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SCA History and Organization Overview
by Dame Margarete of Stirlingshire
HistoryOne fine day in May 1966 a group of students, professors and like-minded folk gathered in Berkley, CA to hold a Tournament. These individuals were brought together by common interests in not only the Middle Ages/Renaissance, but also in science fiction and fantasy. All attendees were encouraged to make an attempt at medieval clothing, which they did (with the one of the hostesses' roommates finishing up her dress as the party got underway). Out of this theme party grew what is today an international non-profit organization educational organization devoted to the study of the Middle Ages and Renaissance called the Society for Creative Anachronism.
The name was suggested by Marion Zimmer Bradley (Mistress Elfrida of Greeenwalls) when the group needed a name to reserve a park for their second Tournament held in the summer of 1966.
The SCA calendar begins on 1 May 1966 (Anno Societatis I). In January of 1968 (A.S. II) the Society was formally established, with the first Peerage titles being established at that time (Knight, Master of Arms and Master or Mistress of the Laurel).
In 1968 the World Science Fiction Convention was held in Berkley, giving the SCA its first really big audience and resulting in people wanting to start groups in their areas. So began over 30 years of continued growth for this organization!
The other significant event in 1968 was that the SCA was incorporated as a non-profit educational organization in the State of California. This move required the establishment of a Board of Directors, which exists today as well.
By 1970 there were four kingdoms - the West, Atenveldt, the Middle and the East. By 1976 we were up to six kingdoms and the SCA had gone international with groups being established in Canada. Today we have 16 kingdoms and several principalities, and over six hundred local chapters throughout the world.
The SCA has several governing documents including Corpora, the By Laws, Corporate Policies, and Kingdom Laws. (Available on-line at www.sca.org)
Corpora defines the structure of the SCA including defining membership, defining the various offices, identifying group designations and requirements, etc. The By Laws provide the modern world structure of the SCA, Inc. including the functioning of the Board of Directors and the financial practices of the Corporation. Corpora is how the SCA works as an organization. The By Laws cover the functioning of the SCA as a non-profit corporation.
Board of Directors - The by-laws state ". . . the activities and affairs of the SCA shall be managed and all corporate powers shall be exercised by or under the direction of the Board of Directors. . ." What this means is that the Board is the ultimate authority in the SCA - they set the dues for membership, they establish the requirements for holding offices, etc.
Society Officers - those officers that are functioning at the Society level within the historical structure of the Society. They report to the Board quarterly on the status and activities of the kingdoms with regard to the area of their concern. They are responsible for maintaining communications with other Society Officers. In short, they are responsible for their specific areas within the SCA. Society Officers include the Society Seneschal, the Chirurgeon General, the Marshal of the Society and many more. (Complete listing is in Corpora
Kingdom Officers (or Great Officers) - those officers that are functioning at the Kingdom level within the historical structure of the Society. They have similar reporting requirements into their respective Society officers and Kingdom Seneschal. Most kingdom officers will have a Society "boss".
Local Officers - those officers that are functioning at the local level within the historical structure of the Society.
Royalty - chosen by right of arms in each kingdom. Have the power to establish and revise Kingdom Law within the bounds of Corpora and the by-laws.
Peerages - Chivalry (Knights and Masters of Arms), The Order of the Laurel, The Order of the Pelican. These individuals are to be examples of courtesy and chivalry, respect the Crown and to support and uphold the laws of the kingdom and Corpora, to enrich the kingdom by sharing his or her knowledge and skills, to advise the Crown on the advancement of candidates for the Order.
Kingdom - area ruled by a King and Queen. Must have at least 400 subscribing members, candidates for all Great Officer positions, a registered name and device, sufficient Peers to provide guidance to the Crown, a draft body of kingdom law, a newsletter and various other requirements.
Principality - part of a kingdom which has the right to select a reigning Prince and Princess by armored combat. Must have at least 100 subscribing members, candidates for all Great Officer positions, a registered name and device, sufficient Peers to provide guidance to the Crown, and various other requirements. Very similar to a Kingdom, often (but not always) a preliminary step to becoming a kingdom.
