Cutting off the Nose to Spite the Outlands
(Note: If you hate those SCA heavy posts, you’ll hate this one too. It focuses on a problem specific to the SCA Kingdom of the Outlands, which you can find at www.outlands.org).
(N.B. I am not a pure outside observer to what’s going on in the Outlands. I began in the Outlands and played from 2004-2008 there. My peers are in the Outlands, I have Outlands awards, and there will always be a part of me that is Outlands green just like there is now an equal part of me that will always be Calontir purple.)
This article has changed tone several times since the announcement the Outlands is considering splitting hit Facebook. Both as I’ve considered it, and as new information has come to light. It seems to me to be a flame that burned very brightly, but one that I do not think will continue. In short, I do not think the split will happen. But I do think there are options that can be pursued to relieve the very valid tensions that the Kingdom feels.
Why is it dead?
Reason number one why I do not believe a split will proceed is the one that is the one I’ve most consistently felt, although in the end it may not be the most damning. The reason is one that has been well articulated on the Facebook page as the “Who stays the Outlands” problem. The easy answer is “the part that leaves”, but that is no answer until we know which half of the Kingdom is proposed to be the Principality—and that’s when the real fight will begin.
I really do believe this fight would be ugly and destructive. If you think it would go smoothly, then I’d ask you to consider a thought experiment: How do you fairly decide which side gets to keep the Stag’s Blood as an award? The Outlands lineage of Knights and the baby chain? Lightning and Thunder? Men and women on both sides of the Outlands have given blood, sweat, and tears to make these things and so many more have meaning, and the idea that it will not cause rollicking fights no matter which side gets to keep it is almost insane.
The other issue is the political situation of it. How will the north feel if it is a southern King who decides they will be the principality and eventually leave? How will the south feel if it is a northern King? Or equally bad, how many people will accuse a southern King of having betrayed the south if they are chosen? Or the same for a northern one. How do you decide who is going to give up, eventually, all the things that make the Outlands the Outlands without it feeling like the ultimate betrayal? The idea floating around that this would be a process that would leave us brotherly and thick as thieves is not one I believe in. How do we feel most of the time about Atenveldt? How does Calontir feel about the Middle, the way that break went?
Reason number two is the timing. While there is nothing that stops the Board of Directors from creating Kingdoms out of whole cloth, they won’t do it. Becoming a Principality is a step that comes after you have shown you can function administratively on your own, and is a step itself that lasts not less than three or four years by itself. The fact that the Board can speed it up, since they are the Board, does not mean that they will speed it up. And the fact that they won’t speed it up doesn’t make them an evil cabal, it makes them cautious. It is way more work and trauma to undo an elevation like this, especially if it is to a Kingdom, then to simply wait and make sure it is the right thing. I wouldn’t expect the Principality stage to last less than half a decade, given that the Outlands has not ever really had fully official regions. Yes deputies exist for each area, but that’s not the same as the first step of “You’re on your own.”
And there is, frankly, no good reason for them to speed it up. The tensions felt by Outlanders are real and I do not try to belittle them by any means, but from a Board perspective they are not substantially different than any other potential Kingdom split. Do we believe that either half of the Outlands feels far greater remoteness or abandonment by the other than Calontir felt in the Middle? Or Northshield? Are our regional tensions so unique and strained that we are different than any other Kingdom that has ever had a splinter group or considered a Principality? The answer is ultimately no. We are not on the verge of civil war, and even if we were then a quickened split would probably not be the first solution they would consider. We are looking at a long term process, and a long term process solves long term problems.
Reason three is simply the number of members, and it is perhaps the most damning. Kathryn Ballard posted the membership numbers for all of the Kingdoms, a document she received from SCA corporate itself. These numbers are the only information that the Board has to go on for the activity level of a Kingdom (which is why membership is so important), so any anecdotes or data that can be brought up about the number of non-member participants is meaningless unless we believe they will all purchase memberships and keep them up for the next 5-10 years (see above).
