Friday, December 12, 2008

Question from Bailey - Maundy Thursday services

I know that Mary I and Elizbeth I performed Maundy services - where on Easter Thursday they would humbly wash the feet of the poor and give them alms. According to Anne Boleyn's chaplain William Latymer, Anne did likewise, so we can assume that her mother-in-law Elizabeth of York, and Henry VIII's other wives did as well.

But I'm curious whether this was a ritual normally performed by queens in Tudor (or even earlier medieval times), or did kings (like Henry VII and Henry VIII) presumedly take part too? And would Edward VI being the strict Protestant that he was?

Henry VIII, being a devout Catholic, was known to have at least 'crept to the cross' on Good Friday. Perhaps he did washing too, but maybe it was just never commented upon at the time.

Thoughts anyone?


Anonymous said...

I have read in an Alison Weir biography that Henry VIII did participate in the Royal Maundy ceremony. Although she states that a Yeoman of the Laundry would first scrub the feet of the poor so as not to offend the royal nose.

Foose said...

I have looked at the sources and there is abundant evidence that the king distributed money to a number of poor men equal to the king's own age on Maundy Thursday, like this document from March 12, 1532:

Warrant to lord Windsor, keeper of the Great Wardrobe, to pay for the following goods; viz., a gown of violet in-grain, furred with martrons; 42 gowns and hoods of russet cloth, and 42 pairs of leather shoes, for 42 poor men; and 224 ells of linen cloth for the King's maundy; 20 ells of canvas and two foot sheets for the Wardrobe of Robes; canvas and cord to pack them, and a cart for carriage from London to Greenwich.

Note the "foot sheets." However, I have found contemporary descriptions only of the various queens doing the active washing of the feet of the poor. (Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn are mentioned as performing the Maundy duty; the next queens mentioned are Mary and Elizabeth. Did Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard and Catherine Parr not perform any Maunday washings?)

However, Carole Levin, a respected historian, says in her Heart and Stomach of a King, "Each year Henry washed the feet of the number of men who equaled his age..." possibly basing this on Sir Thomas More, who recorded, "The king himself on Maunday Thursday washed the feet of as many poor men as he was himself years old ..." It's curious there are no mentions or descriptions in the usual sources of him performing this duty. Maybe ambassadors were kept away from it, though not from the Queen's service.

I read somewhere else that King James II was the last English monarch to perform the Maunday duty.

Anonymous said...

I checked Edward VI's "Chronicle" (diary) and find no reference to him participating in Maundy observances. However, this does not surpise me, for two reasons. First, the "Chronicle" is a very impersonal diary, recording political events rather than Edward's own actions and thoughts. Second, Edward was fairly staunchly anti-Papist, and may have viewed the ancient rituals of Maundy Thursday as too Roman Catholic and too papist. I will need to do a little further checking to see whether the ritual was discontinued after the introduction of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer ... if Foose does not beat me to it!

Anonymous said...

I did my further checking, and it does seem that the religious reforms of 1549 brought a brief end not only to Maundy Thursday practices, but also to Palm Sunday observances and many other Easter rituals formerly associated with Roman Catholicism. Edward VI appears to have participated in Maundy Thursday only in 1547 and 1548. Thereafter, it was banned until 1554 and Mary I.

Anonymous said...

If you go to
you will find ‘Original Letters, Illustrative of English History’ by Henry Ellis – 1824. Pages 24-28 deal with Catherine of Aragon’s attempt to keep the Maundy tradition, which Henry and Cromwell have decided she may do, but only if she performs the ritual as Princess Dowager of Wales, not as Queen. This was in1533, before the Dissolution.

Catherine has applied to keep Maundy as Lady Margaret Beaufort did, and as many religious houses still did; the reply says she must not outshine the ceremony performed by Anne Boleyn ...'she shall kepe her said Maundy as honourably and liberally as any Lady hath within this Ream, the Quenes Grace excepted...’ There is a warning that any poor people receiving Maundy from her in the name of Queen will be guilty of treason.

Apparently Queen Elizabeth I used to don a long white apron prior to washing the feet of poor women. However, her lowly subjects had already been well scrubbed and freshened up with sweet herbs before Her Majesty appeared! James II was the last king to wash the feet of the poor; his successor, William III, delegated the task to the Royal Almoner.

Incidentally, the Queen and Prince Philip came to Lincoln Cathedral to distribute the Maundy Money about five years ago. The Dean’s Verger is an excellent after-dinner speaker and tells hilarious tales about what went on behind the scenes.