The trouble with the College of Arms

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Basil D

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Nov 23, 2018, 5:13:25 PM11/23/18
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I've been thinking about something, and two submissions currently in OSCAR lead me to
speak out. I'm sure almost nobody uses this group any more, but that's OK; it's more about
needing to speak before I burst, than about needing to be heard.

I'm not supposed to describe what's in submission, so I'll talk generally.

The CoA used to go by "Obtrusively modern names grab the listener by the scruff of the
neck and haul him, will he or nill he, back into the 20th Century. A name that, by its
very presence, destroys any medieval ambience is not a name we should register." That's as
true of armory as names, of the 21st century as the 20th. But the CoA no longer heeds that
precedent; it now is willing to register names, armory, or a combination of both that are
so utterly modern there is no way to keep your mind in the Middle Ages. It will register
such if, but only if, the submitter can prove the elements come from in-period, and are
arranged in a period manner. There's a name submission currently in OSCAR that epitomizes
this, and the armory amplifies it. But it will pass, because "it's period".

Similarly, the CoA has passed border-line obscene names. I don't have any personal problem
with that---my usual language is worse than, I suspect, many members of the College have
ever heard, or at least worse than they're used to hearing. But there is a current name
submission that is not only outright obscene, but describes a particularly violent action.
But it's in a foreign language and isn't doesn't sound exactly like the English words. If
that name gets into "the press," gets disseminated through "social media," the SCA's
reputation will be greatly harmed. But, "it's period," so it will pass. Because the CoA
puts historicity above what most SCAers (and people outside the SCA) would be comfortable
with.

In short, historical documentation is everything to the CoA these days. They no longer
consider it their job to service the SCA as a whole and the members thereof, as well as to
the submitters. It used to be otherwise; the CoA used to give thought to the impact of a
registration on the membership as a whole, and on the SCA. But not currently.

I've been trying to figure out why this change happened, and I think I've found what's
driving it.

First thing to keep in mind is that, for any corporation, the Articles of Incorporation
have the full force and effect of law on the actions of that corporation. If the Articles
say the corporation must not do such-and-such, and the corporation *does* do
such-and-such, it has violated the law; the consequence can be anything for a smallish
fine, to dissolution of the corporation. Similarly, if the Articles say the corporation
must do this-and-that, it had better, or it will face the same fate.

The Articles of Incorporation of the SCA say:
"The purposes for which this corporation is formed include:
"a. Research and education in the field of pre-17th-Century Western Culture.
"b. Generally, to engage in research; publish material of relevance and interest to the
field of pre-17th-Century Western Culture;..."

The bulk of the activities of the SCA signally fail to do any such thing. Yet, if
participation required a much stricter standard of historicity, I (and others) couldn't
afford to participate, and many that could afford it, would chose not to participate. The
BoD is aware of this, and has no wish to drive people out of the SCA, possibly into other
organizations, possibly to make their own "clubs". But, the fact there is so little being
done in the SCA that matches the legal requirements the Articles impose, is a big
potential problem.

The BoD does what it can, but there are few Kingdom and local newsletters that carry
write-ups on historical subjects, and both "The Compleat Anachronist" and "Tournaments
Illuminated" are subscribed to by only a small fraction of the paid membership. Thus,
there is little "publish[ed] material of relevance". And with participation barely
following the requirements of the Articles, something must be done.

Now, participation can be merely going to events, maybe meetings. Or, it can be adoption
of an official name and (perhaps) device. And if anyone wants to do more than show up
sometimes, they're going to have to deal with the CoA.

And, I believe, the BoD has decided to prove they're following the Articles by having the
CoA "tighten the screws" on submission/registration. If everyone who wants a name and/or
device has to *prove* it's fully "in period," the BoD can point to that to show the SCA is
obeying the law--the law where it says "follow your Articles of Incorporation".

In short, the CoA has to be a large part of the SCA's legal defense. I suspect every
Monarch of Arms is told, behind closed doors, what the BoD demands of them.

Now whether the problem I pointed out, of historicity before service to the membership at
large, happens because that's what the BoD wants, or as a "work to order" protest by the
top rank of the CoA, I don't know. But I am convinced the membership as a whole is being
treated poorly because the BoD is desperate to guard against the potential of some
hard-nose SOB looking over the activities of the SCA and seeing the gap between what the
SCA does and what it is legally required to do.

I think there are other methods to show research being done, and information being spread
(other than raising the bar for participation). But they'd require work, dedication, a
long-term commitment, and a significant change in what we, the members of the SCA, do. And
I don't see the BoD stepping up to the challenge and showing the leadership it would take.

In short, I don't think things will change, except for the CoA being pickier and pickier
about documentation, and less and less concerned with obtrusive modernity, obscenity, etc.
Which is too bad. And makes me wonder if I really want to stick with heraldry, at least as
practiced in the SCA.
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