A couple of months ago, I made some remarks on a curious phenomenon regarding awards for local members. We had discovered that several local members received awards during 2005, but at events we had not attended. My reaction is essentially the same as before, but I want to discuss it from a slightly different aspect.
As we've discussed this locally (and made some headway on taking care of the problem), I've become aware that there are still some slight misperceptions about the way the system works. (Since the officer talk seemed helpful, I may try one on awards next month!) In particular, I noticed there is some concern about why no one notified us that the awards had been made. Was there perhaps some failure of communication from kingdom to shire?
The answer to this question is, no, it's actually our fault, and up to us to make sure it doesn't happen again. This will require a little explanation, so please bear with me.
I can recall the same sort of confusion about how it all works in my early years in the SCA (it isn't precisely true that I've forgotten more about the functioning of the SCA than I presently know, but it sometimes seems like it when I exert my memory and reach back into the dim, primeval mists of time...), so I sympathize. Let me put it this way:
The king and queen of the Middle attend an event somewhere between 2-3 times a month. At the majority of such events, they hold court and make awards to deserving local members. That's a lot of awards. Their Majesties are very busy people with all that traveling and everything that goes with it. They take awards very seriously and not only want to recognize their deserving subjects but also not to make a mistake and recognize someone who isn't really deserving. Since the kingdom is big and they can't know everyone, they rely to a considerable degree first on the populace at large to make recommendations, and also on their hard-working staff and their peers, courtiers and kingdom officers to help them make a good decision on some of the nominations.
It is often pointed out that anyone can nominate anyone else for any award. But it should be fairly obvious that the kingdom takes seriously the heirarchy of honors it bestows, and it has a method for making the system work. To take an obvious example, if 40 lords and ladies nominate a person they believe deserving to be knighted, Their Majesties are likely to find that very interesting. But not nearly as interesting as 40 knights telling them the same thing. (To be blunt, in the first instance, the guy gets a little more examination; in the second case, he gets knighted.) This way of looking at things extends down through the whole system. If 8 people from three different groups tell Their Majesties that a hard-working person should be considered for an Award of Arms or a Purple Fret, it is quite likely that the award will be made. In fact, the threshold for making an AoA can fairly be said to be a good deal lower than this. A single convincing nomination from a person the Crown knows or even knows of, or even finds persuasive, might well be enough (depending on the royalty and their preferences, to be sure - it's their show, and I'm just describing what I have observed to be the case, broadly speaking.)
So the kingdom has probably dozens of awards in a typical month, more in some. It can readily be imagined how hard this is to keep track of. The royalty are not responsible for putting these awards in the kingdom Order of Precedence database, it may be interesting to learn. The heralds are the ones who do that, when they make court reports to the Clerk of Precedence.
There is a considerable bureaucracy in even a part-time medieval kingdom, but it is a volunteer bureaucracy. One of the things it is not set up to do is to send, for example, letters to recipients to notify them they have received the award when they were not present in court.
Well, why not, a reasonable person might ask?
Because the award itself, and the scroll presented in court, is the notification. Consider - in our Society, getting any sort of recognition at the hands of Their Majesties is a big deal. Even if you have a lot of awards already, it is a notable event that people have taken time and trouble over, from the nomination to the decision to someone making the scroll. The Middle, one should note, is one of the few kingdoms which still prides itself on giving a hand-lettered and illuminated scroll for every single award from the most glory-dipped knighting to the relatively humble Award of Arms. This is inherently because they are both important to the kingdom and its members. Believe me, the new knight does not feel more joy than the delight of the new armiger.
The thing is, the kingdom operates on the assumption that most of the people who get nominated will show up in that court, partly because it is usually a local event at which most of the local members are assumed to be likely to attend, and because their friends who nominated them are usually quite eager to make sure they are there.
There is another underlying and not much examined assumption - that everyone comes to court whenever they can, so they are probably there when they get an award anyway. This is actually not true anymore, and probably hasn't been since at least the 1980s, but it is a leftover assumption from when the kingdom was small in population (though very large indeed in expanse), and everyone knew everyone else.
But that leaves aside another fact that preserves this system from chaos. Ordinarily, if Lady N from Podunkshire on the other side of the state gets the Order of the Willow at court, and she is, regrettably not in court as expected, several other things happen. For one thing, some at least of her friends and acquaintances are there. Even if her whole shire didn't come, somebody at court knows her, even just a little, and is delighted to accept the award on her behalf when it becomes plain that Lady N. is not going to appear when summoned. And after court, that person phones Lady N., or perhaps sends word with another friend.
(This isn't fanciful. I wasn't present for only one of my awards, a completely surprising second Purple Fret in the mid 90s. My friend Sir Stephen Egremont acccepted it for me and phoned me later to tell me about it, and to tell me how pleased and proud he was to do it. I was a somewhat diffident member of his household at the time, and indeed a retainer of his, but it wouldn't have surprised me if he or someone else outside my own shire had accepted any particular award for me whether I was formally associated with them or not. That's how it works.)
So the real question is, when several awards were made to Stormvale members in recent months, why didn't someone accept for them? Because, again, no one was there from Stormvale to accept, and because no one else knew (or perhaps remembered, in a couple of cases) the name.
Thus, no phone call or letter. We saw the award when it appeared in the Pale later.
Now, it should be fairly plain after my explanation, unless I have been too prolix, this state of affairs is merely unusual. No one has failed to do what is expected, except us in not having more ties with our neighbors. A matter easily enough corrected, and I think we're already working on it.