In my role as a territorial baroness, I am often called on to compose letters to the Crown of the Midrealm. When I was invested, my predecessors gave me good advice on how to do this, and I would like to share it — along with my own knowledge, gained from experience — with the populace generally.
In this post, I’ll be talking about how to write to SCA royalty. I’ll discuss what information to include as well as how to make your letter sound beautiful and more “medieval”.
But first: Why do we do this?
The more special you make your letter, the more special They will feel to receive it.
Background Info: Examples of Medieval Letters
My favorite website for medieval letters is Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Letters. It contains a large number of letters by and to women, originally written in Latin, from the 4th through 13th centuries. It is my go-to site because of its huge collection. You may also find the following helpful: Internet Medieval Sourcebook, “Italian Renaissance” at Euro Docs, and Luminarium’s “The Works of Queen Elizabeth I”.
If you want to copy the style of a particular culture or person, I recommend looking up that person (or a representative person from that culture) in Project Gutenberg. Wikipedia is also a resource I use all the time, since it often links to other sites that contain the writings (original or translated) of the person or culture I am interested in; its related sites Wikisource and Wikiquote are also very helpful sometimes.
If you have difficulty finding letters for a particular culture or period, try looking for contracts or public announcements instead. You may also have some success by skimming through novels or epic poems — though this can take a lot of time. Failing all else, it can be charming to write your letter in a non-letter style (e.g., a poem).
Having said all that: Most of the time when you are writing to Royalty, a generic, medieval-esque style that incorporates SCA traditions will do perfectly.
The Form of the Letter
Generally, medieval-sounding SCA letters have two sections with an optional third.
- (Optional) Closing
The greeting is usually a short paragraph that tells both who is receiving the letter and who is sending it. This is different from modern custom, but most medieval European letters I have read contain both pieces of information at the beginning.
Here are some simple examples:
- “To Their Royal Majesties Judith and Leopold, greetings from Kasha and Ermenrich, Baroness and Baron of Cynnabar.”
- “Unto Their Royal Majesties Baron Ermenrich and Baroness Kasha send greetings.”
This is where the business of the letter is communicated. It’s tempting to get so caught up in making the language beautiful that you forget to say something important! So before writing, I always make a list of points I want to make sure to convey.
For invitations to local events, which is the most common type of letter I send to Their Majesties, I always include:
- the date, time, location, and name of the event
- 2-4 attractive features of the event (e.g., “this event draws musicians from all over the Known World”, or “Her Highness can fight in the six-foot spear tournament”)
- where Their Majesties can go for more information (i.e., the event website)
- contact information for the event’s Royalty Liaison or other appropriate contact person
- how much it would mean to our populace if They were able to come
- a thank-you for the time and attention They have given the letter
When possible, I also try to include something personal, such as congratulating Their Majesties on Their recent coronation, mentioning an activity that I know one of Their Highnesses particularly loves, or, if They are friends of our Barony, letting Them know how much our populace enjoys Their company.
Keep in mind that it is often Their Chamberlain who will read and respond to your letter. You can reassure Their Majesties that You don’t expect Their personal attention by saying things like, “We would be happy to speak with You or Your Chamberlain whenever is convenient.”
While many medieval letters simply end after conveying the content, there are times when this feels abrupt to a modern reader. If your letter doesn’t sound finished, here are a few options for adding a closing:
- “Written on this first day of November in our Barony of Cynnabar.”
- “Fifteenth day, seventh month
In reference to: Baronial Court at Wassail”
- “Fare well; may they fare well who love You.”
- “In confirmation whereof we set our hands,
Ermenrich, Baron of Cynnabar
Kasha, Baroness of Cynnabar”
In the historical letters I have read, closings (when they occur) tend to include date and location of the letter’s composition. A few include farewells or (especially in Japanese letters) subject or reference lines. Signatures or other endorsements are sometimes given, but typically these are for legal documents such as contracts, not invitations.
The Style of the Letter
One thing that can make the SCA very fun is sending and receiving florid, stylized correspondence. After we have made sure that our letters are communicative, we want to make them beautiful and fun! We also want them to stand out, so Their Majesties and Their Highnesses are excited about attending our events (or doing whatever other business we must request of Them).
