Saturday, April 11
SALEM, N.Y. — For the past six months, the Queen of the vast East Kingdom, which extends up the eastern seaboard and into Canada, has been a local woman, Allison Hewett.

That is, the Salem resident is a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism, a worldwide group of history enthusiasts who do more than read historical novels. They study the past and seek to physically recreate elements of medieval life.

Hewett, 32, who is known in the organization as Queen Alethea Eastriding, said the society was created during a party in California 40 years ago and has spread east through the United States and Canada and into Europe, Israel and South Africa.

On weekends, she dresses as queen in outfits that would have been common in 12th century England, while others wear outfits and gear from late Roman periods to the early Renaissance. A few people have been known to dress in ancient Egyptian, or even Aztec, styles.

Hewett will be abdicating her crown today to someone else in the SCA. To become a king or a queen, a person must first win a combat tournament. Once they win, they become a prince or a princess and then select someone to be crowned along with them.

All Hail New Jersey!

John Heren, also known as Darius Aurelieus, won his crown in April 2008, and because his wife didn't want to be queen, he selected Hewett for the role. She will be giving up her title to a woman from New Jersey at a gathering today in Kingston.

Hewett said staged combat tends to be the main attraction at events. Combatants dress in metal armor and engage in full-contact battles using swords made from rattan, a bamboo-like material. Before anyone is allowed to enter combat they must first be 18 years old, sign a waver and be trained by a SCA marshal.

"It's possibly the only sport in the world where the loser determines the winner," she said. When a person is hit on the arm hard enough, they make the call whether the arm is "severed" and tuck it behind their back. If they take a hit to the head or chest, the one who gets hit judges whether or not it was fatal.

Hewett said people who enter combat take it seriously and most are good sports. "If you're stupid enough for long enough, you'll get pulled aside," she said.

Being queen doesn't stop Hewett from fighting. She said that even in medieval days, women would sometimes fight to defend fortifications while the men were away. "I had a couple of beautiful bruises on my arms from combat last month," she said.

Battles are not gender segregated, she added, citing a case of a woman in Texas who defeated her husband in a coronation tournament, then allowed him to be king.

While Hewett's status as queen doesn't afford her any real world authority, within the confines of SCA rules, her word is law. Most of her duties involve granting awards to SCA members who do well in combat or perform a service to the SCA, but she also may be called upon to settle disputes.

"Most of the problems I end up having to put down involve people," she said.

It's a challenge

Kingdoms are broken down into smaller groups, called shires or baronies. Over time, centers of activity shift and groups may want to form their own shires rather than drive several hours to meets. Sorting out where one barony's border ends and another begins can be a challenge.

The largest SCA events in the East Kingdom can attract up to 800 people. Hewett said it's impossible to tell how many people are in her kingdom because not all who attend must be SCA members (although everyone who shows up has to be in costume).

Her time as queen has been a growth experience, she said. A former librarian and stage manager, she is no stranger to leadership roles, but this is the largest organization she has directed.

Hewett said the event Saturday is mainly to crown the new queen, but she may be asked to go through a "de-coronation" ceremony. "They haven't actually talked to me about it, so I'm going to be pretty surprised," she said.

Hewett said she enjoyed being queen so much she may decide to fight for it in another six months.

Contact Keith Whitcomb at kwhitcomb@benningtonbanner.com.