A Primer on Field and Court Heraldry

By Mistress Adelaide de Beaumont, Schwarzdrachen Herald Emeritus


Many people who are not generally interested in blazonry and book heraldry are nevertheless drawn to the performance aspects of field and court heraldry.  Since a lot of accomplished book heralds can’t speak above a whisper, this is a GOOD thing, because it allows each person to do the parts of the job they enjoy and excel at, and the whole job gets done well.  This is a beginner’s guide for the person who may or may not care to know a millrind from a water bouget, but still finds getting up in front of people and commanding their attention appealing.

Using Your Voice

Field heraldry is the loudest part of the job. A court herald needs a good voice, but he or she can usually expect that people are listening. The field herald does not have that advantage. Your job as a field herald is to make announcements and grab the attention of people who are going about their business, armoring up, making lunch, and generally NOT listening.

If you have never done any field heraldry before, please try to attend an event where a more senior herald can show you how to begin working with your voice. Some of us were gifted (?) with louder voices than others, but everyone can probably improve their volume by the way they stand, the way they breathe, and the pitch they try to achieve. Obviously you can learn more from a live demonstration than from any written materials, but here are some basic tips:

Stand up straight, but don’t go overboard.

Your voice results from air being forced out your windpipe across your vocal cords; obviously, if your windpipe is bent, the air will come out with less force, and you will not be as loud as you could be.  However, you also don’t want to assume a military “attention” posture, because not only do many people actually lean back slightly to achieve this position (and bending the windpipe back is just as bad as bending it forward), but you are using muscles to hold things in that you are going to want to use to push the air out. If they are already pushing something back, they can’t very well push up at the same time.

Fill your lungs.

Put your hands on your ribs. Breathe in. Your ribs moved out, didn’t they? (If not, you are probably asthmatic and you should NOT attempt field heraldry!) Okay, now pretend that you are going to hold your breath for 60 seconds and breathe in. Did you notice how much more air you took in that time? Try another test. Rest your fingers in the hollow just below where your ribs end. Breathe in. If your fingers went out, you are either a singer or a swimmer (dancer/distance runner/other endurance athlete) and you will do fine at field heraldry. If your fingers went in, you are breathing “up”, not “out”, and you’re not using all of your lung capacity. Push your abdominal muscles out as you breathe in, and keep breathing in until you fill the space. It took twice as long, didn’t it? That’s how much air you need to reach across even a small tourney field on a windy day.  You can practice breathing ALL WAY IN at home, but only a few breaths at a time. Until you learn to control it naturally you are likely to hyperventilate and get dizzy or pass out. You may also find that your sides are sore; that’s because you are asking muscles to work in a new direction. It will get easier.

Drop your pitch.

Field heralding may be called “yelling” in jest, but it is NOT yelling.  It’s not shouting or screaming, either.  Try this (but only if the neighbors won’t mind): say, “Long live the King” in your normal speaking voice.  Now SHOUT it.  Did you notice that your pitch was much higher when you shouted?  High-pitched sounds travel farther, so you naturally raise your pitch when you want to be louder.  Think of a scream; when you are the most desperate to be heard, your pitch is the highest of all.  That’s great if you’re being chased by an axe murderer—if no one hears you, you’re going to have worse problems than a sore throat.  It’s NOT great at an event.

If you let yourself raise your pitch, you’ll be hoarse in two rounds.  Where does that leave you for the rest of the day, especially if you’re the only herald available?  MAKE yourself keep your heralding pitch as near your normal pitch as possible.  You will probably find that your pitch drifts up at the end of the day, when you are too tired to do it “the right way” anymore.  That’s when you should stop.  And when you hear it in other heralds, you should suggest that THEY stop.

Be dramatic.

You’ve seen all the right movies. (And no, I don’t mean “A Knight’s Tale.”  If you’ve seen that, strike it from your memory with all possible speed.)  You know how serious heralds are supposed to talk.  Imagine standing up straight and announcing that the Duke and Duchess of Gooseberry have just arrived at the ball.  It’s not the way you speak normally, of course, but then you don’t normally try to be heard by three hundred people at once, either.  Attempting a more dramatic tone may feel sillier to you, but it actually sounds less silly to the populace.  It also helps you to keep your pitch lowered (see above) because you will find you are almost singing, and you will tighten your throat less than you would if you were shouting.

You’ll need some practice before you’re really comfortable with the whole idea.  Most cultures teach that it is virtuous to be quiet, not loud enough for six counties to hear you.  Try to get to a large event and ask the herald in charge for work.  Even if there are no announcements to make, you can get practice.  When I was learning, the herald teaching us had us go around the tourney site saying, “My lords and ladies, for your enjoyment and edification, let it be known that the grass is green and so are the trees!”  Of course we felt silly, but no one was bothered by it and we got practice speaking loudly and smoothly, and soon it was not at all frightening to walk out onto the field and say something that actually mattered.

Now that you have some idea how to say things, you need to know what to say.  There are two arenas in which the field herald operates: ceremonial announcements inside the eric (fighting field), and general announcements throughout the site.


Playing the Field

Heraldry on the fighting field consists of announcing fighters in the combat, proclaiming a formulaic litany of the purpose of the day, and announcing a victor at the end of the bout.  Your job begins when the Lists officer hands you the pairings for the first round’s combat.

