Humility and Formality
Date: Fri, Feb 27, 1998 8:50 PM EDT
It's kind of awkward encouraging formality when one is to be the object of some of that formality. That's why when Artan was king I was the one saying "be more formal." "Bow to him" sounds better than "bow to me."
The better you know someone the more difficult it is to be formal. If you're not formal with your own knight others won't be as likely to be either. People will often follow the lead of others. One person being totally mundane can lead five others that direction, but one being formal will help others remember.
It might seem that I'm mixing and matching too much here, but here's something I wrote a few years back. It's not about squires and knights or apprentices and laurels but the overall principles apply.
from (I think) April 1994:
Dear Helena and Thora,
Princess Aziza gave me a great compliment the other night. She said I was better than anyone she knew at being formal with royalty even though I knew them, and said that others sort of try, but they seem awkward or self-conscious about it, and that it was obviously uncomfortable for them. I told her it was uncomfortable for me too, but I force myself. Her Highness said that I should give people lessons. Immediately thereafter His Highness said that I wasn’t the only one that night, that Lavan and Vagn and some of their table also had been especially attentive, and had risen at his approach. I smiled and said I _had_ given Lavan and Vagn lessons. It was a good moment for our household.
The two of you have a better opportunity now than Vagn, Lavan and me all put together, because you’ll be in positions of constant trust and exposure to the Crown’s needs and problems. The more you can ease their burdens and remove obstacles from their paths, the better this reign will be for everyone in the entire kingdom.
As the day of coronation draws near, please consider these things:
Treat Artan and Aziza as much like strangers as you can, in that you are formal with them and keep your personal opinions to yourself in formal situations unless you’re asked for counsel. I know it’s hard. It’s an exercise in being severely in persona. One simple trick which might help you remain aware is simply to move more slowly than you ordinarily do. Jerky and quick movements suggest self-consciousness and embarrassment. Try to move as slowly and gracefully as you can when you’re in the royal presence, and try not to blush with embarrassment about being so formal. It will get easier. Make your curtsies just a little lower and less hurried than you ordinarily would have.
When speaking with the king or queen, kneel when it is possible to do so, not so much for their benefit or yours, but for those who are watching from a distance.
Treat Artan and Aziza as much like friends as you can, in that you are compassionate when they are overburdened and perhaps short with you (I don’t expect it to happen, but it could on bad days), attentive to their physical needs (be as subtle as possible about providing water, shade, seating, information, materials–whatever can make the situation better and which runs no risk of making it worse), and remember the pregnancy (extra water, extra patience on your part, opportunities for quiet rest, always a seat available, even if the wait seems only to be a few moments).
Keep their confidences. This is very important. You will see and hear and know things which are not public. Some information might come to you by accident. There will be things you know that even I don’t need to know, and which Roderic and Sir Vagn don’t need to know. Your service to the Crown for this reign outweighs any obligation to me, and the duty of one in confidence is to keep that confidence as well as possible, else honor is lost. If there is something you wish to discuss with me or others and you are unclear as to the degree of secrecy the Crown wishes maintained, just ask them for permission to discuss it, being prepared to accept “no” for an answer.
Artan expressed to me last evening that he wants the reign to be as formal and as authentic as possible. This is more likely to happen if those people closest to them and around them the most are constantly striving to perform their duties in as respectful a way as possible. If others see you being consciously deferential, they will be more likely to be so too. If we hang around being our everyday selves and drawing Artan and Aziza into our exchanges, they will fall out of persona, and we will have helped. I have been as guilty of this on past occasions as anyone, and I fear that I will fail at times. Please consider it part of your duty as an apprentice to remind me, if you see me being too familiar or casual, that I want to be formal.
Helena, you will swear the officers’ oath of service. This is not fealty; if you wish to swear fealty in addition to that, you have my blessing to do so.
Thora, I don’t know whether you have sworn fealty in the past. If Her Highness indicates before coronation in any way that she would prefer you to be in fealty, please do so. If not, swear or not as you wish.
