Being a Territorial Baron

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First published in the Dreiburgen news, January and February 2009

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written by Baron Malcolm AlbericRRE

Come May it will be 30 years that I have been playing this game. In those years a lot of Caidan history has passed before my eyes, and I have seen many barons of many baronies come and go. It was this experience of watching strong and weak baronies, and seeing over time how baronies changed and what made the difference that led to the way I decided to execute the office.

When looking at a territorial baron and baroness what most people see are two people sitting in the big chairs, the center of attention, saying a few words and receiving gifts. An easy gig with fame and glory. Nothing could be further from the truth. What most do not see is that for the few minutes of fame at each event, weeks of work go into prepping for the event, while the ongoing task of keeping the barony functioning never ends.

Who are the Baron and Baroness?

Corpora states that the duties of the baron and baroness are ceremonial in nature, and that privileges, duties and rights, ceremonial or otherwise, are established by the laws and customs of the kingdom.

The Local Seneschal’s handbook states, (Underlined in bold italics) “Even though your group may be a barony or a canton, with the baronage in attendance, they are the ceremonial representatives of the Crown and, as such, are not the president of the barony or canton, you are. But never forget they have significant impact and power in the group as they do represent the Crown.

The rulebooks say that the seneschal is the president of the SCA chapter; if that the case, what then is the job of the baron and baroness? Do they run the barony, or are they just figureheads?

Put simply, the job of the baron and baroness is that of Social Director. Now before you say “Is that all!!?”, let me point out that the SCA, despite its medieval theme and historical emphasis, is a social club.

While the seneschal is managing the business of the barony, making sure the officers do their jobs, handling legal paperwork and in general making sure the barony runs like a well-oiled machine (we hope), the baron and baroness are hosting the party.

Sounds like an easy gig? It isn’t! A normal party lasts one evening; when it’s over you pick up the trash, wash the footprints off the ceiling, do the dishes, and you are done. The SCA, however, keeps on going and going and going...

Like most parties the success or failure lies with the hosts. The more effort the host puts into the party the more successful it’s likely to be; on the other hand if the host gives no effort the party is likely to fail.

Ever been to a party where the host didn’t do anything, or worse yet took a few select guests aside and did not participate in the rest of the party? In situations such as these the party will either fail completely and most of the guests will leave or, some of the guests will take the party over and lead it in strange, new directions. Either way the guests are not likely to accept an invitation from that host again.

The same is true for a barony. If you look around the kingdom and at its history you will see that each barony is different. Some are large; some are small, some strong and some weak. Some baronies are now weaker than they once were. Some are now stronger. There are many things that affect a barony, such as the economy and local population, but the biggest factor in what shapes a barony is who are the baron and baroness. The less effort a baron and baroness put into their job the smaller or weaker the barony is likely to be.

Size of the job

A barony is only as good or as strong as what its people put into it. It is the job of the baron and baroness to inspire and empower the people; to give credit not to take it; to allow others to achieve glory, not to seek it them selves; and to bring people together to make the game more fun for all.

All members are volunteers, each giving of their time and effort, and the reason they are here is to have fun. If the game isn’t fun there are always other parties to go to. If the baron or baroness fails to host a good party people will simply find another party whether in another area of the S.C.A., or another hobby entirely. There have been times when I have considered taking up model railroads.

Of course to accomplish this goal of inspiring the populace, hands-on and face-to-face contact is required. While the seneschal is able to handle much of his or her job using the telephone, the baron and baroness (if they want their barony to thrive and grow) are going to spend a lot of time on the road.

