Court Scrolls – Shhh it is a secret

This post is exclusively about how we deal with award scrolls given out in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) courts.  Inter-kingdom anthropology (IKA) is term to describe the study and understanding of how  “kingdoms” in the SCA do things in different ways.  There are 19 “kingdoms” in the SCA that span the globe.  It is only natural that there are going to be differences between various Kingdoms.  However, there are some things that are almost exactly the same in all the kingdoms as well.

If you are working on a court scroll to be handed out in court, you really, really, really need to keep it a secret.

The Middle Kingdom Scribes Handbook puts it this way:

“One of the most important things to remember is that when you are given an assignment by one of these people you have become privy to a STATE SECRET. The identity of the recipient MUST be kept secret from any and all who have not been given permission by Their Majesties. Failure to keep this secret is cause for not trusting you in the future, and you may end up doing backlog scrolls only. (Actually, we always need help on backlog.)”

The Kingdom of Northshield Scribes Handbook puts it this way:

“Please always remember — you have just been provided secret information. Confidentiality is utmost important here. Please refrain from sharing this information with others, trying to make sure the recipient goes to court, etc. Failure to comply could cause removal from the Scribe roster”

The East Kingdom Scribes Handbook puts it this way:

“Share your works with others (only after it has gone out in court). this allows you the opportunity to get feedback on your work. It is highly recommended that you do NOT post your work to a private Website while the scroll is in production and/or if it has not gone out in court yet.”

As with all things scribal, check with your kingdom scribal handbook and head signet for how things work for you specific Kingdom.  If you don’t know how to find this information here is a handy webpage listing every Kingdom’s scribal page and most of their scribal handbooks.

Not every Kingdom hands out court scrolls in court when the award is handed out.  For example the West Kingdom has a tradition of not always handing out a scroll at the time the honor is bestowed in court.  Here is the FAQ for the West Kingdom College of Scribes where things are explained very well.

If you are working on an assigned backlog scroll or as in the West Kingdom, an assigned scroll after the recipient has been made aware of the honor bestowed upon them, then by all means keeping it a secret could be a bit silly.  Then again, maybe it isn’t.  I have seen backlog scrolls handed out in court 20 years after the original award was given.  Imagine how wonderful that surprise was for the recipient.  Make sure when you take on such an assignment what level of secrecy you should keep things to.

How do you keep your scroll a secret?  You have to work on it.  You have to transport it.  You have to hand it in.

For me when I’m working on a court scroll I go to the craft room hang a do not disturb sign on the door knob and close the door. This tells everyone else that I’m working on a court scroll and to not come in without warning me first.  This allows me to get up and answer the door or provide some kind of way to stop others from seeing the scroll in progress.  Could someone come in when I’m not around and read the scroll?  Yes.  But then if I can’t trust the people I live with, I would have a different system.  Come up with one that works for you.

What if you have a problem and need advice?  It is perfectly okay to ask for help on a court scroll.  Let the person know that you are working on a scribal project, ran into a problem and that you need some advice.  You can probably even tell them, if asked, that it is a court scroll.  Do not tell them the name of the recipient or what the award is.  If for some reason you need advice and/or help that requires you to divulge the information about the award or the recipient contact the signet that assigned you the scroll to begin with.  They likely will be able to help you with the issue, or can recommend and give permission for you to talk to someone else who can help you.

My wife likes to paint and twice I asked permission for her to be able to paint something on a court scroll. The second time I was told that I did not need to ask every time.  It was understood and acceptable that should I desire some assistance from my wife, I could get her help on a case by case basis.  Notice, this doesn’t free me up to talk with her about every scroll assignment I’m working on.  I keep my scroll assignments secret from my wife.

What if life happens and you can’t finish the scroll and need to hand it off?  Contact the signet that assigned you the scroll immediately so that arrangements can be made.  Their Majesties are expecting to hand out this scroll and we do not wish to disappoint the crown do we?  Life happens.  Scrolls get damaged before they get handed out, family members go to the hospital, you go to the hospital, sickness occurs and a whole host of other things can come up.  Be reasonable, not heroic.  If you reasonably can’t get the scroll you were assigned done, contact your signet immediately, explain to them what is going on and make arrangements for someone else to do the scroll or finish the one you were working on.

Transporting the court scroll and turning it in can provide some interesting challenges.  Many of them are solved simply by putting your scroll in a scroll case.  A scroll case is a bit like a book cover.  It is two pieces of rigid material, often cardboard, covered in fabric.  This protects the scroll and handily keeps it completely secret as well.  A better description and directions on how to make a scroll case this webpage should be very informative.  Scroll cases are wonderful and if possible should be left with the scroll until it is handed out in court.  In some Kingdoms, scroll cases are exchanged when the scroll is turned in.

A scribe hands in a scroll still in the case so that way nobody who shouldn’t will see the award.  The signet then hands the scribe an empty scroll case to replace the one just turned in.  This way the recipient can use the scroll case to protect their wonderful scroll home in.

