What's the best way to become a Knight?
By Vladimir Ivanovich Kurgan (Jeff Blanchard) KSCA, etc.
[NOTE: this article makes extensive reference to masculine specific pronouns; substitute the female terms as you wish.]
Walk up to the current King dangling the keys to a brand new Ferrari in your hand, point to his white belt and say "Trade?"
Of course, this is more than likely to get you a white belt, but it won't get you a knighthood. Seriously though, it's as simple as this: to become a knight, you must already BE a knight. Confused? Then you're not ready yet.
Knights aren't made, they are recognised. When the vast majority of people around you start to point at your waist and say "Why aren't you wearing a white belt?", then you're getting close. When the knight's council start pointing and saying the same thing, you're almost there. When the Crown starts saying it, expect a very private Royal visit real soon. So how do you get to this stage?
Bribery is always a possibility, but I really don't recommend it. Most people don't have enough liquid assets to pay off all of the knights anyway, and it's just plain embarrassing having to talk your way out of a banishment following an attempt to bribe the Crown. So that leaves doing it the hard way, and for that we have to check out the governing documents of the SCA. In particular, we'll have a look at Corpora. (the following excerpts from Corpora are quoted verbatim from the January 2002 edition):
"VIII. PERSONAL AWARDS AND TITLES
A. Patents Of Arms
1. General Requirements:
Candidates for any order conferring a Patent of Arms must meet the following minimum criteria. Additional requirements may be set by law and custom of the kingdoms as deemed appropriate and necessary by the Crown.
- They shall have been obedient to the governing documents of the Society and the laws of the kingdom.
- They shall have consistently shown respect for the Crown of the kingdom.
- They shall have set an example of courteous and noble behaviour suitable to a peer of the realm.
- They shall have demonstrated support for the aims and ideals of the Society by being as authentic in dress, equipment and behaviour as is within their power.
- They shall have shared their knowledge and skills with others.
- They shall have practiced hospitality according to their means and as appropriate to the circumstances.
- They shall have made every effort to learn and practice those skills desirable at and worthy of a civilized court. To this end they should have some knowledge of a wide range of period forms, including but not limited to literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and they should have some familiarity with combat as practiced in the Society.
- They should participate in Society recreations of several aspects of the culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
4. Patent Orders: The following institutions are established for all kingdoms in the Society. A Patent of Arms may be conferred only upon a person being admitted into one of these orders. Each candidate for a patent order must satisfy the general requirements listed above in A.1., as well as the specific requirements listed here.
a. The Chivalry: The Chivalry consists of two equal parts: Knighthood and Mastery of Arms. No one may belong to both parts of the order at one time. When a member is admitted to the Chivalry by the Sovereign, the choice of which part of the order to join is made by the new member. The candidate must be considered the equal of his or her prospective peers with the basic weapons of tournament combat. To become a Knight, the candidate must swear fealty to the Crown of his or her kingdom during the knighting ceremony. Masters of Arms may choose to swear fealty, but are not required to do so.
The duties of the Chivalry are as follows:
- To set an example of courtesy and chivalrous conduct on and off the field of honour.
- To respect the Crown of the kingdom; to support and uphold the laws of the kingdom and Corpora.
- To enrich the kingdom by sharing his or her knowledge and skills.
- To support and uphold the Crown of his or her kingdom.
- To enhance the renown and defend the honour of the peer's Lady or Lord.
- To advise the Crown on the advancement of candidates for the Chivalry.
- To bestow the Accolade of Knighthood upon a candidate for the Order of knighthood, as the sole right as Sovereign or acting directly for the Sovereign, for only a Knight can create a Knight.
So, there you have it, the specific criteria necessary to becoming a knight. As simple as following a set of instructions. However, what do all of those instructions really mean? I'll try and break them down one at a time:
Obedience to governing documents and laws
Fairly self-explanatory, don't consistently break the law, it's not very courteous or chivalric. Mistakes can and will happen which may possibly put you on the wrong side of the constabulary, just don't make it a habit (and don't be seen to be enjoying it either, this just pisses people off).
Respect the Crown
Self-explanatory again, don't pay out on Their Majesties or be derisory towards them, especially at events. In the confines of your own home, say and do as you please, but in the context of the Society at an event, play the game. The Crown is the top of the food chain, dignify it with the respect it merits (you don't see small fish poking fun at big fish, else they get eaten; much the same thing happens here, just different methods of chewing)
Set an example of courteous and noble behaviour suitable to a peer
This encompasses what I was saying before, about already being a peer before you are recognised as one. Don't offend people (through inappropriate deeds or insensitive expressions), be chivalric (open doors for people, assist those in need), and try to affect a graceful courtly presence (know when to shout and when to shut-up during court or entertainment, know how to bow without falling flat on your face, don't flap your arms when you feast). Remember that noble behaviour is not defined by the culture of your persona, but by the pillars of courtesy, chivalry and honour upon which the Society rests. Turning up rolling drunk to court and disrupting proceedings is one example of discourteous and ignoble behaviour. Behaving in the manner of a visitor to the current ruler of England, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, as she held court would be entirely appropriate.