Present the Order of Combat:  “My lords and ladies, pray attend.  I have the Order of Combat for the First Round.  In the first bout, John the Plain will do battle with Roger of Deer Abbey…”

…and so on through all the fights.  There are several things to note here.  First, ALWAYS begin with a salutation, or greeting.  “My lords and ladies” is the polite and forsooth way of saying “Hey, you!”  You might further want to add “pray attend” or some other “listen up” phrase.  It lets the populace know that you are about to say something they may want or need to hear.  It will help you (as well as the populace) stave off boredom if you vary your salutation:

My lords and ladies                                          Oyez, oyez
My lords, ladies, and gentles,                            Pray attend
Gentles all,                                                       Hear ye
Most noble lords and gracious ladies                Pray give me your notice

…and so forth.  In case you don’t know, “oyez” is French for “hear ye” and is pronounced oy-yay, not oh-yezz.  For some reason “oyez” tends to be used in the SCA like ringing a bell; it comes first and doesn’t actually constitute part of the salutation (probably because too many people don’t know what it means).  Accordingly, you could stack up quite a few of these things, “Oyez, oyez!  My lords and ladies, pray attend!”  You won’t want to do that every round, but if you’ve just dropped your cards or you’ve temporarily forgotten why you’re out there, you can “vamp” on the salutation for quite a while.

Once you have their attention, tell them what you needed it for.  Saying, “I have the Order of Combat…” lets people who don’t care go on about their business.  As you progress through the list of fights, it is not necessary to say “in the first combat,” then, “in the second combat,” and so on until the end of the pairings.  It is not uncommon for marshals, especially in later rounds, to say, “Godfrey just fought a really long fight; let’s put his next one at the end of the round.”  If you’ve announced Godfrey as “the second fight” someone is sure to complain, even though you had nothing to do with moving the fight.  Likewise, if there is more than one field, fights may be moved if the combats on a particular field are going more slowly. 

When more than one field is being used, you should announce all the fights scheduled on field one, then all the fights on field two, and so on.  This can be done by one herald, or each field can be announced by the herald who will be calling those fields.  It is possible for one herald to work two fields, but never try to work more than two.  The time involved between the opening litany and the announcement of the winner may well exceed the length of the fight, and you don’t want two irked fighters and one or more irked marshal standing around waiting for you to finish on your other field.  If you are calling the fights for several fields, try to stand in the area designated as that field when you announce those fights, and move when you shift to announcing the next field.  Fighters may be watching you as well as listening to you for cues as to where to put extra weapons or where their consort should stand for the best view.

When you have completed the Order of Combat, say so.  “This completes the Order of Combat for the second round.  All fighters ready yourselves for combat!”  Again, this lets people go about their business, and allows anyone who didn’t hear their name to report to the Lists table.  Some will find you, because it’s easier; if you need to start calling the field, feel free to refer them to the Lists table.  It’s not your fault if they weren’t listening, and the fighters and marshals waiting to begin deserve more consideration than one stray hard-of-hearing fighter.  If six guys say they didn’t hear their name, especially if you know you called them, consider that you may have been announcing into the wind, and you may have to start over.

If the fighting is to begin immediately, you will call the first two combatants: “John the Plain and Roger of Deer Abbey, arm and to the field!”  It is wise (considering how brief some fights are) to call the second pair at the same time: “Sir Leo the Feeble and Josef von Pittsburg, arm and stand ready!”  This lets them know they are “up” next.

A word about pronouncing names:  It is a common SCA gag that “the heralds always mangle my name.”  If the guy knowingly registered Cholmondley Vandeblankevort de Gezuirnenplatz, he has it coming, but most people deserve the simple kindness of hearing their name correctly, at least within the “lingua franca” limits of the Society.  What I mean by that is, you do not need to be able to pronounce a perfect Welsh <ll> sound or a perfect nasal French <n> sound.  If your native tongue is English, you should pronounce foreign sounds as well as can be reasonably expected of an English speaker.  So Lou-ellen is acceptable for <Llewellyn> and Zhahn (here <zh> is the sound in the middle of the word <vision>) is fine for a Frenchman named <Jean>.  But if the fighters of your kingdom are not generally known to you, and you were not fortunate enough to be taught phonetics, PLEASE ask a more senior herald, the Lists officer, or the marshal before you call someone and make a mockery of their name.  It’s a basic courtesy, and if you can’t be bothered with it, you have no business being a voice herald.  Imparting names and information accurately and audibly is your only job.

Presentation litany

After the fighters arrive, you will ceremonially announce them to the populace: “My lords and ladies, in this, the first round of the Crown Tournament, John the Plain doth combat Roger of Deer Abbey!”  If you are carrying a staff, you should point at the fighter as you name him; you will notice that the marshals will do the same.  If you know that one outranks the other, announce the higher-precedenced fighter first: “Sir Leo the Feeble doth combat Josef von Pittsburg!”  Usually, only titles won on the field may be used, like Sir or Master (only if they are a Master-of-Arms, a member of the Order of Chivalry).  Some places also use titles of royal peerage, like Viscount, Count, Earl, or Duke.  Some places allow titles of elite non-peerage fighting orders like the Centurions of Ansteorra.  Take your cue from the way they signed up at the Lists table.  You’ll get the occasional jerk who signs up as “Herc” and expects you to know that he wishes to be announced as Duke Sir Hercule de Vin Blanc, but mostly fighters will sign up as they wish to be announced on the field.  And since you were handed cards by the Lists table, just read what is on the cards.  (If something is wrong, you can blame the Lists table!)  Unless someone really gets in a snit about it, Awards and Grants of Arms should not be announced.  You have no way of knowing if they were rewards for prowess on the field or not, and you definitely don’t want to get into an Order of Precedence showdown between two fighters.  So stick to peerages and such non-peerage titles as are used by local custom.

