The Free Scholar - A Not So Comprehensive Look

(or What the heck is a Free Scholar?)

In the Academie d’ Espee, there are Scholars, Free Scholars and Provosts. A Scholar is an authorized fencer who is identified by a blue scarf worn on the shoulder or arm. A Provost is a member of the Companions of the White Scarf of Atlantia, a Kingdom Order of Merit given by the Crown to denote excellence in the field of Rapier Combat denoted by a white scarf with a blue stripe running lengthwise and a unicornate seahorse at both ends also worn on the shoulder or arm. Simple so far, right? A Free Scholar is an internal classification bestowed by the Provosts as a group to those that the Provosts feel are suitable who can be identified by a yellow scarf worn on the shoulder or arm. A little more ambiguous, is it not? In period, a Free Scholar was a journeyman fencer, studying fencing under the Masters of Defense, hoping one day to achieve that lofty rank. However, in the SCA, an Atlantian Free Scholar is essentially someone who has demonstrated to the Provosts that they have benefited Atlantian Rapier and will be suitable to the task. Basically being a Free Scholar is having a job because it is a job. Hopefully a fun job.

The Provosts need individuals to help them in their task of serving Atlantia, mainly through Rapier. We want people who are going to get things done. As Master Geoffrey would say we need, “self starters”. People who are going to do things like: run lists or events, marshall, waterbear, chirurgeon, MOL, herald, do research, make nifty things and train or teach others. Now, that does not even begin to cover all of the things to be done, but it is a start. In essence, we need those who will actively support the Kingdom and the Rapier Community.

(Author’s note: Baron Alan Gravesend really hates the term “Rapier Community”. I would never condone the usage of such a word in his presence.)

You can ask any three Provosts , “What do you look for in a Free Scholar?” and I bet that you will get three different answers. There’s a surprise. For the most part we are looking for good and true subjects of the Crown who are dedicated to Rapier fighting. The potential Free Scholar should be reasonably period in dress and persona. We don’t care if you want to do early Egyptian off the field, just do it right. After all, the Egyptians didn’t have Rapier.

(Author’s note: When I started in the SCA, I had a Japanese persona. While on the field, I wore clothes appropriate to late period Europe. Off the field, I wore 1450’s Japanese clothes. I made no strange persona story to explain why a 1450’s bushi would be fighting with weapons from the 1590’s and made no excuses.)

Free Scholars do not have to be the best fighters, but should be competent in the major forms. Nor do they have to be the best instructors, but would be willing to pass on what they know. The Free Scholars are assistants to the Provosts and as such they are not held to any one specific standard of perfection. However, they do have to try real hard. Let me say that becoming a Free Scholar is by no means a guarantee that they will become a Provost. By the same token, to become a Provost, you do not have to be a Free Scholar first. That yellow scarf on your arm will not make you rich, get you dates, or in any way make life easier. If anything, it will make life harder. It is a job, pure and simple.

Let us assume for a moment that a Provost wants to make a Scholar into a Free Scholar (and that the Scholar wishes to become a Free Scholar). What now? First of all, no less than three provosts must agree that the Scholar is ready. A Free Scholar is a student of ALL of the Provosts. All right, what about the ceremony? How much is absolutely necessary? Not all that much really. The primary Provost must extol the virtues of the candidate and identifies the other (two or more) Provosts who are sponsoring the Scholar. The candidate must take the oath of the Free Scholar and the blue scarf exchanged for a yellow one. Pretty simple. Well, kind of. Just like a birthday where the only thing that has to happen for you to have a birthday is to stay alive another year, the Free Scholar Prize is a lot more fun when you invite all of your friends. The Provost in charge of the Prize in called the primary. The primary can be any Provost and does not have to be the new Free Scholar to be’s principal instructor. The primary’s only official task is to set up the prize. (note: we call them primaries because if anything goes wrong they are the ones primarily responsible.)

Things that the Primary Sponsor should do:

  1. Secure two other Provosts as sponsors.
  2. Let the Headmaster of Free Scholars (that’s me) know when and where the Prize is to happen.
  3. Let everybody else know.
  4. Arrange for the candidate to display their fencing prowess. As the most public and visible portion of the Prize, it should be should be sufficiently showy and fun. Traditionally this is done by having the potential Free Scholar fence all of the other Free Scholars and anyone else who wishes to test their mettle, as time permits. Announce what is happening and involve the populace. This should not be done while a list is in progress, nor should it interfere with the running of the event in any way. Be sure to inform the Marshall in charge of the event, the Autocrat and the MOL. Especially if there isn’t going to be any other fencing at the event.
  5. The scarving itself. Here are some general guidelines. Gather the fencers and anyone who wishes to witness this blessed event. (family, households, home groups, etc.) The primary explains what is occurring and why the candidate will make a good Free Scholar. The Primary could then take this opportunity to admonish the candidate and impress upon the candidate the duty that they are about to undertake. The other two (or more) sponsors are identified and they then confirm that they are in agreement that the candidate should be made a Free Scholar. The scarf is then exchanged and the Oath is read and the candidate swears to uphold it. Now personally, I like having the two other sponsors exchange the scarf. One Provost would remove the blue scarf and the other would then pin the yellow scarf on. This has a nice symmetry to it and involves the other two sponsors, but the primary could have someone else pin the scarf on (e.g. significant other, head of household, you get the idea).

The Oath of the Free Scholar is an affirmation and a promise that the Free Scholar will continue in their support of Atlantian Rapier. As such it is sworn to all of the Academie; Scholars, Free Scholars and Provosts. If you take the time to read the oath, you will find that the Free Scholar is swearing to continue to do all of the things that made them a candidate in the first place.

What about the Provost-Free Scholar relationship? To be quite honest, it is easier to define in terms of what it is not. It is not the relationship of a household, nor is it servitude. It is not a Knight-Squire relationship, nor is it a Laurel-Apprentice or a Pelican-Protege relationship. It does not require an oath of fealty nor is it hanging out with your “buds”. It is a personal and unique relationship between the Free Scholars and the Provosts. We are, however trying to avoid a trap that some of those that have gone before us have fallen into. The trap is that you end up with elitism. Not all elitism is bad, but we do wish to avoid the attitude that your importance is derived by the color of your scarf. Will some of the Provosts and Free Scholars develop close relationships? Of course they will. This is not a bad thing. We are not in the business of legislating personal relationships. As each of the Free Scholars and Provosts are different, so also will the relationships between them be different.

Who am I to be writing this? I am Gerlach Wiesengrund, Provost Ad’E, Headmaster of Free Scholars. The Headmaster’s job is to be a trouble shooter. I take care of the Free Scholars, act as a go-between for the Provosts and Free Scholars and basically see to it that the Free Scholars get whatever they need (support, training, a boot to the head) so that they may continue to support Atlantian Rapier. My other job is to let the Scholars who wish to become Free Scholars do not get overlooked and know what is necessary for them to become Free Scholars. (So far, It’s been pretty easy.)

Is all of this set in stone? Of course not. I suspect that the Free Scholars will have quite a bit to say on how they wish to define themselves. This is a good thing. If you wish further information or have questions to ask, please contact me.

Baron Gerlach Wiesengrund, Provost