Yeomen Warders

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Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress The Tower of London
File:YeomanoftheGuard badge.PNG
Badge of the Yeomen Warders
Active 1485 (1509: see History) –
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, but in practice they act as tour guides and are a tourist attraction in their own right, a point the Yeomen Warders acknowledge.

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 senior non-commissioned officers or petty 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 most likely proposition[3] is considered to be from the Yeomen of the Guards' right to eat as much beef as they wanted from the King's table; as mentioned above, they are often confused with the Yeomen Warders. Various historical commentators have noted a preference for beef among the Warders and the Yeomen of the Guard. It is theoretically possible that these professions enjoyed rich, hearty broths as well. Cosimo III de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany frequented the Court in 1699, and in referring to the Yeomen of the Guard, he stated, "A very large ration of beef is given to them daily at court...that 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.

Some etymologists have noted its 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.[5] Conjectures that derive the name from French serveur (waiter) are, according to the OED, historically baseless.[4]


The Tudor yeomen

Yeoman Warder

The Yeomen Warders were formed in 1485 by the new king Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty, and 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 place of residence from the Tower of London. The Tower did however initially retain the formal status of a royal palace and to mark this a party of twelve Yeomen of the Guard were 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.[6]

Current composition and duties

Moira Cameron, the first female Yeoman Warder

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 senior non-commissioned officers with at least 22 years of service. They must also hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal. Traditionally only NCOs from the Army, Royal Marines and Royal Air Force were eligible to apply, as unlike members of the other services, members of the Royal Navy do not swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown. This is because the Navy is not maintained by an Act of Parliament but instead under the Royal Prerogative. The first Naval Yeoman Warder was sworn in, in 2011.

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, due to the uniform having very little modification from when they were first introduced during the Tudor Dynasty, and are said to be[citation needed] 'extremely uncomfortable'.

The Yeomen Warders and their families live in tied accommodation inside the fortress paying council taxes and a portion of their salaries for rent. They must own a home outside of the fortress to go to 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.[7]

In 2009 two male Beefeaters were dismissed for the bullying of Cameron. Three Warders were suspended, and one was subsequently re-instated following the month-long investigation, with his role 'unproven'.[8]


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. The ravens are fed raw meat which is bought at Smithfield Meat Market by the Ravenmaster.

It is believed ravens have been living in the Tower of London since at least the time of King Charles II and legend maintains that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, the Tower and the monarchy will crumble. 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. 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.

The current Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster in the Tower of London is Chris Skaife who took over from Ray Stones in April 2011. The warders comment that the "real beefeaters" at the Tower of London are the ravens, which receive a daily ration of beef.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Louise Tickle (2011-07-04). "Want to be a Beefeater? | Education". The Guardian. Retrieved 2013-07-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Minney, Rubeigh James (1970) The Tower of London, Cassell, London. ISBN 0304934283
  3. "Yeoman Warders | Tower of London". 2012. Retrieved 8 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Public Domain Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Yeomen of the Guard". Encyclopædia Britannica. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 916–918.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Ernest Weekley (1971). More Words Ancient and Modern. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0-8369-5917-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Hale, John Rigby (1983). "On a Tudor Parade Ground: The Captain's handbook of Henry Barrett 1562". In Hale, J.R. (ed.). Renaissance War Studies. History series. 11. London: Hambledon Press. pp. 252–4. ISBN 0907628176.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Davies, Caroline. "News – Latest breaking news – Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. London. ISSN 0307-1235. OCLC 49632006. Retrieved 8 May 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Beefeaters fired in bully probe". BBC News. 2009-11-25. Retrieved 2013-07-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

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