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Ceremonial mace

The ceremonial mace derives from the mace used as a weapon.

The earliest ceremonial maces, as they afterwards became, though at first intended to protect the king's person, appear as those borne by the serjeants-at-arms, a royal body-guard established in France by Philip II, and in England probably by Richard I. By the 14th century a tendency towards a more decorative serjeant's mace; encased with precious metals, becomes noticeable.

The history of the civic mace (carried by the serjeants-at-arms) begins about the middle of the 13th century, though no examples of that period remain today. Contemporaries considered ornamented civic maces an infringement of one of the privileges of the king's serjeants, who, according to a Commons petition of 1344, alone deserved to bear maces enriched with costly metals. However, the serjeants of London gained this privilege, as did later those of York (1396), of Norwich (1403/4) and of Chester (1506). Records exist of maces covered with silver in use at Exeter in 1387/8; Norwich bought two in 1435, and Launceston others in 1467/8. Several other cities and towns acquired silver maces subsequently, and the 16th century saw almost universal use.

Early in the 15th century the flanged end of the mace (i.e. the head of the war mace) was carried uppermost, with the small button with the royal arms in the base. By the beginning of the Tudor period, however, these blade-like flanges, originally made for offence, degenerated into mere ornaments, while the greater importance of the end with the royal arms (afterwards enriched with a cresting) resulted in the reversal of the position. The custom of carrying the flanged end upward did not die out at once: a few maces were made to carry both ways, such as the beautiful pair of Winchcombe silver maces, dating from the end of the 15th century. The Guildford mace provides one of the finest of the fifteen specimens of the 15th century.

Craftsmen often pierced and decorated the flanged ends of the maces of this period beautifully. These flanges gradually became smaller, and later (in the 16th and early 17th centuries) developed into pretty projecting scroll-brackets and other ornaments, which remained in vogue till about 1640. The next development in the embellishment of the shaft was the reappearance of these small scroll-brackets on the top, immediately under the head of the mace. They disappear altogether from the foot in the last half of the 17th century, and remain only under the heads, or, in rarer instances, on a knob on the shaft. The silver mace-heads were mostly plain, with a cresting of leaves or flowers in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the reign of James I they began to be engraved and decorated with heraldic devices, etc.

As the custom of having serjeants' maces ceased (about 1650), the large maces, borne before the mayor or bailiffs, came into general use. Thomas Maundy functioned as the chief maker of maces during the Commonwealth. He made the mace for the House of Commons in 1649, which is the one at present in use there, though without the original head with the non-regal symbols, the latter having been replaced by one with regal symbols at the Restoration.

The House of Lords has two maces, the earliest dating from the reign of William III.

The dates of the eight large and massive silver-gilt maces of the serjeants-at-arms, kept in the jewel-house at the Tower of London, are as follows: two of Charles II, two of James II, three of William and Mary, and one of Queen Anne (the cypher of George I of Great Britain was subsequently added to the latter). All the foregoing are of the type which was almost universally adopted, with slight differences, at the Restoration.

The civic maces of the 18th century follow this type, with some modifications in shape and ornamentation. The historic English silver maces of the 18th century include the one of 1753 at Norfolk, Virginia, and that of 1756 of the state of South Carolina, both in the United States of America; two, made in 1753 and 1787, in Jamaica; that of 1791 belonging to the colony of Grenada, and the Speaker's mace at Barbados, dating from 1812; and the silver mace of the old Irish House of Commons, 1765/1766 (now displayed in the old Irish House of Lords Chamber in the old Parliament House in Dublin).

Among other maces, more correctly described as staves, in use today, are those carried before ecclesiastical dignitaries and clergy in cathedrals and parish churches and the maces of the universities. At Oxford there are three dating from the second half of the 16th century and six from 1723/1724, while at Cambridge there are three of 1626 and one of 1628 (but altered during the Commonwealth and again at the Restoration).

The silver mace with crystal globe of the lord high treasurer of Scotland, at Holyrood Palace, was made about 1690 by Francis Garthorne.

The remarkable mace or sceptre of the Lord Mayor of London comprises crystal and gold set with pearls; the head dates from the 15th century, while the mounts of the shaft are early medieval.

A mace of an unusual form is that of the Tower Ward of London, which has a head resembling the White Tower in the Tower of London, and which was made in the reign of Charles II.

The beautiful mace of the Cork gilds, made by Robert Goble of Cork in 1696 for the associated gilds, of which he had been master, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, which also has a large silver mace of the middle of the 18th century, with the arms of Pope Benedict XIV, said to have been used at the coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy at Milan in 1805.

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