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A Court Primer

Court is part of any event which has a member of the Royalty in attendence. While most newcomers will rather ignore some of this information it becomes rather important if one day you find yourself called in to court and you have no idea of what to do.

The following is an article written by Master Hirsch von Henford, OL, OP
Collegium Occidentalis, February, AS XXIX (1995)
Used with permission by author and within it you will find explainations on court, proper etiquette and the dreaded...what do do when you are called into court !

"Court: 1 a: the residence or establishment of a sovereign or similar dignitary b: a sovereign's formal assembly of his councilors and officers c: the sovereign and his officers and advisors who are the governing power d: the family and retinue of a sovereign e: a reception held by a sovereign." -- Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

What is Court? There are several definitions, but the SCA version doesn't completely fit with any of the definitions that you can find in a dictionary. In the SCA, Court combines the dictionary definition with its own unique features.

In the SCA, Court is usually a time when the Royalty gather together the members of Their Court (effectively the whole Kingdom, Principality or Barony, or those in attendance at an event), and handle matters of state, which include presentation of awards to deserving folk, and presentations from the populace to the Royalty. Occasionally other pieces of business come up (law changes, and such), but these are not as common.

Court Etiquette for Attendees

What is involved in being an "attendee" of court? Is it just being a member of an audience?

In general, the purpose of court is to process matters of state; consequently the purpose of the attendees is to bear witness. As such, you are there in an official capacity, even if all you do is watch what is happening, and then go home and tell your friends who weren't there about it.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you are attending court:

  • When the Court starts, it is proper to stand, to show your respect. There are of course circumstances that may preclude your standing, such as physical problems. Court may start in two ways:

    • A Processional -- When this happens, the Royalty processes in, with their "Royal Households" (attendants or "members of the court"), possibly the herald, possibly a bard, and so on. A Herald usually announces the Royalty. When they reach a point about 10 feet from where you are standing, it is considered proper to bow. Once they have passed, you may straighten back up. If there are several sets of Royalty, then you should bow for each set. Do not sit until you have given leave "to make yourselves comfortable." Normally the herald will ask the Royalty at some point early in court. (This is very much like the military phrase, "At ease.")

    • Royalty "in Place" -- The heralds often call this "Teleporting", as the Royalty are all in place when court starts. The Herald will cry something such as "All pay heed to the court of ..." -- at which point it is proper to stand, again, sitting when you are given leave.

  • Sometimes, during ceremonial courts (for example, Coronations or Investitures), you may need to stand again and bow as the Heirs are brought forward. You may also need to do this if some Royalty arrive late and are then announced into court.

  • Remember that during court, you are witnessing official business (no matter how silly some of it may get). If you must talk to someone (except for a short comment), it is a good idea to leave court, as others may wish to hear the business going on in court. If you are talking, they may not be able to hear what is happening. Courtesy is very important to the ambience of the SCA. You should be paying attention to the Royalty, as it is Their court.

  • If you get called into court:

    • If you are called forward with someone else, you might wish to wait for that person to come forward with you. Particularly if you know the person ...

    • Proper respect is shown by bowing or courtesying before the thrones (10 to 20 feet back). Come forward before the thrones, and kneel on the cushions -- it's what they're there for.

    • Listen to Their Majesties (or Their Highnesses) as they talk, or the herald talks, politely. Usually when you're called into court, it is to receive an award.

    • If you are male, it is considered proper to thank Their Majesties by shaking His Majesty's hand (if offered), and kissing Her Majesty's hand (if offered). If you are female, His Majesty may kiss your hand, and Her Majesty may give a hug. This varies from one set of Royalty to another.

    • When you leave court, it is proper to bow or courtesy, walk to about 10 to 20 feet from the Thrones, and bow or courtesy again.

  • When awards are given, the recipients get cheered Generally this is done by saying "Vivat". (Note: this does not mean you should clap your hands ... that's not really a period form of appreciation for what is happening.)

  • When presentations are made, bear with them. Many times the presenters do not speak loudly, or well, and many people get stage-fright.

  • When court is closed, words to the effect of "There being no further business before this court" will be announced by the herald. At that time you should stand. The herald will give some closing cheers in which you are invited to participate ("Long Live the King! ..."). If the Royalty processes out, you should bow as stated earlier in this paper. If the Royalty chooses not to process, you may then leave and "go about your business".

What Kinds of Business Can You Expect?

There are a variety of types of business that can occur at court. The list below is a summary of the most common items of business that may appear in court.

  • Coronation/Investiture Courts

  • Coronation of the King and Queen (or Investiture of the Prince and Princess)

  • Creation of a Duke and/or Duchess; Count and/or Countess; Viscount and/or Viscountess

  • Elevation of a subject to the Peerage (Chivalry (Knights and Masters at Arms), Laurel or Pelican)

  • Awards (see the Herald's Handbook for a list of awards that may be given by the Crown and Coronets)

  • Presentations of Baronial Reports/Taxes

  • Personal/Branch Presentations

  • Calls to war

  • Law changes

  • Miscellaneous announcements, Arts and Sciences Competitions, Archery Competition results, etc.

    Court Etiquette for Presenters

    For people making presentations there are some guidelines to keep in mind:

    • Keep it short. Court can be very long already with the usual list of business. The heralds ask that all presenters attempt to keep their presentations to five minutes or less (5 minutes is a LONG time when watching a presentation).

    • Make sure that the person doing a presentation has a loud voice, and preferably is a good speaker -- otherwise the attendees at court cannot hear or understand the business presented in court. This makes court tedious and boring. If your voice is not loud, or you are uncomfortable with public speaking, it would behoove you to talk to the heralds. The Court Herald will, if asked, state your business for you. If you would prefer, you can have someone else (like the herald) speak for you.

    • If there is a large group of people involved in your presentation (such as a Baronial presentation), gather your people in advance. If you can, you might try to find out from the herald doing court (although this person is often feeling quite harried just before court and may not be able to give you the information) when your business will occur in the order of the court, so that you can look for the business before yours and gather your people beforehand.

    • Personal presentations should not be made in court. If you have a small present for Their Majesties, there are lots of times you can give it to them. Doing it in court makes court longer, and again, tedious for everyone. Some Royalty actually prefer that people come to them during the day at an event with presentations.

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    This page last modified March 21, 2003.