You know I am always willing to give you advice or ideas, but I won’t always be where you are, so I wanted to give you some guidelines now in advance. If I talked to you in person I wouldn’t get everything said. As always, these are recommendations and not demands; search your own heart to decide what is best for you. No finer service could be done for me for the next six months than that you both serve the Crown as well as are able, which will increase Their Majesties’ glory and your own honor.
As grains of sand make the beach and droplets make the sea, a reign is made of every motion, glance, word and deed. You both have been honored with the opportunity to help make this reign what it will be. Be steadfast in your service, be loyal and gracious, and this will be the most glorious reign the Outlands has ever seen.
With pride and with affection,
It WAS a good reign, too, and set the tone for the next several.
Here's some more, from the etiquette chapter of Bright Ideas:
ADJUSTING FOR OVER-FAMILIARITY
Prince Charles bows to his mother and calls her “ma’am.” He has always done it, so it doesn’t embarrass him. In the Society, though, we or our friends become royalty all of a sudden. One minute you’re “hey you, where’s my duct tape” and the next minute you could be “your Royal Highness.” With someone you don’t know other than as king it’s easy to remember to bow, and you’re not likely to accidently use his mundane name when you don’t even know it. If your close friend becomes royalty you need to be even more careful to be formal, not only because it’s easy to forget, but because you will set the tone for others.
DEGREES OF FORMALITY
This goes for anyone and not just royalty: Try not to go up to someone who outranks you and just be chummy and familiar. Even if you are mundanely chummy and familiar, at an event give the person the courtesy due his rank. Then he has the option to invite you to be less formal. He may just be in the mood to be formal and will accept “your excellency” or “your lordship” and go on with his business. He may say “Please, just call me Gunwaldt” or “Bud will do.” If so you can both feel comfortable. If you initiate the conversation at a level which is too familiar and equal, how can a chivalrous person politely ask you to be more formal and show more respect? It would be very awkward, and probably the person will just smile and wish you had done differently. There is no gracious manner in which to raise the level of formality.
If you only have a little bit of formality in you, save it for the king or queen or baron or whoever's ranking person at the event. If you have more, spread it around.
Aindrea reminded me last night that I told Irel one day that he should accept people's deference graciously and if he didn't want us to stand up when he came over he shouldn't have entered Crown tournament or something. (Anyone remember the exact words? It was pretty direct, but friendly.) Susan made the same sort of speech to Leif in his first reign. He was telling people to be seated, be seated, and doing it in such a way as to embarrass those who had stood up, to make them wonder whether they were right to have done so, and whether they should or should not do it the next time.
Sometimes this stuff can be embarrassing. Some of you are very good at it and if any of you have tricks to recommend, triggers like moving slowly and deliberately, it would be great if you'd be willing to share them.
Think about who does this formality-business well. I was impressed with Mina when she was a lady in waiting. Nasr is good. I've seen Helena be impressively formal. Emulation's not a bad method. Plain old copy the people you want to be more like.
Nobody's in persona all the time. Sometimes people HAVE to make a joke, HAVE to ask a mundane question, HAVE to get a soda or rant and cuss. It doesn't have to be as much as last time, though, however much informality there was whenever last time was. You don't have to (and can't) go from one point to another all in one jump (unless you're not going very far). Incremental improvements are fine. Excuses for bigger shows are good, and the more you are formal the easier it becomes.
What can be done on an immediate level? Vagn was a pretty great squire. He used to call Gunwaldt "Master" a lot. If we were in t-shirts he might ask me "Where's Goomer?" but if we were in costume he'd say, "Mistress, is Master Gunwaldt here?" No wonder AElric wanted to be like him! AElric told me once that when he first was coming around he watched everyone in the park, and there was nobody doing as good a job at what he was supposed to be doing and being as the job Vagn was doing being Gunwaldt's squire.
Artan says Martino calls him "Your Grace." "Sir" would work too, especially in quick, tight places as in just yes and no answer, or getting his attention after he's already been called Your Grace. It could go kind of along the lines of saying "Your Royal Majesty" once, then downgrading to "Your Majesty" and then "Sire" or "Sir" or "My Lord" with a "Your Majesty" booster shot every half hour or hour...
