Tales from a Former Sheriff: The Civic Regalia

By Mansion House Team - 03 April 2020

Tales from a Former Sheriff: The Civic Regalia



Over the coming weeks, we will be bringing you guest posts from our wonderful team of volunteers, who will be sharing their incredible knowledge, and hidden gems. Today we welcome Barrie Ferguson, former Sheriff of York from 2000-2001.

Barrie's passion for, and dedication to the Mansion House is one of our greatest assets, and he remains one of our longest-serving volunteers. Barrie's wealth of knowledge, the stories from his life and civic service bring the house to life for countless visitors, and we're lucky enough to be sharing some of his insider knowledge here.

During my year as Sheriff of York in 2000/01, I became involved with the civic regalia that reflects the wonderful history which is celebrated within York’s Mansion House.

Today, the swords and the Great Mace are on full display in the Dining Room in the Mansion House and we are lucky to be able to reflect on the events that they have witnessed and the people who have walked behind these symbols of York’s heritage.



The State Sword (left above), also called the Sigismund Sword, is a sign of York’s Royal connections. The Sword is a symbol of the powers that were bestowed upon York initially by Richard II and other monarchs subsequently. The first sword was given to the City in 1387 but was later replaced by this current one, which belonged to the Emperor Sigismund of Bohemia. In 1439, it ‘found its way to York’ and has been carried in front of Lord Mayors of York ever since. When carried, the point has to be upwards. However, there was one exception to this ruling, which was the sword had to reversed in the presence of a monarch to demonstrate loyalty.



This sword plays a large part in a ceremony when the Monarch visits the City - one I was lucky enough to be involved in. On arrival at York, the monarch usually approaches Micklegate Bar, the gateway facing South West. The Lord Mayor escorts the monarch to the gate where the sword is being held. As the monarch approaches, the sword is held parallel to the ground and is lightly unsheafed. The monarch touches the blade and the sword is inverted meaning the Monarch is welcome to enter the City.

This ceremony has taken place since the fifteenth century, to welcome those monarchs the City supported.


The Great Mace (top centre) is carried to the left of the Lord Mayor, with the Sword on the right. This piece of regalia, the heaviest in the country, represents the monarch’s authority within the City. This right was enshrined in the 1396 Charter, again another Richard II conferment. This Mace dates from 1647, which is interesting in itself given that at the time, King Charles I was on the run and not likely to survive, but this did not stop the City fathers having a new symbol of their Royal Charter.




It is thought that the mace was used by the Sheriffs when out collecting fines and arresting felons, in accordance with the rights bestowed upon the City in the 1396 Charter. There were two Sheriffs until 1835, but only one ever since. The Sheriff had individual powers alongside those of the Lord Mayor. However, since 1974 there have been no powers allocated to the Sheriff and it is now a ceremonial position.


The Bowes Sword (top right) was given to the City in 1549 by Sir Martin Bowes, a York man who made his fortune in London as a Goldsmith. It was a bejewelled sword and was a ‘thank you’ gift to the City in return for not closing his local Church in the post-Reformation period. Looking at it now, it is mainly bereft of jewels as a consequence of it being presented to James VI of Scotland on the occasion of his passing through York in 1603 on his way to becoming Janes I of England. The City got its sword back in 1625 minus the jewels! It is now carried in front of the Lord Mayor to open Council Meetings and at other civic occasions.



Barrie Ferguson