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What are the Laurels looking for in candidates?

by Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope

Corpora defines a Laurel as someone who has “attained the standard of excellence in skill and/or knowledge equal to that of his or her prospective peers in some area of the Arts or Sciences. The candidate must have applied this skill and/or knowledge for the instruction of members and service to the kingdom to an extent above and beyond that normally expected of members of the Society.”  Corpora further defines all peers as required to be obedient to SCA and Kingdom laws, show respect for the Crown, set an example of noble and courteous behavior, be as authentic in dress, equipment and behavior as possible, share their knowledge and skill with others, practice hospitality, and learn and practice a wide range of skills including literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and familiarity with SCA combat, and participate at events.  What does all this mean?  Let’s take it one piece at a time.

Skill and/or knowledge

Attaining skill equal to other Laurels can be difficult.  Laurels are moving targets.  A Laurel who was elevated ten years ago has probably continued to refine and expand his or her skills well beyond what brought them the peerage.  Laurels also move on to other arts and sciences, and sometimes achieve renown in a completely different field from the one for which they were elevated. As a result, one of the things Laurels usually try to keep in mind when considering candidates for their order is whether the individual has achieved a similar level of expertise to that of most Companions at the time they were elevated.  New members are not expected to possess the skills of someone who has been a Laurel for years.

On the other hand, if your art is something unusual that other members of the order do not have knowledge of, you cannot be directly compared to the existing members in terms of your knowledge and skill.  As people break ground in new fields, the current Laurels must educate themselves on those fields in order to understand a candidate’s work and assess whether the candidate has achieved the appropriate level of Mastery.  Sometimes this can take a long time; Laurels are people too, who have jobs and families and lives outside the SCA, so it may be a while before sufficient members of the order understand a new art well enough to judge a candidate’s readiness. 

Another consideration is how an art and the resources to gain skill in that art have changed over time.  For example, in A.S. XV, very few illuminators used period pigments.  The materials and knowledge required to create and use them were less accessible than they are now.  These days, an illuminator who does not at least dabble with period pigments is less likely to be considered to have reached mastery of the art than they were 15 or 20 years ago.  Similarly, in A.S. X the height of costuming research was Norris’ “Costume and Fashion.”  In A.S. XL, someone who cites Norris as their primary source will lose points in arts competitions and their research might be considered poor, because we have so many better sources available now.  In addition, the advent of the World Wide Web has made access to those sources widely available even to people who live far from universities and big libraries.  We expect candidates to make use of those resources in their work. Unlike comparing the skill of new candidates to “old” Laurels, these changes in standards over time are valid.  We expect members of the SCA A&S community to grow in their knowledge and use of resources as the availability of resources grows in the world.

Instruction and Service

No matter how good you are at an art or science, if you work in solitude and never pass your knowledge and skills along to others, you are not a peer, you are simply a skilled craftsman. To be a peer, you must influence people around you, so that they learn and achieve skill in your art.  This is sometimes called “Impact.”  A brewer who makes marvelous mead using period recipes and techniques becomes a peer when he or she holds workshops, forms or runs a guild, teaches classes at an academy or schola, writes articles for local, Kingdom or SCA newsletters, holds a local, regional or Kingdom Arts office or otherwise spreads the goodies around. Some people are uncomfortable standing in front of a class, or even a small room full of people, talking about their art.  That’s ok.  You can work with people one-on-one, even chatting informally, or write articles.  As long as you’re transmitting the information, you’re teaching and providing a service to the Kingdom.

Peer-like Qualities

Courteous and Noble behavior are difficult to define, but to paraphrase a mundane politician, most people “know it when they see it.” 

When the Laurel considers a candidate’s peer-like qualities, they look for patterns of behavior over time. Is the candidate honest, kind, generous, welcoming and considerate of others?  A shorthand way of saying this is “Would I send a new person to this candidate for help?”  If a candidate can be trusted to handle new people, a newspaper reporter or a TV crew, then they probably have the appropriate peer-like qualities.

We understand that everyone has bad days (just like us).  If you have a temper tantrum in the middle of one event because something has gone wrong, it won’t disqualify you from a peerage.  If you later go back and apologize for losing your cool, it will probably even count in your favor -you were adult enough to recognize your mistake and make amends.

Obedience to SCA and Kingdom laws is part of peer-like qualities.  Honor, honesty and integrity demand that we work within the rules, or work within the system to change them, rather than circumvent or break them.

Wide range of skills

Of course we don’t expect everyone to be chess masters or heraldic experts in order to become peers.  However, we do want generalists who understand the framework in which our game is played.  We are portraying noblemen and women who, especially in the more enlightened and educated times of our period, would have had most or all of the skills listed in Corpora.  Henry the VIII played chess, danced and wrote music; Richard the Lion-Hearted sang and wrote poetry; and in period all nobles knew enough heraldry to allow them to identify friend and foe.  Candidates for the peerage should show that they understand the SCA and its culture broadly, and are fully integrated into the Society across a variety of areas. 

This category answers the question that sometimes pops up when a new Scadian arrives with spectacular arts skills acquired mundanely.  Do you give a Laurel to a marvelous artisan whose ability is superior to everyone else in the kingdom in that field, when they’ve been in the SCA for less than a year?  No, because that person needs time to acculturate - to cease being a “mundane in funny clothes” and become a true member of the Society.  


At order meetings and when answering polls, most Laurels will have these categories in mind as a rough “checklist” that each candidate must meet.  However, candidates’ achievements in each area do not have to be equal.  An outstanding artisan who is too shy to teach classes may be acceptable as long as he or she has reached out to others in the art in some fashion.  Someone whose impact on the kingdom has been enormous -holding office, advancing research, mentoring many students - might qualify even though his or her skill as not quite as high as other Laurels in the same field.  The question of “how much is enough” in any given category differs from Laurel to Laurel and is the subject of much debate, but we can all agree that we look for people who exemplify the best in the arts, courtesy, service and participation in the Society.


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