Why Queen Elizabeth Is Handing Out Purses of Money Today – with Help from Princess Eugenie!

The tradition of "Maundy money" goes back to the 13th century

Queen Elizabeth handed out coins to 93 men and 93 women during a service at St. George’s Chapel on Thursday in a tradition dating back to the 13th century: the distribution of Maundy money.

The monarch, who celebrates her 93rd birthday on Sunday, appeared in good spirits as she took part in the distribution, which takes place annually on the Thursday before Easter. She was joined by granddaughter Princess Eugenie, marking just the second time a royal besides Prince Philip appeared with the Queen. (In 2012, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee year, Eugenie’s older sister Princess Beatrice joined her grandparents as service.)

The Queen stuck to her trademark bold colors and wide-brimmed hat, opting for a yellow coat over a printed dress. Eugenie, 29, complemented her grandmother in a floral dress by Erdem, which she previously wore to the Royal Ascot last June and to a U.N. meeting last July. The newlywed – who married Jack Brooksbank back in October at St. George’s Chapel – completed her look with a navy headband.

Royal Maundy Service
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Royal Maundy Service, St George's Chapel, Windsor, Berkshire, UK - 18 Apr 2019
Queen Elizabeth and Princess Eugenie. Tim Rooke/REX/Shutterstock
Royal Maundy Service
Queen Elizabeth. Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Each recipient of Maundy money – one male and one female for every year the Queen has been alive – was given two small leather purses, one red and one white.

The first contains a small amount of coinage which symbolizes the monarch’s gift for food and clothing – this year in the form of newly two minted cousins: a £5 piece, commemorating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Queen Victoria and a 50p coin portraying Sherlock Holmes. The white purse contains Maundy coins up to the value of the Queen’s age. Recipients at Thursday’s service were given 93p in silver Maundy coins.

“It seems to have been the custom as early as the thirteenth century for members of the royal family to take part in Maundy ceremonies, to distribute money and gifts, and to recall Christ’s simple act of humility by washing the feet of the poor,” according to the Royal Mint.

The Queen has held Nosegays, a bouquet made up of daffodils, primroses, stocks, purple statice, freesias, ivy, hebe and the herbs rosemary and thyme. The flowers were originally used to disguise odors as the monarch washed the feet of recipients.

The Queen Attends the Royal Maundy Service
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Early in her reign, the Queen decided Maundy money should not just be distributed to the people of London, and so she now travels to various cathedrals or abbeys to give gifts to local people. The recipients were chosen in recognition of their service to the community.

As of 2017, the Queen has now visited every Anglican Cathedral in England for the Maundy Service. This year’s ceremony took place at Windsor Castle, which recently hosted the weddings of Meghan Markle and Prince Harry as well as Princess Eugenie and Jack.

Royal Maundy Service
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Last year, Prince Philip canceled his appearance at the annual gathering at the last minute, prompting health concerns for the 97-year-old retired royal. A few weeks later, however, he was by the Queen’s side for the wedding of their grandson Prince Harry to Meghan.

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