A Herald’s Guide to Surviving Court

Master Eldred Ælfwald, Azure Dragon Herald

© 1998-2010, J.T. Thorpe

If you are not a herald, or do not plan to participate in the "behind the scenes" work of running a Court, I suggest you read no further. This course will dispel much of the "magic" we associate with Court and how it all goes together in the SCA.

I would like to thank the people of the Merry Rose Tavern for their valuable input; Mistress Rhiannon Ui Niall, Azure Crescent Herald and former Triton Principal Herald, for making me write this up, the late Duke Gyrth Oldcastle for his insights on dealing with Royalty, and my lady, Mistress Ealdthryth of Humbrestone for her encouragement and support.

Setting up Court
Agenda and Running Court Vocal Survival
Uncle Eldred's Court Checklist

A "survival guide" makes Court sound ominous, doesn’t it? Court Survival does not mean watching your back for plots and intrigues, although it would make life interesting! Court comes at the end of a long day of fighting, archery, dancing, socializing, etc. that is associated with an event. As a herald, it’s your job to make sure Court runs smoothly, which includes many things: setting the agenda, making sure people with presentations know when they will be called, and making sure people attending Court know what is going on! Much of what I will convey will appear to be common sense, but there are a lot of little things that you can do to make Court "survivable," and hopefully entertaining! Many of the things I will relate are "you must do," while others are "this would be really nice to do or have."

Setting up Court


Setting up for Court is one element of a successful Court. An open area with good acoustics is ideal. If you can’t get that, get as close to it as you can. Court should occur where there is a minimal amount of background noise. If people can’t hear you, they get bored, and that is a sign of a Bad Court.

Duke Gyrth Oldcastle has advocated using a PA system with "ground" or hidden microphones to help people hear what is going on. If you can manage to acquire one, and disguise it well enough, go for it!


Arranging seating for Court is an important component. Straight rows of seating is OK, but arranging the populace in a semi-circle in front of the thrones is much better—it allows your voice to reach the most number of people with the least effort. Court "in the round" is unusual, and folks behind the thrones are unlikely to be able to hear you or the Crowns well. The normal arrangement is to have the thrones at one end of the hall with the populace ranged down to the end. I completely disagree with this arrangement. While aesthetically pleasing, this is very bad for people in the back who are straining to hear the herald’s voice. My advice is to place the thrones in the middle of the longest wall and arrange the populace in a semi-circle outward from there. Make sure there is at least a central aisle for people to process towards the thrones or two aisles dividing the populace into thirds.

What happens if you have multiple Crowns who will sit in state? Answer: Kings and Queens in the middle—your Sovereigns are center stage when in Their Kingdom. Then the Prince and Princess are seated to the right of the monarchs, and territorial Barons and Baronesses are seated to the left. For other Monarchs, they will be seated to the right and left of our Monarchs in order of Precedence (which Kingdom was founded first) I’ll defer to the Clerk of Precedence to ensure that I have this part right!

For your own comfort and smooth running of Court, you will need to contend with whatever Honor Guard accompanies the Crowns. Based on personal experience, you need to be able to hand things to both Crowns, and on occasion, be able to step out before Them. Set the thrones far enough from the wall that the Honor Guard can stand behind the thrones and still allow you access (an aisle) to either side. Make sure they know to stand back! This is especially important if the Crowns have gifts and tokens to present because you will need a table to sit things on (I’ve never been able to hold my court agenda, ten scrolls, 6 gifts and successfully herald a Court!)

Speaking of scrolls and gifts, make sure all the scrolls you are to read and are to be presented are ready at least 15 minutes before Court, and any prizes and tokens to be awarded are on the table behind the thrones. If there is no way to get them there beforehand, you may ask the ladies-in-waiting or deputize one or two people to process them in behind the Crowns. It can add a bit of "frou-frou" to Court.

Part of setting up for Court is making sure there is adequate time to hold Court, time for people to prepare for Court, and time for people to prepare for feast after Court. Collar the autocrat and feastcrat to help you set the time and place Court is to occur! If the feastcrat plans to feed folks at six, plan for Court to end at 5:45 and work from there. This leads me to the next topic:

Court Agenda and Running Court

The populace of Atlantia seems to agree that a short court is a good court. Most people agree that one hour is as long a Court as they are willing to attend. A long court is usually a bad thing, and several factors can create a long court. I will address several topics in no particular order:

Vocal Survival

There is a lot to vocal survival! First and foremost, do not wear yourself out heralding the lists all day! You can deputize people to help you with this.

