Power and Ceremony in the Medieval World: Symbols of Lordship

This guest blog comes from Charlie Trzeciak, who joined us as a volunteer in September. Charlie has enjoyed helping out at a number of events so far, and here he writes about hearing Professor Hudson of the School of History talk about ‘Symbols of Lordship’ at MUSA last month.

The St Andrews Maces exhibited as part of the Medieval Maces exhibition

Hello! My name is Charlie and I am a student on the Museum and Gallery Studies course at the University of St Andrews. I also volunteer at MUSA, helping to steward the museum’s fantastic temporary exhibition ‘Medieval Maces: Power and Ceremony’. Despite having now spent a considerable amount of time in the gallery where the maces are held, I continue to be fascinated by these beautiful objects. It is this – as well as the fact that the more I know the less likely I am to be caught out by a visitor’s unexpected question – that has motivated me to attend some of the events which the museum is holding in conjunction with the exhibition.

It was with some enthusiasm therefore, that I attended Professor Hudson’s talk ‘Symbols of Lordship’ on 12th November. Professor Hudson is the Head of School for the History Department, and had promised to illuminate for his audience the colourful world from which these maces appeared.

CharlieBlog Prof. Hudson and Steven
Steven (another MUSA volunteer) meeting Prof. Hudson after his talk.

There were three key ways in which lordship was manifested during this period. The first was through the use of physical symbols. Horses, for example, allowed a warrior to quite literally look down on the world around him. Their sheer cost meant that they could only be afforded by the ‘better-sort’, meaning that they became symbols of social superiority. The second means by which lordship was asserted was through ritual devices. A good example of this was the ritual of ‘homage’, in which a man would pledge his allegiance to a superior by kneeling and placing his hands between those of his lord. Finally, tokens were used to show a man’s nobility. Giving a feast for one’s dependents, for example, was a good way of showing one’s wealth and authority.

The St Andrews maces in procession

The University maces were a product of this medieval European culture which placed great importance upon symbolism and ceremony. Indeed, the Faculty of Arts Mace was deemed such a crucial symbol of the University’s status that it was purchased before the University could afford books or buildings! Overall, the talk provided a fascinating glimpse into the medieval world in which the maces originated.

I am now really looking forward to the ‘Inspired By’ lunchtime talk on December 5th where Curator Jessica Burdge will be speaking about the hidden treasures of the University’s museum collection!


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