you will likely buckle! We also expect that our royalty will make it to each region of the Kingdom, so a reliable vehicle is a must – and preferably one that can fit a LOT of stuff.”
Count Andreas said, “Every set of Royals travel differently. We travelled extensively as Heirs to as many Royal Progress events as we could so that we could learn from watching our “parents.” As King and Queen, we really wanted to give the kingdom the presence it longed for. We were quite active, occasionally going to separate events on the same weekend. We literally went to eight events back to back, took a weekend off, then went to Pax Interruptus followed immediately by Pennsic.”
His Excellency continued, “Travelling like this isn’t always easy. It can be costly and require constant upkeep and maintenance of supplies and vehicles. There were a few saving graces that really helped us. We had several people and local groups who made contributions to our travel fund. The kingdom does provide funds for travel but that can quickly be exhausted depending on how much you travel. One of the greatest things was that everywhere we went people would offer crash space. Not only does this save you on hotels but it really gives you a chance to get to know your populace as well as give them an opportunity to get to know you with the hat off.”
Help When Reigning with Children
Adding children into the mix of being Sovereigns presents its own challenges. Several of our past Crowns have had children, sometimes very small ones, while ruling.
Queen Gabrielle comments, “Doing a reign with younger children is definitely a challenge. I wish I could say that our first reign in the East was easiest because we had no children yet, however I was pregnant with complications at a very hot Pennsic so I can’t recommend a pregnancy during a reign either. You do need to bring a babysitter with you to all events until your children are old enough to look after themselves without being a burden. In our situation, our older children enjoy events and the lure of earning money babysitting their siblings that they can then spend at the merchants is a perfect enticement.”
Summer vs. Winter Reigns
Winter and summer reigns each have their unique challenges.
Duchess Morgen points out, “The winter reign is actually longer than the summer – and most of it is spent in the snow belt!!!”
Duchess Liadain notes, “A summer reign is all about Pennsic. Everything builds up to that one epic event.”
Count Andreas agreed, “The summer reign ultimately deals with planning for Pennsic. You will be dealing with royals from all over the globe soon after you become heirs. Negotiations can be tough but it is an experience I will cherish for a lifetime. I made friends with people that I probably never would have encountered otherwise. Not everyone plays nice in negotiations and it is imperative to be kind, understanding, and firm. You represent a great kingdom and have a lot of weight to throw around so don’t be bullied by folks who may have been around longer or have done this many times before.” Adding to the weight on the Crowns, His Excellency also believes, “It is also ultimately your responsibility to everyone that goes to Pennsic that they have the best experience possible.”
Making a Difference
Some royalty choose to have a particular theme or focus to their reign, like children, or the arts. Count Andreas says, “We felt that our focus was the populace itself, making everyone feel welcome, [that] they were an intrinsic part of the dream. My own pet project was the unbelted fighters. As the kingdom’s first unbelted king, I sought to encourage and inspire my fellow unbelts, to show them that there is definitely a light at the end of the tunnel so to speak. For Kallista, it was important for her to step up and represent the rapier army and to encourage its growth and renown and also to put emphasis on the Arts and Sciences.”
Some crown combatants may think the reward for winning Crown is that they get to wear fancy jewelry, have a lot of attention paid to them, and receive gifts from the populace, as well as advance in rank when the reign is over. The royals we spoke to found different aspects of their reigns to be the most rewarding.
Her Majesty, Queen Gabrielle, said, “One of the most rewarding aspects of doing a reign is the opportunity to meet and interact with interesting gentles from all over the Kingdom. I would advise going to as many events as time and financing can afford. Although big events like Ice Dragon, War Practice, and Pennsic are grand and so exciting, often it is the smaller, more intimate events at out-of-the-way locales that remind you most of why you joined the Society in the first place. The joy and camaraderie is inspiring and makes you want to put even more miles on your car.”
Duchess Liadain focused on the things she learned in her time as Queen, noting that the most rewarding part of her reign was “Having the opportunity to experience the many different facets of our society. We tend to fall into and focus on our own niches. As royalty you are expected to participate or observe all aspects of your Kingdom. I was and still am constantly amazed by the talent, dedication and generosity of the people in our organization. The extensive travel, combined with a Crown and activities outside your comfort zone leads you to meet hundreds of people and gain incredible new insights. I truly enjoyed having the ability to recognize people’s good works in court, but truthfully, anyone can do that with a token or a kind word.”
For Duchess Morgen, the best part was being able to recognize deserving individuals by bestowing awards. “Nothing is more delightful than seeing the look of surprise/confusion/astonishment/humility when you have an order called up to induct a new member, give someone their first award, or give someone the award they have been hoping to earn. The worst part is knowing that, despite best efforts, you will disappoint or anger someone somewhere sometime during any given reign.”
Count Andreas recalls most fondly the new relationships he built during his time on the throne. “We gained many new long lasting friendships and strengthened many old ones. There was a time that we were having court and presenting an award when the recipient began to cry. This was an AoA for an older gentleman who essentially brought his family up in the SCA and taught many in his art. All this with no consideration of anything but making people happy and to know they were loved. When he looked up at us and we saw his tears, “The Dream” was fully revealed to us, and we were from then on clear of purpose and knew exactly what we were as Royalty and why we were there.”