A Reward for Faithful Service

What To Do About Corona Crowns

(Note: Edited on March 27, 2021 to correct the fact that I completely forgot the word ‘augmentation’ for a little bit)

The SCA has had a well-established rhythm for decades. You fight in a crown tournament and serve time as Prince or Princess. You rule as King or Queen for six months[1], and then step down. You are made a Count or Countess. If you do it all again, you are made a Duke or Duchess. Rinse and repeat for every first or second time Crown in the society, and 55 years later you have an Order of Precedence and some regular number of Royal Peers[2].

Like so many others, however, that rhythm has been broken by Corona virus. There are Crowns who have been called to serve in difficult times for a much longer period than normal[3], and who will end their reigns as the (hopefully) unbeatable record holders for longest crown in their Kingdom (and one Crown will of course hold the record for longest reign in SCA history).

What, then, do we do for such individuals? It seems to me, and others I have spoken to, that the normal recognitions for their service are inadequate. When someone has served 18 months as Crown it seems unfair that they should receive the same recognition as someone who served 6 months–not because the service during the normal reign is lesser, but because the service during the longer reign is so much more.

This article, then, explores some options for the Board of Directors to review. They are the ones I feel are the most usable given our system and restrictions, but are not arranged in any particular order. The only exception to this is that the final discussion will be proposals for Kingdoms to recognize the individuals either instead of or in addition to any Board decisions, and possible language for my own Kingdom of Calontir.

These suggestions are presented with an eye toward there being a distinct recognition for both first time and returning Crowns. The Board could of course simply declare that if you served the length of two reigns in your Kingdom that you are eligible for a Duchy even if it was your first time; but that does not recognize those who either would have been receiving a Duchy or were already Dukes/Duchesses. While a Duchy is the highest rank that one can achieve in the society, if some Crowns who served during this time are going to be recognized then (in my opinion) all should.

Always present, of course, is the option to do nothing. It is not even necessarily unfair to say that when you win the Crown you are signing up for whatever comes and know that your reward will be the same no matter what; it is the quote about duty being the least you can do and what you should always strive for, writ large. The Board can, and very well may, decide to go ahead with this option. But if they should desire to go further, there are some options for them to consider.=

1. Marquess and Marchioness

The Royal Peerage of the Society is currently constructed as follows:

  • Viscount/Viscountess (Reigned as Prince and Princess of a Principality)
  • Count/Countess
  • Duke/Duchess.

Despite being modelled on the Peerage of the United Kingdom (and its preceding Kingdoms of Great Britain and of England), it is not an exact copy. In addition to the issue that historically Barons are Peers, and in fact the Peerage is also referred to as the Baronage, and that in the UK it is always an Earl not a Count, the SCA also skips a rank: That of Marquess and Marchioness (pronounced Mar-kwiss and Mar-chon-ess, respectively).

A Marquess ranks above an Earl and below a Duke[4], and the title is derived from the European rank of Markgraf–or March-Count[5]. This was a title given on the continent to those Counts or Barons who held border lands on the extreme of the Kingdom or Empire, and who were consequently given greater authority than a normal Count[6]. It was first introduced in England by Richard II, who made Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford, the 1st Marquess of Dublin[7]. The premier extant Marquess of England is the Marquess of Winchester (1551), and in Scotland is the Marquess of Huntly (1599).

The title remained relatively rare for a number of reasons. Firstly that its introduction was offensive to the Earls of the realm, who resented anyone but Dukes being placed above them–to the point where one nobleman who had lost his titles and was having them restored outright asked the King to not give him the title of Marquess back[8]. And secondly because they were seen as being more continental than English–Queen Victoria records a conversation with Lord Melbourne where the Prime Minister explains that the title is not really English[9].

Note that there was a distinction between a Marquess and a Marcher Lord in England, the first being a rank and the second being a designation. In England the distinction was between title and position–not all Marquessates actually were created on Marcher Lords, and most Marcher Lords remained Earls or Barons even after the introduction of the title of Marquess.

Marquess/Marchioness and their continental equivalents, then, represent an interruption in the feudal system–a Count elevated by the necessity of their duties, created in certain circumstances of duress and the threat of invasion. A Crown who has served a lengthier term due to Coronavirus represents much the same; someone who has been given extended authority to deal with a time of crisis. The SCA would also preserve the numerical scarcity of Marquess–the progression from Baron (426) to Earl (191) and then (skipping Marquess) to Duke (24 non-Royal) implies there should be more Marquesses than there are. Similarly the SCA would have at most 2 sets of Marquesses per Kingdoms (assuming one reign with a Prince and Princess that held a Coronation during the pandemic).

One of the benefits of creating the rank of Marquess and Marchioness for Corona crowns is that it would give a new title to even someone who already had a Dukedom[10], and could be given in addition to a County for a new Royal Peer. This allows for both parties to receive a new title and scroll for their extraordinary service, as opposed to a reward which only benefits one who would receive a County.

If adopted, the style for the new rank should almost certainly be that of Excellency, to preserve the style of Grace for Dukes. For a Coronet the Board could look to those used in the UK, which would mean a coronet of alternating pearls and strawberry leaves; or it could adapt current SCA coronets and make it alternating embattlements and strawberry leaves.