Two times when you might want to tone it down a bit:
- A very convoluted letter. If you think it might be hard to understand what you’re saying, have someone else read through the letter and give you feedback before you send it. While ornate medievalisms are interesting, they are less important than clarity. You can change a few words to make the letter clearer and still have it seem fun and fancy.
- A serious topic. If you have something important, sad, or potentially upsetting to discuss, a florid style is inappropriate. Be polite and complimentary but more direct. (See the last section of this post for some examples.)
Below are some tips for embellishing your letter.
In the SCA, we capitalize all nouns and pronouns that refer to Their Majesties and Their Highnesses. This includes You and Your when speaking directly to Them.
If you are a territorial Baroness or Baron, you may be used to capitalizing We and Our when writing SCA letters. My personal opinion is that it’s best to avoid using capitals like this for yourself when writing to someone who ranks above you (i.e., a Queen, King, Princess, or Prince), since you are speaking in your role as Their servant rather than in your role as Their representative (as you would to your populace).
To make your letter sound more formal, use full names and titles when you address or refer to others. For a direct, business-style letter, “Azalaïs can give You more information” works well, but for a more fun letter you might embellish it as: “I recommend speaking with Her Grace, Duchess Azalaïs de Montferrat, about this topic”. Instead of referring to “Ermenrich and I”, I might say, “His Excellency and I”.
One exception: Although it depends on Their personal preferences the culture of Their personae, SCA royalty often forgo the use of Their surnames during Their reign. Unless you know otherwise, it’s better to refer to “Queen Judith” than to “Queen Judith of Babenberg”.
Another SCA convention is to use the phrase “in service” as a sign-off before one’s name at the end of a letter. To make it sound more medieval, I often modify it to “Yours in service” or “In Your service”.
The Language of Vassalage
When writing, it can be helpful to cultivate the perspective of medieval vassals addressing their sovereigns. The person to whom you are writing is superior to you in every way, perhaps even a divine being (or appointed by one)! Emphasize this difference in your stations by exalting them and by humbling yourself.
Be generous with compliments, both to the recipient(s) and Their loved ones:
- “Unto Her Most Efficacious Draconic Majesty, Judith, and unto His Majesty, Leopold the Loyal and Well-Informed, sincere greetings and admiration as fervent as it is deserved”
- “…and to all Their household, present and future”
- “May they fare well who love you”
Offer congratulations and best wishes:
- “Congratulations on Your recent ascendancy to the Thrones of the Middle Kingdom! The Coronation ceremony was both lovely and interesting”
- “We send greetings, prosperity of grace in the present, and happiness of glory in the future”
Make sure They know that you know that any rank you hold is done so by Their grace and at Their pleasure. (“Greetings from Ermenrich and Kasha, by the grace of Their Royal Majesties Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar…”)
When you speak of yourself, use words such as “humble”, “respectful”, and “Your servant”. (“Respectfully Yours in service to the Kingdom…”)
Make it clear that you are eager to accommodate Their wishes and desires:
- Point out activities that they may enjoy at your event
- Let them know that you are familiar with the information on Their webpage (“We have read over your food allergies and will have plenty of safe food for you to eat”)
- Note that your Royalty Liaison can handle any accommodations desired for allergies, mobility needs, etc.
- Ask whether They would be more likely enjoy a hotel room or crash space (as long as you actually do have both available!)
- Specifically say that you would be pleased to accommodate even the smallest request
- When you ask what They would like you to do, make sure it’s clear that you would happily do as They wish (it’s easy to read a grudging tone into a letter, even if you didn’t intend it)
When you make suggestions of something They might do, always include phrases such as “at Your convenience” or “if it pleases You” to make it clear that this is only a suggestion.
Finally, even though paying time and attention to the Kingdom is Their job, never make it seem like you assume that They have time and attention to give to you specifically.
If you have time, it’s fun to mine historical letters for cool phrases or terms to use. You will have to adapt these to some extent.
