Being royalty in the SCA comes with a number of perks. In Æthelmearc, one of those is the Queen’s Guard. How does the Queen’s Guard work? Mistress Arianna of Wynthrope interviewed several past Queens and members of their guards to find out.
What is the Queen’s Guard?
The Queen’s Guard is typically composed of gentles from around the kingdom who engage in one of the many martial arts of the Society and serve the Queen. Heavy weapons, rapier, combat and target archery, thrown weapons, equestrian, siege, even youth combatants have been members of the Queen’s Guard.
How are the Queen’s Guards chosen?
Each Queen uses her own criteria to choose members of her guard, but there are some common rationales among our past Queens.
Duchess Morgen of Rye said, “I looked for people who were enthusiastic and talented in whatever martial art they were pursuing. I tried to include people who represented diversity in martial activities and to include some youth.”
Countess Elena d’Artois explained, “We knew we would be traveling a great deal so we started with a base of two rattan, one rapier, one thrown weapons and one archer in each region. We looked for people who were up and coming and just about ready for one award or another. It was fun to get to know them and then be the ones to bring them up in front of their friends and recognize their excellence. In addition to prowess we also focused on character. We looked for people who were good examples of those qualities we aspire to. Additionally, they had to be people who we trusted to be nearby when discussing things of a delicate nature and not share them outside of the room.”
Countess Elena’s rapier captain, Don Corwyn Montgomery, explained, “In the course of our recruitment, we went with the multiclass characters (to quote D&D) in which we had individuals who participated in armored combat, rapier combat, combat archery, target archery, and thrown weapons.”
Duchess Branwen ferch Gwythyr said, “I wanted to make sure I had people from all regions and from all areas of martial interest, but since I was also planning to fence and to fight, the proportions were going to be a bit different. I was going for something like 1/3 fencers, 1/3 heavies, and 1/3 archers/thrown weapons people/equestrians, and equal groups from all regions.”
Her Grace continued, “I got recommendations from people I knew for the various regions, because during our first reign, I pretty much knew almost no one outside of my own region. Once I had a starting list, I went around and asked them face-to-face as much as I could. I tried to get a good list going during our minority, partly to take pressure off the autocrats at events we attended, and partly so we could have a chance to practice fighting and fencing together before coronation. A few times, I scoped out the field at events we attended and then asked people to join on the spot.”
Duchess Líadain ní Dheirdre Chaomhánaigh commented, “Being that both of my reigns were Pennsic reigns, I did my best to create a large Guard as the burden of service is greater from a time perspective for those serving at Pennsic. I spent a significant amount of time seeking suggestions for possible candidates, as well as observing various martial activities and individual actions to find members for my Guard.”
Duchess Morgen agreed, “For Pennsic, realistically, you need a lot more people. Covering an event is very different than covering morning to night for 10+ days. Fortunately, lots of people are willing to step up to help. Unfortunately, Pennsic can be so crazy, there were many times I wished we could give folks more interesting duties than being on guard during order meetings or teas.”
Countess Kallista Morgunova remarked, “The captains were asked to look for candidates as guards that were new or maybe up and coming or that just wanted to be more involved. We wanted men and women from all areas of martial activities. We looked for people that took the role serious but that wanted to have fun but be part of the pageantry.”
Lord Silvester Burchardt, who will be Captain of the Guard for Princess Gabrielle once she is crowned as Queen, said “I worked with Their Highnesses, Master Tigernach, and Dame Bronwyn to formulate a list of people that each of us thought would be willing, able, and/or interested in being a guard. Some of the choices were to ensure that each of the various martial activities were represented, some were people that we knew enjoyed serving in this capacity, some were people that inspired us personally, and some were people we felt would be inspired themselves by the invitation. Her Highness sends out invitations to as many or as few as pleased Her from that list [and] informs me which have accepted. I’ll be coordinating them mostly through FaceBook and e-mails, but I was fortunate enough to have face-to-face conversations with a few at the regional muster yesterday and hope to have a dress rehearsal/meet and greet at Ice Dragon.”
What does the Queen’s Guard do?
Lord Silvester commented, “The duties of the guards are a combination of figurehead “protectors” and traffic cops. We’re playing a game where we live in an idealized medieval realm where no one would ever even consider doing harm to the Royals, so the concept of “lay down your life” is happily off the table. Setting reality to the side, I feel the guard is still expected to appear to be ready, willing, and able to defend the Queen’s person from harm, even to the point of their very lives. From the perspective of “traffic cop”, we need to control the flow of people coming up to Her Highness or even the Royal Couple so that they don’t get bogged down, while making sure that people who have legitimate business with The Crown get their chance to speak. This is where we will rely heavily on the reign coordinator and head retainer to keep us informed of scheduled audiences, populace free-access sessions, etc.”
