(By Lady Margarete of Stirlingshire as appeared in the March/April 1998 Bolt)
In period a lady gave a favor to a fighter with the intent of it being carried into battle. Favors were typically a sleeve especially later in period when most garb had detachable sleeves), a scarf, a ribbon, a glove, or other similar personal item.
In the SCA, favors (or tokens as they are called in some kingdoms) are used to show many different relationships and vary a great deal in construction and design. Favors can be worn for one day, be household favors, friendship favors, champion favors, or can represent whatever the people involved in the giving and receiving of the favor want it to represent. You usually can not tell just by looking at a favor what they mean or how long they are intended to be worn.
Favors in the SCA have grown beyond a token from a lady to fighter. Non-combatants often carry favors as a symbol of a relationship (personal, household, etc.). More men are giving favors to their (non-fighting and fighting) ladies. In some ways they have overlapped with historical uses of livery and in some ways they have evolved to fill a void.
Due to the many different types of favors out there, it is possible for a person to wear more than one favor. However, it is tacky to wear multiple favors that symbolize a romantic relationship or to give out multiple favors representing a romantic relationship [unless this is your lifestyle of choice] (do you really want to advertise that you are two timing someone?) It is extremely important that both parties agree on what the favor represents and the intended period of time that it is to be worn - this can prevent hurt feelings down the line.
There are many wonderful examples of period favors out there, just as there are many beautiful examples of SCA favors. As a fighter groupie, I prefer the more practical favor that helps a fighter keep his/her cards in order, is built to withstand the rigors of combat, etc. One possible compromise that I have seen is for people to have two favors from the same person - one to wear on the field and a fancier "court" favor.
No matter what a favor is made of or what it represents, there are responsibilities that go with the giving and receiving of a favor. When you carry someone's favor it is an outward symbol that you are representing that individual's (or group's) honor - fighter or not. Your actions can and will reflect upon the person (or group) whose favor you carry. If you display honor and chivalry, this will carry over to the person you represent. The opposite is also true, in that poor behavior will reflect badly on the person you represent. If someone is carrying your favor, there are responsibilities on your part as well. If the person carrying your favor is a fighter, he or she is fighting for you. Pay attention while he/she fights. Does this person represent you well on the field? (And this has NOTHING to do with the fighter being a hot stick - it has everything to do with courtesy, chivalry and honor.) What about off of the field? Does this individual represent you in a positive way? What about your own behavior? Are you worthy of this person - do you conduct yourself with courtesy, chivalry and honor? Do you represent him/her in a positive way? What can you do to help the person representing you to do this to the best of his/her ability? All of this applies to a non-fighter as well - perhaps someone represents you on the "field" of the Arts and Sciences or on the "field" of service.
Treat the favor that has been entrusted to you with respect. One Baroness that I have had the pleasure of knowing had no patience with irresponsible fighters. Woe to he or she who lost a favor! The very public discussion about what the favor represented and how the individual had brought dishonor upon themselves for treating it lightly - oh, my! No matter how insignificant a favor may appear it represents a person who holds you in high esteem. Treat it as such.
One way for people to have an opportunity to practice carrying a favor and having their favor carried is through a Favor Tournament. The non-combatants (including children!) make favors, which the combatants then bid on (or somehow divide up). The combatants then go to the maker of the favor and request the honor of wearing it that day, and so on. At the end of the day, the favors are returned to the makers (or not - I have seen many friendship favors given after this type of tourney). These tourneys are great fun and can be a heck of a fundraiser.
I feel that favors are a way of telling someone that you hold them in high esteem, therefore, what the favor is actually made of is far less important that what it symbolizes. While SCA favors have grown to represent much more than they did in period, they are very much in keeping with what we are trying to recreate - a Society in which courtesy, honor and chivalry are recognized and valued.
Lady Margarete of Stirlingshire
Page last updated 01/24/00