Being authentic in dress, equipment and behaviour as is within their power
Authenticity is a catchword that many people throw around but most are truly ignorant of. How many of you know that bike shorts are period? True, they weren't made of Lycra, but they were worn (see some of Bruegel's paintings, the Peasant Dance in particular). What about the colours hot pink or fluorescent orange? Also very period, especially in the Islamic world of garish silks (I never said they had good dress sense). Tell most mundanes about your weekend hobby and they generally hold to the belief that you wear a hessian potato sack, eat large joints of beef with your hands for breakfast and get drunk all the time.
When someone within the Society says "That's not period/authentic!", mostly when commenting about garb, what they are generally saying is "That is not to my taste and I find it offensive!". Be above the comment and respond politely, don't fly off the handle and abuse the originator of the comment (see the previous criterion). Just because one person doesn't like your new brown paisley silk caftan doesn't mean it isn't authentic. On the other hand, the idea here is to wear an attempt at pre-17th century clothing, so you don't have to go overboard with research and hand stitching and many sleepless nights of embroidery. Of course, while wearing tracksuit pants and a T-shirt may be your best attempt, I would advise you to seek help from other, more experienced participants. A simple rule of thumb: if it looks vaguely authentic, then it's at least an attempt, and more experience generally equates to better attempts.
Sharing knowledge and skills with others
Do you teach? Have you participated in the instruction of others with your chosen weapons? You don't have to be a good fighter to teach. Conversely, there's a great many good fighters out there who can't teach. Maybe your best skill is an alarming habit of continually throwing shots which kill yourself. No problem! Still teach this to others, as it will be funny and being humorous can take you far. This doesn't make you ineligible for knighthood, it's merely a hurdle that the members of the order will help you to overcome (providing you can put up with the laughter).
Practice hospitality according to their means and as appropriate to the circumstances
This is not as tough as it sounds. Hospitality is simply the extension of assistance to others by way of actions and/or materials. There are different levels, as in all things: someone has broken their sword, you choose to be hospitable by lending them yours; you could also give them your sword, make them a new one, buy the materials for them and let them make it, assist them to make it or just point out where to attach the basket hilt once they have collected the materials. It's up to you how charitable you wish to be, from miserly (Hey you, Sir Laughing Boy needs a sword!) to saintly (I'm just ripping off my pauldrons to make you a new basket hilt, hope you like the colour) and everything in between (Here, use mine.) This particular tenet can be summarised as: it is far better to give than to receive. Curiously, this also applies to sword blows. [NOTE: hospitality is sometimes referred to as largesse when speaking of period chivalric virtues, but they are not one and the same.]
Made every effort to learn and practice those skills worthy of a civilized court
The whole idea here is to fit in, and not be out of place in a typical Western European court of the Middle Ages. The Society recognises any pre-17th century culture which had a presence in Europe, no matter how small. The trick is to emulate the saying: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. Of course, there are exceptions and you can (and should) make full use of these. If your persona is Chinese, chess would be foreign to you, as the Eastern courts played Go and Gomoku, while African cultures played Mancala (or awalé, awaré etc). Those of a Middle Eastern persuasion would be reticent to dance Bransles or take part in a Pavanne, but would be quite happy shimmying the night away to frenetic drum rhythms (male or female yes, they both danced).
While the Society tends to have a Western European focus, and the requirements of the peerage clearly reflect that, it doesn't mean you can't be creative with the interpretation of them, and you should bear that in mind with whatever it is you are trying to do with your persona and during your interactions with others. The late 16th C Italian fencer will flourish his feathered hat when he bows to enter court, the 11th C Chinese scholar prostrates himself on the carpet with his nose to the floor, while the 7th C Persian spice merchant merely nods his head and touches his hand to his forehead, lips and chest when showing respect. Vivé la differénce! But the key word here is civilized. Be warned that when you stride up to court, do the Haka, then spit a huge gobful of snot on the Crown just because that's how the 10thC Polynesians might be doing it, the hushed silence will NOT be because everyone thought it was cool.