You’ll notice again the formula in the litany; there’s the “listen up” (“My lords and ladies”), the purpose (“in this, the first round of the Crown Tournament”), and the announced names.  The purpose portion should be kept brief (everybody knows why we’re here) but informative (people who have lost track ALWAYS want to know what round we’re in).  No one cares if this is the ninth fight in the fourth round, so use your judgment.  Again, there are many ways to say “Crown Tournament” so feel free to employ a little flair.  “In this, the third round of the Grand Tournament to determine the heirs to our Glorious Crown…” 

You can get away with more the deeper into the tourney you go.  When you reach the finals, everyone will expect you to be as showy as possible.  Consult with the fighters on any other titles they bear, championships they hold, etc., as well as those of their consorts.  Encourage the fighters to process onto the field with their consorts and as much entourage as they can scrape together.  Whether or not they have banners, feel free to blazon their arms (if you can’t do it on the fly, ask a knowledgeable book herald to supply the words for you):

My lords and ladies, in this, the final round of the Crown Lists, Sir Rep of Titious, Knight, Companion of the Order of the Battledore, Champion of the March of Daze, Lord Defender of the Shire of Ire, bearing upon his shield Paly bendy azure and Or, three urchins argent, doth here do battle with his worthy opponent, Sir Rosis of Liver, Knight, Companion of the Order of the Gurges, Baron’s Champion of Millpond, bearing upon his shield Gules, three water-bougets and on a chief Or a sword fesswise gules.  Draw nigh, you gentles all, and be witness to their most noble combat, for the victor this day will in the fullness of time wear the Crown of this sovereign Realm!

At this point in the day, it is possible that each fighter will have a herald to announce him.  This can be wonderful or terrible.  Do NOT make it a battle of the heralds.  Say nothing disparaging about the other combatant, and do not wax so lyrical that the focus shifts to you from where it belongs, on the competitors and on the moment (why I hate “Knight’s Tale”!).

Salute litany

Once you have presented the fighters to the populace, your business with the populace is done.  You can and should drop your volume so that only the fighters and the marshals can hear you.  If you’re doing a demo, or a small event with a single field, you might choose to keep your volume up, but if there are multiple fields, the time required by the salute is too great to give all the fields the opportunity to announce the bits that are important to the crowd.  If you have been clowning around during the presentation (and that is perfectly acceptable unless it is late in the Crown Lists), you should also adopt a more sober tone for the salute.

“Gentlemen, salute the Crown.”

Begin with “gentlemen” or “my lords” or “my lord and my lady” as appropriate; you may also address them as “combatants” or “fighters” if their helms are on and you’re not sure…  On the order of salute, the Crown is always first.  You should also bow or curtsey to the throne, royal pavilion, or whatever is passing for the royal presence.  This is the only part in which you (and the marshals) should join in; the rest are for the fighters alone.  If the King and/or Queen are out of the royal pavilion, you should still salute towards the thrones.  It’s impractical to attempt to follow the King around, and it may be impolite, especially if he is headed for the privies.

“You may salute the one whose favor you wear.”

The word “may” is critical here.  There is a long and honored tradition in the SCA that no requirement exists for saluting a consort.  Unless it’s Crown Tourney, the fighter may not have a consort, and even if it IS Crown Tourney, they may want to keep the identity of their consort a surprise.  If both fighters are male, you can say “you may salute your lady” but you may run afoul of the folks who play at courtly love; it’s entirely possible that the favor they carry does not belong to their lady.

”Salute you each the other.”   OR
”Salute your noble adversary.”  OR
”Salute your thrice-worthy opponent.”  OR
”Salute your brother in arms.”   OR
(If both are knights, you can say “Salute your brother knight.”)

This is the “shake hands and come out fighting” portion of the salute.  Even if these guys hate each other, especially if they hate each other, it’s a nice reminder of civility.

When the salutes are completed, you have only to redirect the fighters’ attention from you to the marshal(s), who will finish the job.  Usually the marshal in charge will ask the fighters once more if they are prepared for combat, but occasionally the marshal will ask you to start the fight (check local customs and ask the marshal before you start the day).  If they do want you to say “Lay on” remember that the fighters can charge as soon as the words are out of your mouth, so be prepared to move—FAST!

“Upon your honor, for the Crown of this fair Realm, pay heed to the marshal’s commands.”  OR
”Upon your honor, for the victor’s prize, at the marshal’s command you may begin.”  OR
”For Honor, Glory, and the Crown of our Kingdom, Lay on!”

Remember to include a reference to honor (it doesn’t hurt to remind them), a reference to the prize for which they are competing, and an instruction to either listen to the marshals or begin the combat, whichever method you have agreed with the marshals beforehand.

It’s a good idea to speak to the marshals about your place during combat.  Some places expect the herald to quit the field entirely, and unless you have a non-combatant authorization card you MUST quit the field entirely.  Even if you have one, heralds make some marshals nervous; apparently, we are smart enough to talk, but not to realize that a 200-pound armored man barreling towards us might cause bodily harm, and act accordingly (not that I am bitter).  If you have a card, you have a perfect right to stay, but the marshal is in charge of the field and you need his cooperation.  If you can easily quit the field without risking injury tripping over an eric rope or causing serious delay in the running of the lists, just do it.  If you can’t, ask the marshal which he prefers, a herald on the field or finishing the tourney in the dark?

