Anno Societatis 50 seems to be a year of transitions for many of the Baronies of Æthelmearc. Of our Seven Pearls, five have or will soon have new Barons taking their thrones: Thescorre, the Rhydderich Hael, Delftwood, and Endless Hills have already had elections, while the Debatable Lands is getting ready to send out ballots. Mistress Sadira bint Wassouf was invested as Baroness of Thescorre in July when Baron Aquila and Baroness Bronwyn stepped down, marking the first of these transitions to be completed.
In light of these changes, Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope (who is a candidate for Baroness in the Debatable Lands, herself) asked current and former Landed Barons for their thoughts on what the job entails, including its rewards and its challenges.
WHAT ARE THE RESPONSIBILITIES OF A BARON?
A wide variety of things are expected of Barons and Baronesses (hereafter shortened to “Barons”). While Kingdom law states only that Barons hold their baronies in fealty to the Crown and are required to report on the status of their barony at the start of each reign, custom dictates a more complex role. Barons are the link between the people and the Crown, because they serve both. Serving the people means being good role models, encouraging the populace in their endeavors, and recognizing those who excel. Serving the Crown means bringing deserving members of their Baronies to the attention of the Crown via letters of recommendation, building the Kingdom’s army in times of war and its artisans in time of peace, and enforcing the Kingdom’s laws within their baronies. The Barons of Æthelmearc also have traditions around the various Seven Pearls competitions (A&S and Bardic, along with martial championships), as well as a Baronial dinner at Pennsic for which each Barony takes a turn as host. In addition, Barons often reach out to the Shires around them to form communities of support with those smaller groups.
Baron Carolus Loke of Bae Blaidd Gwael, current Baron of the Rhydderich Hael, summed up the role of Baron this way: “Service, service, service. With a side order of pomp and ceremony.” More specifically, he says, “We are, in the strictest sense, empowered by the people we serve. It is our role to do several things: (1) Recognize the achievement of individuals in the barony thru our local awards, and advocate to royalty recognition thru kingdom awards for people in our Barony, people in local Shires, and in the kingdom as a whole. (2) Grow the barony. We assist the Chatelaine in making welcome any newcomers or anyone with an interest in the opportunities the SCA has welcome. (3) Organize. When there are good projects or work that needs to be done, we advocate and persuade and rally people to get things done.”
Baron Uilliam (Liam) macanTsaoire of the Debatable Lands says, “Being Baron and Baroness is mainly related to court and awards. Very often, you are asked for advice on matters inside the SCA, from fealty to what different offices do. On occasion, we serve as referee or intermediary in disputes.”
Baroness Geirny Thorgrimsdottir, former Baroness of the Rhydderich Hael, agrees but notes, “The behind the scenes work is just as important, [like] pitching in to set an example to the Barony that everyone should do their share. Another duty is doing all you can to support and encourage the Baronial officers in their job. Otto and I considered ourselves essentially officers, and so attended barony and officers’ meetings, acting in concert with the Seneschal and other officers. Another less pleasant task … was to mediate between parties with disputes. Many of these problems go away simply by enforcing the standard SCA chain of complaint starting with “Have you spoken to that person yet?” When faced with these situations you need to be scrupulously impartial. They also highlight another duty, to be aware of the laws and policies of your Barony, Kingdom, and the SCA.”
Baroness Helene al-Zarqá of Delftwood says, “We are responsible to the Crown for the lands we hold in fief for the Kingdom, and responsible to the populace whom we serve in the Crown’s name. Meaning, we let the Barony know what the Crown is doing/saying, and encourage them to become involved at all levels with everything going on. We also are constantly talking to the Crowns about what our folks are doing, and making sure they know who each and every person is. It does no good to say Billy is doing this phenomenal work, if they have no idea who Billy is.”
Baroness Sadira bint Wassouf of Thescorre has an unusual perspective. Although she was only invested as Baroness in July, this is her second time in the role; she and her late husband Master Saleem ibn Alefan ibn Iftakruddin served as Baron and Baroness of Thescorre in the mid-1980s. As a result, she is keenly aware of how things have changed in the intervening years. “One of the things I think that I need to do with help from many people is to re-organize record-keeping for my successors. There is a learning curve associated with having more members of the orders and doing actions on-line.”
