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Yeomen Warders

Yeomen Warders

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The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman of the Guard Extraordinary, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels
Crown Jewels of the United Kingdom
The collective term Crown Jewels denotes the regalia and vestments worn by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and at other state functions...

, but in practice they act as tour guides and are a tourist attraction in their own right, a point the Yeoman Warders acknowledge.

The Yeomen Warders are often incorrectly referred to as Yeomen of the Guard
Yeomen of the Guard
The Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard are a bodyguard of the British Monarch. The oldest British military corps still in existence, it was created by Henry VII in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth Field. As a token of this venerability, the Yeomen still wear red and gold uniforms of Tudor...

, which is actually a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards. Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan
Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the librettist W. S. Gilbert and the composer Arthur Sullivan . The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S...

 perpetuated this confusion by naming their opera The Yeomen of the Guard
The Yeomen of the Guard
The Yeomen of the Guard; or, The Merryman and His Maid, is a Savoy Opera, with music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert. It premiered at the Savoy Theatre on 3 October 1888, and ran for 423 performances...

when it actually concerns Yeomen Warders.


The name Beefeater is of uncertain origin, with various proposed derivations. The most likely is considered to be the Warders' payment in rations that included beef
Beef is the culinary name for meat from bovines, especially domestic cattle. Beef can be harvested from cows, bulls, heifers or steers. It is one of the principal meats used in the cuisine of the Middle East , Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Europe and the United States, and is also important in...

, as well as mutton and veal
Veal is the meat of young cattle , as opposed to meat from older cattle. Though veal can be produced from a calf of either sex and any breed, most veal comes from male calves of dairy cattle breeds...

, and various historical commentators have noted a preference for beef among the Warders and the Yeomen of the Guard. It is theoretically possible that these professions enjoyed rich, hearty broths as well. Count Cosimo, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Cosimo III de' Medici was the penultimate Medici Grand Duke of Tuscany. He reigned from 1670 to 1723, and was the elder son of Grand Duke Ferdinando II. Cosimo's 53-year long reign, the longest in Tuscan history, was marked by a series of ultra-reactionary laws which regulated prostitution and...

, visited the Tower in 1669 and commented "A very large ration of beef is given to them daily at court...that they might be called Beef-eaters". It has been suggested that beefeaters were privileged with a ration of beef from the King's table.

Some etymologists have noted its similarity to , the Old English term for a menial servant, lit. "loaf-eater," the counterpart of hlaford "loaf-warden" and hlæfdige, which became "lord
Lord is a title with various meanings. It can denote a prince or a feudal superior . The title today is mostly used in connection with the peerage of the United Kingdom or its predecessor countries, although some users of the title do not themselves hold peerages, and use it 'by courtesy'...

" and "lady
The word lady is a polite term for a woman, specifically the female equivalent to, or spouse of, a lord or gentleman, and in many contexts a term for any adult woman...

" respectively. Conjectures that derive the name from French buffetier (waiter) are, according to the OED, historically baseless.

Composition and duties

The Yeomen Warders were formed in 1485 by the new king Henry VII
Henry VII of England
Henry VII was King of England and Lord of Ireland from his seizing the crown on 22 August 1485 until his death on 21 April 1509, as the first monarch of the House of Tudor....

, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty
Tudor dynasty
The Tudor dynasty or House of Tudor was a European royal house of Welsh origin that ruled the Kingdom of England and its realms, including the Lordship of Ireland, later the Kingdom of Ireland, from 1485 until 1603. Its first monarch was Henry Tudor, a descendant through his mother of a legitimised...

, and the Tudor rose
Tudor rose
The Tudor Rose is the traditional floral heraldic emblem of England and takes its name and origins from the Tudor dynasty.-Origins:...

, a heraldic badge of the dynasty, is part of the badge of the Yeomen Warders to this day.