Announcing the victor

All that’s left is to watch and see who falls down.  Do not rush in to make your announcement until the marshal indicates a victor; there is often much “death by negotiation” before anyone is really sure who is dead.   The marshal should motion to you when the outcome is decided.

“Victory to John the Plain!”

If there is a double kill, many people will be confused, so you should announce a double kill and whether or not the bout will be re-fought.  This requires further negotiation, so be ready for it. 


Congratulations! You made it through the bout.  You call the next two guys, tell the two fighters “on deck” to arm up, and the whole thing begins again until the end of the tournament.

If you are the herald in charge, try to give younger heralds some practice time, even at a small event.  It’s not good for your voice to do the whole thing yourself, and if you need someone in an emergency, the more people who are trained, the bigger your pool of talent.  Try not to work more than a couple of rounds in a row if possible, and be sure to listen to the other heralds working with you.  You can often hear the roughness in someone else’s voice before they notice it themselves, because we get our own sound filtered through our skulls, and that smoothes a lot of rough spots.  If someone starts to sound ragged, pull them at once and replace them.  Tired voices mend quickly; damaged throats do not!

Event Announcements

Making announcements is usually viewed as the “grunt work” of voice heraldry.  All you need is a loud voice and legs to get you around the site.  This is no great feat if the event is small, but for someplace like Pennsic “crying the camps” can be a huge undertaking.  Be sure that announcement heralds are not being expected to cover more ground than is reasonable.  Remember, all announcements will have to be repeated many times, every few tents.  If you’re going to do announcements, you should have some idea of how far your voice carries (feel free to ask people nearby); be sure you err on the side of repeating yourself rather than missing people, and allow for wind and competing ambient noise.

Announce what is, not what will be

Generally, it’s better to announce how things are rather than how things will be.  It’s more useful to tell people that the lists table is open, or that armor inspection has begun.  If you tell them the lists table will open in ten minutes, they’ll go back to sleep.  If you tell them the lists table will CLOSE in ten minutes, they’ll panic, and I have never (in over 20 years) seen someone turned away because they were two minutes late to the lists table.  Announce when the feast hall is open for people to set places.  The only exception is the time for court; you have to give warning so that people who have business can get to you or the court herald (if that isn’t you) in time.  Usually, people interested in court will be hanging around the central event area, so court announcements don’t need to be cried through the camp.

Wear a watch if you’re going to give the time

You wouldn’t believe how many people don’t recognize the need for this.  I’ve heard a guy announcing it was 8:00 am from just before 8 until about 8:25 or so (when he changed to 8:30).  It’s also not a good idea to keep announcing that “court will begin in 20 minutes” or the like.  You’ll have to constantly adjust to be accurate, and it will start to sound silly (“court will begin in twelve minutes!”).  Stick with “court is scheduled to begin at ten o’clock.”  No one will believe that court will actually start then, but that’s not your problem.  We all have access to time pieces, so there’s really no need for a “Six o’clock and all’s well” announcement, but it can be something to send people out to practice with.

Keep it “forsooth” if possible

It will occasionally be necessary to announce things like cars blocking access or headlights left on, etc.  It is up to your own sense of whimsy whether you choose to go to the extreme, “There is a red dragon in the dragon pen, bearing JEA 926 upon his collar, and light doth shine forth from his eyes…”  But keep in mind that even saying “vehicle” or “conveyance” rather than “car” will be less damaging to the event ambience.  If you can work it out with the autocrat, try to have the gate pass out parking tags for people to write their names or households; then you can call for the person, not the car.

The event steward, the herald-in-charge, or whoever gives you the list of announcements to be made will most likely not render it in a form that a) rolls trippingly off the tongue and b) sounds interesting to the populace.  Feel free to take a moment to come up with a more elegant way of saying whatever you have to say:

“The chirurgeon wishes it known that the woods are rife with poisonous and noxious plants.”

“There will be a meeting of all local seneschals immediately after court in the argent-and-gules pavilion in the south corner of the lists field.”

“Volunteers are urgently needed at the conclusion of feast.  The cooks are weary from their toil and do not wish to add dish-pan hands to their pains.  And they have large knives…”


Remember that you can still have fun with announcements.  Remember too that announcements are IMPORTANT.  The person who left their lights on will be stranded if their battery dies.  Poison ivy is painful.  People will seldom ask you to announce something that SOMEONE doesn’t really need to know, and if they do, you may feel free to decline.  You are at the service of the Crown, the event steward or autocrat, and the officers-in-charge for the event.  Everyone else can make his or her own announcements (or make it worth your while).  If Lady Simperina asks you to announce her meeting of the tiddly winks consortium, be polite but explain that you need your voice for court (or later rounds of the tourney or…) and you are only making official announcements.  Unless you want to, of course, or you think Lady Simperina is hot.

Care and Feeding of Field Heralds

Is up to you, I’m afraid.  Everyone is worried about the fighters getting food, water, shade, etc., but unless you have a loving household, no one is likely to worry about you.  True, you are not hauling 40 pounds of steel and swinging a stick, but you are standing, walking, crouching and running as need be, and while the fighter is there for one fight, you’re there for the entire round.

Be sure when packing for the event you include the following:

Hat                  It keeps off the sun and the rain, and makes you more visible.

Sunscreen         Remember the back of your neck and whatever else is exposed.

Fluids              Non-alcoholic until you are off duty.  Water is best.

Food                Limit scratchy foods and dairy if you’re going to work all day.

Layers              Sometimes keeping warm is the problem, even in Ansteorra.