Duchess Liadain noted, “They should first and foremost continue to participate in their martial endeavors. At no time did I want someone serving a Guard shift instead of participating in a tournament.”
Duchess Branwen echoed that sentiment: “If we were at a fighting event, and I decided not to be on the field for some reason, I tried to make sure that none of my guards during the battles were people who could be on the field, because I wanted them to be out there fighting if they were able. The same went for tournaments in which archers or thrown weapons people or equestrians might be competing.” She continued, “For court, depending on the court, the shifts were usually shorter, so people could rotate in and out regularly and allow them to sit down. They stood two in front of the dais and two at the back of the hall (if we had enough, if not, just in front of the dais). Part of their job was looking official, and the other part was walking people up, making sure no weapons were on anyone not in fealty to us, and helping people ascend the dais if there were stairs.”
Duchess Liadain added, “Off the field and while on duty it was my expectation that the Guard join me as I travelled throughout the day. They were not to act as ‘retainers,’ carrying items, but with weapon in hand ‘stand guard’ and contribute to setting the stage to create the royal presence. Guards were expected to comport themselves appropriately to their station while on duty, which was generally scheduled in advance by my Captain of the Guard. We also asked that they help assist with assembling/disassembling thrones as well as helping to unload the morning of the event and pack up at the end along with the rest of our retinue.”
Countess Kallista noted, “Before we stepped up, Andreas met with the Captains and discussed expectations. Some were in regards to how court would run others were in regards to my “safety” at events and on the battlefield. In medieval tradition, no live steel within 10 feet of the Queen. Guards were to be aware of the situations that I was in and what I was doing so that if a something strange arose they would be able to deal with it. Mostly the guards were there to make the Kingdom look good. They kept court running smoothly and followed me everywhere. They fought beside me and stepped in when conversations need to be carried out in private or ended.”
According to Duchess Morgen, in court, “Probably the most important things for “the look” is for guard not to fidget. Most important for the guards themselves is to not lock their knees and to get shifted to a new position in court about 10-15 minutes in and then rotate out after 20-30 minutes maximum.”
If the Queen is a heavy fighter or fencer, as so many of Æthelmearc’s Queens have been, members of the Queen’s Guard in those disciplines may also be expected to form a unit that defends and works with her during battles at events like Gulf Wars, War Practice, and Pennsic. This can be an interesting balancing act – if the Guards do their job too well, the Queen doesn’t have much fun.
Duchess Morgen said, “Given that I am a heavy fighter, it was important to have a good number of skilled heavy fighters for the field.”
According to Countess Elena, “My rattan captain, Lord Madison Morai, asked me if I wanted to be safe, or have fun. My answer was to have fun. He worked with the rattan fighters on unit tactics in preparation for Gulf Wars. For one rattan battle we had an all female unit and dove in with enthusiasm. Fortunately for us it was a resurrection battle. We died gloriously and gained some land for our side, but died nonetheless.”
Her Excellency, now a Companion of the White Scarf, also recalls participating in her first fencing battles as Queen: “On the rapier field I was so new that the group we fielded intentionally used me as bait. I was wearing my queens’ white scarf and had amazingly beautiful armor that Doña Sasha had made for me, so as I distracted and intimidated [our opponents], the experienced rapier fighters killed all that came after me.”
Duchess Liadain commented, “As a heavy fighter myself, I always gave my Guards who were heavy fighters leave to join the field with their regular units as I felt this was a greater benefit to both the individual as well as the army. Interestingly enough, most chose to fight with the Queen’s Guard upon the field.”
Duchess Branwen said, “On the field, we worked together, and their job was basically to keep me alive. As I’m sure many of them could tell you, that doesn’t always go as planned, and I never blamed them for that – if I was on the field, I wanted to be on the field.”
Don Corwyn commented, “The guard will be hard pressed to keep up with an energetic queen, whether she is fighting on the field or shopping at Pennsic.”
What does the Captain of the Queen’s Guard do?
Generally speaking, the Captains organize the guards into shifts, advise and train guard members in their duties, and monitor their activities, especially during courts.
