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Beefeaters, is the affectionate name given to what are more formally known as 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. They are responsible for looking after any prisoners in the Tower of London and safeguarding the British crown jewels but are also the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London.
To be eligible to become a warder you must be retired from the Armed Forces of Commonwealth realms and must have been a former warrant officer having at least 22 years of service. You must also hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.
The Yeomen Warders were originally formed in 1485 by King Henry VII. Since the Victorian era they have conducted guided tours around the Tower of London. In 2011 there were 37 Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder. Each night the Beefeaters participate in the Ceremony of the Keys.
One of the Yeomen Warders is called the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster and has responsibility to maintain the welfare of the ravens of the Tower of London. The Ravenmaster lets the bird out of their cages each day and feeds them. The ravens have been there long before King Charles II. Legend says that if the ravens ever leave the Tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom. When King Charles received complaints that the ravens were interfering with observatory work, he ordered the re-siting of the Royal Observatory to Greenwich rather than remove the ravens.
Until 2009, sailors could not become Yeomen Warders as they swear an oath of allegiance to the Admiralty rather than the monarch personally. In 2009, due to a petition from the Governor of the Tower, to allow Royal Navy senor ratings to serve, the Queen allowed them to become Yeomen Guards. In 2007 Moira Cameron became the first female Yeoman Warder.
The Yeomen Warders wear an ‘undress’ uniform which is dark blue with red trimmings. When on duty they wear a red and gold uniform. Click here for a selection of metallic laces used on these military uniforms.
The Beefeaters and their families live in accommodation inside the fortress. They pay council tax and rent. They must also own a home outside the fortress for their retirement. Some of the accommodation that they are living in dates as far back as the 13th century. The Tower of London community is made up of Yeoman Warders and their families, the Resident Governor and officers, a chaplain and a doctor.