Believed to only be the fifth time during Her Majesty’s reign, Queen Elizabeth II has not attended this year’s Royal Maundy Service.
For the first time, Prince Charles has represented her in this duty at St. George’s Chapel, Windsor in the annual tradition.
The annual Royal Maundy service—where the monarch distributes Maundy money to retired pensioners on the Thursday before Easter—has been a staple in the Queen’s calendar since she ascended to the throne in 1952.
However, in 2020, considered to be for the first time ever, the ancient tradition of the Royal Maundy ceremony was cancelled. Centuries of tradition were overturned as one of the Church of England’s most archaic ceremonies was unable to take place due to the Queen being in isolation at Windsor Castle.
The same happened in 2021, with the Royal Maundy ceremony being cancelled for the second year in a row.
Today, Prince Charles distributed the Maundy money, a £5 coin and a 50p coin portraying the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee for the red purse, and uniquely minted Maundy money to the value of 96p for the white purse. The Prince was accompanied by his wife Camilla at the engagement.
This year, there are 96 men and 96 women—one for each of the years the Queen has been alive (she turns 96 on April 21) who have received this gift. The senior citizens selected will each receive two purses, one red and one white.
The History of Royal Maundy
Maundy Thursday is a key day during the Easter week which commemorates Jesus Christ’s last supper on the day before his crucifixion.
The Royal Maundy Church service takes place each year on this day, and is inspired by the generosity shown by Jesus in washing the feet of his disciples shortly before his death.
Its origins can be traced back to the Middle Ages, when English monarchs would wash the feet of beggars and offer gifts of food and clothing in imitation of Jesus.
However it was King John who was the first to give to the poor on Maundy Thursday and by the early 14th century, it had become customary for the sovereign to provide a meal, together with gifts of food and clothing.
Sharing the Wealth
For numismatists, the day has added significance in the form of Maundy money which is given out by the reigning monarch each year at the service.
The tradition of giving out money began with Charles II, with the first set of Maundy coins consisting of a four penny, three penny, two penny and a penny. The coins have remained in much the same form since then, and are traditionally struck in sterling silver.
At the Royal Maundy ceremony, the reigning monarch hands each recipient two small leather string purses – one white, one red. The red purse contains ordinary coinage as money (in lieu of the food and clothing which was offered years ago) and the white contains silver Maundy coins.
The Maundy coins total the age of the King or Queen in pence, so this year, as the Queen approaches her 96th birthday, each white purse will contain 96 pence.
Recognition of Service
Nowadays it is not the poor who are the recipients of this gift, but specially chosen members of the public in recognition of the service they have given to the Church and local community.
The number of men and women receiving Maundy Money also equals the age of the sovereign during the year, and since the reign of George I, the recipients have been an equal number of men and women. For example, this year 192 recipients will receive the Maundy coins – 96 men and 96 women.
The tradition and heritage behind Maundy money makes them among the most sought-after coins in British numismatic history. Their owners are part of an exclusive club which dates back centuries, and they still exemplify the generosity and selfless work of the Church during this week – the most important in the Christian calendar.
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