SCA Peerages – Just a Popularity Contest?

SCA Peerages – Just a Popularity Contest?
by Sir Gregoire de Lyon (Greg Less)

I’ve been asked to write my thoughts on the SCA Peerages as nothing more than high school cliques populated by the Cool Kids. It is a good subject, one that I’m happy to address, but before I do so, I want to go over how the whole peerage process usually works (in my experience, so Middle Kingdom for the last 5 years).

There aren’t any state secrets in the following paragraphs, but if you don’t want to see behind the curtain to glimpse how the sausage is made, stop reading now.

Regardless of your peerage, there is a basic bar to get yourself noticed and under consideration – fighting for the Chivalry and MoD, arts for the Laurel, service for the Pelican. If you aren’t at a certain level in your thing you aren’t going to be considered, yet. Once you are sufficiently advanced in your thing, your name is put forward to the Order and the Crown for consideration. Assuming that at least a few people agree that you are in the ballpark, thing-wise, your name goes on what is called the Watch List.

Once on the Watch List an advocate is assigned to you (if you don’t already have one) and a Candidate Page is created for you. The Candidate Page is where members of the Order can go and read about you and leave comments about you.

Bet you didn’t know we keep a secret file on you. Unsettling, isn’t it?

The comments on your candidate page are usually information about your activity level, where members of the Order can encounter you if they would like to get to know you personally, and your accomplishments (i.e. “Squire Bob made it to the fourth round of Candlemas this weekend.”) Occasionally, there are concerns posted as well – either observations about how to improve your performance at your thing or concerns that are related to your broader path to Peerage.

The broader path to Peerage, often called Peer-Like Qualities, or PLQs for short, are the things that make a peer more than just a hot stick, seam-checker, or helium hand. They are the Franchise, the Sprezzatura, that make Peers stick out in the crowd. They are what makes a checklist for Peerage impossible.

Usually once or twice per reign, the Crown asks the Order for a poll. In the poll, members are asked for a vote (really a recommendation) on each candidate and additional, private commentary. The recommendation is essentially multiple choice: Elevate, Wait, No Strong Opinion, Drop.

  • Elevate means move someone forward in the process.
  • Wait means that they are where they belong for right now.
  • No Strong Opinion usually means that you donít know the person well enough to comment.
  • Drop means that you believe a mistake was made and that the candidate should not be under consideration.

From the Watch List, a candidate with sufficient counsel to Elevate will be moved to the Vote List.
From the Watch List, a candidate with sufficient counsel to Drop will be removed from consideration.

Once moved to the Vote List, a candidate gets more scrutiny, but goes through the same process on the polls. The difference here being that a vote to Elevate means that the person is ready to become a Peer, and a vote to Drop means that they will likely return to the Watch List.

(A quick aside – I say voting like this is a democracy. It is NOT a democracy. The only vote that matters is that of the Crown. What members of the Order are doing when answering a poll is providing solicited advice on Candidates. There is no mandate that a candidate be popular with the Order to be elevated to a peerage, only that the Crown ask the Order’s opinion first.)

(A second quick aside – occasionally a really super candidate comes along and they can bypass the Watch List, or even the Vote List. This is exceedingly rare, but has been known to happen.)

That’s how becoming a peer works. Easy, right? All you have to do is your thing and show some PLQs. So why does it often seem like it is a popularity contest and very deserving people are left behind?

I’m going to start first with the idea of very deserving people being overlooked. The reality is that this happens sometimes; however, I don’t think that it happens very often. There is probably someone that you can think of, right now, from your local group, that you believe should have been a Peer a long time ago. Chances are excellent that the Peerage Order of their thing is aware of them and maybe even watching them closely. There is likely something that is holding them back, something that the Order has seen that they would like to see improved upon. Now, ask yourself, is this person getting feedback from Peers in their thing and listening to that feedback, making the suggested improvements? If yes, I would counsel you to be patient. If not, I would counsel you to convince your friend to listen to the advice of those Peers who are trying to help.

What about the popularity contest? The reality is that a group of people is judging you to determine if they want you to be part of their elite club. The Peers want to make sure that you are ready to represent them, the Order, the Crown, and the Society to every single new person that walks through the door. They are trying really hard to prevent giving a high honor to someone who will turn out to be unworthy, because it is very hard to remove someone from peerage. They want to make sure that you are like them, for their specific brand of cool. What this means is that Peers generally want to know someone personally before counseling elevate. They do not need to be your best friend, but they do want to know you or know who you are. Therefore, the notoriety part of popularity is important because, while elevation to Peerage is at the whim of the Crown, most Royalty want the support of the Order (represented here by Elevate recommendation on the poll).

So, honestly, yes. Getting a Peerage is something of a high school popularity contest.

That said, I prefer the more positive analogy of an extended, semi-secret job interview. You state that you think you might want to be a Peer someday and we start watching, listening, and building a resume for you. At the end, you get the job (and make no mistake, being a Peer is a JOB). The best part of thinking about the Peerage process as an extended interview is the realization that the interview never ends and there are an infinite number of spots to be filled once the right candidate comes along!

Wrapping this all up, here’s the take away: The Peers want you to be a Peer. They want you to get really good at your thing and display the noble bearing we expect from members of our highest Orders. If you feel that you are being overlooked, or someone you know is being overlooked, talk to a Peer and see if maybe you can get some help. Be prepared for frank feedback – as I said in some of my other notes, becoming a Peer is often about taking your lumps.