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Posted by on 2000 Jan 9 |

A Regal Scroll Left on the Bar

Crossing, Zoluren: 89 Lirisa 360 Rayth’s instruction in Courtly etiquette at the Crossing’s Amphitheatre is presented here in this transcription.

Greetings, gentlefolk. I am Lord Rayth Blackmoore, lately from the Principality of Zoluren.

As you are possibly aware, the nobility of the Provinces of Zoluren and Therengia rarely hold courts. Recently, a court was held by His Excellency, Baron Theren of Therengia, and it is my belief that they will become more frequent.

However, it is also my belief that many folk will become frustrated because they will not know how to behave and will not understand why they cannot achieve the things they wish in these courts, or in other dealings with nobility.

It is my intention to teach the basics of my knowledge of courtly behavior among the Human nobility. The more folk that understand courtly etiquette, the more pleasant the nobles will be by the smooth running of their courts, and the happier the populace will be as they become capable of having themselves heard and understood in court.

I am sure that some of you already know at least part of what I will be teaching, but many of you do not.

Therefore I will speak as if all of you are new to this protocol, for the sake of brevity. Please do not take this as a personal insult if my generalities do not apply to you.

At the end of the lecture I will remain to answer any questions you may have noted down along the way, but I will not answer any until I am done speaking. Again, this is for brevity.

I know well that there are those in the lands who have strange ideas about the nobility; mainly that they are unnecessary or that there is no need to deal with them properly.

If any of you are in this group, I will not be speaking to your benefit. I am assuming everyone is here to learn to play the Courtly Game, which is absolutely necessary if you wish to function within it or to gain something from it.

Playing the ‘Game’ requires learning the rules. These vary from place to place, but some things remain consistent.

The three most important rules are:

  1. Know the ranking (and your place in it)
  2. Respect the ranking, even if you do not like a ranking individual on personal terms
  3. Behave appropriately to the ranking.
As you can see, rank is essential to courtly behavior. In fact, courtly etiquette would be impossible without this concept.

The most important step is listed first; knowing the ranking. This can be difficult when some of the Provinces are secretive about such things. I am relying partly on what I have learned in my stay in Zoluren the last fifteen years or so, and partly on my knowledge that I gained before coming to this side of Elanthia.

Above the commoners are the Gentry, Nobility, and Royalty. These are not interchangeable terms; they all mean something different.

The Gentry typically are not truly noble. They are between the nobles and the commoners. This status varies a great deal from place to place, but usually it includes knights and Baronets, which is a title of hereditary knighthood.

Nobility usually includes such titles as Lordships, Barons, Viscounts, Counts, and Dukes which I have mentioned in order from least important to most important. There may be variations in that list depending on the province.

Also, if someone is born into a noble family, they are noble whether they have a title or not. However, until they do gain a title, they are of the lowest rank of nobility.

Royalty is a term for the family of the reigning monarch. Kings, Queens, Princes, etc. Many people confuse nobility and royalty. Nobles generally are not Royal, although Royals are Noble.

There is a great deal of intricate etiquette in ways to address people of each rank. I am going to keep it simple and mention the most common methods. If you wish more specifics or variations, ask me about them after the lecture.

If you want to be safe, you can refer to anybody above the rank of knight as “My Lord or Lady.” It shows that you do not know exactly what to say but you are trying to be polite.

If you know they have a noble title of some sort, you can be safe in calling almost any of them “Your Excellency.” This is a slightly more educated general term, but it is not correct for untitled nobility, or Lordships. Still, it is better to overestimate someone’s rank than to underestimate it.

However, just getting by is not the way to impress people at court. It will keep you from looking rude but it will not show that you know very much. If you can, it is better to use the exact honorific when addressing a noble.

Here is a list of the most common honorifics:

  • Knight,Baronet: “Sir” or “Dame”
  • Untitled Nobles: “My Lord or Lady”
  • Lordships: “Your Lordship or Ladyship”
  • Barons, Viscounts, Counts: “Your Excellency”
  • Dukes: “Your Grace”
  • Princes or Princesses who will not inherit: “Your Highness”
  • Crown Prince or Princess in line for the Throne: “Your Royal Highness”
  • Hereditary Prince or Princess who rules a Principality: “Your Royal Highness”
  • King or Queen: “Your Majesty”
Never refer to a noble by just their first name, such as “Hey, Jeladric.” It is like saying they are a common person with no title. If it is felt that you did this intentionally, you could be called to a duel over a slight to the noble’s honor, or brought up on charges depending on the laws of the land.

At the very least it will make you look like an ignorant peasant and I assume you do not want this result.

Even amongst themselves and in their own families, nobles tend to refer to themselves by title rather than by name; for example, “Lord Cristic.” Nobles do not belittle each other in public by not using an honorific or title, unless they are trying to truly insult them.

I am going to take this time to mention the Baron of Therengia. He is very powerful for a Baron, so my guess is that he is what is called ‘Palatine.’ This means that somewhere along the line, his family was granted a type of sovereignty, so he can act as a sovereign despite his title.

He is not a typical Baron though so do not assume all Barons are like that. They usually are one of the lowest titles of nobility, but His Excellency should not be considered so lowly amongst Peers.

Again, there is a difference between being noble and being titled. You can be born a noble but until you have sworn fealty to a greater noble and you are granted a title, you do not have much to show for it. I find myself in this situation but that is a long story.

You can marry a titled noble but that will not make you one. You would just be along for the ride, so to speak. You also cannot ‘turn’ into a noble from a commoner in this way. Title is very much an individual honor, not a default granted by circumstance.

There are such things as ‘courtesy titles’ for situations like that, but that is all they are; a courtesy, and one that only exists out of deference to the title of the noble, not to you.

For example, if a commoner man married a noble lady, he might be referred to as “Lord.” However, he has no power or actual rank of that sort, and if she were to sever that relationship, he has no right to any title at all.

This brings us to the subject of fealty, by which a title is granted to a noble. Only the gentry and nobility can truly swear fealty. Anyone else can just make personal oaths of allegiance but it is not the same.

If in the rare instance that a sovereign grants a title to a commoner, the commoner will be made a knight or a noble first, so that an oath of fealty can be taken.

Swearing fealty means that you become a vassal to a greater noble. You are required to support and aid your Liege, and they are required to look after you. If possible, a vassal is usually granted land, legal jurisdiction to an area, or some other important thing to look after, which is often termed a Benefice.

This requires a formal ceremony, a contract, and witnesses. There should be no question when someone swears fealty as to what is going on and what the conditions are.

I am not going to explain inheritance or the details of the ceremonies, since that is not the topic of this lecture. This is just background so the courtly environment can be understood.

The second rule, respecting the ranking, is more important than you might think.

If one does not respect the position of the lords, chaos will result. In a battle, it is essential that troops listen to their commanders if they are to prevail. So it is in society, where it is necessary for the upholding of the law and of order and security to have skilled leaders.

Our lords and ladies are the framework upon which our principalities’ governments depend. Our cities likewise depend upon the organization of the guilds and their guards. Casually defaming the importance of these institutions is to wish disaster upon us all.

Therefore, what seem pointless courtly practices are, in actuality, important in reminding us all to be respectful of the order which has sustained us for centuries. They also allow the smooth running of government without endless delays brought about by disorganized and selfish individual behavior.

The third Rule requires perhaps the most study and practice; how to behave according to rank.

There are some general points about dealing with nobles, in court or out:

  • You should never touch a noble unless invited to do so.
  • Do not sit down if a noble that outranks you is standing in the room.
  • Bow or curtsey to a ranking noble upon arriving, leaving, or being acknowledged by them for the first time.
During a Court, you should be as formal as possible and as respectful as possible to the noble in question. You need to take what you would normally do around a noble and multiply it by ten.

Any insult you make to a noble during their court is also multiplied by ten.

It is vital to understand that a noble’s court is the physical and public manifestation of everything their rank stands for. This is when nobles take vassals, pass judgements, and address their populace.

Here are some basic instructions for Court behavior, as a commoner or as a lesser noble:

  • Ask for permission to speak, do not just start conversing.
  • Be brief when you do speak – do not waste their time.
  • Do not approach the noble without permission.
  • Do not bare any weapon or prepare any spell unless you are on the noble’s personal guard… And the most important-

  • Never undermine the authority of the noble holding court. This means:
    • Do not expect to chat with the noble during court. Even if you are the best of friends, this is not the place.
    • Do not tell the noble what he or she should do.
    • Do not question the noble’s judgement during court.
    • Once the noble makes a decision, never argue it in court!
    • Never, ever cut off a noble while he or she is speaking. They, however, are fully within their rights to interrupt you. If a noble begins to speak, you should fall silent.
This brings me to the issue of just how one gets ones’ opinions and requests heard in court.

I have another list for this to keep it short and organized.

  1. Be exceedingly polite. If you want to be heard, you must not annoy the noble in charge.
  2. Do not speak constantly. Think carefully about what you want to say, and say it just once. Constant chatter, even if you have received permission to speak, makes the noble not want to listen to you anymore. Make each word count. Make it brief.
  3. Follow the rules as given by the noble. If he or she tells you to give counsel, use that time to speak. If he or she wants you to write a letter, write a letter. If you are supposed to talk to an officer appointed for that purpose, do so. Thinking yourself above the rules impresses no one.
  4. Choose your battles. If you are always arguing, even if you are right, you will look like an argumentative boor instead of a useful advisor.
  5. Do not take it personally if the noble does not have time for you. They are busy. Whining whenever you feel you are being ignored makes you seem petty and ego-driven. Nobles are not under any obligation to cater to your ego. To be granted an audience in a court is a privilege, not a right; if you start to demand anything of a noble, they are likely to forcibly remind you of that fact.
  6. Remember your place; you are not the one who has the responsibility of decision making and judgement resting upon your shoulders. All you can do is help, and sometimes it is most helpful to be silent or leave the noble alone.
  7. If you truly feel you have to change a noble’s mind about something, and they have made a decision in court, try to contact them when court is over. They will usually be much less formal and open to changing their mind away from court.
There are many finer points to courtly behavior of course, but they are numerous and varied depending on the situations and the different places. Therefore, I will do my best to answer any specific questions you have rather than attempt to cover all of them in the space of one lecture.