The numbers revealed that the Outlands has 1467 members on the books, which puts us right in the middle range of other Kingdoms. More than some, less than others, but neither one of the smaller Kingdoms nor one of the larger ones. For comparison the smallest U.S. Kingdoms are Ealdormere with 578, Artemisia with 848, and then Nortshield with 939 and Glean Abhann with 957 effectively tied for third (18 members out of one thousand is within the margin of ‘people with memberships that will expire this year and will not renew or will buy it for the first time this year’).
(Note: I am ignoring the numbers for Drachenwald and Lochac. Both of these Kingdoms have other corporations in them that handle their own memberships, and thus would not be on the list. Lochac’s 4 members are probably U.S. transplants with active memberships, or people who wanted to support the main corporation. Drachenwald’s numbers do not, I believe, include members in the corporation that covers the Principality of Nordmark and are thus artificially low).
Assuming an even split (and I am not entirely convinced it would be an even split) that would leave the Northern and Southern Kingdoms with ~750 members each. This would make them the second and third smallest Kingdoms in the U.S. and probably the Known World, below Artemisia but above Ealdormere. While each half of the Kingdom would be above the Corpora requirement of 400 paid members the Board always looks for significantly more than that. The minimums create the lowest level at which a Kingdom can ride, but it is commonly understood that a healthy group will have more.
Looking at it from the Board’s perspective there is not a lot of incentive to transition a healthy Kingdom in the middle of the population range and transition it to among the smallest Kingdoms in the world. Doing so puts them in risk of getting down to the minimum (and it being far more traumatic to dissolve then to create), and diminishes the impact and prestige of that Kingdom. Each constituent Kingdom would send fewer representatives to wars that they would as a result do and volunteer less at, which are many of the ways we measure our Kingdoms against one another. And the Outlands is, as it stands, a healthy and impactful group. It is a major participant in one of the major wars (Estrella) and is hosting an event that is growing and gaining more inter-kingdom notice (Battlemoor). It has members that serve with distinction at all levels and do noticeable things. On top of this recruitment society wide is not trending upward—we are losing members.
I do not see a world in which the Board will seriously consider two Kingdoms unless each half of that had at least 900-1000 members. This fuels the timing issue above, where it may well consider a principality but would not split it off until it had reached a milestone of growth, and that milestone is unlikely to be achieved in one or two years.
Between the potential ugliness of the split, the long window not solving what people feel are immediate concerns, and the number of members that each Kingdom would have, I do not believe the solution to the problem is to branch off a new Kingdom. So what is the solution? The short answer is I don’t know. I see a couple of possible options, almost all of which have been brought up.
Solution 1: You get a Principality! And you get a Principality!
A principality does not have to ever split off, and there are principalities that in all likelihood will never split off. Oertha (Alaska) is unlikely to ever have the people or structure to be a full Kingdom, but that doesn’t stop it from being an enjoyable group that accomplishes a worthwhile goal of providing structure and representation. There is nothing to stop the Outlands from creating a Principality like this, with the goal of easing some of those issues and creating more opportunities for recognition and representation.
There is not, in any corporate document I can see, anything stopping the two principality idea either. While it has been mentioned the Board has some policies on the creation of principalities where they would cover the whole territory, but those did not seem to apply to what the Outlands is proposing (two vs. one principality). And even if it is these are simple policies of the Board and not binding corporate law—they can be modified based on the Board and whatever exigent circumstances might present themselves. In my opinion the circumstances of the Outlands (travel time, two large regional differences, no one wanting to give up being the Outlands but wanting more autonomy) would be more compelling for two principalities than it would for a separate Kingdom.
