Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times
Guarding the Tower
Yeoman Warders have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times.
Nicknamed ‘Beefeaters’, the Yeoman Body of 32 men and women are all drawn from the Armed Forces.
Beefeater Gin bottles feature a picture of a Yeoman Warder in full state dress. As a thank you, every Yeoman Warder is sent a bottle of gin on his or her birthday!
Who are the Yeoman Warders?
Yeoman Warders were originally part of the Yeoman of the Guard – the monarch’s personal, crack bodyguard who traveled with him everywhere.
Henry VIII decided that the Tower should be protected by part of the royal bodyguard.
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.
Apart from that, they need to have reached a certain rank within their service and to have been awarded the long service and good conduct medal.
Tradition and ceremony
‘Halt! Who comes there?’
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.
THE CONSTABLE'S DUES
These are one of several perks that the Constable of the Tower traditionally enjoyed.
Every ship that came upstream to the City had to moor at Tower Wharf to unload a portion of its cargo for the Constable.
Still today, whenever a Royal Naval vessel moors on the Wharf the Captain must present the Constable with a barrel of wine, rum, or brandy (the 'Dues').
This is ceremoniously escorted into the Tower by the Yeoman Warders and presented to the Constable on Tower Green.
The Ceremony of the Constable's Dues at the Tower of London featuring the captain and crew of the Dutch naval ship HNLMS Johan de Witt.
Image: © Historic Royal Palaces
'May you never die a Yeoman Warder'
New Yeoman Warders are ‘sworn in' during a centuries-old ceremony. 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 Yeoman Warder died in post, the Constable inherited the whole amount! However, the Duke of Wellington, who became Constable in 1826, abolished this purchase system.
Did you know?
Each new recruit takes an oath of royal allegiance said to date back to 1337.
View of the Bloody Tower and Gateway
Nicholas Condy (1793-1857) c.1825-46
This painting shows an early view of the Tower as a visitor attraction. In their iconic red uniform, a Yeoman Warder can be seen addressing a group of interested visitors looking up at the Bloody Tower.
View this painting in high definition in this Gigapixel image, created in partnership with Google Arts & Culture.
By tradition, only 422 people have ever held the role of Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London. Here, Yeoman Warder Simon Towe, who joined the ranks of the Yeoman Body in November 2022, describes an eventful first year in his new life.
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