Tuesday, 1 October 2013

The Village of Ardchreag: Creating a persona for the canton, and acting upon it

THLaird Colyne Stewart

Part I: Ardchreag Canton Persona
February 16, AS 38 (2004)


There had been talk in Ardchreag of crafting for the canton a ‘persona’ of its own, not unlike its neighbouring Canton of Eoforwic. However, while Eoforwic called itself the Royal Citie, it had been agreed that Ardchreag was more of a town, or village, in scope.

But what kind of village?

Let us begin with the name. Ardchreag (Ard Creag) is Gaelic for ‘high cliffs’, which gives the canton an Irish or Highland Scotland flavour. If we then assume that Ardchreag has such an ancestry, it would explain the presence of all those Norse we see around today as well (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 was said that within our fine kingdom of Ealdormere, the Canton of Ardchreag, which is spread over a great deal of land, was 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 was up to the populace of Ardchreag to patrol this border, to ensure that the waterways and paths throughout the thick forests were 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 the canton has several officers which help find meeting spaces, organize 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, we used a village from Elton (circa 1300 CE) as our sample.

For Ardchreag’s canton persona, we made village appointments that were actually made in our model period. We did not assign occupations (miller, baker, etc), nor social position per say (such as village idiot or hedge witch). We were 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 our experiment, any one could hold any position, regardless of sex. We decided to select the canton appointments in the following manner: 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 pre-determined period of time (at first we thought for a year, but have now changed that to six months). Once someone had a position they cold 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 were 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 chose this option they may not get the exact position they may have wanted, but they would definitely get a position.

The headman in the village would have been the steward, or seneschal. As we use the term seneschal as the ‘president’ of our branches within the SCA, we would not be using this position in our 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 wants to obtain a canton appointment, 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 our 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 our 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 would pull the name for the person to act as the bailiff. The bailiff would pull the names for the rest of the positions.

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 the canton persona, the reeve’s ‘duties’ were originally undefined. They mostly came into play when the manorial court was reenacted, as he was a most sought after pledge (witness).

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 villeins did their reaping and mowing. For Ardchreag’s experiment, the beadle’s ‘duties’ were originally undefined. They mostly came into play when the manorial court was reenacted, as he was a most sought after pledge (witness) and also collected the fines.

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.

Ale tasters assessed the quality and monitored the price of ale sold to the public. People could be fined for selling ale without first going through the ale tasters. For Ardchreag’s experiment, ale tasters would likely (though not necessarily) be brewers themselves, and would act as the canton’s authority on brewing. This is one of the positions which more than one person can fill. One of the things the Ale Tasters duties ended up being was to help plan the annual brewing contest held at Ealdormere War Practice (done in the memory of Lord Ulrich von der See).

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, twice a year the village would hold a manorial court, where the jurors would sit in judgment upon those accused of crimes. (Originally it was to be held once a year, but the response was overwhelmingly in favour of doing it twice a year.) These crimes will all be facetious, and based upon real period crimes in a medieval village. It was a good opportunity for some canton fund raising, and this is explained in further detail later. This is one of the positions which more than one person can fill (Ardchreag settled on three, to eliminate ties).

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 would be mainly ceremonially, but those holding it would be encouraged to carry themselves nobly in all walls, to inspire the rest of the canton to do so as well. We settled on having two Chief Pledges, one representing each of the major colours in the Ardchreag device. They were a much sought after pledge in the manor courts (as will be described later).

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

We also recognized the Cliffguard and the Yeoman of the White Arrow. The Yeomen encompassed archery and thrown weapons, the Cliffguard encompassed armoured combat, scouting, equestrian and fencing. These two groups were to ‘keep the peace’ within our canton and be our protectors. Anyone could be a member of either, and it would not impinge on any other duties they may have militarily. (This was mostly just for fun. Duties to the kingdom, barony or Peer took precedence.) The seneschal created belt favours 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 the canton, the barony, the kingdom or in the SCA as a whole. The Officers of Ardchreag are our duly elected representatives. These ‘village appointments’ are meant to enhance our game, to add a lair of realism and role-playing, and to encourage people to research the occupation they are granted.

