ursula: (bear)
[personal profile] ursula
Comments to the SCA's Board of Directors on the Same-Gender Consort Proposal for changes in Corpora are due Dec. 1.

Here's my letter.


Dear Board Members,

I write to comment on the proposed Corpora language,

"Each competitor in a Royal List must be fighting for a prospective consort of the opposite sex unless the Crown has elected to permit a competitor to fight for a prospective consort of the same sex."

My comments are long, so I have divided them into the following sections:

* My background
* Wording of the Corpora proposal
* Co-rulership as succession strategy
* Shared rule in Europe
* Co-rulership vs. gay marriage
* Bottom line


I am a citizen of Northshield; I have also lived in Caid and An Tir, and I have strong ties to the Midrealm, because my husband lived there for several years. I am a member of the Order of the Laurel. I received that honor for research in languages and heraldry. As a herald, I have conducted extensive research into medieval titles and ceremony. Most of this letter concerns my research into the medieval precedents for two kings simultaneously ruling a kingdom. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you are curious about the historical examples I refer to, or would like to discuss the evidence in more detail.


I support the proposal for changing Corpora. As I discuss below, I believe that allowing for the possibility of same-sex co-rulers will increase the authenticity of our recreations. I also believe that, in service to the ideals of chivalry and nobility, contestants in Crown Tourneys should fight for the person they believe will make the best King or Queen, not the person they find most attractive or the first person of the opposite sex who agrees to serve as consort.

I believe that this specific proposal for changing Corpora is badly worded, because it forces every single Crown to decide whether or not to discriminate against same-sex fighter/consort pairs. If the Board wishes to allow the Crown the option of excluding same-sex fighter/consort pairs in keeping with current tradition, it should add language to Corpora that explicitly permits kingdoms or Crowns to create additional qualifications for participation in Crown Tourneys. After all, kingdoms and individual Crowns already have some leeway to set requirements for Crown Tourney entrance that differ from the minimum Society requirements; for example, some kingdoms require that entrants in Crown Tourney have submitted names and devices for heraldic registration, while others do not. However, I would prefer a badly worded change in Corpora which permits same-sex Crowns to no change at all.


I specifically want to address the argument that the historical examples of same-sex co-rulers are scattered and contingent. I believe that this characterization distorts the historical record.

Many of us assume that primogeniture, where the oldest son inherits his father's lands and position, is the normal mode of kingly succession. Primogeniture did become more common over the course of the Middle Ages, and became an entrenched mode of royal succession in western Europe after the SCA's period. But primogeniture was never universal, and it is by no means a natural or self-evident principle. A ruler might wish all of his children to inherit both property and power. The inhabitants of a realm might wish to be ruled by the most capable or qualified candidate, rather than the eldest child of a previous ruler.

Co-rulership, where two (or more) people hold a title such as 'king', 'duke', or 'emperor', was a useful strategy for resolving competing claims for political power. The strategy was used both to effect compromise between rivals, and to ensure the succession of a favored heir. Thus, co-rulership was an alternative to primogeniture in some times and places, and a means of guaranteeing primogeniture in others. Co-rulership was the norm in many prominent medieval cultures, including Capetian France and the Byzantine empire, and appears occasionally in others throughout SCA period. Let me give a brief history of shared rule in Europe prior to 1600.


Under the Roman Republic, shared executive power was the law of the land: the heads of government were two consuls, elected for simultaneous one-year terms and with the power to veto each others' actions. The first Romans to share imperial power were Marcus Aurelius and Lucius Verus, adopted sons of Emperor Pius Antoninus. They were both granted the titles of Imperator and Caesar by the Roman senate in 161 AD, in accordance with the succession plans laid out by Antoninus' predecessor Hadrian. Lucius Verus died in 169; Marcus Aurelius' son Marcus Aurelius Commodus became the next co-emperor in 177. After Marcus Aurelius, shared imperial Roman rule was common. One notable example is the third-century rule of the soldiers Diocletian and Maximian, who designated Galerius and Constantius as junior co-rulers, using the title of Caesar.

The tradition of co-rulership continued under the Byzantines. The Byzantines used the co-emperor status as a means of dividing power among several legal heirs, as when Constantine I attempted to leave the empire to his three sons, Constantinus, Constantius, and Constans, as a means of recognizing a particular heir while the senior emperor still lived, and as a means of grasping power. Perhaps the most famous example of shared rule among the Byzantines is the case of Justin and Justinian; Justinian helped his uncle Justin gain power, was formally named co-emperor shortly before Justin's death, and duly succeeded him. As an example of the role co-emperorship could play in a power grab, I note the tenth-century Byzantine emperor Romanos Lekapenos. Romanos was an Armenian peasant's son who rose to prominence in the military, became the emperor Constantine VII's father-in-law, crowned himself co-emperor, and then proclaimed his own sons junior co-emperors. The Byzantines also provide an example of two women sharing rulership: in the eleventh century, the two sisters Zoe and Theodora ruled briefly as co-empresses. They both used the title of autokrator or emperor, and were featured together on coinage.

