Ceremonial mace

Ceremonial mace

The ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented staff of metal or 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.



Ceremonial Mace, 1694-5, Mark of Benjamin Pyne[1] Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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

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 House of 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 By the beginning of the Tudor period, however, the blade-like flanges, originally made for offence, degenerated into mere ornaments, while the increased importance of the end with the royal arms (afterwards enriched with a cresting) resulted in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

United Kingdom

Ceremonial maces are to this day used to represent authority (of each chamber and the Royal authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of the United Kingdom) 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 against the suspension of another member. It was wrestled away from him at the door.

In 1976, Michael Heseltine, a member of the Conservative Party seized the mace and brandished it at the opposing Labour Party members, during a heated debate on the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill.[2]

In 1987, Ron Brown, then Labour MP for Leith, picked up the mace during a debate on the poll tax, and threw it to the floor. The mace was damaged and Brown was ordered to pay £1500 to repair it.[3] When he later failed to read out a pre-agreed apology to the Speaker, he was suspended from the Commons and the Labour Party.

In 2009, John McDonnell, the Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington, in which London Heathrow Airport is situated, was suspended from the Commons after disrupting a debate on expansion of the airport. Following Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon's announcement that the government had decided to approve a new Heathrow runway without a vote in the Commons, McDonnell picked up the Commons mace. TV pictures of the Commons chamber were cut during McDonnell's protest, and he was suspended from the Commons for five days.[4]

There are eight large silver-gilt maces of the sergeants-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 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 the City 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.[5] The Scottish Parliament was presented with this mace by Her Majesty The Queen at the opening ceremony on 1 July 1999. It was designed and crafted by Michael Lloyd, a renowned silversmith who has a studio in south-west Scotland. The mace is constructed of Scottish silver with an inlaid band of gold panned from Scottish rivers. The gold band is intended to symbolise the marriage of the Parliament, the land, and the people. The words "Wisdom, Justice, Compassion, Integrity" are woven into thistles at the head of the mace to represent the aspirations of the Scottish people for the Members of their Parliament. The head of the mace bears the words: "There shall be a Scottish Parliament - Scotland Act 1998".

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 17 lb 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.[6]

The University of St Andrews is widely regarded to have the finest collection of medieval maces of any European university.


The National Assembly for Wales has a gold, silver and brass mace which bears the Assembly's official symbol at its head. The mace was presented to the assembly by the Parliament of New South Wales at the ceremony to mark the official opening of the Assembly Building, the Senedd, in Cardiff on St David's Day 2006.[7][8]

Prior to the presentation of this mace, the assembly used a glass, gold, iron and coal sculpture known as the "Tlws" as its mace. The Tlws was presented to the assembly by the Queen at the official opening of the First Assembly in 1999.[9][10]


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

Some district councils in Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom), e.g. Belfast, also meet with maces present.


The ceremonial maces of the Australian House of Representatives and the Australian Senate symbolise both the authority of each chamber and the Royal authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of Australia.


The ceremonial mace of the Senate of Australia is the Black Rod. The ceremonial custodian of the Black Rod is the Usher of the Black Rod.[11]

House of Representatives

The Serjeant-at-Arms of the Australian House of Representatives is the ceremonial custodian of the Mace of the House. At the beginning and end of every day the House sits, the Speaker of the House enters and leaves the House with the Serjeant-at-Arms walking in front of them, with the Serjeant-at-Arms carrying the mace on their right shoulder.[12] The current Mace is made of gilded silver, and was a gift to the House from King George VI on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Federation in 1951. It was presented to the House by a delegation of members of the British House of Commons.[13]


The ceremonial maces in the Bahamas symbolise both the authority of each chamber and the Royal authority of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen of the Bahamas.

On 27 April 1965, a day known in the Bahamas as "Black Tuesday", Lynden Pindling, then Opposition Leader, threw the 165 year old Speaker's Mace out of a House of Assembly window to protest the unfair gerrymandering of constituency boundaries by the then ruling United Bahamian Party (UBP) government. The Speaker tried to restore order but he was reminded by labour leader Randol Fawkes that the business of the House could not legally continue without the mace. The badly damaged mace was recovered by the Police and returned to the House.