Participate in Society recreations of several aspects of the culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance
Again, fairly self-explanatory. Increase your awareness of different facets of life in the pre-17th C world through your own involvement. You don't have to be good at any of it, merely give it a go. Throw some balls around while you learn to juggle, stab yourself mercilessly as you try out some cross-stitch, burn some food as you cook those honeyed carrots. Even if you don't like it, don't hassle other people for their enjoyment of it - we're all individuals and like to play the game our own way.
One way of throwing yourself in the deep end with regard to participation is to run an event. This will not only give your organisational skills a good hard flogging, it will also introduce you to a myriad of activities you never thought existed. Start small, a tourney possibly including a light lunch, then eventually work up to a Kingdom level event. Believe me, it can be a huge chore but it is worth it with respect to getting your hands dirty within the current Middle Ages culture. It's also a good way of proving you are more than just a stick jock.
There endeth the explanations for the requirements to be granted a Patent of Arms and if you've done all of those, and (sometimes more importantly) have been seen to be doing all of those for a while, you are well on your way to getting a peerage. However, I haven't even touched on the specific knight bits yet
Must swear fealty to the Crown
This is the other main condition that sets us apart from almost everyone else, as knights MUST swear fealty during their ceremony. The other peerages (Laurel, Pelican and Royal Peer) and the other part of the Order of Chivalry (the Master of Arms) have the option of swearing fealty and may choose to do so or not as they please, Knights have no option. With regard to the particulars of fealty and its various complexities, check out elsewhere on this site, as it's a whole new can of worms.
To set an example of courtesy and chivalrous conduct on and off the field of honour
While on the field, be nice to your opponents; while off the field, be nice to everyone. The definition of chivalrous conduct can be nebulous at best, but it should encompass basic courtesy and honourable intention. Breaking The Rules of The List would be considered unchivalric (and unlawful, possibly earning you expulsion from the lists), but there's more to it than that. When you have taken an opponent’s legs and you're still standing, normally you will turn him away from looking up into the sun. This is not a rule, merely a chivalric convention which EVERYONE does, because it's courteous. Pressing your shield into your opponent’s weapon such that it is between your shield and his, and then raining in several blows to kill him is not against the rules, but it would probably be deemed un-chivalric. Taking someone's legs then remaining standing, is that a lack of chivalry (you are pressing an advantage) or the epitome of it (you are according your opponent respect by assuming he is an not an easy target while on his knees)? [NOTE: this particular battle rages on; if confronted with this little dilemma, do what feels right for you. Standing on your opponent’s groin then shield pressing him to the ground while you think about it is probably not a good idea.] Basically, chivalry is what you perceive it to be, based on your own experiences and those of the people around you. Only you can decide what it is. If you are treating people with the same courtesy and honourable intentions as you would like to be treated, then you can't really go wrong (sadomasochists need not apply).
To respect the Crown of the kingdom; to support and uphold the laws of the kingdom and Corpora
To support and uphold the Crown of his or her kingdom
To enrich the kingdom by sharing his or her knowledge and skills
Fairly self-explanatory and much as I mentioned above don't be breaking laws consistently, assist the Crown however you can and teach people what you know.
To advise the Crown on the advancement of candidates for the Chivalry
Pretty much sit in meetings and gibber a great deal about your friends. These council meetings can be fun and they can be a damn nuisance. But they are most definitely necessary, because the Crown can not know everyone who is deserving of admission to the order. We watch, take notes, point, laugh and cry (as appropriate) and then we get to sit down and provide feedback on all the fighters out there. There is no chance of being missed in the discussions, as our network is fairly extensive and we all like looking over each others' fence, if only to pick up on new techniques.
Note also that while we (the collective knights council) may advise Their Majesties on candidates suitable for elevation, the final decision is up to the Crown (normally a democracy is defined by the statement: one man one vote; we practice feudal democracy: he's the man, he gets the vote).
To bestow the Accolade of Knighthood upon a candidate for the Order of knighthood, as the sole right as Sovereign or acting directly for the Sovereign, for only a Knight can create a Knight
Hopefully, this is self-explanatory. If not, go check out the next event with a peerage ceremony.
To enhance the renown and defend the honour of the peer's Lady or Lord
Defending the honour of your Lord/Lady is fairly easy. Anyone who has stood up for their friends in a schoolyard punch-up following a spirited bout of name-calling is doing the same thing. Whenever you walk out on the field, more often than not you will carry your consort's favour. In fact, in a Royal list (Crown or Coronet), it is a necessity. This favour can be big, small, simple or elaborate, it matters not the form it takes. What matters is that the favour is representative of your consort and her trust in you to keep her honour intact. She has placed in you the safekeeping of her honour and any act you perform on the field which is less than complementary dishonours not only you, but your consort as well. If you perform dishonourably on the field, how does that make your Lady look bad? Because she is your inspiration, the very reason you are on the field in the first place. By behaving poorly on the field, you are implying that you did it because of her, that she inspired you to perform dishonourably.
