katherine kerr of the Hermitage, her site

Consort Correspondence

Bond of Manrent and Letter of Intent
Format and Styles, Thank You Notes
The First Tourney Letters: Letter Primus, Letter Secundus, Letter Tertius
Postal Service
A Fateful Trip: the Caribbean Voyage from the Baskin-Kerr Archives (separate section)
BA Letter of Recommendation

[Crown - A Rat and a Cat Consort] [Consorting Garb] [Rat Stuff] [Rat Heraldry]
Printing and Manuscript Material
Other Crown Activities

G8/15: I'll note you in my book of memory : Pleaseth yir goode lordshipp

While undertaking a long journey to northern parts, I despatched a number of letters to my lord-consort Sir Radbot von Borg assuring him that we continued to be safe and expressing interest in his welfare, as a good consort should. I had felt slightly guilty at abandoning Sir Radbot after we two had contracted as consorts; I have missed more of his tourneys than I have been present to take his salutes. So these letters are intended to assure him I take my responsibilities seriously.

My lord-husband and I travel a good deal, so it was inevitable that there would be occasions when I missed taking my lord-consort's salutes. These occasions have provided good opportunities to practice my scribal skills, and have since developed into a very rich area of SCA persona development that continues to entertain and challenge.

Format and Styles

When writing, I use a number of hands:

  • for katherine: a bastarda based on the WirWenzlaw font by Pia Frauss; though from a manuscript written in Prague in 1400, it is remarkably similar to Scottish handwriting of my mid-1500 period
  • for katherine: a humanist hand based on the exercises by the Italian scribal master Ludovico degli Arrighi, utilising the free font Ludovicos
  • a bastarda fraktur/blackletter, for more formal documents
  • a secretary hand, from secretaries or for legal documents

The main aim is that they should, in general, be readable to the average eye. I want these letters to be read (mostly). I usually typeset any manuscript electronically and use a lightboard to write over the laid-out text, though I'm getting better at freehanding, which is the eventual aim. Matching nib size to the correct point in the chosen font helps, as does using better-quality paper or parchmentine (I have lots of cheap watercolour pads which bleed excessively).

When writing in the Scottish hand, I tend to use Scottish/Elizabethan usage in terms of spelling, long s, vocab and the like. The humanist hand is more modern and clear in its use of language.

The opening salutations and the placement of the closing signatures all had subtle meanings, which changed over time as did other styles and usage -- the use of Right worshipful in the wrong context could be seen as snide; writing "Dear so-and-so" was, at one stage, used only by royalty to women of rank; knights would sign off to other knights as "faithful lover" with no carnality implied; lovers would use the formal "you" when writing about business and drop into the more-intimate "thou" and "thee" when covering personal matters. I know that most of this is highly arcane knowledge, but it amuses me to apply such usage, even if I'm the only one who knows the sub-text!

If this kind of thing appeals, I can thoroughly recommend Sarah Williams' thesis (PDF) English Vernacular Letters c.1400-c.1600: Language, Literacy and Culture; University of New York 2001.

The letters may be left open (as when treated as a letter patent, whether to authorities or for general readership); or sealed. In the latter case I have a range of seals, with my double-initial KK being used for my signed correspondence, and others used for third-party missives (eg an R for Radbot, fleur-de-lys, cross fleury etc). I have a number of jars of sealing wax pellets -- bear in mind, if you get the stuff designed for mailing it's great in that it flexes, rather than breaks, but that means you can't readily use it on a letter you actually want opened, without having to shred the paper. If I need to use this wax on something to be opened. I make up seals on a silicone baking sheet and then glue-stick them on so they will peel off cooperatively.

The letters are generally folded in some form of period letter locking, involving various ways of folding, sewing or using paper strips to secure the pages of the letter from unauthorised readers. There's something very tactile about this which really makes the correspodence somehow feel more real.

Thank You Notes

For May Crown ASLIV, I made up half-a-dozen thank-you notes in advance, featuring our cat and rat tower marginalia, hand-painted. These were signed by both of us, folded and sealed. On the outside, I addressed them to those who had been kind enough to help us out at the tournament, and had them delivered the next morning.

I gave other helpers the roses I was given as a finalist consort (I kept one of the white ones for remembrance, and its dried petals ended up as a keepsake in my breverl amulet).