Let’s look at the event list: for example Dreiburgen has eight or more events a year, and while the seneschal can blow off a few of these the baron and baroness are obligated to attend them all. There are approximately nine kingdom events a year and since the baron and baroness are the local representatives of the Crown, they should make an effort to attend them. Caid has 11 baronies, and as the social leaders of the barony the baron and baroness should forge and maintain relationships with the other baronies and nearby territories, making an effort to attend at least one of their events each year (preferably their anniversaries). Then there are the wars, GWW, Highland, Potrero, Canyon Moon, etc. The baron and baroness should attend a couple of these. To summarize, so far we have filled 30 weekends out of 52 in a year. We still haven’t addressed any of the nearby shires and then there are baronial and cantonal workshops, practices, demos and other activities, for which an effective baron and baroness should show some support. As you can see the time commitment can be tremendous. Similar to that of the King and Queen, only they get to step down in six months. Lucky &@$#@%*$!

Duties

Now that we’ve considered the time investment of the position, what are the duties of the baron and baroness? The only real duty that’s spelled out in the rulebooks is that of giving baronial level awards. I believe this to be the most important and most difficult job of the baron and baroness because people are most motivated by Please, Thank You, and Recognition. If Please and Thank You are not properly applied, the populace is likely not to give their support and the barony will suffer.

Awards are the biggest expression of “Thank you for your support”, because they are something that the recipients can carry with pride for as long as they play this game. The difficult part is deciding who deserves awards. I have said before that if a monarch or a baron gives out awards too easily the awards become worthless. On the other hand if the awards are not given out enough they become a source of frustration for the populace, because the awards appear to be unobtainable.

One trap that both monarchs and barons have fallen into is the “If I give out more awards it will inspire more participation”, or worse yet the “If I give this person an award they will grow into it”. The first fallacy of these ideas is that most people are who they are and trinkets or bribery will not change them. The larger pitfall with these ideas is the effect they have on others.

Those who have worked hard and who have still not received a particular award can become very bitter when they see someone less deserving receive it. Worse yet can be the reaction of those who already have the award, because they might view it as devaluating their award and thereby take it as an insult. The result is one mis-given award can cost a baron the support of dozens. Diligence must be paid and the tight rope must be walked.

I know of one barony (I won’t mention names) that played it safe. Their service award was only given to one person per year. This worked for that barony for two reasons. First is the fact that most people are use to the idea of an annual award with only one recipient. Second is the fact that since so few received it, the award was considered very valuable and was highly coveted.

A later baron and baroness decided that one per year was too limiting and started giving out two or three a year. This started some grumbling amongst the populace since it changed the meaning of the award, but that was nothing compared to what happened with the next baron and baroness. They started giving out awards like they were confetti. This made the award worthless, which offended many members of the populace, specifically the hardworking members. Result, the barony suffered.

Granted, we are not supposed to be in this game for the awards, but this story not only shows the importance of proper awards management, it also shows the importance of upholding tradition. Kingdom law states in Article 1, section 7, “In those areas where the law is silent, tradition shall be accorded the same respect as law.”

The law is fairly silent on the many and varied duties of the baron and baroness. I can tell you that mostly the job is to empower the populace. A good baron and baroness takes no credit for themselves and seeks to showcase the work of others. The job calls for the kind of person that wants to serve people, not the kind that wants be served.

I’m reminded of a scene from Excalibur where Arthur is explaining the duties of the crown to Guinevere. “But you are my husband.” “I must be King first.” “Before husband?” If need be.” Although we are engaged in a make-believe kingdom, any leader (whether of a government or a small club) should put the needs of the group ahead of themselves. It is not a job for those seeking personal glory, power or rank.

Power

A baron and baroness have great power – they have the power to make someone feel special, to turn a bad day into a good one, to convince others to try new experiences. They have the power to create a welcoming environment, a home for those seeking community, a sense of unity that allows individuals with different interests to feel as if they are part of a greater whole.

Now as for personal power…that’s a different story. Some people mistakenly believe that being a territorial baron or baroness gives one the power to command. Let’s face it, no one need follow a command; it’s a club! If people are not inspired by a leader they will not follow the path proposed by the leader, no matter what title the individual holds. The reality of leadership is the same for any club: the members will follow the people who inspire them, regardless of who they are or what office they hold. The seneschal’s job is to manage the business of the barony and make sure the rules of the club are followed. The baron’s and baroness’ job is to promote the medieval atmosphere through pomp and circumstance. All three are servants to the members.

