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History of Cane 9

The Canes in the Middle Age

The cane, whether a walking help, or a social status symbol, goes out of fashion in the Middle Age; As Kings and nobility remain in their castle, or go to war on horseback, the cane is replaced by the sceptre, or the hand of justice, symbol of authority and temporal power. It appears during the 9th century, and remains in use in coronation ceremonies, until the French Revolution in 1789.

To touch the sceptre, or kiss it, was the greatest favour a subject could dream of, and represented also, a proof of submission. The oldest known royal sceptre, is the one of Clovis. An eagle set on a clump of leaves, decorates its extremity .

In ceremonies, kings are often represented with a sceptre in one hand, and a baton in the other. These two objects respectively, indicate the power to reward, and the ability to punish.

During the XIII° c., bishoprics had been given large domains , sometimes entire provinces. Bishops had the right to govern them and were in fact little kings .They carried a cane with a knob, shaped with a Tau or a curved end, with ivory, mother of pearl or gold engravings, decorated with precious stones or enamels. The curvature was, in a sense, a replica of the roman lituus pontificius.

The spiritual and temporal attributes of the pastoral cane, can be summarised in one sentence: “win people’s mind with the high extremity of the cane , govern them with the middle part , punish them with the lower tip” .

It can be observed, that the pastoral cane is still used by the Pope (ferula apostolica) and his bishops, during certain ceremonies.

As far as the abbots heading monasteries are concerned, their powers were recognised, only once they had been given their batons, symbol of all their prerogatives. They could, for instance, free themselves from the bishop’s authority, lead processions, keep their heads covered. Their verdicts became law.

Abbots were carrying canes, with an inward curvature which meant an authority, limited to their monasteries. Bishops, in turn had a cane with an outward curvature signifying their legal juridiction over the whole diocese.


At the same time, large building sites, start appearing for the construction of cathedrals. In turn, building workers, grouped in guilds and called “compagnons”, re-introduce the use of the walking stick as they travel from site to site.

Walking sticks varied in appearance from guild to guild. Certain sticks were short and innocent-looking. Others , covered with steel and copper looked threatening. To take away a stick from a “compagnon” was a very serious offence. But the culprit of such an offence, would consider it an act of bravery.

When starting his “Tour de France” (an obligation to belong to a guild)” the”compagnon” was carrying his cane on the shoulder. Leaders of groups held theirs high in the air. When attending the wedding or the burial of another compagnon, the cane was held, pointing up or down depending on the occasion. But canes always bore the colours of the guild.

Carrying a cane, symbolic object if there is one, was considered as paying a tribute to Maitre Jacques who was murdered in 989 before Christ. A cane, probably used for self defence, was found near his dead body.

Philippe Auguste was the first King in 1191 to bestow the baton of “Marshal of France”, the highest rank in the French Army. This was abolished during the Revolution.

The secular or layman’s cane became over time a weapon. In the Constitution promulgated by Charlemagne, duels were only allowed with a cane. Later the lords switched to swords, leaving laymen fight one another with sticks

During the Holy Crusades, tournaments were organised, where instead of the usual lances, canes made up of light wood or bulrush were used : it was known as the “game of canes”. However, for tough fighting, canes were equipped, with a piece of steel shaped as a blade called “estoc”. This is where the expression “frapper d’estoc et de taille” comes from, or in plain English “to cut and thrust”

Pilgrims also carried a cane called “the Bourdon”. It was blessed before departing for St Jacques de Compostelle or for the Holy Land. It was used for defence purposes, to hide relics, to transport spices or other rare items or simply to carry belongings