Turning in a scroll I’m sure has some differences from Kingdom to Kingdom.  In the two Kingdoms I have been a scribe the typical experience was to check in at the event and ask at check in if there was a scribal room and if not where the royalty room was.  Often when there is not a scribal room set aside at the event the royalty room can double as the scribe’s room.  Respect the privacy of those in the scribe’s and the royalty room.  Never just barge in.  Knock, state why you are there and ask if you can come in and drop off the scroll.  I have been told, “No,” even in the scribal room.  This is fine.  Wait patiently if you can or return when it would be more convenient.

I remember one time I walked up to the scribe’s room and was recognized by some scribes I knew pretty well.  I stayed at the threshold of the door and asked politely if I could come in.  They finished up what they were doing and then turned to me and we chatted, exchanged things and I went on my merry way.  At court that night, the award they were working on was handed to me in court by their Majesties of the Middle Kingdom.  I almost walked in on them finishing up the calligraphy on the promissory of my Grant Level Arts and Sciences award, the Evergreen!

And while not every scroll to be handed out in court is going to be for you, just because you are a scribe who works on court scrolls does not mean you have the right to see every scroll that will be handed out in court.  As scribes we love to look over the work of others, get inspiration from them and compliment the work.  But you only have the right to know about the scroll you did.  All the other scrolls are also secrets and you may not be privilege to them.  In the two kingdoms where I have been a scribe, it never hurt to ask to see the scrolls.  I’ve been told, “Yes,” more than, “No,” and there is always such wonderful stuff to see.

To sum up, always check your kingdom scribal handbook and with your kingdom signet if you have any questions about how your kingdom deals with court scrolls.  Every kingdom does things at least a little different.  Generally speaking court scrolls to be given out in court are a secret, please keep them that way.  Backlog and other scrolls to be given to the recipient after they have been given the award are most likely not secret but check first.  Make reasonable plans at home to keep your work a secret. If you need advice on something feel free to ask but keep the award and the recipient secret.  If you need advice that requires divulging the award or the recipient talk to the signet that assigned the scroll to you.  Also talk to them if for some reason you can not finish the scroll in the allotted time you were given.  When you transport the scroll keep it protected and safe.  I recommend using a scroll case for that.  If you can’t transport it yourself, get permission for someone else to transport it.  Once you are on site, find out where the court scrolls are being turned in.  Be respectful of the space where the scrolls are being turned in, knock, clearly state that you want to turn in a court scroll and ask permission to enter.  Sometimes they will take the scroll from your hand at the door or tell you to come back.  That is okay.  Don’t go pawing through the other court scrolls.  Get permission to look through them first.

I hope this has been informative and useful to you.  As always I look forward to your comments and ratings.

5 responses to “Court Scrolls – Shhh it is a secret

  1. I do occasionally do work for Baroness Ekat in AEthelmarc, and she has a fantastic assignment sheet that lists all the information, arms, and has a form letter involved about information security. I’ll FW you an old assignment letter later today.

  2. In Ansteorra, we also use Charters for most kingdom awards. A Charter would be a master illumination design with hand calligraphy that has been copied onto quality 80lb resume paper and then hand painted. Ansteorra also uses original scrolls for prizes, high level awards, local branch awards and the occastional kingdom award that someone chooses to make an original of for a friend.
    Ansteorran scribes decided in it’s infancy as a kingdom to not create original scrolls for all awards, but switched to a charter system, in order to allow scribes time to work on other activities, and to avoid dealing with backlogs if originals were not prepared in time; and at that time we just didn’t have the manpower to keep up with originals, so our current system has stuck.
    Some 20 years ago, Ansteorra created a scribal officer, ‘Sable Scroll’, a member of Royal Staff, to calligraph the names of the award recipients that the Crown designates. Charters are turned into regional Signets or directly to the Crown, or to Sable Scroll, wo whom all charters are eventually forwarded up the line, so Sable Scroll has all the charters stored and ready to be used at the Crown’s pleasure.
    Ansteorra doesn’t use ‘scroll cases’, we put the charters in modern large envelopes for protection. Award Scrolls are given out in court and the painter’s names are called out in court as wordfame.
    Those who put names on original scrolls or charters are advised that they are now a part of the Secret Society of Scribes, and are not to tell.

  3. Thanks for another great post, Ian. Here in An Tir, a lot of awards are given out in court where there is no scroll, but a charter instead. The names on those charters are kept just as secret as if they were scrolls. I have also been asked to do scribal work at events that included creating a promissory that included their Majesties names in lieu of their signatures. The words I wrote carried the weight of having been spoken by their Majesties. I took my role as a court scribe VERY seriously and I felt honored to have been given that responsibility. I like the phrasing in the Middle Kingdom handbook. These are essentially State secrets and should be treated with the respect they deserve.
    Thanks again,
    HL Aron Sinister

  4. You just have all sorts of fun news for me don’t you? 🙂

    Thanks Kayleigh, for the updates! Always important to keep information up to date and accurate.

  5. Thanks, Ian!

    The East Kingdom Scribes Handbook dates to 2011, but our policies were revised on May 1, 2013. I encourage scribes to please read the new policies (including on confidentiality / secrecy) and bear in mind that these policies supercede those found in the handbook.

    More information can be found at our new website (please note that the page linked to above for the EK Signet Office is also outdated!) has all the current information on East Kingdom’s Signet Office Policies, new scribes questionnaires, important announcements, etc.


    –Kayleigh McWhyte, OL
    current East Kingdom Tyger Clerk

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