I’ve been hesitant to comment on this situation, because I’ve only heard second- and third-hand reports of what happened, but people who were actually involved have been describing their views on the forums, and I think both sides have now had the opportunity to present their stories. Besides, I don’t particularly like the idea of keeping my mouth shut because I’m afraid to say anything.
The controversy started when His Majesty (then still the Crown Prince) announced that there would be no Queen’s Rapier Champion during his reign. Such a choice is certainly His Majesty’s prerogative (assuming that Her Majesty is in agreement, I suppose), and this would hardly be the first reign since the creation of the award to not have a rapier champion. Nonetheless, the statement was upsetting, especially because of the way in which the news was originally passed on to the fencing community via a mailing list message from the Kingdom Rapier Marshal.
Greetings Rapier fighters of Meridies, and the others on this list. It is my sad duty to pass on to you all that their Royal Highnesses do not wish to have a Rapier Champion. Further They request that rapier not occur near them.Perhaps His Majesty did not realize it because this is his first time as King, but when you wear a Crown on your head, all of your statements tend to be regarded as Royal Edicts. Consequently, reaction to this message from the fencing community prompted an official explanation from His Majesty, which was published on SCA Today. He said...
I am receiving news from all over the Known World that I have quashed fencing in Meridies. Let me be clear! This is not true! We will not be sponsoring fencing during our reign, and we will not have a fencing champion during our reign. I do not fence. I do not enjoy watching fencing. I have personal views on the safety of fencing and its place in the SCA as it currently performed, but these are my personal views which are not manifested in my royal prerogative. I do not wish to negatively impact fencing in Meridies.His Majesty is not obliged to enjoy or support fencing, of course, but to say he is not going to sponsor fencing, to imply that it is unsafe, and to question its place in the SCA all in the same paragraph in which he says that he does not wish to negatively impact fencing in the Kingdom seems contradictory. The implication that fencing is not safe is particularly offensive to the fencing community and its marshals, especially since I am not aware of any evidence that fencing is less safe than any other martial activity in the SCA.
A more recent incident involving a member of the Order of the Meridian Blade has stirred even more unrest. I am not a member of the Order, so I can’t say with certainty what instructions they received from the Crown at the Order’s creation at Gulf Wars XIV. It is my understanding that the Crown instructed the original members of the Order to each found separate schools of fencing and organize them as they saw fit. Lord Ricarte Berenguer Halcon, for example, organized his school – La Gran Companiya – along the lines of a military organization, with himself as Captain and his students as privates, unit commanders, and champions. Other members of the Order had different plans, with the intent – as I understand it – to have a variety of Meridian traditions of fencing rather than adopt a particular tradition from another kingdom. I’m stating this because some posters on the message boards have said that the Order was overdue in specifying a single tradition for training and proposing new candidates, when I am not aware of them ever receiving such an instruction.
One member of the Order apparently decided to model his school after the White Scarf orders of other kingdoms, probably because he is himself a cadet to a White Scarf from Trimaris. Given the history of fencing in Meridies, the fencer might well have expected resistance from some members of the heavy fighting community and the Crown. According to message board posts, at least some people got the impression that he was trying to single-handedly force Meridies into the White Scarf Treaty. Given the context, I would have to say that using the trappings of the White Scarfs without consulting the Crown in advance was a bad idea, even though there are no specific Kingdom or Society laws against doing so.
That the Crown took offense at the fencer’s actions is not a problem. That His Majesty decided to put a stop to them is not a problem. How His Majesty chose to act on the matter is a problem, in my opinion. As I was not directly involved, I will not go into great detail: you can get information from people who were more directly involved from the linked message boards (particularly the thread at Armour Archives). The issue that bothers me is that His Majesty -- according to the KRM of the time -- held the entire fencing community hostage by threatening to ban fencing kingdom-wide in order to force an uncooperative individual to give up his fencing authorization. I have my own “personal views” as to whether such behavior is chivalrous or becoming of royalty.
I can only hope that we, as a Kingdom, can learn something from this drama. I think the Kingdom will be better off if prominent fencers think more carefully before taking such obviously provocative actions. I also think that the Crown should show more sensitivity to the feelings of its subjects in their pursuit of the Dream, whether the Crown personally enjoys those pursuits or not. I think both parties failed the Kingdom in this situation.