The issue of term limits for Territorial Barons and Baroness has been discussed occasionally on the Internet newsgroup, rec.org.sca, and within several kingdoms in the SCA. In many kingdoms, Territorial Barons and Baronesses have traditionally served their posts for indefinite periods of time. Within some of these kingdoms, individual baronies have made term limits for their Barons and Baronesses a part of their charters. At least one kingdom, Atlantia, has made term limits for Territorial Barons and Baronesses a part of Kingdom Law. I would like to address this issue as a former Territorial Baroness who served under a Baronial charter in which term limits were specified and in a Kingdom in which such term limits became kingdom law during my tenure.
In Atlantia, Kingdom law that states that Territorial Barons and/or Baronesses may not hold that position longer than four consecutive years. How that is arranged is up to the Barony (up to four one-year terms, two two-year terms, one three-year term, or one four-year term). Territorial Barons and Baronesses who have stepped down may present themselves for appointment again after someone else has filled the position for at least one term. Before that law was put into place, several Baronies had already written term limits into their charters; my Barony, the Barony of Ponte Alto, was one of them. We in Ponte Alto had seen term limits work for the Barony of Black Diamond (also in Atlantia) and included such limits in our charter (specifically, Barons and/or Baronesses have a two-year term with an option of a second term after a “vote” of confidence. After someone else has filled the post, the previous Baron and/or Baroness may become a candidate for the post again).
When the kingdom law was first presented, there was grumbling about changing tradition, but once the law was in place, most of the Territorial Barons and Baronesses were relieved that have such a law for many of the reasons stated below.
I have also seen and experienced the situation where the Territorial Baron and/or Baroness were no longer effective at their positions (mostly due to their burning out), but not so much so that the Crown had cause to remove them. It is not easy for a group to say to the people holding a respected position within their group and within the Kingdom (especially if they had done a good job in the post in earlier years) that it is time to step down and take a break.
In a past discussion on this issue on the news group rec.org.sca, a gentleman said that the quality of performing as a Baron or Baroness will not change much over time. I must disagree. People do burn out (after four years, my lord and I burned out). People’s interests and commitments change. People who start out doing a good job as Territorial Baron and/or Baroness can lose interest and not give that job the full attention and energy it deserves over time, or they acquire modern career or family responsibilities that prevent them from doing as good a job as they might want. If you are really giving the job the energy it deserves, you probably cannot sustain that level for long periods of time.
Yet it can be difficult to voluntarily step down without structured and impersonal provisions for doing so. The group may be complacent and disinclined to change the status quo, or unwilling to tell a once-popular and once-effective Territorial Baron and/or Baroness that it is time for him or her to step down. The Baron and/or Baroness may not realize just how burned out they are, or may have too much pride to step down, or in worse-case scenarios, be too caught up in power games to want to give up their position (which they may be using to the detriment of their Barony). In any of these cases, the Baron and/or Baroness may be performing minimally enough that the Crown has no justification for removal. Perhaps they want to step down, but the populace pressures them to stay. Term limits allow the Baron or Baroness a way to step down gracefully without stepping on anyone’s pride and, at the same time, minimizing negative impacts on the group and on the Crown.
Benefits to the Barony and to the Kingdom:
- Persons can give a higher level of energy and activity in the position of Territorial Baron/Baroness because they know that they will only be in the post for a specific period of time, instead of having to pace themselves for 10, 15, 20 years. This means that the Territorial Barons/Baronesses can be a more active liaisons between their Barony and the Crown and can do more things to promote the Barony’s interests and well-being with less risk of burnout.
- Persons who are not as effective cannot stay in the post long enough to do real damage to the group.
- Allows a wider variety (and/or larger number) of the Baronial populace a chance to contribute their leadership abilities and skills to the Barony and to the Kingdom.
Benefits to the person holding the post:
- Allows person to step down gracefully without having to swallow his or her pride or having to dealing with (often conflicting) pressures from the populace or political factions.
- Allows person to focus more intently on his or her contribution to the Barony and to the Kingdom and leave a legacy to the group of which they can be proud.
- Minimizes burnout.
- If one chooses to take up the post again and is appointed to it again, that person can do so with renewed energy and after having time to digest the first experience and learn from it.
I must recognize here that different Kingdoms have different expectations for Territorial Baron and Baronesses. Corpora states that the duties of the Territorial Baronage are what the Crown designate. In my discussions with Territorial Barons and Baronesses from Kingdoms other than Atlantia, I found during my tenure that Atlantian Crowns have demanded more, sometimes much more, of Atlantian Territorial Barons than other Kingdoms have demanded of theirs. Perhaps in less demanding Kingdoms, term limits are not as serviceable as they are in Atlantia. I do believe, however, that most baronies will benefit from having periodic injections of “new blood” as Territorial Baron and/or Baroness and from giving different members of their populace a chance to have such an honor.
When my lord, Master Niall McKennett and I were honored with being appointed the first Baron and Baroness of Ponte Alto (February 1992, term ended February 1996), we set ourselves a series of tasks we wanted to accomplish to benefit the Barony (most we did and some we did not … ). In addition, the various Monarchs also had a number of duties for us. We tried our best and gave a great deal of ourselves to accomplish as many of these goals and duties we could. By the time we reached the end of our fourth year, we had had a wonderful time, but were exhausted from the effort. If we had been appointed to an indefinite term, we would not have accomplished as much as we did, even over a longer period of time, because changes in our family responsibilities and our job responsibilities would have eaten into our level of activity and diluted our commitment, and burnout was probably inevitable, even if it might have taken longer to appear.
It is much better to leave when you are at the peak of your “career,” and have people remember you fondly than to hang in so long that your efforts degenerate and your group start grumbling about how they can get rid of you. It is easier and better for you and the group if there is a regular and structured system of term limits and procedures for succession.