A strange use for a weapon

On the slightly odd tradition of the university mace.

During our summer graduations, as I sat on stage and mused on the various facets of these wonderful if rather bizarre ceremonies (as I’ve done before so won’t repeat here) I was struck by the strange presence of a mace as part of the proceedings. Our University of Nottingham mace is carefully looked after, carried in and laid down by our Esquire Bedell – pictured here with the said item.

Dr John Whittle, Esquire Bedell. Armed with mace
Dr John Whittle, Esquire Bedell. Armed with mace

It is last on and first off the stage at each ceremony.

Occasionally it is the target of a pick up by a daring graduand (fortunately that hasn’t happened for a few years) but largely remains immobile at the front of the stage reflecting grandly the bright lights overhead. But why a mace? And where else do they appear?

Monarchs in England and the UK have had them for centuries and there are quite a few locked away in the Tower of London I believe. Prominent towns have had them for many years as, I guess, a symbol of civic pride. There are maces in both Houses of Parliament and the one in the Commons has been swung a few times by MPs keen to make a point before being suspended. A number of other countries deploy maces in formal settings too including the Philippines, Canada and Australia (according to my sources at Wikipedia) and there is also a ceremonial one in the US house of Representatives. Slightly strangely they appear to find favour with Cossack leaders too.

Anyway, just about every university seems to have one. Presumably our first universities led the way with this and more recent (19th and early to mid 20th Century arrivals) sought to emulate them and the cities in which they were founded. More recently it has just become part of the full university package along with the logo, the gown and hood design and the corporate Jag. So, a bit bizarre but really rather endearing I think.


5 thoughts on “A strange use for a weapon

  1. Also funny how the traditions are also all slightly different – at UoB the mace and esquire bedell lead the final group (chancellor/vice chancellor/reg&sec/hon grad) onto the platform, and is very first person off the platform.
    The south carolina state house has a ceremonial mace for when sitting, that forms an electric connection to light lamps to the side of the speakers platform to give a visual reference that the house is sitting.
    Must get myself a pair of natty white gloves.

  2. Thanks to John Horton who has just pointed out that an exciting mace exhibition has just started at St Andrews:

    The biggest collection of Mediaeval maces ever seen in the UK will go on display at the Museum of University of St Andrews (MUSA) from Saturday 7 September – 8 December 2013.

    The exhibition, ‘Mediaeval Maces: Power & Ceremony’, brings together ten University maces of international importance as part of the University’s 600th Anniversary celebrations. Alongside the University’s three 15th century maces will be 14th and 15th century maces all the way from Heidelberg, Tübingen, Berlin, and Basel. The University of Glasgow’s Mediaeval mace, depicted on its university’s coat of arms and on its seals, is also being lent for display.


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