How to Organize a Court:
On the Art/Science of Court Heraldry
Date Written: August, 1986
Last Updated: Summer, 2016
Author: Macsen Fidelis

Policy Level: Informational
Intended Audience: Court Heralds
Abstract: Detailed advice on how to organize a court, with checklists and outlines.


(The following are my personal feelings and opinions and do not represent any official policy of the S.C.A., Inc., the College of Arms of the SCA, the Kingdom of the West, or of the College of Heralds of the Kingdom of the West. M.F.)

A competent Court herald can be heard and understood across the entire area occupied by the Court. Obviously, outdoor Kingdom Courts will require more projective ability than smaller Courts held indoors. Almost anyone can be trained to be heard over the average outdoor Court area, and absolutely everyone can be trained to be understood for as far as they can be heard. To be a competent Court herald, then, is within the reach of almost everyone sufficiently interested to apply themselves by study and practice. The competent Court herald is familiar with all of the ceremonies encountered at Court and can perform them without stumbling over the words. The competent Court herald is sure of the pronunciation of all names to be used at Court, and if unfamiliar with any names, has written them phonetically on the Court notes. Once again, then, virtually anyone willing to apply themselves to work, study and practice may become a competent Court herald.

The good Court herald has a sense of theatre. He or she understands that presence, pace, theme and variation all play a part in elevating business into ceremony and transforming the ordinary into inspirational. The good Court herald is prepared with the business for Court well in advance of the time for Court, and arranges business so that announcements, presentations, awards, peerage elevations, and other items are mingled so as to present an interesting variety throughout the Court. The good Court herald has a number of vocal expressions, shifting from the smooth, to the formal, from the prepared ceremony to the impromptu announcement and back, always audible and comprehensible.

The great Court herald has the ability to be humorous without crassness, to be dignified without pomposity, to be gracious without fawning, to be entertaining without becoming the center of attention. He or she is aware of the personalities and moods of royalty, and becomes the foil of the humorous King, the flowery tongue of the retiring King, and the serious face of the angry King. The great Court herald has coached new subjects for their appearances at Court. He or she always has material prepared to cover eventualities such as changes or delays ordered in the middle of Court by royalty, or the arrival in mid-Court of foreign royalty. The great Court herald knows the likes and dislikes of royalty and courteously prevents the Queen from being presented with flowers to which she is violently allergic and always clears questionable presentations with Their Majesties before Court begins. The great Court herald errs on the side of caution and limits himself to one (well, maybe two) bad puns per Court.


PART II - COURT CHECKLIST

  1. Start at least 1 hour before Court to get business. (At Twelfth Night, start a week early - call Their Majesties, Their Royal Highnesses, Their Highnesses and the Great Officers on the telephone and inquire of their plans).
    1. Start with Their Majesties - this will give you an idea of how long the Court will be - and will start the process of Their preparing for Court.
    2. Be sure to get the proper pronunciations of people’s names - devise and use your own system of phonetic notation.
    3. Find out what is being presented - you are NOT being presumptuous - it is your JOB to know what is going to happen at Court, including exactly what is in those baskets and boxes.
    4. Check with anyone wishing to perform or entertain at Court to see if they have Their Majesties' approval. Most past royalty has severely restricted performing at Court. Check with Their Majesties.
    5. Be sure that the person(s) understand what is expected of them in terms of behavior. Newcomers may ask for guidance. New groups, especially, may want hints on their first “public” appearance.

  2. Organize the Court. Try taking down items on 3x5 cards that are punched to fit in a small notebook, and then arrange them into the order desired.
    1. Make a mixture - distribute announcements throughout the Court, separate the awards and presentations from each other.
    2. Be careful of logistics - a group presentation will require more time to clear the central area than one or two persons - have two or three announcements in a row to cover their withdrawal.
    3. Build to a conclusion. Elevations to the peerage belong towards the end of the Court - and should not be immediately followed by announcements about garbage disposal.

  3. Review the Court with Their Majesties - the bigger/longer the Court, the harder this will be - and the more important it will be.
    1. Be sure that all of Their Majesties business is on the Court notes.
    2. Be sure that Their Majesties are aware of any special occurrences, such as Court time requested by a Principality, or the appearance of an ambassador.
    3. Go over any questionable items - such as entertainment or any presentations of “humorous” items.
    4. Give Their Majesties an opportunity to review Their parts in any ceremonies scheduled for the Court.