On 3 December 2001, Cassius Stuart and Omar Smith, leader and deputy leader of the Bahamas Democratic Movement, a minor political party, charged from the public gallery onto the floor of the House of Assembly and handcuffed themselves to the Mace in protest against "unfair gerrymandering" of constituency boundaries by the Free National Movement (FNM) government. The Mace was unable to be separated from the men and the sitting of the House had to be suspended. The pair were jailed for almost two days but no charges were brought against them.


Further information: Parliament of Canada > Queen-in-Parliament

The ceremonial maces in the Canadian Senate and the Canadian House of Commons embody the authority each chamber derives from the country's sovereign. A similar practice is employed in each of the provincial legislatures, with each mace representing the authority and power of the respective legislature. The ceremonial mace of the various universities when carried into the ceremony and placed on stage signals the opening of the convocation.

Protocol surrounding the mace

In Canada, each 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 sergeant-at-arms), who subsequently sets the mace on the clerks' table to begin the sitting. When the sergeant-at-arms removes the mace from the table, the House has either adjourned, recessed, or been resolved into a committee of the whole.

Before the reigning monarch or one of his or her representatives (the governor general or one of the lieutenant governors) may enter a legislative chamber, the mace must be completely hidden from view. This is done by draping the mace in a heavy velvet cloth, a procedure performed by the house pages.

During the election of the speaker, the mace is removed from the table to show that the house is not fully constituted until the new speaker takes the chair and the mace is laid on the table.

Disrespect towards the mace of the House of Commons

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 in Canada and, by proxy, the monarch. After Keith Martin, federal Member of Parliament for Esquimalt—Juan de Fuca, seized the ceremonial mace of the House of Commons from the clerk's table, the speaker of that chamber ruled that a prima facie breach of the privileges of the house had occurred,[14] and contempt of the house been committed. Martin was not 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.

Non-Governmental Use

Royal Roads Military College ceremonial mace, which is currently on loan to Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia

Several Canadian universities also use or have used a mace for formal events:


The House of Representatives and the Senate of the Philippines both have each own mace. Their maces are almost identical.[15][16]

House of the Representatives

The mace of the House of Representatives serves as a symbol of authority and in the custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms. It serves as a guarantee for the Sergeant-at-Arms in enforcing peace and order in the House upon the Speaker's instruction. Everytime there is a session, the mace was placed at the foot of the Speaker's rostrum. The mace is topped by the official seal of the House of Representatives.[15]


The mace of the Senate also serves as a symbol of authority. It is also displayed at the Senate President's rostrum every session. The same as in the House, the Sergeant-at-Arms also serves as the custodian of the mace. When there is a disorder in the Senate, the Sergeant-at-Arms bring up the mace from its pedestal and present it to any disobedient senator in order to stop the behavior. The official seal of the Senate also topped the mace.[16]

Sri Lanka

The ceremonial jeweled Mace, symbolizes the authority of Parliament of Sri Lanka, is kept in the custody of the Serjeant-at-Arms. The Mace, when kept on its stand in the Chamber signifies that the House is in session. At the commencement of a Session, the Serjeant-at-Arms bearing the Mace accompanies the Speaker when entering and leaving the Chamber. The Mace has to be legally brought into the House at the appointed time and removed at the end of the Session. Therefore unauthorized removal of the Mace cannot invalidate proceedings.

United States

The civic maces of the 18th century follow the British type, with some modifications in shape and ornamentation. Examples of English silver maces 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; one belonging to the colony of Grenada, made in 1791, and the Speaker's Mace at Barbados, dating from 1812.)

The Mace of the US House of Representatives

The current Mace of the United States House of Representatives has been in use since December 1, 1842. It was created by William Adams at a cost of $400 to replace the first mace, which was destroyed on August 24, 1814 when the Capitol was destroyed in the burning of Washington by the British during the War of 1812. A simple wooden mace was used in the interim.

The current mace is nearly four feet tall and is composed of 13 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 chair of the Speaker of the House. When the House is meeting as the Committee of the Whole, the mace is moved to a pedestal next to the desk of the Sergeant at Arms. Thus Representatives entering the chamber know with a glance whether the House is in session or in committee.

