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On Favors

Poster: Raitt Jeb <Raitt_Jeb@prc.com>

This article is based on my own experience and understanding of the subject.
I publish it here in the hope of educating and informing, to further and
enhance the gallant and courteous practice of the various uses of favors.
If you like what you see here and wish to reprint it, you have my full
permission to do so.  I ask only that if you reprint it, you do so in its

On Favors

- Donal Mac Ruiseart

"My Lords," intones the herald, "Salute the Crowns of Atlantia" The fighters
and the herald bow towards the thrones.

"My Lords, salute the one who inspires you this day!" The fighters turn.
One bows to his wife, standing on one side of the Lists, the other raises
his sword to a lady he met only an hour before, sitting on the opposite
side.  The wife blows a kiss; the other lady stands and nods her head.

"Salute your worthy opponent!" The fighters face each other and raise their
swords in salute.  The herald steps aside and the marshal delivers his
charges to the fighters.  At his call of "Lay on!" the Lists resound with
the impact of swords on shields.

As they fight, you see that both are wearing favors.  The one worn by the
fighter who saluted his wife is hung over his belt.  It is richly
embroidered with his initials and hers in a decorative border, a symbol of
their formal and ongoing devotion to each other.  The other wears a ribbon
tied around his arm, which the lady had pulled from her hair not long before
the Lists opened.  The favors differ as much as the connections between the
fighters and the ladies, and are examples of two of the many forms that both
can take.

The origin of the custom of favors or tokens is obscure, but there are many
references to them in the literature of the Middle Ages.  A lady might give
a scarf, a sleeve (they were easily detached), a jewel, or some other such
personal item to a knight who was riding off to battle or to a tournament.
In some cases the battle or tournament was to be fought for the lady's own
sake, as in the case of a judicial duel.

In the Current Middle Ages, the custom has developed of making special
objects specifically called "favors" that are given to a fighter or fighters
for several reasons.  Though it is usually a lady who gives a favor to a
lord, it can be done the other way around, especially if a lady fighter has
a non-fighting lord.  But there are cases of a lord and a lady wearing each
other's favors in lists or battlefield.  For ease of expression, though, I
will use the case of the ladies being the ones giving the favors and the
lords being those who receive them.

Favors take many forms, not only in their physical construction but in their
significance.  The general classifications of significance can be explained
as follows.

"Romantic" favors are given by a lady to a fighter with whom she has an
ongoing relationship, that is, her husband or lover.  These are often very

"Friendship" favors are given by a lady to one or more lords who are her
friends, often members of the same household.

"Loyalty" favors are given by a lady of rank, as a Baroness, Princess, or
Queen, to those fighters who enter the field of battle in the service of her
Barony, Principality, or Kingdom.  These tend to be simple, since they must
be made in large quantities.  Fighters can often be seen lining up to
receive such favors in the time before a battle.

The "Premiere Lady" of some households gives favors to all the fighters of
the household, being a custom somewhere between "Friendship" and "Loyalty"

Finally but not least is the most misunderstood of favors, which one might
call a "for the nonce" favor.  Such a favor is bestowed by a lady on a
fighter she may have met only that day, and which should be returned when
the tourney is over, or in any case by the end of the event.  In a way, this
can be the most romantic of favors, in the literary sort of sense, and is
the one whose etiquette I will discuss at some length later in this article.

What form do these favors take?  It is limited only by the imagination and
skill of the bestower, but most commonly a favor takes the form of a
rectangle of fabric with some decoration identifying the bestower, and
sometimes, especially in the case of "Romantic" favors, the one wearing it
as well.  Usually worn tucked into a belt or strap, they will often have a
loop at the top for extra security.  It is no fun to lose one.  I once
combed the field where a Pennsic battle was fought, thinking I had lost my
Lady's favor there.  It later turned up in camp, to my relief and the
amusement of many others - including my Lady!  Favors given by Queens on the
eve of battle are often no more than strips of ribbon printed with the
Queen's badge.  I have worn favors in the form of knots or braids of yarn or
cord, and one that was a small square of leather stamped with the cognizance
of a Crown Princess of the East.  Lacking a prepared favor, a lady might
improvise.  She might give the fighter a bit of ribbon from her hair or a
sleeve (not a whole sleeve, please, ladies, the chance of damage is too
great!), a scarf, or some other thing that would not itself be at risk or
place the wearer at risk.  For that reason, a piece of jewelry in not a good

As I noted earlier, the least understood of favors is the "for the nonce"
favor.  The meaning of long-term favors is easily understood, as is the
meaning of "loyalty" favors.  However, if a fighter seeks to honor a lady by
asking to carry her favor in the Lists (though in fact it is she who honors
him), he must realize that what he is doing is paying her a formalized
compliment, and that by bestowing such a favor the lady is paying him a
similar and greater compliment, and nothing more.  Bestowing a favor on a
fighter for the day's tourney or battle does not obligate the lady to
anything.  She need not sit with him at the feast, or accompany him to a
post-revel, or anything of the kind ... In fact, she is not even obligated
to allow him to wear the favor for the duration of the day, for if he
displeases her in some way during the day she has every right to demand its
return.  And a fighter who loses a favor that way ought indeed to be

Let us assume that there is a fighter at a tourney who has no lady, or
perhaps whose lady is not at the event.  (As I said earlier, this can work
either way.  My lords, keep in mind that a lady fighter may approach you in
this way someday!) Wishing to keep in the spirit of things, he looks about
him for a lady to compliment by asking her for a favor.  He ought to look
for a lady who appears to have no lord there.  He goes to her and salutes

"Good day to you, m'lady," he might say, "I am Marco diGiardino."

