What Is a Peer?

Reminder: This was written before the Order of Defense was even a thought in someone's brain, so please don't take offense that they are not mentioned, just assume they are there ... I don't want to spend a lot of time trying to find every place that they should be mentioned with the other Orders of Peerage and update the page.

This seems like it should be an easy question to answer. The simple response might be "A peer is a person who is a member of one of the Polling Orders of Peerage [which some call "the Merit peerages" -- I find that term a bit degrading to the Royal Peers, and prefer not to use it], or is someone who has sat a throne at least once." A person answering this question could easily go on and discuss the individual orders of peerage, what a royal peer is, and so on ...

I'd like to assume that anyone reading this already has a good idea of the usual definitions of the three polling orders of peerage, and the royal peers, and instead wish to look at this from the more complex side ...

When a person joins the SCA, they do so for any number of reasons -- these can include being actually interested in period research and/or re-creation, and can range to "it's a great place to get drunk and get laid".

I've found that, in most cases, the longer a person is involved in the SCA the more they find that their interests change at least some, usually toward the research and/or re-creation side. This of course varies from person-to-person, and this doesn't happen for everyone, but many folk eventually start feeling like perhaps they have a stake in this organization. This, in my opinion, is where the peerage really starts. You can tell you feel this way when someone suggests changing something and you really spend some time thinking about it, rather than immediately either jumping on the bandwagon or deciding it's a bad idea (although a knee-jerk "don't change that lightbulb!" reaction is common to a lot of us old-timers ...) ...

Most of this following discussion deals with the three polling orders of peerage (The Chivalry, Laurels and Pelicans). This is not to denigrate the Royal Peerages, because I know that when done right, sitting a throne is a real job, but the requirements to become a Royal Peer are not the same as the polling orders, nor are the expectations from the populace of a Royal Peer the same as those of the other peerages (not to mention the fact that I have no direct experience in the 'throne-sitting' department).

"Ok, So, What Is a Peer?"
A person being considered by one of the three polling orders should have some feeling of having a stake in the organization. They should be active in more than one aspect of the SCA. They should be interested in at least some research and helping make the SCA look and feel right. They should be capable of participating in more than just their specialty (Knights should be able to do more than go out on the field and fight ..., Laurels should be able to do more than sit in a corner and embroider (or whatever their speciality(s)) and Pelicans shouldn't just be in the background running events or being officers ...). I am certainly not stating that a Knight has to be a great dancer or autocrat, but they should, in my opinion be able (and willing) to participate at that level. They should be "paid" members of the organization, and should, in an attempt to enhance the SCA, have a registered name and registered arms (and be displaying their arms) ...

There have been lots of nebulous discussions about the "Peerage Qualities" that define what a peer is. I've been involved in some of these. They're interesting in that no one person can make a definitive statement that everyone else can agree on. I hope that in these pages I manage to define at least some of what I feel these "Peerage Qualities" are ...

In my opinion, a peer is someone special in some fashion. Here are at least some of my thoughts on those nebulous peerage qualities I can manage to pin down ...

There are a lot of people in the SCA. The official paid-membership count is close to 30,000 members, and I've heard numbers ranging from 2-3 unpaid people attending events for each paid member. Most of those (I don't want to try to deal with statistics here) people do not have all of these qualities discussed above.

Is this bad? No, I don't think so. In the 'real world', you can see the same thing. There are 'leaders' and there are 'followers'. In the SCA there are people who are peers, there are people who are recognized as peers who do not have the qualities I mention above (each of the Orders has made their share of mistakes ...), there are those who may eventually become peers, those who will eventually become peers, and those who will never become peers (for whatever reasons).

Some folk could become peers, but they aren't interested. They just enjoy doing what they're doing, and when the peers come along and talk to them, they tell them to go away. Ok ... As far as I'm concerned, that's their prerogative. Some of these may, in all ways, be a peer, except that they have not been acknowledged. Should we force it on them? I don't think so, because I feel that being a peer is a job, and I don't want to force anyone to take a job that they're not interested in.

Do I see the list I gave above as some sort of check-list? In short, no -- the 'merit-badge system' of the Boy Scouts is not appropriate in the SCA. That list gives a sort of 'ideal' that I feel that we, as peers, should be looking for. I seriously doubt that I live up to every single item in the list perfectly -- I'm only human ... One can only strive to live up to ideals, most people fall short in some way or other.

The current West Kingdom polling-order-peerages have, as part of the ceremony to elevate a new member to their ranks, an opening paragraph, provided by a friend of mine, that equates the peerages to the legs of a tripod: "The strength and stability of the Kingdom lie in these virtues of its people: service, chivalry, and creativity - for if any of these are lacking, the Kingdom fails." This may sound presumptuous, but it is ceremony after all. Think about though. The SCA would be deadly dull without the fighting. The SCA would fall apart without the services of the volunteers who hold offices and autocrat events. The SCA would be boring for those who don't fight without all the other areas of interest that are often lumped under the "Arts and Sciences".

Remember that a peerage is not an award -- it is an acknowledgment that you are a peer, or equal, to the current members of the Order you may be asked to join. (See the New Peer packets ...) This means that at some point, enough members of the Order (or the Crown) have decided that you are their peer (check the dictionary -- 'peer' means 'equal'), and worthy of recognition as such, and have petitioned the Crown to recognize you as their peer -- and the Crown has agreed.


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