Co-rulership was common in early medieval Western Europe. In the Pictish king-lists, for example, there are several instances of pairs of kings described as "ruling together"; our data about the medieval Picts is scanty, but the king-lists tell us that these co-kings had different fathers. The most famous early medieval co-ruler may be Charlemagne, who ruled as co-king with his brother Carloman until Carloman's death in 771, and crowned two sons as co-rulers and heirs, first Charles the Younger, and then (after Charles' death) his second son Louis. There were also co-kings in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and Visigothic Spain, co-princes in Italy, and co-ruling brothers in the Welsh kingdoms of Gwynedd and Deheubarth. Sometimes co-rulers shared power amicably. Others chose to divide the kingship under duress, as when the eleventh-century King Magnus the Good of Norway and Denmark agreed to accept his uncle Harald Hardrada as co-king of Norway, in order to end Harald's raids on the Danish coast.

Between the tenth and twelfth centuries, the Capetian kings of France routinely crowned a son as co-king and heir, in an effort to control the succession. The ceremony was important in part because primogeniture was not automatic: for example, Constance of Arles, the wife of the eleventh-century ruler Robert the Pious, tried to persuade Robert the Pious to crown their son Robert as designated heir, rather than his older brother Henry.

In Anglo-Norman England, the twelfth-century king Stephen tried to have his son Eustace crowned as co-king and heir. However, the Archbishop of Canterbury supported Stephen's rival the Empress Matilda, and refused to perform the ceremony. Eventually, the Empress Matilda's son succeeded Stephen to the throne of England, and was crowned as Henry II. In turn, Henry arranged the coronation of his own son, also named Henry. (Henry the Young King died of dysentery, and never ruled alone.) The Anglo-Norman coronations of heirs may have been inspired by the Capetian example. In Ireland, the thirteenth-century king of Connacht, Cathal, crowned his oldest son Aodh as co-ruler in imitation of the Anglo-Norman tradition. Cathal favored the strategy of co-rulership because it gave him greater control over the succession process: ordinarily, other important nobles would expect a voice in the selection of the king's heir.

In the thirteenth century, the Count of Foix and the Bishop of Urgell resolved a dispute over the territory of Andorra by agreeing to share sovereignty as Princes of Andorra. The arrangement survives to this day: the modern heads of state of Andorra are the Bishop of Urgell and the President of France. Frederick the Fair and his cousin Louis the Bavarian made a less successful attempt to resolve a territorial dispute by co-rulership in the fourteenth century: although they agreed to rule the Holy Roman Empire jointly, the electors did not ratify their agreement. Instead, under the terms of the Treaty of Ulm Frederick became King of Germany, while Louis was crowned as Holy Roman Emperor.

We continue to see co-rulers in both Western and Eastern Europe through the end of the sixteenth century. The brothers Wilhelm and Ludwig ruled the Duchy of Bavaria jointly, for example. In sixteenth-century Russia, Ivan III ruled with his father Vasily the Blind. In late 1529 or early 1530, Sigismund I of Poland persuaded a group of noble senators to elect his son Sigismund II as co-king and successor; however, the Polish legislature responded to this royal attempt to override the nobility's prerogatives by banning future elections during the reigning monarch's lifetime. One of the best-known examples of sixteenth-century co-rulership involves rulers of opposite sexes: Charles I of Spain (also known as Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire) was a co-monarch of Spain, together with his mother Joanna.


Arguments for and against co-rulers in the SCA often parallel the arguments for and against gay marriage. The examples of historical same-sex co-rulers don't fit neatly into this rhetorical framework: some co-kings were rivals, some were friends or allies, and some were close relatives, but none of the same-sex co-rulers were married to each other.

There actually were some ancient and medieval ceremonies for the union of two men which may have been viewed as akin to marriage, and at least one medieval ruler, the Byzantine emperor Basil I, may have participated in such a ceremony. (Basil's political and romantic careers were, dare I say it, Byzantine: born a Macedonian peasant, Basil persuaded the emperor Michael III to crown him as a co-emperor, then arranged for Michael's murder.) John Boswell's book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe describes the case for viewing these ceremonies as similar to marriage; it also offers an excellent synopsis of the ways in which ancient and medieval assumptions about the nature of marriage differed from modern assumptions. Along the way, Boswell demonstrates that late antique and early medieval husbands and wives often referred to each other as "sister" and "brother": the terms conveyed affection and equality rather than suggesting incest, just as today one can use "baby" as a term of endearment for a significant other without suggesting statutory rape. One might speculate that "adopted brother" in a late antique context had the same connotations that "partner" does today!

Although research into medieval views of marriage and sexuality is fascinating, I believe that in the context of choosing SCA kings and queens, the topic is a bit of a red herring. After all, we don't require candidates for king and queen to be married, or pretend to be married. We don't even assume that they are romantically involved. Let me give an example from my kingdom's recent history: when I attended Northshield Coronation this fall, the newly crowned king and queen gave awards to the significant others of the former king and queen as one of their first actions, and the populace approved vociferously.

Moreover, it would be naive to assume that medieval kings and queens were ordinarily in love with each other: some were rivals, some were friends and allies, and some were relatives ruling together. I note that the situations where queens shared legal sovereignty with kings, rather than simply using the title of queen as a courtesy, are at least as varied as the situations where two kings shared sovereignty.


If our goal is to re-create the Middle Ages, we should allow for the possibility of two kings, or (in rare cases) two queens. If our goal is to encourage ideals of chivalry and nobility, we should ask contestants in Crown Tournaments to choose someone to fight for based on whom they will believe will be an excellent king or queen, not based on who is a member of the opposite sex or who is romantically available.

Written in the Shire of Shattered Oak in the Kingdom of Northshield in the year of grace two thousand and twelve.

Ursula Georges.
Companion of the Laurel, Lady of the Cygnus, Lady of the Jambe de Lion, and Companion of the Tsveti Madrone.
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