Regalia             Even for announcements, a baldric or tabard is nice so you look like a herald.
                        A staff is cool if you have one.

Supplies           Know if YOU are the one everyone thinks is bringing the 3x5 cards.


And finally, have a good time.  Even your disastrous days will make good stories later.

Going Courting

Court heraldry is the most theatrical part of the job; most people are there to listen, and as you’re doing most of the talking, all eyes are on you.  If this freaks you out, find someone else to take court for you.  Court has its share (and then some) of dull moments, and a nervous or shy court herald can make even the moments that CAN be exciting dull.  A court herald with a good sense of theatre, on the other hand, can make even a ponderously long court entertaining.

If you never take a position higher than local herald for a shire, it’s possible that you will never be required to herald a court, but you shouldn’t count on that.  Large courts, such as Coronation ceremonies, will typically be performed by the Principal Herald or other senior herald; however, if the event is being held in your area, the PH may ask you to assist them (anticipate this request and volunteer your services early on—don’t make the PH have to look for you!).  The PH generally swears fealty as a Great Officer of State during the ceremony, and may swear as a peer as well, so there are times when someone else has to take over.  There are usually scrolls to be handed out, and depending on the space available, the court herald may need you to hand him/her scrolls as the awards are read.

Courts throughout a reign are typically performed by a senior herald at the pleasure of the Crown.  If the Crown have appointed a personal herald who agrees to travel with them to events, then you may not be called upon at all, but it’s a good idea to be prepared just in case.  If your area is hosting an event at which the Crown will be present, it is a good idea to find out if they will need you to act as court herald.  If you are a baronial herald and are already acting for a Baron/ess, this can be a little awkward, so thinking about it ahead of time will save a thousand heartaches later.  If they will tell you ahead of time what awards they plan on giving (you don’t need to know WHO at this point, just WHAT), you can have the ceremony or scroll wording handy in case there isn’t a scroll when the time comes.  I can hold a blank piece of paper and deliver the standard AoA wording because I’ve read a gazillion AoAs; if you can’t, have a piece of paper that’s not blank.  Most kingdoms’ scribes have the approved scroll texts available online; have a notebook, print out the scroll texts, and have it with you.

Have a plan

The first thing you need to do is PLAN court.  You are both the director and one of the actors in this show, so you should have a script you can follow.  Of course, the Crown are the stars of the show, but you are the affable host and Master of Ceremonies and everyone, the Crown included, will be looking to you for what comes next. 

You begin planning court by meeting with the Crown and getting a list of all the awards they plan to give out (at this point, you DO need to know WHO—more about this later), plus any other business they know about.  It helps to know if there are scrolls to be handed out and whether anyone else will be involved in the ceremony (Lord Blog is receiving the Order of the Albatross and his mentor, Master Blah, wishes to pass on his medallion, etc.).  After you know of Their Majesties’ plans, you need to inquire of the populace to find out what other business might be lurking out there about which Their Majesties are unaware—YET.  NEVER let anything transpire in court about which the Crown has not been alerted.  In period, heads rolled for stuff like that!

If the Crown is not familiar with the folk in your area, they may not know about the relationship between Lord Blog and Master Blah, and you can be of enormous help by letting them know.  Likewise knowing that Lord Rod is getting his AoA and his wife Lady Rune is cooking feast and is unlikely to leave the kitchen for court; suggest that an excuse be made to get Lady Rune to court.  Nothing will make you feel worse as a court herald than seeing Lady Rune in tears when she finds out she missed her hubby’s big moment.  Obviously it is not your place to let the cat entirely out of the bag without the Crown’s permission, but a pretext can usually be found to get the lady to court without telling her flat out that her husband is receiving an award.  In some kingdoms, “warrants” are issued before court; these are usually small pieces of parchment that say only “Their Majesties request your presence at Their Court.”  Most people can figure out that something is up, but they won’t know exactly what until court.  Usually whispering to someone that they reeeeeeeally want to go to court gets the message across.

Before asking for populace business, inquire of the Crown whether they have a policy for receiving that business.  Many monarchs hate long courts, so they prefer to receive presentations, accept personal fealty, witness squirings, handfastings, and such in a less formal setting, generally known as “sitting in State.”  They may also do this type of business between removes at the feast.  Some are fine with doing it in court.  But it’s not your call.  When in doubt, take down the name of the person and the business they wish to conduct, and clear it with the Crown.  (The person should be informed of the Crown’s answer BEFORE court.)  But knowing Their general pleasure ahead of time gives you a polite way to turn down Lady Burdellen when she asks to present 20 pounds of rutabagas to Their Majesties.  Typically, presentations from local groups and/or presentations to the kingdom/regalia are done as court business, but personal gifts are not.

Make (or have someone else make on your behalf) an announcement that “Anyone with business for Their Majesties’ evening court, please see the court herald immediately!”  People should begin rushing towards you.  (Make sure this announcement is made throughout the site so you don’t miss anyone.)  By this time, you should know what time it is, what time court is scheduled, and what time the feast is scheduled, so you should have an idea of how much time you have for a reasonable court.  If the Crown plans a lot of awards, you may need to counsel them to turn down all other requests.  Remind them how nasty burned soup tastes.  Heralds who work a lot very quickly become more experienced at court than the monarchs they serve, and it reflects well on all of you to make them look like professionals from the start.

