1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Almoner

ALMONER (from Lat. eleemosynarius, through med. Lat. almosynarius, almanarius, and Fr. almosnier, aumosnier, &c., mod. Fr. auménier), in the primitive sense, an officer in religious houses to whom belonged the management and distribution of the alms of the house. By the ancient canons all monasteries were to spend at least a tenth part of their income in alms to the poor, and all bishops were required to keep almoners. Almoners, as distinct from chaplains, appear early as attached to the court of the kings of France; but the title of grand almoner of France first appears in the reign of Charles VIII. He was an important court official whose duties comprised the superintendence of the Chapel Royal and all the religious ceremonies of the court. He was a director of the great hospital for the blind (Quinze-Vingts), and nominated the regius professors and readers in the Collège de France. The office was revived by Napoleon I., was abolished in 1830, and again created by Napoleon III.; it existed till 1870. In England, the royal almonry still forms a part of the sovereign’s household, the officers being the hereditary grand almoner (the marquess of Exeter), the lord high almoner, the sub-almoner, and the secretary to the lord high almoner. The office of hereditary grand almoner is now merely titular. The lord high almoner is an ecclesiastical officer, usually a bishop, who had the rights to the forfeiture of all deodands (q.v.) and the goods of a felo de se, for distribution among the poor. He had also, by virtue of an ancient custom, the power of giving the first dish from the king’s table to whatever poor person he pleased, or, instead of it, alms in money, which custom is kept up by the lord high almoner distributing as many silver pennies as the sovereign has years of age to poor men and women on Maundy Thursday (q.v.).