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The Mace-bearer


The duty of the mace-bearer was to carry the mayor’s great mace in front of the mayor as he went out and about on official city business. This mace represents authority under the Crown.

City Mace

University Mace

 

Compare the size of the city mace held by the city mace-bearer (left) with the staff held by a university bedel (right) (photographs from Oxford Remembrance Day Parade 2006).

 

The present silver-gilt Oxford city mace, at over 5 feet tall and weighing nearly 18 pounds, is the largest civic one in Britain. It was made in 1651 and is almost a replica of the House of Commons mace. It is carried on the shoulder.

 

The four original staves currently used by the University were made by a London silversmith in 1723, and historically were carried by the four Bedels representing the Faculties of Divinity, Law, Medicine, and Arts. There are now two more faculties and a total of six bedels and six staves.

The stave is carried in the crook of the arm rather than on the shoulder.

 

 

The first mayor to feel that the city mace should be bigger was Roger Hewlett (Mayor in 1573/4). He “gave the mayor’s great mace, for before it was not much bigger than a sergeant’s mace”.

In 1651 a former mayor, William Chillingworth, lent the city £18 towards the payment of a new (third) mace, and that one is still used today.

On 10 May 1660 when Charles II was proclaimed King in Oxford, orders were then given that the state’s arms on the great mace should be defaced and replaced by the King’s. The remodelled mace was first used at the Coronation of Charles II.

When a councillor was elected an Alderman in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, it was the custom for him to give the Macebearer a purse containing a “broad piece of gold”.

In 1826 the Oxford mace was described on a visit by the Lord Mayor of London as “a massive silver-gilt Mace — that usual ensign of magisterial authority”.

When Isaac Grubb was Mayor (1857/8), he refused to have “that bauble”, namely the city mace, carried before him when he attended Carfax Church.

The university mace and the city mace

The above pictures taken at the Remembrance Parade, 13 November 2005 shows one of the four university staves and the great city mace in context. On the podium (including the two people behind) are:

Lord Lieutenant (Hugo Brunner)
Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University (Dr John Hood)
Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University (Rex Knight)
President of the Oxford Branch of the British Legion (Fred Farley)
Lord Mayor (Bob Price)
High Sheriff (Ian Laing)
Chairman of the County Council (Councillor Mrs. Catherine Fulljames)


G.V. Cox in Recollections of Oxford (p. 74n) gives the following story about the staves and the mace on the occasion of the Prince Regent’s visit to Oxford in 1814:

It was intended that the Chancellor and the Mayor should formally surrender the University staves and the City mace into the Prince’s hand; this was done, in a hasty way, as to one of the gold staves; something of the same sort, and in a still more slovenly way, was done as to the City mace. ‘Permit me,’ said Lord Grenville, ‘to surrender the authority of the University into your Royal Highness’s hands.’ ‘It cannot be in better hands’, replied the Regent, with much grace, as he restored the gold staff to his Lordship.

A mace and two staves
Two staves and a mace at the Remembrance Day Parade in 2006.
Note that the mace is carried on the shoulder, and the stave in the crook of the arm.

City MaceThe City Mace in action at the Rifles Parade on 24 May 2015

Six stavesSix bedels with staves precede the Chancellor of the University, Chris Patten, at Encaenia 2019

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 26 June, 2019

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