The Iconic Guards of the
Tower of London
Their official title may be the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, but you’ll probably be more familiar with their popular nickname, the ‘Beefeaters’. However, this lesser-known, official title gives us a sense of the rich history behind these iconic guards and their ties to the monarch, which date back to Tudor times. Depicted on the third coin in our Tower of London Coin Collection, we delve into the story of the Yeoman Warders.
The Original Elite Royal Bodyguards
The Yeoman Warders have their roots in the Yeomen of the Guard, an elite group of royal bodyguards, and are one of the oldest of these organisations in the world still in existence today – much like the similarly colourful Swiss Guards of the Vatican. Formed by Henry VII in 1485, his newly crowned son later decided to leave behind twelve Yeomen of the Guard at the Tower of London as a garrison when he moved his official residence away. The title of this group was later changed to more accurately reflect their role in protecting the Tower and its residents, and the Yeoman Warders have upheld these responsibilities ever since.
Scarlet Red Uniform Trimmed in Gold
The most famous aspect of the Yeoman Warders has to be their instantly recognisable and colourful uniform. The highly decorative scarlet red uniform trimmed in gold has remained relatively unchanged since Tudor times and still features the Tudor rose at the heart of the heraldic badge. But if you visit the Tower of London in search of the iconic red guards, you may be surprised to find the Warders looking a little different. This is because a more practical dark blue uniform was introduced in the 19th century for daily duties, reserving the red State Dress uniform for special occasions such as Her Majesty The Queen’s birthday.
A Rather Unusual Nickname
The origin of the Yeoman Warders’ popular ‘Beefeater’ nickname has been debated by historians for some time, with no clear resolution, as the term dates back to the 17th century when it was used as a nickname for the English people in general. Most believe that the Yeoman Warders came to be known by this term because, as important members of the royal guard, they were better fed than other servants and commonly paid a portion of their salary in chunks of beef.
The Yeoman Warders Today
Now that the days of prisoners and princes being housed at the Tower have passed, the role of the modern Yeoman Warders at the Tower of London are primarily ceremonial, carrying out gun salutes and the Ceremony of the Keys. Every Yeoman Warder is retired from the Armed Forces with at least 22 years of service, lives on site with their family, and spends most days greeting and guiding visitors around the grounds. But all this responsibility is not without its perks, and the guards each receive a birthday bottle of Beefeater Gin as a token thanks for the use of the Beefeater image on the bottles! The Yeoman Warders 2019 UK £5 Coin celebrates the much-loved guardians of the royal palace and fortress. When placed together with the other coins in the collection, a larger image maps out a plan of the Tower. Collect all four coins to tell the story of the Tower of London’s vital place in royal history, available to purchase here.