"And a good day to you, m'lord," she may reply, "I am Anne De La Marche." If
she extends her hand, he ought to bow over it and kiss it (hand kissing is a
gentle thing.  He ought barely to brush her hand with his lips.).

At this point he ought to kneel.  "Lady Anne, it is my intent to fight in
this day's tourney, and I wonder if you would honor me by allowing me to
carry your favor in the Lists this day."

Now, she may decline to give a favor, and she may or may not tell him why.
It matters not, though.  If a lady declines to give you a favor, always
assume that it is because she has a lord, or that she just doesn't give "for
the nonce" favors, or she just doesn't understand, or maybe she doesn't like
to watch tourneys or has plans to do something else during the tourney.  Do
not haggle or cajole.  If you do, you've spoiled the gallantry of it!
Simply rise, bow, and say something to the effect of "As you wish, m'lady,"
then bow again and take your leave.  Even if your feelings are hurt, keep a
lid on it!

Her answer may be that she will be delighted to be so honored (Note that
each one maintains that the other is the one doing the honoring ... of such
is courtesy made), and if she has a favor prepared, she would hand it to
him.  If she is so inclined but has no prepared favor, she may improvise
with ribbon, yarn, or any other suitable item.  If you approach a lady in
this way and she is at a loss as to what to offer, my lords, be prepared to
suggest something.  If she does bestow the favor, he should take it and tuck
it with great care into his belt, or some other suitable place if he is
already in armor.  Then he should rise and say something to the effect that
he will make every effort to be worthy of the honor she has bestowed upon
him.  He might ask her where she is most likely to be during the tourney,
that he may know where to salute.  Then he should rise, bow, and take his
leave of her.  

At the beginning of each match in which he fights, he should make an effort
to locate her so that when the call to "salute the one who inspires you this
day" is given, he will know which way to bow.  The lady should pay attention
and respond with a wave, a nod, some indication that she is interested
(whether she really is or not!).  After each match he should go to her and
say something to the effect that he hopes he has pleased her with his

Now, this does not hinge on whether he won or lost!  Did he conduct himself
with courtesy?  Did he carry himself with grace?  Did he look good out
there?  If he lost, did he take it in stride?  If so, then by all means she
ought to be pleased!  If on the other hand he acted like a churl, used foul
language, was disrespectful of the Crown or the marshal or his opponent or
suchlike, she should tell him of that.  If he is contrite and promises to
amend his ways, she might give him another chance.  Everyone has lapses.  It
is a serious thing to demand that a favor be returned before the wearer is
done fighting.  She should do that only if he has done something really bad
or continues whatever displeases her after she has told him of it.

I hate to have to address this, but if a lady does demand the early return
of a favor and the fighter refuses, this is a very serious breach of
courtesy.  She should take her complaint to the Baroness, Princess, or
Queen; or if none of those are present, to the Marshal in charge of the
event.  In my opinion, such a one ought to be removed from the Lists, but it
is the option of the one in charge to act on it.

Assuming all goes well, when the fighting is over, he should return to the
lady, kneel, and offer to return the favor, again with the hope that he has
been worthy of it.  If it is an elimination tourney and the fighter is
eliminated, he ought to offer to return the favor at that point.  If there
is to be more fighting, and he wishes to continue to wear the favor, he
should ask her permission to do so.  He should kneel and hand the favor back
to her, repeating his hope that he has pleased her by wearing it.  Chances
are it might have been stained or damaged, but there is no dishonor in that!
If there is damage, the lady might say something to the effect that though
the fabric of the favor was damaged or stained, there was no stain to its

It ends there.  The fighter, having returned the favor at the end of the
day's fighting, has no more claim on the lady's time.  This does not prevent
him from inviting her to sit with him at the feast, or continuing to flirt
with her, nor does it prevent her from inviting him to stay and chat with
her . . . but I repeat very strongly, that bestowing a favor for the nonce
does not obligate a lady to anything else!  I have heard of cases where a
fighter assumes that receiving a lady's favor implies that he will receive
her favors. That is not so!  One who is chivalrous never makes such

The giving and receiving of favors can add a wonderful aura of romance and
gallantry to the Current Middle Ages.  Many a lady has recounted how
wonderful it was to have a fighter kneel to her and ask for her favor.  And
it is very much in keeping with the admonition all who were at the
Coronation of Stephan and Niobe saw:

"Love ladies and maidens 
And serve and honor them 
In thought, word, and deed . . .
>From ladies comes prowess,
Honors and dignities . . ."
Edward III

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