Category: money

The Queen’s Maundy Money: Silver for the Poor on Maundy Thursday

By , April 2, 2010 2:22 am

The Day Before the Easter Holiday Starts

Every year, the Royal Mint makes special coins, of pure silver, with different values from normal coins.

The Queen then takes these coins, placed in specially-made leather purses, and gives her age in pence to a number of men and women equal to her age in a Cathedral ceremony, every Maundy Thursday.

Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, is in many ways the start of the Easter holiday in England.

The Queen's Maundy Money, especially minted, comes in red and white leather purses

The Queen's Maundy Money, especially minted, comes in red and white leather purses


Although it’s a working day, it’s rather like Christmas Eve – lots of people will either take the day off, or make an early get-away for the 4-day Easter weekend. (There is a holiday on Good Friday and a bank holiday on Easter Monday, so it’s a nice break from the regular working routine).

There is a centuries-old tradition of a Maundy ceremony (from c.600 AD) and more recently (since the time of King John or so) a ceremony on Maundy Thursday involving the King or Queen, in which coins are given to the deserving poor.

This post is about the history and practice of the Queen’s Maundy Money.

Origin of the phrase “Maundy Thursday”

The Queen's Maundy Money ceremony in 1898, at Westminster Abbey

The Queen's Maundy Money ceremony in 1898, at Westminster Abbey

There is not a united view about the origin of the phrase.  The most popular idea is that it comes from the phrase Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos in the Latin Vulgate Bible, where Christ said to his apostles, A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you. (Gospel according to St. John, 13.34). 

Mandatum, which is also the origin of the words “mandatory”, “mandamus” and “mandate”, is thought to be the origin of the “Maundy” part of the phrase, and the “Thursday” part is rather self-explanatory.

Early Maundy Ceremonies

An important part of early Maundy Thursday celebrations was the washing of poor people’s feet, in imitation of Christ, and to show essential humility and the equal-before-God idea (a concept that most medieval bishops honoured more in the breach than the observance, as a general rule).

Foot washing was done by bishops and other important clergymen, and also by the King or Queen, until the mid 17th century – King James II was the last monarch to wash feet personally. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, does it each Maundy Thursday now.

The washing of feet comes from the Last Supper, where Christ washed the feet of his disciples during the Passover celebrations.

Giving To the Poor

The Queen at the Maundy Money ceremony in 1952, her first public engagement as Queen

The Queen at the Maundy Money ceremony in 1952, her first public engagement as Queen

Anglo-Norman Kings certainly appear to have given alms to the poor on Maundy Thursday.

King John is recorded as having given alms to the poor in Knaresborough, in Yorkshire, when he happened to be there for Holy Week in 1210 AD. He gave knives, clothes and food. (There are lots of references to his giving forks, too. That strikes me as inherently unlikely, because people didn’t use forks for eating until several centuries later).

It is unlikely that King John was the first English King to give alms on this day.

Medieval Maundy Money

The first recorded giving of money to commemorate Maundy Thursday is during the reign of Edward I, who ruled from 1272 (and was King John’s grandson).

The process became more formalised, and more important after the Reformation, as the King or Queen was then not only the ruler of the secular country, but head of the Church of England, too.

Queen Elizabeth II’s Maundy Money

A 3d coin, or thruppeny bit, showing the "young" Queen's head which still appears on Maundy money today

A 3d coin, or thruppeny bit, showing the "young" Queen's head which still appears on Maundy money today

The process has been pretty similar for some decades, now.

Each Maundy Thursday, the Queen gives out Maundy purses at one of England’s Cathedrals. The only exception was in 2008, where the ceremony was held in St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland cathedral, in Armagh, Northern Ireland.

The red and white Maundy purses are given to a number of elderly men and women, chosen now from the local area for charitable and other good works. There is one man and one woman for each of the Queen’s years – so as she is now 84 years old, on 1st April 2010 she gave Maundy money to 84 men and 84 women, in Derby Cathedral.

The white purse contains a £5 coin and a 50p coin, and the red purse contains 1p, 2p, 3p and 4p coins, adding up to the Queen’s age again. So the 84 men and 84 women get 84 pence in coins in their red leather purses.

A 50 pence piece in general circulation, showing the Queen's most recent portrait

A 50 pence piece in general circulation, showing the Queen's most recent portrait

The coins are not normal coins. 1p, 2p and 50p coins are in general circulations, but 3p, 4p and £5 coins are not. These coins are all legal tender, for their face value, but are obviously worth a great deal more than 3p or whatever.

Unlike modern coins, which are struck from alloys, the Maundy Money coins are minted each year, from sterling silver, so the coins are 92.5% silver.

In addition, the specially-minted coins feature the first portrait of Elizabeth II, issued on her coins from 1953. This “young portrait” was replaced on normal coins in 1962, but remains on each year’s Maundy Money.