In accordance with the Rules of the House, when a Member becomes unruly the Sergeant at Arms, on order of the Speaker, lifts the mace from its pedestal and presents it before the offenders, thereby restoring order. This occurs very rarely.

The Massachusetts House of Representatives treated a wood carving of a fish, the Sacred Cod of Massachusetts, as though it were a mace in that, when the Cod was stolen, the House refused to legislate.[citation needed]


This is a traditional virge, the ceremonial mace carried by a verger. Note the brass ball at the end with a small cross on top.

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. Other churches, particularly churches of the Anglican Communion, a verger ceremoniously precedes processions.

In the Roman Catholic Church maces used to be carried before Popes and Cardinals.[17]


Ceremonial maces, symbols of the internal authority over members and the independence from external authority, are still used at many educational institutions, particularly universities.

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 origin. 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. The mace of the Open University reflects its modernist outlook, being machined from a single piece of titanium.

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

In Canada some universities have a mace and used as part of the ceremonial process of conferring degrees during convocation and other special events. The mace is carried by a special university official like a beadle.

Other maces

  • The 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 may use a mace to communicate movement and musical cues.

See also


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

  1. ^ "Ceremonial Mace". Silver. Victoria and Albert Museum. http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/s/silverware-design-themes/. Retrieved 2007-08-17. 
  2. ^ "Politics | Mace - Commons". BBC News. 2008-10-09. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/82544.stm. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  3. ^ "Mace protest MP suspended". BT Yahoo News. 15 January 2009. http://uk.news.yahoo.com/4/20090115/tuk-mace-protest-mp-suspended-dba1618.html. Retrieved 15 January 2009. [dead link]
  4. ^ "MP suspended after mace protest". BBC. 15 January 2009. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7830937.stm. Retrieved 15 January 2009. 
  5. ^ "Parliamentary News Release 29 - Mace to go on display at Museum of Scotland". Scottish.parliament.uk. 1999-07-15. http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/nmCentre/news/news-99/pa0029.htm. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  6. ^ "UK | Scotland | Queen presents new mace to judge". BBC News. 2006-07-05. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/scotland/5148684.stm. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  7. ^ Griffith, Hywel (2006-03-01). "Wales | New mace is gift from down under". BBC News. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/4754894.stm. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  8. ^ "National Assembly for Wales - Senedd - Opening - Plinth". Assemblywales.org. http://www.assemblywales.org/sen-project-history-opening-plinth.htm#pic4. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  9. ^ Gibbs, Geoffrey (1999-05-27). "Welsh crown day with a song | Politics | guardian.co.uk". London: Politics.guardian.co.uk. http://politics.guardian.co.uk/wales/story/0,,444362,00.html. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  10. ^ "Details of The Tlws, from the Cywaith Cymru | ArtWorks Wales projects archive". the Cywaith Cymru. http://www.cywaithcymru.org/eng/archive_detail.php?projectsID=132. Retrieved 2009-04-12. 
  11. ^ "The Black Rod, history and role". The Senate of Australia. http://www.aph.gov.au/Senate/pubs/briefs/brief16.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  12. ^ "The Mace of the House of Representatives". The Parliament of Australia. http://www.aph.gov.au/house/work/mace.htm. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  13. ^ "Gift of the current Mace of the House by King George VI". The Parliament of Australia. http://www.aph.gov.au/house/work/mace.htm#current. Retrieved 2008-02-29. 
  14. ^ Parliament of Canada (22 April 2002). "The Speaker > House of Commons Canada > Speaker's Rulings". Queen's Printer for Canada. http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/about/people/House/Speaker/rulings/ruling_3_1_7_e.html. Retrieved 12 April 2009. 
  15. ^ a b "Symbols of Power and Authority". House of the Representatives of the Philippines. http://www.congress.gov.ph/about/index.php?about=symbols. Retrieved 2011-02-29. 
  16. ^ a b "Symbols of Authority". Senate of the Philippines. http://www.senate.gov.ph/about/symbols%20of%20authority.asp. Retrieved 2011-02-29. 
  17. ^  "Mace". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 

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