If you'd like to make thank-you notes of your own, check out the Letter-Writing Cheat Sheets, a PDF which covers writing, laying out and sealing a period-style thank you note.

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The First General Tourney Letters

Letter, primus

After May Crown ASLIV, I had a sojourn overseas and would be missing three of the Baronial monthly tourneys. To ensure I remained a dutiful consort, I prepared three letters, which were given to the Baroness of Southron Gaard for delivery when Sir Radbot made his salute to me. The first letter was written as my lord-husband and I prepared to depart (dated the Eve of St Bartholomew), and was set to be delivered at the September tournament.

In lightly period-style spelling and phrasing, it wished Sir Radbot well in his endeavours and quoted from Socrates: "the greatest way to live with honour in this world is to be what we pretend to be." An apt aphorism for an SCA knight!

It was penned in green ink, purchased in Venice, and a homage to katherine's associated garb colour. It was letter-locked by sewing linen thread through the pages to hold them together and then sealed in red wax with my KK seal. There are a lot of different examples of how letters were secured in period -- over 70 at last count and rising -- and it does make a letter feel more finished and real.

G8: Letter, secundus: Lang may yer lum reek!

I have some languages: the Scots of my country (though little used here in the Laurel Kingdoms, so mostly forgotten); the English of our near neighbour and the close dialects used within the land of Lochac; and a smattering of the Latin and Italian I learned when a young girl living in the Venice of my birth.

One of my long-held SCA disappointments is how difficult I find it to do a convincing accent, so katherine has never sounded particularly Scottish, but I am becoming more familiar with Scots usage in written form.

In this letter, the first page of the bifolium (the folded paper typically used for correspondence) was written in a tight secretary hand using as much Border and Lowland Scots terms and forms as I could muster, using an English-Scots translator supplemented with various word lists. By the time I was finished, it was pleasingly well-nigh incomprehensible....It thus covered entry 8 of the Gubbins Challenge for the use of vernacular language. This Challenge provided impetus to take a look at Scottish terms, vocabulary and oaths; a surprising number of which were reasonably familiar to me!

The second letter was set for delivery at the Fiery Nights Tourney -- the Feast Day of St Matthew whose angel stands for the application of reason. The latter was pertinent as the letter expressed concerns for Sir Radbot's safety in such a dangerous environment where he "may be burned or [his] clothes catch fire or flaming stones rain down upon [him] from on high" or as the Scots version ran: "I hae a firebrod ye micht burn yersel, your claes cuid catch oan fire an you cuid be skelp by a flaming stane fra on hie."

The second page had katherine's apologies for "the uncivil tongue which precedes this more harmonius note" as she went on to explain that she had asked her secretary to take down her words "never thinking he would transcribe my thoughts into his own broad Border Scots, a tongue I know you do not ken". She then provided a clear English translation of the original text, albeit somewhat gentler in tone than the Border Scots.

Thus the secretary's transcription started: Tha bruit came th’daie hither thit ye war thinkit tae put inta tha firey rammy an a am worriit thon it kin be a glaikit thing tae dae whit wi tha danger n aa.

Or as katherine put it: I heard today that you were thinking of entering the Firey Tournament and am worried that it might be an unwise (Scots glaikit = stupid) thing to do given the danger.

The address included the instruction "make haste" -- this was not an uncommon phrase, sometimes repeated again and again, on letters with a time-critical aspect. Cecil and Burghley were known to use this inscription when about Queen Elizabeth's business.

The letter was locked using a tucked-in format and a seal, based on the tucked triangle form used by Desiderius Erasmus in 1517.

I am told Sir Radbot was called up in opening court to receive the missive and spent some time with Sir Sebastian trying to puzzle out the Scots (much easier to do when you try reading it aloud!). It apparently took them some time to notice the second page in clear text....

Given that I ayewis gie it laldy, I now have a list of interesting words and phrases I may throw into the conversation and see how they go.

100 Key Scots Words, with regional variations
Dictionary of the Scottish Language
English to Scottish Translator

Letter, tertius

The third letter mentioned that my travelling party was "strugglin oer the mountin passes inta the Switzer landes" (we were due to fly into Geneva on the day of delivery) and that I'd heard Sir Radbot was travelling himself (delivery was set for Spring War in Mordenvale, which he was attending). I gather he bounced up to Her Excellency Ginevra and asked if there was mail for him -- and yes, yes there was.