WHAT DOES BEING BARON COST?
While being Baron is not nearly as expensive as being King and Queen, there are associated costs, and Barons typically are in office for much longer than royalty.
Baroness Barbary Rose of Endless Hills says, “Travel is probably the most expensive part of a Baron’s job. If your barony is in a remote part of the kingdom, it may cost more to get to events [than from other baronies]. This is where carpooling is a great thing! And you will need to travel – to visit your cousins in other baronies, to invite others to come to one of your events. If you wish for others to visit YOUR barony, you will need to visit THEIRS.”
Baron Liam agrees, saying that sitting the Baronial thrones costs him and Baroness Constance Glyn Dŵr “About $500/ year, the highest cost being travel.”
Baroness Geirny commented, “I believe the costs would vary greatly depending upon those occupying the Baronial seat. How many events do you normally attend? How much new garb do you feel you require? Our increase in expenditure was very moderate because we already attended a large number of events, and only made new garb for big occasions. I did buy a big pair of gold brooches to reflect my status as a wealthy land owner, though.”
Baron Carolus recounted additional potential costs, including new garb (plus fighting/fencing tunics for martial Barons) in the “home team colors.” He considers two events “must-go-to” events: Royal events (Crown Tourney and Coronation), and other Landed Barons’ Investitures. He notes, “Coronations and Investitures probably require a gift. For Coronation, we ask the populace to contribute, as do we. He also recommends that Barons plan to attend Pennsic, some events further away where Royalty is in attendance, and events at neighboring Shires, Dominions, and Cantons. He admits that he and his lady might go to these events even if they were not Baron and Baroness, but says “As Baron, we feel a little more push to attend.”
Baron Carolus further notes that “Depending on how you roll, a bigger vehicle is a real plus. Baronial pavilions, thrones, standards and flagpoles, and Barony baldrics for the populace gobble up room quickly.”
Some baronies may have funds set aside to help their Barons pay for travel and largesse, but that’s not common.
Baroness Sadira notes that costs are much higher than in the past because more travel is required now. “Since I am old, really hate camping except for Pennsic, and have vertigo, I will need to go to hotels more and use crash space on floors less.” She also feels that standards for court garb are higher than they were the last time she sat the avian throne. “What I wore before would not be “elegant” enough by today’s standards, so I am working on that and having fun. The cost is relatively low because I can make it myself or get help from my “personal tailor” (her daughter, Baroness Nuzha bint Saleem). On the other hand, she notes that communications costs are much lower than they were thirty years ago. “The first time, everything was snail mail and phone – and someone always waited until the Monday morning after an event to tell me what had gone wrong at the event. These issues could have easily been handled at the moment, but by Monday meant many calls, each having a time-based cost. Many things can be done by email or other electronic media which are being paid for anyway for modern life.”
Baron Ichijo Honen of Blackstone Mountain says, “Initially, our cost for garb was a bit high, in the $300-$500 range, due to the need for Baronial specific garb, but that settled down shortly thereafter. The travel costs, however, have been the big ones. I’ve spent around $10K per year on gas, lodging, food, and event fees.” This is mostly because Their Excellencies have a large truck that gets poor gas mileage, travel almost every weekend to events plus practices during the week to various parts of a far-flung barony, and of course because Blackstone Mountain is located on an edge of the Kingdom, so all of the other groups are proportionately farther away than for more centrally located baronies.
Baroness Emilia O’Madigan of St. Swithin’s Bog says it’s possible to limit the financial damage. “Cost is really dependent on many variables…some of which are under your control and others are out of your realm of control. Setting a monthly limit on out-of-town events, along with staying with friends or family for such events will help alleviate the expense.”
GIVING AWARDS AND HOLDING COURT
One of the things that sets a Barony apart from a Shire or Canton is that the Baron and Baroness get to give baronial awards. Like the Crown, most Barons count on their populace to provide recommendations, though it’s more typical that Barons know award recipients since they live in the same area and often see their subjects’ work in person.
