The ceremonial mace has been a symbolic object for hundreds of years. It represents power and authority. At one time the mace would have been a practical weapon used to protect the King’s person if necessary. Ceremonial maces with this practical use were carried from the 13th Century by the Seargeants-at-arms, “or royal bodyguards”. Over the years maces came to look more decorative and less like the weapons from which they take their name. From the late 14th Century a wider variety of royal and civic officials began to carry maces and they are still used today.
The Corporation of Straford-upon-Avon owned four maces of which two survive in the collection of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. The oldest dates to around 1475 and is made of silver over an iron shaft. This one shows signs of modification which probably date to the mid-16th Century when the Corporation had a second mace made after they proclaimed that two sergeants-at-mace were required for proper government. The second mace is about 2 inches shorter and is made of silver-gilt. Both are decorated with the coat of arms of the royal family.
The maces were almost certainly carried by the high bailiff of Stratford, or by a mace bearer (or sergeant-at-mace) who walked in front of him. Because of this, it is probable that either one or both of these maces were at one time carried by John Shakespeare. John became high bailiff of Stratford in 1568 when his son William was four years old.
The mid-16th Century mace in particular bears evidence of heavy use. These maces were used to help the sergeant-at-mace fulfil his duties such as banging on doors to summon defendants to court hearings. It is unlikely it was ever used as a defensive or offensive weapon since this role would have been taken up by the town constables with their halberd and truncheons.