Maces became associated as symbols of authority through their use as weapons of the sergeants-at-arms, the king’s royal bodyguard, first constituted as a 20-strong corps by Edward I after his coronation.[1] They were certainly formed by 1279; the names of the 20 sergeants-at-arms in that year are listed in the records of the Household Ordinance.[2] They later became more widely known as symbols of civic, judicial and institutional authority of both cities and chancellors.[3] The mace being required for parliamentary business to be conducted seems to have emerged in the Commons, as parliamentarian John Pym (1584–1643) commented in 1640 that “it is a new doctrine, that wee can doe nothing without a Speaker, or the mace”. The mace’s status in the Commons was perhaps most famously established in the popular account of Oliver Cromwell (1599–1658) describing it as a “fool’s bauble” and commanding his troops to take it away during his dismissal of the Long Parliament on 20 April 1653.[4]

It would appear the first time a mace was officially used in the Lords chamber was in or after 1667. The House decided on 30 May 1667 to petition Charles II so that “His Majesty to be moved whether the mace shall be used by my Lords in the Chamber (Granted.)”.[5] The mace’s use on the woolsack in Lords proceedings was established by the early 18th century. In 1713, Lord Trevor was commissioned by the King “to supply the Place of Lord Keeper, as Speaker of this House, during the Sickness and Absence of Simon Lord Harcourt Lord Keeper”.[6] After this, “then the Lord Trevor was called upon by the House to take his Place upon the woolsack, and their Lordships appointed the mace to be laid thereupon, and carried before him”.[7]

The Lords has used two maces since the early 19th century.[8] Two maces arose “from the fact that the Lord Chancellor [was] Speaker of the House of Lords and therefore [had] two distinct areas of authority”.[9] The first mace was probably made in 1672 during the reign of Charles II (reigned 1660–1685 in England) and has been in continuous use since then.[10] This is made of “silver-gilt, 5ft 1 inches in length and bears no hallmark. Round the head, in four panels, are a rose and portcullis, a fleur-de-lis, a thistle and a harp, severally crowned and with the initials C II R”.[11] The second mace was made in 1695 during the reign of William III (reigned 1689–1702). Made by Francis Gathorne, a silversmith of London, the mace is also “silver-gilt, 5ft 1 ¾ inches in length and is made up of pieces of more than one mace, the foot-knop being of a different work from the rest of the mace. The head bears the initials G.R but the G replaces an earlier W. On the cap of the crown are the Royal Arms”.[12] It has been used far less since the 18th century.[13] In 1938 the Hon. Maharajadhiraja Sir Kameshwar Singh of Darbhanga presented a copy of the older Lords’ mace to the Indian Council of State.[14]

The House’s response to the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 provided a reminder about the mace’s continued symbolism of authority. Social distancing requirements limited the House’s ability to meet in person. Instead, it chose to take most proceedings virtually, using video conferencing technology. However, limited physical sittings were continued, with the mace in its usual position behind the woolsack. This was because, as guidance issued at the time stated, “any stage of the legislative process that requires the House to agree a motion or make a decision with full legal effect must be taken, or at least ratified, in physical proceedings”.[15]

Maces are not unique to the UK parliament. Maces can also be found in other parliaments around the world, most commonly in Commonwealth parliaments.[16] However, the US House of Representatives has a mace.[17] Other historic maces include the States of Jersey[18] (presented by Charles II in 1603), Norfolk, Virginia (1753), the state of South Carolina (1756), and two in Jamaica (1753 and 1787).[19] Each parliament’s mace comes with its own history and customs. For instance, the New Zealand House of Representatives had no mace for the first 12 years of its existence.[20] Its first speaker, Sir Charles Clifford, presented the first mace to the House in 1866. This was destroyed in a fire in 1907, with a replica replacing it in 1909 where it remains ubiquitous. The New Zealand parliament’s guide to proceedings notes that “although the absence of a mace is unusual, it does not prejudice the continued sitting of the House or affect the validity of anything done at such a sitting”.[21] Since 2022, the mace has been on public display, when not in use, in a “case [that] has been specially made and has special hydraulic lifts attached to the lid so that one person can safely remove and replace the mace, minimising the risk of damage to such a precious taonga”.[22]

Cover image: Copyright House of Lords 2021/Photography by Roger Harris


  1. Peter Thorne, ‘The Royal Mace in the House of Commons’, House of Commons Library document no 18, 1990, p 14. Return to text
  2. Thomas Tout, ‘Chapters in the Administrative History of Mediaeval England’, 1920, vol II, p 163. Return to text
  3. Peter Thorne, ‘The Royal Mace in the House of Commons’, House of Commons Library document no 18, 1990, p 27. Return to text
  4. Sir Charles Firth, ‘The expulsion of the Long Parliament’, History, 1917, vol 2, issue 7, pp 129–43; and continued in History, 1918, vol 2, issue 8, pp 193–206, for a discussion of the veracity of various accounts surrounding Cromwell’s dissolving of the Long Parliament. Return to text
  5. ‘Calendar of Treasury Books’, vol 2, 1667–1668, 1905, see: ‘Minute Book: May 1667’, p 3. Return to text
  6. Journal of the House of Lords: vol 19, 1709–1714, 1767–1830, see: ‘10 March 1713’, p 505. Return to text
  7. As above. Return to text
  8. Major-General Harvey Sitwell, ‘Royal sergeants-at-arms and the royal maces’, Archaeologia, 1969, vol 102, p 232. Return to text
  9. Norman Wilding and Philip Laundy, ‘An Encyclopaedia of Parliament’, 1958, p 344. Return to text
  10. Sir Bryan Fell, ‘The Houses of Parliament’, 1958, p 68. Return to text
  11. As above. Return to text
  12. As above. Return to text
  13. Major-General Harvey Sitwell, ‘Royal sergeants-at-arms and the royal maces’, Archaeologia, 1969, vol 102, pp 248–9. The William III mace has undergone many repairs and alterations since it was made that have greatly increased its weight, which may explain why it has been used less. Return to text
  14. Times, ‘Replica of historic mace’, 26 August 1938, p 13. Return to text
  15. House of Lords Procedure and Privileges Committee, ‘Guidance on virtual proceedings from the procedure committee: Issue 1’, 16 April 2020, p 8. Return to text
  16. Matthew Salik, ‘Weapons of mace democracy’, Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, 6 May 2021. Return to text
  17. United States House of Representatives, ‘Mace of the US House of Representatives’, accessed 26 February 2024. Return to text
  18. States of Jersey States Assembly, ‘The royal mace’, accessed 26 February 2024. Return to text
  19. Sir Bryan Fell, ‘The Houses of Parliament’, 1958, p 70. Return to text
  20. New Zealand Parliament, ‘Parliamentary practice in New Zealand’, 2023, para 17.6.3. Return to text
  21. As above. Return to text
  22. New Zealand Parliament, ‘Come face-to-face with Parliament’s mace’, 21 November 2022. Return to text