In 2020, perhaps for the first time ever, the ancient tradition of the Royal Maundy ceremony has been cancelled.
Centuries of tradition have been overturned as one of the Church of England’s most archaic ceremonies is unable to take place due to the Queen being in isolation at Windsor Castle.
No-one knows for sure when, or if, Royal Maundy has been cancelled before. Even during wartime, King George VI and the Archbishop of Canterbury were able to uphold the tradition.
However, the unprecedented circumstances the world is facing right now means there is simply no other option than to break tradition…
Today’s ceremony was due to take place in St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle with a choral accompaniment.
Now, rather than handing out the Maundy money consignments individually, the Queen has written personally to the 188 recipients saying, “The traditional Maundy money, which had been blessed in the Chapel Royal, was enclosed”, and the ceremonial red and white leather purses containing Maundy money have been delivered remotely by Royal Mail, for the first time since the tradition began.
So where does this tradition come from and what is the history behind Maundy money?
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 94th birthday, each white purse will contain 94 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 188 recipients will receive the Maundy coins – 94 men and 94 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.
Sadly, this year, tradition has been broken and the Royal Maundy ceremony will not take place. Whilst the overturning of this ancient ceremony reflects the difficult and truly unprecedented times we are currently facing, it does not detract from the hard work and dedication of the well-deserving receivers of the Maundy money this year.
Her Majesty’s personalised letters to each receipiant demonstrate that even in the toughest of times, its important to honour those who give to our community.
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Standing strong for over 1,100 years throughout Britain’s wars, political upheavals, social and economic progress and technological and scientific advances, The Royal Mint’s history can be traced back through our country’s coinage.
But it was on the 17th of December 50 years ago that The Queen herself opened the new site for The Royal Mint, which was moved to a purpose-built site in Llantrisant following 157 years at Tower Hill, London.
This was the first time since its inception that The Royal Mint had been based outside of London, and marked an incredibly important moment in the history of our coins.
The move to Llantrisant
In 1966 it was announced that Britain would adopt a new decimal currency. This meant that hundreds of millions of new coins would need striking and Tower Hill simply didn’t have enough space to cope with this demand and so the decision was made to find a new location for The Royal Mint.
Llantrisant made it onto the shortlist of the top 7 locations, and as James Callaghan (Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Mint and an MP for Cardiff) supported a move to Wales, Llantrisant was chosen for the big move.
Britain’s new Mint
The announcement was made in 1967 and construction soon began on the new site. For the Llantrisant area, the move meant more work and a regeneration of the town, as well as adding to the sense of history and tradition. It was estimated that the move would provide 10,000 jobs to South Wales.
It was in 1968 that the site was officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen when she switched on the coining presses to begin production of decimal bronze coins.
Llantrisant was built to house the most advanced coining machinery in the world and have a larger capacity than any other mint in Europe, necessary to cope with the amount of new coinage needed.
When the site opened, the circulating coin presses could strike up to 200 coins per minute, however the latest generation of presses today strike around 750 coins per minute!
Decimalisation of Britain’s coins
The 15th of February 1971 is known as the day that Britain “went decimal”.
Whilst this was the official ‘Decimal Day’, three years before this, the new 5p and 10p coins were actually introduced. These coins were the same size and value as the existing one and two shilling coins to make the transition easier for the British public.
It was in 1969 that the first seven sided coin – the 50p – was introduced to replace the 10-shilling note as a more economical alternative and then finally, on Monday 15 February 1971, the transition was complete when the half penny, 1p and 2p coins were also introduced.
The new Mint at Llantrisant successfully transformed hundreds of years of everyday currency from 12 pennies to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound, to the new pound made from 100 new pence.
Today the Royal Mint is the market leader and the largest single supplier of plated coins and blanks in Europe. They can produce 90 million coins and blanks a week – that’s almost 5 billion coins a year!
And all this has been made possible thanks to the advanced facilities at Llantrisant, as pictured above, without which the move to decimal coinage simply wouldn’t have been possible.
Own this Historic Royal Mint anniversary DateStamp™
To mark the move of The Royal Mint to Llandistrant, you have the opportunity to own the Royal Mint in Wales 50th Anniversary DateStampTM.
Featuring the 2016 Wales £20 coin with the iconic Welsh dragon design, and postmarked 17th December 2018, exactly 50 years since The Royal Mint moved to Wales.
*** UPDATE 12/08/2019 ***
The Chancellor Sajid Javid has asked officials if it will be possible to produce Brexit 50p coins in time for Britain’s departure from the EU in October 2019.
Previously, Chancellor Philip Hammond planned for just 10,000 commemorative Brexit coins to be struck for the event, however Javid intends millions of Brexit 50ps to be produced for circulation.
As mentioned in the blog below, the coin will have the words, “Peace, Prosperity and Friendship with all nations” and feature the date of Brexit – now 31st October 2019.
But with only a few months to go, will the coins be signed off by the Queen’s privy council and struck by The Royal Mint in time for Brexit?
It’s official! A Brexit 50p WILL be issued by The Royal Mint to mark the UK’s exit from the EU!
Within his budget, the Chancellor unveiled his advanced plans for the 50p coin, which will be released in Spring 2019.
As such a controversial issue, which has created much disruption across the UK and the EU since the referendum in June 2016, Philip Hammond hopes that this new coin, which is expected to bear the phrase ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’, will promote the positivity of the event.
In our previous blog, we asked Change Checkers if they would like to see a Brexit coin and 68% of you believed that such a significant moment in Britain’s history should be commemorated with a 50p coin. The Government has now finally conceded to create a gesture for this landmark moment and recognise its importance, although Treasury sources say the department has secretly been working on plans for the coin for months now.
The importance of Brexit can now be likened to Britain’s entry to the European Economic Community, which was then incorporated into the EU in 1993. A 50p coin was issued in 1973 to mark the occasion, featuring nine hands clasping each other in a circle, symbolising the nine member states of the community, intended to represent the trust, assistance and friendship which comes with EEC membership. So important was this event, that in 1998 the first “new sized” commemorative 50p was issued to commemorate 25 years of the UK in the EEC.
89,775,000 of the 1973 50p coins were struck for collectors but is no longer in circulation, whilst the 1998 coin has a mintage figure of 5,043,000 and can still be found in circulation.
It seems that the idea of commemorating Brexit in some way is popular amongst collectors, as commemorative 50p shaped Brexit souvenirs are now available on eBay and are currently selling for £6.99. These are not legal tender, but go to show that a Brexit 50p coin is certainly in demand and could be incredibly sought-after.
An order has now been issued by Mr Hammond to The Royal Mint advisory committee to draw up a designs for the Brexit 50p coin, which should be signed off later this year. Just as the EEC 50p from 1973 intended to promote the development of new relationships, so too will the Brexit 50p, but what do you think about the plans for the new coin?
We posted a poll on our Facebook page to find out what Change Checkers think and 66% of you think we should have a Brexit coin, compared to just 34% voted against the coin and the majority opinion seems to be that we had a coin for entering the EU, so we should also have one for leaving.
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