NEVER accept “surprise” presentations.  If a person is reluctant to tell you the nature of their presentation, refer them to the Crown immediately.  People who say, “Oh, he knows all about it” often mean that they once mentioned the idea at a revel late one night before the Crown WAS the Crown and he said, “That sounds like fun.”  If the Crown gets publicly embarrassed, you haven’t done your job, and imagine how eager the Crown will be to work with you in future!

Once you are confident that you have all the business collected, you need to arrange the items.  Awards are generally more interesting to the populace than presentations, so don’t put all the presentations together or you will put your audience to sleep.  Likewise major awards or peerages are the most exciting, so they go last, as anything else would be a letdown.  Assume you have received the following from the Crown:


Award of Arms to Sven Svensson, Mary of Millpond, Friederick Herrman, Jacques du Lac
Order of the Albatross to Blog Spot, George de Fourre
Order of the Battledore to John the Plain

And the following from the populace:
Presentations of largesse from Shire of Ire, Barony of Irony, House Duckfast
Announcements from autocrat, marshal, chirurgeon, arts competition sponsor
Petition for baronial status from the Shire of Ire
Fealty oaths from landeds who missed Coronation

You might arrange court to run as follows:

Opening comments from the Crown
Fealty oaths from landeds
Announcement: autocrat
Presentation: House Duckfast
Announcement: arts competition sponsor
AoA: Sven Svensson
AoA: Mary of Millpond
Announcement: marshal
Presentation: Barony of Irony
AoA: Friederick Herrman
AoA: Jacques du Lac
Announcement: chirurgeon
Albatross: Blog Spot
Albatross: George du Fourre
Presentation: Shire of Ire
Petition: Shire of Ire
Battledore: John the Plain
Call for any further business
Closing comments from the Crown

The fealty oaths are late already, so they need to be right up front.  Normally, you’d stack the presentations in ascending order of group size, but the petition for barony status is a big deal and should be nearer the end, and it makes no sense to call the Shire of Ire up twice.  The awards, announcements, and presentations are nicely mixed, with the awards increasing in rank as court progresses.  Now, all you have to do is put the plan into action!

Curtain time

Check with the Crown and find out when they’d like to begin.  Don’t bother with announcements that court is imminent until about 10 minutes out.  The time will never be that exact, and any longer gives people the idea that they have time to do just one more thing before court.  It’s nice, if possible, to make an approximation of court time at the conclusion of the tournament or other central activity, “Court will begin in approximately one hour,” so, say, the fighters know they have time to shower.

Ask the Crown how they wish to begin, i.e., do they want to process in or simply have people summoned before the thrones (and don’t forget to ask how they want to END court!).  Again, this is often a personal preference of each set of royals, so don’t assume.  For very formal occasions, they may process in to music; this means you have one more player in the cast.  You don’t want music playing over your introduction.  Meet with the musician(s) before court.  The easiest “signal” to give, since the musician(s) may or may not be in your line of sight, is to instruct them to wait until you say, “All rise for Their Sovereign Majesties, Frank and Helen, King and Queen of Narnia!”  Be sure the Crown is in on the plan, so they don’t miss their cue or glare at the musicians to begin early.

If there is no music and the Crown still wants to process in, it can be cool to have enough to say to get them from their starting point to the thrones (again, check with them—their vision may be to process in to a dignified silence).  What to say?  There are many options; perhaps the two easiest are what I call the calendar and the travelogue.  The calendar: “All rise for Their Majesties, Frank and Helen, King and Queen of Narnia, who won the right to bear the Narnian Crowns in true combat on the 11th of June, Anno Societatus XL, and who ascended the Narnian thrones on the 20th of August of that same year and thus began Their Glorious Reign.  Vivant!”  The travelogue: “All rise for Their Majesties, Frank and Helen, King and Queen of Narnia, who hold the lands from Lantern Waste to the Great Sea, from the vast Southern desert to the icy mountains of the North.  Their lands know victory in time of war and plenty in time of peace.  Vivant!”  The travelogue is almost endless, as you can throw in as many names of local areas as you want (remember to include wherever you are, and it’s nice to include any whose landed nobles are present).  Some heralds like to extol the fighting prowess of the king and the beauty of the queen, but I find that plan is fraught with peril.  Let’s be honest, not every king won his throne in the world’s cleanest fight, and not every queen is a paragon of either loveliness or virtue.  Even if the queen is a knockout, it’s possible to go too far; when one herald of my acquaintance got to “angels weep at her loveliness” laughter broke out, not because she wasn’t pretty, but c’mon, that’s getting a little deep.  If your shtick on such occasions raises snickers, you have sooooooo not done your job.  But while we’re talking about humor…

I often remark that I went to the “Leave ‘em Laughing” school of court heraldry.  I believe that court is pretty dull for most people, and any chance to lighten it up should be seized when it presents itself.  If everybody connected with the court has a sense of theatre, it can be enough pageantry not to need humor, but those occasions are rare.  Often you will find that a humorous presentation is planned, and as long as the Crown knows about it and approves, you can play along all you wish.  Just remember two things: 1) It is the Crown’s show.  You should NEVER make a joke at the Crown’s expense even if you know them well, and you shouldn’t joke at all if the Crown finds it inappropriate (some Crowns are ultra-serious and some are downright casual).  Remember most of the populace wants to look up to these people, so the last thing you should do is knock them down a peg.  2) There are some occasions where humor is almost never appropriate, such as Crown lists invocations, Coronation, peerage ceremonies and the like.  The more it feels like you’re in church, the more you should suppress comic impulses.

