The Yeoman Warders, also known as the Beefeaters, are a ceremonial body of guards that have been protecting the Tower of London since the Tudor period. The full name of the Warders is the Yeomen Warders of His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress, the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign’s Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. They are recognised for their distinctive uniform, which includes a red tunic, black hat, and black trousers, as well as their traditional duties of guarding the Tower and conducting tours for visitors.
The Yeoman Warders are appointed from retired senior non-commissioned officers from the British Armed Forces, and they also act as caretakers of the Tower’s Crown Jewels. In principle, they are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower of London and safeguarding the British crown jewels. Since the Victorian era, they have also conducted guided tours of the Tower.
Yeoman Warders were originally part of the Yeoman of the Guard – the monarch’s personal, crack bodyguard who travelled with him/her everywhere. Henry VIII decided that the Tower should be protected by part of the royal bodyguard. These ‘Yeoman Warders’ were eventually granted the right to wear the splendid red uniform, which today is known as the state dress uniform and is worn on state occasions such as the monarch’s birthday.
The Yeoman Warders’ uniform is a distinctive and iconic aspect of their role as ceremonial guards at the Tower of London. The uniform consists of a red tunic with a dark blue velvet collar and gold braid, black trousers, and a black hat adorned with a white ostrich feather plume.
The uniform’s design has changed over the centuries, but the current version dates back to the 19th century. The uniform’s colours are said to represent the Tudor dynasty, and the gold braid and buttons are meant to symbolise the Yeoman Warders’ royal connections.
The uniform is also adorned with various badges and insignia that denote the Yeoman Warders’ rank and service history, including a silver bugle emblem on their sleeves to indicate that they are also part of the Yeoman Warders’ Corps of Drums. Overall, the Yeoman Warders’ uniform symbolises the Tower’s long and rich history and the traditions of the British monarchy.
It is a tradition that the Yeoman Warders’ uniform is changed on the occasion of a coronation of a new monarch. The uniform is updated to incorporate the new monarch’s cypher, monogram, and other relevant symbols. The uniform was changed for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. In readiness for King Charles III’s coronation, the Yeoman Warders now wear new uniforms emblazoned with ‘CIIIR’, the cypher of King Charles III.
The Yeoman Warders were formed in 1485 by King Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth Field. The Beefeaters were originally tasked with guarding the Tower of London and protecting the monarch, and their name, “Beefeaters”, is said to have come from their privilege of dining with the king and receiving beef as part of their rations.
History of the Yeoman Warders
The Tower of London was built by William the Conqueror in the late 11th century as a fortress and royal palace. The early history of the Tower is not well documented, but it is believed that a small permanent garrison was established to guard the fortress and its royal prisoners.
The term “yeoman warder” was first used in the 15th century to refer to a group of men who were responsible for guarding the Tower. These men were drawn from the ranks of the royal archers and were known for their skill with the longbow. They were labelled “yeoman” because they were freeborn Englishmen who owned a small parcel of land.
King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, established the official corps of Yeomen Warders in 1485. He appointed a group of 37 men to serve as the permanent garrison of the Tower, and they were tasked with guarding the fortress and its prisoners. The Yeomen Warders were initially responsible for the safety of the monarch and the royal family, as well as the defence of the Tower and the protection of the Crown Jewels.
Over the centuries, the role of the Yeomen Warders has evolved to include ceremonial duties, such as conducting guided tours of the Tower and participating in state and royal occasions. Today, the Yeomen Warders are also known as the “Beefeaters” and are one of the most recognisable symbols of the Tower of London.
The Tudor rose, a heraldic badge of the dynasty, is part of the badge of the Yeomen Warders to this day. Founded after the Battle of Bosworth, it is the UK’s oldest existing military corps and the oldest of the royal bodyguards.
In 1509, Henry VIII moved his official residence from the Tower of London. The Tower retained the formal status of a royal palace, and to mark this, a party of twelve Yeomen of the Guard was left in place as a token garrison. The title of this detachment was subsequently changed to that of Tower Warders as a more accurate reflection of their duties. As warders without any ceremonial state functions, they forfeited the right to wear the scarlet royal livery of the now separate Yeoman of the Guard. However, that right was restored to them during the reign of Edward VI (1547–1553), reportedly at the request of a high court official who had been briefly imprisoned in the Tower and was impressed by the behaviour of the warders.