Here are a few I found by clicking on some randomly selected letters at Epistolae:
- “…because of this I Laureta give you that said castle and my whole honor wherever I might have it in the county of Narbonne and Carcasson and Redes and Roussillon and in the county of Béziers and Agde.”
- “Let it not offend your highness, dearest lord, that I presume to speak so boldly with you.”
- “Since it pleased your highness, most serene lord, to send your legate master R to visit me, your handmaid, with letters, I am grateful and thank your majesty profusely.”
- “Anselm the archbishop: to his dearest sisters in Christ, to the lady abbess of St Edward, Eulalia, and all her and his daughters, sending the greeting and blessing of God, and his own, for what it is worth.”
- “…therefore the whole community should know…”
- “Whoever might presume to violate this above donation be damned with perennial punishment in hell with the traitor Judas.”
You may notice that there are stylistic qualities of medieval writing that are rarely seen in modern writing. Use these to make your letter sound more medieval. Some of my favorites include:
- Long, run-on sentences with multiple clauses — why use a period when you could use a colon or semi-colon? (Note: This is an easy way to decrease clarity, so be careful!)
- Capitalizing important Words or Concepts (usually nouns) as though they were Names
- Legal language, including commonly understood Latin phrases or their English equivalents
About attribution: If you use something very specific, or if you use a lot of material from the same source, it’s a good idea to remember where you found it, in case someone asks. You don’t need to include the reference information in your letter, however.
What about God?
One thing you will notice immediately about medieval letter-writing is how frequently God and other religious concepts are mentioned. Religion was a pervasive part of medieval life, and this is reflected in how medieval people expressed themselves. Add this to the fact that many extant letters are from clerics writing about religious business, and you will find yourself with a lot of terms and phrases that are interesting and cool-sounding — and perhaps necessary to give your letter the correct historical tone — but uncomfortably religious for an SCA setting.
Fortunately, while it is difficult to completely avoid religious references when writing a medieval-style letter, it is very easy to reword them or change their context to make them more secular or ecumenical. One way to do this is by making references so generic that they could refer to multiple belief systems (e.g., “God’s will” → “Providence”; “the blessings of the Most High” → “heavenly blessings”). The safest way, however, is to substitute SCA or secular historical concepts for religious ones (e.g., “by the grace of God” → “by the grace of Their Royal Majesties”; “in the year of our Lord” → “in the year of the Society”).
If you do decide to use any religious references without changing them, consider the context of your letter and whether including religious images or topics is appropriate.
When it works:
- If you are writing a letter on behalf of yourself personally, it is fine to refer to your or Their personal religious views (for example, saying you hope for the blessings of the gods on the recipient or wishing Them a Happy Hanukkah).
- It is usually fine to refer to an aspect of medieval life that would have been experienced by everyone regardless of their own religious views, such as stating that this letter was “Written on the eleventh of November, upon the Feast of Saint Martin” or expressing happiness at the return of the sun at the Winter Solstice.
- If it enhances the content or beauty of the letter, it is usually fine to quote a religious work or refer to a well known religious story. (In fact, for some historical writing styles, particularly East Asian ones, quoting religious works is almost necessary to achieve the correct tone.) You must do so respectfully and be careful not to imply either endorsement or criticism of the belief system itself.
When it doesn’t work:
- Avoid endorsing any religion when you are writing on behalf of a larger entity, such as your SCA group.
- Obviously, you will also want to avoid any religious sentiments that could be construed as being intolerant toward anyone (for example, referring to “crusades” should be done delicately, if at all).
- Be sensitive toward any views on religion expressed by the person you are writing to.
- It is best to avoid any religious references you are not sure you completely understand, since you don’t want to accidentally misuse or trivialize something that others hold sacred.
In summary: Including religious imagery can greatly enhance the beauty and historical “feel” of your letter. But if you have any doubts about whether what you’ve written is appropriate, DO NOT INCLUDE IT.
