Herald’s Admonishments: Chivalry for Heralds

About a decade or so ago, I became acquainted with Gerald Legh’s Accedens of Armourie (1562) as a relatively new herald. Gerald Legh was an English lawyer (specifically the Inner Temple of the Inns of Court) and wrote a lot on heraldry specifically. Within the Accedens, he also admonishes that the people acting as heralds to take following actions. Inspired by Duke Garick’s essay on Chivalric virtues, I’ll be doing the same here. Italicized sections are from Legh, my words will be in plain text. Of note, this is merely my own opinion, and like much of how we approach things in the Society, our modern lives do intersect with our medieval ones, and as such, this will reflect that approach here. (Not many of us get to be full-time heralds in the permanent employ of a crowned head of state, alas.)

1. Ye shall be ready in your apparel of arms at all Coronations, Creations and Christenings, and in all high feasts and tournaments. And with all your power you shall give instructions of the same to all officers of arms serving under you.

A consummate professional, a herald is ready to be of service at the highest of events – Coronations, Crown Tournaments, feasts, Royal Progress events. That said, as volunteers, and specifically modern people, it is okay to say that you’re not ready – but it’s important to communicate that. The second part of Legh’s text speaks to those who are in leadership positions within Colleges of Heralds and the College of Arms: instruct all people the same. Don’t give one officer one set of directions, and expect another officer with another set of directions to do the same job.

2. Ye shall give yourself to your learning, and teach officers under you of all services appertaining to honour.

Fall back on what you’ve learned and use those tools to teach others. That said, if you’re given a correction, take that in the spirit in which it was given. Learning how to do your job is part of training people after you how to do theirs – but also, to do so with honour. Borrowing from Garick’s essay, honour is as important as honesty. It means that when teaching within the scope of heraldry, that your own knowledge of the heraldic arts not be clouded with what you might want to do, but rather what must be done according to law and tradition.

3. Ye shall be expert in betrothing of Princes and Princesses, as well as in numbering of the people.

As heralds in a medieval sort of game, we might not see children of our Sovereigns be betrothed to one another, but we do see treaties, laws, and differing practices from kingdom to kingdom. Being able to speak on these subtle differences without putting down those practices is a learned skill. The numbering of people is also important, because it translates to knowing who the ranking members of a kingdom are, no matter if at home or away. If you can speak about your own kingdom’s awards, try learning about the equivalents in kingdoms near and far to expand your knowledge.

4. Ye shall make oft visitation, of kingdoms and provinces.

Within period, heraldic visitations were conducted by primarily English Kings of Arms (or their deputies) as a sort of heraldic census, starting in the 1530s. People would bring their arms, and proof of their right to use them, most often by way of detailing their right to them (usually by their ancestry), which would also be recorded by the herald, who would make all sorts of detailed notes to take back to London to put in the records of the College of Arms.

Now, obviously, we don’t keep track of this sort of information in the Society. Everyone is assumed noble, and we keep track of registered names and devices in the Ordinary and Armorial for the Society. That said, though, part of being a herald is learning from other heralds in other places, and being an ambassador for your own kingdom in the process. I would submit for the approval of the Midnight Society that a heraldic visitation for the Society might look like going to a Knowne World Heraldic and Scribal Symposium or even across your kingdom or principality. Heraldry is a team sport, and we learn more by communicating and connecting with other heralds.

5. Ye shall honour knighthood and all the acts thereof. So too shall ye honour all Peerages, both bestowed and of royal estate, and all the acts thereof.

In Crown Tournaments, in making of peers and other awards, your job is to support the Crown/Coronet. Even if you, personally, cannot stand the person who happens to be wearing the actual, physical crown/coronet or the person receiving the award, your job is to make the two look good. To do so is to honour both the office of being a royal/noble, and your office as herald. It is not your moment to shine – it is your moment to make the theatre of court magical for the people who are watching the events unfold.

What this means is that your job of making announcements, of calling people into court, of reading scroll texts is to elevate the Crown’s station. Now, I’m not saying that you should read a text in a monotone or that you shouldn’t have personality while in this role, but what I am saying is that your personality should not be overshadowing that of the people in the Big Chairs. The same goes for boasting in those in a tournament – unless there is buy-in from the people you are boasting in, the sponsors of the tourney (for a Crown Tournament, this should be the people in the Big Chairs), and all other heralds involved, your job should not be to one-up other heralds. Your job, as the herald for the fighter, is to make your employer look good. It is simply not about your work as a herald. It is about your employer looking good.

