Newcastle Numismatic Society Inc
|Posted on June 24, 2018 at 1:50 AM|
The Maundy ceremony originates from the washing of the feet of the twelve Disciples by Jesus on the night before his crucifixion and the Mandatum left by Jesus: - ‘He took a towel and girded himself, took a basin of water and washed His Disciples’ feet saying after” I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you.”’ Similar acts of humility have since been performed by monarchs and religious leaders in many countries throughout history.
The ceremony evolved in England to the present day ceremony. It developed from the washing of the feet of 12 poor people into a distribution of money, food and clothing, then to money only to the chosen people. The washing of the feet can be traced back to the 5th century performed after Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday. In time it became customary for the ruling monarch to perform the ceremony and, in addition to washing the feet of a number of poor people especially chosen, gifts of money, food and clothing were also made. In Tudor and earlier times queen-consorts gave their Maundy and it was normal for prelates, great noblemen and high officers of state to also distribute maundy, usually only to twelve people representing the twelve Disciples.
Recipients are chosen from among those who apply to the Royal Almonry for assistance, preference being given to those who have formerly been householders paying rates and taxes and who have been employers of labour. The general public may obtain tickets, so far as space allows, by application to the Royal Almonry. Along the centuries it became the custom to choose as many pensioners of each sex as the number of years in their age, also the kings and queens carried it further in that their monetary gifts consisted of as many pence as he or she had years. Henry IV is thought to be the sovereign who introduced this custom in 1562 and thus Queen Elizabeth will give eighty-four men and women apart from other cash, a purse containing eighty-four silver Maundy pence this year 2010. These coins are specially minted silver pieces, made up of 1d, 2d, 3d and 4d pieces.
After the washing of the feet gifts of money, food and clothing were also made. In 1724, owing to the female recipients being eager to see if the clothes they received fitted, created a disturbance, so a money allowance was given instead, although for a time material was given in lieu. The cost of getting this material made up into clothes was out of the pensioners reach so the material was replaced by the money value. In 1837 a money allowance replaced the gift of provisions in the forms of food and drink. The reason for this was that the provisions were often sold by the recipients for only a fraction of their cost. Another custom which came into use was the donation of the gown which the sovereign was wearing at the Maundy ceremony to the recipient considered to be the worthiest. Queen Mary used to give her best gown to the poorest and oldest recipient, but Elizabeth I was too vain to give up her lavishly bejeweled gowns so 20 shillings redemption money was, and still is given to each of the Maundy recipients instead. The practice of washing the feet was last performed by Charles II in 1685 (Charles I and previous sovereigns had refrained from observing the custom on occasion to avoid contracting plague). 1685 was also the last year until 1932 when the ruling monarch attended the ceremony. Subsequent ceremonies were attended by the Lord High Almoner or by other members of the Royal family. George V restored the custom personally attending in 1932.
At the ceremony two distributions are made. The First Distribution, instead of clothing white purses containing £2.25 (including a crown piece) is presented to the men and a green purse containing £1.75 is distributed to the women. In the Second Distribution each recipient received two purses. One is red with long white strings containing £2.50 (£1.50 is in lieu of food and 20/- for the redemption of the sovereign’s gown). The other is a white purse with long red strings and contains the gift of most interest – the sets of silver Maundy coins consisting of the same number of pence as the years in the sovereign’s age. These pence were current circulating hammered coinage until two years after Charles II’s restoration when specially minted sets of milled 1d, 2d, 3d and 4d pieces were used and with few exceptions have existed to this day.
Charles II 1660-1685
James II 1685-1688
William and Mary 1688-1694
William III 1694-1702
George I 1714-1727
George II 1727-1760
George III 1760-1820
George IV 1820-1830
William IV 1830-1837
Edward VII 1903-1910
George V 1910-1936
George VI 1936-1952
Elizabeth II 1952-
During the reign of Charles II the first two hammered issues bore no marks of value, but the third, a milled issue had Roman numerals to denote the requisite number of pence for each denomination. From 1670 to the end of the reign the reverse of all the coins were dated and the king’s initial “C” was interlinked to denote the value of the coins. He also established the custom whereby each of the sovereigns face in the reverse direction from the profile of their predecessor. From James II the reverse has always shown a crowned figure value. James II used Roman numerals and all his successors have preferred Arabic figures. George IV’s 3d had a smaller head than should be. The original die broke and there was no time to re engrave a die so the mint improvised with the die for the half groat.
With a few exceptions such as King John’s celebration at Rochester and Charles Is distribution by proxy at York Minster in 1639, money and gifts have always been presented at London. Until it was closed in 1890 the ceremony was held at the old Chapel Royal in Whitehall, then it moved to Westminster Abbey except for two occasions when it was closed in preparation for coronations and the ceremony was transferred to St Paul’s Cathedral. Queen Elizabeth II inaugurated the custom of allowing other places to share in this ancient and honourable custom and restricted the ceremony at Westminster to alternate years.
The fineness of silver used for the Maundy coins to 1920 was .925 when it was brought into line with the other silver coins issued to 50% silver 50% alloy. On the introduction of cupronickel in 1947 it was enacted that the Maundy coins should henceforth contain the old .925 standard silver.
Coin collectors were not so interested in the ceremony but in the coins that were used. In former days anyone could obtain a set of Maundy money by applying to his bank, but this greatly increased the number struck and hence depreciated their value as collector’s pieces. In 1909 the old people petitioned King Edward VII that this privilege be cancelled and so by the king’s express command only enough sets were to be minted for the old folk and the various officials taking part in the ceremony.
Maundy money is therefore, one of the world’s smallest issues of coins. The collector should always bear in mind the charitable purpose for which it is struck. However, the collector may obtain it, it comes from the hand of someone who has taken some part in the ceremony, if only as remotely as helping in the actual striking of the coins themselves. Maundy money is worthy of some respect. It is not lightly given, nor should it be lightly obtained.