Making It Memorable
While I have written this article with the assumption that most of your communications with Their Majesties and Their Highnesses will be by email, this doesn’t have to be the case! Since Royalty receive a large amount of email, it can be fun for Them and for you to send the invitation in a less conventional way. Recruiting a calligrapher and illuminator to create a piece of artwork out of your letter is a good way to get attention. One event steward that I worked with wrote my invitation out on a box of cookies! (When doing this, it is best to follow up with an email so that They and Their Chamberlain have a reminder of the correspondence.)
Even in an email, there are things you can do to make your invitation stand out visually. Since our Barony’s symbol is an elephant and our Kingdom’s symbol is a dragon, I found an illuminated image of an elephant and dragon online, edited it to include my and my husband’s signatures, and used it as our “signature” at the end of the letter. I have also typed up invitations in fancy fonts on top of parchment images and sent them as a picture file instead of text. (If you do this, make sure it’s still easy to read, and include a postscript with any clickable links, such as the event website and the Royalty Liaison’s email address.) I’m sure you can think of other creative options, too!
Remember, the more special you make your letter, the more special They will feel to receive it!
Below are some real letters that I have written to royalty and others. I have changed the names of everyone in these letters except for me and my husband, Ermenrich.
To the most excellent Prince Otto and Princess Agnes, and to all Their household, present and future, their faithful servants Ermenrich and Kasha, by the grace of Their Royal Majesties Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar, send warm greetings and reverence as devoted as it is owed, with good wishes for health and prosperity.
Congratulations on Your recent ascension!
On behalf of the people of Cynnabar, we write to formally invite You to attend our upcoming event, A Grand Day of Tournaments, on November 2 in Saline, Michigan. This event celebrates the Midrealm’s thriving martial arts community. While the schedule is not yet finalized for this year, we expect all-day tournaments in various martial arts, generous prizes donated by Our populace, gambling games for spectators, and a chance for Her Highness to control Her very own lion. For more information, please feel free to have Your chamberlain contact us directly: We would be pleased to accommodate any requests You may have, no matter how small, and the Barony is eager to provide lodging for You if desired.
In addition, we are nearing the end of our five-year term as Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar, and Cynnabar’s seneschal is currently accepting Letters of Intent for heirs to the Baronial Throne. Based on the timing of the transition process, we anticipate that You will be the ones to invest our successors. If it pleases You and suits Your schedule, we suggest A Grand Day of Tournaments as a convenient date and place for the investiture, as it would allow the greatest number of our populace to attend.
We enjoyed seeing You this past weekend and were extremely happy for Your success. We hope you will consider attending the event in November, and we look forward to hearing from You or Your chamberlain.
Fare well; may they fare well who love You.
Request for Action
Unto Your Royal Majesties, greetings from the Barony of Cynnabar! Your humble servants, Ermenrich and Kasha, Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar, and our heirs, Sergeant Anselme Clairvaux and Lord Peire du Bec, send our collective wishes for Your happiness and prosperity.
We are also looking forward to hosting His Majesty at a Grand Day of Tournaments on November 2.
Please see the attached document, which contains the script we would like to use for the Baronial Investiture Ceremony that day. All four of us have worked together to try to make sure that it is beautiful and appropriate to the circumstances, and we seek Your input and approval.
If there is anything in the script that You would like us to change, please let us know and we will happily do as You wish.
Ermenrich and Kasha, Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar
Sergeant Anselme Clairvaux
Lord Peire du Bec
Request to Meet (Serious Tone)
Ermenrich and Kasha, by the grace of Their Royal Majesties Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar, unto Their Most Noble Majesties Leopold and Judith and Their whole household do send oaths of loyalty and greetings of goodwill.
To begin with, congratulations on Your recent ascendancy to the Thrones of the Middle Kingdom! The Coronation ceremony was both lovely and interesting. It is clear that You will be confident Sovereign Leaders, and we are very much looking forward to Your Reign.
We deeply apologize to bring problems to Your attention so soon after Your Coronation, but we must request to meet with You as soon as is possibly convenient for You. This meeting is in regards to the major issue we discussed in our recent State of the Barony Report. Unfortunately, the matter has further developed. We want to keep You informed and seek Your advice, as we anticipate that further problems may occur.
