Before times - The First White Scarf Meeting
By Master Robert Beddingfield
April 21, 1996. The morning after the Coronation of Galmr II and Katharina II, wherein the Order of the White Scarf of Atlantia was created, and I and the 13 other gold-scarf provosts were elevated to the Order. A great deal of work had happened behind the scenes leading up to this; perhaps I’ll tell that story at some point. Coronation had also seen a knighting, a laureling, and the making of the first 3 Free Scholars of the Academie d’Espee. They had fought their prizes at Coronation, the Academie was a reality, and we were on top of the world.
Actually, we were in a field at Andrews AFB; sitting on folding chairs in a circle, at 9:30 in the morning. To this day, I don’t know why we were in a field on an air base, instead of a bar/coffee shoppe/restaurant. Also I have no clue where the chairs had come from. It is possible we liberated them from a base facility; it’s also possible we have warrants outstanding for that. But I digress.
While this was our first face-to-face meeting, but it was not the first time we had discussed the creation of the Order and it’s component parts. In the months prior, we had made use of the then-new email list and had had many polite, courteous exchanges over matters relevant to the Academie.
Okay, that was bullshit. We had yelled, hollered, pontificated, elaborated and issued threats of doom, both impending and potential. You know: a White Scarf meeting. We did accomplish several things, other than establishing the protocol for all future WS meetings. The most important being the structure of the Academie and how the various parts connected.
As y’all are aware, authorized fighters wore, and still wear, blue scarves. This pre-dated the Academie and was intended to be a visual check on who was authorized and to show the presence of rapier fighters off the field to the rest of the Kingdom. When the AdE Award was made, those given the award wore gold scarves and were called provosts. The blue scarves were called free scholars.
Now, with the new order, we didn’t want to have a huge gap between blue and white. The decision had been made to fashion the Academie after the London Masters of Defense, an historical model from 16th C. England. The ranks within the LMoD would be used, but the top level there was Master, a term reserved to peers under SCA law (interesting historical note: the LMoD ranks included Usher, which we use to identify those who fight candidates for authorization).
So the structure of the Academie was established: blue scarves were renamed scholars; white scarves kept the title provost. To create the middle rank, we took the title free scholar, and used the gold scarf to adorn them. The AdE was born, at least its hierarchy. Ranks, colors, names – check.
If you think this was easy, I say, have you met the WS’s? But that was easy compared to reaching consensus on how free scholars would be made. The playing of prizes was already established for provosts. IMHO the public playing of prizes by the provosts, in the main areas of events, was in part responsible for the development of interest and respect for rapier fighting in the Kingdom. We wanted that to continue. So, prizes – check.
A number of the white scarves had come from Ansteorra, which used a cadet system, similar to the knight-squire relationship of armored fighting. There was a great deal of discussion about the problems of that system. It was seen to foster insularity between the schools that grew up around the individual “Dons” – the traditional title for Ansteorran white scarves, which we also rejected. This had gone so far as for some white scarves limiting their cadets to fighting only the “right” people outside the school. A similar situation existed in the East Kingdom. No Dons, no cadets – check and check.
On this point the debate became louder and more vitriolic, owing to the intensity of opinions and the noise of an overflight of McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagles, probably a DCANG training operation. But I digress.
Our group’s decision was to create a position that was not tied to any one provost. Numbers were debated and we agreed that 3 WS were required to sponsor a candidate for free scholar. Having more than 3 was discouraged, as we didn’t wish to create a pecking order within the gold (“I’ve got 5 sponsors, and you only have 3.”). We also noted that any provost that wanted to take on cadets was welcome to, using some personal sigil to indicate the relationship. So…cadets – uncheck?
With only 14 provosts in the Kingdom, getting 3 to agree might seem an undertaking, but the rapier community was small and most of us were traveling every weekend to an event where rapier was featured, so we saw most fighters. We had already agreed on the first 3 that were elevated at Coronation and a fourth was made the next weekend. It was the first Gold Rush, but by no means the last (Looking at you, Conner).
While we avoided the problems noted elsewhere, the AdE wasn’t perfect. Instead of one provost “owning” a gold scarf, no one owned them. Various fixes were tried, but some free scholars felt they had no one to go to for mentoring. We had thought that our way was freeing, they could go to any, or all, and we had an interest in seeing which ones would be self-starters. But for some it was too much choice. White Scarves aren’t perfect? Nope; weren’t then, ain’t now. Papal-like infallibility scratched out – check.
Master Robin of Gilwell had traveled up from Ansteorra to see the Order created and he attended that first meeting, establishing our practice that any WS from other kingdoms (I think there were 8 at that time) was welcome at our meetings and discussions. Robin said something that made an impact on me, and I believe on others. He admonished us that, even tho the WS wasn’t a peerage, others were going to see us as peers and the equivalent of knights. We had best make sure we acted as if we were peers; and, that we did not act as if we were knights. Don’t piss off the chiv – double check.
The Order has grown from that day, but the core of those opposing precepts guided our actions for decades. We held to the standards of a peerage for an award that was the highest available for rapier, one unique for a non-peerage in that it existed in many other kingdoms.
The funny thing about that meeting is, while each of us had an idea in our minds as to what we decided, over the years we all have had slightly different recollections of what we did. There were other meetings, some louder, altho the online discussions were generally the most barbarous. Unlike most orders, the WS discussions are archived. All new WS are admonished to not read the archives (we oldsters find them amusing and therapeutic, however).
Our individual concerns were all over the place, but my recollection is that the entire group had only one goal: the development and advancement of rapier in Atlantia. We were committed to making our rapier program the best in the Known World, and making rapier a Society-wide presence to be paid attention to. Hence all the scarves.
With the advent of the Order of Defense, the goals and desires and dreams of that first meeting have been fulfilled. What the WS becomes now, only the future will tell. I believe it has a place and a mission, and I’m chuffed (as my lovely British wife would say) to see where it goes and what it becomes.
And that’s the way it was.