A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Windlass Steelcrafts German Mace (modified)
A hands-on review by Sean A. Flynt
The mace is an ancient weapon common to many cultures. With slight variations in design and construction, it served for centuries in the European military context. Even as late as the First World War, fighting men recognized the value of the weapon for quiet, brutal raids on enemy trenches. The mace's chief advantage is that it need not breech an opponent's armour to be effective (unlike many edged weapons). Its mass, concentrated at the end of a wooden or metal shaft, can injure and stun simply by blunt force. An unarmoured opponent might be debilitated by shattered limbs or a crushed skull, and might even be killed outright.
When many of us think of this weapon we picture the classic "Gothic" mace of the late 15th century, a design that coincides with the era of head-to-toe hardened steel plate armour that could turn away edged weapons. According to Ewart Oakeshott, these elaborately sculpted, all-metal maces, which he called type M1, were somewhat smaller and lighter than those that came just before and after. Their length and weight varied, but they were, on average, around 18 inches long and 3.75 pounds. Their heads consisted of multiple triangular, decoratively-sculpted flanges fixed to a steel or iron shaft. This basic form and construction carried over into the 16th century, albeit in a significantly larger and simpler version in the 24"-26", 5-7 lb range, which Oakeshott called type M2. Both types were used in combat by mounted and dismounted fighters alike, and maces also were favored for tournament combat afoot.
A woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, circa 1496, shows a common soldier using a mace of late Gothic form to drive prisoners off a cliff. During the period of this work, Oakeshott tells us, the relatively small classic Gothic mace was giving way to the more robust forms that served through most of the 16th century. The weapon depicted by Dürer clearly features the distinctive triangular flanges of the Gothic form, though perhaps in larger proportions. It also features a small pommel and a similar-size swelling at the top of the grip rather than the larger geometric plate guard typical of the classic Gothic mace. So, this mace might be either of M2 type or of a transitional type between types M1 and M2.
I admire aspects of both the M1 and M2 maces. The M2 type seems plainer and more businesslike, which I like, but many maces of this type lack the elegant proportions of the M1 maces. The M1 maces are sleek, but I find many of their decorative elements to be somewhat fussy. I decided that I wanted one of the circa 1500 transitional maces described by Oakeshotta mace that combines what I think are the most attractive elements of the M1 and M2 types. By coincidence, Windlass Steelcrafts added such a weapon to its product line just as I began my search.
Two maces, the Italian Mace and German Mace by Windlass Steelcrafts of India, appear to be good examples of 16th century mace forms, and they're priced at only $79 US. I ordered the German Mace, and it arrived within a few days via standard shipping.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
I was surprised to find that this weapon is very comfortable in the hand. This is due in part to it being relatively lightweight for a mace of this period, but it is also due to the long grip, which facilitates control of the weapon. Holding this mace at the top of the grip makes the weight (which turned out to be half off what the catalogue listed) manageable.
Holding the weapon at the base of the grip makes it more unwieldy but should facilitate more powerful strikes. This feature may explain why such long grips appear to be more common on the longer and heavier maces of the M2 type.
I know of no contemporary text offering detailed instruction in the use of the mace, but it might be reasonable to adapt grossemesser techniques. A short grossemesser and long mace would be similar in length, and I can easily imagine attacking and defending with a mace from the typical guard positions of the grossemesser and other cutting swords. The History Channel International program, The Weapons That Made Britain: Armor, features brief discussion of 15th century maces and shows them in use for armoured modern sparring using historically plausible techniques. That program might be another valuable addition to the collections of mace enthusiasts.
Fit and Finish
The German Mace is true to originals of the period it represents in terms of size and overall design (see accompanying photo of an authentic German mace of circa 1480). Stylistically, it might fit within the period 1480-1520. The hollow shaft is of octagonal section and features a long grip delineated by a domed pommel cap and a similar-size steel ring (both welded to the shaft). Another ring is welded to the base of the mace's head. Above this ring, near the base of each flange, is a set of small swellings. Although these may be primarily decorative, they seem sharp enough to snag clothing or flesh. The mushroom-shaped finial atop the head of the mace is welded to the flanges rather than screwed into the top of the shaft as was often done historically.
The eight flanges of the head are thicker than one might expect to see on an M2 mace but seem appropriate for a mace of M1 or transitional form. The flanges, which increase in thickness from base to tip, are very neatly welded and finished. Historically, it seems that these often were brazed to a separate piece of metal and then attached to the shaft as a single piece. Alternately, they were attached by projections in their bases that corresponded to holes in the shaft, then secured in place by brazing. Windlass has compromised by using modern welding techniques, but it's hard to see the difference and I wonder if the welding may actually create a weapon sturdier than the original examples. The welding of rings to the shaft is more noticeably modern.
A thong or cord attached the shafts of some original maces helped prevent these weapons from slipping out of the hand. The German Mace lacks holes near the top of the grip as are sometimes found on maces of the period, but two slots opposite each other under the leather at the base of the grip do make possible the addition of an historical-style retaining cord.
This mace, as ordered, arrives blackened (see photo, at right), giving it a vaguely modern look like some wonderful gizmo from Batman's belt. To the maker's great credit, this glossy finish is a true blackening of the steel rather than paint, and is beautiful and virtually flawless. If you like a black finish, it's hard to imagine a better one for the price, and it certainly is historically plausible for the early 16th century. This mace is a lovely weapon right out of the box, but I think the finish conceals its attractive details to some degree. After some hesitation (because it is such a fine finish) I decided to polish my mace up to what some might call "armour bright"gray, bare steel, but not a cheap-looking mirror polish.
I think the German Mace is one of the most attractive Windlass Steelcrafts reproductions I've examined. There are a few construction compromises but these don't significantly affect the overall visual impact or satisfying feel of the piece (although it probably should be slightly heavier). For the price of a decent dinner for two, I have a nice addition to my collection of 16th century German arms. Collectors who value a little more flash for their cash might prefer the more elaborate 15th century Gothic maces by Windlass that feature decorative cutouts and brass accents. But those attracted to the mace forms of a slightly later period aren't likely to find a more rewarding choice on the market.
About the Author
Sean Flynt is a public relations professional in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in the martial culture of all periods and people but focuses on 1450-1650, with special interest in German and Austrian arms and armour.
European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer, by Albrecht Dürer
Photographer: Sean Flynt