Sumptuary Laws in the SCA

by Lady Nastasiia Ivanova Medvedeva
Updated 1 Feb 2009

A common topic of conversation among newbies and on various garb-oriented email lists is that of sumptuary laws. In period, particularly later in period, some cities and countries enacted laws restricting what clothing, fabric, furs, lengths of trains, jewelry, etc, could be worn by different classes of people. The Elizabethan sumptuary statutes are listed here, which should give the reader an approximate idea of what it meant when sumptuary laws are discussed.

The purpose of this article, however, is to present sumptuary laws as they exist, or don't, throughout the SCA. Many newcomers to the Society, having been to a Renaissance Faire or half-remembering something about ancient Roman restrictions on the wearing of purple, often assume that there are such restrictions in the SCA. Usually, there are not, but there are misconceptions that seem to get propagated as quickly as they can be invented. Also, Law varies from Kingdom to Kingdom; a sumptuary law in one area may be nothing more than custom somewhere else, and unheard of in still a third place.

Some of the deepest-held beliefs about sumptuary laws in the SCA revolve around belts, specifically the white belt of a Knight. Many people believe that the white belt is reserved for a Knight by Corpora. This is untrue. Go ahead, look; we'll wait. :-) White belts and other regalia for Peerage orders is indeed reserved, but it does not appear in Corpora -- it's in the Ordinary, which is a listing of all regalia, names and devices registered by the College of Arms. This registering of the regalia for the Peerages is listed in the Cover Letter to the Letter of Returns and Acceptances, from Laurel Queen at Arms to the College of Arms, dated October 22, 1998:

Is it Regalia, is it a Badge?

There appears to be some confusion both in and out of the College as to what is registered as regalia. We are therefore directing Morselus to note in the A&O those pieces of regalia as badge/regalia to make it clearer. We are listing below the Society orders which were registered as regalia; we believe that some kingdom badges were also registered that way in the early 80's and will be investigating it. If so, they will be so designated in a cover letter as well. If any kingdom herald believes that his kingdom badge(s) may fall into this category, please contact us immediately with any available supporting evidence.

Note: these were all registered by Master Wilhelm, then Laurel, in June 1982.

These were registered as Society Orders and are protected throughout the SCA.

(Fieldless) A chapeau. (For the Order of the Pelican)
(Fieldless) A circular chain. (For the Order of Knighthood)
(Fieldless) A coronet embattled. (For Counts, Earls and Countesses)
(Fieldless) A coronet with strawberry leaves. (For Dukes and Duchesses)
(Fieldless) A crown.
(Fieldless) A pelican in its piety. (For the Order of the Pelican)
(Fieldless) A pelican vulning itself. (For the Order of the Pelican)
(Fieldless) A white baldric. (For the Order of Mastery of Arms)
(Fieldless) A white belt. (For the Order of Knighthood)
(Fieldless) A wreath of roses. (For the Order of the Rose)

We also want to reiterate something a number of our predecessors said. Anyone in the SCA, of whatever rank or status, may wear a thin metal band such as the type that is used to hold hair in its place or to hold a veil in its place.

What Laurel neglected to mention, is that the statement directly above is subject to Kingdom Law, since such regulation does appear in the laws of some kingdoms. It is not, however, regulated at Society level.

It is also useful to know that regalia granted in one kingdom may be worn without fear of repurcussion in other kingdoms, regardless of that kingdom's sumptuary laws. A practical example from Baron Tibor of Rock Valley, of the Kingdom of the East: " Baronial Coronet is golden: this would not be permitted in the Midrealm, where territorial barons wear gold, and landless [barons] wear silver. If I were to move to the Midrealm... Laurel ruled I could continue to wear the old coronet, not have to get a new one. But if I got a new one, it would have to be silver."

A Kingdom-by-Kingdom Look at Sumptuary Laws
Each kingdom appears in the order in which it was created.

The Kingdom of the West
The Kingdom of the West has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of the East
The Kingdom of the East has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of the Middle
The Kingdom of the Middle has sumptuary laws, found in Kingdom Law (PDF format); however, they are limited to headgear and badges of office and orders. These laws may be found in ARTICLE IX - Orders, Precedence, and Symbols of Rank, paragraphs IX-200 through IX-212.

The Kingdom of Atenveldt
The Kingdom of Atenveldt has Sumptuary Traditions. Atenveldt does reserve red belts to Squires, green belts to Apprentices, and yellow belts to Proteges. This Kingdom also restricts the wearing of circlets among the general populace to non-metal circlets.

The Kingdom of Meridies
The Kingdom of Meridies has extensive sumptuary laws, found in Kingdom Law. These laws restrict the wearing of unornamented metal circlets to members with Grants of Arms (1/2 inch maximum width) and Awards of Arms (1/4 inch maximum width). Non-peerage order medallions may only be worn on a ribbon; members of the Order of the Laurel and the Order of the Pelican may only wear their order medallions on a gold chain if they have sworn fealty, otherwise they too must wear them on ribbons. Meridies also restricts the use of different types of heraldic banners and flags; check Kingdom Law before building your banner!

The Kingdom of Caid
The Kingdom of Caid has no sumptuary laws. Caidan Kingdom Law may be found here (.PDF version) or here (.DOC version).

The Kingdom of Ansteorra
The Kingdom of Ansteorra has Coronet Sumptuary Laws, located in Article IX of Kingdom Law.

The Kingdom of Atlantia
The Kingdom of Atlantia actually has a law on their books stating that there are no sumptuary laws or restrictions in Atlantia.

The Kingdom of An Tir
The Kingdom of An Tir has no sumptuary laws, according to the webbed version of Kingdom Law.

The Kingdom of Calontir
The Kingdom of Calontir has sumptuary laws, found in Kingdom Law in Section II-300. These laws cover crowns and coronets, circlets, cloaks, collars of estate, badges of orders, unadorned chains, spurs, and heraldic display.

The Kingdom of Trimaris
The Kingdom of Trimaris has sumptuary laws. These laws regulate crowns, coronets, and circlets, regalia of the Peerages, belts of red, yellow, and green, and heraldic display.

The Kingdom of The Outlands
The Kingdom of The Outlands has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of Drachenwald
The Kingdom of Drachenwald has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of Artemisia
The Kingdom of Artemisia has Sumptuary Customs and Traditions published in Kingdom Law. (It is specified, however, that the sumptuary customs are published in Law as a convenience to the populace and should not be considered statutes.) These customs restrict the wearing of a metal circlet to Royal Peers and the Baronage. The sumptuary customs also codify collars of estate, mantles and capelets (including the numbers of rows of ermines), spurs, swords, belts, baldrics, and scarves.

The Kingdom of Aethelmearc
The Kingdom of Aethelmearc has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of Ealdormere
The Kingdom of Ealdormere has no sumptuary laws per se, but does regulate symbols of rank, as set forth in the Ordinary. These regulations may be found in Kingdom Law, in Section XII-200.

The Kingdom of Lochac
The Kingdom of Lochac has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of Northshield
The Kingdom of Northshield has no sumptuary laws.

The Kingdom of Gleann Abhann
The Kingdom of Gleann Abhann has no sumptuary laws.

I did not check laws of the various Principalities of the Knowne World, as I believe Principalities are subject to the Laws of their sponsoring Kingdom. I find it interesting that there are actually very very few Kingdoms with sumptuary laws that go beyond codifying the reserved regalia as set forth in the Ordinary. I also noted that Kingdoms that descended from the East (my home Kingdom) did not have any sumptuary laws -- following in the parent's footsteps, so to speak?

Please feel free to contact me with any questions, corrections or comments you may have. --Tasha