If it’s convenient for You, we’d like to take You out to dinner or brunch sometime to discuss this. Would it be possible to meet with You the night before or the morning after an event? We could also meet during an event; however, this may take a significant amount of time, and we don’t want to detract from any of Your other duties.
This month, we plan to attend [specific events]. Next month, we will be at [specific events]. Since we are worried about this matter developing quickly, we would prefer to meet sooner rather than later.
If there are no upcoming events that are convenient, we could drive to meet you somewhere on another day. Maybe we could meet about halfway between our home and Yours — perhaps [specific location]?
Please let us know whether You are available and the most convenient way for us to meet with You.
If You would like us to send more information about this matter before the meeting, please let us know. Duchess Matilda Beauclerc and Sir Robert Flambard are also good sources of information regarding this topic.
Thank You very, very much for Your time and attention to this matter. We look forward to seeing You soon.
May Heaven grant You a good and long life and Paradise.
Very respectfully in Your service,
Kasha Alekseeva & Ermenrich von Duisburg
Written this fourth day of the tenth month in the first year of our vassalage
Regarding: Requesting a meeting to discuss major Baronial challenges
Meeting Follow-Up (Serious Tone)
This letter is to record and confirm information about the meeting that we (Ermenrich and Kasha) sought with You (King Leopold and Queen Judith) on Friday, October 16, 2015.
On that evening, we met with You in Your home to update You on recent conflict in Cynnabar relating to [topic]. We talked about the history of [the source of the conflict] in the Barony and [other topics].
Your Majesties approved of the steps the Barony had taken, and all present agreed it was best that neither Your Majesties nor We take further action regarding the issue at this time. Your Majesties also said that You intended to [take specific actions]. It was also decided to send a record of the meeting to [relevant persons] in case it would need to be referenced in the future. We have retained a copy of this letter in our records as well.
Thank You once again for meeting with us, and please let us know if anything above needs to be corrected.
Sincerely Yours in service,
Ermenrich and Kasha
Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar
Court Summons #1
…Because fancy letters aren’t just for Royalty!
Peace be upon you in the Name of the Blessed and Good, Herr Frederick von Eschenbach, A.P.F., Defender of the Tower, Recipient of the Award of the Elephant’s Heart, and Our Herald. May your life be lengthened and your happiness preserved. May you be shielded from your enemies. May your blessings be increased.
We, Ermenrich and Kasha, write to you this fourth day of the twelfth month from Our Barony of Cynnabar, by Merciful Providence in good health and prosperity. As the Darkness of Winter encroaches upon Us, We travel south to observe Cynnabar’s ancient customs and rites of Winter in the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Yet we seek more than the Sun to dispel the Darkness in Our lands. Longing for the Light of Friendship, We prepare to gather Our Companions to Us on the Eve of the Solstice.
For the joy of your presence, and also so that you may serve Us as Our voice in Court, We do herewith summon you to process with Us into Our Wassail Court at sunset on the twentieth day of this month. Adorn yourself well, for you shall be seen and heard by all assembled.
If other duties prevent you from fulfilling this summons, We pray that you not deprive Us of your letters informing Us of your inability to attend.
Through the Abundance of the Most Merciful, We remain
Ermenrich, Shaykh of Cynnabar
Kasha, Shaykha of Cynnabar
Court Summons #2
…Because fancy letters aren’t just for Royalty!
Abe no Keikō:
With these letters, We request your presence at Cynnabar’s Baronial Court at Pennsic War, at the Hour of the Rooster on the first day of the Star Festival.
To honor you for your incomparable performance of righteousness and skill, under these circumstances and in a place hallowed by the blood of ten thousand generations, is most admirable and conforms to the Imperial will. Accordingly, when We propose a beneficent aim with due respect, and in complete sincerity, how can We fail to do good with Our cherished desire? How could We, by “raising the straight and putting them on top of the crooked”, be going against proper and natural order?
Now is the time quickly to clear away hesitation. There is no doubt that you will cause the light to shine on Our people.
Respectfully in your service,
Ermenrich and Kasha
Baron and Baroness of Cynnabar
Fifteenth day, seventh month
In reference to:
Baronial Court at Pennsic War