On Criteria for the Laurel

My name is Cynehild Cynesigesdohtor, I was elevated to the Order of the Laurel by Their Occidental Majesties Uther and Kara in January 2012 for my research and art in early period language/translations and culture. Marisa Herzog posted an excellent question to the Western Unbelts Facebook page that asked about how the members of the list perceive the Laurels from the non-Peer or non-Laurel perspective. One commenter stated that their frustration was that they wanted to be a Laurel, but didn’t know what the Laurels were looking for. This got me thinking about what criteria I, as a Laurel, use to evaluate candidates.

At its most fundamental level, the criteria for becoming a Laurel are as follows:

VIII. PERSONAL AWARDS AND TITLES

A. Patents of Arms

1. General Requirements Candidates for any order conferring a Patent of Arms must meet the following minimum criteria. Additional requirements may be set by law and custom of the kingdoms as deemed appropriate and necessary by the Crown.

a. They shall have been obedient to the governing documents of the Society and the laws of the kingdom.

b. They shall have consistently shown respect for the Crown of the kingdom.

c. They shall have set an example of courteous and noble behavior suitable to a peer of the realm.

d. They shall have demonstrated support for the aims and ideals of the Society by being as authentic in dress, equipment, and behavior as is within their power.

e. They shall have shared their knowledge and skills with others.

f. They shall have practiced hospitality according to their means and as appropriate to the circumstances.

g. They shall have made every effort to learn and practice those skills desirable at and worthy of a civilized court. To this end they should have some knowledge of a wide range of period forms, including but not limited to literature, dancing, music, heraldry, and chess, and they should have some familiarity with combat as practiced in the Society.

h. They should participate in Society recreations of several aspects of the culture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

4. Patent Orders

b. The Order of the Laurel: (i) …The candidate must have 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.

In the time I have been a member of the order, I have developed the following three-prong test to use when considering potential additions. Think of the three-prong test like a three-legged stool, each prong is of equal importance and necessary to support the seat. If any one leg is short, the stool is unable to support the kingdom.

Caveat lector: these are my opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of my fellow Laurels or the Crown. Also, my experiences are in the Kingdom of the West and may not reflect experiences in other Kingdoms. Finally, as has been pointed out elsewhere, it is the Crown not the Council that makes peers. The Crown, by Corpora, is required to consult with the Council before making a new peer, however, abiding by the Council’s recommendation isn’t required.

Tl;dr of what follows: Do it well, do it for others, and teach others to do it for themselves.

First Prong: Mastery

What is Mastery

I expect any potential member of the order to display mastery of their chosen craft. Mastery can be displayed through depth of work (a deep dive into a single project that produces a masterwork), breadth of work (a wide-ranging knowledge of interconnected subjects with many works produced at a high level that does not reach the level of a masterwork), or a combination of the two.

The work produced, especially when considering a breadth candidate, need not be tangible. For example, someone whose work is in Romance Languages might not produce shiny things, but I would expect them to be versant in the development of the languages from Latin, their interplay with the history of the region, and able to produce complex translations both to and from the languages they’re working in. Work should be of a historical nature, historically accurate, and, to the extent possible, accurate in its creation (a note, with research, I don’t expect candidates to be historical in their approach [i.e. just making stuff up]).

An important note: I expect to see a significant body of work from either a breadth or depth Laurel, not just a single piece that was really well done.

How do I Evaluate Mastery

Evaluating mastery is difficult. I am comfortable judging the merits of research and languages, as well as a few other topics. When evaluating candidates who are working in areas I am unfamiliar with, I rely on subject matter experts, the candidate’s own written documentation, and my own outside research. “What’s that,” you say, “written documentation?” Yes, I LOVE written documentation because it gives me an excellent chance to gauge the candidate’s ability to articulate their understanding of the subject matter. The clearer the documentation, the better (to my eye) the understanding. Especially useful here is the documentation of the process.

I expect the work of a candidate who is ready to join the shrub to be of high quality. This means the work is (as is appropriate to the craft) aesthetically pleasing, well made (e.g. not falling apart), well finished, and complete. Here’s an example, looking at a cooking candidate’s feast, I would want to see that there was enough food for everyone without large amounts of waste; that the kitchen was well organized so that dishes were presented in a timely manner; that the food served was tasty (if it’s supposed to be), pretty, and completely cooked; and that the menu was appropriate to a time and place. Another example, looking at a research candidate’s presentation, I would want to see that the candidate had reviewed a wide variety of appropriate literature; had investigated new avenues or concepts; had presented their findings cogently; could support their findings with appropriate references; and that they had not committed intellectual theft.

In addition to the production of good work, I expect candidates to have a well-rounded knowledge of their craft. Some of the questions I ask when evaluating someone’s work include:

  • What is the candidate’s grasp of the fundamental concepts of their craft? (for example, can a candidate for Germanic languages discuss the impact of the High German Consonant Shift? Or, can a cooking candidate discuss humor theory and how it influenced medieval food?)
  • Can the candidate articulate the whys and wherefores of both their process and the historical process?
  • Can they explain the steps they took and whether the order of those steps is important?
  • Are the candidate’s assumptions supported by their research?
  • Can the candidate explain the context their work should appear in?
  • Do the candidate’s explanations of the above make sense to someone who is not an expert in their field?

Finally, I expect that a candidate who is ready to become a member of the Order will have a journeyman-level knowledge of a wide range of skills. As a knight should be deadly with any weapon, a Laurel should be deadly with any craft.