The issue that has been brought up with this is three times the officers, and six coronations and crown/coronet tournaments per year. The officer issue is one that rings true, but as has been pointed out there are already northern and southern deputies for most offices. While these would not be an automatically easy transition to a chief Kingdom officer, the transition to a chief Principality officer would be less traumatic and still have the backup of the Kingdom officer in case of emergency. As for the Crown/Coronet Tourneys and Coronation, it is important to remember that the Crown does not have to go to a Principality’s coronet tourney or investiture/coronation. By Corpora they are only required to go the Crown they run, and their successors coronation, as well as whatever other events Kingdom law requires them to go to. Imagine how many times Oertha sees the Crown, or the Palatine Baronies of the world (Far West in Asia, the Western Seas in Hawaii, Allyshia in Humboldt County CA) see the Crown for their versions of these. It could be law or tradition that each Crown only had to go to one, and which one they went to could be fixed or alternate or simply that the tradition was they should try to if they could. No officer would be forced to go to the other Principality’s big events (although they would be welcome no doubt), only their own and the Kingdom’s.
This would solve the issue of feeling isolated from the Crown, give people more big events close by to travel to, introduce more autonomy and northern/southern culture and give the Outlands Viscounts (which are neat). Its downside would be start-up costs in regalia/heraldry/effort, that it would not give complete autonomy and that it would require officers to go to four more (admittedly local) events.
Solution 2: Bailiffs, Warlords, and Wardens (Oh my!)
The second solution is to institute ‘unofficial’ Principalities. Before it was a Principality, Calontir had a Bailiff and then a series of Warlords. These Warlords were selected through a tournament, served first as Champion and then Warlord, and had some devolved powers from the Midrealm. These positions do not exist at the Corpora level and are thus not regulated by the same requirements as Crown/Coronet tournaments, and only have as much or as little devolved power as the Crown chooses to grant them (within the bounds of Corpora).
There is nothing that would stop the Outlands from instituting this style of leadership in the two halves of the Kingdom and devolving an amount of power to them that it felt was appropriate. The Crown can allow anyone it wants to give out awards in its name save for Peerages and other limitations of Kingdom law, so it could give out awards. It can also set restrictions on awards (such as ‘May only be awarded in the Northern/Southern region’) as it sees fit. Through this method there could be representation, regional events of grandeur and style that people would not have to travel as far to, and the sense of friendly rivalry and regional identity that a Principality would bring, without requiring Board action. The Warlord would serve as a champion and cheerleader for their half of the Kingdom and enjoy whatever styles or titles the Crown wanted (see, e.g., the Lord of Outlandish and the Doge of Caer Galen).
The downside to this solution is that it is only institutionalized within the Outlands. Other Kingdom would be under no obligation to recognize the regional Bailiffs or Wardens, and it might be looked on with vague disfavor (although it is absolutely legal under corporate law). Also ‘Warden of the North’ and ‘Warden of the South’ sound like Game of Thrones, which could be a positive or a negative depending on who you ask.
Solution 3: Do Nothing
No action is also an option. The status quo is that the Outlands is a good mid-sized Kingdom with a generally positive reputation. There could be major attempts at cross-kingdom cultural change to bring everyone together that would require few changes to Kingdom Law or Board intervention. An emphasis on kingdom wide events more than just Battlemoor, such as a definitive commitment to Kingdom A&S and Queen’s Prize every year, can bring people together—and the Outlands could pursue such options.
Solution 4: Whacky Solutions
So outside of the more standard solutions presented above there are other possible solutions that the Outlands could consider. Note that I am not advocating any of these solutions, just demonstrating that there is a constellation of ideas outside of a split or principalities.
The Baronages of Caerthe and Al-Barran could each be made Palatine Baronies, selecting their Coronets through a tournament (A&S, heavy, rapier) every six months, and be given general guardianship over their half of the Kingdom. It could be made a requirement of Grant and Peerage level orders to travel to the other half of the Kingdom twice a year. The Outlands could seek a grant or hold a fundraiser to try to start a Kingdom-wide scholarship fund that non-royalty could apply to for travel expenses (similar to how the crown has the travel fund, and Unser Hafen has a scholarship fund for its populace). The Outlands could drum up the funds to give me a $40,000+ per year salary and I’ll move back and travel every weekend.
I really like that last one.