The most important concept a territorial baron and baroness must remember is that they are not really a baron or baroness; they are volunteer leaders of a club where we pretend to live in the Middle Ages. Kings, barons, peers, etc., have no real power other than what people willingly give for the fun of the game. Everyone is a volunteer. If a territorial baron and baroness can remember this simple fact and act accordingly, the populace is likely to follow. They need to be grateful for the participation of any member or household at any level, and must never say or imply that someone has not served enough, or demand more.

In our long Caidan history we regretfully have examples of some barons and baronesses who forgot that this is only a game and that our members are volunteers looking to learn and have fun. They tried to give orders and expected others to obey. These barons and baronesses were doomed. One or more of three outcomes occurred: 1) the members quit playing and took up another hobby (most unfortunate); 2) the populace simply refused to follow them as leaders, thus effectively making them figureheads; or 3) they were officially removed from office. Power-hungry leaders are unpleasant; in mundane government we are forced to deal with them and take action. In a club we can simply go somewhere else to find our fun, a blow to the club as a whole.

The true key to leadership is finding out what the people want to accomplish. If a baron and baroness do that and can direct the people on how to reach their goals, the people will happily follow. When introducing a new idea, an effective leader will take it slow and promote it gradually; by doing so they can determine if the idea is acceptable before taking it too far.

For example when Robynne and I thought that it was time for the barony to purchase a new trailer, we spent months talking about it with members before bringing it up in Council. Then we spent a number of months discussing it in Council to make sure that we had heard everyone’s thoughts. Then we settled on a design that the majority of the members attending Council agreed upon. The whole process took over a year, but we managed to get most of the barony invested in it, and that is what was important.

One critical area in which a baron and baroness must exercise their power as leaders is that of communication. Rumors and other political troubles are born out of ignorance. Good communication will prevent most in-fighting, and helping those who are having a disagreement to communicate openly with each other usually diffuses the issue and saves friendships. Because the baron and baroness are the social directors of the barony, they are the ones that need to deal with the social problems that arise, and one of the largest is that of rumor control.

Rumors are like vampires; they move about in the dark and shadows, and suck the lifeblood out of a barony. They will reduce a barony to a graveyard if they are not stopped. They are also vulnerable like vampires – all that has to be done is to drag the rumor out into the light, splash it with some truth, and watch it burn.

As club leaders the baron and baroness must be easily approachable and considered to be trustworthy. The members need to feel that they can talk freely to them knowing that any confidences will not be broken. It is paramount that they understand how important it is to listen to all the individuals in their barony. If the members do not believe they can talk to the representatives of the Crown about baronial issues, then they have no impetus for participating in the barony. Worse yet, the baron and baroness will not likely be advised of rumors before they have done considerable damage, and they probably will not have enough of the truth to properly destroy the rumor.

Rank

On the road to rank and peerage, territorial baron is a cul-de-sac. A nice place to be, with better real estate and pleasant neighbors, but it doesn’t lead anywhere as far as S.C.A. rank is concerned. Even though the office of territorial baron is, in my view, the toughest and most important job in the S.C.A., peers of the realm do not view territorial barons very differently from court barons, who in Caid carry only the rank of armiger.

While some members of the populace may be in awe of the metal on a baron’s head, the peers have a very different view. As far as the Chivalry are concerned, a territorial baron is not a fighting position, so they could care less. The Laurels as an Order have no interest because, although a baron may need to do a lot of artful dancing and dodging, it is not an arts position. Pelicans may take note, since being a baron is a service position, but executing the duties of a territorial baron by itself is not enough to be considered for the Order of the Pelican – a greater body of work is desired. If the job is done poorly, however, it can ruin one’s chances of entering the Order.

