Courts are one of the common features of the Current Middle Ages. Most official business, notably the granting of group status, proclaiming law, warranting upper-level officers and bestowing awards, must be conducted at an official court. Courts are ceremonial in nature, and in a formal situation formal manners are requisite. Most of the etiquette is derived from two of the underlaying principals of the S.C.A.: respect for the Crown* and common courtesy.
Before a court actually begins, the populace is bidden to "draw nigh". This is the signal for those persons attending court to arrange themselves before the thrones. Many of the courts conduct one or more ceremonies which require an aisle to be formed, through the people, to the thrones. If an aisle is cleared during the set-up period, leave it clear until the court is closed. It is there to provide access to the thrones.
Areas should also be left clear on either side of the thrones. The people whose duties require them to stand behind the thrones need to be able to get in and out freely. Only people who have been asked by the Crown (attendants, the seneschal, people whose positions include ceremonial obligations) should stand behind the thrones. Everyone else should go in front. Too many people behind the thrones impede the smooth running of a court and adds nothing to the atmosphere. If you are standing behind the thrones, be aware of the needs of your fellow attendants as they move in and out, and help them whenever possible.
If you have business before the Crown, give it to the herald before the court actually opens. If for some reason an essential piece of business was forgotten, do not try to tell the court herald about it while court is in process. Three is almost always another herald standing behind the one running the court; this is the herald to whom you should speak. Most of the time, however, the piece of business can be taken care of at a later court (or announced during the day). Unless it is really important, wait.
Once the court has been opened, all unnecessary talking should cease. Talking during court is rude to both the persons sitting on the thrones and the persons in the audience, who generally want to hear what is going on. The first thing you should hear is that you have Their Majesties' leave to be seated. Until then, everyone should remain standing. The populace may be asked to come closer, to move into the shade, or some other request pertaining to the arrangement or comfort of those attending the court.
If at some point during the court you are called before the thrones, you should respond promptly. These are your rulers and they are the highest authority in the realm. If they wish your presence, no one has the prerogative to obstruct your coming before them. The sovereign authority of the Crown is one of the fundamental concepts of the S.C.A.**
Anytime you come into the Presence of your rulers, you should perform a courtesie (bow or curtsy). The Presence is defined as being 10 feet from the crown in all directions. The type of courtesie depends on the particular situation. The first time you greet them at an event, and formal situations such as courts, require a full (deep) courtesie. After that, lesser gradations are acceptable. In case of doubt, be formal; it is better to be more courteous than is strictly required than to show a lack of respect for the Crown.
If you are conducting business in front of the thrones, the first thing to do (after the courtesie) is to ask Their Majesties' leave to do so. When addressing either the Crown or the assembled populace, try to speak clearly and audibly. It is advisable to keep your business as succinct as possible. When you are finished, perform another courtesie to the Crown and depart.
Following these guidelines will lead to courts which run smoothly and add to the atmosphere of an event. In court, more then anywhere else, the signs of courtesy and chivalry should be visible.
Written by Mistress Keridwen of Montrose
* Crown or Coronet; this applies to whomever is holding the court
** The crown is ultimately answerable to the Board of Directors (and the people), but in this type of situation that fact is irrelevant.