Looking at everything I genuinely believe a Kingdom split won’t happen. But there are a number of other options that could be considered, and I hope that the populace and the leadership of the Outlands will think about what it means to be a Kingdom and how to preserve that while coming up with creative ways to solve the issues it faces while remaining one unit. As someone who loves the Outlands I encourage whatever committee it puts in place to think beyond one solution and embrace many different opinions, and bring non-peer members of the populace on to help it do so.
2 thoughts on “Split Happens?”
Once again you have expanded my perception of the world. Thanks — everyone should read this.
Lord Uji (Matthew Parker) wrote a well thought out argument for why he does not think the Kingdom of the Outlands in the Society for Creative Anachronism will probably not split into two groups in the future. I am not as eloquent as Uju, but I want to attempt to paint a different picture of why the birth of a new kingdom might just happen someday.
When you look at most of the arguments for creating a new kingdom, they center around the idea of the geographical size of the Kingdom. Many have pointed out that the size of our Kingdom is somewhat smaller than some other kingdoms, and for those that travel, they enjoy the commute.
I think it is interesting to note that the length of our Kingdom is longer, by quite a ways than many REAL European countries. It would take less time to cross a border in Europe than to travel the length of our made-up Kingdom.
This creates many of the current problems and strain that we see in our Kingdom. This creates greater cost, risk and time for Crowns, Kingdom officers, Baron and Baronesses, court champions and aspiring peers. The result of this we already see at our events, the same small group of fighters who enter and win Crown Tourney, the same small pool of officers and B&Bs willing and capable of serving, and smaller turn out for champion events because folks know that they can’t travel all over the Kingdom and don’t want to do a poor job.
There is always the response, “well I travel” and there is a very small group of folks who can afford the time, cost and risk to travel to some large Kingdom events each year. You will not see those folks at your local event but probably at Battlemoor. Of course those are the same great folks that represent us at events in Atenveldt, Artemesia, North Shield and Calontir as well as other great Kingdoms. These folks will continue to travel whether or not the Kingdoms are smaller or not.
So many have already decided where they will play. They have set up about how far they will travel, and what events and at what level in the Kingdom they will play. Because so many people have decided to split the Kingdom already, is why we are having this conversation.
We are already living in two Kingdoms, even though we all yell, “Outlands!”
So why the emotion, anger and loss for many when they think about splitting the Outlands? I think it has to do with our identities. The SCA was created in a way that creates harm and pain for it to grow. It decided that to create new Kingdoms, which is a symbol of growth and health, by splitting them from an already established group. This is a painful process. People were born in this Kingdom, received awards and think of themselves as Outlanders forever.
This is why the process to create a new kingdom takes so long, and it should, to not only work out the logistics, but to birth a new identity.
We have other identities in the SCA. Some folks identify more with their household, or with their local group, instead of on a Kingdom level. Others have an identity that is based in the Society for Creative Anachronism realizing that they are not just a Lord or Lady, or Peer of the Realm, but of the Society. You don’t give those awards back when you move to another place; they carry over.
For those who fear that we do not have enough populace or participation to create a new Kingdom, I believe that if we had two separate groups you would open up a pool of participants who could not have volunteered in a bigger Kingdom. This means MORE folks in Crown Tournaments, MORE officers, MORE possible B&Bs and MORE willing to serve as champions. This would also mean quicker recognition for those who are deserving because they would have a somewhat local Crown.
There are a lot of great ideas on how to lessen the current strain on the Kingdom. There are also those who are already working constantly to create cohesion in the Kingdom. Regardless of the status of the Kingdom, we should continue to work on these ideas and not let them fade away like so many bold ideas.
I believe that we need to think about our Service to the SCA and to the overall health and growth of the SCA. That is why I think that no matter the outcome of a new Kingdom, we need to be gentle and chivalrous with each other in this process of discovery.
Principalities and New Kingdoms are not bad things, it is the way a Kingdom handles the process that can be. I prefer to not think about it as a divorce, but to think of it as the birth of a beautiful new child with a future of possibilities awaiting it.