Ceremonial mace

The ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented staff of metal and wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies by a mace-bearer, intended to represent the official's authority. The mace as used today derives from the original mace used as a weapon. Processions often feature maces, as on parliamentary or formal academic occasions. Many modern ceremonial maces, such as those used by university chancellors, have been so reduced from a fearsome weapon that they more resemble the large pepper grinders such as are used by serving staff in restaurants.


The ceremonial mace was used early a symbol of authority of military commanders.

The Sovereign's Mace (Royal Hospital, Chelsea)
The Sovereign's Mace (Royal Hospital, Chelsea)

The earliest ceremonial maces were practical weapons intended to protect the king's person, borne by the Serjeants-at-Arms, a royal bodyguard established in France by Philip II, and in England probably by Richard I. By the 14th century, these serjants' maces had started to become increasingly decorative, encased in precious metals. The mace as a real weapon went out of use with the disappearance of heavy armor. The history of the civic mace (carried by the serjeants-at-arms) begins around the middle of the 13th century, though no examples from that period remain today. At the time, ornamented civic maces were considered an infringement of one of the privileges of the king's serjeants, who alone deserved to bear maces enriched with costly metals according to a Commons petition of 1344. However, the serjeants of London later gained this privilege, as did later those of York (1396), Norwich (1403-1404), and Chester (1506). Records exist of maces covered with silver in use at Exeter in 1387-1388; Norwich bought two in 1435, and Launceston others in 1467 and 1468. Several other cities and towns subsequently acquired silver maces, and the 16th century saw almost universal use.

Early in the 15th century the flanged end of the mace (the head of the war mace) was carried uppermost, with the small button bearing the royal arms in the base. By the beginning of the Tudor period, however, the blade-like flanges, originally made for offence, degenerated into mere ornaments, while the increased importance of the end with the royal arms (afterwards enriched with a cresting) resulted in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, such as the Winchcombe silver maces, which date from the end of the 15th century, were made to be carried both ways. 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 by the 16th or early 17th century had developed into pretty projecting scroll-brackets and other ornaments, which remained in vogue until 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 of England they began to be engraved and decorated with heraldic devices and similar ornamentation.

As the custom of having serjeants' maces began to die out 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 English Commonwealth. He made the mace for the House of Commons in 1649. This mace is still in use today, though without the original head. The original head, which was not engraved with regal symbols, was replaced by one with regal symbols at the time of the English Restoration. Oliver Cromwell referred to the House of Commons mace as "A fool's bauble" when he dissolved the Rump Parliament on 20 April 1653.

Official maces in the British isles

Ceremonial maces are still used to represent authority and prestige, as in the House of Commons in a Westminster System parliament. The House of Lords has two maces, the earlier dating from the reign of William III. The Houses of the UK Parliament cannot lawfully meet without the mace present. The maces represent the authority of the Sovereign, They are carried before the speakers of both Houses when they enter or leave the Chamber.

In 1930, John Beckett, a member of the Labour Party was suspended from the House of Commons for showing disrespect to the Mace by trying to leave the chamber with it while protesting the suspension of another member. It was wrestled away from him at the door.

In 1976, Michael Heseltine, a member of the Conservative Party famously seized the mace and brandished it at the opposing Labour Party members, during a heated debate.

There are eight large and massive silver-gilt maces of the serjeants-at-arms kept in the Jewel House at the Tower of London. Two date from the reign of Charles II, two from the reign of James II, three from William and Mary's reign, and one from Queen Anne (the cypher of George I of Great Britain was subsequently added to the latter). All these are of a type which was almost universally adopted, with slight variations, at the Restoration.

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 from the early medieval period.

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 silver mace with crystal globe of the Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, at Holyrood Palace, was made about 1690 by Francis Garthorne.

The present Scottish Parliament (key result of Devolution within the UK) has a silver mace, which was designed in 1999 and incorporates a gold wedding ring.

The Lord President's Mace (sometimes known as the Old Exchequer Mace) dates from 1667. It is made of gilt solid silver, measures 4 ft 8 inches and weighs 17lb 5oz. In 1856, on the merging of the courts, it was transferred from the Court of Exchequer to the First Division of the Court of Session to be used by the Lord President. The mace remains in daily use in the court. The mace, and lesser ones used in the other courts, are borne by Macers, officers of the court who act as assistants to the judges. The Lord President's Mace is borne by the Falkland Macer. A new mace was presented to the Court in 2006.


The gold, silver and brass mace of the Welsh National assembly was a gift from the State Government of New South Wales, Australia when the Welsh Assembly building opened in 2006.


