68 Years Ago was Queen Elizabeth's 1st Public Engagement: Meaning Behind the Maundy Service
Although the Queen is no longer supposed to wash poor people’s feet, she still presides over the traditional Maundy service every year. This was also her first official royal event over 68 years ago, right after her Accession which, to this day, is a very sad yearly celebration for her. We’ll let you in all the details.
A VERY PUBLIC AND SPECIAL CORONATION
On 2 June 1953, Elizabeth had to officially step into her new role as a monarch, at the young age of 25. It was the first coronation ever to be televised, was watched by 27 million people from all over the world and Prince Charles was the first child to ever see one of his parents coronated.
Elizabeth entrusted Philip, her husband, to preside over her coronation commission. He was the one that actually had the idea of having the coronation ceremony televised, something that in the beginning both Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, the British Government, and Sir Winston Churchill, in particular, were adamantly opposed to.
"It would be unfitting that the whole ceremony, not only in its secular but also in its religious and spiritual aspects, should be presented as if it were a theatrical performance," Sir Winston Churchill told the House of Commons.
But despite all of these oppositions, the idea ended up growing on Elizabeth and eventually she agreed to it, thinking that opening up the ceremony to the general public, would be a good opportunity to break down barriers between classes.
The only part of the celebration that remained private was the Act of Consecration in which the Queen took off her crimson cloak and sat down in King Edward’s chair in her white dress. She was then shielded from the crowd by Knights of the Garter, and the Archbishop of Canterbury poured blessed oil onto her while whispering a blessing.
After the ceremony, the Queen and her family appeared before a huge crowd on the balcony of Buckingham Palace and greeted the people who had been anxiously waiting for her. She then became known as Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and of her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.
Although the coronation only took place in 1953, Elizabeth had already been performing duties as head of the Royal British family for 16 months, while still grieving for the death of her father King George VI, which happened in February 1952. The first time she presided over Maundy Service was in 1952 at Westminster Abbey.
WHAT IS MAUNDY SERVICE REALLY ALL ABOUT
Maundy Service takes place every year on the Thursday before Easter Sunday. Although for a long time the event only took place in London, Queen Elizabeth decided to expand it to people from other regions in England, so she started traveling to several different areas to offer gifts to its local people.
Dating back to 600AD, during Maundy Service the Monarch distributes gifts in the form of Maundy money, according to his age. For example, when the Queen turned 93, she distributed 93 pence of Maundy money to 93 women and 93 men as a reward for their contribution to the church and the community.
The coins have remained the same format since 1670 and still show the portrait designed for Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953. The Queen hands out two small leather purses to each person. The red purse has a small amount of ordinary coins that symbolize the Queen’s gift for food and clothing, and the white purse contains the official Maundy coins.
A ROYAL FEET WASH
“Maundy” comes from the Latin word “mandatum”, which means commandment. It is called Monday Thursday because it represents Jesus’ Last Supper with his disciples, where he commanded them to love and serve one another and shared wine and bread as a symbol of his own body and blood. On this day, Christians usually attend church services, take communion and burn oils.
The first British king to preside at a Maundy Service was King John, who in 1213 distributed 13 pence to 13 poor men at a ceremony in Rochester. The number 13 symbolized the 12 apostles and Jesus. At the time, the king was also supposed to perform the pedilavium, which consisted of washing poor people's feet.
It was Edward I that determined that the Maundy service should only happen on Easter Thursday, and Henry IV was, on his turn, the first one to determine that the number of gifts should match the monarch’s age. The last pedilavium took place in 1737 after which the only traces of it are the nosegays carried by the monarch.
The Maundy coins, although seen as a legal form of payment in the UK, are meant to be considered symbols that are kept for their significance, rather than their monetary value. You can, however,r find some of them for sale on eBay for example, if you look online.
QUEEN ELIZABETH’S FIRST MAUNDY SERVICE HAD A SPECIAL MEANING
Although the first time Queen Elizabeth attended Maundy Service was in 1935 as Princess Elizabeth of York, the first time she actually presided over it as the leader of the British royal family was in 1952 at Westminster Abbey, while still grieving for the death of her father. It was the Queen’s first public engagement since her accession in February.
