Errants & Renown
On several occasions noble gentlemen have brought the questions: “What is it that errants of the company and other gentles need to acquire to admit them to the company? What do we expect of errants? What is this renown, and isn’t it too fuzzy to make a qualification for membership? How are errants taken into the Company?”
The Company of Saint George was conceived of as a vanguard of sorts, bringing a specific vision to the larger SCA culture, an example of how we think these tournaments should be and how we believe tournament combatants should behave. We believe that virtuous conduct is important, that authenticity is more important than the mainstream SCA holds it, and that we must demonstrate these beliefs through our own examples and through the improvement of these examples.
Initially, we created the office of Errant to allow any interested person to help us in these goals. The errant was never really a well developed concept; the Company was very young at that time and this effort at broadening our base of support and those who we would watch and coach failed, undeniably. We tried individual coaching, general attachment to the company, but nothing worked. The term errant implied a course of study and devotion which he did not have and to which we were unable to dedicate ourselves given the constraints of time and location. The noble gentles and ladies who stepped forward to be errants spoke with passionate eloquence, reinforcing our beliefs in our own goals. But for more than three years they received little attention.
I spent many hours thinking about how he might address the errant “issues.” There was active debate within the company concerning whether we should even have errants, and if so, what we should do with them. In September, 1995, we held a great Convocation at which many issues were discussed. We reorganized ourselves to continue our travels on a slightly different road, intending to take a more active and visible approach vis a vis the SCA at large. We invited errants and companions alike, as well as some interested but uncommitted people. The meeting went well, and the errants themselves persuaded us to keep the office, but to FIX IT!
Speaking with one of our brighter errants, I hit upon what I thought was perhaps the most important issue–renown. It is what we expect companions to have, and errants to strive for. With this in mind, Michael St. Sever, another founder of the Company, suggested the name “errant” in passing. It stuck, and the whole conept of the “errant” and of the required “renown” was cemented together. I believe this will solve many problems, ranging from perceptions and expectations to missions.
As it says in the Great Charter of the Company, to become a companion you must adhere to the maintenances of the charter (and the ordinances), that you will be known to the Company for these things. What this means in practice is that you, as an errant or other person interested in the Company, must seek the renown such that you will bring fame to yourself for emulating the things the charter says we cherish.
What is renown?
And what is renown? Renown is honor earned and attached to your reputation by chivalrous activity. Essentially you must become well known for the knightly virtues–prowess, courtesy, courage, loyalty, largesse, franchise, humility,justice, faith, forthrightness and the duty of defense. In particular the ones that the Company values highly–courtesy, franchise, faith and humility. We believe that these are harder to achieve than are prowess, loyalty, or even courage; although you must have all of them in some measure. We expect Companions to be especially strong in the particulars; franchise–to look and actually be a knight rather than acting the role; courtesy–and sincerity in the delivery of courtesy on and off the field; faith–in chivalry, in knighthood, in your fellow Companions and in the belief that there is more going on in the tournament than a simple exchange of blows; and humility–the ability to balance confidence and pride with respect and wisdom–and above all the avoidance of the poison of vainglory. In a philosophical sense, this is renown as the Company intends it.
Practically, renown is being famous for looking and acting like a knight at all times. Revering authenticity and being known as a champion of chivalrous conduct over the ‘sporting’ mentality that has taken hold of large segments of the SCA membership. You must be the person that people seek out to fight, time and time again, because you are fun to fight. This is a key; it is the barometer by which we measure ourselves and our members. And it holds, no matter how refined the skills. We expect our Companions to be known for clean fighting, for unquestioned blow calibration (this requires a measure of humility and respect in giving the maximum benefit of the doubt to your opponent, assuming that they are a knight (small k) until they prove otherwise). It is a good deal to ask, and we recognize that we are hardly perfect. But the other Companions have made the judgement to accept the others on the basis of this judgement, and we are subject to their scrutiny and ultimately to expulsion should we fail to meet these expectations to the minimal level. To have earned a reputation, the renown, for the same is what we ask of our errants.