A post-script chatting about buying some materials along the Silk Road referred to a planned project (and I hoped to hit the Chinese fabric markets in Bangkok on my way home). Much of the text and style of these letters has been informed by the family letters of the Pastons and Lord and Lady Lisle, which often mention very practical things like pleas for purchases from the London shops, worries about lost dogs or falcons, and thanks for gifts of bucks or fish.

This letter was written in sepia ink; actual squid-derived ink I had bought in Venice. It was letter-locked in a butterfly format close to that used by Mary Queen of Scots in her last letter in 1587, with the addition of a wax seal. This format sees a strip cut from one side of the bifolium which is then woven through and around the folded paper.

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A Postal Service is Born

While at Canterbury Faire (AS54), I needed some assistance in surprising Sir Radbot with a new table placing - a plate and bowl I had painted with his rat charge and favourite virtues. He wasn't attending the feast so I arranged with the helpful Lady Melisande for her to see that it appeared in his campsite's dining tent.

Next morning, much to my delight, the young bun-smith girls detoured from their early morning bun delivery to hand over a small note from Melisande:
Greetings, Mistress Kerr...At your request, Sir Ratbod was sent in search of his usual plate ware this last evening meal, in vain. Disconcerted at not finding same he was presented with the replacements and declared Christ what will she think of next - to the great amusement of all.

Thence followed some negotiations with the urchins regarding the going rate for a return reply. I duly scribed my thanks to the good lady and sent the girls off with some biscuits and chocolate. Never under-estimate the mercantile capabilities of 12-year-olds -- I think next year we may see this service in full flight, now the girls know there are rewards!

Interestingly enough, late-period letters indicate the development of the official post, with letters to and from the continent having sequential endorsements on the outside as they passed through various staging posts, a forerunner of our track-and-trace. Simon Garfield, in To the Letter, Through a Vanishing World, cites a series of endorsements on a letter from Robert Cecil to Sir Francis Darcy in 1601.

The letter was sent from London to catch Darcy in Dover, and marked "post hast hast hast for life life life lyfe". It was endorsed as it passed through the royal post stops "for her Maits affayres": from London "this 23 of September at 8 in the morninge"; "Dartfor at 11 in the fornone"; "Rochester at 2 in the afternon". On that occasion the rush was for naught -- the letter was returned to Cecil with a picture of a gallows on the outside!

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The Baronial Anniversary Letter of Recommendation

Baronial Anniversary was post-poned three months due to COVID. I occupied the lockdown time with the many letters and other documents recounting the Fateful Trip: the Caribbean Voyage from the Baskin-Kerr Archives.

As part of my travel preparations I had scribed a letter of recommendation, in a nice readable humanist hand, to be delivered to Their Excellencies at the presentation of the letters of intent which opens the Champion's Tourney at BA. As it happened, I was there after all and got to read the letter in Opening Court.

My letter asked them to permit Sir Radbot to fight, citing the knight's many virtues (lifted from Paston Letter 102, pg 210):
..[he] is the most courteous, gentlest, wisest, most companionable, freest, largest and most bounteous, kindest, best spoken, devoutest, most perfect and truest knight of all the knights that ever I was acquainted with.

It went on to cite Sir Ector's eulogy for Sir Lancelet, from Morte d'Arthur (ironic as neither of us are that impressed with Lancelot), but the words suited the occasion:
And that he was the goodest person that ever came among press of knights and the meekest man and the gentlest rat that ever ate in hall among ladies and the sternest knight to his mortal foes that ever put lance in the rest.

And then closed with a sincere wish:
And this I beg that you find him fit to enter in the lists where I know he will do me due honour though for mine own part I would lief much more the garland of joy he may find there rather than demand of him a doleful laurel of victory.

As the letter itself mentioned our imminent departure for the Carib Seas, I updated it verbally with words along the lines of how the world had changed since penning the letter, "but that Sir Radbot had not changed, for he is as the stars of an evening sky -- a constant, shining knight".

I figured if that wouldn't get him in the lists, nothing would! (And yes, he became Baronial Champion on the day.)

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