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Latter-Day Knights Battle for Imaginary Kingdoms

By Martin Croucher
Epoch Times UK Staff
Mar 17, 2008

EN GUARD: Participants of the Society for Creative Anachronism gather to fight for imaginary royal titles. (Elizabeth Brown)
EN GUARD: Participants of the Society for Creative Anachronism gather to fight for imaginary royal titles. (Elizabeth Brown)

Twice a year, Alesxander of Darlington snaps shut the visor of his suit of armour, raises his broadsword and charges at his opponent for the glory of his ancestral heraldry.

Through a trial by arms he hopes to one day claim the coveted prize of the position of Viceroy of Insula Draconis, a crown principality in the Kingdom of Drachenwald.

In real-life Alesxander is Alex Thompson, a married father of one from Co. Durham.

But Mr Thompson is not mad—at least not in the conventional sense.

He is instead a paid-up, long-term member of the Society of Creative Anachronism (SCA)—a world-wide network of fantasy re-enactment enthusiasts.

Hundreds of thousands of people across the world annually take part in tournaments to win noble or royal titles over invented kingdoms.

In SCA lingo Britain is known as Insula Draconis and Europe is known as Drachenwald.

Mr Thompson makes his own armour and every week travels to York to take part in combat practice to hone his skills in preparation for a national tournament in May where he has the chance to become the Viceroy over Britain.

He said: "I have fought in a couple before but never won one. I am quite a keen fighter but not a very good one. I don't practice as much as I should."

Swords are designed to look and weigh the same as the real thing, but are made of wood wrapped in duct tape for safety.

Suits of armour, which can range from £50 upwards, are made of metal with lots of padding.

Mr Thompson said that there are very strict safety standards in the hobby and individuals have to be trained to use certain weapons before they can take part in tournaments.

He said: "I am trained to use a sword and a shield and a pair of arms, but I couldn't use a spear for instance.

"Sometimes I've been hurt a little bit in combat, but that's because my armour is weak in that area. I just go home and beef it up so it won't happen again."

In case any injuries occur at SCA tournaments, a "chirurgeon" is often on hand to offer first aid.

There are around 170 paid up members of the hobby in Britain and Ireland, each of who compete in around 11 local tournaments in various "shires" across the principality in the course of a year.

The Viceroy and Vicereine, who hold office for six months only, gain office through a trial by arms in two national tournaments. The last was held in October and the next will be held in May.

In the last tournament, Clancy Fairchild won the position through strength of arms honed by an armed forces background in the American Air Force.

Mr Fairchild, who goes by the same name in SCA, lives in Cambridge with his wife and Vicereine, Deborah, who goes by the name of Ursula Sturladattes.

He said: "SCA is a like-minded group of history enthusiasts who research their hobby and live it out."

But SCA is by no means restricted to grown men clobbering each other with sticks. It involves a living history experience which can mean arts and crafts, calligraphy, fencing, dancing and heraldry. Mr Fairchild himself said that he had recently built a giant Saxon long-table for his wife.

Events, or "gatherings" as they are known, take the form of medieval tournaments culminating in authentic feasts which much mead and revelry.

According to the SCA website: "Members, dressed in clothing of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, attend events which may feature tournaments, arts exhibits, classes, workshops, dancing, feasts and more. Our 'royalty' hold courts at which they recognize and honor members for their contributions to the group."

The SCA was started in the hippie buzz of 1966 California by a group of Medieval Studies students who staged a mock joust with motorcycle helmets and wooden swords as a "protest against the 20th century".

The name "Society for Creative Anachronism" was first coined by science fiction author Marion Zimmer Bradley—an early participant who founded the "Kingdom of the East" from her home in New York.

Since then it has spread around the world with 30,000 members in 19 kingdoms, each the size of several American states or countries.

There are groups in most countries including Canada, New Zealand, Korea and even a burgeoning group in Antarctica.

Paralegal Robert Woodruff from Ogden, Utah, is known in SCA as "The Honorable Lord Robert Bedlam".

He said that he is part of the Kingdom of Artemisia, "in the Barony of Gryphon's Lair".

He said: "So far I have achieved a Grant of Arms. That means little on the outside, but in the SCA I am referred to as 'Your Lordship'. Quite an accomplishment for a young man who's family left the banks of the Stower River [Suffolk] for the new lands in the Colonies."

He added: "All the activities are fun in the SCA. This is one instance in life where we don't have to do it if it isn't fun."