The mace is the ornamental staff, symbol of the authority of the Speaker, which rests on the Table during sittings of the House. In the Middle Ages, the mace was an officer’s weapon; it was made of metal with a flanged or spiked head and was used to break through chain-mail or plate armour.
In the twelfth century, the Sergeant-at-Arms of the King’s Bodyguard was equipped with maces. These maces, stamped with the Royal Arms and carried by the Sergeants in the exercise of their powers of arrest without warrant, became recognized symbols of the King’s authority. Authorities also carried maces.
Royal Sergeants-at-Arms began to be assigned to the Commons early in the fifteenth century. By the end of the sixteenth century, the Sergeant’s mace had evolved from a weapon of war to an ornately embellished emblem of office.
The Sergeant-at-Arms’ power to arrest without warrants enabled the Commons to arrest or commit persons who offended them, without having to resort to the ordinary courts of law.
This penal jurisdiction is the basis of the concept of parliamentary privilege and, since the exercise of this privilege depended on the powers vested in the Royal sergeant-at-Arms, the Mace – his emblem of office- was identified with the growing privileges of the Commons and became recognized as the symbol of the authority of the House and of the Speaker through the House.
In the House of Commons the Mace is a symbol of Royal Authority. It represents power and authority that the monarchy has delegated to the House of Commons in the past.
The Mace lies on the Table in front of the Speaker when Members are debating. The Mace is carried in and out of the Chamber by the Sergeant-at-Arms in a procession at the beginning and end of each day. Without the Mace in position, the House cannot sit and debate.
The Mace is the symbol not only of the Royal authority but also of the authority of the House. As it has been stated that the authority of the Speaker and of the House are indivisible, it also symbolizes the authority of the Speaker.
Before the election of a Speaker, the Mace is placed on brackets under the Table of the House or in some Parliaments on a cushion in front of the Clerk’s Table and as soon as the Speaker takes his or her seat after being elected by the House, it is placed on rests on the Table.
When the Speaker is in the Chair, the Mace lies on the Table with the orb and cross surmounting it pointing to the Government side, that is to the Speaker’s right. The only time the Mace is not removed from the Table is when the Speaker leaves the Chair is when he or she has temporarily suspended a sitting of the House (perhaps for a meal break). The Mace remains on the Table during the whole of the suspension.
The Sergeant-at-Arms is custodian of the Mace. Bearing the Mace upon the right shoulder, the Sergeant-at-Arms, has become an important symbol of the authority of the Speaker.
The Mace, carried by the Sergeant-at-Arms, has become an important symbol of the authority of the Speaker and of the House itself. There is a view that the House is not properly constituted unless the Mace is present on the brackets in the Chamber.
The Mace also accompanies the Speaker on formal occasions such as his or her presentation to the Governor-general after election, when the House goes to the Senate to hear the Governor-General’s opening speech and on the presentation of the Governor-General of the Address in reply to the opening speech. On these occasions, the Mace is covered with a cloth or left in an antechamber before entering the Governor-General’s presence. Being the symbol of the royal authority, the Mace is unnecessary in the presence of the authority itself.
Some eventful occurences surrounding the mace
(a) House of Commons- United Kingdom
Michael Heseltine famously seized the mace after a particularly heated debate in 1976.
The evening of 27 May proved to be a particularly eventful one for the House of Commons. The government was attempting to steer its aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill through the Commons.
The Bill was hotly contested, with Michael Heseltine leading the Conservative opposition. The vote on an amendment had been tied, and was lost on the Speaker’s vote. The vote on the main government motion – which one would have expected also to be tied – was in fact carried by the Labour Government.
At this, some of the Welsh labour MP’s began to sing ‘The Red Flag’. Heseltine, infuriated by the traditional Labour Part anthem, grabbed the mace and held it over his head.
He was restrained by Jim Prior, replaced the mace and left the Chamber. The Speaker suspended the sitting until the following day.
The next morning Michael Heseltine apologized unreservedly for his behaviour.
(b) House of Assembly – Bahamas
The late Rt. Hon. Sir Lyndon Pindling in April 27th 1965 seized the mace and threw it out of the Parliament window whilst Parliament was debating the Boundaries Commission Report and Reform to the Bahamas electoral process.
During the debate on the Boundaries Commission Report in early 2002 two strangers in the Parliament Caffuif Stuart and Omar Smith handcuffed themselves to the mace.
The Mace: House of Assembly - Turks and Caicos Islands
The debate as to whether the Turks and Caicos Islands Legislative Council should have a mace, had been going on since the 1976 Constitution (establishing ministerial government). Some of the past Speakers of the House took the view that Council was not a sovereign Parliament and it would have been inappropriate to have a mace, other Speakers did not share that view and on several occasions attempts were made to solicit funding for a Mace, this never materialized.
In 2005 the Hon. Chief Minister commissioned the Clerk to work with Crown Agents in the United Kingdom on the design and procurement of a mace. Crown Agents selected Thomas Fattorini Ltd. to produce a full sized coloured illustration, which took into consideration the Islands local culture, crest and logos.
Some six months later Thomas Fattorini submitted a traditional design 8ct Gold as follows: 18ct Gold Woodend Shaft, Hand Painted Enamel Engraved Traditional Design Ceremonial Mace length 1.2 meters, Main shaft 40mm diameter of wooden construction with two stamped and hand engraved collars 35mm x 160mm long approximately, Mace top traditional Crown and Orb shape with the collared rim and applied panel of HRH Queen Elizabeth II Royal Standard Arms in relief size 80mm x 69mm on reverse. Applied panel of the Turks and Caicos Coat of Arms in hand painted enamel size 72mm x 82mm. Full Crown Mace head top with certical Fleur de lise and heraldic cross’ with mounted orb set among 10mm ‘jewel’ orbs sets in traditional crown and pillow design approx. 100mm diameter. Mace base multi-panelled decorative bottom collars approximately 60mm diameter. Complete with solid wood size approximately 1.3mtrs x 30cm x 30cm with solid wood removable presentation stand and appropriate padding, handles, locks and keys.
The design having been approved by the Hon. Chief Minister and the Hon. Speaker, Thomas Fattaroni proceeded with its production. The Mace was completed in September 2006. Shortly thereafter the Clerk traveled to London to formally take possession of same. Because this was the first mace made by Thomas Fattaroni in over one hundred years they sough and were granted permission to proudly display their masterful design in London for several days.
The House of Assembly will observe parliamentary practice and procedure in its use of the Mace.