Late Medieval Martial Service Contracts at Pennsic War XL, Part I – Inspiration

In January 2016 I moved from Illinois, or in SCA terminology, the region of the Midlands, to that of Constellation (Indiana). When fighting in melees I had always run with the Midlands, so what did this mean for this year’s great War? I had a number of options in front of me: I could remain fighting with my old region, start fighting with my new region, or choose between a handful of knights and households who have shown recent interest. But then I thought, “Why not fight with all of them?” I have always half-joked about being a freelancer. What better time than now to truly express that sentiment?

At this point I decided that looking for a historic analog would be helpful. After poking around some I decided that contracting myself out to various groups would be appropriate and entertaining. In England in the 1300s formal contracts of indenture existed for all manner of things: Land grants and other properties, rents and stewardship, apprenticeships, and others including martial services. These could be contracts by the King for a local lord to supply troops when necessary, subcontracts by captains for archers and men-at-arms, and other forms of indenture between soldiers and commanders.

Example from 1421 Scotland containing a property transfer from Malcolm Fleming to his cousin James. Note the “indented” cut along the top. Each party would keep their half of the contract. You can line the two up to verify authenticity.

Contracts contained 5 important elements. I’ll try to not go into too much detail here.

  1. Service the client was to perform.
  2. Conditional relationship between reward and service.
  3. Clients reward. Paid in various ways – Feudal incidents (life grants of land, grants of escheats, financial aid, rent charges, corrodies, or payments of cash annuities), wardships, marriage of heiress, appointments to benfices (permanent church appointment such as a rector or vicar).
  4. Contracts often stipulate not entering service of another lord without permission and that if the terms of the contract were retracted by the king, the contract would thus be voided and the pay would not have to be met.
  5. Finally, these contracts created lifetime relationships and punctiliously limited rewards to the life of the client.

With this newfound inspiration it was time to reach out to my contacts in the Society; commanders of the groups I wished to fight with.

Thank you for your interest in my participation with ______ at Pennsic. I don’t see that the daily battle scenarios are posted yet but I wanted to let you know what my plan will be. I am reaching out to the heads of the various households and commanders of the regions to figure out which day I am to fight with which group. Once that has been determined and the service and payment has been agreed upon I will draft up individual contracts in medieval style that spell out the details. Here are some payments that seem most flavorful and adapt well enough into the context of the SCA and Pennsic:

  • Payment of cash (Footsoldier 8d, Ensign or Light Cavalry 1s per day).
  • Free quarters and maintenance during my service. I take this as a meal and a place to camp for one night for my services on the field for one day. For practical reasons I will accept hospitality in the encampment in lieu of actually staying the night in the camp.
  • Livery fabric, badge, or article of clothing to display while in your service.
  • Token or memento of service performed.

My plan was to see what similarities and differences exist between the regions and houses in the Middle Kingdom. Casting a wide net at this particular event ensured the collection of a lot of data in a short amount of time. I was interested in being more than “SCA Fighter Default” and to that end sought more knowledge about my position in the armored community through this experiment. I also hoped not to just fight with them. In negotiating a contract for services there is inherent time spent with at least the commander of the groups. One of my payment suggested provisions for the night. I liked the idea of fighting with a group, then retiring to their camp for dinner and evening entertainment. More than anything I wanted to have fun playing with medieval feudalism concepts and apply them to what we do in the Society.

Next up… Part II – Drafting the Contracts

A few links related about indentured contracts in the medieval era and within the SCA:

History in Deed: Medieval Society & The Law in England, 1100-1600,-239,68


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