Yeomen of the Guard
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|The Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard|
Badge of the Yeomen of the Guard
|Part of||Sovereign's Bodyguard|
|March||Men of Harlech|
|Engagements||Boulogne, Boyne, Dettingen|
|Colonel in Chief||HM The Queen|
|Captain||The Lord Newby|
|Collar Badge||Rose, Thistle and Shamrock|
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. As a token of this venerability, the Yeomen still wear red and gold uniforms of Tudor style. There are 60 Yeomen of the Guard (plus 6 Officers), drawn from retired members of the British Army, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force, but traditionally not the Royal Navy. This ban on Royal Navy Personnel was lifted in 2011 and 2 Sailors joined the ranks of the Yeomen of the Guard. However, the role of the Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard is a political appointment — the Captain is always the government Deputy Chief Whip in the House of Lords.
It is significant to note that since it's inception nearly 400 years ago, no Black or Minority Ethnic members of the Armed Services have been privileged to serve in this august institution. No woman has ever served either, irrespective of their ethnicity.
Today the Yeomen of the Guard have a purely ceremonial role. They accompany the Sovereign at the annual Royal Maundy Service, investitures and summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace, and so on. However, their most famous duty is to 'ceremonially' search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster prior to the State Opening of Parliament, a tradition that dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament. In modern times officers from the Metropolitan Police carry out a more sophisticated additional search.
The Senior Messenger Sergeant Major and Wardrobe Keeper lives in a house in St James's Palace, where he is responsible for HQ administration, and correspondence. The Messenger Sergeant Major is his deputy. There are four divisions, First, Second, Third, and Fourth. Each has a Divisional Sergeant Major, Yeoman Bed Goer, Yeoman Bed Hanger, and 13 Yeomen. In the eighteenth century some 40 Yeomen were on duty daily, and 20 at night. This only ceased in 1813, and thereafter only one division was required daily until about 1837. Today they are only mustered when required, and receive some three weeks duty notice in advance. They are active on some 30 occasions yearly, so each division appears for some 6–8 days a year.
All Yeomen are over 42 years of age on appointment, and under 55 years. They must be sergeants or above, but not commissioned. They must also have had at least 22 years' service and have been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal (LS&GCM). On reaching the age of 70 years they become supernumerary and no longer are called for service. There are an average of four vacancies a year, which are filled by the Lord Chamberlain, who recommends the names to the Sovereign. The average age of active members is perhaps 60 years. Yeomen are (or were) exempt from jury service, received return railway warrants, and an allowance for meals and overnight accommodation where necessary.
The dress worn by the Yeomen of the Guard is in its most striking characteristics the same as it was in the Tudor period. It consists of a royal red tunic with purple facings and stripes and gold lace ornaments, together with a red cross-belt, red knee-breeches and red stockings, flat hat, and black shoes with red, white and blue rosettes. The gold-embroidered emblems on the back and front of the coats consist of the crowned Tudor Rose, the shamrock and the thistle, the motto "Dieu et mon droit", and the "regal" initial of the reigning sovereign (currently ER for "Elizabeth Regina"). It is the red cross-belt that distinguishes the Yeomen of the Guard from the Yeomen Warders. They are armed with a Wilkinson sword and an ornamental halberd.
The Yeomen of the Guard are often confused with the Yeomen Warders of the Tower of London, popularly known as "Beefeaters", a similar but distinct body. Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta, The Yeomen of the Guard (1888), is set in the 16th century, an earlier era before the two corps were split apart; it concerns what are today the Yeomen Warders.
Traditionally, the corps carried a standard, in the manner of army regiments. The corps' first standard was supposedly destroyed in a fire at St James' Palace in 1809. King George VI presented a replacement standard to the corps in 1938. This was replaced by a new standard presented by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985.
The standard is a crimson coloured damask - in the centre is the corps' badge of a combined rose, thistle and shamrock, with the initials of the reigning monarch either side, and the royal motto Dieu et mon Droit below. Either side of this device are ribbons containing two of the corps' battle honours, Tournai and Boulogne. In each corner are symbols representing the various royal houses that the corps has served:
- Top left: a crowned hawthorn bush and the letters HR, representing King Henry VII and the legend that the crown was discovered by the guard in a hawthorn bush following the Battle of Bosworth.
- Top right: a crowned thistle, representing King James I and the personal union of England and Scotland.
- Bottom left: a white horse on a green mound surmounted by the crown, representing the House of Hanover.
- Bottom right: the Round Tower of Windsor Castle crowned, representing the House of Windsor.
- Field of Stoke, 1487
- Boulogne, 1492
- Blackheath, 1497
- Tournai 1514
- Boulogne, 1544
- Boyne, 1690
- Dettingen, 1743
- Honours in bold are displayed on the corps' standard.
The lowest rank of officer in the Guard is Exon. The others in ascending order are Ensign, Lieutenant and Captain.
The ranks of the yeomen themselves are (in order of seniority): Yeoman; Yeoman Bed Hanger (YBH); Yeoman Bed Goer (YBG); Divisional Sergeant-Major (DSM); and Messenger Sergeant-Major (MSM). The ranks of YBH and YBG derive from the days when the Body Guard acted as servants for the monarch.
The DSMs are in charge of each of the four divisions into which the Body Guard is divided, while the MSM is in day-to-day charge of the organisation.
- "The Queen and the Armed Forces". The Royal Household. Retrieved 10 Apr 2015.
- "Queen's Speech 2012: the pomp and ceremony". Daily Telegraph. 9 May 2012. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
- "SO17 Palace of Westminster". Metropolitan Police Service. Retrieved 9 May 2012.
- Minney, Rubeigh James (1970) The Tower of London, Cassell, London. ISBN 0304934283
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