All of the Baronies in Æthelmearc have Signet Officers on whom their Barons rely to arrange for production of baronial award scrolls. Everyone interviewed for this article agreed that it’s crucial to have a good working relationship with both their Baronial Signet and their Baronial Herald. Most baronies also give tokens or medallions with their baronial awards, so the Barons are always looking for donations of this regalia from their artisans.
Baron Liam said that in addition to recommendations from their people, he and Baroness Constance “Are always on the watch for members of the populace doing good works.”
Baroness Geirny agrees, and adds, “We also convened meetings of the baronial orders for advice and suggestions. Holding court requires a great deal of coordination beforehand. A good herald and scribal minister make all the world of difference. Ideally the scrolls get collected up as soon as possible so the heralds can have a chance to look them over before court. And you have to make sure you allot some time during the day to sit down with your herald and go over the docket. Even if you’ve prepared it in advance, there are often additions and other complications to account for.”
Baroness Emilia says, “This is where it is ideal to have an incredible team of Baronial members to support you. There is no way that you can be everywhere and seeing everything, so award recommendations are key. A reliable and dedicated Scribal Mistress is priceless and life-saving at times. We are very lucky in that aspect. The biggest advice we have for holding court is to be flexible. Know the docket and have general ideas planned for what you would like to say, but be ready for changes and mix-ups. The more relaxed you are, the smoother the experience is for everyone. Take some time prior to court to review everything with the heralds as they can be just as nervous as you are! Fun courts are nice…fun short courts are even nicer.”
Baroness Helene says having a loud voice and a good court presence is important. “Fergus and I are both theater people. Court is a stage, and we love it.” She and Baron Fergus also have another advantage over some of their baronial cousins. “Since we are both creative, we have personally made most of the award medallions we have given out. We also get some award medallions donated.”
Baroness Sadira notes that scrolls are given more often now than in the past. In her first term as Baroness, she says, “We did not give scrolls for our Baronial service award (the Raven’s Feather), just words and the token. Now, we also have awards for martial activities and arts. Thescorre has amazing scribes and artists who create lovely scrolls and tokens. Our Arts Officer facilitates getting them done. The scribes communicate well about wording, and we have talented wordsmiths among us!”
Baron Carolus commented, “Get really lucky and find a great herald and scribal head and this is really easy! Humor aside, be organized and plan one to two events ahead, communicate, always say please and thank you, and apologize when you drop the ball. It’s going to happen. Always remember the focus is on the person receiving the award, this is their moment in the sun.” He also notes, perhaps due to the challenges of the most recent Ice Dragon site, “I would have liked to explore technology (microphones) to allow for better acoustics.”
Baron Ichijo concurs that recommendations from the populace paired with his and Baroness Cerridwen’s observations help them determine who is ready for baronial awards. Regarding scrolls and court, he says, “We frequently send out a request for scroll blanks, and we have quite a few on hand, so it’s fairly easy to get them calligraphed for Court with enough warning ahead of time. As for award tokens, some we order, some we get from the populace themselves. Our preference is the ones the populace make.” Regarding court, he says, “It is an absolute thrill to be able to give awards to people who deserve them, and to be able to see their faces light up when you give them. Being heard is never a problem for me, as I’m loud when whispering, let alone talking. Cerridwen takes care to speak up during court, as she tends to be quieter than I am.”
Some Barons like to use humor during court to keep things entertaining, but Baron Ichijo notes that it’s important to keep things in perspective. “We try to keep a balance between entertaining and respectful. You have to break up a dry court, keep it interesting, but you always want the people you are giving awards to understand that you are sincerely appreciative and respectful of all that they do.” Baroness Geirny agrees, saying, “I personally feel there needs to be a balance between seriousness and camp. You don’t want it to be a total comic farce start to finish, but neither do you want people bored to tears. Interspersed moments of levity are grand, but shouldn’t take over.”
Baroness Sadira agrees as well. “One of the best pieces of advice I got when I first became Baroness was to be serious about awards, to choose words and actions to truly honor the recipient unless you are 100% sure that they WANT silliness. For some people, these awards may be the first – or only – award of their lives. It is important to honor the substance behind the award. On the other hand, I love improvisational theater, and there is room in court for schtick. So where there are pirates or mathoms or camels, silliness can add to the ambiance as much as pomp and circumstance. The key is the discernment of what to use and when.”
