Maundy Thursday and Anne Boleyn

Posted By on March 29, 2018

Today, the Thursday before Easter, is Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday. It commemorates the Last Supper, that final and special meal that Jesus Christ had with his disciples, and Christ’s washing of their feet.

Anne Boleyn owned a copy of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament so I thought that I would use Tyndale’s text to tell the story of the Last Supper – I’m sure that Anne would have read it on Maundy Thursday: I have modernised the spelling to make it easier to read.

Matthew 26: 20-30:

“When the even [evening] was come he sat down with the xii and as they did eat, he said: Verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me. And they were exceeding sorrowful, and began every man to say unto him: is it I master? he answered and said: he that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, shall betray me. The son of man goeth as it is written of him: but woe be to that man by whom the son of man shall be betrayed. It had been good for that man, if he had never been born.

Then Judas which betrayed him, answered and said: Is it I master? He said unto him: thou hast said. As they ate, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said: Take, eat, this is my body. And took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it them, saying: drink of it every one. This is my blood of the new testament that shall be shed for many, for the forgiveness of sins. I say unto you: I will not drink hence forth of this fruit of the vine tree until that day when I shall drink it new with you in my father’s kingdom.

And when they had said grace, they went out into Mount Olivet.”

John 13: 1-11:

“Before the feast of Easter when Jesus knew that his hour was come, that he should depart out of this world unto the father. When he loved his which were in the world, unto the end he loved them. And when supper was ended after that the dev had put in the heart of Judas Iscariot Simon’s son to betray him. Jesus knowing that the father had given him all things into his hands. And that he was come from God, and went to God, he rose from supper, and laid aside his upper garments, and took a towel, and girded himself. After that poured he water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel, wherewith he was girded.

Then came he to Simon Peter. And Peter said to him: Lord shalt thou wash my feet? Jesus answered and said unto him: what I do thou wottest not now [you do not understand] but thou shalt know hereafter. Peter said unto him: thou shalt not wash my feet while the world [while the world standeth]. Jesus answered him: if I wash not thy feet, thou shalt have no part with me. Simon Peter said unto him: Lorde not my feet only, but also my hands and my head. Jesus said to him: he that is washed needeth not but to wash his feet, but is clean every whit. And ye are clean: but not all. For he knew his betrayer. Therefore said he: ye are not all clean.”

The story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet was remembered and re-enacted by the Pope, from at least the eleventh century, with him washing the feet of twelve subdeacons on Maundy Thursday, and in England, from the reign of Edward II, monarchs washed the feet of poor people. On Maundy Thursday each year, the monarch and his consort would wash the feet of as many poor people as years they were old and purses of Maundy money (alms) would also be given to these people.

On 13th April 1536, Maundy Thursday, Queen Anne Boleyn took part in her final Maundy Thursday service, distributing Maundy money and washing feet. The court expenses show that the “costs of the Queen’s Maundy” for that year were “31 l. 3s. 9 ½d.” Anne’s chaplain, William Latymer, and martyrologist John Foxe both wrote of how the amount in the royal Maundy purses distributed to the poor increased significantly when Anne Boleyn was queen, showing her passion for poor relief, which she believed was her responsibility as queen and as a Christian. Latymer recorded that one Maundy Thursday, Anne, after washing and kissing the feet of poor women, “commanded to be put privily [privately] into every poor woman’s purse one george noble, the which was vi.s viii d. [6 shillings and 8 pence], over and besides the alms that wonted to be given.”

You can read more about Anne Boleyn’s passion for poor relief in my article Anne Boleyn and Charity.

Today, our present monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, will be attending a special royal Maundy service at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. This special service is held at a different church each year and the Queen always hands out Maundy Money to pensioners from that community. At Windsor, she will be giving these special coins to 92 men and 92 women, for she is in her 92nd year. Here’s a video from 2013 when the special service was held at Christ Church, Oxford:

While the Queen doesn’t wash the feet of poor people anymore, some churches still have this tradition – does yours?

Notes and Sources

Picture: Woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder.

  • Tyndale, William (d. 1536) The New Testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by William Tyndale The Martyr, The Original Edition, 1526Gould & Newman, 1837.
  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Voleum X. 772.
  • Dowling, Maria (1990) William Latymer’s Cronickille of Anne Bulleyne, Camden Miscellany XXX 39, p53.

