Bedesman - Encyclopedia


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BEDESMAN, or Beadsman (Med. Eng. bede, prayer, from O. Eng. biddan, to pray; literally "a man of prayer"), generally a pensioner or almsman whose duty it was to pray for his benefactor. In Scotland there were public almsmen supported by the king and expected in return to pray for his welfare and that of the state. These men wore long blue gowns with a pewter badge on the right arm, and were nicknamed Blue Gowns. Their number corresponded to the king's years, an extra one being added each royal birthday. They were privileged to ask alms throughout Scotland. On the king's birthday each bedesman received a new blue gown, a loaf, a bottle of ale, and a leathern purse containing a penny for every year of the king's life. On the pewter badge which they wore were their name and the words "pass and repass," which authorized them to ask alms. In 1833 the appointment of bedesmen was stopped. In 1863 the last payment was paid to a bedesman. In consequence of its use in this general sense of pensioner, "bedesman" was long used in English as equivalent to "servant." The word had a special sense as the name for those almsmen attached to cathedral and other churches, whose duty it was to pray for the souls of deceased benefactors. A relic of pre-Reformation times, these old men still figure in the accounts of English cathedrals.

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