A beginners guide to the SCA – Court Etiquette

One of my stated aims in starting this blog was to write down how a total beginner to this SCA business found her way through it.  I’m going to cheat for a couple of them because I’m going to nab some stuff my head of Household posted to us (with his permission).    I’m going to start with basic Court etiquette because it’s surprisingly daunting to a newbie and I got caught on the hop on my very first event (Champions of Lough Devnaree)

 I’ll state categorically I am pretty much shamelessly stealing everything Aodh Ó Siadhail said (thanks Aodh), with names removed to protect the innocent.  Or something. 

  1. Noone will kill you, scowl at you or kick you out for just going along to an event and greeting everyone with a big hi.  If you say hi and wear an expression of interested enjoyment you get on even better.  You may not feel completely happy about the idea of bowing/curtseying and calling strangers “my Lord” or “my Lady”, but it was part of medieval life and that’s what you’re signing up to explore, and it’s part of the game.  So yes, in the SCA there are royalty, and yes there is a certain amount of bowing and swearing allegiances etc.    As Aodh told us “having a go at it is more highly regarded than ignoring it. Also, it’s better to have a go, and get it wrong, that not try.”  
  2. 2The King and Queen change every 6 months, the new King or Queen win the title by combat, and rule with their consort as their King or Queen.     If there’s a king or queen present, you address them as “Your Majesty”, and you bow or curtsey or otherwise show respect as they pass you or as you pass them (within about 3 metres is a good guideline).   Play it by ear, begin any communication as politely as possible, you can gauge how it’s going as you go along, some royals may be more comfortable with formality than others, but you should let them establish the tone.   A King and Queen will usually be provided with seating at events, the better to comfortably spectate, so getting in their way sort of defeats the purpose.    Events will usually have  a throne set up, and it, whether there’s actually a warm body in it or not, represents the Crown. It is considered polite to bow to it in passing as you would to the occupant, and DO NOT SIT IN IT or allow children to do so.  
  3. Princes and Princesses – I need to dig a bit more on these.   If they are present you address them “Your Highness”, and treat as above.   So far, so good.  The problem then is that since royalty  changes with surprising frequency, there is a pretty good chance that the person you were addressing as your majesty or your highness at a previous event is now doing so –  along with you – to someone else.  If you know someone was an Ex-King or  Queen you need to remember that they are now a Count (sometimes Earl) or Countess, and are addressed  “Your Excellency”.  An Ex-Prince or Princess  become a Viscount or Viscountess, and are also addressed as “Your Excellency”   
  4. To further torment your brain cells, people who have been King or Queen twice or more are Dukes and Duchesses, and addresses as “Your Grace”.   I have it on good authority bumping into one of these is relatively rare in this neck of the woods.  
  5. Knights wear white belts, sometimes a chain around their necks, and are addressed as “Sir [Firstname]”. Yes, the women too.
  6. Laurels and Pelicans are addressed as “Master [Firstname]” or “Mistress [Firstname]”. They often don’t wear anything to mark them out, so it can be tricky to know that you’re technically supposed to address them so.  So far, they don’t seem to be too concerned about this
  7. Barons, members of the Orders of Ffraid, the Fox, Robin, etc, have no special titles or addresses. 

If none of the above apply, or you’ve no idea “My Lord”, and “My Lady” are all you need.

REALLY IMPORTANT TO NOTE WHEN SELECTING GARB:   Knights wear white belts and squires red, do not wear these colours as belts if you are neither.

If you get landed at Court and don’t know what to do.  

  1. Be quiet! If anyone is talking you’re supposed to be listening, not having a bit of a natter about the style, the gossip from the earlier events or the latest court scandal.  That’s for feast.
  2. Try not to have to leave at any point.  If you have to step out, try not to cross the line of sight between the thrones and the audience if you can help it at all.
  3. If you’re called up, and you’re male, stand up, divest yourself of hats and weapons (sunglasses too). Walk to the edge of the open area in front of the royalty. Bow, then proceed to kneel in front of the relevant crown – a cushion will usually be provided. Follow instructions thereafter.If you’re called up, and you’re female, stand up, divest yourself of weapons and sunglasses. I reckon big floppy hats should go too; veils, wimples and the like should stay on. If you’ve a chap with you who styles himself as your lord, he’ll also stand to accompany you. If you haven’t, some other fellow close by may stand for the same purpose, or one of the royal guards may come down to collect you.  A Male head of Household can step in here. When you get to the open area, bow or curtsey, and your accompaniment will stop there. Go, kneel, and again, follow instruction. Your accompaniment will wait until you’re done, and then bring you back to your seat.   If a group of people is called up, there’s a much more confused, less formal version of all of that. In some cases it can turn into quite a mob. In that case, don’t worry about the details.
  4. Cheers, when required, go “Vivat!” (singular), or “Vivant!” (plural) repeated three times. Usually, a herald will call for this. “Huzzah!” is also heard in other kingdoms, and occasionally for out-of-Kingdom visitors.

I love this last instruction from Aodh – “And finally, if you’re Irish, do not attempt to turn down awards of any kind out of politeness. By the time it’s being “offered” to you, it’s been discussed among at least six people, maybe as many as twenty, and they really mean it.”

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