Kingdom of Lochac
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Bartholomew Baskin and katherine kerr, October, AS XLIII
This general document was prepared after consultation with the Baronages of Lochac and other parties with relevant experience. It lays out the main issues and particularly pros and cons to consider when members of a group are deciding whether to form (or evolve) as an independent Shire, rather than as a Canton or Riding attached to a parent Barony. In doing so, it ignores the Corpora/paperwork/poll etc. side of any change and instead concentrates on the pragmatic effects.
Before delving into the pros and cons for the local members, we begin with the effects on a parent group of a Canton or Riding considering becoming a Shire, so that their position is a little clearer. We don't speak for any particular group in laying these effects out, but they are generally self-evident.
The Barony loses land. For a long-standing group used to experiencing growth and budding off new groups, this is usually a non-issue unless there are doubts about the new group's viability. The people are what matter, and having a strong neighbouring group is great. However, some folk may be sentimentally attached to certain territories or regions, and thus will feel a sense of loss when they go.
The Barony loses people who might have made the Barony stronger, whether as officers or stewards or B&B, or in counting towards its Barony status. For a strong and/or well-populated Barony, this is not an issue.
The B&B and some Court members will no longer feel any special obligation to travel regularly to Shire events, thus saving them personal time, money and effort.
On the other hand, for Baronages, there is less chance of playing a formal in-game role of any kind with Shires, although it does happen occasionally.
Because of the larger mass of the Barony and the pulling power of its activities, it is still likely that Shire members will come to key Barony events, especially if they've already formed a habit of doing so.
Officers of the Barony will no longer have to devote time or attention to Shire affairs, or provide training.
To sum it up: from the parent group's point of view -- especially if there's a big physical distance involved -- the balance is stacked in favour of preferring a (successful) Shire, apart from obvious sentimental reasons.
Below are the key pros and cons from the point of view of the members of the dependent group.
You are a fully independent SCA group, in full control of its territory and solely responsible for any attached groups in that territory, such as Colleges.
Decisions affecting you are taken locally, or at Kingdom level, or at the "Inc" level. Nowhere else.
Ceremony is largely eliminated, which suits some group cultures -- they can just get on with researching and being medieval without the bother of in-game SCA hierarchy and all the schtick that comes with it.
No need for any of your members to devote time to Baronial Court duties.
Your internal culture is pretty much your own, with only incidental influences from your early history, or borrowed from neighbouring groups, or from online sources. Thus, you will not have people visiting and even gently suggesting "but usually in this Barony, we...".
More exacting paperwork. You are working directly with distant Kingdom Officers rather than people closer to you who are reporting on your behalf. Because of that, the Kingdom Officers will will expect you to provide the level of reporting detail and frequency provided by the other independent groups.
More formal governance. Council/meetings etc. usually need to be more formal, with greater officer responsibility, published minutes etc, because there is no parent group to help catch or paper over any cracks resulting from a more casual approach. Most problems of any kind will have to be sorted out locally or, in the worst case, via Kingdom Officers.
Loss of ceremony. A Shire is wholly independent. For everyone within it (including attached Colleges), the only "in-game" hierarchical interaction you'll experience locally is during probably-rare Royal visits to your lands. Anything else has to be invented yourself. Formally, a Shire cannot have Courts or create and bestow even local awards.
Loss of ceremonial leaders, occasionally accompanied by a general lack of leadership. Baronies and their dependent groups have clearly defined long-term leaders who can initiate interesting and inspiring activities, e.g. wars, challenges etc. Shires can sometimes do this too, but it is far less common -- not least because nobody has explicit "permission" to take this role in a Shire structure. (When people try, it can lead to friction just as often as it works).
Loss of strategic planning and institutional memory. Because a B&B is usually around for significantly longer than other officers, they often have a longer-term view of the needs of the group and its development. This may not apply to a Canton if the B&B aren't paying much attention to it, but usually they will be, as it's part of their role. For a Shire, long-standing members can informally do the same. But the legitimacy issue arises again - if someone informally adopts a strategic governance role for a Shire, there is no good mechanism for easing them out of it when they are past their use-by date. Unlike a B&B.
Greater risk when the going gets tough. A Shire has nowhere else to turn when it is going through a low activity phase or losing populace. In contrast, a Canton can readily look to the parent group for attention, resources, visits, recruiting drives and the like to help rebuild a head of steam.
Disputes or problems which arise locally can often be resolved or lessened with active support from the parent group (whether from the B&B, key officers or just trusted advisors). Only the latter can really help in the case of a Shire, since the officers of a neighbouring group have no status in a Shire.
While a full-status Canton has responsibility for Colleges in its area just as a Shire does, a Canton has the option of sharing that responsibility somewhat with the parent Barony and its officers. This often works out better for the College too.
A Canton is far more likely to receive visits and help of all kinds (economic, know-how, advice) from its Barony than a Shire is from any neighbouring group. Informal support is common in both cases, of course, but the lack of formal obligation and also psychological investment from the Barony side unquestionably makes a major difference.
Members are part of a wider -- but still accessible -- group. They can become Baronial Court members, potentially Baronial Officers (where distance isn't an issue), and can certainly bid for Baronial events such as Baronial Anniversary.
A Canton has the benefit of guidance and leadership from (usually) more experienced SCAdians. Typically at least the B&B and often some of the other Baronial Officers will have long SCA experience and will have seen certain kinds of issues come and go. Thus they will have good strategies for spotting and dealing with them before they threaten group health or growth.
Challenges, war policy and other "in-game" elements emanating from the B&B have full effect (whether motivation, inspiration or amusement) throughout the Barony -- including in Cantons and Colleges.
As well as Kingdom awards, members of a Canton or attached College are also eligible for Baronial Awards and other forms of recognition.
Finally, in the early (proto- or incipient-) stages of a group, the need for close support and advice is much higher. Therefore if the possibility exists to launch as a Canton and then convert to a Shire a year or two after reaching full status, this is a much safer bet.
Your identity is partly subsumed in that of another group. Depending on how this is managed, this could make the game less fun or rewarding than doing everything on your own behalf. But like many things in the SCA, the reality is more often defined by the wishes and actions of the people involved, rather than the formal rules. Thus, there is a continuum, with some Cantons feeling very much like Shires, others with a strong identity of their own within a wider whole, and a few which feel pretty much like a household rather than a stand-alone group.
Your officers technically need to report through the Barony's officers, and appointments are made by the latter. Whereas a Shire reports directly to Kingdom officers and its officers are appointed by Kingdom. So if the extra layer is irksome for any reason, or there are long-standing personality issues, or similar factors, being a Shire may be preferable. Again, in practice, there is a lot of variability -- most Cantons enjoy a very substantial degree of autonomy, with the Baronial officers (who are much closer and more familiar than Kingdom officers) providing support and sanity-checks, rather than interfering in local affairs. Especially for a remote Canton, they have no interest in interfering, other than to help the group stay healthy.
Important things that aren't significantly affected by Shire vs. Canton status
You can bid for Crown events (but you'll get more support from a Barony if you are a Canton).
Everyone is eligible for all Kingdom Awards, offices etc.
Anyone can (in principle) receive Baronial awards from Baronies they travel to.
SCA NZ or SCAA reporting and governance requirements are the same.
If you have any comments or suggestions concerning the above, please contact Bartholomew.