  4. Make sure all necessary items are on hand at the thrones:
    1. Scrolls and promissories (work with the Scribes)
    2. Regalia and tokens for ceremonies (work with members of the Court)
    3. Ceremony book
    4. Water (not booze - that comes after a job well done)
    5. Herald’s cloak or tabard
    6. Court notes

  5. Review the Court notes with your second, who, ideally, was involved with all of the preceding activities.
    1. Now is the time to be sure that you can quickly find all the ceremonies in the book (large paper clips are real handy at this point).
    2. Be sure that your second knows when you will be trading the ceremony book for a scroll, etc.
    3. Be sure that necessary notes are tucked into the ceremonies (such as blazons for new peers).

  6. Do it. Carefully. Smoothly. Elegantly.

  7. Review the Court with someone whose judgement you trust.
    Note down any things that caused problems (or appeared to), as well as any things that went especially well.

  8. Add your own items to remember:












PART III - GENERAL PREPARATION

Some thoughts on ways to enhance your abilities as a Court herald. Heralds are made, not born. Personal style and taste are developed, not inherited. Anything that stretches your mind, challenges your imagination and contributes to your sense of style, of bravura, of art, of savoir faire will contribute to your abilities as a Court Herald.

Read a book. The herald who knows something about anything is one up on the uninformed. Try a history book, especially from our period, especially one that addresses the workings of the Courts and great houses. Try Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, for example.

Take a speech class. Learn how to improve and control your diction, volume, pronunciation, projection and articulation. Or join a local Toastmaster's International club. Or join your local theatre group (caution!!! this is a major commitment of time for most people).

Watch the good ones, people like Baron Gerhard Kendall of Westmoreland, if you are fortunate enough to be around on one of his rare visits - a man who can successfully combine the aspects of warrior, courtier, noble and jester is rare indeed.

Sandpaper the end of your nose. Not really, but do try to stay sensitive to what others are doing and saying to you.

Read a book. Try a book of poetry, especially one from the period or shortly thereafter. Read it OUT LOUD!

Watch movies, especially period costume dramas. Keep a close eye on how the really good actors move and wear their costumes. Learn how to REALLY wear a cape. Listen to Burton’s and Hepburn’s and O’Toole’s and Connery’s and York’s and Heston’s and whoever’s DELIVERY.

Steal shamelessly - not material, but STYLE. Find a herald who does things you like, and try to do things in his or her style.

Gargle with pebbles. Not really, but Demosthenes had the right idea: find your vocal weaknesses and work hard to get rid of them.

Read a book. Try a book of plays. Try Shakespeare. Read it OUT LOUD.

When you think you’re about ready, volunteer to second at Court. If possible, try to work with a herald you have chosen as a model. In all events, pay careful attention to the preparation and presentation of Court, and be very sensitive to the byplay around the thrones, as well as the quiet interchange between King and herald. Next time, it may be you up there.

Go to church. Or synagogue. Or mosque. As a believer or not. Look at the CEREMONY.

Study a foreign language. Be especially aware of old phrases, such as “Vuestra Merced”, which became the modern “Usted” in Spanish. Use honorifics and greetings to persons whose persona uses the language.

Offer your services to royalty outside of Court. If the Queen is to make a Royal Progress, offer your services as Herald. This is for the advanced student, by the way, as you may find yourself introducing 200 strangers to Her Majesty. Along the same lines, but for the intermediate student, volunteer to help with the introductions at Grand March (see the Senior Herald on duty).

Read a book. Try mythology. You can be loaded with analogies, similes and comparisons the next time you need one. Which will play better at Court, “a veritable Hercules!”, or “a really strong dude”?

Go to the theatre. Try a good one. Watch the projection of voice (and emotion). Go home and practice.

Be very careful with humour. Better than 80% of the populace, and 100% of the royalty had better think you’re funny, or you could be in trouble. While a well-placed theatrical aside or response to a proffered straight line is beneficial, the herald is NOT a stand-up comedian or jester. Humour must not be intrusive.

Practice all the time. Read Earl Kevin’s and Countess Patrice’s article from TI, “If You're Going to Play, Play!”. Try being flowery without being saccharine, formal without being stodgy. A superb practice piece that will also benefit everyone you practice on is a proper, formal introduction of someone you know to someone you don’t know.

Read a book. Please.