The appointments:

Therefore, having found the canton to be deficient in the matter of the aforementioned appointments, did Laird Colyne Stewart, currently the Seneschal of the Canton of Ardchreag, in the name of our liege, His Majesty Sir Rory Cennedi, grant the following appointments:

Gunnarr skald Thorvaldsson, Bailiff

Yosho, Reeve

Thomas, Beadle

Thorfinna gra’felder, Woodward

Colyne Stewart, Naja Kesali, Keelyn, Jurors

Tarian verch Gadarn, Berend van der Eych, Mahault van der Eych, Sof’ia Bardeva, Ale Tasters

Robert deBray, Wat of Sarum, Chief Pledges

Also, Colyne Stewart and Thorfinna gra’feldr were recognized as members of the Cliffguard, while Gunnarr Skald Thorvaldsson, Naja Kesali, Iolanda de Albornoz, Colyne and Thorfinna were recognized as members of the Yeoman of the White Arrow. (Further appointments to both branches of Ardchreag’s armed might were made later.)

Further more, several members of the village were divided into Robert and Wat’s tithings. At the beginning of the experiment, Wat's Green Tithing contained Thorfinna, Gunnarr, Mahault, Thomas, Colyne and Naja, while Robert's White Tithing had Berend, Keelyn, Yosho, Tarian and Sof'ia.

Part II: The Manorial Court System

May AS 39 (2004)

Courts in 14th Century England
There were at least three kinds of court systems existing in England in the 14th Century. The first was the Royal Court, where high level crimes were heard (like murder, heresy against the Crown, etc), church courts (judging over matters of the soul, such as adultery, validity of marriages, etc) and manorial courts (where the common villager—hopefully— found justice.

The Trials

Trials were held at a hallmote, a gathering of the villagers, generally held in the autumn and outdoors when weather allowed. This was also the time when the reeve, beadle and wardens of autumn were elected. The hallmote was presided over by the manor steward, but he did not act as judge. He gave this authority to the jurati: twelve or six sworn men, whose oaths extended between court sessions. They collected and presented evidence, along with appropriate law, the custom of the manor and village bylaws. If they did not bring a case to trial they could be charged with “concealment”.

The charge would be laid, read by the clerk of the court, who kept a careful record of the proceedings. The accused would then make answer. The steward then told the accused to come to the next hallmote with such and such a number of oath helpers (to come “six-handed” meant to come with five oath helpers). These oath helpers were basically witnesses to the defense. Both the defendant and plaintiff were then ordered to find pledges to guarantee their appearance in court (if they did not come to the next hallmote, they and their pledges would be fined). The higher status the pledge held in the village the better (the most sought after being the beadle and reeve).

If a case was settled out of court, before the next hallmote, both parties paid the lord for “license to agree”.

By the next hallmote, the jurors should have gathered evidence on the case. The defendant and his pledge were called, and they pled their case again. The jurors would then give their decision. If the plaintiff or defendant “put themselves upon the consideration of the whole court” the villagers gathered would (generally) back the jurors decision. (After all, it was safe to back the jurors, as you would not want them angry with you if you were called before them.)

Generally those found guilty were subject to a fine (it was a great money making venture for the lord of the manor). Wordings of sentences would often include the clause that the crime had been “to the damage of the lord” or to “the village.” Occasionally, the condemned were sentenced to punishment (such as a term in the stocks).

Review of the Frankpledge (Tithing)
A second type of manor court was the annual review of the manor tithings (also known as frankpledges). A tithing was a group of twelve men, each responsible for the behaviour of his fellows. (In fact, a man’s tithing was responsible to ensure he showed up in court if he was to do so.) Each tithing was headed by a chief pledge, who was held in esteem in the village. The steward would review each pledge, hear complaints, and make sure each man over the age of twelve was placed in a tithing. This was usually conducted in the late winter or spring, and was generally the time when the ale tasters were chosen. Eventually the matters of law conducted at the reviews were done in the hallmote when all other crimes were tried.

Types of Crimes

The following is an incomplete listing of crimes that could be committed upon a manor.

Defying the ban against baking bread: Villagers had to buy their bread from the village baker.

Defying the ban against grinding grain: Villagers had to take their grain to the village miller. It was illegal to own a hand mill.

Diversion of a water course

Not penning your sheep in the lord’s fold, or penning a neighbour’s animal: Villagers had to pen their animals in the lord’s fold, as the manure was collected for his fields.

Waif and stray: A villager’s animal wandering loose on the lord’s land would be seized, and a fine paid before it would be released.