WORKING WITH THE BARONIAL SENESCHAL
Barons must work with their local seneschals in a relationship that can sometimes seem to overlap. Here’s how the Barons of Æthelmearc say they collaborate with their seneschals.
Baroness Helene says “With the two group seneschals we have worked with, we all have come to the agreement that we take the lead on “game side” issues, while the seneschal will take the lead on the “rules side” issues. We have found that you still need a great relationship with your seneschal to make sure that everyone is clear on if something is “game-side” or “rules-side.” Fortunately, we’ve had wonderful seneschals to work with.”
Baroness Sadira agrees that it’s important to keep the roles separate. “I see the seneschal as the legal representative of the group. The seneschals typically organize meetings and events, and I try not to meddle so that we are not giving conflicting messages. I take care of helping people to interact in positive ways. I have been a teacher and counselor for many, many years and that experience has helped with approaching conflict and controversy. Hopefully, by helping people develop better communication skills we can all enjoy our time together more and continue to learn and do our chosen arts.”
Baron Ichijo says “Your seneschal has the thankless duty of making sure that the things you want to do/implement are compliant with the Society, Kingdom, and Baronial bylaws, not to mention mundane law. Generally they are great at working with you, and it behooves you to heed their advice. They usually want to see the cool things happen too, they just have to keep in mind the consequences should things not be on the up and up.”
Baron Carolus brags, “We have the absolute best seneschal! We understand our different roles given by the SCA, and work together to help each other if we can. Not a lot of overlap, but that is driven by Kingdom and Society. We both understand what those roles/responsibilities are, and we don’t butt heads. Listening skill and communication are key. In this we are blessed.”
Baron Liam puts it another way. “I often say, we are the church, the seneschal’s office is the state. Our job is to make the game fun, the seneschal’s job is to create and manage the framework to make the game fun. That being said, we work together as much as possible to make it all fun.”
Baroness Barbary Rose indicates that Endless Hills has more overlap of responsibilities than other baronies. “We have to work with our seneschal to schedule Barony meetings and Curia, [get] event site approval, baronial purchases, and policy changes. It helps to be able to get along with your seneschal!”
FEALTY TO THE CROWN
One of the requirements for Barons is that they swear fealty to the Crown of Æthelmearc, usually at each Coronation. What does that fealty require of our local lords and ladies?
Baroness Emilia says, “It is our job to facilitate the whims of the Crown – to follow their edicts and commands – to serve them faithfully and humbly.”
Baroness Geirny says, “[The Baron is] the King & Queen’s eyes and ears, the person they’ve chosen (even if in practice that’s merely ratifying the results of a local election) to represent them. It means ensuring Their barony is running smoothly, that Their people are cared for, and coming to Their aid when needed, be that in recommending gentles for Kingdom honors in times of peace, or rousing the troops for War.”
Baron Carolus says it’s important to have open communications with the Crown. “My fealty oath means I will use my influence in the Barony to assist them in any way they ask, and in ways they imply. In the Barony, supporting everyone makes for a strong Barony, allowing all areas to grow. It also means always being “in character” in my interactions with them. At an event where it was raining, my lady took the umbrella I was holding and sharing and goes to cover the King. My reaction was ‘How did she think of that before I did?’”
Baron Ichijo says “[Fealty] is something I take very seriously. I gave up my squire’s belt to sit as Landed Baron. I have only one oath of fealty, although it is a twofold oath. I have an oath to the Crown, and through the Crown, to the populace of the lands we hold in fief. We work very hard to be faithful to it. As the Crown wishes, we take it as command. As our populace requests, so too, do we take it as seriously.”
Baron Liam looks upon fealty as a contract, as it was in the middle ages. “A wise former Baron and Baroness of the BMDL told us before we stepped up, ‘You are the voice of the people to the Crown and the voice of the Crown to the people.’ We as Barons and Baronesses are extensions of the crown and serve at Their will. Our fealty is necessary to fulfill that contract.”