Image and Symbols

Image and the symbols of the barony and the office are the currency of the baron and baroness. In our game they are playing the part of the local royalty, the first amongst equals, and the members want to be able to point to them with pride and say, “That’s my baron and baroness.” In order for this to happen, not only should their conduct be impeccable, but their appearance needs to be that of a medieval baron and baroness, or at least what the majority of the populace imagines this image should be.

The first feedback I received after stepping-up was “I’m so happy, you look like a baron.” I already knew the importance of image, but the amount of feedback I received on this matter drove home just how important it is. After that, I pushed all my older and/or tattered garb to the back of the closet. It was also apparent that people wanted to be able to look up to the baron as someone of importance, and because of this I made sure to always wear some, if not all, of my awards all the time.

The symbols of the barony are extremely important, and are invaluable to promoting unity within the group. Every barony is different, but examples of symbols include banners, coronets, chairs, cloaks, pillows, the baron’s herald’s tabard, jewelry, scroll portfolios, kneelers, tents, etc. When used properly, they can be a source of inspiration to the populace; not being used, or being improperly used, can actually insult the members of the barony.

As an example, since the fourth Baron and Baroness of Dreiburgen the tradition of passing the baronial coronets onto the next baron and baroness has been established in the barony. After stepping-up, I took the coronets out to my shop and carefully adjusted them to fit Robynne and myself perfectly and comfortably, because we felt that it was very important to honor this tradition and be seen wearing the coronets all the time. I am proud to say that I fitted the one I wore so well that I was able to wear it riding in equestrian activities, and could perform some gymkhana without fear of the coronet falling off.

The importance of symbolism is also why I carried a baronial war banner into battle and established the period idea of campaign ribbons. I also put a high priority in maintaining Big Blue, our barony’s hale and the largest symbol of Dreiburgen camaraderie, and especially the banners of our cantons which fly high above the pavilion’s roof. When these banners became tattered beyond repair, as banners often do, I replaced them as quickly as possible because of their impact on the attitude of the populace.

In Conclusion

The SCA’s ideal of royalty is summed up in the lyrics of the Boxing Day Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas. Here we see a monarch genuinely concerned for the welfare of his people, even to the point of personally ensuring the sustenance of one of his less fortunate subjects. It is an instructive piece, penned by the Angelican Victorian John Mason Neale and set to a tune from the Nordic Piae Cantiones of 1582.

If I was to be asked “What inspired you as a baron, did you have a role model, did you read any books on leadership?”, I’d have to confess that I found my ideal of what a baron should be in a most unlikely medium. Over the years I have watched my fair share of TV, and it struck me that “The Andy Griffith Show” provided the best example of how I should conduct myself as a territorial baron.

Who was Sheriff Andy Taylor? He was a respected member of society, a leader in his close-knit community answerable to the mayor and city council, and charged with “keeping the peace”. Andy did just that. In most of the episodes he rarely was seen performing the duties that a modern day television audience has come to associate with a law officer — catching the bad guys and thwarting crimes of a capital nature. Nope, Andy was making sure his town was a happy and safe place to be, that everyone was getting along.

He made sure the town drunk “slept it off” in the cell, so that no harm came to either himself or others, and the man felt so welcomed that he would walk into the station and put himself into the cell. He made sure Aunt Bee felt appreciated for the pie she was contributing to the annual fair; he diffused misunderstandings by making sure all the parties involved were talking to each other and by saying “well, I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way”. Because he did this with a calm and down-home matter-of-fact demeanor, everyone felt comfortable talking to him.

Yes, in our Caidan Pentathlon we talk about comparing a submission to the ideal. For me, Sherriff Andy Taylor is that ideal. Throughout the course of my tenure I’d try to keep him in mind, and when a particularly thorny issue came my way I would stop and think “WWAD — What Would Andy Do?” A solution would always appear.

"The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant and a debtor." (Max de Pree, 1924 -, author of the book Leadership is an Art.)

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