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Visiting The White Horse inn at Downton recently, I was intrigued to see on the wall a photograph commemorating the Coronation of Her Majesty,  Queen Elizabeth II (Fig 1). I was intrigued on two counts. Firstly, the date of the coronation was given as 1952 whereas, as we all know, King George VI died in 1952, but the Queen was not crowned until the following year. I am sure that the legend to the photograph was just a careless mistake.

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Fig. 1. Photograph in the bar of The White Horse, Downton

The second cause for intrigue was the statement that the mace is kept in Salisbury Museum, as I had never noticed it. A cursory poll of my colleagues indicated that neither had they, although eventually Tony Harris said he thought it was in storage.

Eventually, Alan Clarke tracked it down. It is in storage in the Museum, and Alan was able to provide me with some photographs (Figs 2-8).

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Fig 2. The Downton Borough Mace

By way of definition, a ceremonial mace is a highly ornamented staff of metal or wood, carried before a sovereign or other high official in civic ceremonies, by a mace-bearer. It is intended to represent the official’s authority. The mace, as used today, derives from the original use of the mace as a weapon, intended to protect the King’s person. It was borne by a royal bodyguard known as the Sergeant-at-Arms.

The use of the mace as a civic device, still carried by a Sergeant-at-Arms, began around the middle of the 13th Century.

As described in Fig.1, the Downton Borough mace was made by a London silversmith in 1713 and carries the Duncombe Coat of Arms (Fig. 3). It was given by the borough MPs.

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Fig. 3. The Duncombe Coat of Arms on the flange of the mace head.

The Duncombes were one of four great famiies who came to dominate the Downton area, the others being the Eyres, the Pleydell-Bouveries and later, the Nelsons. Several members of the Nelson family are buried in the graveyard of nearby Standlynch Chapel.

Sir Charles Duncombe (1648-1711) was an English banker and politician who served as a Conservative Member of Parliament and Lord Mayor of London. He was Receiver of the Customs for both Charles II and James II, and made a fortune in banking. Even as a young man he was lending money, even to the King. These were often for large amounts; one loan was for£31,600 and another, £50,000, the equivalent of several million pounds at the start of the millennium! However, when James II fled to France in 1688, Duncombe refused him a loan of £1500 to aid his escape.

Later in life Duncombe was said to be worth £400,000 and died the richest commoner in England. He is thought to have owned three-quarters of the burgages* in Downton at the time of his death in 1711.

Charles Duncombe was elected MP in 1685 and represented Hedon and Yarmouth (Isle of Wight as well as Downton, being MP for Downton several times between 1695 and his death in 1711. He was knighted in 1699.

Sir Charles Duncombe was unmarried so his nephew Anthony inherited his Downton estates, at the age of 16. Anthony Duncombe was later ennobled as Lord Feversham, Baron of Downton.

Another Coat of Arms on the flange of the mace is that of the Eyre family (Fig. 4)

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Fig 4. Eyre Coat of Arms

The Eyre Coat of Arms can also be seen on a funeral hatchment in St Thomas’ Church, Salisbury.

Other details from the mace head flange are shown in Figures 5 and 6.

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Figures 5 and 6. Details from the mace flange

A further detail on the mace, which looks like a Royal Coat of Arms, bears the motto of the Order of the Garter, Honi soit qui mal y pense, (‘May he be shamed who thinks badly of it’) (Fig. 7).

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Fig 7. Detail from the mace

I have not seen the mace personally to notice where this detail is situated but an entry in Wikipedia says that “Early in the 15th Century the flanged end of the mace (the head of the war mace) was carried uppermost, with the small button bearing the royal arms in the base”.

Figure 8 shows the Downton Mace in procession down Minster Street, Salisbury

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Fig. 8 Downton Mace in procession

*A burgage (in England and Scotland) is a tenure by which land or property in a town  was held in return for service or annual rent.