Here’s a good analog from Mistress Etaine: The Laurel is a job. In job interviews, we ask what benefit a candidate brings to the company. What a Laurel candidate brings to the Order is a worthwhile question to ask ourselves when considering their admittance.

On The Bar: The bar against which we judge candidates has moved over time. This is because what we know about the medieval period has changed and access to resources has improved. Keep moving forward!

A Brief Digression

In our game, there are many different levels of knight, from the common Knight Errant to the rarefied Superduke. To become a Knight, you must attain mastery of the art of the sword but you are *not* required (anymore) to win a Crown Tournament (let alone enough to qualify for Superdukedom [however many that may be]). Likewise, there are many levels of Laurels. Some of these might be considered “Superlaurels”, those Laurels who are so insanely talented and dedicated to their craft that they have largely surpassed their peers in skill and creative production. When considering your own work in comparison with Laurels, I strongly encourage you to remember that you don’t need to be at Superlaurel level to be admitted to the Order.

The Responsibility of Those Who Wish to Join the Order

I expect those who wish to join the Order to be responsible for demonstrating their mastery. In this, I differ from some of my peers who believe that Laurels should be actively seeking out the work of candidates. I have little patience for the idea that a candidate shouldn’t chase their Laurel, they should wait for it. In the medieval period, apprentices were expected to actively work towards becoming a Journeyman and potentially, masterhood, I expect the same from apprentices in the SCA. My reasoning: Being a Laurel is a job, it’s not a prize. If you want a job, you apply for it. Actively showing off your work (by entering contests, teaching, producing largess) demonstrates to me your willingness to do the job and makes you a candidate I’m willing to consider.

Second Prong: Service

What Do I Mean by Service

In this context, service is the candidate’s use of their craft in support of their Branch, Principality, and Kingdom. This can mean helping to dress people, making largess, doing research to assist others, participating in demos, and so forth. This also means being a leader and encouraging these things in others.

How do I Evaluate Service

While the Laurel is not a service award, it is a service job. Therefore, I expect the service of candidates to be of a useful level. That is to say, the service should contribute to the good running of the Society and support the work of others. Good service requires planning, communication, and follow through, the service of a candidate for the Laurel should demonstrate these things at a competent level.

$?

I am perfectly comfortable with candidates taking money when doing their craft in service of others. Time (and materials) have value, this does not magically change when a candidate is on the Laurel path. Expecting someone to donate their time and materials for an unspecified amount of time to become a Laurel is dumb and puts a price on peerages (which I don’t like).

The Responsibility of Those Who Wish to Join the Order

As stated previously when discussing mastery, I expect candidates to seek out their own opportunities to serve the Society. This is not to say that service a candidate is volunteered for should not be counted, but I believe that initiative on the path of the Laurel is important as it demonstrates a willingness to be proactive in doing the job once they become a Laurel.

Third Prong: Teaching

What do I mean by Teaching

For me, teaching is the most important responsibility of a peer. Let me repeat that for the people in the back, TEACHING IS THE MOST IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY FOR A PEER. Demonstrating the ability and willingness to teach in both a formal and informal setting is something on which I place a great deal of importance. In this, I am often in disagreement with my fellow Laurels, but I believe strongly that the ability to teach in many different formats is critical as peers should be able to adapt to students, rather than expecting students to adapt to peers.

How do I Evaluate Teaching

Mostly by taking classes (classes are great!), reading blogs, following along in discussions online, and asking questions. I am looking for teachers who can articulate their ideas clearly and cogently, who can answer questions, who has the authority to command a classroom, who demonstrates intellectual curiosity and interest in what they are teaching, and who knows what they’re talking about.

The Responsibility of Those Who Wish to Join the Order

Again, it is the candidate who should be seeking opportunities to teach rather than waiting for opportunities to be brought to them.

Peer-Like Qualities

From the Rules of the Lists we read, “Combatants shall behave in a knightly and chivalrous manner and shall fight according to the appropriate Society and Kingdom Conventions of Combat.”

This is rule six, what I like to refer to as the “don’t be a dick rule”. I believe strongly that in it is everything you need to display peer-like qualities. I could pontificate on knightly virtues, behavior in the hall, and courtly graces, but really, all you need to understand peer-like qualities is rule six. Easy-peasy!

For Further Reading

https://lochac.sca.org/laurels/node/14 – How Are Laurels Chosen? From the Kingdom of Lochac.

http://www.drachenwald.sca.org/drupal/content/laurel-faq – Kingdom of Drachenwald Order of the Laurel FAQ.

http://www.greydragon.org/library/peerdoc.html – Sir Wiglaf Wilfriding, Some Thoughts on the Qualifications for the Peerage.

http://sandradodd.com/ideas/peerage1.html – Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why: Peerage.

http://www.goldenstag.net/peerage/BeingALaurel.htm – Duchess Etaine du Pommier, OL, OP, Thoughts on Being a Laurel.

http://www.avacal.org/artsci/Shared%20Documents/Laurel%20Presentation%20Master%20Mai.pdf – Master Mai, I make Neat Stuff, Why Aren’t I a Laurel Yet?

http://www.inlandregion.org/sca/misc/peer_qualities.php – Mistress Isabeau, the Peer-Like Qualities

http://www.modaruniversity.org/Qualities.htm – Odierne Lion, What are “Peer-like” Qualities

https://sites.google.com/site/ianthegreen01/home/peer-like-qualities – Milisent Vibert, Peer-like Qualities

http://nicolaa5.tripod.com/articles/Hector/soc/HPeers8.htm – Hector of the Black Height, How to be a Peer in One Easy Lesson

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