2. Counties Palatine and Grand Dukes

If creating a new rank is not desired by the Board, even as limited a one as Marquess or Marchioness would be, then another option would be to simply enhance the title a Crown was already set to receive. This option doesn’t have the symmetry of giving the same title to both parties in the case of a return crown and new consort or vice versa, but it does have the benefit of not creating a whole new rank.

Palatine is a word indicating quasi-royal status, independent rule of an area subject only to the King or Emperor and not any intermediate authority[11]. Historically speaking they were powerful feudal lords who exercised great authority, especially but not exclusively in the Holy Roman Empire[12]. These nobles could often use their authority to wield great influence. Such is the case of the County Palatine of the Rhine (and then the Kingdom of Bavaria) which was ruled by the powerful House of Wittelsbach from 1180 until 1918[13].

They were, however, not exclusively continental. Counties Palatine, ruled over by Earls Palatine, were also found in England albeit in a lesser number. One of the more famous Counties Palatine in England is that of Lancashire, home of the House of Lancaster. When Henry Grosmont, 3rd Earl of Lancaster, was created the 1st Duke of Lancaster for his support of King Edward III, the King also created the County of Lancashire as a County Palatine ad vitam (for the life of the Duke)[14]. Later it was re-created the same for John of Gaunt, 2nd Duke of Lancaster, and then created as such for the life of his descendants[15]. From this foundation, and John’s royal blood, comes the House of Lancaster and half of the War of the Roses.

Grand Dukes and Duchesses are similarly an elevated form of Dukes and Duchesses, but to an even greater extent than the difference between a Count and a Count Palatine. Grand Duchies have historically been either mostly or even fully independent fiefdoms of all but the highest order, either owing fealty to only an Emperor or to no one at all. Period examples of these include the self-styled Grand Duchy of Burgundy, the Grand Duchy of Portugal under Goncalo I Mendes[16], the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and the late 16th century Grand Dukes of Tuscany[17].

The title was also used as the English translation of the Russian term veliky kniaz, which originally represented a Prince who had other Princes in fealty to him and later became a title commonly given to the highest ranking members of the Russian Imperial family[18].

In the case of the SCA both Count/Countess Palatine and Grand Duke/Duchess would serve to recognize an individual who has been given status beyond the usual for their rank because of their service during the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases this would be wholly beneficial–both a Count/Countess and a Duke/Duchess on the throne would be eligible to receive the higher title to distinguish them from other royal peers. The major downside to the Count/Countess Palatine title is that it would presumably cease to be used if the holder later becomes a Duke or Duchess; it would be up to kingdoms and individuals to decide if they desired a method of recognizing them as Palatine in this instance (such as still processing them in as “Duchess Soandso, Countess Palatine”).

The style for these ranks could be one of several options. It could be decided that they do not carry any difference in style, only a difference in title. If a different style is desired, the most period examples would be either Highness or Serene Highness for a Grand Duke/Duchess. If this is not desired due to the use of Highness for Territorial Prince/sses, it could be modified into the forms of Serene Grace and Serene Excellency. Similarly the Spanish styled of Most Excellent and/or Most Illustrious could be used.

The Coronet for a Count/ess Palatine could either include some symbol of authority, such as including strawberry leaves on the embattlements or allowing for the use of an arch to indicate the independent authority of the historical rank, or be otherwise differentiated by some symbol or color combination. Similarly an arch or arches could be allowed on a Grand Ducal coronet, or they could be given the right to bear a symbol on the coronet reserved exclusively to that rank.

3. Society or Kingdom Orders

A third option is to abandon the use of any new title for the creation of a new order whose membership would only be for those who served as Crown during the pandemic (or other future disasters of similar scope and disruption). The benefit to this would be that it creates (and thus locks down) no new titles or styles, unless such are also linked to membership in the order. It is also easy to implement, requires no changes to coronet and little to precedent, and needs no memorization by heralds or the protocol inclined.

The downside of this is that order membership, outside of Peerage orders, is rarely announced and frequently not visible. Order medallions are not period for all personae, and many members choose not to wear all of their medallions for fear of neck problems and looking tacky (as well as the potential noise of everything banging together).

Orders could be created either at a society level, making them similar to the Peerage Orders in their own universality, or on a Kingdom by Kingdom basis. Because each one would represent a piece of heraldic “landscape” permanently locked down, the author asserts it would be preferable to do this Society wide rather than in each Kingdom; but that is only the author’s opinion.

Some sources for names and imagery include[19]:

  • Plague Saints (Roche, Rosalia, Sebastian)
  • Plague Remedies (the various mints or herbs associated with countering the “bad smells” of the plague in the middle ages)
  • Qualities associated with this tame (Order of Esperanza, Order of Compassion, etc.)
  • Some complex thing associated with the above (order of St. Roche’s Grace, Order of St. Rosalia’s Crown, etc.)
  • Something related to rulers and the period (Order of the Sable Scepter, Order of the Hopeful Crown, etc.)
  • Something related to the end of the pandemic (Order of June [for when events may begin again], Order of Restoration, Order of Resumption, etc.)