If the Crown wishes to begin court already enthroned, you need only open court with a suitable announcement.  Begin with one of the “listen up” phrases as listed earlier, and follow with one of these “what’s up” phrases:

Pray draw nigh and attend this, the court of Their Majesties… OR
Here opens the court of…  OR
Let all gentles draw nigh and bear witness to this, the court of…

You should be in your place on the sovereign’s right side (the consort’s throne should be on the sovereign’s left) where you can conveniently whisper to the Crown and prompt lines for ceremonies if need be.  Why shouldn’t you be between the thrones?  Because you’re noticeable, and placing you in the center draws the eye away from where it should be, on the royals.  Once you have opened court, you should ask the Crown if they have any opening remarks.  They will usually want to welcome, thank, etc.   Be sure you ask the King AND the Queen separately, because they may have quite different things to say.

Proceed down your list of business, but be flexible.  If you call Mary, and it turns out she is up to her elbows in dirty dishwater, you know it will be several minutes before she can clean up and get into court even after the time it will take to summon her.  Go on with the next item and return to Mary when you see her approach.  If the award involved a ceremony which was read before the person’s name was called, please read it again.  Remember every award, from an AoA to a peerage, may be the highest award this person ever receives, and they deserve a little pomp in their big moment.

After the award is given, you will exhort the populace to cheers.  Find a local senior herald and learn what is customary.  This is probably the single biggest regional difference in court heraldry.  Most places use “Vivat!” at least some of the time, but some places will expect a lead-and-echo, some places will expect a wave or other signal from the herald so that everyone cheers together.  Some places have rank-specific cheering (Ansteorra favors once for AoA-level awards, twice for Grant-level awards, three times for peerages and, sometimes, horribly, four for the Crown.  Sorry, more than three is dumb.)  The standard used to be the herald saying “Hip, Hip” and the populace responding “Hurrah,” but there came to be a concern over possible anti-Semitic connotations with that cheer, and it fell out of general favor, but it is still used in some places.  During the change-over period, one King was so annoyed that for his reign the approved cheer was for the herald to shout “Whoopee-tie” and the populace to respond “Kie-o!”  One King (who was in the Army) asked his populace to shout “Hoo-yah” for his reign.  Many people like “Huzzah.”  Truly, there is no way to know if you are new to an area but to ask.

It helps to cue the populace to preface the cheers with “For Lady Mary” or “For the newest armiger of our kingdom” or “For the service (etc., the reason for the award) of Lady Mary” or the like.  “Vivat” is the Latin equivalent of “Long live…” and it is singular.  If more than one person is being cheered for, the correct plural is “Vivant.”  Fortunately, they sound much the same, so if you forget, it’s not a big deal.  You should also exhort cheers for presentations; you can preface the cheers with something like “For the generosity of the people of the Barony of Irony…” so the populace understands why they are cheering for a gift they didn’t receive.

When you’ve completed your list, ask the Crown for any closing remarks (often they’ve said their say in the opening remarks and will pass).  You may ask if there is any further business, though this, too, you should clear with the Crown.  If someone couldn’t be bothered to see you before court, they don’t deserve much consideration, and there’s a higher-than-average chance that the business will be something you or the Crown would have nixed had they asked permission beforehand.  If someone rushes forward and shouts, “Your Majesty, I crave a boon!” there is nothing for it but to let the Crown handle it.

If the Crown wants to process out, you will say, “There being no further business before this court, Their Majesties declare it closed.  All rise for Their Majesties, Frank and Helen…”  In most places, you will begin a closing litany.  This also tends to have regional variations, so again you should ask.  Typically there is some variation on, “Long live the King!  Long live the Queen!  Long live Narnia!”  If all the assembled nobles are to process out, you may have many extra phrases, “Long live the Baron and Baroness of Irony!  Long live the Prince and Princess of Archenland!”  If the Crown wants “Long live Narnia!” last (and most will), encourage them to process out in reverse order of precedence, so you’re saying “Long live the Baron and Baroness of Irony” when said Baron and Baroness are walking out, likewise “Long live the King!” when he is walking out.  Some places use “Vivat” in place of “Long live,” which is perfectly correct, but if you’re going to do so, pick ONE language and stick to it.  There is no historical precedence for mixing languages in a single phrase, so “Vivat the Queen” has the same wrongness (and potential humor) as “Hasta la vista Baby!”  “Vivat Rex!” is cool, but if you wouldn’t say “Long live Rex!” (unless you’re cheering your German Shepherd) why would you say “Vivat King”?

If the Crown does NOT wish to process out, you should simply say, “There being no further business before this court, Their Majesties declare it closed.  You have Their Majesties leave to depart about the business of the day (or “to prepare for the feast” or whatever it is most people will be doing).”  If someone gives you a hard time later because you didn’t ask for any further business, just tell them that it is Their Majesties’ court and it’s over when they say it’s over.  (That’ll shut ‘em up.)

Exhale.  Court is over and you MADE IT.  Woo-hoo!

More Courtly Behavior

There are several other types of court duty that you may be called upon to perform; in fact, like announcements, these activities are often the “grunt work” of court heraldry and local heralds are very likely to be asked to step in even if a more senior herald is running formal court.

Informal courts

Informal courts (also known as “sitting in state”) are typically held during lull periods at events, whether between rounds of a tourney, between removes of a feast, or just following a formal court.  During this time, the royals are sitting in the thrones and are available to the populace for private conversations, bestowing personal gifts or swearing personal fealty, taking household members, and other business which is not appropriate for formal court.  No awards are given (awards are only valid if presented in open formal court before witnesses) and there is no populace to exhort to cheers, so the main job is crowd control.

