The Guardians of the Tower of London

Beefeaters and Ravens at the Tower of London

This kind of job comes with an unusual description,

“Must love birds and priceless jewels. Former British Warrant Officers only. Sailors and women are eligible. The staff housing may need work as it is built in the 13th century.”

As an Anglophile and former Englishman (lived in Twickenham in 2nd grade), I have always been fascinated by the “Yeoman Warders” of the Tower of London, better known as “Beefeaters” due to their addiction to Bovril or beef broth.

An Italian came up with the pseudonym Beefeater.

Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, frequented the Court in 1669 and referred to the Yeomen of the Guard’s regimen, “A huge ration of beef is given to them daily at the court, so they might be called Beef-eaters.”

One can be thankful they didn’t fancy herring.

While Yeoman Warders are only ceremonial guardians, their role wasn’t always so tame. In Tudor times, the Tower functioned as a dungeon and Warders were in charge of prisoners, which may have included torture, starvation, and a requirement to read Oliver Cromwell aloud. Also, they are charged with safeguarding the Crown Jewels.

The job comes with staff housing. Warders and their families live inside the Tower fortress in homes that may date back to the 13th century. They pay a modest rent. Many of them own homes off-premises when they need to escape the workplace. You could say during Covid Warders worked from work rather than home. The elite corps also gets a pub for their exclusive use. Rumor has it they drink more than beef broth on these occasions.

For anyone interested in becoming a Yeomen Warder, the job is not easy to obtain. You must be a retired member of the British Armed Forces with 22 years of service and have reached the warrant officer level. Until 2009, sailors were ineligible. This was because sailors swear an oath of allegiance to the Admiralty rather than the monarch. In 2009, the Queen consented to allow the Royal Navy sailors to serve.

Classy of her, no?

Women were not always welcome. In 2007, Moira Cameron became the first female Yeoman Warder. To show their appreciation, Cameron was bullied by three men who were promptly suspended; two have been dismissed, and one re-instated following the investigation.

No more of that bully beef.

Because of the Tower’s famous ravens, bird lovers may fancy a career with the warders. They should keep in mind that only one Yeoman Warder can be Ravenmaster and has the responsibility to maintain the welfare of the Tower of London's ravens.

King Charles II of England, Scotland, and Ireland (1630–1685)

If anyone knows how long the ravens have lived in the Tower, they’re not telling. Rumor has it they’ve been around the restoration, which dates back to the reign of King Charles II in 1660. During this time, the chief astronomist complained to Charles the ravens interfered with his work when they flew freely around the Tower ground.

Charles was not one to trifle with disturbances (the beheading of his father might have made him a bit jumpy). He ordered the ravens destroyed. But upon recalling the legend, he had their wings clipped, which is the source of the common expression.

Please keep in mind that the English prefer to say the wings have been trimmed. Recently, fewer wing feathers are clipped, and so ravens now fly rather than content themselves with hopping. In a burst of liberation, they are allowed to fly to the Tower top. One bird named Melina is allowed, for reasons unspecified, to fly to the wharf on the River Thames, but she always returns for mealtime.

A raven’s life isn’t something to scoff at unless you are vegan. Every day the ravens are released by the Ravenmaster at dawn, and who then prepares breakfast for them. They are the real beefeaters with a preference for chicken, lamb, and especially mice. A mixed grill is the highlight of the week. On special occasions, they get dog biscuits soaked in blood and fish sauce. Oh, to be a raven….

While the current Prince of Wales is technically named for Charles I, as he was beheaded, we can rest assured Charles II is his favorite. The son ruled the nation for twenty-five years with thoughtful equanimity and became one of the most popular kings in history.

2019 Telly Award; ex-publisher Forbes

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Jeff Cunningham

Jeff Cunningham

2019 Telly Award; ex-publisher Forbes

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