Baronies and Provinces: large branches within a kingdom (or principality). Must have 25 subscribing members, a set of officers acceptable to the Crown, registered name and device, and various other requirements. Governed by a Landed Baron and/or Baroness.
Other local branches (Shires, Marches, Colleges, etc.) - at least 5 subscribing members, at least 3 officers of which two must be a Seneschal and an Exchequer, and various other requirements.
What the SCA is and is notThe SCA was founded by individuals who were enamored with the romance and ideals of the Middle Ages many of whom went on to become well known science fiction and fantasy writers. The first large growth spurt of the SCA was as a result of people learning about the SCA at a science fiction convention. Because of these early influences, the SCA has remained a unique organization that neither a fantasy group nor a scholarly research organization.
The SCA is not a LARP (live action role-playing) group, nor can it really be called a living history organization. It is also not a Ren Faire in which the participants are performing for an audience. Rather it is a place where people who are interested in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (give or take a couple of hundred years) can participate in events with a completely individual level of effort. The minimum requirement to attend an event is to wear an attempt at pre-17th Century clothing (it should be noted that I have yet to see anyone wearing Cavalier kicked out of an event). The upper level of effort is quite possibly The Enchanted Grounds - a camp at Pennsic in which people are encouraged to achieve the highest levels of authenticity in all aspects of their beings.
The things that make the SCA unique are the time span that it recreates and the range in the levels of effort that it tolerates. You will find everything from Romans to Cavaliers and from two towels pinned together at the shoulder as a tabard of sorts to a high court Elizabethan gown embellished with real pearls. You will find people who enjoy "filk" music - songs using non-period tunes but having an SCA or period theme - and people who spend hours researching period manuscripts in order to perform a completely period piece.
Another thing that makes the SCA unique among special interest groups is the diversity of things in which to get involved. If they were doing it in the Middle Ages, there is someone in the SCA researching it. In one organization you can find the same levels of expertise that you find in a period music performance group, sewing or handcraft guilds, calligraphy and illumination studios, etc. There are a variety of combat related activities ranging from armored combat and period fencing to archery and coursing. The arts and sciences range from the sciences of war (catapults and trebuchets) to the arts of peace (needlework, fiber arts, soap making, candle making, and much more).
A brief word about personas, names, and armsYour persona is who you are in the SCA. Like most things in the SCA people put varying amounts of effort into developing their persona. Many people have a name and perhaps an idea of where they are from while others have multiple fully fleshed out personae. There are many excellent resources out there on persona development, which can take a lot of the mystery out of the process.
The most basic element of your persona will be your name. Take your time in choosing a name as this is likely to be something that you will be called for many years to come even if you try to change it later! You can go by your modern name for quite a while before anyone starts to push you to come up with a period name. Some people are lucky enough to have a modern name that is also period. Please work with the heralds or other knowledgeable people before settling on a name, especially if it is important to you that you be able to register your name with the college of heralds.
Anyone who wishes to can design and register their device - the heraldry that becomes associated with them. Once someone is granted an Award of Arms, typically the first award that a person receives in the SCA, their device will become their arms. Again, this is something that is best done with the help of a herald or other knowledgeable person to assure that you end up with something that will be accepted by the College of Arms if that is important to you.
MiscellaneousThe primary goal of the SCA is to provide an atmosphere in which people who enjoy the romance and the ideals of the Middle Ages and Renaissance can share ideas and experiences with like-minded people. It usually extends far beyond the limits of the events that you may go to and becomes a part of your life unlike any other organization to which you may belong. It is not the right place for everyone - there are people who are more intrigued by LARP groups, fantasy groups or true living history organizations. For those of us for whom it is the right place, we truly can not imagine life without it. Come in, have fun, learn more about us and introduce yourself to me at an event in the near future!
This page last modified March 21, 2003.