Maundy Money is traditionally given by the reigning Monarch
of the United Kingdom
on Maundy Thursday
. The tradition dates back to the time of King John
, who distributed alms
. The donations were made "for the robing of garments of poor men, sewing of garments 2s 2d, for 13 girdles, 13 knives, 13 breeches for the same poor men; the king fed 1,000 poor men, paid £4 13s 9d for food, 9s 4d for fish"
. This is the earliest record of Royal
Maundy generosity in financial terms, although Maundy charity has been noted (by St. Augustine
) as far back as the year 600
This special service to give gifts to pensioners is held for the Monarch in a different cathedral each year, to fulfill the Christian command "to love one another". Records show this Royal donation as being continuous since the reign of Edward I. The charity took the form of silver coins, (pennies, half-groats, threepences and groats) which were in circulation at the time. These days, there are no silver coins minted for circulation, and special coins are struck by the Royal Mint each year for the occasion (a practice which started in 1662). Maundy money has been the only sterling silver coinage minted for over 50 years - special Maundy coins being first minted in 1820.
The issue is made to the Royal Almonry (one of the most ancient offices of the Royal Household). "The coins come in sets containing one of each of the coins. Each set has a face value of 10p (10d, until decimalisation in 1971) though if recipients' families decide eventually to sell, they can fetch £60 or more at auction. Each recipient gets Maundy coins to the same face value in pence as the years of The Queen's age."
The gift is presented in a small white purse, and additional purses are also given: "The red Maundy Purse contains £3 in lieu of clothing given in earlier times, £1.50 for provisions and a further £1 for the redemption of the royal gown." According to the Royal Mint, in 1999 (the latest date currently available) there were 1,619 of each coin issued, in the modern denominations of 1p, 2p, 3p and 4p. Quotes from www.royalmint.com
The number of recipients is also governed by the Sovereign's age, and were given only to those of the same gender as the Monarch (which gave a bias in favour of the older male population). This changed quite recently, when a more equitable distribution was made.
The Sovereign has not always given the money personally. Since the 17th century, the donation was made by another member of the Royal Family or a Crown official, although since 1932, when George V made the presentation himself, it has always been carried out by the reigning Monarch.
The coins are fairly rare, and are consequently in great demand - collectors will pay handsomely for the privilege of owning a set, although Victorian Maundy sets are relatively common, as they could be ordered from the bank by anyone who chose to do so. Since Edward VII ordered that they should be available only to the recipients (in 1908) sets are rarer, and consequently, more valuable.