Making a rescue: Taking back your strayed animal before paying the fine.

Leirwite or legerwite: A fine paid by a father when his daughter had sex out of wedlock.

Failure to pay heushire (house hire): The rent for the house on a holding.

Failure to pay tallage: A yearly tax.

Failure to pay gersum: A tax paid upon inheriting land.

Failure to pay heriot: A death tax. When a vellien died the lord got his best beast, the rector got the second best.

Failure to pay merchet: A tax paid by a bride or her father upon her marriage.

Failure to pay chevage: A tax allowing a vellien to live outside the village.

Careless planting of seeds

Stealing hay, vegetables, seeds, etc

Harbouring strangers: Villagers (and the lord) were often suspicious of strangers.

Beast committing trespass in the lord’s meadow or grain: If a villager’s animal trod on the lord’s land.

Beasts treading on grain: If a villager’s animal trod on another’s grain.


Hamsoken: Assaulting someone in their own house.

Stealing animals

Sued for debt


Coming late to reaping, or infringing on the reaping


Being a fornicatrix: Being charged as a whore.

Murder: This was rarely judged in a manor court, it was usually arbitrated in the royal courts.

Stealing a furrow: Letting your plow edge onto your neighbour’s field.

Gleaning grain without permission

Weak ale/over priced ale/imprecise measurements: Ale tasters took their job very seriously, and many of the crimes in manor court roles had to do with brewing infractions. Brewers could be charged if their ale was weak in flavour, if it was over priced, or if the quantity sold was not as advertised.

Sold before the tasting: Selling ale before the ale tasters have been at it

Making a disturbance in court

Cursing at jurors during court

Failure to pay for the right to raise chickens: The cost was one hen.

Fishing in the village brook: Poaching.

Killing the lord’s deer: Poaching.

Hue and cry: To call for help to catch the perpetrator of a crime. If you falsely raised the hue and cry, or did not assist in one when called, you would be fined.

Failure to arrest: If the beadle, reeve or bailiff failed to arrest someone after a hue and cry, they could be fined.

Corruption: Manor officials (reeves, beadles, etc) could be accused of taking bribes, of lining their pockets and of mismanagement.

The Village of Ardchreag’s Manorial Court

As part of the Canton of Ardchreag’s village persona, a manorial court was scheduled to be held.

Each person attending the court was asked to bring with them a number of gold coins (loonies). Everyone would then be allowed to make period accusations against others present. (Please note that for this reenactment, no one could accuse the jurors, or those acting as the lord and/or lady of the manor, of a crime.) Those accused had to then arrange for pledges to back their case, while their accuser did the same. Money would likely change hands to ensure pledges. The jurors would then hear all sides, and then laid their verdict. Defendants found guilty of the crime would pay a fine. If the defendant was found innocent, then the plaintiff would be fined. Fines were to be collected by the village’s beadle (or a representative of him). Participants were told \ to be sure to pace out how ever many coins they had brought with them, for if they run out of money with which to pay fines, the jurors would be forced to hand out punishments instead. (Unless of course the guilty knew of the period defense of being poor. This allowed those found guilty to not have to pay any fine nor face any punishment for most crimes.)

All money raised by the fines were to be used to off-set costs related to Ealdormere War Practice.


Bishop, Morris, The Middle Ages. Boston: The  Houghton Mifflen Company, 1968.

Giles, Joseph and Frances, Life in a Medieval Village. NY: Harper Perennial, 1990.

Part III: Ardchreag’s Re-enactment of a Manorial Court

June 8, AS 39 (2004)

On June 7, Ardchreag acted out a manorial court. Each person wishing to participate brought with them a certain number of gold coins (loonies). The amount of money brought was up to each participant, and should not be any more than they would be willing to have donated to the canton. (This exercise was, in part, a fundraiser for the canton after all.)

