Bright Ideas and True Confessions: How and What to Do and Why

Heralds and Heraldry

The Jobs Of The Heralds

There are several different kinds of jobs heralds do, and they seem very different, but a common body of information is useful in doing them all. They are heralding court, heralding tournaments, researching and registering names and devices ("book heraldry") and protocol (processionals, head table, choreography, etiquette advice).

Court Heraldry

The privilege of heralding court is sometimes used as a reward for book heralds, and probably shouldn't be. The court herald, who makes announcements in court, calls people forward, reads scrolls and orchestrates ceremonies (who may have written the texts and ceremonies he's reading) is not, for that time, using one iota of knowledge about blazoning devices. Some of the best court heralds I've ever watched were

  • calm
  • confident
  • sober (not giggly or chattery)
  • good public speakers
  • observant enough of the crowd and the royalty that they could tell when things were going too slowly and needed to be sped up
  • able to tell when the populace couldn't hear or couldn't understand, and worked a repeat or an explanation into the program smoothly
  • able to ad lib a text or ceremony when necessary
  • considerate of the populace, and described action we couldn't see (described gifts, or paraphrased exchanges which weren't loud enough for us to hear)

Tasks should ideally be performed by the person best suited to do them well (and who is also willing). Some of the most painful courts I've been in were run by people who had spurned offers of help to do court because it was their right to do it. I don't mean to say that there should be try-outs and challenges, as in high school band or orchestra, but if there are heralds who have particular talent in this area, and the royalty want to work with them, ranking book heralds should not feel offended if they are not automatically in charge of every kingdom court.

Field Heraldry

Field heralds need to coordinate their jobs with lists officers and marshals. When working at local tournaments, you all know each other and have your routine down. When visiting, though, or when several small groups go together to run an event, there may be differences in the way things are done. Flexibility is a blessing in this area. So is being able to pronounce names you've never seen before.

More than any other heraldic task, field heralds announce names. They announce names of people who've just lately joined (not like a civilized processional, where everyone has an award and you've had time to study the order of precedence), and those names were written by someone sitting outside. Here's where the Spanish 101 you took (or French or German) can come in handy. I know of no living human who ever took Gaelic 101 [1]. It may be worth having a buddy at the sidelines to coach you on names between fights. If someone is so rude as to yell a name correction from the side your response should be "Excuse me-[and repeat the name]" not "JERK!" If it's too late to repeat the name (if the fight has begun) it would be really wonderful if you could go over to whoever yelled and say "How is it pronounced?" and write it phonetically somewhere and learn it. They'll like heralds more from that moment to the end of time.

If you're new and don't know everyone well, it's good to have an assistant to help you not only with pronunciation, but with titles. Maybe everyone at the event knows Johann is a Duke except you, and they all assume you know as well. If you check titles before leaving the lists table (or your assistant, who doesn't need to be a herald at all, helps you before each fight), things will go more smoothly for everyone.

It's not always important to know the titles of the fighters, but different areas have different traditions, or different tournaments may have different traditions, and here are a couple and their justifications:

In the case of challenges, the lower-ranked fighter challenges "his superior" and if, for example, an unbelted fighter challenges a knight, it would be announced as such. "Lord James doth challenge Sir Michael." You're making a statement which explains why they're on the field.

In the case of a crown tournament where people have been randomly drawn, and everyone on the site knows why they're out there, the announcement may be seen as a formal introduction, either of them to each other, or of them to the Crown and populace. In that case the ranking fighter is named first. Other tournaments which fall in between those two should be decided in accordance with local custom.

Book Heraldry

"Book heraldry" is not something local heralds need to do. The College of Arms (the Laurel King of Arms [2], his deputies, the principal heralds of the kingdoms, and a few others) engages in this activity regularly. It involves researching mundane and SCA arms to guard against conflicts, and has come to include, in the Society, name research (names of people, places, orders, awards, etc.). Those heralds who are particularly interested in such study should make it known to the principal herald of their kingdom, and they may be given a spot as a commenting herald on the internal letters circulated to check arms once internally before they're sent out of kingdom. (I don't know if all kingdoms use this practice; if yours doesn't, you might offer your services as a research assistant anyway.) Many heraldry books can be found in university libraries, but they'll probably be in the reference section, so take a pocketful of change for the photocopier. It would be good practice for a beginner to help people in your local group research names. If you keep track of good names you find, you might keep a file at home of great names for those occasions when people say "Gee, I can't decide what I want my name to be." When you're going through these books you'll find scads of interesting trivia about early heraldry. You'll find charges that no one in your whole kingdom seems to know about. If you write some things up for your local or kingdom newsletter, you'll be providing an educational service for readers, good public relations for the heralds, and will get your name in print to boot.


In some areas protocol is handled by the seneschal, or by some experienced older member. If you're in a newer group, or if members of your group aren't sure what protocol is all about, the herald should probably step in.

There's a whole chapter on etiquette elsewhere in this book, but protocol concerns those special occasions when there are out-of-kingdom visitors, when more nobility than usual comes to an event, when the head table is being rearranged at the last minute, etc. The theoretical purpose of all etiquette/protocol is to make each person involved feel comfortable. If you have three kings at one event what do you need to know and do?

Don't Do These:

just consider them equal
leave them to work it out among themselves
choose randomly

Do These:

check with the autocrat, seneschal, or someone to see if anything's been arranged
check with the royalty of your own kingdom; see if they have preferences
make a suggestion (preferably a perfectly wonderful suggestion) about how people should be seated, introduced, etc.

A section on the precedence of kingdoms follows, but that may not be the whole answer either. Say that at an Outlands feast the kings of Calontir and Ansteorra are both present. Ansteorra outranks Calontir, but say the king of Calontir is 35 years old and is king for his third time, while the king of Ansteorra is 22 and has been king one week. He may wish to defer to HRM Calontir. Allow him to be gracious. When a ranking person says "after you," the effect is that they have evened out their positions. Calontir is in the position of honor because Ansteorra had the power to offer it to him. This is friendly. This is good. Go with it. Don't argue with them at that point. A good way to compromise would be to ask whether the king of Ansteorra would process first but Calontir could have the place of honor at the feast table, or in court. An offer to allow the guy the best place at table shouldn't be a relinquishment of all rank for the whole weekend. Whatever you decide to arrange, keep the feelings of both individuals in mind as each decision comes up.




1. That was written in the 1980's, and by ten years later, Gaelic classes were fairly common.

A reporter from BBC News found this page with a websearch and called me for this article: How are you Spelling That?

Copyright © by Sandra Dodd, 1991