The original Tudor guard was split into two categories: the ordinary (i.e., permanent) guard and the additional troops of the extraordinary. In 1550, for example, the ordinary mustered 105 men, with an additional 300 extraordinary yeomen. Until 1549, the guards at the Tower were numbered among the extraordinary but were raised to the status of ordinary yeomen in that year. There was a considerable wage difference between the two groups. In 1562, a yeoman of the ordinary received 16d per day, whereas an extraordinary yeoman was paid the same as a common infantryman (4d or 6d). In 1551, the ordinary was expanded to 200 men, of whom 100 were to be archers and 100 halberdiers, but these numbers were not maintained. The uniform worn at this time was a velvet coat trimmed with silver gilt, worn over armour.
Badge of the Yeomen of the Guard
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NOTE: the Cypher of HM King Charles III revealed in September 2022 can be seen at: https://www.royal.uk/his-majesty-kings-cypher
The Yeomen Warders provided the permanent garrison of the Tower, but the Constable of the Tower could call upon the men of the Tower Hamlets to supplement them when necessary. The Tower Hamlets was an area significantly larger than the modern London Borough of the same name, which owed military service to the Constable in his ex officio role as Lord Lieutenant of the Tower Hamlets.
Status and Duties
Yeoman Warders were charged with guarding the Tower of London’s prestigious prisoners in the early days. They also assisted in the punishment of prisoners, which often involved torture.
The Yeoman Warders are not part of the British Army. They are a distinct and separate organisation, and their primary duty is to serve as ceremonial guards at the Tower of London.
However, the Yeoman Warders are appointed from retired senior non-commissioned officers from the British Armed Forces, such as the Army, the Royal Marines, and the Royal Air Force. To be eligible for appointment, candidates must have served in the Armed Forces for at least 22 years and have received a Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.
Once appointed, Yeoman Warders are considered Crown servants and subject to the same rules and regulations as other civil servants. They receive specialised training in the history and traditions of the Tower of London and the role of the Yeoman Warders, and they are responsible for conducting tours of the Tower and providing information to visitors.
All warders are retired from the British Armed Forces and must be former warrant officers with at least 22 years of service. They must also hold the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. The garrison comprises 32 (formerly 37) Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder.
Although the Yeomen Warders are often referred to as Yeomen of the Guard, a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards of the British monarch, they are a separate entity within this guard.
Ceremony of the Keys
The Ceremony of the Keys is a centuries-old traditional ritual that takes place every night at the Tower of London. It is one of the oldest military ceremonies in the world that is still performed today. The ceremony is a symbolic act of locking the Tower’s main gates and securing the premises for the night.
The ceremony is carried out by the Yeoman Warder, who is the Chief Yeoman Warder or Yeoman Serjeant, and the duty officer of the Tower. At exactly 9:53 pm, the Chief Yeoman Warder comes out of the Byward Tower carrying a lantern and a set of keys. The duty officer then challenges the Chief Yeoman Warder with the words, “Halt! Who comes there?”
The Chief Yeoman Warder replies with the words “The keys.” The duty officer then asks, “Whose keys?” and the Chief Yeoman Warder responds, “King Charles’ keys.” The duty officer then asks, “Pass King Charles’ keys. All is well.” The Chief Yeoman Warder then walks towards the Bloody Tower, followed by the duty officer.
As they approach the Bloody Tower, the Chief Yeoman Warder halts and raises his lantern. The duty officer then takes the keys from him and locks the outer gate of the Tower. The Chief Yeoman Warder then leads the duty officer back to the Byward Tower, and the ceremony is concluded with the words, “God preserve King Charles.”
The Ceremony of the Keys is a fascinating and unique experience that has remained unchanged for over 700 years. It is a reminder of the Tower of London’s important place in British history and its continued significance as a royal palace, fortress, and museum.
The Ravens and the Ravenmaster
The Ravens of the Tower of London are a group of captive ravens that live in the Tower of London, the historic fortress located in central London, England. The legend surrounding the ravens dates and states that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the Kingdom and the Tower will fall. At least six captive ravens are required to ensure the Kingdom and the Tower are safe.
The legend’s origin is not entirely clear, but it is believed to be based on ancient folklore and superstitions surrounding the power of animals, particularly birds. The first known reference to the Ravens of the Tower of London dates back to the early 1800s, although it is likely that the tradition existed long before then.
Caption: Ravens in the Tower of London, from London Town (1883)
Attribution: Ellen Houghton (1853–1922), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:13_London_Town,_page_9_(cropped).png
The Latin origin of the legend is said to come from the old belief that ravens are birds of ill omen and that killing one of them is bad luck. It is also believed that King Charles II, who reigned from 1660 to 1685, was the first to decree that the ravens should be protected, as he feared the superstition and the potential consequences of harming the birds.
Usually, there are seven ravens residing at the Tower of London. There are strict protocols in place to ensure that there are always at least six ravens at the Tower at all times. The ravens are cared for by the Ravenmaster, who is responsible for their well-being and feeding them a diet of raw meat and bird biscuits, ensuring they remain healthy and happy.