Why the name Errants?
We think the name errants is evocative of the Knight Errant. In romantic literature, young Knights Errant would go off into the world, selecting quests of their own devising, those imposed on them by others, or just wandering to win glory and fame in the cause of a lady or simply to win knightly renown. We charge our errants to follow the examples of Parsifal, of Eric, of Tristan, of Lancelot. We want our errants to do the same thing–to go off into the world seeking their knightly fortunes. They can do this in any way they wish, with as much or as little guidance as they request. Our Chancellor is an officer especially devoted to assisting the errants and companions in their quests and their education, both about history and about the SCA world in which we practice our chivalry.
We charge the errants, under their own power, to go out and earn that reputation that will liken them to the other Companions. Or, we invite them to remain as errants for an extended period, associating themselves with the Company but maintaining a more distant relationship. Errants will be invited to speak of their travels, their accomplishments and observations, at Company feasts and convocations. Not as testimonials, but rather as chivalric enrichment for themselves and for this company, gathered as we are to celebrate and encourage high medieval chivalry.
The Chancellor of the Company will maintain a library of source material from which the errants are free to choose. They might take part in discussions with the Ecole de Chevalerie, where we will read works important to students of chivalry. Or, they might simply gain a list of works to discover on their own. Or, they might request a series of challenges from the company, to be arranged by the chancellor. Or, they might have nothing to do with the office of Chancellor and strike out completely on their own.
What should an Errant do?
An errant should seek to do two things: to seek the renown discussed above, and to make themselves known to the company. We hope that they will attach themselves to one of our Company officers, so that the work of the company might become known to them and that their energies might be added to our pool. There is much we can do, if we work together.
How is renown gained?
Renown, knightly fame, is gained by the performance of chivalrous deeds. One might hold the field, impressing opponents with particular virtues. One might moderate a round table discussion at which chivalric or knightly virtues are debated. One might write an essay. One might simply fight in tournaments with a different mindset–putting winning out of the mind in favor of knightly conduct. And of course, there is no replacement for the repeated performance of knightly conduct in practice, tournament, and even off the field. It cannot be replaced. But in terms of fame or renown, building a stage helps. This is why the pas d’armes is so successful. It is exactly like the bright stage of a Crown Tournament except that the taint of victory is removed, removing the temptation to fail. This temptation generally passes unseen by the offenders, even the worst ones, and is what I call the trap of vainglory. Vainglory is very hard to succumb to at the pas, because there is little seduction of victory.
Renown is also gained by sincerity of speech. When speaking to others, chivalry must come gracefully from the statements of the knight or man-at-arms. It cannot be forced; forced chivalry is insincere and does more damage than good, although it is hard to detect by the one speaking it. It is easy to detect, however, in those around who hear the words. Or see the deeds–the principle remains the same.
How is renown lost?
Renown is lost very simply. It is damaged by insincerity, by the ego, by vainglory, by a host of small things that make it “not fun” to fight someone. Or to watch them. Are they clean and interesting to watch when fighting? The more so, the more renown earned every time they take to the field. The reverse is true if they are ugly, in appearance or in gesture, or even in movement. Renown is easily lost. It is lost by careless gestures. It is lost when you are too tired to care anymore. It is lost in a thousand ways, and lost easily.
Applying to the Company
If it is a Companion you want to be, then we are happy to invite you to apply to our Company. Our Officers will determine whether or not we feel there is a good chance of your succeeding in your endeavor, whether or not we think you will accept guidance and criticism as we expect of companions, whether or not you will bring honor and glory to the company, and whether or not you are likely to hold on to your goal long enough to make progress. By application we mean a simple statement to the Company, delivered in speech or in writing. If delivered in speech, it should be done at a Company event. This could be a monthly Officer’s Court, or more grandly, at one of our feasts. The Officers will discuss pending applications at the next court, and make the results known by the next Court.