Doña Gabrielle de Winter, Captain of Queen Anna Leigh’s Guard, explained, “I am careful to try and be clear in what is expected from the guards — tell them exactly what it is that they need to do, and roll with the punches, because we are all human and we make mistakes. As long as people LOOK like they know what they are doing, people in court are really not going to notice anything.”
Lord Silvester noted, “The Captain of the Queen’s Guard is mostly ceremonial and the rest is about personnel management – scheduling the invited and spontaneous volunteer guards to ensure that Her Majesty doesn’t take a single step without at least one guard within a few feet while also maintaining the security of the royalty room during events, coordinating with the reign coordinator and head retainer to regulate who has access to Her Majesty when and ensuring that all of the guards know the roles expected of them. This is my first time as the Captain of the Guard and I know many of the invitees have never served as guards, so it’ll be a bit of a learning experience for all of us.”
Countess Elena said, “We chose two captains – rattan and rapier. The rattan captain was someone who we wanted to showcase so that he would get better exposure for his leadership and organization. The rapier captain was someone who had “been there, done that” so we had someone who knew many people in the kingdom and had experience in many areas of leadership and excellent organizational skills.”
Don Corwyn said, “I was very fortunate to share the rank of captain with Lord Madison Morai and several guardsmen who rose to the role of lieutenant. Without them, I could not have met the challenge of the duties. With them, we did an amazing job together.” He continued, “The aspect of being captain most do not consider is organizing guard movements for Court and as escort. Anyone who has had experience with stage productions or marching band will relate to planning movements of individuals that seem natural and expound upon the magic of making a medieval moment happen, not only for the populace but also for all of the individuals of the Royal Court, to include the guardsmen themselves.”
Duchess Branwen commented, “Both reigns, I had someone in mind ahead of time for captain. I wanted a separate captain just for the fencing guard, so we had someone to be in charge for training. The captain had to be there 90-100% of the time, or find a capable stand-in if they couldn’t make it.”
Countess Kallista remarked, “The Queen’s Guards were something Andreas took very seriously. He felt that tradition and propriety should be upheld in regards to guarding His Queen and Kingdom. When choosing a captain we looked for people that were loyal to the Kingdom and the traditions of the SCA.”
Duchess Morgen noted, “The captain needs to be someone close enough to you to work well with [you], and who can be organized so that there’s no need to micromanage. It should be an opportunity for a non-peer to have a leadership role. We worked out a system to post four guards for court and one for walking around.”
How do members of the Queen’s Guard benefit from the experience?
Duchess Liadain observed, “I believe that serving on the Queen’s Guard helps individuals foster new relationships, create lasting bonds, [and] learn new skills. Some of my very best friends were guardsmen that I barely knew [at first], but after a year together for a royal reign, [they] became family.”
Countess Kallista commented, “We felt that it was important to give people opportunities to be part of the grand theatre of court and to be able to view things from behind the scenes. Guards also get to experience things that many people in the SCA don’t normally encounter or are even aware of.” She added, “They were loyal and funny, strong and brave, and made me smile when I just wanted to cry. The hardest part of stepping down was releasing them. To this day many will step back into their role and I will find myself shadowed by or standing shoulder to shoulder with a dear friend that once wore a guard’s baldric.”
According to Duchess Branwen, “[Guards] get to know other people in the guard, and get to see what being part of a reign is like. I think it builds Kingdom community. It’s very easy to only know people in your home group. Being part of a guard means that you’ll hopefully meet people from all over. It [also] potentially gets you exposure. I wouldn’t treat it as a way of getting awards; for one thing, when I’ve been on the throne, I’ve tried to avoid giving awards to people for whom that’s an obvious goal. I’d rather see people do things that they enjoy because they enjoy them, and recognize that. However, it’s definitely a way that you can get people seen who you feel deserve recognition.”
If you are asked to join the Queen’s Guard, Duchess Branwen said, “I very much recommend being honest about your ability to commit if asked, because it is a guaranteed 5-10 months of being very active. Some people feel that they cannot say no to the Queen, and [that’s not the case].”
Don Corwyn noted, “Consider how many individuals you have seen in the Royal Guard [who] truly threw themselves into the role and went on to do great things. The Royal Guard that is truly devoted to bringing joy to the Queen will find a rewarding relationship that will continue to give long after the reign has ended. Such influences are shared, as evidenced by the rapier enthusiasm that infected Queen Elena to the point that she is now Doña Elena. This was a gift of her Guard, but to her Guard, they consider it a gift to them.”