Hello, this is Michael Anthony, and you’re listening to British History 101.
Last week, we discussed Her Majesty’s Tower of London, and at one point I mentioned Yeoman Warders. That leads me to this episode’s topic. We will be discussing the two types of yeomen found within the group of bodyguards assigned to the monarch in Great Britain: the Yeomen of the Guard and the Yeomen Warders, often confused but with several key differences. Let’s get right to it.
The Yeomen of the Guard is the oldest military corps in existence in Britain, created in 1485 by Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth Field which ended the Wars of the Roses. They wear uniforms of red, white, and yellow, which are almost identical to those of Yeomen Warders with the exception of the cross belt worn from the left shoulder on uniforms of Yeomen of the Guard. They carry an undrawn sword and a halberd called a partisan. The Yeomen of the Guard number 73, all retired officers and sergeants in the British Services. Most Yeomen are appointed by the Lord Chamberlain, who recommends each member to the reigning monarch. The Captain of the Queen’s Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard, however, is always the Deputy Chief Whip of the House of Lords. All members of the Yeomen have at least 42 years of age but less than 55 upon appointment. They must have held the rank of sergeant or above in the Services, with at least 15 years’ service to Britain. I’ll quote Wikipedia on the dress of the Yeomen:
“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… [t]he gold-embroidered emblems on the back and front of the coats consist of the Tudor Crown with the Lancastrian rose, the shamrock and the thistle, the motto “Dieu et mon Droit”, and the initials of the reigning sovereign.”
I’ll also add that “Dieu et mon Droit,” translates from French as “God and my right,” in reference to the divine right of the monarch to reign.
Yeoman of the Guard can be found at the Royal Maundy Service, during which the reigning monarch distributes specially coined “Maundy Money” to the poor on Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday, the Thursday before Easter). Since 1954, Maundy Money has been struck with the right-facing head of Queen Elizabeth II with the inscription “Elizabeth II Dei Gratia Regina F D,” or Elizabeth II By the Grace of God Queen and Defender of the Faith. On an interesting side note, Maundy coins dating back to 1822 remain legal tender in Britain. The Yeomen of the Guard also attend the State Opening of Parliament, before which they engage in the ceremonial search of the cellars of Parliament in remembrance of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. The Yeomen are seen at the Epiphany Service at the Chapel Royal at St. James’ Palace, investitures and summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace, the installation of Knights of the Garter at Buckingham Palace, the investiture of the Prince of Wales, and the coronation, lying-in-state, and funeral of the Sovereign.
Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London are the other yeomen we will discuss. These guards have the official duties of keeping watch over the prisoners and crown jewels held within the Tower of London, but in practice they are tour guides for the Tower. However, this does not take away from the dignity of being a Yeoman Warder – each Warder is retired from the British Services with at least 22 years of service and in possession of the Long service and Good Conduct medals. Normally, the Warders wear “everyday” uniforms of dark blue with red trimmings, featuring the initials ER with the Roman numeral II between them, for Elizabeth II Regina. The Yeomen Warders are involved in one State ceremony, that being the coronation of the monarch. For Coronations, the Warders form a guard of honour within the annex of Westminster Abbey and are decked out in State dress uniforms. These are nearly identical to those of the Yeomen of the Guard, with the exception of the cross belt worn by the Guard.
Yeomen Warders are also the yeoman sometimes referred to as “Beefeaters.” There are several theories as to where this term came from; one claims the term arose from the fact that the Yeomen Warders were once fed with beef; an extension of that theory is that “beefeater” was used as a derogatory name to describe the Warders, who were well-fed in the sight of the impoverished; a third theory is that beefeater is a corruption of the French word “buffetier,” or keeper of the king’s food. However, the Warders themselves will tell you that the real beefeaters are the ravens in the Tower discussed in the immediately previous episode of British History 101; maintained by the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, the Tower’s avian guards are fed with raw meat or beef purchased personally by the Ravenmaster at Smithfield Meat Market.
Yeomen Warders also perform the Ceremony of the Keys each night in the Tower. If you’d like to attend this often heavily-booked event, the public is free to apply in writing at least two months in advance to:
The Ceremony of the Keys
HM Tower of London
London EC3N 4AB
That’s if for this episode of British History 101. This episode and the one treating the Tower of London before it can be found at BritishHistory101.com. I’d like to send a huge thank you to Mr. John Lu, who purchased the domain name BritishHistory101.com for me and has graciously forwarded it (several times) to my new address. If you do in fact visit the blog, make sure to add yourself to the Platial map on the sidebar and see where your fellow listeners are! Send suggestions, questions, comments, rants, and raves to BritishHistory101@gmail.com. I can also be reached via Skype, under the name British History 101. Our music tonight is “Estampie Cosi Pensoso,” performed by Shira Kammen and available on Magnatune.com. Magnatune is an independent online record label that equally shares all revenue from album sales with their hand-selected artists while allowing them to retain full rights to their works. Visit magnatune.com for great music at low prices and support the many wonderful artists hosted there. Thanks very much for listening, and we’ll talk again soon.