Note that technically the Board can simply declare an order to exist, even if its title does not pass medieval muster–but they don’t, and it is for the best that they don’t.

4. Heraldic Recognition

A final option would be to recognize the crowns who have reigned during this time through their heraldry, rather than through title, style, or order. This would share a similar advantage to Option C, while not requiring the creation of a new Order name to take up heraldic space. It would also share the disadvantage of Option C, with it being less regularly recognizable and more circumstantial. It also shares with Option C a possibility of being granted either on a Kingdom by Kingdom basis or a Society wide one, with the author continuing to be of the opinion the society wide option would be more appropriate.

This option would take the form of the Board granting, or directing each Kingdom with appropriate monarchs to grant, an Augmentation of Arms to the departing Crowns when they leave the throne. This Augmentation would, preferably, be of a kind that is in addition to the standard Augmentation of Arms which each kingdom can grant, so that if the Kingdom decided in the future it wanted to recognize the departing crown this way again it could.

The augmentation could take any number of forms. It could be in the form of a symbol to be added to the arms of the armiger[20], an option of several that the armigers in question could choose from, or even the right to use some form of supporter or crest only allowed to them[21]. It could also simply function as any other Augmentation of Arms, and give the armiger the right to design whatever augmentation they want that can pass the College of Arms; this has both the advantage and the disadvantage of being very personal, rather than presenting a uniform reward for service during these trying times.

5. Conclusion

There are no doubt other options which have not occurred to the author at this time for the recognition of crowns serving during the pandemic. But they do represent a spectrum of options with medieval precedents and parallels for the Board and the individual Kingdoms to consider.

It is the author’s hope that these suggestions are considered useful, and that one of them or something like them is chosen. There seems to be, at least to the author’s experience[22], a desire among the populace for some form of recognition to our Crowns for their service during the hopefully not more than 15 months our revels shall have ended; and there are good, period, and meaningful ways to provide that recognition.


[1] 4 months in the West Kingdom.

[2] Calontir, for example, has had 37 years of Crown Tournaments and has recorded 97 Counties and 41 Duchies (which does include members who have moved into the Kingdom with those awards).

[3] Assuming that we can actually resume events in June, which is looking still iffy, the Crown of Calontir will have served at minimum from 1/11/2020 until 7/10/2021 or 546 days. And this assumes events resume in June, Crown is announced at Lilies for the Kingdom weekend in July, Crown occurs, and the new Prince and Princess are crowned the same day. Any delays or desires to (reasonably) give the Prince and Princess time to prepare, instead of crowning them immediately, will extend this.

[4] See, e.g., Ranks and Privileges of the Peerage, Debretts.com. https://www.debretts.com/expertise/essential-guide-to-the-peerage/ranks-and-privileges-of-the-peerage/.

[5] Marquess, Debretts.com. https://www.debretts.com/expertise/essential-guide-to-the-peerage/ranks-and-privileges-of-the-peerage/marquess/.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] See, e.g., https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marquess, cited here in flagrant contravention of academic standards only because it cites to an otherwise paywalled source.

[10] Under the same principle by which a Royal Peer who doesn’t have one can still be made a Court Baron, especially for service as a Landed Baron.

[11] Palatine, Merriam-Webster Dictionary (Online), https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/palatine.

[12] Palatine, Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/palatine-medieval-official.

[13] Encyclopaeida Britannica, “House of Wittelsbach”, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/topic/House-of-Wittelsbach.

[14] County Palatine, The Duchy of Lancaster. https://www.duchyoflancaster.co.uk/about-the-duchy/history/county-palatine/.

[15] Id.

[16] For the preceding two: See, e.g., Grand Duke, Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_duke

[17] See, e.g., Encyclopaedia Britannica, “Grand Duke”, Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_duke.

[18] Id.

[19] Note that these have not been checked for conflict or presumption, only that they were associated with the appropriate concepts in SCA period or are constructed according to SCA order name standards.

[20] This is against normal SCA Heraldic practice, where the awarding body cannot dictate the form of an augmentation; but again, the Board is not subject to the standard procedures of the College of Arms unless it wishes to be.

[21] Some kingdoms regulate supporters and crests, some don’t. This would, if chosen, bind on all of them. The author does encourage both the Board and Kingdoms to not choose a representation of the virus itself as a supporter, because it would be weird looking and difficult to draw.

[22] The plural of anecdote is not data, but nor is it nothing in these circumstances.

4 thoughts on “A Reward for Faithful Service”

  1. Interesting idea. The first thought, off the top of my head is why Saint this or Saint that? We have plenty of honors related to saints. Why can’t we find some other honorary total that isn’t so based in Christianity? I know, the feudal system we are based on is heavily grounded in Chrisidom but just as the SCA has grown and branched out, shouldn’t our awards?

    Thank you for allowing input.

    • The only reason I relied so heavily on Saints is because they’re so easy to document in medieval order names.

  2. Marquess and Marchioness, this gives them something meaningful, original, and can stand out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.