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Mace and Baliffs Maces

The word mace is Old French for a heavy club used as a weapon. The early Mayors in Bedford would have had a bodyguard carrying a club or mace similar to those shown in the famous Bayeux tapestry that dates from the second half of the eleventh century. The Bedford mace would probably have been metal-headed and spiked so that it was more efficient in dealing with anyone who picked an argument with the Mayor. It had another purpose and that was to identify the Mayor who, after all, was authorised by the King. The official mace may well have been engraved on the handle bell-shaped end with the Royal Arms. Any impostor would have difficulty in copying this and would have been punished if he had tried.

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558-1603) the mace ceased to be a weapon but in the civic role it remained an emblem of authority. It was virtually turned upside down, in that the adornment of Arms became the top of the ceremonial mace. The pattern of mace most commonly seen today was standardised by Royal Decree of King Charles I. This was basically renewed by Oliver Cromwell in 1653 but without the Royal emblems. The original pattern was restored by King Charles II in 1660. The Bedford mace was made to this design and hallmarked in 1665. However a Minute dated 10th July 1665 ordered that the three maces being much worn and some of them broken should be forthwith repaired by new melting, casting and forming at a cost not exceeding £20.

The Mayor’s Mace originally had the King’s cipher CR (standing for Charles Rex) on all four sides of the mace but was changed to GR (George Rex) in 1714, presumably to court favour with King George I. The mace is made of silver gilt and silver although there is an oak rod inside to which the various parts are fixed, so giving it strength.

The Mayor’s Officer and Sergeant of the Mace, (Known also as the Sergeant at Arms) carries the mace on his right shoulder. He walks in front of the Mayor. No-one (except a member of the Royal family) must come between the mace and the Mayor. This goes back to the old days of protection.

The Mace is used at official ceremonies such as Mayor Making when a new Mayor takes office. It is also used at full Council meetings. The meeting is not properly constituted if the mace is not there and so no business can be undertaken. Similarly the Speaker can stop a meeting by asking that the Mace is removed. The Mace is used at Civic Services, Remembrance Sunday and Freedom of the Borough events. It would be appropriate for the Mace to be used at a university graduation ceremony or other formal events. If the Queen is present, the Mace is reversed, which signifies that the Mayor is surrendering the token of his power. When placed in front of the Mayor at Council meetings, the orb and cross are to the Mayor’s right. The only exception to this rule is at a civic service when the Mace is put in front of the Mayor when sitting to the right of the centre aisle. The ball and cross are to the Mayor’s left - the altar takes precedence.

The Bailiffs Maces

One of the bailiff’s duties is to collect payment of outstanding Council tax. In 1666 each of the two bailiffs had a small mace to identify them. These maces have now been replaced by plastic identification cards so the original gold and silver maces are displayed in the Mayor’s Parlour. Knocking on doors has caused the top edges of each mace to be bent inwards. The Bailiffs’ maces weigh 1 lb each.

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