Henry VIII’s Carmarthen sword changes hands
By Neil Prior
For 59 years, John Mattick has been the custodian of a piece of history, but now it has been passed onto a younger man.
Since 1954, he has carried Carmarthen’s ceremonial sword of office at civic events, a tradition going back to the 16th Century.
Mr Mattick took up the sword from his father, who carried it in front of the mayor from 1948, and at a ceremony on Friday night in the town’s Guild Hall the 77-year-old officially passed it on to his own son.
The bejewelled weapon of Castilian steel was granted to Carmarthen by Henry VIII in 1546 in recognition of the town’s service to the king.
The physical weight [of the sword] reminds you of the metaphorical weight of just exactly what it is you’re doing”
It is not known exactly what that service was, although it is thought Carmarthen gave the king either money or soldiers.
According to royal charter, it must be carried in front of the town’s mayor at all official ceremonies. And weighing in at around 15kg, that’s not a task for the faint hearted.
“It is a weighty thing to carry, and that’s mainly why I’m having to give it up at my age,” Mr Mattick said.
“But the physical weight reminds you of the metaphorical weight of just exactly what it is you’re doing. Lots of people scoff these days and say it’s only a pantomime of the past.
“But in these rituals, we remember the people and events which went before us; you’re holding in your hand a piece of living history.”
Mr Mattick explained that while ceremonial these days, when it was originally granted the sword held a practical purpose.
“In any town the size of Carmarthen during the 16th Century, the mayor would require protection.
“But when the protection came in such a visible and ornate form as this, it sent out a clear message that the holder was under the protection of the king himself and that would-be assailants ought to beware.”
It is one of just four such swords granted by Henry VIII, and only two examples survive; the other in Hereford.
There are specific rules regarding its use.
It should only be unsheathed at times of war or when the mayor and mayoress are in immediate danger and must be held upside-down in any place of worship.
It will be officially handed over from father to son as part of a ceremony to swear-in the new mayor of Carmarthen.