Event Etiquette


 

Then someone shouted in a voice quite loud,

To make way for the King, and ev’rybody bowed.

“Welcome to the Current Middle Ages”

Baldwin of Erebor

The idea of etiquette takes some getting used to, especially to modern Americans who rarely have any use for formal manners.

For one, unlike modern America where everyone is supposed to be equal, Mediaeval society was very structured and hierarchical. Rather like the rank structure in the modern military, everyone had a spot on the hierarchy and knew who was above and below them. Only Kings had no one above them (there were Emperors but they rarely held real authority) and only the lowest of serfs had no one below them.

The SCA attempts to follow this pattern, though with one specific exception. Titles, honours, and ranks in the SCA are purely the result of one’s own accomplishment.No one inherits rank in the SCA.

And there are no peasants.Unless someone chooses to be, and a few do. But by default, everyone in the SCA is considered to be of gentle birth, as if you were a distant cousin of a noble family with no title. That’s why the default form of address is the abbreviated “m’lord” or “m’lady.” If you’re not sure of someone’s rank, address them that way. They may correct you, but they SHOULD be nice about it.

Here are the various rank levels, and how to address them:

Title

What It Means

What They Wear

What To Call Them

King or Queen

Ruler of a Kingdom

Distinctive crown

Your Majesty

My Liege (if you’ve sworn fealty)

Crown Prince or Princess

In waiting to be ruler of a Kingdom

Smaller distinctive crown

Your Highness

Your Royal Highness

Duke or Duchess

Been King/Queen at least twice

Coronet with leaves

Your Grace

Earl, Count or Countess

Been King/Queen once

Coronet with embattled edges

Your Excellency

Viscount or Viscountess

Been Territorial Prince/Princess at least once

Coronet with more than six spheroids

Your Excellency

Landed Baron or Baroness

Ceremonial Head of a Barony

Coronet with six spheroids

Your Excellency

Court Baron or Baroness

Done great service to the Crown or been head of a Barony

Coronet with six spheroids

Your Excellency

Laurel

Peerage-level accomplishment in the Arts/Sciences and chivalry

Medallion with a laurel wreath

Master/Mistress/‌Dame (Name)

Pelican

Peerage-level service and chivalry

Medallion with picture of pelican

Master/Mistress/Dame (Name)

Knight

Peerage-level martial skill and chivalry

White belt, gold chain

Sir (Name)

Grant of Arms

Greater merit than AoA, usually comes with another award.

(no regalia)

Lord or Lady (Name) or Your Lordship or Ladyship[1]

Award of Arms

Merit

(no regalia)

Lord or Lady (Name)

Anybody

Any or none of the above

(no regalia)

M’Lord/M’Lady

It should be pointed out that “m’lord” and “m’lady” are NOT titles and that no one should sign a letter or identify themselves in that way. They are courteous forms of address only.

Making a Reverence

This is just a fancy expression for bowing or curtsying. There is no one set way to bow or to curtsy. You’ll see some people do some very theatrical and flamboyant bows and curtsies, while others make them simple. They’re all ways of showing respect, and no one will criticize how you do it. I’m going to ask some of the more experienced members here to demonstrate….

Full Reverence

Full reverence is the deepest bow or curtsy you intend to make.You should make a full reverence when Royalty passes by in a formal procession, when you’re called into court, or if you’re formally presented to a Royal and/or Baronial.

Small Reverence

A small reverence is a slight bow of the head, a slight incline of the body, a slight bend of the knees. You should make a small reverence if you encounter Royalty at times other than at Court or in other non-ceremonial times, and of course give way to them if at a doorway, stairway, or some narrow passage.

Another point is that if you’re sitting in a small room or around a fire or in some large room and a Royal or the local Baron or Baroness comes into the room or into the area of the group you’re in; you should rise and make a small reverence.

Hand Kissing

This is a custom less popular currently than it was, but it is a very gallant thing to do. A lord will kiss a lady’s hand as a salute to her. It can be a flirtation, but that is not its main purpose.

The lady should extend her hand, palm down, at about waist level.

The lord should put his hand under the lady’s, palm up, and support it. He should not raise it to his lips, but should bow over her hand and just barely touch the back of her hand with his lips. He should say something like, “I am honoured,” or “your servant,” or some other complimentary thing.

Escorting and Being Escorted

If a lord goes to escort a lady, the style is a bit different from the modern way of “taking his arm.”

The lord should always place himself to the lady’s left and hold out his right arm, the forearm horizontal at waist level and palm down.

The lady rests her hand atop his, and may curl her thumb under his hand to hold it.

A gentle lord would not lift the lady’s hand much above her waist, and even in dancing, not above her shoulder.

Note though, that a lord assisting a lady to walk on slippery or otherwise treacherous footing would be better off to use the modern method, with the lord’s arm bent and the lady holding to the inside of his elbow.It is stronger and steadier.