Yeomen Warders began guarding the Tower in 1485; today there are 35 Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder. All warders are retired from the Armed Forces
Armed Forces
Armed Forces is Elvis Costello's third album, his second with the Attractions, and the first to officially credit the Attractions on the cover. It was released in the UK by Radar Records and in the U.S. by Columbia in 1979...

 of Commonwealth realms and must be former senior non-commissioned officer
Non-commissioned officer
A non-commissioned officer , called a sub-officer in some countries, is a military officer who has not been given a commission...

s with at least 22 years of service. They must also hold the Long Service and Good Conduct
Long Service and Good Conduct Medal
The Long Service & Good Conduct Medal is a medal awarded by the British Government to members of the British Armed Forces who have completed 15 years of reckonable service.-British Army:...

 medal. Traditionally only NCOs from the Army, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force were eligible to apply. This was because members of the Royal Navy, instead of taking oaths to the Crown, take an oath to the Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

, whose Head is the Lord High Admiral, this reverted to the Queen Elizabeth II
Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom
Elizabeth II is the constitutional monarch of 16 sovereign states known as the Commonwealth realms: the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Jamaica, Barbados, the Bahamas, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Belize,...

 from 1964-2011 when she transferred this appointment to her husband Prince Philip
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh
Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is the husband of Elizabeth II. He is the United Kingdom's longest-serving consort and the oldest serving spouse of a reigning British monarch....

. This discrepancy was brought to an end with the swearing in of the first Naval Yeoman Warder in 2011.

The Yeomen Warders normally wear an 'undress' uniform of dark blue with red trimmings. When the sovereign visits the tower, or the warders are on duty at a state occasion, they wear red and gold uniforms similar to those of the Yeomen of the Guard, these uniforms are referred to by the Yeoman Warders as the Tudor State Dress, due to the uniform having very little modification from when they were first introduced during the Tudor Dynasty, and are often said to be "extremely uncomfortable".

The Yeomen Warders and their families live in tied accommodation inside the fortress paying council tax
Council tax
Council Tax is the system of local taxation used in England, Scotland and Wales to part fund the services provided by local government in each country. It was introduced in 1993 by the Local Government Finance Act 1992, as a successor to the unpopular Community Charge...

es and a portion of their salaries for rent. They must own a home outside of the fortress to go to when they retire. Some of the accommodation dates back to the 13th century. The community of the Tower of London is made up of these Yeoman Warders and their families, the Resident Governor and officers, a chaplain and a doctor.

Yeomen Warders participate in the Ceremony of the Keys
Ceremony of the Keys
Ceremonies known as the Ceremony of the Keys are held in at least two locations in the United Kingdom: London, and Edinburgh, as well as Gibraltar.-London:...

 each night.

On 1 July 2007 a service woman, Moira Cameron
Moira Cameron
-External links:*...

, became the first female Yeoman Warder in the history of the institution. Ms. Cameron joined the Army in 1985 at age 20. Aged 42 and Warrant Officer Class 2, she became eligible not long before her appointment. Previously, she served as Superintendent Clerk at a Brigade Headquarters with the Adjutant General's Corps
Adjutant General's Corps
The Adjutant General's Corps is a corps in the British Army responsible for many of its general administrative services. As of 2002, the AGC had a staff of 7,000 people...


In 2009 two male Beefeaters were dismissed for the bullying of Cameron. Three Warders were suspended, and one was subsequently re-instated following the month long investigation, with his role 'unproven'.


The Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster (also known as the Ravenmaster for short) is one of the Yeomen Warders who has the responsibility to maintain the welfare of the ravens of the Tower of London. The raven
Common Raven
The Common Raven , also known as the Northern Raven, is a large, all-black passerine bird. Found across the northern hemisphere, it is the most widely distributed of all corvids...

s are fed raw meat which is bought at Smithfield Meat Market by the Ravenmaster.

It is believed Ravens have been living in the Tower of London since at least the time of King Charles II
Charles II of England
Charles II was monarch of the three kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland.Charles II's father, King Charles I, was executed at Whitehall on 30 January 1649, at the climax of the English Civil War...

 and legend maintains that should these ravens ever leave the tower, the tower and the monarchy will crumble. When he received complaints that the Ravens interfered with observatory work, Charles ordered the re-siting of the Royal Observatory
Royal Observatory
Royal Observatory may refer to:* The Royal Observatory, Greenwich * The Royal Observatory, Edinburgh* Before 1997, Hong Kong Observatory* The Royal Observatory of Belgium, Uccle...

 to Greenwich
Greenwich is a district of south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich.Greenwich is best known for its maritime history and for giving its name to the Greenwich Meridian and Greenwich Mean Time...

rather than remove the ravens. In order to prevent the ravens from flying away, their flight feathers are trimmed, so that they cannot fly in a straight line for any appreciable distance. The ravens are free, however, to roam the tower grounds.

The current Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster in the Tower of London is Chris Skaife who took over from Ray Stones in April 2011.

The warders comment that the "real beefeaters" at the Tower of London are the Ravens, which receive a daily ration of beef.

External links