The silver mace of the old Irish House of Commons, which dates to 1765 or 1766 is now displayed in the old Irish House of Lords Chamber in the old Parliament House in Dublin.

United States

The civic maces of the 18th century follow the British type, with some modifications in shape and ornamentation. English silver maces of the 18th century located in North America include one dating to 1753 at Norfolk, Virginia and the mace of the state of South Carolina, dating to 1756. In addition, there are two maces in Jamaica, made in 1753 and 1787; that of 1791 belonging to the colony of Grenada, and the Speaker's mace at Barbados, dating from 1812.

The Mace in the House of Representatives, Congress of the United States, has been in use since December 1st, 1842. It was created by William Adams, at a cost of $400, to replace the first one that was destroyed when the Capitol Building was burned on August 24, 1814. A simple wooden Mace was used in the interim. The Mace is nearly four feet tall and is composed of thirteen ebony rods tied together with silver strands criss-crossed over the length of the pole. It is topped by a silver eagle, wings outspread, standing on a world globe. When the house is in session, the Mace stands in a cylindrical pedestal of green marble to the right of the speakers chair. When the House is in committee, it is moved to a pedestal next to the seargent-at-arms' desk. Members entering the chamber know with a glance whether the house is in session or in committee. When a confrontation on the House floor becomes unruly, the tradition is that the Doorkeeper will step between the combatants with the Mace. Usually, because the members are able to edit the Congressional Record before it goes to print, there is no mention of the use of the Mace in this capacity.

Ceremonial maces in Canada

The ceremonial mace in the Canadian House of Commons symbolizes the authority of the House, as granted in the name of the Sovereign (currently Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II). A similar practice is employed in each of the provincial legislatures, with each mace representing the authority and power of the respective legislature.

Protocol Surrounding the Mace

In Canada, the House of Commons (and most of the legislatures) follow a relatively standard protocol in relation to the ceremonial mace; the Speaker of the House normally enters, following a mace-bearer (normally the serjeant-at-arms, who subsequently sets the mace on the clerks' table to begin the session. When the seargent-at-arms removes the mace from the table, then the House has either adjourned, recessed, or been resolved into a Committee of the Whole.

During the election of the speaker the mace is removed from the table to show that the House is not fully constituted, when a Speaker takes the chair the mace is laid on the table to show that the house is fully constituted and can do business with the new Speaker in the chair.

Challenging the Symbolism of the Mace

Being a symbol of the power and authority of a legislative assembly, a precedent was set in 2002 as to the severity of acts of disrespect toward the Mace and, by proxy, the House of Commons. Keith Martin, a Member of Parliament for Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, had seized the ceremonial mace from the Clerk's table — the act was brought to the attention of the Speaker, who ruled that a prima facie breach of the privileges of the House had occurred, and contempt of the House been committed. Mr. Martin would not be permitted to resume his seat until he had issued a formal apology from the Bar of the House, pursuant to a motion passed in response to the incident.


Among other maces (more correctly described as staves) in use today are those carried before ecclesiastical dignitaries and clergy in cathedrals and some parish churches.

  • The ecclesiastical equivalent of the mace-bearer, the dodsman, appears in church contexts.


Ceremonial maces are still used at many educational institutions.

The University of St Andrews possesses three maces from the 15th century, perhaps the finest collection in the world. The University also possesses three other maces, of a more modern orgin. The University of Glasgow has one from the same period, which may be seen in its arms.

At Oxford there are three dating from the second half of the 16th century and six from 1723 and 1724, while at Cambridge there are three from 1626 and one from 1628. The latter was altered during the Cromwellian Commonwealth and again at the Stuart Restoration.

In the United States, almost all universities and free-standing colleges have a mace, used almost exclusively at commencement exercises and borne variously by its provost, marshal of the faculty, or some other high official. In many universities with a number of constituent colleges or faculties, each college, faculty or school has a smaller mace, borne in procession by a dean, faculty member or sometimes privileged students.

Other maces

  • The beautiful mace of the Cork guilds, made by Robert Goble of Cork in 1696 for the associated guilds of which he had been master, is in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The museum also has a large silver mace dating to the middle of the 18th century, with the arms of Pope Benedict XIV. This mace is said to have been used at the coronation of Napoleon as king of Italy at Milan in 1805.
  • Hetmans of Ukrainian Cossacks also had a ceremonial mace, called a bulava.
  • The drum major at the front of a marching band uses a mace to communicate movement and musical cues.


This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.

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