The practice of giving alms on Maundy Thursday to poor men and women equal in number to the years of the sovereign’s age is a curious survival in an altered form of an old custom. The original custom was for the king to wash the feet of twelve poor persons, and to give them a supper in imitation of Christ’s last supper and his washing of the Apostles’ feet. James II. was the last sovereign to perform the ceremony in person, but it was performed by deputy so late as 1731. The Archbishop of York was the king’s deputy on that occasion. The institution has passed through the various stages of feet washing with a supper, the discontinuance of the feet washing, the substitution of a gift of provisions for the supper, and finally the substitution of a gift of money for the provisions. The ceremony took place at the Chapel Royal, Whitehall; but it is now held at Westminster Abbey. Maundy is derived from the Latin word ‘maudatum’, which commences the original anthem sung during the ceremony, in reference to Christ’s command.
This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.
Chart showing the number of references in each month of the diary’s entries.