Baroness Sadira sees fealty through the lens of her mundane cultural and ethnic heritage. “Fealty has an odd cultural context to me. I am actually half-Syrian, and Arabic people take ideas of family and name very, very seriously. If I were to call someone “sister,” it means that I take that relationship as deeply as a sister of my blood. So I choose my words very carefully. I offer what I will really give and the extent to which I will give it. The words will change with each set of royalty. And I will do what I say.”
Baroness Helene also takes her fealty to heart, saying that it requires her “To put the Kingdom and Barony first in all things – before self, before households, before friends if that is needed. It means to support what is best for Delftwood and Æthelmearc instead of what may be best personally for us. It means we have a responsibility to be the Baron and Baroness and thus the Crown’s representative to ALL of the people of Delftwood, regardless of our personal feelings towards any person in particular.”
Outside of the usual duties, each barony may have slightly different expectations for their Baron based on the size, culture, and makeup of the group.
Baron Carolus says it’s important to pitch in and set an example. “When we are done at an event, there are floors to sweep, dishes to clean, chairs to stack. Balance getting yourself packed with helping to clean up.”
Baron Liam, who rules the largest barony in Æthelmearc, notes “The Barony-Marche is nearly the size of some kingdoms in the SCA. As Baron and Baroness, we handle some amount of business nearly every day. In many cases, it becomes a little more than a part-time job.”
Baron Ichijo thinks of the Baron as a super-Chatelaine who needs to always be on for his people. “[I want] to make sure that everyone who interacts with me comes away from the experience with positive feelings about our Barony, its hospitality, and its atmosphere. I always try to be welcoming and entertaining, try to make people feel like they are at home, even away from home. This can sometimes be challenging if you are having a bad day, or feeling unsociable. No one can ever know these things. You must always have your game face on. It can be quite draining. Make sure that your retainers and closest confidants know when you need a moment, so they can try to run blocker for you. But always have your game face on when talking to people. You are the face of your Barony.”
Baroness Sadira says she is still adapting to the technology of the new era. “I am finally learning to ask for help. There’s also a lot more regalia to transport which is difficult from the perspective of packing space and lifting ability.”
What do the Barons of Æthelmearc think is the most challenging aspect of their jobs? This varies pretty dramatically by person and by group.
Baroness Helene finds time and logistics to be her biggest difficulty. “It is always a challenge to try to support everyone in what they are doing, and we find that we have to make tough decisions on where to go and what to do. It is hard to be everywhere at an event when multiple things are happening all at once – particularly at Pennsic. But even at local events, trying to see everything that is going on, and trying all the fun stuff that we can try, takes up most of the event.”
Baroness Emilia agrees. “The biggest difficulty would be the lack of time. Most times you are needed somewhere and there is never enough time to do everything or see everyone. Maintaining a balance between what is needed to serve your Kingdom, help your Barony, pursue a career, and be a good parent/spouse can be difficult.”
As an older Scadian, Baroness Sadira considers the changing of the guard from older members to newer ones a particular concern. “I believe that the older members need to figure out how to truly mentor new members and turn over the skills and information that they need to continue to provide the activities we love, especially in the area of event planning. We are in the process of setting up some conversations around these changeovers with the idea of perhaps putting some helpful hints into writing.” She also notes that these days there are more lifelong Scadians who started as children. “They are accomplishing wonderful arts, research, and service at a young age. Acknowledgement of their contributions and energy is essential so that they don’t burn out.”
For Baron Ichijo in Blackstone Mountain, remaining neutral in all internal Baronial affairs can be hard. “We must not take sides in any issue based on personal wants/feelings, but must always have what is best for the Barony in mind at all times. We cannot become embroiled in personal squabbles, in personality conflicts, or any other disagreements that do not involve Baronial business or well-being.”
Baron Carolus coyly comments that “The answer to that might cost you a few Angry Orchard ciders 😉 In truth, It looks easier from the outside, harder doing it, like so many other things. Mundane life’s ups and downs will always color your life. We try to minimize that in the SCA.”
Baroness Geirny’s challenge was more personal. “Mine was asking for and accepting help. I tended to be too independent in ways that weren’t always conducive to the atmosphere we were trying to create. Letting other people carry my things, or recruiting sufficient retaining staff [were challenges. Otto’s biggest challenge was balancing being Baron and Kingdom Warlord at the same time. Taking on any other office while being a baron can be a strain for time commitment. It can be done, but one must account for both.”
