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Wednesday, August 5, 2020
Articles * Understanding SCA Law
 Understanding SCA Law: the Kingdom Seneschal’s Challenge  

Understanding SCA Law:
the Kingdom Seneschal's Challenge

(Published in Tournaments Illuminated in 2005.)
"One day in 2003, I woke up and realized I was Kingdom Seneschal for my Kingdom. Well, yes, I did apply for the job -- and no one misled me about the responsibilities. But like all new roles I tackle in the SCA, I found I knew nothing about the job until I had it. Yes, I'd known plenty of Kingdom Seneschals, and I'd been a Deputy Kingdom Seneschal for years, but the real work of the office came as a surprise anyway. The biggest challenge? Finding the real SCA rules apply to situations, then communicating those rules (and the reasons for them) to people in an understandable form. Understanding SCA Law is not easy, and most people do not understand how it's done…"
Duchess Katerina O'Callaghan
Former Atenveldt Kingdom Seneschal

What makes SCA "Law" so confusing?

Everyone in the SCA knows the SCA has official guidelines or "Laws", and they know the rules are published and available for all members to read and understand. So it should be simple to find out what rules apply in a given situation, right? Then why is it that people so often get into heated disagreements about what the SCA Law says?
Part of the answer is that the SCA does not use one set of rigid rules to define how every SCA group in the Known World does things. Instead, the organization has chosen to develop an umbrella of standards to ensure that SCA groups in different parts of the world abide by one set of Corporate regulations (the 10,000 foot view of how we operate), while allowing and preserving local traditions and customs created by SCA groups around the globe (the Kingdom, Principality, and local group view of how we operate). So, there is no single document that defines SCA Law. Instead, SCA groups operate according to the guidelines included in a set of Corporate, Kingdom, Principality, and local group guidelines, laws, and policies.

To understand how the rules in these SCA documents work, you have to know the following:
  • Which documents are included when someone talks about the "Law"
  • The order in which the guidelines in the documents are applied, i.e., which documents take precedence over others (this is called the "SCA Precedence of Law").
  • How overlapping guidelines in the documents work together to determine the rules that apply for a specific situation in a specific SCA group

What documents are included in "Law"?

Within the SCA, the word "Law" is used to describe the set of operating documents that define the rules used to manage the affairs of the group, and the running of the organization. On a corporate level, this includes the following documents:
  1. SCA Corporate By-Laws
  2. SCA Corporate Policies
  3. Corpora of the Society
  4. Society Officer's Policies, SCA Officer Handbooks, and Kingdom Financial Policies

All of these corporate documents can be found on the "SCA Publications & Official Documents" page of the SCA website at

In addition to the above-mentioned corporate documents, local jurisdictions like Kingdoms, Principalities, and Baronies can implement guidelines to govern the running of their lands. These local guidelines apply in a specific Kingdom, Principality or Barony, but do not apply in other SCA lands. These include the following types of "local jurisdiction" documents:

  1. Kingdom Law 
  2. Decisions of the Crown 
  3. Kingdom Policies 
  4. Principality Law 
  5. Decisions of the Coronet 
  6. Principality Policies 
  7. Decisions of the Territorial Barons and Baronesses 
  8. Baronial Policies 
  9. Shire/College Policies 

Kingdoms and Principalities are required to publish Kingdom and Principality Law and policy in their Kingdom newsletters. Copies of Kingdom Law, Kingdom Policies, Principality Law and Principality Policies are also usually available on Kingdom and Principality websites, and copies can always be obtained from Kingdom and Principality officers. Copies of Baronial or Shire policies can be obtained from the Seneschal of that Barony or Shire.

Where do Heraldic and Guild Charters fit in this?

In addition to documents that define Law, Corpora allows each Kingdom to codify their customs, branches and organization in orders or guilds that have "charters". Charters are primarily administrative tools that help a Kingdom define structure and procedures. Unless written into Kingdom or Principality law, organizational charters do not have the force of law.

What is the "SCA Precedence of Law"?

As explained above, the list of guidelines and rules that define the Law includes a number of corporate documents, as well as a number of Kingdom, Principality, and local group documents. As you prepare to review this list, remember that modern era law, regulations, and statutes always overrule the guidelines in any SCA document.