14 thoughts on “Maundy Thursday and Anne Boleyn”

  1. Michael Wright says:

    Has anyone seen Levina Teerlinc’s miniature of Elizabeth I performing this rite? It’s a wonderful little image.

    Getting back to Anne: when the monasteries were dissolved she wanted the proceeds to go back into poor relief but the King didn’t agree. That’s unfortunate as that was a lot of money that could have gone a long way towards helping people but I have always gotten the impression that Henry Viii wasn’t all that concerned with the welfare of the general population.

    1. Esther says:

      Henry wasn’t. In 1535 Thomas Cromwell (who also fed 200 of the London poor twice a day during his time in power) tried to get a bill through Parliament calling for mandatory, government sponsored poor relief (including public works projects to help the unemployed) and Henry did not insure this bill’s passage the way he forced bills through that he wanted (he spoke in favor of the bill,– as did Anne — but didn’t push it). (I don’t care what Ives said … whatever disagreements might have existed between Anne and Cromwell, it wasn’t over the idea that the proceeds from the monasteries should go to poor relief. The person against that idea was Henry — who wanted the money for other things).

      1. Michael Wright says:

        I’m currently reading ‘Houses of Power’ by Simon Thurley. It deals with Royal Tudor construction and architecture and how the buildings were used etc. The amount of money Henry spent on building projects and upgrades was staggering. He out did his father and all 3 children in this. Henry was concerned about Henry. That’s all.

        1. Tidus says:

          I agree, there is no doubt Henry only cared
          about Henry.

      2. Tidus says:

        Either way, my understanding is that Anne Boleyn
        was more concerned about and gave more to the
        poor than was given prior to her being queen.
        I’m not sure about after Anne Boleyn. Does anybody
        know ?

        1. Banditqueen says:

          In the article on Anne Boleyn and Charity a number of sources said that as Queen she gave more than Queen Katherine, double in fact which showed that she was generous both personally and as a Queen. I am only guessing, but because servants and courtiers often copied the example set by their King and Queen, I guess that other people may have given more during Anne’s time as well. Regardless of motivation, alms was a Christian calling, a religious and personal duty and one th

        2. Banditqueen says:

          As I was writing before posting prematurely, although giving was a religious and Christian duty it was also a personal duty and expression of piety and charity and one that Anne genuinely appeared to take seriously. She was also involved in many personal interventions to help people in trouble, in need and in jail, especially those who had been put there for being reformed and for people in debt and who were left alone by widowhood or abandonment. Now you could be cynical and say it was part of being Queen, but she appeared to go beyond that and acted out of genuine human concern.

        3. Tidus says:

          Thank you for your replies Banditqueen. I’ve had a difference of opinions with
          others who claimed she did no more than anyone else. I also have heard that she
          was very generous as you said.

        4. Banditqueen says:

          Thanks, Tidus, I used to be very cynical but William Laytimer wrote about it and he knew Anne well and he was not the only person. When you have a few sources, such as letters thanking Anne for help, you have to believe there is something personal in the way she was interested in people and genuinely caring. Unfortunately, Anne’s reputation has suffered somewhat because she replaced a very popular Queen. By any standard Katherine of Aragon was a hard act to follow and but for the misfortune of not having male children and losing five children, she most certainly would have remained Queen until she died. Anne has unfairly been written off as the home wrecking whore who stole away the happy King from his wife and daughter and then caused a whole lot of misery for everyone. This is complete nonsense of course and Henry was as much in favour of ending his marriage, even before Anne arrived as Anne and he was the one who caused the misery, not Anne. Because of all these images, it is impossible for most people to conceive of a different person who was bright, well educated, actually had a genuine interest in the common good, read texts on this, was interested in reforms and had a genuine care for ordinary people. She is not regarded as an active Queen who helped people with a wide range of troubles and was successful. Unfortunately, she is too often shown in film as giving orders, as being bossy and even behind some of Henry’s more notorious decisions. I don’t believe Henry needed anyone to be behind his decisions, he was capable of being notorious on his own. Yes, there were some terrible consequences of his marriage to Anne, but Henry could brook no longer the opposition to his marriage and so it was made treason. Treason has one penalty, death. It took some of the best men in the Kingdom, including Thomas More and John Fisher and several of the holiest friars as well, but there is no evidence that Anne wished this or could have prevented it. Yes, Anne had mood swings and did make life hard for Mary, but she also tried to make her peace with her. The records show that the giving purse was more than double and Anne must have wished this to be so. Anne even lent money to one of her ladies and kept it a secret, but the lady was cited as giving evidence against her, even though she was dead at the time. Anne appears to have been generous, even prepared to fall out with Cromwell briefly in order to promote the building of educational centres, not country houses from the money from monastic land sales. It is because she has wrongly been hidden by a poor reputation which she didn’t deserve that her charitable giving and the better side of her character and her personal concern for the poor is not well known.

