Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Legend of Eoforwic

By Duke Finnvarr deTaahe

Please note: This article was written by Duke Finnvarr for The Ursus in the mid-90s and highlights important people and events from the early years of the SCA in Ontario. It has been kept as originally published; hence the references to the Principality of Ealdormere, 13 kingdoms, etc.)

When last I wrote, I discussed the legend of Eagleshaven, and how it added a bit of fun to the Current Middle Ages, despite the fact no one could attest to its truth. Simularly, the legend of Eoforwic is a fine addition to the lore of our Society.

As before, we must carefully distinguish between sober history and legend. Of sober history, Eoforwic has a goodly supply – more than most local communities in the
Society. It is preserved in the five volumes of the Chronicle of Eoforwic, a body of work that may be unmatched elsewhere.

If you open volume one of that Chronicle, you will see that the history of Eoforwic, as recorded by trustworthy authors and confirmed by witnesses of unimpeachable integrity, begins in A.S. VIII (1973), with the arrival on these shores of Finnvarr de Taahe, once of North Woods, then King of the East. Soon after, Lady Gillian d‘Uriel, former sene schal of North Woods, came to Septentria-to-be and she and Finnvarr founded Eoforwic and put on its first tourna ment in March of A.S. IX (1975).

The legend of Eoforwic is quite different. The legend of Eoforwic credits the origin of Eoforwic to a much earlier time: to the time of Cariadoc of the Bow, who was the first ruler of the Middle Kingdom. Long after the actual foun dation of Eoforwic, when in fact none of the earliest foun ders still lived there, an ancient charter (which is preserved in volume four of the Chronicle of Eoforwic) of said Cariadoc surfaced in Eoforwic. The charter claims to be a grant to the people of Eoforwic of all the rights and cus toms appropriate to one of the foremost cities of the realm. The Eoforwic charter, concedes to Eoforwic, a certain de gree of autonomy, while clearly defining its duties to the Crown.

For instance, the charter excludes vagabonds and Tuchux from staying overnight within the walls of Eoforwic. Also, it permits the city to regulate the local fish trade, so that the legitimate commercial interests of Eoforwic should not be transgressed by outsiders from Vest Yorvik. These are clearly powers that any local community in our Kingdom would pay good money to have – and one suspects that Eoforwic did indeed fork over much silver in the process of acquiring them.
The key concession supposedly made by the Crown, in the shape of Cariadoc of the Bow, is the right of the citizens to elect officials to represent their interests. Foremost among them is the mayor. The mayor, of course, is subject to all things concerning the rights of the Crown of Ealdormere and the Middle Kingdom to the Seneschal of Eoforwic.
Yet he is designated by Royal grant as the leader of the citizenry in all other natters – supervising fish markets, for instance. I has yet to find a single person who claimed with a straight face that this Charter had any historical or legal validity; some have tried, but alas, their faces failed them in the end. The Charter is easily debunked by the simplest methods of historical criticism. Yet it has power, and it gives power.

The Charter was found – did someone say invented? – at a time when Eoforwic and its position in Ealdormere was changing. Eoforwic, the first Society foundation in this land, was long the dominant group in Ealdormere-to-be. Even as a mere shire, it was the home of royalty. When Septentria arose, Eoforwic became the baronial capital. After a time, however, Eoforwic no longer was as important as it once had been.

The original founders too faded away or moved elsewhere. Though Eoforwic remained large, active and, due to its history and location, a unique group, it had lost its original role. With the discovery of the Charter, however, Eoforwic‘s uniqueness was confirmed. It was a mythological history and a project for the future rolled into one.

Thanks to the Charter, Eoforwickians, surrounded in their mundane lives by the sights and sounds of metropolitan existence, could revisualize their canton – a word that implies a small, rural area – as a city of the Current Middle Ages. It was so appropriate an image that the words City of Eoforwic needed only to be spoken to gain the enthusiastic adherence of the populace.

The Charter also gave the newly-minted citizens a way of expressing their identity – in the annual election of the Mayor of Eoforwic, at Michaelmas (September). It is as riotous and, some say, as corrupt as many urban elections were in the Middle Ages, as the various guilds of the city throw their weight around on behalf of their favored candidates.

Once a new mayor emerges, however, he or she is given, by popular agreement, the power to initiate special projects on behalf of the city.
One that has become traditional already is the proper pro visioning of Eoforwic‘s City Guard on its annual expedition to the Pennsic War. The Charter of the City of Eofor wic is one of the most successful legends of our Current Middle Ages. Not only is it a marvelous pastiche of a real urban charter of the real Middle Ages; it has been so effective that it is difficult to imagine now Eoforwic being any thing but a City. If this group identity is based on fraud, as the sober historians must suspect, it is fraud in the grand medieval style – proving as it does documentary authority for what ought to be true. Look up the Donation of Constantine in your history book sometimes, and you see what I mean.

Originally published in The Ursus #195, April 1996 A.S.

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