Mercenaries, Trade and Warfare: The New Ross Macehead

New Ross Macehead

This distinctive late medieval civic mace is currently on display in the Waterford Museum of Treasures. However, its origins lie in the neighbouring county of Wexford, where it once resided in the town of New Ross.

It was taken in 1518 when New Ross was assaulted by a motley force of foreign mercenaries and Irish soldiers, who had sailed up the River Barrow from the nearby city of Waterford. As the colourful account below details, the belligerents used a variety of weapons in their assault and New Ross was quickly overcome.

citizens and commons of the city of Waterford, at the command of Patrick Roofe, mayor of the said city, together with many Spaniards, Frenchmen, Bretons and Irish, came riotously with a fleet of boats and ships, in piratical or warlike fashion variously armed: to wit, with surcoats, coats of mail, helmets, shields, spears, swords, lances, cross-bows, weapons, bows, arrows, broad-axes, and bombards or cannon, on the 20 th Day of May in the 10th year of the reign of Henry VIII [1518], to assault and besiege, in a piratical and warlikemanner, the town of Ross. So that, intimidated by this assault and siege, and for the preservation of the aforesaid town of Ross, the Sovereign and Commons of the aforesaid town were compelled to deliver to the aforesaid bailiffs and commons of the City of Waterford a mace of silver gilt, to the value of £20.’ (Hore 1900, p. 232).

A medieval depiction of an army sailing to Waterford city (from Jean Creton, Histoire rimée de Richard II)

This river borne attack was the culmination of a long running dispute between Waterford and New Ross over the control of trade into the south-east of Ireland. Both towns were important ports and their close proximity lead to an intense rivalry. This hostility resulted in numerous legal petitions during the medieval period as well as occasional eruptions of piracy and warfare.

However, the attack of 1518 finally settled the conflict and the citizen’s of New Ross were forced to acknowledged Waterford’s supremacy. As part of this process they handed over the town’s mace, which was a potent symbol of New Ross’ civic pride and independence.

Measuring just over 30 cm long and fashioned out of silver the New Ross mace can now be viewed in the Waterford Museum of Treasures.



Doran, B and Doran L. (2010) ‘Items from the Archive: drawings of New Ross maces and a small letter‘ in Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 140

Herbert Hore, P.  (1900) History of the Town and County of Wexford, 6 vols, i London, p. 232

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