Canton Persona

The Village of Ardchreag, 2004

For a long time, members of the populace of Ardchreag had talked of crafting a ‘canton persona’ for their group, not unlike their neighbouring Canton of Eoforwic. However, while Eoforwic called itself the Royal Citie, it was agreed that Ardchreag was more of a town, or village, in scope.

But what kind of village?

To begin with, examine the name. Ardchreag (Ard Creag) is Gaelic for ‘high cliffs’, which gives the canton an Irish or Highland Scotland bend. If it is then assumed that Ardchreag has such an ancestry, it would explain the presence of all those Norse seen around the cliffs too (for at times both the Irish and the Scots had great contact with the Norse).

The founders of Ardchreag were known as archers, and that fact is represented in the device of the canton: vert, four arrows in cross points to center, on a chief indented argent a mountain couped gules between two laurel wreaths vert. Mundanely, Ardchreag is located along bluffs and cliffs, with large tracts of forest and woodland. Both these facts give a frontier flavour to the canton. It calls up images of rangers and woodsmen, of woodcutters and outlaws, of wise women living deep in the thickets and prowling wolves close at hand.

So it is then say that within our fine kingdom, the Canton of Ardchreag, which is spread over a great deal of land, is a series of forts and villages and lone peasant huts. It sits atop a high series of cliffs, which descend to Mare Ontarium at certain points in which ports have grown. It is a frontier, a border town, for across the inland sea lies the Barony of Rhydderich Hael, a territory of the Kingdom of AEthelmarc. It is up to the populace of Ardchreag to patrol this border, to ensure that the waterways and paths throughout the thick forests are safe for merchants and travelers, to protect it all in the name of His Majesty. They must stand on their own, for the Sheriff of the Royal Citie, or the Guard of Petrea Thule, lie many miles away. They must support themselves, in all ways.

Now, how does such a community conduct itself? How does it work? In a Society context our canton has several officers which help us find meeting spaces, organize our practices, schedule classes, and so on. This is administration. What type of people really would have lived in such a village in period?

The village positions:

Herein we will look at what occupations would have been held in a similar village in period. For simplicity, Ardchreag used a village from Elton (circa 1300 CE) as their sample.

For the canton persona, Ardchreag would be making village appointments that were actually made in their model period. Ardchreag would not br assigning occupations (miller, baker, etc), nor social position per say (such as village idiot or hedge witch). Ardchreag was looking at positions that villagers made appointments to from amongst their own number. (Villagers did not elect the blacksmith, not the town drunk.)

In period, only men held village positions, except for ale tasters (who were mostly women). However, in Ardchreag’s experiment, any one can hold any position, regardless of sex. Members of the populace agreed to select the canton appointments thusly for the first year: Everyone interested in a position would place their name in a hat. A name would be pulled, and that person would hold that position for a year. Once someone had a position they could not put their name in for another.

If someone wished to apply for any positions, but could not be present for the meeting at which they are being chosen, they could, if they wished, send the seneschal a list of their preferred positions, and they would be appointed by proxy. It was noted that if anyone did this they may not get the exact position they may have wanted, but would definitely get a position.

The headman in the village would have been the steward, or seneschal. As the SCA uses the term seneschal as the ‘president’ of their local branches, Ardchreag would not be using this position in their experiment. Rather, the actual group seneschal would automatically also be the village seneschal. The village seneschal was the lord’s direct authority within the village and was the only position not chosen by the villagers themselves. If the group seneschal wanted to obtain a canton appointment, it was agreed that s/he should not be the bailiff, reeve or beadle.

The bailiff was usually chosen at the seneschal’s recommendation (though that would not come into play in Ardchreag’s experiment) and acted as his deputy. He was usually a member of the gentry or a well off peasant family and was literate. The bailiff was in charge of maintaining the law, and also acted as a business manager for the manor. For Ardchreag’s purposes, the bailiff would be the head of the Cliffguard and the Yeoman of the White Arrow. (Though s/he did not actually have to be a fighter, nor an archer, it was encouraged that s/he be both). The group seneschal pulled the name for the person to act as the bailiff. The bailiff was then to pull the names for the rest of the positions. (In 2004, when Ardchreag began this experiment, the person chosen to be Bailiff had entered their name by proxy. As they were not present to pull the remainder of the names, a person in attendance who was not participating was chosen to do so.)