For Baron Liam, being head of a large barony has its pitfalls. His biggest challenge is deciding who to give awards to and when. “You want to give everyone the awards they deserve as soon as possible, but, you also don’t want to make every court 3 hours long.”
Baroness Barbary Rose notes that “When we were first invested, our Barony had different factions that didn’t always agree. It was our personal mission to unite the Barony as one group. Some who didn’t agree with us did leave active participation, but one good thing that happened is that a previously-inactive group returned to active status. The working group we have now is industrious and busy, and we think, happy as a Barony.”
THE BIGGEST SURPRISES
Any new position is bound to come with some surprises.
Baron Ichijo says he was not expecting “How incredibly open, welcoming, and helpful the other Landed Baronage was when we stepped up. Without them, I don’t think we would have been as successful as we are, nor would the transition have been as smooth.”
Baron Liam was not expecting the job to be as much work as it was, despite having been squire to a former baron. “No matter what, there is always something else to do, and things you can’t get to right away.”
Baroness Barbary Rose was surprised that many gentles from outside her barony recognized her and Baron Gunnar at events, even out-of-kingdom. “Another surprise for me was how a chance random comment created The Tyrant of Endless Hills (me) and has produced songs, Facebook memes, and endless schtick. We get a lot of mileage out of that random comment,” she laughs
Baroness Geirny says she and Baron Otto “Were both surprised, and to be honest pleased, with how much influence we actually had with the officers and populace of the Barony. A strong Baronial presence can color the entire tenor of the group, and so is a power that should be wielded as wisely as possible.”
Baroness Sadira has been surprised by the greater pageantry now compared to her last stint as Baroness, especially with the 7 Pearls competitions. She’s also been surprised and impressed by how technology has made things easier, while at the same time adding to her responsibilities. “Now, polling lists are all on-line. Facebook, barony and kingdom lists, and email take a much larger amount of time to maintain – and writing has always been very hard for me. Issues can get handled faster – and can get out of control at the speed of electricity.”
Baroness Helene and Baron Fergus were surprised at how much time being Baron and Baroness took up. “All of a sudden, our events were filled with ‘duties’ – which, while fun, would not be what we originally would have done. On a positive note, we were met with an incredible amount of support and love from our people. I was surprised by how many people looked to us to fit their mold of how a Baronage should present themselves, and by the number of people who have told us that we have been doing great.”
Most of the Barons cited being able to reward people for their good works as the best part of the job, but there are other cool things about being a landed baron as well.
Baroness Emilia says, “Being able to spotlight your Barony or Barony members is very rewarding.”
Baron Liam says, “You get to be the people to give someone their first award or give someone who has been in the society for a long time an award that they weren’t expecting. You get to recognize people for the good things they do, and it’s awesome.”
Baroness Helene notes, “The most rewarding part is being present when the Barony comes together to do something amazing, be it court in a hospital room, being part of the event where about 2/3 of the people attending (most of them local) dressed according to the theme, showing off the skills of our people at the annual Baronage dinner, or being part of an event that is wholly about another cause but so many people show up in garb to support it. We can’t take credit for it, but we get to really brag about it!”
Baroness Sadira enjoys watching the faces of award recipients as she speaks the words of honor in a court. “I am truly blessed to be able to do this again. I had never been elected to anything in my life before I became Baroness in 1985. To be elected a second time is an even greater honor!”
Baron Ichijo agrees, saying “It is also very rewarding to be up front, whether in our own court, or a Royal Court, to watch their faces when they finally get recognition for what they do. Hands down, that has got to be the most rewarding part.”
Baron Carolus looks at the bigger picture, saying it’s “People we have met, without question. Incredible acts of service to us and to others, and of perseverance. It’s also a very cool seat at Courts!”
Baroness Geirny’s reward is more personal: “The affection of the populace. Otto and I were Baron and Baroness eleven years ago and still have people share fond memories of our tenure with us. It’s intensely gratifying.”
