The Mace is a symbol of Royal authority, and was developed from a weapon of war - without doubt the most primitive of all weapons produced by man. Today's ceremonial mace is an ornamental descendant of this club or bludgeon. Possibly the first representations of the mace as a weapon of war are those shown in the Bayeux Tapestry, which dates from the second half of the eleventh century. Here William is seen flourishing such a weapon in its simplest form and his half brother, the Bishop of Bayeux, is similarly armed - the mace being the only protective weapon ecclesiasts were permitted to wield.
A blow from a mace in the hands of a powerful warrior proved a very effective weapon and mail armour did not provide much protection to its wearer. Steel plates and helmets were introduced and as a consequence more effective improvements were made to the mace. Many maces had balls at the hitting end which were sometimes fashioned with four or more spikes and capable when used with force of penetrating the armour.
The mace went out of use in England as a military weapon in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603).
As the civic use of the mace (as an emblem of authority) increased over its military use so did the bell with the royal arms grow in size becoming more and more elaborate.
Probably the two most notable and well-known maces are those of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. These are very similar, both being of silver and richly gilded.
Other countries with historic maces of note are America, Jamaica, Grenada, Ireland, Bahamas, Barbados, India and Sri Lanka.
The present mace dates from 1769 but it is only the latest of a series of such insignia.
The original mace was made in 1458 in the reign of Henry VI when one Richard Goldsmith was paid 3s. 4d. for making a mace. However, the Mayor was forbidden the right to use it until 1487, in the reign of Henry VII. In 1525, in the reign of Henry VIII, there is reference in the corporation diary to "a mace garnished with silver" and in 1545 a note of the delivery of the plate with two silver maces, one of which is called, in 1528, "le new masse". In 1546 there is an entry recording the delivery of new maces, probably made from the metal of the plate and maces in the preceding year. Later the two maces were made into one.
In 1651, after the execution of Charles I, a new mace was made at a cost of £44. 12s. 0d. It was silver gilt, weighed 91½ oz, and the cross and the King's arms were removed, being replaced by the State's arms. The old mace was sold for £14. 7s. 0d.
In 1660, at the succession of Charles II, it was agreed that the King's arms should be replaced.
In November 1769 the present mace was ordered as the old one was damaged through age. The new one was to weigh about 160 oz. In February 1770 the new mace was approved and the old one disposed of.
The following description of the mace is given in Llewellyn Jewitt's "The Corporation Plate and Insignia of Office", Vol I, 1895:
"The insignia and plate consist of a mace, a Mayor's chain and badge of office, two tipped staves, a loving cup, a prize cup, a tankard, wardens' badges, sergeants'-at-mace clasp, and the borough seal.
The mace, which is of the usual form with open arched crown, is of silver-gilt, and is 4 feet 1 inch in extreme length. On the flat plate at the top, under the open arches of the crown, are the royal arms of George III, in high relief. The circlet is composed of four highly ornate crosses-pattées, from which spring the arches of the crown, and four fleurs-de-lis. Around the head, which is divided into four oval compartments by simple scroll work, are, respectively, the rose, the thistle, the harp, and the fleur-de-lis, each crowned and between the royal initials G III R. The four open work brackets supporting the head are decorated with helmeted heads. The staff is plain, but the knops and intermediate bands are richly decorated. Round the foot are the words "Corporation of Reading, 1770", and below are the Reading arms.
(Hall marks: London, 1769-70; Makers', F.B.N.D. in a square, for Francis Butty and Nicholas Dumee.)"
When the Mayor is robed, the Mace is always present. It is carried before him in processions. Normally the crown is upwards, but in the presence of the Sovereign it is reversed to symbolise that the authority has gone back to the sovereign for the period she is in the borough. The crown should always be towards the Mayor.
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