The ravens are also a popular tourist attraction, and visitors to the Tower of London can see them in their specially-designed enclosure within the fortress grounds.
The Ravenmaster is the title given to the person responsible for the care and well-being of the famous ravens that live in the Tower of London. The Tower is one of the most famous landmarks in London, and its resident ravens are a popular attraction and symbol of the Tower’s history.
The Ravenmaster’s responsibilities include feeding the ravens twice daily, caring for them when sick or injured, and ensuring they have suitable living conditions. The position of Ravenmaster is a unique and prestigious role held by only a select few individuals over the years. The current Ravenmaster is Chris Skaife. He was appointed in 2011 and is a retired British Army infantry soldier.
Caption: “Having the best day ever on our private tour of the Tower of London with the Ravenmaster” by LibraryatNight is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
The Tower of London
The Tower of London, officially known as His Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London, was founded towards the end of 1066 as part of the Norman Conquest, and the White Tower, built by William the Conqueror in 1078, gives the entire castle its name. Over the years, the Tower has served as a royal residence, a treasury, a menagerie, and the home of the Royal Mint and Crown Jewels of England. It has also been used as a prison, with many figures who had fallen into disgrace held within its walls, leading to the coining of the phrase “sent to the Tower.”
Despite its reputation as a place of torture and death, only seven people were executed within the Tower before the 20th century, with executions more commonly held on Tower Hill to the north of the castle. The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history and has been besieged several times. From the early 14th century until the reign of Charles II in the 17th century, a procession would be led from the Tower to Westminster Abbey on the coronation of a monarch. The zenith of the castle’s use as a prison was in the 16th and 17th centuries, and under the Tudors, the Tower became used less as a royal residence.
Today, the Tower of London is a popular tourist attraction that is cared for by the Historic Royal Palaces charity and is protected as a World Heritage Site. The Constable of the Tower is in charge of the castle in the absence of the monarch, and the Resident Governor of the Tower of London and Keeper of the Jewel House operates it.
Caption: The Tower of London (2012)
Attribution: Thomas Römer, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Page URL: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tower_of_London_EN.png
The Tower was oriented with its strongest and most impressive defences overlooking Saxon London, which archaeologist Alan Vince suggests was deliberate. It would have visually dominated the surrounding area and stood out to traffic on the River Thames. The castle is made up of three “wards“, or enclosures. The innermost ward contains the White Tower and is the earliest phase of the castle. Encircling it to the north, east, and west is the inner ward, built during the reign of Richard I (1189–1199). Finally, there is the outer ward which encompasses the castle and was built under Edward I. Although there were several phases of expansion after William the Conqueror founded the Tower of London, the general layout has remained largely unchanged since Edward I completed his rebuild in 1285.
The castle encloses an area of almost 12 acres (4.9 hectares) with a further 6 acres (2.4 ha) around the Tower of London constituting the Tower Liberties – land under the direct influence of the castle and cleared for military reasons. The precursor of the Liberties was laid out in the 13th century when Henry III ordered that a strip of land adjacent to the castle be kept clear.
Despite popular fiction, the Tower of London never had a permanent torture chamber, although the basement of the White Tower housed a rack in later periods. Tower Wharf was built on the bank of the Thames under Edward I and was expanded to its current size during the reign of Richard II (1377–1399).
