Sunday, August 21, 2005

The Mysteries of Precedence

Now that we've tackled the underlying structure of the awards system in the Middle Kingdom, let's look at the concept of precedence. Precedence has two essential components: rank and order in time.

Here's what I mean: in mid 1988, for example, my friend Geirmundr and I had the same rank: we were armigers. We had "bare" awards of arms. But what if we wanted to differentiate which of us was first in precedence? Simple - the first to get his AoA was higher in precedence. The G-Man got his AoA August 16, 1987 (at Pennsic, obviously). I was awarded arms on November 7 of the same year. Thus, Geirmundr stood higher in precedence.

Now, when would it make any difference? Practically speaking, only on two types of occasion. First, when we compile an Order of Precedence for any particular group (like Stormvale members, or for the whole kingdom). Second, when forming an Order of March, when a group of people are going to form a formal procession. Usually this is done only for the contestants and their consorts as they are presented to the Crown before a Crown Tournament, but perhaps for a very formal local feast, you might care to know these things. (We only did it once, that I can recall, but my point is that you could look it up and figure it out easily enough.)

So, if we participated in such a procession in 1988, Geirmundr and I, with our identical rank, would have been placed a number of people apart - however many people were present who had AoAs between our dates of award; or if you were figuring the order of precedence for the whole kingdom, everyone who had gotten an AoA during that period.

Ok so far? Good. Let's add a complication. On October 8, 1988, I received the Award of the Purple Fret. Also an armigerous award, and therefore I remained an armiger, just like Geirmundr, but now I leapfrogged him in precedence, because the Fret has slightly higher precedence than a plain AoA. I was the 16th person to get that award that day, by the way (it was an unusually big day for Frets in particular and awards in general, because it was a Coronation with two courts. The first court was Comar and Lisa's last, and they liked giving Frets. The second court was Reynard and Brynhildr's first, and that's when I got the award), so if we formed a procession with everyone in the kingdom, all 15 previous recipients that day would stand just ahead of me. Geirmundr would be way, way back now, with the entire group of people who had only AoAs.

It should be clear enough now. All the awards and orders are ranked, as we saw yesterday. Peerages first, grants second, armigers third. Within each group, there is another ranking, as where Frets rank higher than AoAs. So everyone with a Fret as their highest award stands in order of when they received it, oldest first, and then the next award down, again in order of receiving it.

Let's move up a bit, because over time these things change. On December 6, 1997, I was made a member of the Order of the Dragon's Heart, the (then) highest type of armigerous award. Geirmundr got one right after me. We were both still armigers, but we now took a big jump up the order of precedence, to the top of the third category, that of all armigers, and we were right next to each other. Curiously, we took a gigantic leap in the OP in 2000 without getting any other awards, because our order was moved up to the top of the grant-level orders instead (the ODH is always the highest native kingdom level award, below the SCA-wide ones.)

Now, let's add another complication to make sure the system is clear. Our friend Alan Fairfax, who was just 16 when he joined Stormvale many years ago, was until a few days ago well behind us in the OP, but he just took a big jump up to the bottom of the peerage rank when he was made a member of the Order of the Laurel. Fairfax will always be behind all other peers who were made peers before him, and will always be ahead of all those who get peerages after him. That's as high as he can go, unless he wins a Crown or Coronet tourney!

What does the whole order of march look like? Well, you can go look it up at, in the heraldry section under Order of Precedence. Geirmundr and I are 967 and 966 at the moment, although that will now be a little out of date. We will be displaced down the list only by peers and barons; no one with any other award will ever leapfrog us as it stands.

Now, what does it all matter? Well, not a lot on a given day. When I see Fairfax, I'll give him a big hug and call him "Master Alan", and then go back to calling the youngster Fairfax for the rest of our lives except when I mention his name in a formal context. Precedence isn't really a big deal, just part of the rules of the game we play. And I should mention that hardly anyone (except heralds, of course!) notices many of the issues I just discussed. But that's how it works.

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