Llantrisant’s historic Mace is the jewel in the crown of the town’s greatest treasures.
Dating back to 1633, it is older than that used in the House of Commons and has been in the possession of the Freemen for almost 400 years. The many stories behind the history of the Mace are fascinating – from its ownership during the Civil War to its recovery from a London pawnbrokers.
The ceremonial mace originated as a weapon of war in Norman times when, with the introduction of armour, the wooden club came to be bound with iron and then made with steel and iron alone. A mace was a blunt weapon that uses a heavy head on the end of a handle to deliver powerful blows. A mace typically consists of a strong, heavy, wooden or metal shaft, often reinforced with metal, featuring a head made of stone, copper, bronze, iron, or steel.
The head of a military mace can be shaped with flanges or knobs to allow greater penetration of plate armour. The length can vary considerably. The maces of foot soldiers were usually quite short (two or three feet), while the maces of cavalrymen were longer and better suited for blows delivered from horseback.
It was adopted as the weapon of the Sergeants at Arms appointed first by Philip II of France (1180-1223) to guard the king from suspected assassins and it is believed a similar bodyguard was appointed by Richard I (The Lionheart) of England. During medieval times, the Royal Serjeants-at-Arms were distinguished by their power of arrest without a warrant. To an increasing extent, their Maces - originally ordinary weapons of war, similar to a club - became their emblems of authority. They were stamped with the Royal Arms; and in an age in which few men could read or write, the Serjeants effected their arrests by showing their Maces and not by producing any form of written warrant.
It was custom for the royal arms to be inscribed on the top and handle end and decorated. As time passed the mace became less of a weapon and became entirely covered with precious metal. At this point the mace is no longer a weapon of war, but a symbol of authority, incorporating a coronet expanded into a full sized crown and the whole item swelled to a much larger proportion.
Maces are rarely used today for actual combat, but a large number of government bodies such as, the British House of Commons, universities and other institutions have ceremonial maces and continue to display them as symbols of authority. They are often paraded in academic, parliamentary or civic rituals and processions.
The date engraved on the side of the Llantrisant Mace is 1633 and the royal coat of arms on the top are those of Charles I (1600-1649) who reigned from 1625 to 1649 when he was executed. In fact the pattern of Mace most commonly seen today was standardised by Royal decree of Charles I (Parliament Order of 1649, Instructions for Cities and Towns to obey Maundy’s ‘forme and patterne of Maces’) confirmed under the Commonwealth.
The silver crown is that of Charles I and pinpoints more accurately its creation during his reign.
It is also crudely marked with “WE” which may be a pawnbroker’s mark, given the story that the mace was recovered from a London pawnbrokers in the 1890s. It has been suggested that members of the newly formed Town Trust went to the city to visit Sir David Evans, a fellow Freeman and Lord Mayor of London at the time. On the other hand it may be that of William ap Evan.
During the time of the Civil War when the royal coat of arms would have been disrespected, it was a William ap Evan, presumably an official of Llantrisant, who showed the Commissioners (under the Corporation Act of 1661) the Charter on 27 October 1662 at Mr Draper’s house in Cardiff.
On one face of the side of the Mace is a most interesting coat of arms. It comprises a shield with three lions rampant (not passant as in the traditional English royal fashion), encircled by a belt, or garter with the familiar motto “Honi soit qui mal y pense” all surmounted by a crown. It is the coat of arms of a Knight of the Order of the Garter. The three lions rampant is the arms of the Earls of Ross in Scottish heraldry.
Charles I was made Earl of Ross at the time of his Baptism in 1600 and became a Knight of the Garter in 1611, a year before his elder brother Henry Frederick died and Charles became heir to the throne. There were no further Earls of Ross after the regicide of Charles I. The title was recreated in the Irish aristocracy in 1772.
The founder of the Order of the Garter was Edward III, the victor of Crecy and his son, the Black Prince, was amongst the first Knights of the Order in 1348. It appears to be an attempt to link Llantrisant to Charles I through the Knights of the Garter, Edward III, the Black Prince of Wales 1343-1376, the town charter and Crecy of 1346.
The three lions rampant were the coats of arms of the Earls of Pembroke. The first Earl of Pembroke (William Herbert) had acquired the lease to the lordships of Miskyn and Glynrhondda in August 1546. The lordships had belonged in the past to Jasper Tudor (1452-1495), uncle to Henry VII and the architect of the Tudor conquest of England and Wales, who became Earl of Pembroke in 1452, lost the title in 1461 and had it restored in 1485 following the accession of Henry VII (Harri Tudur).
1633 was the time of the 4th Earl of Pembroke (1584-1650) who became Earl in 1630 and presumably gifted the mace to the town. He was a man of great wealth and patron of the arts, the first folio of Shakespeare's plays was dedicated to him and his brother. A favourite of both James II and of Charles I he became a moderate parliamentarian during the English Civil War, one of the judges who refused to sit in judgement on the King, and the King's jailer immediately before the regicide. The mace therefore bears the coats of arms of the King and the Earl.
There are two decorations on the Mace. The upper decoration is a repeated fleur de lis and the lower a repeated cross pattee (a across with the ends of the arms flared). Both designs are associated with the English monarchy and both appear on English crowns.
The current Imperial State Crown has a cross pattee which contains the Black Prince’s ruby – given to the Black Prince in 1367 by King Pedro of Castille for military services which restored Pedro to his throne even though Pedro reneged on his promise to pay for the campaign.
The fleur de lis was first incorporated into the royal coat of arms in 1340 by Edward III when asserting his claim to the French crown, which was the reason for the battle of Crecy. It remained in the English royal coat of arms until 1801. The fleur de lis design can be seen as a linking of the monarch, Charles I, with Llantrisant again through Edward III and Crecy.
In brief the design of the 1633 mace can be viewed as linking Llantrisant to the current monarch of Charles I, through Edward III and the period of the renewal of the town charter.
The Mace, with its royal coat of arms survived the English Civil War (1642-1651), the Commonwealth (1649-1653) and Cromwell’s Protectorate (1653-1659). probably because it also bore the coat of arms of a leading Parliamentarian in South Wales, the 4th Earl of Pembroke. Near the handgrip of the mace is a name engraved of Edmund Hughes, portreeve, who held the post in Llantrisant sometime after 1630.
A pre-Civil War mace is rare; the combination on it of the royal coat of arms of Charles I and that of a leading Parliamentarian during the Civil War makes it unique. The initials of a town official known to have had custody the 1424 charter and the naming of a portreeve link the mace in an intimate way to the history of Llantrisant.
With thanks to Professor Derrick Pounder