The Creation of the Red Company
The Creation of the Red Company

By Duchess Garlanda de Stanas

One of the unusual things about being Royalty is that everything you do and say becomes a part of history. History itself is kind of unusual, too. Everyone who lived it remembers it differently. And everyone who came after it is curious to know what happened and why.

In the past few years, many people have asked me how and why my Curia and Royal Family created the Red Company. What was it supposed to be? What was it supposed to do? Did it fail or succeed in those intentions? This narrative is the result of those many questions. It is a very frank narrative. I have tried to be honest about the problems and perceptions that influenced our decision. This might offend some people. I apologize for that, because such is not my intention. I pray that you will blame only me and not anyone related to the events in this history. Nor have I consulted anyone else in its creation. It is only my version of what happened; others who lived it might find errors or omissions. If those flaws exist, they are my own fault and I apologize in advance. If you have questions about what I have written, please feel free to seek me out. If you have complaints, then I entreat you to seek me out. I would be very unhappy if my words started a political war and no one gave me a chance to make peace before the battles began...

Lastly, I would caution any of you who read this work. In the SCA we count on our royalty to be magic. This article is not about magic but about ordinary people who were trying to make the Midrealm a better place to play in. If you trust your royalty to be infallible, to know instinctively what is needed and how to do it, this article may disillusion you.

If you are looking for the narrative to justify how you think the Red Company or the Kingdom should exist today, this article may disappoint you. It is only a snapshot about one event in the history of the Midrealm. The social problems leading to the creation of the Order have changed since we developed the Order, and current challenges deserve current solutions. Read the story to understand your past if you wish. But don't use it to justify changes to your present or your future.

Written on this ninth day of the reign of Rognvaldr and Arabella, I am

Garlanda de Stanas
By the grace of the sword, Duchess

The Importance of the Crown List
Changing Tradition
The Crown List is Dissolved
The Order is Created
The First Members are Inducted

I have never been very good at starting a story. Rarely do tales begin with some single, significant act, some marvelous action sequence that lures a reader into the narrative. The creation of the Red Company is harder to tell than most stories, as there are few action sequences, no sword fights or loves lost or grand passions. Just some people who saw a problem and tried to come up with a way to fix it.

In the days when I ruled over the Midrealm, this kingdom was a very different place. It was a forty-hour drive from one corner of the kingdom to the other. We were experiencing a 25% growth rate in population. Any one of the core regions - Ohio, Indiana, Michigan - had more groups and people than a small kingdom. The Internet was not a factor in communication or in governance, and everything was done by mail or phone. Like today, the kingdom was financially stable, but our officer corps was incredibly strained by the demands of governing such a huge kingdom.

The size of our fighting population was booming. Events regularly put a time limit on how long authorizations could last because sometimes they would go on for three hours. The tournament could not start until they were done, and tourneys would run out of time to finish. Imagine the frustration of being in the semi-finals and not allowed to finish the tournament because the fighting area had to be cleaned up for feast!

The Importance of the Crown List

At the same time, unbelted combat was practically governed by the Crown List. If you have joined the Middle Kingdom since Crown List disappeared, it will be hard to describe the magnitude of its impact on our culture. Members of the chivalry had the right by kingdom law to fight in any Crown Tournament this wished. But everyone else - members of the Pelican or Laurel, unbelted Royal Peers, and all unbelted fighters - had to receive an invitation from the Crown to participate in Crown Tournament. This invitation appeared in the form of a list and was published in the Pale before Crown Tourney.

In the beginning, members of the Chivalry were asked to write recommendations for individuals who should be invited to fight in Crown. Over time, however, all peers were requested to write letters of recommendation. Without a recommendation, it was unlikely that your name would appear on Crown List. That meant you couldn't fight in Crown, and the popular perception was that the Chivalry measured your prowess and judged your eligibility for their Order strictly by your conduct in Crown Tourney. Being on Crown List meant the Chivalry might be watching you. No Crown List - no knighthood. To have your name appear there was very prestigious. It meant you were the upper crust of fighters, the crème de la crème of unbelts. The whole kingdom would read and know your name. You'd be talking sticks at an event and someone would learn your name. "Oh, yes," they would say, "I've seen your name on Crown List." They would look for you at other tourneys and seek you out to fight. Being on Crown List was like an award. Everyone wanted it. Everyone hoped for it. And the Pale that contained it was the most read issue for months.