6. Ye shall not suffer one gentleman to malign another. And railing you shall bar to the uttermost of your power.

Gossip is a thing. And in the SCA, it happens a lot. People may not like one another, and that’s fine. What isn’t okay is for someone to drag someone else through the proverbial mud. Speak truth. Remind those around you to also speak truth. If you hear something that may not be correct, don’t pass it along, and correct the information. Simple as that.

7. In doing of arms and martial acts, ye shall favour no party, but make true report.

There’s a pretty common thread of honesty and honour here, and this is no exception. Here, a herald shouldn’t lie about what happened at a pas d’armes, a tournament, or in a court. That said, do not favour a party over another.

When I am at Crown Tournaments, I often run the tournament board which shows the next to in line to fight for Crown. It means that when I put the arms of the combattants on the board, I have to remind myself that what I do for one, I must do for the other to not show a sense of favouritism. It also means that I do not show any other favouritism for individual winners until the final bout of the tournament has been decided.

This is also critical in the role of the Principal Herald, those running any form of the list trees, or those calling the tournament itself. While it is unlikely that being biased might throw a tournament, it can get into people’s heads, and that could cause issues later. So, be neutral in all matters.

8. Ye shall be at all public proclamations, done on your King’s behalf, in his coat of arms.

So, I want to add the caveat that we are in a hobby group, not in the employ of a crowned head of state for which is it our actual career. If for some reason (especially health/safety wise) that you cannot be at an event to do a job, it is absolutely okay. Communicate that with the people you are working with for that day.

That said, pomp and ceremony are the bread and butter of the herald of the Society. If you have heraldic clothing (be it a tabard or the like), wear it. (For those who are like me and don’t come from a heraldic culture, consider alternatives that could work for your time period/location or the sitting royals time period/location.)

If you are working for your Crown, wear the colours of your Crown. If you are on heraldic duty, especially for courts, wear a tabard showing that you represent the Voice of the Crown at that time. All other proclamations (someone’s car lights are on, lost and found, event announcements) don’t really need people to wear a baldric or a tabard, but if it’s something you want to do, it does add to the general medieval feel that I think we try to touch in the Society.

9. Ye shall not disclose the secrets of ladies or gentlewomen, to any man or woman, whatsoever you know of them.

Yes, I know, there’s a lot of what could be duplicate admonishments. That said, going back to number 6, I will again repeat myself. Gossip is a thing. And in the SCA, it happens a lot. People may not like one another, and that’s fine. What isn’t okay is for someone to drag someone else through the proverbial mud. Speak truth. Remind those around you to also speak truth. If you hear something that may not be correct, don’t pass it along. Simple as that. Even if you know someone’s deep secret, it is not your story to tell, even if asked.

Of course, this does change if it’s an actual thing that could be dangerous, harmful, or involves modern lawkeeping efforts. In which case, yes, you did see things, and yes, you should report those things.

10. Ye shall flee taverns, and hazarding.

This requires context.

In much of SCA period, taverns and alehouses were frequently places of ill-repute for many reasons, and were places for the poor, as illustrated in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part 1 and Henry IV, Part 2, in the characters of Falstaff, Quickly, and the other denizens of Eastcheap. Heralds, as an extension of their upper-class employers, would appear to cheapen the appearances of their employers if caught in a tavern, mingling with the lower classes. A modern day equivalent would be the likes of a high ranking member of a modern royal house being caught in a brothel by the paparazzi – it casts doubt on one’s employer.

Hazarding is a gambling game played with two dice. Again, to do so as a period herald would cast doubt on their employer, but like modern state employees, gambling debts could cause a herald to be compromised, which could lead to state secrets getting into the wrong hands to settle a debt.

Am I going to tell you, the modern SCA herald, that you cannot go to an event with a tavern? Of course not. Same with the gambling thing – SCA gambling is done with trinkets, and won’t cause that kind of compromise to state information. What I will say, though, is that risky behaviours can make your Crown, your Coronet, or your Peer(s), if you have one, to look bad. We all make mistakes. But consider things like pranks involving other kingdoms that involve stealing items or could make your own kingdom look bad. (Pranks are okay – but be a little mindful of what kind of prank it actually is and maaaaybe don’t do anything that could result in a visit from the Kingdom Seneschal.)

So, that’s it. Legh’s admonishments are a handy guide to being a herald in the SCA, and how to comport oneself. Does this mean heralds are no fun? Of course not. (and we’re not boring, either.) But we should attempt to hold ourselves to a high standards both on and off the job.

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