"You Want Me To Do What???"
Doing Court Heraldry Without Having a Nervous Breakdown

From the An Tir Heraldic Symposium of A.S. XXXIII
Natasha Orionova Zateeva

Personal notes/introduction

This is a short introduction into the fine art of court heraldry. I am a confessed "court junkie", and was before I ever considered trying to be a herald myself. A love of court and what happens there is what brought me to appreciate the difference between a good court herald and a poor one. It is my hope that I can inspire some of you to try it sometime, and maybe more.

The Arms of Natasha Orionova Zateeva

Natasha Orionova Zateeva
BeWayre Pursuivant
Barony of Glymm Mere
Kingdom of An Tir
Azure a sagittari contourney argent on a chief Or 3 braziers sable flamed gules

So, someone has asked you to herald for them. Don't panic. You can do this, right?

A few things to remember

Most importantly, please understand that the court herald is not the one the populace is looking at, the court herald is the loudspeaker for the people they are watching. The herald is not the star of the show. In the modern world the court herald would be the emcee, the announcer. Not a stand-up comic, not a performer doing a solo. This doesn't mean you can't put your personality into what you do, it simply means that you are not the main attraction. Your job is to draw attention to the main attraction, be it Crown, Coronet or other noble. If you are drawing attention away from them, tone it down.

The herald's job is to make the nobles they are speaking for look good, sound good, and be impressive.

First, what you don't need

You don't need - Fancy regalia. Your voice is all the regalia you reallyneed. Regalia is nice for the atmosphere of the whole thing, but it's not what makes a herald.

You don't need - A background in foreign languages. Do the best you can, and let it go. People probably won't kill you if you don't pronounce their names right... it happens a lot.

You don't need - An ego that needs constant stroking. If you want to be a star performer, be an entertainer or a bard, but leave it out of court.

Next, what you absolutely must have

You must have - A robust, clearly understood voice. Simple volume is not enough. Even more important than volume is clarity. If people hear only noise and not words, you have not communicated anything to them. Learn how to put feeling into the spoken word. Not precisely emotion, but intensity. Strive to be able to do something light-hearted with a light touch, and then immediately afterward to do a ceremony with solemnity and pomp. This flexibility of presence can make even a dull court more interesting. Control of volume and inflection can be learned, and will make a huge difference in how court is perceived.

You must have - A reasonable grasp of the forms of address, from the Crown on down. At the very least, know the names of the ruling nobles.

You must have - Self confidence. Or a reasonable facsimile. This is something you can learn to have, or fake, but it should never show if you are feeling uncomfortable. Be in control of yourself. Be diplomatic. Be polite.

You must have - Integrity. You will be trusted with information nobody else has access to. Very often you will be in possession of information about people to be recognized who may be important to you personally, and you must safeguard that information from everyone. The nobles you are working with are counting on your trustworthiness. Don't let them down.

Nice to have, but not absolutely necessary

The ability to think fast on your feet is a real plus. Anyone who has had training in debate or extemporaneous speaking will be right at home doing court heraldry.

Some idea of the nature of the awards and orders presented in court. (Knowing what the regalia looks like for the various awards can avert a disaster - always look to make sure the retinue has the right "dangly" ready for the Crown or Coronet.)

Time to prepare. The more you do court heraldry, the more you will realize that even a few moments of peace to pull your thoughts together can make a world of difference.

How to prepare

Be as well rested as you can manage. Even a short break before court begins can make a big difference. If you are calm and not harried, everyone else will pick up on it and things will go much more smoothly. (This includes making the time to go to the privy... no excuses.)

Eat something, even if you are not hungry. It will give your stomach something to gnaw on besides itself. And you will need that energy. Really. Honest. Keeling over light-headed and dizzy because you didn't eat is embarrassing. Don't put a noble in the position of having to catch you as you fall.

Read the scrolls/ceremony/whatever ahead of time. Insist on this, especially if you have not ever done an "X" before. You will do a better job of it, the nobles will look good, and the person getting "X" will feel like the center of the universe. Stumbling through it is BAD. If the scroll is in a script or calligraphy hand that is hard to read, make a clear copy if none is provided. If you are not the person who wrote out the cards or court list, be sure you can read them clearly. If there is time, re-write them yourself to ensure you can read everything.

If you don't know the pronunciation of a name or term, ask somebody. Don't give away the surprise, be sure you ask someone who can help but not let the cat out of the bag.

