by Genevieve la flechiere
Many hobby groups have special occasions, but not many of them have pageantry, a royal presence, and the handing out of awards.
It’s not always clear to newcomers, however, what is happening at court; it can look like a cross between a church service, a wedding and the bingo.
What are ‘awards’? Who decides on them, and why? Really, why does any of this matter?
This article provides some background for the newest Society members, on my view of what awards are, and what they are not. It’s a personal view: the next person along the feast table will think differently.
By Society tradition, award preparation takes place out of sight. The people helping out are keeping the Crown’s and Coronet’s secrets, so some newcomers don’t realise much about the behind the scenes process.
In my Society years I’ve been: a court herald, a signet (aka scroll commissions manager or scribe wrangler) and a princess, with Robert de Canterbury, in Insulae Draconis. I am a companion of the Pelican, the Society-wide order for service.
This experience doesn’t mean I’m an expert, just that I have seen awards from all angles, and at all stages.
Saying thank you
Our Society runs on volunteer effort. Without volunteers organising events, cooking feasts, holding tourneys, keeping the books, writing reports, it would not happen at all.
The pageantry and ceremony that accompanies our royals make the Society colourful, and give one focus to our game. To me, though, the most important people in the Society are the people who say, ‘sure, I’ll help, what needs doing?’
To thank volunteers officially for their good work, and to recognise their improving skills and their accomplishments, royals of the Society can give awards. These awards are described in our laws.
Every royal I’ve known takes this part of their job seriously.
However, every set of royals value awards differently and place different weight on them, based on their own experience of the Society. The final say on who gets what awards rests with the royals: the expression is ‘awards are in the gift of the Crown’.
Royals also encounter the paradox of giving awards: the more awards you give, the less value they hold.
Think: in the workplace, when only a few people get a company car with their job, the cars are seen as prestigious. When everyone gets a company car, they’re taken for granted, and the prestige is lost.
To retain the special-ness of awards, the royals must find the ‘Goldilocks’ combination of not too many, not too few, just right - ideally without encountering an irritated family of bears.
Opinions on awards
Talking about awards raises some very strong feelings in the Society: pride, joy, surprise, bitterness and disappointment just for starters. Like bellybuttons, everyone has an opinion on them.
Some expressions and opinions on awards you hear around the campfire:
- The ‘awards sytem’: some people call it a system, but it’s not a system the way modern people think of a system, that is predictable: where if you enter the correct input, you get awards as the output. Awards are in the gift of the Crown.
- Some folks feel only those who already hold awards should recommend others for the same award. In fact, there are no hard and fast rules, only habits and convention. You cannot force the royals to give an award, because awards are in the gift of the Crown.
- Folks often feel that there is a correct order in which to to receive awards, from ‘smallest’ to ‘largest’, over a specified stretch of time (not too soon, not too late, just right). This would be awesome, if there were some way to control it but remember…awards are in the gift of the Crown.
In both the medieval period and our own, good leaders don’t know everything, and yet they must make lots of decisions. Good decisions require good information.
Society royals rely on the people of the kingdom and region to provide this information. In this case, they rely on recommendations, about who is doing what in your group or at your events.
If you hear royals asking about recommendations or ‘recs’, it’s that information that they are looking for.
In the modern world, employers ask for references from your former employers or college instructors, when you apply for a job: recommendations aren’t so different.
Rather than a firm system, I now think of awards and recommendations as a goodwill understanding that relies on good communication. The Crown relies on its people to write in helpful information, on the understanding that the royals will use that information well.
Over time, Society folks come to associate a certain amount of participation, volunteer work or activity with recognition by an award. Playing in the Society for awhile helps you get a feel for what your shire and kingdom think is a contribution that the royals should know about.
If you travel to other regions and kingdoms, you’ll find widely different opinions about what ‘qualifies’ someone for an award of arms, a kingdom level award, a principality award, and a peerage.
Some longtime members regularly write recommendations to the Crown; they take note of who is doing what at events, and when they get home they write recommendations while their memory is fresh.
In the Current Middle Ages, anyone can address the Crown. As mentioned, there are no hard and fast rules of who can recommend who for what: a newcomer has a fresh perspective on the Society and about what’s important at events from a Crusty Old Peer™, so each have their value.
But here it gets more complicated: how do you compare one person’s work with another? What is the ‘right time’ to recommend someone for their first award, or for their second, or their eleventy-first? Ask three people, you’ll get five different answers.
Getting good decisions with good information
As someone who’s read recommendations and made decisions, I found recommendations from experienced members useful. Long-term members often know how much time and effort is ‘typical’ for a given award in Drachenwald, and know what other people have received in the past.
As someone who wanted to do a good job as princess, I looked for as much help as I could get.
But any person, new or old in Society years, can write good recommendations.
Our awards include an element of surprise: by tradition you don’t tell the recipient you’ve recommended them, because (you guessed it) awards are in the gift of the Crown, and you don’t know what the royal decision will be.
To write a recommendation for someone, the best approach it is to write and explain what that person does that contributes to your group, rather than telling the Crown what they ought to do.
Compare two examples about a hypothetical lady named Freida.
‘Your Majesties, I think milady Freida is awesome; it’s time she had an award of arms.’
‘Your Majesties, milady Freida has been active for 2 years in my shire. She attends fencing practice regularly, has submitted a name and arms, and for the last two events helped cook feast. I think she makes a valuable contribution to my shire, so please consider her for an award.’
One letter provides an opinion only; the other provides background information about Freida’s activities as well as opinion, to help the Crown make those Goldilocks decisions.
The Drachenwald award recommendation form has fields to suggest which award is appropriate. This is helpful, but it’s still the royal’s decision in the end.
Get to the point…
Is any of this bumph important, though? How does this affect the beer in my mug, really?
In my early Society life I spent a lot of time wondering what would ‘earn’ me an award, and why I wasn’t called up in court. I was doing lots of activities in my canton and going regularly to events. What was wrong with me?
When someone who joined 6 months after me got her AoA before I did, I burst into tears, both embarrassed and hurt.
Somehow, noone ever explained to me how the royals learn about individuals; and it never occurred to me to ask. It was Just Supposed to Happen by magic, as if the royals were somehow all-knowing.
If you know that it’s not magic, that it’s an arrangement that relies on the human threads of communication and goodwill, you will expect different things from both awards, and recognition.
It’s important bumph because once you realise who decides on awards and how, you can enjoy your own recognitions and those of others more.
That knowledge can only make your game better.
Genevieve la flechiere, Viscountess, Insulae Draconis signet emeritus, wrote this article for the Insulae Draconis Baelfyr (newsletter for UK, IE and IS). She edited it slightly for web publication.