Friday, 22 August 2014

The Mace - Distinguishing Your Bludgeoning Weapons: Medieval Weaponry and Accoutrements

Flail. Mace. Morningstar. I’ve been asked what’s the difference?

Quite simply, they are all crushing weapons. The flail features one or more striking heads attached to a handle by a rope, strap or chain. Both the mace and the morningstar have the head affixed directly to the handle, and so are the two most similar of these three weapons. A mace may or may not have flanges or knobs but does not have spikes. A morningstar always has a spiked head, and most particularly, has a spike extending straight up from the top of the head. A flail may have spikes, but of course is differentiated from the morningstar by the head not being affixed to the shaft.

And now we've come full circle.

Each weapon is worth examining separately, so today we have the mace. Last month we looked at the flail, and next month we’ll examine the morningstar.

The Mace 

A mace is typically a strong metal or wooden shaft with a heavy head of stone, copper, bronze, iron or steel. The head could be smooth, although knobs and flanges were incorporated in some versions to allow the weapons to be used more effectively against wearers of plate armour. Damn knights! That said, the force of a blow from even a solid mace head without flanges or knobs was significant enough to injure a man even through plate armour.

Maces varied in length from 2 – 3 feet for infantry maces, through to the longer cavalry maces, with the longest being the two-handed maces. This was not a weapon designed to be used in close formation, and were most effectively used by heavy cavalry.

A popular belief is that clergy used maces to avoid shedding blood – evidently the inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons where clerics can only use blunt weapons, but there is little actual evidence for this practice in reality. The myth seems to be largely based on a picture of Bishop Odo of Bayeux wielding a club-like mace at the Battle of Hastings in the Bayeux Tapestry. However, other Bishops were depicted with the arms of a knight, contradicting such a theory.

Maces exist in modern society largely as ceremonial items, particularly in parliaments following the Westminster system, where they are carried in by the sergeant-of-arms (or other mace-bearer) and placed on the clerks’ table while parliament is in session. As well as being removed when the session ends, the mace is removed when a new speaker is elected to show that parliament is not ready to conduct business. 

Ceremonial maces are also used by the clergy as a symbol of jurisdiction, in parades as part of military bands, and in universities in a similar manner to parliament.

It's a Flail! A Mace! No, it's a Morningstar! Simple Chart To Work Out the Difference


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Will Hahn said...

Thank you! I got one thing in my head all wrong at an early age and carried it stubbornly. I owe you for this clear concise post!

Ciara Ballintyne said...

My pleasure :-) It was an interesting exercise!

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