When one becomes a landed Baron, typically any other fealty relationships are modified or severed, so squires, protégés, etc. usually return their belts to the peers in order to avoid fealty conflicts. Barons who have personal households may also need to change their relationships with those groups of friends.
Baron Liam was squired to Sir Alonzio of the Peacemakers and a member of his household before becoming Baron. He says, “When you wear the Landed Baronial Coronet, you cannot be in fealty to anyone but the crown. You hand back your belt to your Knight/Pelican/ Laurel, It is difficult to give up those things and the relationships involved. The best part is you have those people you were in fealty to as advisers when needed.”
Baroness Geirny notes that “This is something on which gut feelings vary from person to person and each have their own beliefs and motivation. It was in fact an issue for Otto and I the first time we ran–unsuccessfully– in the Baronial election. Neither of us were members of active households, but Otto was a squire. I believed that if we were to win, he should relinquish his belt. My reasoning was as Baron, he would be required to swear his fealty directly to the King & Queen, and that as his fealty would represent that of his Barony, it wasn’t fair to split that homage between his King and his Knight. Otto, however, felt that his relationship with his knight and his personal fealty were separate and different from that of his role as Baron. In the end, the disagreement was settled because his Knight, Sir Yoshina, agreed with my stance on split fealties, but was rendered moot as by the time we won an election, we were both already peers.”
Baron Carolus says, “This did not affect me, as I was not belted, [but] I do understand Isolda’s decision to return her belt, and the emotions that were involved. We belong to a household, and its members are very supportive of us. We worked hard to make the household a non-factor in anything we did.”
Baroness Sadira notes that relationships other than peer-associate changed when she became Baroness. “When Saleem and I were Baron and Baroness in the 80’s, we did not have retainers or champions. The atmosphere of the Barony in 1985 was kind of fragmented, with folks thinking that there was a lot of favoritism in positions like Exchequer, Seneschal, marshals, etc. In reality, opening up Business meetings to the populace rapidly disabused people of this notion since so very few people wanted to run for positions of responsibility. But because of the sensitivity to “favoritism” we chose not to add to the perception by having a household, retainers, etc. This time, it is much easier to interact with barony members. People have been very gracious and accommodating about taking on roles and responsibilities either for an event or for long-term service. I need to stay mindful, however, to be sure that people have opportunities to serve – or to choose not to – as they need to depending on changing situations in life.”
Baroness Helene says, “Fergus and I believe that no person can serve two masters. This was not a problem for Baron Fergus because he was not a formal student. I, however, chose to be released from my then household and to terminate my cadet/apprentice relationship. This way, it was clear that we both were dedicated to Delftwood and to Æthelmearc.” Regarding her relationships with other people in her Barony, she says, “This is a difficult question. There were some people who changed their attitude towards me because I now wore a coronet, but it might also have been my different attitude towards everyone else. Part of the role and our responsibility is to bring greater attention to the people in the Barony. This sometimes requires putting aside ego to support the greater whole. We also have felt more responsibility to act as guides towards newcomers.”
Æthelmearc Kingdom Law specifies a number of rules regarding how Barons are chosen and who is eligible to become Baron and vote in Baronial elections. The law allows a fair amount of leeway for each barony to choose its policies to suit the barony’s populace and their culture.
Here are the basics required by Kingdom Law:
- Each Barony must have a baronial election policy approved by the Crown and the Kingdom Seneschal, and kept on file with the Kingdom.
- At every baronial election, groups most also poll their members as to whether they wish to remain a Barony, become a Province (which is like a Barony but has no Baron), be demoted to a Shire, or be dissolved.
- Baronies can set a minimum age for eligibility to vote in baronial elections anywhere between the ages of 14 and 17.
- The selection process for a new Baron/Baroness must be completed within one year from the date of the resignation. If the Barony has term limits, the selection process for a new Baron/Baroness must be completed by the end of the current Baron/Baroness’ term.
- If the voting results in a tie between candidates, the Crown chooses who will become Baron/Baroness.
