Getting started in Court and Tourney heraldry

Sela de la Rosa

Heralds in the SCA do many things which add a real medieval flavour to our events and our arts. As Genevieve says, those interested in heraldry in the SCA often specialise. If you’re interested in helping events to feel properly medieval, and are willing to have a go at some public speaking, then voice heraldry may be for you.

Our role is to keep people informed of important matters while maintaining the atmosphere of the event. Where attendees at a modern conference might consult their devices to see the schedule, we use our voice. There are many things a herald can do, and no special qualifications other than being able to be heard: announcing which scheduled items are about to begin, informing diners of the dishes at feast, and at longer events perhaps even keeping everyone apprised of the current time.

There are two areas of heralding that really enrich an event, and bear looking at in more detail

Heralding a tournament

The very origins of heraldry go back to distinguishing armed fighters on a battlefield, and we maintain this in the Society. While the fighters fight, the marshalls marshall, and the master of the list maintains the results, the herald is the link between the battle and the spectators. A typical tourney proceeds like this:

  • The Master of the List determines who will fight who in the upcoming round and informs the heralds (often by means of ordered namecards)
  • The heralds announce the fights which are imminent, calling those fighters to the list field, and asking the fighters for upcoming bouts to arm themselves/prepare to arm
  • The fights proceed, with at least one herald attentive at every bout
  • When a fighter gives way and the marshal confirms the winner, the herald announces the victor for all to hear
  • The herald informs the Master of the List, who notes the result and proceeds to determine the fights for the next round

At our largest tourneys, those which determine who will be King and Queen or Prince and Princess, you will see all these parts in play. It sounds quite complex, but when we each focus on our own part, it comes together in a wonderfully working whole.

While our Crown and Coronet tourneys attract the biggest crowds, every tourney can benefit from heralding. If you’d like to help with heralding a tourney, ask the event steward for an event attending, or find another herald - we’re usually not difficult to spot.

Heralding court

One of the most prominent and rewarding things a herald can do is to herald court. Our job is to help our King and Queen, or Prince and Princess, conduct their business in a timely manner, making it is a special and memorable occasion for everyone who is called into Court - and making sure that no one forgets just who is in charge: the people on the thrones. Court is often the centrepiece of an event and the herald plays a crucial role in making it go smoothly for the royals and the attendees.

It can also be a complex operation. There’s an agenda to manage, ceremonies to conduct, time to keep, names to pronounce, scrolls to hand out at the right time… and we do all this in front of a live audience. This means that there’s a wonderful opportunity for a novice herald: even the most experienced of us will often jump at the offer of some help.

Before an event begins, the herald for a court will usually contact the royal couple to find out what business they have. This will allow them to prepare a draft agenda, make sure they have the ceremonies they need and get a rough idea of the time it will need (which the event steward will likely be eager to know.)

At the event, if attendees have business they wish to conduct at court, they may ask the herald who will get permission from the royals if they wish.

When heralding court, it’s very important to be attentive to what’s going on: while we prepare with an agenda, things can change, and we must be prepared to carry out the will of the royals. This is when it can be very helpful to have more than one herald in a court - while some business is being conducted, the other herald can prepare for the next item, making sure the scrolls are ready, and perhaps even that the recipient hasn’t left the audience!

So while a lot goes in to making it work, there is no better place to see court than from beside the thrones. Well, other than on the thrones themselves, of course.

If you’re interested in heralding court, let Principality Herald Rockall know, using the contact details on the side of this page – but also let heralds know at events you’re attending. If you find out who’s heralding court, the best way to learn is from them, and they may be delighted to have your help.