Favors are a fascinating SCAdianism. Their origins lie in the romantic-medieval custom of a lady tearing off her sleeve and presenting it to her knight before he entered combat, so that he would remember her and fight for her honor. It was also a way for a lady to publically bestow her favor – a tangible symbol of an intangible gift. It’s not actually clear if this favor-giving happened in the “real world,” but it shows up in Arthurian literature, and in many Victorian-age paintings from the Pre-Raphaelite school.
Well, in the SCA, we don’t want to go tearing off our sleeves …. so we’ve put a different twist on it. We make little rectangular favors to hang off belts, and embellish them with symbols that are meaningful to the giver and to the recipient.
Some people dislike and do not encourage the wearing of favors, for various reasons: They’re inauthentic, they can promote factionalization of a group, or they just plain clutter up one’s silhouette in a fashion sense. And how do you wear a favor if you don’t have a belt, or if it clashes horribly?
But others appreciate the richness and complexity of favors. If it brings you pleasure, by all means, feel free to engage in this very interesting social behavior!
Favors come in many types. I don’t know if there’s any formal classification of these, but I love to sort and define things, so I’ll give it a try…..
There are “romantic” favors, exchanged between a lover and a beloved.
There are “tournament” favors. These are seen most commonly nowadays at Crown Tourneys, where the entrant wears the favor of his or her prospective Consort. It used to be the case that nobody would think of entering a Crown Tourney without wearing a favor, but the custom is starting to fall out of use (sadly, in my opinion!) For regular tournaments, the use of favors is also less common than it used to be. In the old days of the SCA, it was customary for fighters in any tourney to wear favors from their admirers. (I remember Duke Morghun Sheridan, who had so many favors from so many admirers, they wouldn’t all fit on his very ample belt….) Tournament favors sometimes are a use-once thing; after the tourney, the fighter would return the favor saying “I hope I fought well and earned your praise” or some such humble sentiment, and the giver of the favor would take it back, to bestow it again later on the same or on a different fighter. With a Tournament Favor, the favor is a tangible reminder that the fighter is fighting not for personal glory but for somebody else’s honor.
There are “allegiance” favors, used to identify members of a group, clan, or household. (Bluefeathers, Ougleys, Dark Horde, or shire or Kingdom favors fall into this category).
Related to “allegiance” favors are “fealty” favors. Members of the Peerage will sometimes ask those they hold in fealty to wear a visible token representing that Peer, so it will be known who they “belong” to. (“Oh, I see you’re wearing Marieke’s Leaf, and you did *what*???? (whether good or bad….) I’m going to tell Marieke!!!) These favors sometimes show up on the ends of red, yellow or green belts (for squires, protegess or apprentices), or sometimes the’re worn as rectangular cloth belt favors.
There are “job” favors, used as a way to identify people who carry out certain duties or services: chirurgeons, water-bearers, Royal staff, or certain elected or honorary offices. For example, the good people to the north of us have a “translator’s favor” (a white T on a blue background) which indicates that they are willing to serve, at any time, as a bridge between the French- and the English-speaking members of our society.
There are “award” favors. Certain Kingdom awards are sometimes worn as favors – for instance, Queen Isabella’s “Queen’s Honor of Distinction.”
And I think that’s about it, but if I left something out, somebody should jump in!
Oh – I’ve been talking about favors as if they have to be rectangular fabric thingies. That’s not necessarily true. I’ve seen scarves, leather dangly-bits, rings and pendants, bear claws, and yes, even strips of fabric torn from the hem of a shift, used as favors.
How can you tell what type of favor somebody’s wearing? Just ask – people love to talk about them, and it’s a great way to start a conversation.
Favors add a lot of color and complexity to our Society. They’re not particularly authentic, the way we use them in the SCA, but as an expression of our cultural uniqueness, they have a value…. I think it’s sad that they seem to be falling out of use, especially in the more “chivalric” senses of meaning that they can have.
Anyway – here endeth the dissertation! Have fun….. Duchess Marieke
Read about more SCAisms here.