Many Baronies have term limits, with each term usually being three or four years. In most baronies, the Baron and Baroness can run for a second term, though in many groups those are considered “extensions” and are for shorter periods, like one or two years. Some Baronies have maximum times of service; for instance, Thescorre’s Barons may serve for a maximum of nine years with an initial three year term and multiple one- or two-year extensions based on votes of confidence of the populace. The Bog’s barons may not serve two consecutive terms but can run for baron again after a break. The Debatable Lands is the only Barony in Æthelmearc that has no term limits on its Barons.
Restrictions on Candidates
All baronies in Æthelmearc require that candidates for the office of Baron be residents of the Barony, age 18 or older, and paid members of the Society.
Endless Hills has some of the most restrictive requirements for candidates: they must have a 12 month prior residency and SCA membership, and to be nominated, a petition signed by at least 5 gentles who are SCA members and eligible to vote must be presented to the Baronial Officers. Barons of Endless Hills are also required to attend specific events, both baronial and royal progress, as well as baronial meetings and an annual baronial curia.
St. Swithin’s Bog similarly requires candidates to have been paid SCA members for one year prior to the election, and also to state their willingness to travel and take on the costs of the office. The Bog also requires candidates to have submitted a name and device to the College of Heralds (a requirement that was once in place for entrants in Æthelmearc’s Coronet and Crown Tournaments as well, but has since been removed). Bog candidates must also send a letter of their intent to run to the baronial chronicler be published in the baronial newsletter, with a copy to the Crown.
In Thescorre, all nominations for Baron must be seconded and candidates must accept nomination, while in Delftwood, interested candidates send a letter of interest to the officers. In Blackstone Mountain, candidates also send a letter of interest, which must include their reason for wanting to be baron.
In the Rhydderich Hael, nominations are made in person at a Barony meeting, and cannot be made by someone not physically present at the meeting. However, the nominees do not have to be present. Nominations must be seconded.
In the Debatable Lands, nominations are made by the populace, either via mail/email or at a Barony meeting, and do not need to be seconded.
Most groups give the nominees anywhere from a week to a month to accept or decline their nomination for Baron, but in the Rhydderich Hael, nominees only have 48 hours to decide.
Several Baronies do not permit certain officers, like the Seneschal and Exchequer, to run for Baron unless they step down from office first.
Restrictions on Voters
All Baronies require voters to be residents of their Barony and paid members of the SCA. St. Swithin’s Bog has “Non-Resident Membership” option for people who live outside the Bog’s zip codes but have petitioned to become residents and been approved by the officers. Such gentles can vote in baronial elections and hold baronial office in the Bog. The Debatable Lands allows voters who do not meet the voting requirements to petition the selection committee for a waiver permitting them to vote.
The Debatable Lands requires voters to be at least 17 years old, but the waiver option also applies to the age limit. St. Swithin’s Bog similarly has a minimum voting age of 17, but with no waiver option. The other baronies do not specify a minimum age, so the Kingdom default of 14 applies.
Most Baronies have their Seneschal run the election for Baron. Only the Rhydderich Hael and the Debatable Lands have a Selection Committee comprised of some number of the baronial officers who run the election.
Each Barony has a slightly different method of counting votes. Some baronial election policies are vague about how voters choose their preferred candidates; the implication seems to be that subjects vote for their single preferred candidate and the candidate with the most votes wins, even if that’s a plurality rather than a majority of the votes. However, the Rhydderich Hael, Thescorre, and the Debatable Lands use variants on what is sometimes called an “Australian” ballot, where voters rank the candidates in their order of preference rather than choosing a single candidate. In the Rhydderich Hael and Thescorre, these placements have a point score associated with them (top preferred candidate gets as many points as there are candidates, 2nd preference gets the number of candidates minus 1, etc.), and the candidate with the most points wins. In the Debatable Lands, ballots are counted by placing them in piles based on the candidate ranked first. If the candidate with the most ballots does not have over 50%, the smallest pile of ballots is redistributed to their 2nd place candidate, and the process continues until a candidate has more than 50% of the ballots.
Several baronies allow voters to cast a “negative” or “unacceptable” vote for candidates; in the Debatable Lands and Delftwood, candidates who receive too many negative votes may be eliminated.
Blackstone Mountain requires all ballots to be returned to the Baronial Seneschal by mail, and does not accept hand-delivered ballots.
Baronial policies are available at the links below: