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Practical Site Heraldry

by Seamas Mac Daibhid

Last Updated April XLII (2008)
First presented at A Midsummer Knight's Dream —
either MSKD V, AS XXVIII (1993) or MSKD VI, AS XXIX (1994)
Copyright © 2000, 2002, 2008, Seamas Mac Daibhid; all rights reserved.
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Part I: Before the Event

Perhaps someone heard you speak intelligibly about chevrons, tinctures and mullets. Perhaps the seneschal said, "We need someone loud," and everyone looked at you. However it happened, now you are about to herald your group's next event. This series of articles is a practical guide to "site heraldry", the art of heralding an event. You will see step by step how to prepare for your event and carry it through, including those dreaded morning wake-up calls.

NOTE: This article does not discuss field heraldry (tournaments) or court heraldry. Both areas are full-scale topics in themselves, and both involve matters of local and regional style, as well as close interaction with non-heralds such as marshals and Sovereigns. Consult with other heralds in your area on how tournaments and courts are typically run.

Note also that the author resides in the Kingdom of Gleann Abhann in the southern United States; regional differences in climate, customs, or event style may require substantial adaptation of this material. However, basic principles of voice use, preparation, clarity, and courtesy should apply to very nearly all Society heralding.


Successful site heraldry is, like many things, largely a matter of good preparation. Know what you are doing before the event begins.

Know Thy Voice

Heralding is not just bellowing at the top of your lungs—such an approach guarantees that your voice won't last the weekend (or even an hour) and that nothing you say will be understandable at any distance.

Always warm up your voice. Pick a simple tune and hum it several times, first with your mouth closed, then with your mouth open. The worse the weather (hot, cold, dry, or damp) the more your voice needs to warm up.

Mind your stance. Good posture provides good air flow. Never try to make an announcement sitting down. A good stance also adds dignity, so people pay better attention. Stand still—don't turn your head from side to side, or walk forward as you speak; your voice will fade in and out for people.

Do not shout—speak loudly. (Parents, this is not your "If I have to tell you one more time" voice!) Speak in your normal pitch range, and don't attempt to deliberately raise or lower your pitch; you will strain your voice. Remember that most people raise the pitch of their voice naturally as they raise the volume. For practice, try reading this line aloud:

Start in your normal voice, but smoothly and gradually increase the volume until you are speaking AS LOUDLY WITHOUT SHOUTING AS YOU WOULD EXPECT A TRAINED HERALD TO SPEAK.

Speak clearly, with a slow but natural rhythm. Let your voice rise and fall naturally; don't speak in a monotone. (The presence of natural rhythms and natural pitch variations will make your words more recognizable to your listeners.) Don't reach for maximum volume—try instead to clarify your voice, to project outward. Open your throat, and use plenty of air. Let phrases trail off a bit at the end; this will help keep your throat relaxed.

Watch what you eat and drink. Don't drink carbonated drinks, iced tea, or strongly sugared drinks; these can irritate your throat. Don't drink milk; milk makes a gummy saliva that is great for pitching spitballs but lousy for heralds. If you suck on ice to keep cool, beware that your tongue doesn't go numb (my favorite problem). Don't chew gum. As your mother always said, don't herald with food in your mouth.

Practice! Go out and get comfortable with your voice. Herald at fighter practices. Ask people how far your voice is carrying. Listen for echoes of your voice off of nearby buildings. Get to know how loud you are, and what kind of area you can cover with one speech. You'll have to divide your event site into zones no bigger than your voice can cover.

MAKE IT CLEAR! You must be understood. MAKE IT CLEAR!

Know Thy Event

Before you can make announcements, you must know what to announce. The autocrat plans the event, but to a large degree you, the herald, are responsible for keeping the event running. It is part of your job to be extra eyes and ears for the autocrat, and to make sure things go smoothly. You can't wait around for someone to give you announcements; you must anticipate, knowing what comes next and how soon.

Work with the autocrat as your event's schedule is developed. Which activities need advance warning, and which can be announced when they begin? What special announcements may be needed (such as rules for parking)? When is breakfast? Armor inspection? Deadline for competition entry? Lunch? Feast? Court? When should wake-up calls start on Saturday? On Sunday?

Will you be the tournament herald? Who will run the lists? Who will marshal? The field herald must work closely with both of these people. Who is responsible for finding runners between the lists-keeper and the herald?

Will you need assistant heralds? Does the schedule put you in two places at once? If you are tied up in a tournament all morning, who will announce classes or competitions over the rest of the site? How many tournament lists will run at once? (Small Gray Bear used to run four lists simultaneously.) You need one field herald for each active tournament. Line up assistant heralds before the event; don't count on volunteers among your event guests.

Will there be a royal or baronial court? Will Their Majesties bring their own court heralds? If your Sovereigns are expected, at the least be prepared to assist their heralds. (Group heralds, remember that you must file an award report with your Kingdom officer, even if you don't herald the royal court yourself.)

Who in your group runs what? You won't just herald openly for the guests; it's often your job to quietly warn your co-workers when they are needed.

Finally, when will you not be needed at all? Have rest times scheduled; you will need them.

Know Thy Site

If you've never heralded on a particular site, then you don't know enough about it, no matter how often your group has used it. Take some time—in daylight—to study your site closely before the event.

How big is the site? Unless the event fits in one hall, you will have to make each announcement from several spots to reach your entire site. Break the site into zones, each small enough that your voice easily covers it. Consider each major building that will be in use as a separate zone. Let your zones overlap; better that some people hear the same announcement twice than that some people don't hear it at all.

From what points will your voice carry best? Stand to one side of each announcement zone, not in its center. Your voice spreads out before you, not behind you; figure that only people you can see can hear your voice. Don't stand directly opposite a building that might reflect your voice; the echoes will confuse people. In a hall, stand near a corner or the middle of one side; stay away from large fans or air conditioners.

What's the best route between zones? Plan a standard circuit and stick to it; you'll be less likely to skip a zone. What areas will be in use for only part of the day? Plan different morning and afternoon routes, if appropriate. Try to lay out a circular route, so that you finish where you started; that way you can start an announcement from whatever zone you happen to be in.

Is there an archery range or axe target? Plan a route around it; it's rude (also dangerous) to cross in front of the shooters.

How long for one complete circuit? How long does it take to cover the whole site, to give out a single announcement? If it takes you over five minutes just to walk your circuit, without even stopping to say anything, then you may need more than one herald for the site.

How many cabins? I'm not kidding—count them. How large are they? How thick are the walls? If the cabins are very solid, you'll have to go inside for regular announcements. How close together are the cabins? If they cluster tightly, you may cover two or more cabins with one zone. Are the cabins divided by interior walls? If so, you'll have to do a separate wake-up call in each room.

How many campsites? Are they in woods or in the open? Are there small groups of camping pads, or is there a large open area in which camps will be randomly distributed? Are there fire pits or other hazards which can trip you? Are there several different trails, enough that you might get lost in the dark? If so, you may need to actually blaze a route through the woods with flags or some such.

Are there hazards? Cliff edges? Creeks? Poison ivy? Prairie dog holes? Don't forget that rural sites can be very dark.

What is peculiar to this site? Where are outdoor lights? Are there mundane areas to avoid? What areas will not be in use at all? Are there remote areas, such as private lodges? If these are far from the main site, plan to use your car to get to them; you can't afford to spend fifteen or twenty minutes walking back and forth to remote areas.

Know thy site—but on the other hand, don't try to cover every hole and corner. If people deliberately seek privacy during an event, they won't be expecting to hear the herald at their elbow.

Supplies and Equipment

As a herald, you will need quite a bit of equipment. As a bare minimum, arrive at the event with all of the following:

Other things I strongly recommend:

NOTE: If you plan to have more than one herald for the event, make sure your assistants will be similarly equipped, right down to the alarm clock.

More Practical Site Heraldry:

Part II: At the Event

Part III: Wake-up Without Fear

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SCAdia: Copyright © 2000, 2001, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2008, Seamas Mac Daibhid. All rights reserved. Except where otherwise specified, reproduction or redistribution of this material in any form is prohibited. SCAdia is written and edited by Seamas Mac Daibhid. Some material is used by permission of other authors; copyright resides with them and will be noted where appropriate.

SCAdia is not an official web site of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc.. and does not delineate official Society policy. While much of the material on SCAdia is instructional or educational, much of it is provided entirely for entertainment. SCAdia makes no claim to support the Society's substantially educational purpose, and should not be considered to reflect upon the Society directly. SCAdia is also not an official web site of the Shire of Smythkepe or the Kingdom of Gleann Abhann.

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