A Knightly Mace of German Gothic Type, for Field Combat, c. 1470-1500

5052 1

Item ref: 5052

  • Germany
  • Steel, brazing metal, corded hemp
  • 56 cm (overall length)


Private collection, United Kingdom

In the hand the weight and proportions of this mace confirm its purpose as a formidable weapon intended for deadly combat. While the impact of a blow would generally not penetrate plate armour, the force and shock would certainly be capable of painfully disabling or stunning an opponent. Slung from the saddle, the mace would have been used in the ensuing melee following the initial lance charge. Writing in Italy in the late 15th century, the Spanish ‘fight-master’ Pietro Monte also mentions the value of the mace in unhorsing an opponent via a heavy blow to the head of his mount.

Notably in the present mace the tips of the six flanges which form the head have been shaped to unusually acute points, clearly in order to increase their impact potential in battle, differing from the relative restraint of the tournament. This level of effectiveness compensated the ineffective nature of bladed weapons against armour, lending the mace both popularity amongst the knightly class, parallel with the hammer, and its adoption as a long-standing symbol of power and rank.

The overall length of the present mace at 58.6cm is somewhat greater than found in the majority of examples of the period. This delivers not only advantageous reach but also provides the essential counter balance to the weight of the head, again noticeably greater in this instance.

Unlike the maces widely produced in Germany from the second quarter of 16th century onward, typically for the gothic period the shaft is formed as a solid octagonal rod and is fitted with a small disc-guard above the grip. Aside from its intrinsic elegance, the decorative features in this mace are understandably sparse, limited to a single band of gothic crockets encircling the lower portion of the flanges and a spirally fluted bud finial at the apex. The grip is bound with corded hemp over a core left rough from the hammer (once again a characteristic of the period) and the domed face of its cap terminal is pieced for a suspension thong.

Contemporary illustrations provide ample graphic evidence of both field and tournament combats between fully armoured knights armed with maces. An example from one of the most well-known graphic sources illustrates mounted knights in German gothic field armour of circa 1470-80: this superb ink and wash drawing (of six combatants) is included in the Thun-Hohenstein Album in the Umĕleckoprůmyslové museum in Prague (GK 11.572-B, folio 11r).

Tournament foot combats between knights armed with maces and differing types of shields are included in great detail in ‘Freydal ’(Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, ms.KK5073), a profusely illustrated part-autobiographical account of chivalric combats commissioned by the Emperor Maximillian I, compiled in 1512-15. Two combats with maces are included in this work, one involving hand-pavises, between the emperor and his friend Melchior von Massmünster(tournament 16), the other, involving larger shields, again shows the emperor now pitched against Leonhart Gödel (tournament 58). In each illustration the opponent’s helmet appears to be the target, whereas in the heat of real battle a mounted knight would more likely opt for the easier larger torso, against which he might deliver more significant repeated blows.