Crown List structured our fighting in other ways. Novice tourneys often defined "novice" as someone who had never been on Crown List. It defined our words of esteem - "He's Crown-ranked," we would say, meaning that he was good enough to appear on Crown List. Being on Crown List wasn't just a judgment of your fighting skills but also your character. Like a nominating committee in a political party, your name on Crown List meant that the peers respected you enough that they would be willing to have you as king.

Crown List even affected the consorts. There was a certain cache in dating a man on Crown List - you could end up queen. Crown-ranked fighters were targets of opportunity for the ambitious popsie. On the other hand, there was also a lot of pressure on the consorts of the Crown-ranked - you could end up queen, and by damn, you'd better conduct yourself in a manner worthy of that potential or your lord might not end up on Crown List. Better to skip a worthy fighter than risk a psycho taking the Queen's Oath.

The populace was well aware of the importance of Crown List and of doing well in Crown. Huge audiences attended Crown. Friends of Crown-ranked unbelts wanted to see how their buddies would do. People who wanted to get on Crown List wanted to see the level of fighting they had to achieve to make it. People who weren't on Crown List wanted to fight the Bye fights to prove they should have been on Crown List. Audiences ranged over 1000 attendees, and many groups could not find sites big enough to hold the event. It was harder and harder for Curia to find someplace to have Crown - kingdom officers would call groups and beg. It wasn't a pretty sight.

At the same time, Crown List had grown in size to reflect the increased size of our fighting populations. The List might contain over 100 names, but still, people were left out. Unbelts were frustrated because it was so hard to get on the list. If you did make it on, you felt like you had to compete or your name might be left off in the future. Some fighters suffered financial hardship to make it to Crown. And the tournament itself grew very swollen. Few sites were large enough so conditions at the event were hideously crowded. Four lists were required to get the tournament done before dinner. Even then, it didn't always happen. Duke Dag won a Crown Tournament outside in the rain after the fighting hall had to be closed due to time. Everyone was frustrated. Something had to be done!

Changing Tradition

Yet the Middle Kingdom was different in other ways, too. For years the Chivalry had dominated the marshallate. Unbelts used to have little say in any fighting-related matter. Certainly no unbelt felt he could call a Knight dead! The knights ran the marshalling, and if you pissed them off, you knew you would never get knighted. Now, I'd like to point out that I don't know that this is how the marshallate and the chivalry really functioned. But I know that this is how the unbelts thought it worked. In the years prior to this, Duke Palymar, as earl marshall, had lead an effort to begin divorcing the chivalry from the marshallate. He had succeeded, but the division was still a little touchy.

And then there was Pennsic. The Midrealm had won Pennsic for so many years that it had ceased to carry much importance or prestige. Melee combat was completely irrelevant to getting knighted - you had to be a tourney monster if you wanted a white belt. These two factors combined to create a fighting culture with few melee leaders. Certainly there were no unbelted melee leaders! Yet our number of fighters kept growing. Even Pennsic command structures were strained by the growth, because there simply weren't enough competent commanders to lead the numbers of fighters we had. We started losing Pennsics. Worse: our fighters, belted and unbelted alike, were often frustrated at War. No leaders meant chaos, and that made it a lot harder to have fun at War. After all, you need someone to tell you who to go kill to really feel like you have accomplished something in a battle plan.

During my first reign, many people muttered that Crown List needed changing. There was a lot of talk about eliminating it - but it was hushed and almost secretive talk. Change a tradition? A tradition that defined our kingdom in so many ways? Are you nuts???

Then came my second reign. I was queen at Pennsic XXIII, to help you identify the time. It was hard to get enough recommendations to make a good Crown List. So many people in the fighting community to consider! So few people who actually wrote recommendation letters! Even as much as Finn and I traveled, we couldn't know them all. Trying to make a fair and just Crown List was a nightmare. I spent hours on it, tallying, researching, asking for introductions or talking to local peers about candidates for the List. Finally it was done, and our Crown Tournament was scheduled for the Barony of Shattered Crystal on a sunny day in May.

The Crown List is Dissolved

Sir Brannos O'Irongardaill won that Crown Tournament for his Lady, Rebekah MacTiernan. As usual, the day after Crown held a Curia meeting. This would be an unusual Curia meeting, though, because Brannos and Rebekah started their part by announcing that they intended to have an open Crown List. Over the next several weeks, Brannos, Rebekah, Finn, Sir Bardolph (the Earl Marshall) and I had many long talks about the fighting community and where it was headed.