One of the bailiff’s deputies was the reeve, who ensured that villagers who owed labour services showed up for work. He supervised the formation of plow teams, mended his lord’s fences, saw to the penning and folding of the lord’s livestock and had many other duties as well. For Ardchreag’s canton persona, the reeve’s ‘duties’ are currently undefined, and will evolve over time.

The beadle, also sometimes called a hayward, was a deputy to the reeve. The beadle collected rents and fines levied in court and oversaw the preservation of seed, the performance of plowmen and ensured the villains did their reaping and mowing. For our experiment, the beadle’s ‘duties’ are currently undefined, and will evolve over time. However, it is expected that part of the beadle’s duties (as tax collector) will come into play at the manorial court (currently being planned).

The woodward was the person who ensured that no one took from the lord’s lands anything except what they were entitled to by custom or payment. For Ardchreag’s purposes, there are several opportunities for shtick for this (especially at Ealdormere war Practice).

Ale tasters assessed the quality and monitored the price of ale sold to the public. You could be fined for selling ale without first going through the ale tasters. For Ardchreag’s experiment, ale tasters will likely be brewers themselves, and will act as the canton’s authority on brewing. Ale Tasters will likely be called upon to help organize the Annual Lord Ulrich von der See Memorial Ealdormerean Brewing Competition. This is one of the positions which more than one person can fill.

In manorial court, the jurors, chosen from amongst the villagers, collected and presented evidence and laid out fines. In period a “jury of presentment” would have six, nine or twelve jurors. In Ardchreag’s experiment, once a year the village will hold a manorial court, where the jurors will sit in judgment upon those accused of crimes. (These crimes will all be facetious, and based upon real period crimes in a medieval village. It may be a good opportunity for some canton fund raising.) This is one of the positions which more than one person can fill.

Within a village, every man over the age of twelve was placed in a frankpledge (or tithing) of ten or twelve members. Each member was responsible for the conduct of his pledge-mates. Each year a review of the tithings was held, watched over by the seneschal. The head of a frankpledge was called a Chief Pledge. The chief pledges were deemed important men in the village. For Ardchreag’s purposes the position will be mainly ceremonially, but they will be encouraged to carry themselves nobly in all walls, to inspire the rest of the canton to do so as well. This is one of the positions which more than one person can fill.

So, the positions Ardchreag would be filling were: bailiff, reeve, beadle, woodward, ale taster (up to 4), juror (up to 3) and chief pledge (up to 2). (If they had more than thirteen people who wished to participate when appointments were drawn, they would have had either more ale tasters and jurors, or added some of the more minor village appointments to the slate, such as the wardens of autumn and the claviger.)

At the same time, Ardchreag recognized the Cliffguard and the Yeoman of the White Arrow. (The Yeomen encompassed archers and thrown weapons, the Cliffguard encompassed armoured combat, scouting, equestrian and fencing.) These two groups are to ‘keep the peace’ within the canton and village and be their protectors. Anyone can be a member of either, and it would not impinge on any other duties they may have militarily. (This is also mostly just for fun. Duties to the kingdom, barony or Peer take precedence.) The seneschal will be looking into getting some patches or tokens made up for members of these two groups to carry.

Nota Bene:

Please note that all these positions are for fun. They hold no real power or responsibility within our canton, our barony, our kingdom or in the SCA as a whole. The Officers of Ardchreag are our duly elected representatives. These canton ‘positions’ are meant to enhance our game, to add a lair of realism, and to encourage people to research the occupation they are granted. Let’s have some fun with this.

Ard Chreag Manorial Court, 2004

As part of their canton persona experiment, Ard Chreag held a manorial court in 2004.

Ard Chreag Manorial Court, 2005

A second manorial court was held the following year. Photos of this court at tworaven.org.