Have plenty of water or juice handy to the chairs. Back at your table is too far away. Stay hydrated. ABSOLUTELY NO ALCOHOL. PERIOD.

A drink after court can be a toast to a job well done. Before court it can cloud your thinking and slow your reaction time, something you can't afford.

Have a towel or napkin handy. Dry hands holding a scroll work much better. Slip it through your belt, or tie it to the back of the chairs, or something secure. If you know the noble you are serving is prone to tears, a small packet of tissues or a clean handkerchief or napkin easy to hand may earn you a star in their heaven. The herald is often the only one close enough to do such small services gracefully, since the herald will be close enough to see the need before virtually anyone else. Have a fan there, too, in hot weather or venues.

A pocket flashlight or other easily managed small light source is a handy thing to have.

Warm up. Yodel, or do scales, or sing something you like. Anything that gets the pipes cleared out and ready to work.. Stretch your body, too. It will relax you.

Putting it all together

First of all, take your time.

Breathe deeply and evenly, don't pant or hyperventilate. Breathe from the diaphragm, not just your upper chest. Wear something looseand comfortable that doesn't restrict your rib cage or stomach.

Try to be relaxed. Nerves can make you rush, which steals oxygen from your brain as well as your lungs. Without sufficient air in your lungs to support your voice, you cannot be heard.

Lower the timbre of your voice. The higher your voice is, the more difficult it is to understand. A lower timbre allows the vocal cords to support more volume and range of intensity with less strain, and greater clarity.

Don't "windmill".

This applies more to announcements that you must make to a large group from within that group, but also applies to doing court. If you keep turning constantly, only part of the people ever hear what you are saying; the rest gets lost in the rotation as you turn away from them.

Try to check out the arrangement of the court space ahead of time... low hanging canopies and banners can block your (and the noble's) projection. Try to be placed in front of such obstacles.

TALK TO THE RETINUE. They need to know what awards and goodies to have ready and available to the nobles. If you don't tell them, odds are they don't know. (They do not need to know who the awards are for, just which ones to have ready.) Assemble your cards or notes in the order that the nobles have dictated. If they leave it to your judgment, try to intersperse serious items with lighter things, announcements or presentations. Try to keep from doing all the awards in one bunch. Each individual will better feel they have had their "moment" if they haven't been just one in a series of others.

Be sure you have a card or note with the final cheers written out. When you get to the end of court, you may not remember your own name, much less all the rest.

Offer to help the herald whenever you are available, whether it's to spell them in a long court, or hand them cards/scrolls, or hand them water, shine a light on the scrolls, or be available to run errands during the proceedings... whatever. It will give you the opportunity to see how it works from the inside, and will help prepare you to do it on your own. This applies to every event you are at, not just for the "home" team.

Some helpful hints


Start speaking when you (or the processional head if you are not leading it) approaches the rear of the hall/assembled populace, in sufficient time for them to rise gracefully rather than jumping up at the last instant. Use some version of "ALL RISE FOR ________" (if nothing else, this gives the populace the clue that it's time to stand up).

Court business:

Call individuals as the noble directs. If they leave it to you, try to vary the way you call people each time. ("Their Excellencies (Majesties) now summon _______. Lord X, approach and kneel before______. Lady X has business before this court. Sergeant Y has a presentation."). However, royal peers should be invited, not summoned.

There will be times that the person called is not in court. At such times, you might ask if there is a representative of the person who may stand for them (at the discretion of the presiding noble).

If the court order is set in advance, try to let the people who have court business know when they will be expected. This only applies to people who have brought court business, not to those who will be called for awards.

Cheers and such:

Once an award or recognition has been bestowed, it is normal for the noble to direct the herald to call for cheers. If they do not, ask if you should call for cheers - don't just do it!

If there is a specific cheer that has been requested by the current Crown, it should be used if you know it. (For example, King Darius preferred "Ave" as he has a Roman persona.) Sometimes, when cheers would be inappropriate, the nobles call for "a joyful noise". Pay close attention to what they tell you, it can be something you are not expecting. Do what they say to do, not what you think they meant.

Closing court:

Once you have completed all the business on the docket, the nobles may choose to simply close court, or have you ask if there is any further business. If there is, and you recognize the person who has spoken up, ask the noble if they will allow Lord X or Lady Y to speak. (They can choose not to allow it, don't presume that they will.

Once it's all done, the nobles will tell you to close it.

Those closing cheers:

(People from highest down, places from lowest up.)

End by telling the populace "You have Their Majesties' (Excellencies') leave to depart."