Look through history and you will see a great number of people who have painted great works of art, performed beautiful pieces of dance and composed magnificent symphonies. Most of these people attribute it to some spark of inspiration. And the majority of those will point to a person as their main source of inspiration, be it a husband or wife, close friend, sibling, parent, child or merely a passer by. Within the context of the Society, we are basing our entire existence on the civilized aspects of a mediaeval Western European court. Look to the literature of the knights of the time who frequented these courts. Tournament wins, captured lands during wars, even entire crusades had been called because of the inspiration of a consort. Those without consorts (William the Marshal immediately springs to mind) fought mostly for their King or Queen, their country and/or the church, but nearly always their inspiration was from another person.
In reality, everyone fights for different reasons fun, competition, latent aggressive tendencies, to win titles, masochism, tassel hunting, renown, whatever. But in theory, chivalry dictates that we carry ourselves on the field with the highest ideals and these are generally related to our inspiration. Hopefully, this is our consort. That's why in the invocation of our royalty, the consort is accorded an equal share of the respect because she did just as much work inspiring you to the victory. No consort, no inspiration, no victory. The consorts of the holders of the Wreaths of Chivalry and Valour, in addition to the Lochac Champion, are all likewise accorded the same respect, because of their inspiration. Before Lay on! is called before EVERY tournament bout, we salute the Crown (as the paragons of virtue and dignity in the Kingdom), and then we salute our inspiration because they are the reason we are on the field. And here's a small bit of history for you. Before there were knights, squires, Dukes/Duchesses, Awards of Arms or even Kings and Crowns in this Society of ours, there was the Queen. That's right, the first few tournaments in the Society were held between a bunch of fencing mask and motorcycle helmeted guys hitting each other with real bits of wood, fighting for the right to make their consort the Queen of Love and Beauty. While we have all the trappings of the current Middle Ages to be thankful for, one of the most enduring traditions, and possibly the most important, is that we venerate our consorts by our actions on the field of honour.
But how the hell are you meant to improve on your consort's notoriety? Enhancing renown is sometimes a shared thing you fight well, she gets to wear a pointy hat for 6 months. I suppose there's no better way of enhancing your consort's renown than by winning a Crown or Coronet tournament. But realise that while that is probably the most visible of the means for getting your consort in the public eye, it's not the only way. Each time you do well on the field, other people will be approaching her and saying He's fighting well today! It's a two part relationship you do well on the field and she is bound to do well off it.
Understand that when I say well on the field, I don't necessarily mean being victorious. More often than not, someone who loses gracefully with a smile on their face will garner more of a celebratory reaction from the populace than someone who wins poorly. In all seriousness, that's the real type of chivalry we're looking for.
The candidate must be considered the equal of his or her prospective peers with the basic weapons of tournament combat.
It pretty much starts and ends there for the prospective knight: how good can you swing a stick? You can be the nicest, most courteous and chivalric person in the world, but if you can't fight well then you won't be a member of the order [NOTE: the rule is All knights are good fighters, but not all good fighters are knights. There are exceptions to every rule, including this one; thankfully, they're rare.]
How is this measured? you may be asking.
By the number of tournament wins? Nope, you don't have to win lots to be a knight. Invariably, knights tend to win more tournaments because of their skill and years of experience, but by no means is it a requirement of entry to the order. Tournament wins are more of a barometer of your effectiveness on the field. Winning tournaments will increase your renown and get you and your consort noticed, thereby contributing to the overall package of knighthood. But please rest assured that victory is not the be all and end all.
Look to the current crop of knights around the Kingdom. No two fight alike. True, there are similarities between some of the styles, but by and large every knight fights differently. And every one of those knights has a different opinion as to what makes a good fighter based on how they themselves fight. Style, effectiveness, tournament wins, flamboyancy, control, efficiency, economy of motion, fun factor and even authenticity (with respect to following period texts such as Talhoffer and Silver), all of these and many more besides are looked at when considering a prospective candidate. But while a bar may be in place for aspiring knights to reach, please remember that you should fight for its own sake, and let the accolade of knighthood be icing on that combat cake. If you're having fun fighting, any rewards you receive as a result are incidental.
So, there's the complete listing of all criteria and a breakdown of each. Did I answer the question of "What's the best way to become a Knight?" Probably not, because in reality there is no BEST way. I can't set out a road map with a sign on either end, one that says You are here and the other which says Knighthood, it doesn't and never should it work like that. However, there is one thing that you can do to maximise your chances while travelling down the path, and take note because this is about 15 years of raw experience distilled into five words: