The Royal Almonry

The Lord High Almoner

The Royal Almonry is an office within the Royal Household of the Sovereign.

It is headed by the Lord High Almoner, an title dating from 1103. The current Lord High Almoner is the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch who is also the Bishop of Manchester.

In this section you will find a brief history of the Lord High Almoner and a description of today's duties. Using the menu to the left you can access a description of the Maundy gifts and details of the Royal Maundy service with a photo library and description of a typical service.

History of the Office

Over the past 900 years the Royal Almonry has been given the task of enabling the Sovereign to distribute Alms to the poor. Charity has been practised by the monachy throughout its history, in medieval times Alms were distributed on an extensive scale. Before the Black Death the monarch often paid for funerals. The distribution of Alms by the Sovereign took many forms:

Edward I chose to help people in times of personal loss or misfortune, to compensate them for losses incurred while in the king’s service, or for damage caused by the king’s men.

Henry III donated timber from the royal woods for the rebuilding of the hospital of St John the Baptist.

In the Victorian era the Royal Almonry had become responsible for aspects of social support. Alms included a form of criminal compensation - The Royal Almonry had the right to sell any murder weapon and distribute the profits to those in need.

Later, certain roles of the Royal Almonry were assumed by the HM Government and aspects of this still exist today - the compensation given in the UK to the victims of crime has its roots in the Royal Almonry as do funeral grants awarded by the state.

A discussion paper on the role of Royal Alms can be read here.

The office of Lord High Almoner has alwaywas in the gift of the Crown, originally awarded, in the first instance, by verbal command. Eventually, the almoner received letters patent under the great seal granting him the deodands and other revenues for distribution to the poor.

Today’s Lord High Almoner

According to The Present State of the British Court,  `The Lord Almoner disposes of the King's Alms, and to that End receives, besides other Money allow'd by the King, all Deodand, and all Goods of Felo de se to be appropriated to that End'.

The Lord High Almoner was (and remains) particularly associated with the Royal Maundy service. The Lord High Almoner is a diocesan bishop of the Church of England and is currently held by the Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, who was appointed to the office in 1997. The Almonry is responsible to the Keeper of the Privy Purse for the arrangements for the annual Royal Maundy service.

In his role as Royal Almoner the Bishop of Manchester has been responsible for key aspects of the following Royal Maundy services:

1997 Bradford Cathedral
1998 Portsmouth Cathedral
1999 Bristol Cathedral
2000 Lincoln Cathedral
2001 Westminster Abbey
2002 Canterbury Cathedral
2003 Gloucester Cathedral
2004 Liverpool Cathedral
2005 Wakefield Cathedral
2006 Guildford Cathedral
2007 Manchester Cathedral
2008 St Patrick's Church of Ireland Cathedral, Armagh
2009 St Edmundsbury Cathedral, Bury St Edmunds
2010 Derby Cathedral
2011 Westminster Abbey
2012 York Minster

Royal Maundy Lecture

Every year the Royal Almoner gives the Royal Maundy lecture in the City that is to host the Royal Maundy service. The lecture contains a history of the service, explanations of the symbolism and a chance for people to question the Lord High Almoner. Those who will receive the Maundy Gifts from the Queen are especially invited to it – but it is open to all.

A comprehensive list of previous Lord High Almoners (1660–1837) can be found here.

Below is an incomplete list of previous Lord High Almoners from 1837
• 1882-1906: Lord Alwyne Compton
• 1933- : Cosmo Gordon Lang
• 1953-1970: Edward Michael Gresford Jones
• 1970-1988: Richard David Say
• 1988-1997: John Bernard Taylor
• 1997-present: Nigel Simeon McCulloch

List taken from Wikipedia.