Sunday, 27 October 2013

The Moot of Ealdormere

By Duke Finnvarr de Taahe

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.)

Word has recently come to these lands that our sister principality, Northshield, will henceforth have a moot on the model of the moot of Ealdormere. That news thrilled me.
I think the moot of Ealdormere is one of the best things was have ever devised in this land. Not only is it a valuable and useful thing, it valuable and useful in a medieval way: the moots of Ealdormere, which as far as I can tell have few parallels in the Known World, restores to our Society an aspect of medieval life too often overlooked-- the althings, the parliaments, the councils and the moots were where important questions were hashed out.

Why do most of our kingdoms have no moots, no regular meetings of the people to consider common business? And how did it come about that we have a moot?

When our Society first began, in the lands of the Mists, it was no more that a tournament, a party that hoped to catch something of the spirit of chivalry. When tournament followed tournament, and the party began to grow into a soci ety, the founders realized the need for structure. To pro vide one, they enlisted the ideals of Crown and Nobility. Some who distinguished themselves above the rest, in prowess, generosity and learning, would be the leaders, foremost would be a king by right of arms and the queen who inspired him. This structure was strong on inspirational symbolism, but weak in practicality. This is not to denigrate what the founders did, for their work has lasted well. It was, however, not sufficient to meet all the problems of an evolving Society.

Eventually, as the Society in the West Kingdom became more complex, practical problems of authority needed to be settled. Who had the last word? The Western answer
was simple: The King‘s Word is Law. This phrase has never been a literal description of how the West Kingdom works – they have plenty of other laws, too – but there is
no obvious place for a popular assembly if the King‘s word is law. In other early kingdoms, notably the East and the Midrealm, the magic Western phrase was rejected by the founders. Concentrating that much power in one person‘s hands did not make sense to them. But neither did they devise an assembly to deal with the common business.
Consultation took place primarily among the royal officers, the Curia Regis.
In the early days, the kingdoms were small enough that a well-chosen Curia was reasonably representative. And truth to tell, most other people had little interest in mundane meetings, being quite content to chase the chivalric dream. It would have been difficult, maybe impossible, for those large, sparsely inhabited kingdoms to devise some form of assembly. The failure to do so, however, has left the people without any formal voice in most kingdoms. This, I believe, is not healthy, and this state of affairs has contributed to some ugly politics over the years.

Being human, we cannot escape politics. The real folk of the Middle Ages could not, and one of the ways they dealt with politics was by assembling and talking things out. It seems such a mundane necessity, actually getting together and talking our problems out in a practical way, but when we try to avoid it, we always pay a big price.

Ealdormere‘s moot came about because there were problems in these lands and they needed to be talked out. The first moot took place in the summer of A.S. XIX (1984).
This was soon after the splitting of Skraeling Althing from Septentria. In the recent past, the whole land had been united as a single lordship; now there were two baronies which needed to work together, but which had no structure that made this possible.

The standard Society answer to this situation was to ap point an officer: a deputy kingdom seneschal was ap pointed for Ontario. Tsivia bas Tamara was first in this office and did her best to provide leadership, but quickly found that a seneschal, for Ontario, had not a leg to stand on. Frustrated, she passed the office on to Ragni Dzintara.

Ragni soon realized that what Tsivia had tried to do was impossible. Unity could be restored only if there were common, inspiring symbols and institutions. She hoped we could imitate what Calontir had done once: choose a name, and then hold a tourney to choose a champion by right of arms to lead the people. But unless there was agreement that we were one people, none of this could happen. And thus the idea of a moot.

Ragni invited to our home, the original Amberhall, barons, baronesses, seneschals – the established leader – and any one else she knew would be interested. An afternoon and an evening were devoted to the question: were we one people? Was the old unity worth rebuilding? Should we choose a common name, one that would last and should we have champions of our own?
Well, of course the answer was yes. What‘s important is who answered the question. We had no king, queen, prince or princess of our own to speak and make a law. Baroness Enid, Baroness Caffa, Baron Aedan, respected people of vision, did not have the power, by themselves, to take such a great step, unless they knew the people would
take it with them. The people themselves had to answer it. And did, in the first moot, and in many after.

Thus the moot of Ealdormere is the oldest institution of Ealdormere. Before we had laws, arms, princes and princesses, even a name, there was the moot.

I claim no special virtue for Ealdormere in stumbling across this – though, preserving it reflects well on us. I think, perhaps, it is a different thing to build a kingdom from nothing, as in the early West, or the early Midrealm, and quite another to build one from existing, mature SCA communities. We did not have to put all our energy into conjuring up a chivalric dream; we were already well practiced at that. Nor was monarchy strange to us. We had the pieces and patterns for a medieval kingdom in hand, and had merely to work together to assemble them. The moot has been our way of doing this. Long may it continue.

Originally published in The Ursus #197, June 1996 A.S.

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