Johanna Dudley, the first authorized female fighter in the East and former Baroness of Carolingia, kindly answered questions about her memories of the SCA for the Gazette.
You were the first female fighter in the East Kingdom. Can you tell us how that came about?
Yes, with one small correction, I believe that I was the first “authorized” female fighter here. I remember at least two women in the East who fought before me: Tabitha of Carolingia, and another woman whose name I’ve forgotten. Those women fought (but became inactive) before any authorization was required and before I took up fighting.
When the new authorization rules took effect, our King decided to ban women from the lists during his reign. Those who know me well, know that I have a hard time when someone tells not to do something without a good reason.
Why did you decide to take up heavy list?
As a kid, I’d always thought that being one of Robin Hood’s merry foresters would be far more fun than being a princess. I’d heard about Boudicca and other warrior queens leading their troops, and I thought it would be awesome to swing a sword. It was!
Some fighters didn’t want me in the lists, but there were several who were kind enough to teach me some basic techniques. There was even a last-minute rule change to try to prevent me from authorizing. Just a few minutes before my bout, the marshals took me aside and told me that I had to wear a cup. Of course I didn’t have one, so they probably thought that would be the end of it. I was very embarrassed, but angry enough to ask around until I found a fighter who reluctantly agreed to let me borrow his. I did wear that cup during the bout, duct-taped to my upper arm for all to see, since the marshals didn’t specify WHERE I had to wear it.
When you watch fighting now, what differences or similarities stand out to you?
I am still amazed by all the armor that is now required, although I think it is much safer.
I had a Freon “nose-biter” helmet (still have the scar), hockey gloves, basketball pads on elbows and knees. I sometimes even fought barefoot. I tried various bulky body padding, but preferred the unrestricted movement.
You’ve been a territorial baroness. How would you describe the job for someone who is new? Any stories of what made the job special?
Being a territorial baroness is such a wonderful job because you have the ability and resources to make magic moments for others. You get to serve as the focal point for pageantry at local events. You also have the great privilege of showcasing all the best parts of your wonderful barony to the entire Knowne World. All of those skilled, hard-working people, with their many special talents are yours to boast of. In a huge barony like Carolingia, that is really saying something.
As baroness, you can create opportunities for your populace to shine. By doing that, you enrich their experience and help them create special moments for themselves and others. You get to do nice things for well-deserving people, just because you can. Sometimes you even get to fill in for the royalty, presiding over an activity they are unable to attend.
What people may not realize is the amount of behind-the-scenes administrative work and organizing that takes place to make things happen in a large barony. Writing award recommendations, coordinating with royalty, writing thank you notes, arranging prizes and baronial court business, coordinating with autocrats and event staff, making sure everybody and every thing are all in the right place at the right time with all the right stuff–some weeks taking care of the little details was nearly a full-time job.
I think my very favorite memory was processing with all of our baronial fighters and friends out to the Pennsic field battle. Our beautiful new banners could be seen way across the field and the procession led by our herald was about a block and a half long. We turned a corner in the marketplace and could not see the end of the procession. We were very proud, indeed.
You must have many wonderful personal memories of the SCA. Was there a moment that stands out because of its significance to the East Kingdom’s history?
I was very excited to attend Pennsic III. That was in Ohio, before we were at Cooper’s Lake. I remember the misty morning of the battle, hearing bagpipes in the distance, and watching the forces assemble. It was amazing to see so many fighters in armor all in one place–I think there must have been 30 of them!
What was your first event? And what made you stay?
My first event was in AS VIII, in Carolingia, on a gloriously windy fall day on Cambridge Common. It was not long after Pennsic II, and the Prince of the East, Aonghais, was there. I met a lot of nice folks and enjoyed watching the tournament and chatting. There was no event feast, so most of the company walked to a nearby Chinese restaurant for dinner in one of its function rooms. My boyfriend at the time and I were too poor to join them, so we disappeared for a suitable while. Then we dropped in to the restaurant a little later to ask if my boyfriend could serenade them with his lute while they dined. When he finished playing, the Prince rose up from his chair and removed one of the metal armbands he was wearing. He raised a toast and tossed the bracelet and everyone cheered. The entire day was very special.
The thing I’ve always loved about the SCA is that you can pretty much play the way you want. You can always try new things. You can make friends from many walks of life, from all over the world. You can keep learning about the daily life of your persona. You can find ways to encourage chivalry and pageantry. You can re-invent yourself as often as you wish!
Which people made an impact on you in the SCA and why?
My goodness, I’ve had the good fortune to have had so many friends.
I met Lord John of Canterbury and Sir Michael of York at my earliest events. They both remain shining examples of kindness and courtesy to this day.
The late Duke Gyrth Oldcastle of the East and later Atlantia, fought for me in a Crown Tournament. That was a tremendous compliment that I will always treasure. He told me many tales of ancient battles and recited poems, patiently explained bits of Latin, and also helped train me as a fighter. I think of him often.
I always admired Lady Eugenie de Bruge’s razor-sharp wit. I was quite thrilled to see her again at Carolingia’s 40th Anniversary event.
I could go on and on…
Could you share with us a moment – or several moments – that describe what makes the SCA special for you?
When I was a kid, I was fascinated with wondering about aspects of every day life in other times and in other lands–what did other kids do, what did they eat, how did they play. I loved geography and history.
In the SCA, I love realizing that the music in the background is live, that a talented musician has quietly taken a seat just within earshot, and is softly playing. I love seeing the couple next to me in a crowd recognize a tune from their personas’ country and breaking into a spontaneous little dance. I live for those special little moments when things feel real to me, such as waking up at a woodsy camping event and watching and listening as everyone begins to wake and get their day started: sounds of chopping wood, pots banging, smoke, and scents of cooking, someone soothing a baby, someone pounding out armor dents, smartly dressed squires rushing around to repair their knight’s armor and polish his boots, troops mustering…
I remember helping to cook a feast over an open fire. The guests were seated inside a large pavilion, enjoying their meal, when we began to hear drums approaching. Peaking through the fence, we spied a very large troupe of mummers processing towards our gate. As the rest of the procession arrived, several of the masked mummers sported with the cooks, playfully chasing us about the courtyard, being just the right amount of scary.
Another hot afternoon I was in charge of hospitality at the nearly deserted EK Royal camp, with several of my ladies. Their Majesties and Highnesses were all off attending various functions, and things were a little bit dull. Suddenly we noticed a ruckus at the gate, which was barred. I spotted a tall knight with his noisy escort, jubilant that he’d just captured a Midrealm banner in the Woods Battle, which he was proudly brandishing for all to see. I was thrilled to command the guards (who didn’t recognize him) to unbar the gate and let him in without delay, while I sent a runner to the King.
How has the SCA in general changed since you joined, and what would you like to see it do in order to continue to be vibrant and growing?
The sheer size of events is the biggest change. I joined before there was an internet and access to personal computers. Historic research is so much more accessible–I love that. Frequent modern business and military travel means we get to meet many more visitors from other lands.
To see the SCA continue to grow and be vibrant, I would encourage those to make time at every event to speak to at least one person they don’t know. It is easy to get caught up in one’s activities and busy-ness, and it isn’t always easy to make small talk with strangers, but the rewards are great.