  2. Christine says:

    It’s a shame the amount of people’s feet that Anne bathed is not recorded, because then it would answer the question that has been our lips for many years, how old was she when she died? I bet she and the monarchs before her did not particularly relish taking part in this ancient custom, maybe the poor people made sure their feet had a scrub before they represented them callouses and all to the Royal hands.

    1. Michael Wright says:

      What I’ve read about this ceremony during Elizabeth’s reign the feet of the poor women WERE washed before they were presented to the monarch for her ministrations.

      1. Christine says:

        Yes I bet the queen made sure this happened!

        1. Michael Wright says:

          From what I’ve read she was quite fastidious when it came to hygiene so I’m sure she made it very clear.

  3. Banditqueen says:

    It is still the tradition at Saint Anthony’s, my local Catholic Church to wash the feet of the older poor of the community. The friars are Franciscan so keep many old traditional services a lot of others might not. The present Queen gives out Maundy Money, which I read last year used to actually be done on Good Friday, although to be honest, it was always Maundy Thursday, I believe.

    Anne was concerned about ordinary people and she did fall out with Thomas Cromwell and others over not using money from the sale of the religious houses, despite his own scheme to promote Poor Relief or rather forced employment projects to help the poor, which is what the scheme would amount to. It was a Government funded plan, but like many others it would have involved being told to work if you are able bodied on these public works in order to get relief in kind or wages. There was not a welfare system being proposed here, money for nothing, there was a project by which you got public help, but you had to earn it. The situation with what Henry sponsored through Parliament is absolutely correct and this scheme didn’t benefit the crown in the long run. Of course if the monasteries had not been ransacked and closed in the first place, unemployment and begging as well as homelessness would not have been increasing in the first place. Anne did complain about the sale of monastic land as it went to secular courtiers who used it to make their homes bigger and better. Infirmaries and schools run by monks and nuns were closed as well and Anne complained that now there were a lack of educational facilities. Henry refounded many of the schools in 1538 to 1540. A lot of the money did indeed also go to decorate and enlarge and build new palaces, two with the help of Anne Boleyn and with her input so she wasn’t exactly opposed to the Great Hall at Hampton Court or the total remodelling of York Place to become Whitehall as she helped to plan them. Anne and Cromwell may have had ideals about helping the poor, or getting the unemployed into work, but they did have different ideas of how money from the religious houses should be spent. It wasn’t this minor disagreement which led to Cromwell either planning or cooperation in her downfall but her difficulty with his foreign policy and the fact that Henry just didn’t want her as a wife anymore. Henry gave his approval or the orders, not Cromwell, even if he was an all too willing conspirator.

    Anne was genuinely concerned with ordinary people, but it is also part of her role as Queen to be so and Henry was more concerned with the protection of the realm as in ships and defences, the latter definitely being made stronger from the proceeds of monastic lands. Anne received a number of appeals and letters of thanks from ordinary women and others which attest to her personal involvement in the concerns of her subjects. Henry, however, does seem for the most part to be concerned with his marriage problems, the still missing son and heir, alliances and both the beauty of his palaces and the showing off things of being a King. Both Anne and Henry loved extravagant entertainment, however, so neither missed out by being generous. Henry would also have given alms regularly as a religious duty and would have used touch to cure people at the roadside or at the gates or on formal times, all of which were part of the duties and mystique of being a King or Queen. Cromwell was also known as a man who helped widows on a day to day basis and had some form of charitable foundation. It would have been as part of their work towards salvation that they did as Jesus did, although he didn’t have the feet pre washed. It was an act of service.

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