Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times. Nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, the Yeoman Body of 37 men and women are all drawn from the Armed Forces.
Beefeaters’ Gin bottles feature a picture of a Yeomen Warder in full state dress. As a thank you, every YW is sent a bottle of gin on his or her birthday!
Yeoman Warders were originally part of the Yeoman of the Guard – the monarch’s personal, crack bodyguard who traveled with him everywhere. Henry VIII was the first to recognise that the Tower needed a dedicated guard too. These ‘Yeoman Warders’ were eventually granted the right to wear the 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.
Today’s Yeoman Warders need to have at least 22 years’ military service; have reached the rank of warrant officer and to have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal and to be between 40 and 55 years old on appointment.
These familiar words echo down Water Lane every night as they have done for over 700 years. They are part of the ancient Ceremony of the Keys in which the outer gates of the fortress are locked for the night and the keys delivered to the monarch’s representative in the Tower, the Resident Governor.
Each new recruit takes an oath of royal allegiance said to date back to 1337. Then they drink a toast of port, served in an 18th-century pewter bowl. Tradition requires the Chief Yeoman Warder to toast all new recruits with the words ‘may you never die a Yeoman Warder’.
The origins of this rather odd toast can be found in the fact that by the early 19th century the post of Yeoman Wards was being sold for 250 guineas. This would be returned to the Yeoman Warder on his retirement, with the balance kept by the Constable who hired him. But if the YW died in post, the Constable inherited the whole amount! However, the Duke of Wellington, who became Constable in 1826, abolished this purchase system.
Prepare to be entertained by captivating stories of pain and passion, treachery and torture on the Yeoman Warder guided tours at the Tower.
Tours daily, every 30 minutes
Meet the ravens at the Tower of London, known as the guardians of the Tower. It is said that, ‘If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall…’