The name Beefeater is of uncertain origin, with various proposed derivations. The term was common as early as the 17th century as a slang term for the English in general. The earliest connection to the Royal Household came as a reference to the Yeomen of the Guard by Cosimo III de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who frequented the Court in 1669. In referring to the Yeomen of the Guard, he stated, “A very large ration of beef is given to them daily at the court, and they might be called Beef-eaters”. The Beefeater name was carried over to the Yeomen Warders, due to the two corps’ outward similarities and the Yeoman Warders’ more public presence. Beefeaters also commonly produced and consumed broths made of beef, which were described as rich and hearty. These broths were known, at the time, as bef or beffy.
The Yeomen Warders were formed in 1485 by the new King Henry VII, the first monarch of the Tudor dynasty; 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 residence from the Tower of London. The Tower retained the formal status of a royal palace and to mark this a party of twelve Yeomen of the Guard was 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 behaviour of the warders.
The original Tudor guard was split into two categories: the ordinary 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. 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.
There were 37 Yeomen Warders and one Chief Warder. At one time, they were primarily guards but more recently, their role is primarily ceremonial; they have become greeters and guides for visitors, as part of their 21 duties.
All Yeoman Warders are retired members of the armed services; to be appointed, one must be “a former Warrant Officer, class 1 or 2, and in exceptional circumstances, a Staff Sergeant” from the Royal Navy, British Army, Royal Air Force, or Royal Marines; must have earned the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; and must have served for 22 years in the regular armed services. Until 2009, sailors were ineligible to become Yeomen Warders. This was because sailors of the Royal Navy—unlike soldiers, marines, and airmen—swear an oath of allegiance to the Admiralty rather than the monarch personally.
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.
On 1 July 2007 a servicewoman, 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.
The Yeoman Warder, 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 official title has been in use since the 1960s.
It is not known how long the ravens have been living in the Tower of London, but they were resident by the time of King Charles II. Legend maintains that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, the White Tower will fall and disaster will befall the kingdom.