At Court

General

A real Mediaeval court was not the same as a SCAdian court. Monarchs held court to conduct business, and a lot of the business was pretty dull. In the SCA, we take care of the administrative stuff in a different setting, and hold Courts mostly for ceremonial things.

The large selections of awards you see in the SCA are specific to the SCA, except for Knighthood. Because our rulers can’t give out lands or treasure, they give out symbolic jewels to recognize worthy service.

So our Courts are set up like a theatre, with the Ruling Nobles up front, attended; and the populace seated in rows of chairs or benches.

But even if you consider yourself just a spectator, you ARE participating just by being there. And there are a few points you need to know.

When the Court is announced to take place in ten minutes or less, make your way to where it will be. If it’s indoors, chairs will probably be provided, but if it’s outdoors, you should provide your own seat.

Find a seat and wait for the proceedings to begin. No need to be silent at this point; in fact, this is a time for socializing.

When the herald announces the Royals and/or Baronials, stand up and turn towards the center aisle.When the Royals and/or Baronials pass by, make a reverence.

When all the Royals and/or Baronials reach the front, face forward and wait until the herald or one of the Royals and/or Baronials invites the populace to be seated.

Keep quiet as the proceedings proceed. The herald will try to keep everyone informed of what’s going on. And at the end of each presentation, he’ll call for cheers. The custom is to shout “Vivat!” three times (Latin for “Long live!”). The herald usually leads it by raising a hand.

Sometimes at the end of a court, the Royals and/or Baronials process out. In that case, you do pretty much the same things you did when they processed in. Other times, they’ll just declare court closed and everyone disperses.

If You’re Called into Court

Don’t panic. Despite all the jokes, no one gets called into court because they’re in trouble. Make your way to the center aisle and make your way to the front.

If you’re a lady, your lord (husband or significant other) may want to escort you; or if you’re unaccompanied, some other lord may offer to escort you. This does not imply that you’re unable to make it up the aisle on your own. It’s a courtesy to you. Your escort should stop about ten paces away from the throne and wait for you. Unless there are stairs and you think you’ll have trouble with them. In that case, he should bring you to the top of the stairs and then return to the bottom.

Note that this sort of escorting is optional, and it is the lady’s choice. Some ladies welcome the offer; others prefer to show independence of spirit by going alone. A gentle lord will respect a lady’s wishes in this. Also, it is not appropriate for a lord to disrupt a court by pushing past many other gentles to offer his arm to a lady he doesn’t even know, who is some distance from him when she is called into court.

When you get in front of the thrones, make a reverence to each of the Royals and/or Baronials, and if there’s a cushion, kneel on it. If you have some condition that makes it difficult for you to kneel, say something like, “I am unable to kneel.”They’ll understand!Some will ask you not to kneel, in fact.

Chances are, you’ve been called forward to get an award, in which case the herald will probably read out the scroll, and the Royal or Baronial will probably add some remarks. They’ll then present you with the scroll, and if it’s a higher award, the medallion. They’ll assist you to rise and clasp your hand or embrace you. There will be cheers.

When it’s time to return to your seat, you should make a reverence and take at least one step backward before turning your back on the Royals and/or Baronials. It’s not always possible or feasible, and no one wants you to fall off the edge of the stage or dais.

If there are stairs, and if you have trouble with them, and if you have an escort, he should come to the stairs and assist you.

Then just return to your seat.

At a Feast

The table manners that you parents tried to teach you are relics of the Victorian age, but some of them had their origins in the Renaissance or earlier. Unlike our actual Mediaeval counterparts, most of us don’t eat with our fingers or use the points of our knives instead of forks. A simplified version of your modern table manners will serve you fine.There are no specific rules in that area.

The one point of etiquette you’ll encounter at a feast is The Round of Toasts.

At some point during the feast, one of the senior people not at High Table will rise and call for a toast to Their Majesties of Atlantia.

Lords should stand up, take up a drinking vessel, raise it, and say loudly, “Atlantia!” or “Their Majesties!” then go through the motion of taking a sip (if your drinking vessel is empty, fake it!).

Ladies are not expected to stand for these toasts, burdened as they are by long and usually voluminous skirts.

But don’t sit down yet, for as soon as the first toast dies down, someone else will rise and call for a toast to the Crown Prince and Princess (unless it is during the short time between Coronation and Crown Tourney when there are no Heirs). This time when you raise your vessel you should say “Their Highnesses!” and again, take a sip.

No, don’t sit down quite yet! The toasts will be repeated for the local Baron, if you’re in a Barony; and for any visiting royalty.

There’s a chance that someone will call for a toast to the waterbearers, or to the ladies, or so forth; but they will likely come separately from the toasts to the Royals and/or Baronials.

Sometimes the Royals and/or Baronials will convene a Court during a feast, usually to take care of some bit of business left over from the main court.Usually they just open it from High Table so there’s no procession.

