Subjects receive traditional Easter coins

The Queen distributes the traditional Maundy money during the Royal Maundy service  at St George's Chapel in Windsor.
The Queen distributes the traditional Maundy money during the Royal Maundy service at St George's Chapel in Windsor.
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Like Scottish banknotes, they are legal tender in principle but seldom in practice.

The silver coins dispensed by the Queen to her elderly subjects on the day before Good Friday are turned out by the Royal Mint – but the precious metal they contain makes them more valuable to collectors than to shopkeepers.

The Queen followed a centuries-old tradition yesterday – said to derive from a Middle Age custom of monarchs washing the feet of beggars in imitation of Jesus – by distributing the coins to 92 men and 92 women, one for each year of her life.

She smiled warmly as the recipients, chosen by ministers and members of the clergy, were given two purses, one red and one white. The red purse contained a £5 coin, commemorating four generations of royalty, and a 50p coin commemorating the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote for the first time.

The white purse contained specially minted Maundy money – silver one, two, three and four penny pieces, to a total value of 92p.

But it was the absence of one pensioner, rather than the presence of 184 others, that marked out the day.

The Duke of Edinburgh had hoped to attend the service with the Queen, as he has done most years, but had taken the decision to stay away after experiencing problems with his hip.

Philip, who has effectively retired from royal duties, had been named as a guest in the order of service – which, said the Palace, had been printed “some weeks ago when it was hoped the Duke would be able to take part”.

A statement added: His Royal Highness has since decided not to attend.”

The Palace did not comment on his health, but the problem with his hip is not thought to be a serious one. The duke, who is 96, had been spotted driving in Windsor Great Park on Wednesday.

However, last week, he pulled out of an official engagement at Windsor Castle with the Queen and Duke of York, to mark Andrew’s new role as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards, because, it was said, he was unwell.

Last June, he was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital in London as a precautionary measure, for treatment for an infection arising from a pre-existing condition. He missed the State Opening of Parliament the next day, when the Prince of Wales stepped in to accompany the Queen.

Philip stepped down from his public duties last summer but does attend events with the Queen on occasion. When the Palace announced last year that he would be retiring it was stressed that the decision was not health-related and that he had the full support of his wife.

The Queen, carrying a nosegay of daffodils, primroses, stocks, purple statice, freesias, rosemary, thyme and ivy leaves, appeared in good spirits during yesterday’s service, whose date is fixed on Maundy Thursday but whose location moves around the country – and the choice of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle this year added an extra touch of symbolism. In May, her grandson, Prince Harry, will marry his fiancée, the actress Meghan Markle there.

Before leaving, the Queen posed for a picture on the steps of the chapel with the Yeomen of the Guard and senior clergy who conducted the service.