Posted by: wrmcnutt | June 30, 2010

A Beginner’s Guide to Rank and Protocol in the SCA

A Beginner’s Guide to Rank and Protocol in the SCA

– or –

How to Talk to Kings and Princes Without Getting Sweaty Palms

Rank in the SCA is merit-based.  In general, the more rank someone has, the less likely they are to be a touchy idiot, or to be real sensitive about their rank.  That is:  the more important someone is, the easier you are going to find them to talk to.  Modes of address and regalia differ from kingdom to kingdom, so I am going to avoid specifics and give you a little background that should work just about everywhere.

“M’lord” and “m’lady” are your fall-back terms of address.  They apply to anyone of any rank.  If anybody gets bent out of shape at being so addressed, please overlook them in charity, and move on.  They have way worse problems than you do.

Anyone wearing a white belt is a Knight, and should be addressed as “Sir” <First name>.” If you don’t happen to know his name, just say, “Excuse me, Sir Knight, might I know your name?”  It is rare to find a Knight not wearing his white belt.  It may seem peculiar to address that cute, delicate lady from the Barony of South Downs as “Sir Kytte,” but that’s the correct style of address for her.  Honest.  (Incidentally, yes. Sir Kytte is of modest stature.  And yes, she’s heard all the jokes about “short-sirkyttes.”  Even the neat one you just thought up.)

Anyone wearing a laurel wreath is a Laurel, and should be addressed as “Master <First name>” or “Mistress <First name>.”  If you don’t know their name, just say, “Excuse me, Mistress Laurel, might I know your name?”  Many Laurels only wear their laurel wreaths on their heads for formal occasions.  To spot stealth Laurels, be alert to a medallion they wear with a laurel wreath on it.

Pelicans generally don’t wear much in the way of regalia.  They’ve GOT some, mind you, but I just don’t see it all that much.  (It might be because a Cap of Maintenance looks a lot like a beanie. All it really needs is a propeller.) So to spot Pelicans, be alert to the Pelican medallion.  You can address Pelicans as Master and Mistress, same as Laurels.

If someone is a Count, that means that he is a former King, and you can address him as “your Excellency.”  If someone is a Countess, that means that she is an former Queen, and you can also address her as “your Excellency.”  You may be able to spot Counts and Countesses by their embattled circlets.  These are crown-like affairs with crellenations that look kinda like a castle wall.  Many choose not to wear them, though.  If someone is a Duke, it means that his has been King twice.  If someone is a Duchess, it means that she has been Queen twice.  Both Dukes and Duchesses are addressed as “Your Grace.”  Dukes and Duchesses may wear a circlet with strawberry leaves on it, but most don’t bother, except for formal occasions.

And that brings us to the Royals.  Anyone wearing a wide circlet with actual, un-adorned points on it is probably some kind of royalty or other. If it’s a big, beefy looking crown, you’re probably looking at the King or Queen.  The proper form of address is “your Magesty.”  If the crown is more delicate, it’s probably the Prince or Princess.  The appropriate address for them is “Your Highness.”

And that’s the short form.  Not complicated at all, is it?

Don’t worry.  If you like, we can MAKE it complicated.  I’ve not said anything about the difference between a Crown Prince and a Territorial Prince, or a Court Baron or a Territorial Baron.  I’ve omitted Masters-at-arms, Vicounts, Jarls, and Earls entirely.  But those are details that aren’t that important when you just want to walk up to someone and ask them where they got that neat hat they are wearing.  Stick to these guidelines and you are unlikely to offend anyone.

— Will

(On formal Occasions, His Lordship, Master William McNachtan, CL)

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  1. I love the way you explained the generally relaxed attitude of people with pointy hats. Folks who are new to the SCA are usually terrified of doing or saying something wrong –

    • Indeed – Ironic, given that the pointier the hat, the harder it is to offend most people.

  2. You might want to note that “Dame” is the same title as “Mistress,” and which a female peer prefers to use is up to her. Of course, it’s not wrong to address a Dame as a Mistress, or visa-versa, but the title sort of becomes part of the name, so that you learn that someone like Fianna prefers to be addressed as Dame Fianna, as opposed to Mistress Fianna.

    It’s kind of like clothes, isn’t it? Men have so many fewer options, lol.

    • I thought of that, but I decided that was one more slice of complication that a little summary like this didn’t need. I could also have talked about how former territorial Princes become Vicounts or how rare Palantine Baronies are or how households function . . . too complicated.

  3. Nice summary. It’s been my experience that the more a person is hung up on rank and deference, the less deserving of it they are.

    (Mundane example: Barbara “Call me Senator” Boxer.)

    • Heh – I’m not going near Senator Boxer and her titles. I don’t blog politically because there’s a lot of people I need to get along with whom I don’t want hating my guts.

      But yeah – people who demand respect rarely actually deserve it.

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