12th Century England was an “armed camp,” much like its sister societies on the continent. The nobility “carried” as a class duty; their swords were essentially side arms strapped to a belt. The peasant classes had spears and axes, useful in daily chores and hunting, but also essential when the lord of the manor conscripted them to do their duty on the battlefield. Peasants did not carry swords; they were so expensive that, in the later Middle Ages, they were used as collateral for loans. A sword was far more valuable than an ordinary human being.

Spears, also called pole arms, were essentially sharp points on a stick at least five feet in length. The basic idea was to stab an enemy before he could stab you. The axe had the advantage of being heavier than spears and swords, and since the heaviest part was furthest away from the hands wielding it, it was harder to stop the blow once it was in motion. Though popular with peasants, axes constructed specifically for battle were also used by the elite. Robert I (Robert the Bruce) of Scotland used a battle axe to kill Sir Henry de Bohan in the Battle of Bannockburn, in 1314, when Scotland secured its independence from England.

The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language has a secondary definition for battle-axe: “A woman held to be antagonistic or overbearing.”

Another popular medieval weapon was the mace, a home-made device consisting of a shaft with a heavy head on one end. The beauty of this weapon was that a blow from any side of the head was effective. The shaft could be wooden, wood reinforced by metal or all metal. The head could be stone, copper, bronze, iron or steel, but all heads had one thing in common: spikes or similar protrusions meant to cause damage. To get a mental picture of this mace head, imagine the more recent cartoon-type representations of a Covid virus. Continue to imagine this viral weapon coming at you with considerable force. While armor and chain mail protected cavalry soldiers from swords, spears and arrows, the mace could inflict damage on these same men even without penetrating the armor or mail. The length of a mace varied; those carried by foot soldiers were two to three feet long. Those carried by horsemen were longer.

A caveat on the word armor. I am using the American spelling for that word. Armour is the preferring spelling for all other main varieties of English.

The reinvention of the mace over subsequent centuries attests to its place of honor in the annals of history. By the 14th century, the mace had evolved into the Morning Star, a club with one long spike at the end and many smaller spikes around the head. One form of the Morning Star was the Holy Water Sprinkler, which got its name from its resemblance to the perforated container used in Catholic mass. It was quite popular with religious peasants.

Today, the mace lives on as a symbol of authority, used by governmental bodies, universities and other institutions in their rituals and processions. It is also the trademark name for an aerosol product used to temporarily immobilize an attacker. Lastly, it is a spice made from the covering that partly encloses the kernel of a nutmeg. Very versatile, this mace thing. And for more about spices, please read my Snippet on that subject.