Vigils

When a person is to be accorded a peerage title (Knighthood, Laurel, or Pelican), they are customarily placed on vigil for a time before the title is conferred. This is a tradition that harks back to the Original Middle Ages, when at least some of the time, a candidate for knighthood spent the night before watching over his armour in a church or chapel.

In the SCA tradition, the candidate is taken to a room or a tent and kept apart from the rest of the event, but is visited by other Peers who offer the candidate advice, encouragement, and cautions about the step they’re about to take. Becoming a Peer changes a person’s view of the SCA, and the SCA’s view of the person. Usually a guard or guards will be posted at the entrance, and several “notables” will be in charge of the proceedings. A vigil is a sort of event within an event, but it’s only open to the people directly involved. If you are a friend of a person who is doing a vigil, you might offer to stand guard for a time, or to help with the preparations. Otherwise, the best thing to do is keep a respectful distance from the vigil area.

Fealty

Fealty or homage is a formal expression of loyalty between two people. In the SCA it’s most often seen when peers and other persons of rank swear fealty to the Crown, but it can take place on a lower and more personal level. It begins with the lower-ranking person telling the upper-ranking person what they are willing to do for him, and the upper-ranking person responds with what they will do in return.

A classic example of the kind of wording can be seen where Peregrine Took swears fealty to Denethor the Steward of Gondor in Lord of the Rings.

Fealty is not something to enter into casually. It’s an oath that binds you to the other person until you both agree to dissolve it.Peers, Great Officers of State, and landed Barons are required to swear fealty to the Crown, but no one else is required to, and no one should enter into any sort of fealty during their first year or two in the SCA.

Items on Display

At many events there are arts and sciences competitions or displays. Many of the items put on display are rather fragile or can be affected by being touched. Unless the exhibitor is there to give permission or unless there’s some sort of notation saying it’s OK to handle it, it is best to follow the old maternal admonition to “look with your eyes, not with your hands.”

The same is true of anyone’s property. If you want to examine something, ask first. Unless it’s especially delicate, most people will be willing enough to let you have a good look if you ask.

Pavilions, Day-Shades, and Groupings of Seats

Frequently at events, particularly outdoor events, people will set up a day-shade or a pavilion or simply a group of chairs. In doing so, they establish a sort of territory, which you should not enter without asking permission or being invited in. Now, some groups set up a hospitality pavilion that welcomes everyone to partake of the company and the refreshments offered.But other branches’ hospitality pavilions may be meant for members of the branch, so it’s good to ask before coming in.

This is also true where people set food on a table at an indoor event other than during the feast.

Helping Out

One of the most courteous things you can do is offer to help where you think someone needs or could use it. A big part of the concept of chivalry is helping those in need. Especially ladies or those with difficulty handling loads.

The simplest form of helping out is such things as opening a door for someone as they approach it. If someone seems to be struggling with a load, an offer to assist in carrying it will usually be welcome. But don’t be too pushy. Sometimes a person is especially protective of certain items (musical instruments or art objects especially, or ceremonial objects) and doesn’t want anyone else to handle them. Respect their wishes.

There are also some who are reluctant to accept help out of a sense of independence. Again, respect their wishes; and don’t get discouraged by refusals. Your offers are appreciated even when not accepted. And those who DO need assistance will bless you.

Be careful about overdoing it, though. Save enough time and energy to do what you need to do at the event!

Another good way to help out is to assist in such activities as waterbearing (this will get you loved), running cards for the heralds, and other such things. You will get to know people and they will get to know you in a positive way.

——————————————————————————————————————————————

Supplemental Information

These are items not directly related to court etiquette, but useful for new members.

Special Belts

The bestowed peerages will customarily have student/assistants. Knights have squires, who by custom wear red belts; Laurels have apprentices, who by custom wear green belts; and Pelicans have protégés, who by custom wear gold belts. The belt colours are not mandatory, but that’s the norm. And there is a tendency, especially among Laurels, to get away from the use of belts. And being a squire, apprentice, or protégé does not carry any prestige. In fact, it marks one as being available to assist, especially protégés.

Households

Households are groups who band together for socializing, mutual support, and/or to share common interests.

Households are acknowledged by the SCA leadership but not officially recognized. The run the gamut in size from literally thousands of members spread over the Known World to a handful of people in one local group. Their organizations also vary widely, from almost military stringency to a laid-back group that acts by consensus.

Becoming part of a household can be a good thing in the long run, but it’s not necessary and you shouldn’t be in a hurry to join one. Again, not for the first year or so.

[1] Unofficial, but commonly used.

Originally published in the .pdf version of the Key in April and May of 2011 with the permission of the Author Master Donal Mac Ruiseart

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Going to your 1st Event | The Middlegate Key - June 12, 2013

    […] Event Etiquette (middlegatekey.com) […]