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What is a Beefeater?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 24 September 2014
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A beefeater is a member of the Yeoman Warders, a ceremonial guard which oversees the Tower of London in England. Technically, the polite term is “Yeoman Warder,” although most people know the members of the iconic guard by their nickname. In order to serve as a Yeoman Warder, an applicant must have 22 years of service in the British armed forces, along with awards for distinction and good conduct. Positions among this historic body are very coveted, and competition for open positions can be fierce.

The beefeaters were founded in 1485 under the reign of Henry VII. They are charged with the duty of guarding prisoners in the Tower of London, along with supervising the safety of the Crown Jewels. The modern Yeoman Warders also offer information and tours to visitors, and they care for the ravens which are housed at the Tower of London. Tourists readily identify the beefeaters by their distinctive uniforms, which are modeled on those used by the Yeoman Warders in the Tudor era.

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The origins of the term “beefeater” are a bit obscure. Some historians believe that the original Warders may have been partially paid in meats, while others suggest that they have the privilege of eating beef from the Royal Kitchens, and that the nickname may have been a pejorative term applied by jealous locals. In actuality, the only creatures at the Tower with a steady diet of beef are the ravens, who serve as a symbol of the British monarchy. According to superstition, if the ravens leave the tower, the monarchy will collapse; one Yeoman Warder, the Ravenmaster, is charged with their care.

It is easy to confuse the Yeoman Warders with the Yeoman of the Guard, a ceremonial bodyguard which protects the British monarch. Both bodies wear similar uniforms, require former military service, and perform a number of annual and daily ceremonies which are steeped in British history. The Yeoman Warders, for example, perform a nightly “Ceremony of the Keys” when they lock up the Tower each night, while the Yeoman of the Guard famously search Parliament for threats annually before the opening ceremony.

Each beefeater has accommodations in the Tower of London as long as he or she serves; in 2007, the first female beefeater, Moira Cameron, joined the elite team of 35 warders. Work as a beefeater can be demanding, but also very fulfilling, as the warders are a part of living history.

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Penzance356
Post 3

This sounds like a great job for someone who has been in the military. Can you imagine being able to live in the Tower of London? I love history, and think these people do a great job of keeping so much of the past meaningful to modern day visitors.

CaithnessCC
Post 2

When I went to London I was really looking forward to seeing some real life beefeaters. It was a bit of a disappointment to find that they don't always wear that famous red uniform. It seems that is mainly for special ceremonies.

Those on regular duties wear something quite different, a dark blue and red outfit which is less formal and probably more comfortable for them.

anon16842
Post 1

Thank you for the wealth of information concerning the beefeaters. My Dad flew into San Francisco from Rochester, and I met him there some years ago. We were greeted by these fancily dressed men at his hotel. My Dad said that they were "beefeaters", but I really never understood what that meant. Now I do, thanks to you. Huzzah!

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