Queen Elizabeth's 1st Public Engagement as Monarch Was a Maundy Service — Here's What It Means

Bettina Dizon
Mar 01, 2020
12:02 P.M.
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Queen Elizabeth distributed Maundy money, a 13th-century tradition, as her first public engagement nearly 68 years ago.


Stepping into her new role as a monarch did not come on a bed of roses for Queen Elizabeth, as she had to do so at the young age of 25 while grieving the death of her father, King George VI.

It was a role that she knew she would have to someday take, but not at a young age and amid starting a family, yet in under two months, she had her first debut as Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II watches air crew at work on a training model F-35B Lightning II fighter. | Source: Getty Images



The public engagement took place at Westminster Abbey, London, during a Maundy Service where the monarch had to distribute Maundy money as part of a tradition that dates back to the 13th century.

It was quite fitting for the debut of her ascension, given that the event held centuries of preserved tradition.

Queen Elizabeth II visits the Royal British Legion Industries village to celebrate the charity's centenary year. | Source: Getty Images


Those who received Maundy money are one male and one female, each for every year the Queen has lived, who each get two small leather purses in red and white.

The first red pouch holds a small number of coins which symbolize the gift for clothes and food, whereas the white one contains Maundy coins that add up to the Queen’s age.


During the earlier years of her reign, her Majesty chose to widen the scope of her distribution to places farther than London. Hence, her travels to different cathedrals and abbeys to gift other people.

Her royal debut did not only change her life but made her a stronger person because of the role she had to take. During her speech, Queen Elizabeth said:

“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.”

Queen Elizabeth II attends a service marking the 750th anniversary of Westminster Abbey on October 15, 2019 in London, England. | Source: Getty Images



Maundy Service takes place on the Thursday before Easter Sunday, every year. The Anglo-French term “Maundy” is derived from the Latin word “mandatum,” meaning commandment.

It is to remember the time Jesus had his Last Supper in the Upper Room with his disciples. The commemoration comes with Christian teachings and beliefs.

Queen Elizabeth II at a Christmas lunch on December 11, 2018, in London, England. | Source: Getty Images


The number of recipients of Maundy money grows each year with her age to recognize the people who have contributed to the community and church.

Although the coins given by the Sovereign are considered legal tender, those who receive the money choose to keep the coins as a remembrance.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Braemar Highland Games. | Source: Getty Images



While some celebrate the February 6 as the Queen’s Accession Day, the monarch herself is reminded of the death of her father.

Usually, her Majesty spends the day quietly and in reflection at Sandringham House and has a low-key engagement in Norfolk.


Decades later, the Queen still partakes in the public engagement, where she was assisted by her granddaughter Princess Eugenie last year at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle.

Last year’s distribution saw 93p silver coins, while this year’s distribution will have two new-minted coins - a £5 coin to commemorate the 200th birthday of Queen Victoria and a 50p coin showing Sherlock Holmes.