Saffron Walden's Coat of Arms
Saffron Walden did not have an official coat of arms until 1960. Until that date an unofficial coat of arms was used. It is not certain when these arms were first used, although they are engraved on the large mace given to the town in 1685.
These arms show the Saffron Crocus within the walls of the castle. They are intended as an heraldic pun - "Saffron walled-in"
In 1961 the Borough Council applied to the Royal College of Arms for a formal coat of arms, which was granted by Letters patent. Following the Local Government reorganisation of 1974 these arms were adapted by the addition of mantling and today, form the official arms of Saffron Walden Town Council.
The official armorial description is:
Vert within a representation of town walls having two towers and a Gateway between towers Argent three Saffron Flowers issuant from the battlements of the gateway blown and showing the stamens proper And for the Crest On a Wealth of the Colours Upon a Chapeau Gules turned up Ermine a Lion rampant Azure grasping in the dexter paw a representation of the Ancient Mace of the Borough of Saffron Walden proper"
The Large Mace
The Large Mace was given to the town by James II in 1685. The mace, which is made of silver gilt is approximately 4 feet. Around its head are the symbols of the four constituent countries of the British Isles; the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland, the harp of Wales and the tricorn of Ireland. On the main stem are engraved the coat of Arms of the town as they existed in 1685.
The Mace is carried in front of the Mayor on all ceremonial occasions by the Town's macebearer. The present macebearer is Mark Gilbert.
The Two Small Maces
The two small maces are made of silver, measure approx. 9 inches and weigh about 2lbs. each. The maces were purchased by the Corporation in 1549 to commemorate in that year the granting to the town of a new charter by Edward VI. The purchase of the maces is recorded in the Guild of Holy Trinity Accounts and reads:
"For 2 new maces, weying 18 ownces one quarter and half at 8s. the ownce 71.7s"
The two small macebearers used to be carried by the Sergeant-at Arms, but during the last war this tradition ceased. The maces are kept on view in the town's museum.
The History of Maces
The ceremonial Maces are derived from weapons of war. Today's ceremonial Maces are a highly ornamental successor to the prehistoric club or bludgeon.
The Mace was adopted as a special weapon of the Serjeants-at-Arms appointed first by Philip II of France (1180-1223) to guard him from suspected assassins when he returned to France. A similar bodyguard was instituted by Richard I of England. Curiously the Mace was also the particular weapon of a Bishop or Churchman when he took the field in war. Apparently the argument was that whilst it was not considered appropriate for a man of God to shed another person's blood with a sword or battle axe, to crack his skull was permitted.
Over time, the officers allowed to attend on Sheriffs, Bailiffs and Mayors gradually became less of an armed personal bodyguard, and more a Messenger to convey the Royal orders to local authorities; so the Mace with Royal Arms inscribed on it which he carried became the obvious and visible token of Royal authority.
In the course of time, the hitting end of the Mace fell out of use and the handle end increased in importance. This end became highly decorated and the Maces became no longer an offensive weapon but a symbol of authority. Today's ceremonial Maces are therefore now carried, so to speak, upside down. (With thanks to Westminster City Council)