Knightly News — Sir Who?

 You readers who have studied at The Windsor Institute are all very familiar with The Royal Orders.  However, many of you have not been students here.  You stop by our site to read this blog, and you are not aware of The Institute’s traditions and culture. As you read these postings each week you must wonder who is Sir So-and-So?  Why is this one called Lord, and this one His Grace?  This posting was written for you. 

The Royal Orders is a combination honor society and fraternity.  Its purpose is two-fold:  to recognize those students who have accomplished an established level of achievement, and for the rest of us to have  fun while we do it.   

The Orders were founded in 1999 for a reason. Susanna had been pondering how to recognize the large number of people who had taken most of our classes.  In doing so, these folk had become accomplished chairmakers.  They  also had become  an important asset.   If we were short handed and needed help or, if we had a problem and needed advice, we turned to them.  Susanna wanted to honor them in some way.  

During this time the magazine Woodworkers Journal published a profile on me, and  in it, they called me “the Crown Prince of Windsor chairmakers.”  One of our teachers joked to Susanna, “If he’s a prince why doesn’t he have any knights?”  That was all Susanna’s fertile mind needed.  She decided to create the Knights of Windsor. 

As I noted in an earlier post, Susanna is the strategist.  I am a tactician.  She figures out where we need to go and what we need to do, then she directs me to make it happen.  In other words, she is the head and I am the hands.  She told me to take care of the details of creating the Knights of Windsor.  

I had a great deal of fun establishing the Knights.  In consultation  with our core students, we  came up with a five-course curriculum that we felt introduced a chairmaker to the breadth of chairmaking.   In other words, the experience would give the student some knowledge of everything. (Later, we came up with ways for them to experience the depth of chairmaking.)  

Our introductory chair, sack back (which everyone has to take) heads the list.  After that, the student who wishes to be inducted into knighthood   has to do c-arm, NYC bow back, Nantucket fan back, and one elective. The remaining four classes can be taken in any order.   In sack back we teach chairmaking.  In this class the student learns how chairs are made. (The process is  very different from other furniture forms.)  C-arm introduces the shield seat, the braced back, two-plane bending, and focuses intensely on design.  NYC is an appropriate side chair for sack back and c-arm, and enables the chairmaker to make sets.  Nantucket fan back teaches the crested chair, applied arms (as opposed to bent), and carving.  An elective adds additional skills of the student’s choosing.  

As soon as we established the criteria for knighthood, a number of students immediately qualified.  I made up an elaborate proclamation, full of lots of big, flowery, and official sounding words proclaiming the recipient a Knight of Windsor.  We mailed the proclamations to these original members.  

A larger number of people were only one or two classes away from completing the curriculum.  We wanted them to receive their proclamations when they completed the requirements, and while they were in the company of their fellow chairmakers.   Accomplishing this required a ceremony. Susanna reminded me that The Institute has a culture of fun, and not to make the ceremony heavy and ponderous (as if I needed to be told to have a good laugh.)  

Ceremonies require people to dress-up.  Susanna went to the local party store and bought plastic helmets, swords, breast plates and shields.  For me, the crown prince, she purchased a cardboard crown covered in gold glitter.  Her  sister Carol made me a purple robe with faux-ermine shawl.  Finally, she purchased for me a ring with an enormous red glass jewel.  We called the ceremony a “knighting.” 

Our first knightings were basically the same as they are today, but we have added considerably to our tradition.  Over time, names have been given to every person, every object,  and every action involved.  There is the Honor Cordon, the Long Kiss,  the Royal Curly Maple Spoke Shave, the Giant Shave,  the Bauble, the Noble Steed, the Candidate, the Keeper of the Privy Seal, the Lord Chamberlain, the Princeling, the Assembled Multitude, the Royal Piper,  etc. In other words we keep making the ceremony more elaborate, without loosing its original silliness.   As more and more people became Knights of Windsor, they began to press us for another level of accomplishment.  We decided to add two new  ranks above Knight.  These higher ranks too, would recognize achievement.   Taking all our courses would raise a knight to the rank of Earl of Windsor, done in a ceremony called an “earling.”  An earl is addressed as Lord So-and-So. 

 An earl can return to The Institute, don a staff jersey, and help teach a sack back class.  This elevates the earl to Duke of Windsor, the highest rank in chairmaking.  The ceremony is called a “duking” and a Duke is addressed as “Your Grace.”  The members of this rank form the College of Dukes.  This is indeed an illustrious group. As of this writing, there are only 16 members in the College.     