Sources and Further Reading
- The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London Paperback, 5 Sept. 2019, by Christopher Skaife (Author), published by Fourth Estate, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Ravenmaster-Christopher-Skaife/dp/0008307938/
- The Yeomen of the Guard: Including the Body of Yeoman Warders H.M.Tower of London, Members of the Sovereigns’ Body Guard (extraordinary) 1823-1903, by Ian McInnes, 21 Sept 2002, published by Jade Publishing Limited, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yeomen-Guard-Including-Sovereigns-extraordinary/dp/1900734192/
- The Beefeaters of the Tower of London, Paperback, by Shelagh Abbott (Author) 1 April 1990, published by Hendon Publishing Co. Limited, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beefeaters-Tower-London-Shelagh-Abbott/dp/0860671372/
- Some Account of the Royal Body-Guard Entitled the Ancient Corps of the Yeomen of the Guard: Instituted 1484; With a Brief Notice of the Warders of the Tower (Classic Reprint), by Thomas Smith, 31 Jul 2018, published by Forgotten Books, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Account-Body-Guard-Entitled-Ancient-Yeomen/dp/1331967368/
- The Yeomen Of The Guard: Their History From 1485 To 1885, And A Concise Account Of The Tower Warders, Hardcover, 31 Aug. 2015, by Thomas Preston (Author), Yeomen of the Guard (Creator), published by Palala Press, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Yeomen-Guard-History-Concise-Account/dp/1340675552/
- The Tower of London, Paperback, 27 Oct. 2022, by Arthur T. Poyser (Author), published by Legare Street Press, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tower-London-Arthur-T-Poyser/dp/1018933336/
- Castles and Landscapes, by Oliver Creighton (2002), published by Leicester University Press, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Castles-Landscapes-Archaeology-Medieval-Europe/dp/0826458963/
- The Tower of London, by Geoffrey Parnell (1993), published by Batsford Limited, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/English-Heritage-Book-Tower-London/dp/0713468637/
- The Tower of London: A Thousand Years, by Derek Wilson , published by Hippocrene Books; 1st Ed. (US) edition, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tower-London-Derek-Wilson/dp/0880293861/
- Life of George Godfrey, Yeoman Warder of the Tower of London, Hardcover, by Dutton Cook (Author), John Saunders (Author), George Godfrey (Author) 2 Sept. 2015, published by Palala Press, available from: https://www.amazon.co.uk/George-Godfrey-Yeoman-Warder-London/dp/1341297020/
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End Notes and Explanations
- Source: Compiled from research using information at the sources stated throughout the text, together with information provided by machine-generated artificial intelligence at: bing.com [chat] and https://chat.openai.com ↑
- Explanation: The Tudor period began on 22 August 1485, when Henry Tudor (King Henry VII) defeated King Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth Field and was crowned king of England. This marked the end of the Plantagenet dynasty and the beginning of the Tudor dynasty. The period lasted until the death of Queen Elizabeth I in 1603. ↑
- Source and Acknowledgement: Historic Royal Palaces: https://www.hrp.org.uk/tower-of-london/history-and-stories/yeoman-warders-at-the-tower-of-london ↑
- Source: Guy, Jack (20 July 2020). “The Tower of London’s famous Beefeaters are facing redundancy due to the pandemic”. CNN. ↑
- Source: Hennell, Reginald (1911). “Yeomen of the Guard” . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 916–918. The nickname ‘Beef-eaters,’ which is sometimes associated with the Yeomen of the Guard, had its origin in 1669, when Count Cosimo, grand duke of Tuscany, was in England, and, writing of the size and stature of this magnificent Guard, said, ‘They are great eaters of beef, of which a very large ration is given them daily at the court, and they might be called Beef-eaters.’ The supposed derivation from ‘Buffetier’ (i.e. one who attends at the sideboard) has no authority. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders ↑
- Explanation: A halberd is a two-handed pole weapon that came to prominent use during the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. The halberd consists of an axe blade topped with a spike mounted on a long shaft. It can have a hook or thorn on the back side of the axe blade for grappling mounted combatants. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halberd ↑
- Source: Hale, John Rigby (1983). “On a Tudor Parade Ground: The Captain’s handbook of Henry Barrett 1562”. In Hale, J.R. (ed.). Renaissance War Studies. History series. Vol. 11. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 252–4. ISBN 978-0-9076-2802-6. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders ↑
- Source: “Tower Hamlets”. Encyclopædia Britannica (15th ed.). 1993. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders ↑
- Source: https://www.britannica.com/topic/yeoman-warder ↑
- Source: “Yeoman Warder (Job specification 2018)“. Historic Royal Palaces. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders ↑
- Sources: (a) Tickle, Louise (4 July 2011). “Want to be a Beefeater?”. The Guardian. London., (b) Tickle, Louise (31 July 2017). “One of the world’s most exclusive pubs is hidden within the Tower of London — take a look inside”. Business Insider. New York. and (c) “YEOMAN WARDERS AT THE TOWER OF LONDON”. Historic Royal Palaces. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders ↑
- Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑
- Source: Vince 1990 (Saxon London: An Archaeological Investigation. Seaby. ISBN 978-1-85264-019-4) in Creighton, Oliver (2002). p. 138. Castles and Landscapes. Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-5896-4. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑
- Source: Creighton, Oliver (2002). p. 138. Castles and Landscapes. Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-5896-4. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑
- Source: Parnell, Geoffrey (1993). p. 11. The Tower of London. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-6864-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑
- Source: Parnell, Geoffrey (1993). pp. 32-33. The Tower of London. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-6864-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑
- Source: Wilson, Derek (1998) . The Tower of London: A Thousand Years (2nd ed.). Allison & Busby. ISBN 978-0-7490-0332-6. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑
- Source: Parnell, Geoffrey (1993). p. 49. The Tower of London. Batsford. ISBN 978-0-7134-6864-9. Cited at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ↑