Within a Kingdom, if there is any conflict among the provisions of the following types of rules, those higher on this list overrule the provisions of those shown lower on the list. From highest to lowest, these include:

  1. SCA Corporate By-Laws
  2. SCA Corporate Policies
  3. Corpora of the Society
  4. Society Officer Policies and SCA Officer Handbooks approved by the SCA Board of Directors (this includes Kingdom Financial Policies)
  5. Kingdom Law
  6. Decisions of the Crown
  7. Kingdom Policies documented and published by Kingdom Great Officers that define enforceable policy in their specific areas of responsibility
  8. Principality Law
  9. Decisions of the Coronet
  10. Principality Policies documented and published by Principality Great Officers that define enforceable policy in their specific areas of responsibility
  11. Decisions of the Territorial Barons and Baronesses
  12. Baronial Policies documented and published by Baronial Great Officers that define enforceable policy in their specific areas of responsibility (these only apply in the Barony that enacts them)
  13. Shire/College Policies documented and published by Shire Great Officers that define enforceable policy in their specific areas of responsibility (these only apply in the Shire that enacts them)

This hierarchy of rules is called the "SCA Precedence of Law".

How do the documents in the "SCA Precedence of Law" work together?

One look at the SCA Precedence of Law makes it very clear why there are so many misunderstandings about what SCA rules apply in a given situation. It is easy to quote a rule in Corpora, but forget to check whether Kingdom or Principality Law or policy also applies additional restrictions or requirements.
The most common error made when researching a point of SCA Law is to only look at one of the documents in the SCA Precedence of Law, and then assume that the rules found in that one document explain all of the restrictions and requirements of the "Law". But it is not that simple. There are two critical things to remember when determining what constitutes SCA Law:

  1. All of the rules in the "SCA Precedence of Law" documents make up the Law. That means the rules you find in Corpora are the Law, and the rules you find in the SCA Officer Handbooks are the Law, and the rules in Kingdom Law are the Law, etc. So you must check all of the documents on the list.
  2. Lower levels of rules in "SCA Precedence of Law"  documents may add to the procedures/restrictions defined in a document "higher up" in the precedence, as long as they do not contradict or overrule the higher level rules. So additional restrictions can be added by Kingdoms, Principalities, and local groups.

So to determine what the Law is, you must look at all the documents, and apply all of the guidelines you find there.

EXAMPLE 1: What are the requirements to fight in a Crown List?
The Corpora of the Society states that to qualify to fight in a Crown List, a fighter must be a current member, have a consort of the opposite sex willing to serve as Crown with them, and the fighter and consort must have access to a Kingdom newsletter at their residence. 
Kingdom Law can add additional requirements for participation in a Crown list in a specific Kingdom (like submission of a Letter of Intent, or residency in the Kingdom, or submission of Heraldry), but it may not countermand the requirements of Corpora (like stating that SCA membership is optional to participate in a Crown List).
So the requirements to fight in a Crown List in a specific Kingdom are determined by applying all of the guidelines in Corpora and all of the guidelines in that Kingdom's Law.
EXAMPLE 2: What are the requirements for an Incipient Shire to advance to Shire status?
Corpora states Shire advancement may be granted when an Incipient Shire has at least five members, at least three officers (including a Seneschal, an Exchequer, and one of the following: a Herald, a Marshal, or a Minister of Arts and Sciences), a name registered with the College of Arms, and a consensus among members in the area favoring establishment of the Shire. 
However, Kingdom Law can add additional requirements for group advancement. For example, Atenveldt Kingdom Law requires that a new Shire also have 10 paid members (including five sustaining members living at three separate addresses); letters of support for the advancement from the Crown, Kingdom Great Officers, and the Landed Nobility (where appropriate) and Great Officers of the incipient group's sponsoring SCA group; a history of timely reporting to the appropriate superior officers; and a history of activities related to the Medieval and Renaissance times.
So in Atenveldt, an Incipient Shire can only advance to full Shire status when all of the Corpora and Atenveldt Kingdom law requirements are met. These guidelines may differ from the requirements an Incipient Group must meet to advance to Shire status in a different Kingdom.

Understanding SCA Law can be challenging, and rewarding.  Knowing the rules can make SCA goals easier to achieve, and can alleviate the frustrations created when people want change but do not know how to achieve it.  Remember, if you have questions about the Law, ask your local Seneschal.  If they do not know the answer, they will know who to ask to get an answer.

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