A duke can be given an additional official title, but only for special reasons. H.G. Ed Fisher (who also served a long and honorable term as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Chairmakers Hall of Fame)  was the first chairmaker to become a Duke.  His official title is “His Grace Ed Fisher, First Duke of Windsor.”  We will be soon honoring another duke with a title, but until it happens, it is secret.  

The newly added ranks of earl and duke caused us to change the name of the Knights of Windsor to The Royal Orders. They also allowed us to add depth to our program, as mentioned above.  An earl  has taken all our classes, and understands chairmaking inside and out. The teaching stint required of a duke proves the chairmaker’s skill. Helping beginners requires one be very good at this craft.  

As you can see from the curriculum requirements, knightings and earlings take place during advanced classes.  On the other hand, dukings most often occur during sack back classes, as the candidate is required to help teach a sack back class.  (The College will grant an occasional dispensation.)   

More and more women have taken up chairmaking and it was only a matter of time before they started entering The Royal Orders.  There are now many.  Anticipating this, we did some research.  We found that a woman of knight’s rank is a dame; of earl’s rank is a lady; and of duke’s rank a duchesse.  When  a local costume shop went out of business  Susanna bought out their stock of medieval gowns.  While a woman joining The Orders can wear armor if she chooses, she can also select a gown from the wardrobe.  Most do this. 

As The Royal Orders grew, people who had taken classes together also started being inducted together.  We have  husbands and wives, fathers and sons, buddies, a father-in-law and son-in-law, and even a pair of sisters – Dames Karen Henderson and Sherri Heavner.  By the way, our youngest knight was inducted at age 19. The oldest was 82. 

So many people from other countries take classes at The Institute, it was only a matter of time before some of them qualified for knighthood.  We decided to grant the additional title of First Knight to the first chairmaker from another country to be inducted.  The First Knight is the commander of any other knights from the same country.  He or she assumes priority in the honor cordon and carries that country’s flag.  Sir Lyndon Gallagher is the First Knight of Canada, and Sieur Vincent Lavarenne is Le Premier Chevalier de France.  We conducted his knighting (and that of Sieur Jean-Francois Theoret of Quebec) in French.  Chairmakers from Australia and Norway are getting close to knighthood.   Crown princes eventually end up becoming king.  That happened to me when Sandor Nagyszalanczy  called me the “King of Windsor” in his book Setting Up Shop.   Now, when I dub someone with the Giant Spoke shave it is no longer as crown prince, but as king.  

As the traditions of the Royal Orders developed, we added a section to our old printed version of The Windsor Chronicles called the “Knightly News.”  We retain this title for postings on this blog about The Orders.  The knights have their own drinking song “Drink to Those Bold Windsor Knights.” In their athletic contests with our rival school Shakermaker U.  our glee club sings “Those Fighting Windsor Men.”  Both songs are available on an audio cassette of Windsor chairmaking songs through the Windsor Institute’s on-line catalog.   

We also decided each rank in The Orders  should have its own theme music.  Mine is “If I Were King of the Forest” from the Wizard of Oz.  It plays as I descend the staircase to assume my throne. Knights descend to their theme “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues.  Dames do the same to “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from the musical South Pacific.  Earls enter to “Speedo” by the Cadillacs.  It contains the verse “My friends call me Speedo, but my real name is Mr. Earl.” Is there any doubt for the Ladies theme?  It is “She’s a Lady” by Tom Jones.  We are yet unable to find a suitable theme for duchesses.  So, like dukes they enter to  “Duke of Earl” by Gene Chandler.   

When Sir Fred Chellis joined   the teaching staff, he became the Royal Piper.  Fred dresses in full piper’s regalia and pipes in the honor cordon to The Institute’s hymn “All Hail to Thee Windsor.”   Every student here knows the hymn, as it is also on the audio tape,  and is  played at every graduation.  

His Grace Don Harper also teaches here with Fred and me.  Being a Duke, His Grace is usually the cordon’s ranking member.  As such, he descends at the head of the cordon, mounted on the hobby horse named the Noble Steed.  

Plaques bearing the names and induction dates of knights, earls, and dukes line the staircase at The Institute.  Two members of The Royal Orders are deceased.  In their honor, a trophy made of a shield and helmet hangs in the library.  Under the trophy is another plaque bearing their names.   We enjoy the company of the members of The Orders, and miss them very much when they leave us. 

That is a brief history of The Royal Orders.  In a future posting, I will describe a ceremony.  However, anyone who has attended an actual knighting, earling, or duking will tell you that words are inadequate. A Royal Orders ceremony  must be experienced.