In attendance that night were:

Corwyn Galbraith, Lord of the Manor
Domhnail Galbraith, Lady of the Manor
Colyne Stewart, juror, member of the Green Tithing, Yeoman of the White Arrow, member of the Cliffguard
Keelyn, juror, member of the White Tithing, member of the Cliffguard
Naja Kesali, juror, member of the Green Tithing, Yeoman of the White Arrow
Yosho, reeve, member of the White Tithing, member of the Cliffguard
Thomas, beadle, member of the Green Tithing
Wulfgang Donnerfaust, Chief Pledge of the White Tithing, member of the Cliffguard
Lina Carville, member of the White Tithing
Pierre, representative of the Royal Court
Thorfinna gra'feldr, woodward, member of the Green Tithing, Yeoman of the White Arrow, member of the Cliffguard
Iolanda de Albornoz, Yeoman of the White Arrow
Wat of Sarum, Chief Pledge of the Green Tithing
Eirik Andersen, village alderman, member of the Green Tithing
Mahault van der Eych, ale taster, member of the Green Tithing, member of the Cliffguard
Berend van der Eych, ale taster, member of the White Tithing, member of the Cliffguard
Tarian verch Gadarn, ale taster, member of the White Tithing
Sof'ia Bardeva, ale taster, member of the White Tithing
Jean-Margaret Donnerfaust, member of the White Tithing
Siegfried Brandbeorn, village alderman

Their Excellencies of Septentria, playing the lord and lady of the manor, sat at one end of the room with the jurors representing the court. One of the jurors also acted as the clerk, writing down the charges, the results of the case, and the fines. All others in attendance sat about the other three sides, leaving the centre of the room open. Someone wishing to lay a charge would respectfully step before the court and state their accusation. The accused would then step forward as well. Both would be instructed to gather pledges and between one and two minutes were allowed for this. During this time much money changed hands as pledges were bought, silences ensured and officials bribed. (Any bribe to a juror went right into the beadle's money jar.)

Both sides then presented their stories, and all pledges were allowed to speak. Rebuttals were allowed, though the court could stop them at any time. The court then discussed the testimony and settled on a verdict. Generally, if the defendent was found guilty they—and all their pledges—were fined. As well, generally, if the defendent was found innocent, the plaintiff and all their pledges were fined. There were of course cases where both sides were fined, or only certain people on both or either side.

Most of the cases brought forth were entirely facestious (such as Berend's tryst with Tarian) whilst others (like the wandering lamb) were based on fact. Anyone thinking of running such a manorial court themselves may want to consider which charges to allow and disallow before hand so as not to possibly upset someone (some might not find the idea of being charged as a fornicatrix funny, not even in jest).

The charges and their results are below:

Wat of Sarum, Chief Pledge of the Green Tithing, charged Berend van der Eych with reeping some of his grain. As pledges, Wat presented Sof'ia Bardeva, an ale taster, and Mahault, also an ale taster and 'the much abused wife' of Berend. In his defence, Berend called on yet another ale taster, Tarian verch Gadarn. Wat alleged that he arose late one morning, after a night spent at a tavern, to find that Berend had reaped some of his grain. Berend, who said that while he was being charged with stealing grain was obviuosly the victim of Wat stealing his wife, successfully argued that Wat was a drunken sot, and by Tarian's testimony proved this. Berend was found innocent, and Wat was fined one gold piece for bringing a false charge before the court, plus another gold coin for improper management of his field. He was fined a further gold coin for pointing in a threatening manner at one of the jurors.

Iolanda de Albornoz, a Yeoman of the White Arrow, claiming to be the village forester, charged Eirik Andersen, a village alderman, with killing a deer. As pledges she brought Lina Carville and Thomas the beadle. Eirik's pledges were Thorfinna, the village woodward, and Wat of Sarum, Chief Pledge of the Green Tithing. Iolanda claimed that she had found a dead deer in the woods, and believed that Eirik had slain it, as Lina had seen Eirik walking near the area where the deer was found, and Thomas had overheard him speaking of venison. However, Eirik proved his innocence through Thorfinna, who was the real forester for the village (being its woodward). The deer, she said, had died of natural causes, and Eirik, acting as her deputy, was in the area as he was going to fetch a cart to bring it to the lord's manorial officers. Upon his return however, the deer was gone. The matter of the deer's whereabouts was not solved. When Thorfinna was asked why she had not reported this dead deer to the reeve or beadle, the reeve agreed with her that reports were due later that very evening. Iolanda was fined one gold piece for bringing a false charge before the court, and a further gold piece for usurping another's village appointment.

