Yeomen Warders

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Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress The Tower of London
YeomanoftheGuard badge.PNG
Badge of the Yeomen Warders
Active 1485 (1509: see History) – present
Country United Kingdom
Role Palace and Fortress Guard
Garrison/HQ London
Colonel in Chief HM The Queen
Collar Badge Rose, Thistle and Shamrock
Yeoman Warder in Tudor State Dress, c. 1895

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 Guard Extraordinary, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels; they have also conducted guided tours since the Victorian era.

In 2011, there were 37 Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder.[1] All warders are retired from the Armed Forces of Commonwealth realms 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 Yeomen Warders are often incorrectly referred to as Yeomen of the Guard, which is actually a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards.


A Yeoman Warder in everyday undress uniform

Although the Yeomen Warders are often referred to as Yeomen of the Guard, which is a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards of the British monarch, they are in fact a separate entity within this guard. Gilbert and Sullivan's opera, 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.[2]


The name Beefeater is of uncertain origin, with various proposed derivations. The term was common as early as the 17th century as a slang term for the English in general.[3] The earliest connection to the Royal Household came as a reference to the Yeomen of the Guard by Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who frequented the Court in 1669. In referring to the Yeomen of the Guard, he stated, "A very large ration of beef is given to them daily at the court, and they might be called Beef-eaters".[4] The Beefeater name was carried over to the Yeomen Warders, due to the two corps' outward similarities and the Yeoman Warders' more public presence. Beefeaters also commonly produced and consumed broths made of beef, which were described as rich and hearty. These broths were known, at the time, as bef or beffy.[5]

While this is the most-cited origin, including by the Corps themselves,[6] some etymologists have noted the term's similarity to hláf-æta, the Old English term for a menial servant, lit. "loaf-eater", the counterpart of hlaford "loaf-warden" and hlæfdige, which became "lord" and "lady" respectively.[7] Conjectures that the name derives from buffetier (an Old French term meaning 'a waiter or servant') are not considered probable.[4][8]


The Tudor yeomen[edit]

Yeoman Warder

The Yeomen Warders were formed in 1485 by the new King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty; the Tudor rose, a heraldic badge of the dynasty, is part of the badge of the Yeomen Warders to this day.

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 actual 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. This was, however, 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 behavior of the warders.[4]

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 in that year were raised to the status of ordinary yeomen. 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. Uniform at this time was a velvet coat trimmed with silver gilt, worn over armour.[9]

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, aka Tower Division 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.[10]

Current composition and duties[edit]

Moira Cameron, the first female Yeoman Warder

In 2011, there were 37 Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder.[1]

All Yeoman Warders are retired members of the armed services; to be appointed, one must be "a former Warrant Officer, class 1 or 2, (or the equivalent rank in other services) and in exceptional circumstances, a Staff Sergeant" from the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, or Royal Marines; must have earned the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; and must have served for 22 years in the regular armed services.[11] Until 2009, sailors were ineligible to become Yeomen Warders. This was because sailors of the Royal Navy—unlike soldiers, marines, and airmen—swear an oath of allegiance to the Admiralty rather than the monarch personally.[12][13] In 2009, sailors became eligible to join the Yeoman Warders after the Queen consented to a petition from the Governor of the Tower to allow Royal Navy senior ratings to serve.[12]

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.

The Yeomen Warders and their families live in tied accommodation inside the fortress, paying council taxes and rent. They must own a home outside the fortress to occupy 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 each night.

On 1 July 2007 a service woman, Moira Cameron, became the first female Yeoman Warder in the history of the institution. 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.[14]

In 2009, three male warders were suspended, accused of bullying of Cameron; two were dismissed and one was subsequently re-instated following the month-long investigation with the allegations against him "unproven".[15]


Chris Skaife – the present 'Ravenmaster' in front of the Traitors' Gate

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.

It is not known how long the ravens have been living in the Tower of London, but they were resident by the time of King Charles II. Legend maintains that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom.[16] When he received complaints that the ravens interfered with observatory work, Charles ordered the re-siting of the Royal Observatory to Greenwich rather than remove the ravens.[16] 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.[16]

The Ravenmaster lets the birds out of their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day. The warders comment that the "real beefeaters" at the Tower are the ravens; they are fed raw beef which is bought at Smithfield Meat Market by the Ravenmaster.[17]

The current Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster of the Tower of London is retired Staff Sergeant Chris Skaife (a former Drum Major with the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment), who took over from Derrick Coyle in 2005.[16]


  1. ^ a b Louise Tickle (2011-07-04). "Want to be a Beefeater? | Education". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  2. ^ Minney, Rubeigh James (1970) The Tower of London, Cassell, London. ISBN 0304934283
  3. ^ E. Cobham Brewer (1898). Beefeaters. Dictionary of Phrase and Fable – via 
  4. ^ a b c public domain Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Yeomen of the Guard". Encyclopædia Britannica. 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. 
  5. ^ Benusis, Jota (1998). Broth Handbook (3rd ed.). Rapid City: Travis Russell & Associates. p. 46. 
  6. ^ "Yeoman Warders | Tower of London". 2012. Retrieved 1 April 2016. 
  7. ^ Ernest Weekley (1971). More Words Ancient and Modern. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0-8369-5917-5. 
  8. ^ "beefˌeater, n". OED Online. Oxford University Press. March 2016. The conjecture that sense 2 may have had some different origin, e.g. < buffet 'sideboard,' is historically baseless. No such form of the word as *buffetier exists; and beaufet, which has been cited as a phonetic link between buffet and beefeater, is merely an 18th cent. bad spelling, not so old as beef-eater. 
  9. ^ Hale, John Rigby (1983). "On a Tudor Parade Ground: The Captain's handbook of Henry Barrett 1562". In Hale, J.R. Renaissance War Studies. History series. 11. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 252–4. ISBN 0907628176. 
  10. ^ Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th Edition, 1993. Article on Tower Hamlets
  11. ^ Yeoman Warders, Historic Royal Palaces (accessed December 27, 2016).
  12. ^ a b Sailor Beefeater begins work at Tower of London (press release), Ministry of Defence (October 31, 2011).
  13. ^ Jonathan Sherman, Take him to the tower! Gosport sailor is now a Beefeater, Portsmouth News (November 1, 2011).
  14. ^ Davies, Caroline. "News – Latest breaking news – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 8 May 2012. 
  15. ^ "Beefeaters fired in bully probe". BBC News. 2009-11-25. Retrieved 2013-07-21. 
  16. ^ a b c d "The Ravens at the Tower of London, England". Retrieved 21 June 2017. 
  17. ^ "Chris Skaife, Master Raven Keeper at the Tower of London, & Merlin the Raven – Spitalfields Life". Retrieved 21 June 2017. 

External links[edit]