Brannos told us that for Crown List to truly disappear, there had to be some other venue for the unbelts to prove their prowess to the Chivalry. He had an idea for an event that he would call the Tournament of Chivalry. The event would be dedicated to rattan combat. It would be structured into two portions. The first would have an tournament open only to unbelted fighters. It would allow the unbelts to show how they could fight other opponents in the general atmosphere of a list. The second part would be a free-for-all, unbelts against chivalry. No score would be kept. There would be no winners or losers. The chivalry would be encouraged to offer a variety of encounters, from lessons to Crown-level fighting. The event would allow the belts and unbelts to interact on many levels. Brannos and Rebekah hoped that the Tournament of Chivalry would become a new tradition in the Middle Kingdom, happening once per reign as a place to showcase the talents of the unbelted fighters.

Yet as the five of us discussed the changes eliminating Crown List would have to the kingdom, we kept coming back to the rank-aspect of being on Crown List. The Unbelts were used to having Crown List as a gauge of their abilities. They would be frustrated and feel like they had lost what progress they had made in their personal fighting careers if their measurement system simply disappeared. At the same time, Curia as a whole discussed what could be done about the many problems of Pennsic. Somehow the idea of a fighting award designed to answer both problems grew. By the Middle of our reign Finn and I, with the support of Brannos and Rebekah, had decided to create an award for rattan fighters.

The Order is Created

About the time we made the decision to create the award, it was also time to send out a written chivalry poll. In that poll we told the chivalry about our decision to create the award. We talked a little about what we hoped to accomplish with it. Brannos and Rebekah also talked about throwing open the Crown List. I asked the chivalry to make suggestions and recommendations for the name of the order, its regalia, titles, and first members. We told them we planned to initiate the award at Pennsic. And then we sat back to see what ideas would come in.

Sir Stephen Edgermont suggested the name "Red Company," based on the red pale that is the heart of the arms of the Middle Kingdom. Another member of the Chivalry from Michigan - Sir Ranthulfr? Sir Einarr? - suggested calling the members "seargeants." He also recommended that seargeants be allowed to wear a red cloak as a symbol of their rank. Another knight - Sir David de Kunstenaar? - suggested that members not be allowed to pariticipate after elevation to the chivalry so that the chivs would not come to dominate the unbelts in the future. And so many members of the chivalry mentioned the Hyrd and Fyrd of Calontir that we decided to look to those orders as examples of what we hoped to accomplish with the Red Company.

During the chivalry meeting at Pennsic itself, we announced that we had adopted these ideas. The award would be called the Order of the Red Company. Members would be called Seargeants, would be encouraged to wear a red cloak as a sign of membership in the Order, and would not be allowed to participate in the Order after elevation to the chivalry. We spent a long time talking to the Chivs about the new Order. We planned to allow the Order to govern itself. It would nominate new members to the Crown, much like a voting order of peerage. We hoped this would help prepare the members for the burdens of being a peer, for many new peers have a particularly hard time in learning to judge and evaluate those around them. We wanted to create a class of fighters whose job it was to help knit the kingdom together. The Midrealm was so very large, you see. Regionalism and regional fighting styles could pull us apart; perhaps another bond like the Red Company would help knit us together. After all, if the Order had to choose new members, they would have to travel and get to know each other. They would be encouraged to hold the field at events, perhaps to host a tournament at Pennsic, to serve feast together and to throw parties together. We hoped to use the Red Company to create a mid-level fighting culture somewhere between authorization and Knighthood. We needed that level. We needed it to develop commanders for War. We needed it to support and challenge the unbelts now that Crown List was disappearing. We wanted to nurture leadership and the character development that brings so that stepping up to peerage wasn't so traumatic. And we hoped it would form another tie to pull people together in a kingdom that was growing apart.

After the chivalry meeting, Finn, Brannos and Bardolph clustered together at a picnic table behind the meeting tent. There, over beer and pretzels, they came up with a list of a dozen people to be premiers in the Order. These were tough decisions. They needed to choose people from a variety of geographic and political affiliations. They wanted people who were known for single combat or melee skills. Teaching was a requirement. So was a good appearance on the field. Nobody with a temper problem. No one with a blow acceptance problem. No one who wasn't a fun fight and a good example. At the same time, they also wanted to send a message about how the new Order would relate to the Chivalry. They didn't want it to seem like a stepping stone to elevation. So they choose people who would be knighted immediately, people who might be knighted someday, and people who might not be knighted for a long time to come. After a particularly tough argument, they limited the choices only to people at Pennsic. There was one particular fighter that they all really wanted, but he wasn't at War. Finally, however, they came to a decision and had a list of a dozen names.