I never expect apprentices or Gunwaldt's squires to call me "Your Excellency," but "Mistress" or "my lady" are nice. (There's "my lady" you use to people with awards of arms and there's another "my lady" that can be used when you really mean it, to someone who is the lady of your household, or the lady of your lord. In context, said with meaning and intent, it can be very formal.)
So next I want to talk about thought and intent. It is possible to bow and not mean it. It's possible to hardly bow at all and yet show a great deal of respect. Does it matter what people are thinking inside when they act? (Clue: I think so.)
Stay tuned for the exciting fourth installment...
A RESPONSE FROM HELENA
Subj: re:#3 Overfamiliarity
Date: Tue, Mar 3, 1998 12:16 PM EDT
From: [email protected]
X-From: [email protected] (Helena)
Mistress Ælflæd writes:
Keep their confidences. This is very important. You will see and hear and
know things which are not public. Some information might come to you by
accident. There will be things you know that even I don't need to know, and
which Roderic and Sir Vagn don't need to know. Your service to the Crown for
this reign outweighs any obligation to me, and the duty of one in confidence
is to keep that confidence as well as possible, else honor is lost. If there
is something you wish to discuss with me or others and you are unclear as to
the degree of secrecy the Crown wishes maintained, just ask them for
permission to discuss it, being prepared to accept "no" for an answer.
It wasn't until many years after having received this golden piece of
advice that I had to put it into practice from theory. That is, keeping
confidences of Crowns from Mistress Ælflæd, Master Gunwaldt, and yes,
dear hubby, Roderick. It really bothered me at first. I mean, when Gunwaldt
asks a direct question, just try not answering him. But they both, Mistress
Ælflæd and Master Gunwaldt made it easy on me. When I told them I
couldn't disclose a confidence from the crown they were very
understanding–Roderick too, I should add. I know now that if I would have
told them I would have felt horrible afterwards–even though I trust them
totally. Something that I noticed was that it did get easier each time I
had to do it. If I was in the middle of a conversation with Ælflæd and
stopped short she just said, Don't Tell Me and smiled....Whew. It does get
easier. If you ever work for a Crown (and I know most of you already have),
I think it's essential that you understand the importance of keeping
confidences. And not just the ones where someone makes you swear a
bloodoath that you'll never tell. Keep the ones that *you* believe protect
the integrity of the Crown and Kingdom as well.
Even if you are mundanely
chummy and familiar, at an event give the person the courtesy due his rank.
Then he has the option to invite you to be less formal. He may just be in
the mood to be formal and will accept "your excellency" or "your lordship"
and go on with his business. He may say "Please, just call me Gunwaldt" or
"Bud will do." If so you can both feel comfortable. If you initiate the
conversation at a level which is too familiar and equal, how can a chivalrous
person politely ask you to be more formal and show more respect? It would be
very awkward, and probably the person will just smile and wish you had done
differently. There is no gracious manner in which to raise the level of
That's why I always talk first. *beg* Seriously, in a conversation if you
use titles I've found most other people will respect the level of formality
you are maintaining, and will meet it. Sometimes you will be in a group
conversation–a huddle at Outlandish near a fire–with newcomers around. I
think it's especially important to help teach them what is acceptable
behavior and what isn't. By teaching them to use titles and be polite in
reference we are not only reinforcing our own noble actions but teaching
others to do the same and thereby perpetuating a sense of formality within
Sometimes this stuff can be embarrassing. Some of you are very good at it
and if any of you have tricks to recommend, triggers like moving slowly and
deliberately, it would be great if you'd be willing to share them.
I think the sense of embarrassment comes from it being so different from
what we do in the mundane world. Especially here in the kick-back Land of
Mañana. What I've done in the past, as that shy squirm crept up my back,
was to remember the beautiful difference between the SCA World and the
mundane one. I remind myself that I am only adding to the magic of the SCA
and the local group. When we become too overfamiliar it really can take
away some of the sparkle we are trying to recreate and pushes us one step
closer to being just a bunch of camp groupies in funny clothes. Please,
don't let that happen. Even when it's hard. Fight the urge and you'll find
that it becomes much easier as you go along. And best of all, it does
perpetuate. You become a wonderful example of what is so special about the
SCA and you make others want to do exactly the same.
Return to topics list, or continue to #4, Preventing Compliments .