On the day of her first official Maundy Service, she showed up holding Nosegays, a flower bouquet made of primroses, freesias, ivy, daffodils, stocks, rosemary, thyme, and hebe. These flowers were originally meant to disguise the strong odors as the monarch washed the feet of the recipients of the Maundy coins, in the old days.
In the video footage from that day, the Queen is seen warmly greeting the clergy before proceeding to hand out the Maundy money to the 26 women and men. The Queen was only 26 years old at the time.
#Onthisday in 1952, The Queen acceded to the throne on the death of her father King George VI. Her Majesty was in Kenya on an official Royal tour when she learnt that she had become Sovereign.— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) February 6, 2020
In this video, The Queen is seen on her first engagement as the Monarch. pic.twitter.com/hZ5yTgGu0M
At the event, Queen Elizabeth went on to express her feelings regarding the occasion and her recent royal debut, which she referred to as life-changing but also a moment that turned her into a stronger person because of the new role she had to take.
“By the sudden death of my dear father, I am called to assume the duties and responsibilities of sovereignty. My heart is too full for me to say more to you today than I shall always work as my father did throughout his reign,” she said.
Early during her reign, contrary to the century-old tradition, Queen Elizabeth decided that the Maundy money should not be distributed only to people from London, so she started changing occasionally the location of the event to different cathedrals and abbeys from all over the country. By 2017, the Queen had visited every Anglican Cathedral in England.
Last year, 92-year-old Queen Elizabeth was joined at Maundy service by her 29-year-old granddaughter Princess Eugenie. It was the first time in 10 years that Eugenie attended an official royal event with the Queen. The event took place at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.
The Queen distributed a set of 93 Maundy coins to 93 pensioners, which included two brand new-minted coins: a £5 one meant to commemorate Queen Victoria’s 200th birthday and a 50p coin with a picture of Sherlock Holmes on it.
WHAT IS ACCESSION DAY?
An Accession Day is the day that marks the anniversary of the beginning of a monarch’s reign. This tradition first started during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign in the 16th century. Her 10th accession anniversary was celebrated on 17 November 1568. As the years went by, the celebrations associated with this day grew in fervor.
When James II became king, all churches were supposed to use a particular form of prayer and thanksgiving for the anniversary of the day of his accession. The old service was revised, and a new type of celebration was instated. Accession Day was canceled for 2 reigns, but it was later revised and reinstated by Queen Anne.
Ever since Elizabeth II became Queen, the Accession Day is celebrated on 6 February through the flying of flags, the firing of a Royal Salute by the guns of the King’s Troops, the Honourable Artillery Company in the Tower of London and the Royal Horse Artillery in Green Park.
WHAT ACCESSION DAY REALLY MEANS FOR THE QUEEN
Sixty-eight years have passed since Queen Elizabeth became a monarch in 1952, and she is currently the longest-reigning monarch in British history. But February 6, the day that commemorates her accession, has a deeply sad meaning for her since it also marks the day her father, King George VI, died.
So, instead of celebrating the day with pomp and circumstance, as the event would supposedly imply, her Majesty prefers to spend it on a more private environment, traditionally at Sandringham, an official royal residence, that both she and her father deeply enjoyed.
This year, the Queen celebrated the occasion by opening the remodeled Wolferton Pumping Station within the Sandringham Estate, the same station King George VI opened back in 1948, and for which he had a special interest. The king is reported to have said: “I have always been so happy here and I love the place."
The Station sits within the Sandringham Estate, home to Sandringham House – the private residence of The Queen and The Royal Family.— The Royal Family (@RoyalFamily) February 5, 2020
King George VI said of Sandringham: 'I have always been so happy here and I love the place'. pic.twitter.com/bAC02GaNhk
Elizabeth’s early years as a Queen must have not been easy at all, especially because she was still mourning the death of her father. What’s your opinion on what the Queen represents and her role? Let us know all about it in the comments and don’t forget to share this article with other British royal family fans!