Until 1909, extra sets of Maundy coins were struck and could be purchased. Edward VIII decided to abolish this, and since 1909, the only sets of Maundy coins issued have been to the recipients at the annual ceremony.

Obviously, the number of coins increases each year as the Queen gets older, and the number of pennies issued rises by one, as does the number of men and women who receive them.

The BBC’s article about 2010′s ceremony in Derby can be read here, and the Monarchy’s official article about the ceremony is here.



Old English money – pounds, shillings and pence before decimalisation

By , August 27, 2009 1:51 am

Introduction

Countries now tend to have 100 thingy-ma-bobs to the what-cha-call-it.  Whether it’s 100 cents to the dollar, 100 pennies to the pound, or 100 centime to the franc, base 10 is where it’s all at with currency.

But until recently in the United Kingdom, easy-to-add decimal currency was foreign. From the Anglo-Saxons in the Dark Ages up until 1971, it was far more complicated than that!

Names for different amounts changed over the centuries – no-one was talking about a noble or a groat in 1970. But pounds, shillings and pence had been in place for more than 1,000 years.

A sovereign minted in 1558, during the reign of Elizabeth I

A sovereign minted in 1558, during the reign of Elizabeth I


This article is about old English money, and in memory of the school children who sweated over “money sums” in English schools.

Pounds, shillings and pence

A pound was made up of 20 shillings, and a shilling was 12 pennies. So £1 was 240 pence. Not the easiest of figures to use on calculators, and hence, decimalisation in 1971.

Amounts of money were written as l s d, for pounds, shillings and pence.  5s was 5 shillings, often just written as 5/-. And 5s 6d was 5 shillings and sixpence – and was often, instead, written as 5/6.  “Shillings” was written as “s” from the Latin word solidus , and pennies or pence was written as “d” from the Latin word denarius. These were both old Roman coins.

A half crown from the first year of Elizabeth II's reign, 1953

A half crown from the first year of Elizabeth II's reign, 1953


In spoken English, the “shilling” word was often missed out – so a shopkeeper might say, “that’ll be 5 and 6, please”, meaning 5 shillings and six pence.

Names of different amounts of currency

A one shilling piece from 1956, used as a 5p piece until 1990

A one shilling piece from 1956, used as a 5p piece until 1990

It wasn’t as simple as pounds, shillings and pence, though.

Lots of different small amounts of money had their own names. Some were obvious – such as “thruppence” for three pence, some much less obvious, such as “tanner” for six pence.

Here is a list of those in common use in the couple of decades before decimalisation:

Quid – pound. Still used today, and has no plural. So you have one quid, and ten quid

Crown – 5 s. Not usually issued as an actual coin, except for commemorations, but used as a unit in common language

A sixpence, or tanner. Used as 2.5 pence until 1980.

A sixpence, or tanner. Used as 2.5 pence until 1980.

Half-crown – 2/6

Florin – 2s

Bob – 1s

Tanner – 6d

Joey, thruppence or thrup’ney bit – 3d

Hapney – 1/2d, prounced “HAYP-nee”

Farthing – 1/4d

Guineas, sovereigns and half-sovereigns

The guinea

Guinea coins were produced between 1663 and 1813, and bizarrely, the value of it fluctuated according to the relative prices of gold and silver.

Although no guineas were minted as normal coins after 1818, the term continued to be used, although it became a fixed sum of 1 pound and 1 shilling, or 21s. Prices were still sometimes quoted in guineas – when my father entered pupillage to become a barrister, the price payable was 100 guineas, or £105.

The term continued to be used for snooty puposes after decimalisation (now meaning £1.05 instead of £1 1s), such as fine wine buying or tailor-made suits. It is used to this day in horse trading, and a number of horse races still have the word “Guinea” in the title , indicating the original value of the prize.

Sovereigns and half-sovereigns

These were gold coins, produced when the pound was still tied to the gold standard. They were worth £1 and 10s respectively. These are still produced to this day, although they don’t contain much gold for £1-worth!

Continued use of old coins after 1971

A 1932 florin, worth 2 shillings. Used as a 10p coin from 1971 to 1994

A 1932 florin, worth 2 shillings. Used as a 10p coin from 1971 to 1994

A number of pre-decimal coins were used for many years after decimalisation. The florin, or 2s, became worth 10 new pence, and the shilling became worth 5 new pence.

The coins themselves were the same – so as a child and teenager (I was born at the end of the 1970s), if I wanted to pay for something costing 10p, I could quite happily use a 1935 florin.

The sixpence, now worth 2.5 new pence, was used until 1980.

The shilling, now worth 5 new pence, was used until 1990

The florin, or two shilling coin, was worth 10 new pence, and was used until 1994.

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