Windlass Steelcrafts River Thames Mace
A hands-on review by Greyson Brown
Despite the captivating nature of swords, they were not usually the sole weapons of the medieval warrior. Spears, lances, axes, maces, and other weapons were often carried into the fray initially. The sword may have been only drawn when the initial weapon was lost, broken, or no longer useful. One of the weapons that seems to have been especially popular with the knightly class during the later Middle Ages was the mace. A mace has several advantages over a sword. It is cheaper to produce, does not require sharpening, and can cause serious damage even if it doesn't break through armour or skin. Maces are usually found either with cast heads that sport a collection of small knobs, or with forged heads composed of several longitudinal flanges around the socket. The River Thames Mace reviewed here is an example of the latter type. It is created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India and offered through Atlanta's Museum Replicas Limited.
Museum Replicas Limited (MRL) catalog states that this piece is based on an original pictured in A.V.B. Norman's Arms and Armor. The same picture appears in Arms and Armor of the Medieval Knight by David Edge and John Miles Paddock. Neither source has measurements of the original, but that information is not necessary in order to determine that the Museum Replicas mace is quite a bit different.
The first difference that I noted is not the most important, but is the one that is most obvious. Namely, the rivet-like top piece that fits into the socket is affixed with a gap of about one-half inch between the finial and the socket. The flanges are shaped so that their tops fit into this channel. On the original, there is almost no gap between the finial and the socket, and the flanges stop just below the finial.
The more important departure from the original piece is that MRL has chosen to attach two extra flanges to their mace. The original mace from the River Thames appears to have six flanges, but the replica River Thames mace sports eight.
Despite the shortcuts in assembly, the flanges are surprisingly correct in that they are wider at the edge than at the base. I am not entirely certain what the purpose of this was, as I believe a narrower edge would concentrate the force slightly more, and would make the weapon slightly more nimble. Nonetheless, it is a feature of the original that is evident in the photograph, and it has been faithfully reproduced on this example.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
The other thing that I noticed was that the momentum of the swing pulled at the weapon. It was never pulled out of my hand, but I thought that I might lose it on a few occasions. This situation was not improved by the slick leather that is wrapped around the handle. After evaluating this weapon with the factory grip, I rewrapped it with a heavy spiral cord wrap under new leather. This made the grip noticeably more secure.
I used water filled jugs and a rusty old water heater for my evaluations of this mace, and it performed admirably against both targets. Blows against the water jugs usually resulted in the cap being forced off the jug by the force, but on one occasion the plastic jug actually broke open. The water heater was a bit more resilient, but still ended up with several rather large dents in it.
Fit and Finish
Rather than each flange being secured along its length, there is a small weld at top and bottom holding each in place. It looks almost as if each flange was tacked in place in preparation for final welding, and that that step was overlooked. These welds also show grind marks from where they have been cleaned up a bit, which only helps to make them look decidedly modern. This form of construction is solid enough, but does not reflect historical construction, and is an unpleasant reminder that I am holding an inexpensive interpretation of history rather than a quality replica. Of course, this is an inexpensive piece and that must be considered.
The haft that came on this weapon was not too bad. There are some marks on the butt end that appear to be left over from the haft being shaped on a lathe; they have been filled, but are still somewhat visible. Additionally, the haft was not tapered quite straight, which gives the whole piece a humpbacked look. As a result, the head is off-center enough to create a bizarre visual effect which is especially noticeable right below the socket. It does not affect handling, however. The feature of the haft that does affect handling, though, is the already mentioned leather wrapping. It is fitted well and the stitching is actually rather nice, but the leather is just too slick to provide a good grip.
Thanks to the deviation from the original piece, this is not a replica of the mace found in the Thames at all. The correct number of flanges and appropriate arrangement of the finial would have gone a long way towards making this mace what I had expected, and I do not believe those improvements would have changed the price of the piece much, if at all. If Museum Replicas Limited had marketed this piece as a general flanged medieval mace, I might have overlooked the obviously welded construction with its grind marks. As it is, there are too many inaccuracies for me to be content with it.
This could still be a viable choice for some collectors, and I have no doubt that the appearance and handling of the piece could be improved with a little imagination and the right tools. Simply rewrapping the handle did help. It also means I will not be returning the mace, but my search for a decent 14th century mace will definitely not end here either.
About the Author
Greyson Brown is a soldier in the United States Army, and a student of European history. He has been interested in arms and armour for as long as he can remember. That interest has also inspired him to become a hobby blacksmith.
Arms & Armor of the Medieval Knight, by David Edge, John Miles Paddock
Photographer: Greyson Brown