Mahault van der Eych charged her husband, Berend van der Eych, with creating a fornicatrix of the unmarried and pregnant Tarin verch Gadarn. As pledges Mahault presented Wulfgang Donnerfaust, the Chief Pledge of the White Tithing, Jean-Margaret Donnerfaust, Sof'ia Bardeva the ale taster and Wat of Sarum, Chief Pledge of the Green Tithing. Tarian brought Eirik Andersen, village alderman, whilst Berend brought forth Yosho the reeve. This case got very convoluted as many accusations were thrown. In a surprise testimony, Yosho revealed that Tarian's unborn child was his own, not Berend's (and he quickly paid the beadle a marriage tax). Berend was therefore found innocent of creating a fornicatrix of Tarian. However, many women present had apparently been beset by him after having been in his cups, and he paid one gold piece for every one present who so accused him. Also, Eirik Andersen was remanded to the Royal Court for later trial for having—by his own admission—given Tarian cod liver oil, which is an abortive.

Thorfinna gra'feldr, the woodward, charged the Donnerfaust family with poaching a lamb, and the van der Eych family for concealing it. As pledges Thorfinna presented Tarian verch Gadarn, ale taster, Wat of Sarum, chief Pledge of the Green Tithing, Eirik Andersen, village alderman, and Thomas the beadle. The defendents presented Sof'ia Bardeva, ale taster, Iolanda de Albornoz, Yeoman of the White Arrow, Lina Carville, and Siegfried Brandbeorn, village alderman. As with the previous case, many extra charges were leveled by pledges against each other, the plaintiff and the accused. In this case everyone was charged with one gold coin. The defendents were charged as three seperate stories of how the lamb came to be in their possession were presented by them as truth. However, the plaintiff was also charged for not having already seized the lamb. (Plus, charging both sides, with so many pledges, brought much extra revenue into the lord's coffer.)

A representative of the Royal Court, Pierre, then announced that he had been authorized on behalf of the Crown to prosecute a case of murder. Sof'ia Bardeva, ale taster, charged Wulfgang Donnerfaust, Chief Pledge of the White Tithing, with murder, having killed her husband, Francisco Deceasi. Sof'ia's pledges were Mahault van der Eych, ale taster, and Lina Carville. Wulfgang's pledges were Wat of Sarum, Chief Pledge of the Green Tithing, Thorfinna gra'feldr, woodward, Yosho the reeve and Jean-Margaret Donnerfaust. The court heard how Wulfgang had allegedly slain Francisco by stabbing him in the back with a knife, and later bragging of the dead and of the strength of his arm. His pledges countered that Francisco was indeed still alive, as he had been seen recently, and that Sof'ia herself had been heard plotting his death. The court asked if a death tax had been paid on Francisco and was told that it had been paid. And, as Francisco was not present to prove that he was indeed alive, Wulfgang was found guilty and sentanced to be hung by the neck until dead. The Crown seized his land and goods (all his remaining gold coins) and in its magnamity, donated them back to the lord and lady of the manor. Sof'ia then had to pay an inheritance tax on her land. (This also meant that Wulfgang could not participate as a pledge in the last case of the night, as his village persona was now dead.)

Thomas the beadle charged Eirik Andersen, village alderman, with not doing his share of the reaping. As pledge Thomas presented Yosho the reeve. For his pledge, Eirik presented Thorfinna gra'feldr, woodward. Thomas and Yosho alleged that Eirik had not done his share of the reaping, and that he had attempted to bribe Yosho to keep the matter out of court. Yosho presented the alleged bribe money to the court and gave it into the care of the beadle. Thorfinna and Eirik countered that as a Viking, Eirik lived on a boat in the lord's harbour, and did not own land, and therefore could not reap. Instead, he paid a yearly tax in lieu of that service. The money that the reeve alleged was a bribe was in fact Eirik's tax money. The lord and lady of the manor, worried over apparent corruption in their officers, stepped forward and said that Eirik was innocent, and Thomas and Yosho had to pay a fine of one gold coin for corruption.

Before the court could be closed, Pierre, on behalf of the Crown, after hearing so much perjury that day, ordered everyone to pay further fines to the manor (in effect, any gold coins they still had on their person).

The canton then decided that the court was so much fun that it should be held twice a year. To facilitate this, it was agreed that the canton appointments should be shuffled so that those dynamics will change for next time. Likely Ardchreag will continue with its manorial courts in late October and May (around the times when the hallmote and frankpledge courts would have been held).

All in all the experiment was a great success. Everyone had fun and over one hundred dollars was raised to help defray canton event costs.

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