Prevent your throat from becoming dry. Keep plenty of liquid refreshment at hand, and avoid carbonated beverages, caffine, and the more acidic fruit juices. Don’t eat anything before Court(say ½ hour or so) as eating will tend to parch your throat to some extent. Keep to water if you can, and make sure you have a mug of water handy when behind the thrones. The Crowns’ ladies-in-waiting will usually make sure that the Crowns have beverages handy, and if you ask nicely, they may provide for you as well.

DO NOT SHOUT! This is the quickest way to strip your throat raw, and doom your Court! I have learned a couple of different things from heralds and voice majors since I started heralding Courts. The most common advice (and good) is to breathe from your diaphragm. Using a lower tone carries further than a high tone. If you can modulate your voice to a lower tone, you can project further. A recent tidbit that I picked up was to allow your sinuses to resonate—I tried it, and it felt odd at first, but it really works!

ENUNCIATE! I cannot stress this point enough. If you do not enunciate your words properly, those in the back row are never going to understand you. Also, speak clearly and somewhat slowly, otherwise if you speaksoquicklythatyourwordsallcomeoutinarush no one will understand you. Pace yourself!

Now to address the biggest fear of all: mispronunciation! All those Welsh names with no vowels, French names with all those accents, choppy, harsh-sounding German names! How does one cope? Normally people know how to pronounce their own names. Their close friends probably will as well. When you are going to call them into Court, make sure you have a phonetic spelling handy on your Court agenda. This won’t completely prevent you from making a mistake, but it minimizes the chances you will make one. If you butcher someone’s name (yes, you’ll either get a laugh or a glare), keep going, and apologize AFTER Court. If they correct you in Court, do your best. Don’t forget, you ARE AMONG FRIENDS, and friends forgive one another!

The same principle applies when you are reading scrolls. If you mispronounce something, just forge ahead, don’t stop to correct a mistake unless it is something major that will garble the rest of the message. If you have a scroll in hand that is in a calligraphy style that you cannot read well, or one of those very period scrolls on which words simply stop at the end of a line and continue on the next, get a printed translation to keep in your notes. What happens if you don’t have a scroll for someone? I keep a couple of scroll texts handy in case I need to make one up on the fly. It’s a matter of preparation.

Part of my Court agenda includes the litany for opening and closing Court. For example:

  1. "Oyez! Oyez! All rise for Their Excellencies, Chip and Dale, Baron and Baroness of Fern-Y-Tor!"
  2. Process in. Baron and Baroness are seated.
  3. Once seated, the Baron will signal and you say "Their Excellencies bid the populace to be seated!"
  4. "Here opens the Court of Chip and Dale, Baron and Baroness of Fern-Y-Tor!"
  5. Call items of business:
  6. Close Court with "Here closes the Court of Chip and Dale, Baron and Baroness of Fern-Y-Tor!"
  7. Populace rises and bows as Baron, Baroness & retinue process out.

Eldred’s Court Checklist

  1. When and where Court will occur.
    1. Talk to autocrat - where and when
    2. Talk to feastcrat - when
  2. Acoustics:
    1. Good acoustics; and/or
    2. PA system.
  3. Court business finalized at least ½ - ¾ hour prior to Court.
    1. Get winners of day’s tournaments and competitions;
    2. List of all Court business;
    3. Order of Court business;
    4. Phonetic written pronunciation of names;
    5. Typewritten or legible scroll texts;
    6. Write down litany (legibly) for Court just in case!
    7. Defer event announcements and personal gifts to sitting in State or other more appropriate time.
  4. Brief Crowns on Court business (½ hour prior to Court):
    1. Who is coming;
    2. If person isn’t there, if representative is present and acceptable;
    3. Why are they coming; and
    4. Personal anecdotes about people.
  5. Physics of Court:
    1. Set up for Court completed at least 15 minutes beforehand;
    2. Minimal distance between herald and "cheap seats";
    3. Thrones for ALL Royalty present;
    4. Table behind thrones to hold scrolls, water, gifts, etc.;
    5. HAVE scrolls, gifts, water, etc.
    6. Space behind thrones for herald and Royal retinue;
    7. Enough light to read scrolls by; and
    8. Kneeling pillows are far enough out.
  6. In Court:
    1. Avoid "dead air" such as conferring with Crowns;
    2. Avoid pontification;
    3. Enunciate; project; DO NOT SHOUT;
    4. Relay information to populace; have accomplices to signal you;
    5. Relax, you are among friends;
    6. Flex your knees—locking them will cause you to faint or get fatigued;
    7. EVERY award is IMPORTANT; and above all,
    8. KEEP IT MOVING and entertaining!