As duty herald, you are there in case the royals need anything; you will also be responsible for letting waiting people know when it is their turn to approach the royal presence.  It’s important to keep the people who are “in line” a reasonable distance away so that each person or group’s audience with the Crown is reasonably private.  While they are waiting, you should discover the name and business of each person or group (keep 3x5 cards for this purpose unless you have a fabulous memory) so that when their turn comes, you can present them to the Crown: “Your Majesties, Lord Giles of Ham has a gift.”
If there isn’t a courtier available to take notes on gifts, you may also be pressed into service for that.  The Crown usually acknowledges gifts they receive during the reign, so they need a list.  Since you’ve already got those 3x5 cards with the person’s name, it’s only the work of 30 seconds to add “gift of Their Majesties arms in marzipan” to the card.

There should always be an announcement made about time for informal court: “Their Majesties will be sitting in state from the conclusion of the fighting until feast begins.  They encourage all members of the populace who wish it to speak with Them during this time.”  It is not necessary to make an announcement closing informal court; when the royals stand up, court’s over.

Grand March

The very name strikes terror into the hearts of many court heralds.  Grand March is when literally everyone in the kingdom is presented to Their Majesties, usually in order of precedence, though sometimes the Crown will request REVERSE order of precedence so the populace go first and the Dukes go last.  Grand Marches are blessedly rare, especially at large events, but a modified GM is often used for, say, presenting entrants to Crown Tourney.

Some heralds actually carry around a copy of the Kingdom OP (listing of the order of precedence) just in case; this is a complete waste of effort.  Trust me, everyone knows when they got their highest award, and if they don’t, they don’t especially care.  I have never in over 25 years seen a fight break out over order of march that a herald had to settle with the OP.

The typical order is: Dukes/Duchesses, Earls/Count/esses, Viscount/esses, Landed Baron/esses, Members of Patent Orders (Chivalry, Laurel, Pelican), Holders of Grants and Grant-level awards, Holders of kingdom-level armigerous awards, Armigers, Holders of non-armigerous awards, and Populace.  (Technically, within the armigerous awards group, there should be precedence given for Holders of kingdom-level armigerous awards over Holders of principality-level armigerous awards over Holders of baronial-level armigerous awards, but that will rarely be an issue.)

Within each group, precedence confers by date.  If Duchess Dierdre became a duchess in A.S. XVII, she comes before Duke Duncan, who became a duke in A.S. XX, even if Duncan’s first reign (after which he became an Earl) was before Dierdre’s first reign (after which she became a Countess).  Mistress Maude, who received her Laurel in A.S. XX comes before Master Maurice, a Pelican from year XXV, and Sir Sidney, a Knight from year XXVI.  Remember that Anno Societatus, or the year of the Society, runs from May 1st to April 30th, so an award from June of A.S. XXX was actually given BEFORE February of A.S. XXX.  Don’t worry; most people know the mundane year of their award.

In the rare case the awards were given on the same day, let the individuals involved work it out.  It’s unlikely they’ll actually remember who got it first (and if one was in another kingdom, you don’t want to deal with time zones!), so suggest they go in alphabetical order or whatever seems fair to all (this will probably seem more fair to Lady Angela than it will to Lord Xavier, but hey, he picked the name!).  In the rare but unpleasant case where a Duke and Duchess are now divorced and each wants to march separately, the person who was the sovereign has precedence.

In a formal GM, you will announce everyone as they approach the thrones.  Again, 3x5 cards are your friends.  For a very large march, you may want to have another herald hand out cards or take down the names and give the cards to the marchers (have several pens).  They should write down how they wish to be addressed.  When their turn comes, they’ll hand you their card.  If you don’t know them, this is your chance to ask about how they pronounce their name.  If they have added sixteen other titles, pleasantly tell them that given the time involved and the number of people, they should pick one title.  This is not the time to mention that they are the current Baron’s champion for the Barony of Irony.  If Duke Sir Dowie of Den wants “Duke Sir” that’s fine, but not “Duke Sir Dowie of Den, Companion of the Order of the Albatross, etc.”  Exception: if it’s a small local event, and the Crown approves, let everybody have what they want.  As soon as you get over about 100 people, implore the Crown to encourage brevity in Their subjects.

In an informal Grand March, the individuals will introduce themselves; you simply introduce the class: “Your Majesties, may I present the Dukes and Duchesses of Your Realm!”  If the event is small, and there’s one Duke, two Earls, and a Viscount, introduce them together:  “Your Majesties, may I present the Royal Peers of Your Realm!”

In either a formal or informal GM, you should follow the procedure for informal courts, holding each person or group a respectful distance from the thrones until each person has had their moment, then motion the next person or group to come forward.  Groups, you say?  If you’re a nobody, wouldn’t you rather hold Duke Dowie’s banner than come dead last in the march?  Many households march with their head.  As far as you are concerned, they don’t exist; you only present the head(s) of the household.  If Duke Dowie wants to introduce all his retainers to the Crown, that’s his problem.

Simple, huh?  Really, nothing is as scary as it sounds.  You will be nervous the first time, but you’ll be surprised how quickly both field and court heraldry will become second nature.  Soon forsooth phrases will come as easily out of your mouth as ordering a Big Mac and fries.  You, the voice herald, can be the difference between a boring court and a memorable court, or between a grand tournament and a fighter practice.  Your style and theatricality will encourage the other players around you, the fighters, the marshals, even the Crown.  Each event is a show we make together, but someone has to deliver the first line.  Will it be you?