The three gentlemen called me over to tell me they had the names ready to go on the scrolls. "Scrolls?" I asked. "What scrolls?" Since the recipients hadn't been chosen before Pennsic, I hadn't thought to order scrolls prepared. Taking their paper and pen, I joined them at the picnic table to write the scroll text. I wanted to cite three example. Let me see - Alexander the Great. Conquered a continent, lived a life of glory - yeah, he'd do. Hmm. Charlemange. Founded an empire that impacted the structure of Europe a millenium later, governed in war and in peace. Yeah, he'd be good too. But I was stuck on the third example. I remembered that one of King Arthur's knights was credited for the creation of the stirrup that allowed for fighting from horseback, enabling the creation of the joust. He seemed like a perfect third choice. But I couldn't remember his name! I asked everyone in camp, and no one else could remember either. A few minutes later, Conn MacNeill, King of Calontir, came to camp to check the time of a strategy meeting. I asked Conn if he could remember the name of the knight. "Perhaps you are thinking of Sir Gawaine, Your Majesty?" he suggested with his customary good humor. And that was the name I had been looking for. The scroll text was complete.

The First Members are Inducted

We decided to award the first twelve awards just before the unbelted champions battle at Pennsic. While not all the twelve were unbelted champions, some of them were. We hoped being made a premier of the new fighting order would give them a little burst of confidence before what promised to be a particularly brutal battle. The first person to become a member of the Order was Lord William of Fairhaven. William was Queen's Champion, a reasonably good tourney fighter and a very good melee leader. William (little did he know!) would be placed on vigil for the Chivalry after the battle. He would make a promising start for the seargeants to come.

I have a very clear memory of that day. One by one the heralds called the new seargeants forward. I remember the pennons flapping in the wind, the new seargeants kneeling in a line. The sunshine glinted off Elizabeth Mortimer's gold hair and William's armor. I could hear the East chanting for blood in the background, and all I could do was hope. These twelve were a future we hoped would become a reality.

Later that day, we asked the 12 new seargeants to gather in royal encampment. We explained the Order and that they would be governing themselves. We told them the chivalry had agreed to let them do so without interference. I think some of the new seargeants were a bit dubious, but they agreed to give it an attempt. King Conn of Calontir had sent his champions, members of the Fyrd and Hyrd, to talk about those orders and how they worked. We ended by telling the Red Company that if they wished us to elevate more members to the Order, we would do so in Midrealm Court. All they had to do was tell us who. And then Finn and I left them to talk amongst themselves.

Midrealm court was a couple of days later. The seargeants had agreed on a ceremony to follow. The court herald would cry "Red Company! Fall In!!!" and the seargeants would form a unit in the aisle and march into court. Thus they did. As the Red Company approached, one of their members announced that they had people they wished to elevate to join their ranks. They handed Finn a small parchment tied with a red ribbon. The seargeants had told us ahead of time who they wanted to join their ranks, and as promised, we had ordered the elevations of those people. We assumed the names would be ceremoniously listed on the scroll. Finn untied the ribbon and unrolled the parchment, only to burst into laughter. He handed me the scroll. There, in carefully written letters, were the words "Your Majesty, Your fly is open." I laughed too, and handed the scroll to the court herald. Luckily he had the names on a separate sheet of paper, for he certainly couldn't have read the parchment out loud! Thus did he call forward the new members of the Order of the Red Company.

These were the last members that Finn and I would make during our reign. Brannos and Rebekah went on to make more, however, and now the Red Company is an established part of the kingdom.

When the Crown does something for - or to - the kingdom, we never know how it will turn out. Social engineering is difficult when you have a long time to see it through, and when you have only six months, it is a terrifying challenge. We plan, we talk, we hope for the best, but we never know if our goal will be reached. Looking back over the years since the Red Company was created, the fighting culture is immeasurably different than it was then. I wonder sometimes how much of that was the end of Crown List and the creation of the Red Company? It's hard to know. But even now, when the heralds read out the scroll for a new seargeant, I get a little shiver up my spine and think of that hot day and a picnic table full of plans.

Footnotes to this document