Anonymous Yeoman Warders Beefeaters at Tower of London
History

Who Are The Yeoman Warders?

The official Tower of London guardians, commonly known as 'Beefeaters', have guarded the Tower since Henry VIII's reign.

Anonymous Yeoman Warders Beefeaters at Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of the most recognisable landmarks in the capital.

Its buildings and grounds have served historically as a Royal palace, a political prison, a place of execution, an arsenal, a royal mint, an exotic animal zoo, and a public records office.

Synonymous with the Tower is its guardians, the Yeoman Warders.

More commonly known by their 'Beefeaters' nickname, the Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times.

Watch: The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall visited the Tower of London in February 2020 to mark 535 years of the Beefeaters.

Who are the Yeoman Warders? 

The Yeoman Warders were formed after the 1485 Battle of Bosworth at the order of King Henry VII, making them the UK's oldest extant military corps, and the oldest of the Royal bodyguards.

Yeoman Warders descended from the ancient band of warders, the Yeoman of the Guard – the monarch's personal guards who travelled everywhere with him. 

Henry VIII then decided that the Tower should be protected by part of the Royal bodyguard.

Yeoman Warders wear a 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 more durable everyday dark blue 'undress' uniform was introduced in the 19th Century.

A Yeoman Warder must have at least 22 years' service in the British Armed Forces and have reached the rank of a warrant officer and been awarded the long service and good conduct medal.

Their official title is 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.

Yeoman Warder Tower of London
Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London dressed in their dark blue 'undress' uniform.

What do they do?

Modern Yeoman Warders are still Extraordinary Members of the Queen's Bodyguard, combining their traditional ceremonial role with a love of history to tell the story of the Tower's past.

They can be seen giving tours and welcoming the annual three million tourists who visit the Tower of London.

They have performed ceremonial duties since 1485 when their role was created by King Henry VII.

There are 21 separate duties that the Yeoman Warders conduct every day, including the Ceremony of the Keys, a closing ceremony that has taken place every night at the Tower of London without fail for at least 700 years.

It happens when the outer gates are locked for the night and the keys are delivered to the monarch's representative in the Tower, the Resident Governor.

New Yeoman Warders are 'sworn in' during a centuries-old ceremony, with each new recruit taking an oath of royal allegiance said to date back to 1337.

Watch: In 2019, Forces News met the Tower of London's resident ravens which are the subject of an ancient legend. 

Why are they known as 'Beefeaters'?

The true origins of the nickname 'Beefeater' are unclear, with no-one sure exactly how they got their name.

A popular theory is based on an old agreement where they were granted the right to eat as much beef as they wanted at the king's table.

As the bodyguards of royalty, they would have been better fed than other Royal servants.

Who is the Ravenmaster? 

The Ravenmaster is one of the 37 Yeoman Warders who looks after the famous ravens at the Tower, with the help of the other warders.

The ravens are the subject of a superstition dating back to Charles II.

According to the legend, the kingdom and the Tower of London will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress.

As it stands, there are seven ravens living at the Tower - one more than the six outlined in the superstition - after Raven Merlina went missing, presumed dead, in January 2021.

Charles II is believed to have been the first to insist that the ravens of the Tower be protected after he was warned that the crown and the Tower itself would fall if they left.

Tower of London Ravenmaster Chris Skaife holds first baby raven to be born at the Tower in 30 years (Picture: Royal Historic Palaces).
Ravenmaster Chris Skaife holds the first raven chicks to be born at the Tower in 30 years in 2019 (Picture: Historic Royal Palaces).

His order went against the wishes of his astronomer, John Flamsteed, who complained the ravens impeded his observatory in the White Tower.

Historic Royal Palaces' website states the birds "respond only to the Ravenmaster and should not be approached too closely by anyone else".

The Ravenmaster occasionally trims some of the ravens' feathers to encourage them to stay within the Tower.

However, in the past, some of the ravens have gone absent without leave and others have even been sacked.

Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside a pub in the East End, according to Historic Royal Palaces.

The Ravenmaster feeds the birds twice a day which have a special diet of mice, chicks, rats and assorted raw meats, whilst a special treat is biscuits soaked in blood.

Cover image: Yeoman Warders (Picture: PA).