Friday, June 16, 2017


At a time when the nation seems have been vertically split into two - beef-eaters and the rest - let us digress a bit and talk of another set of beefeaters. Bacchus-worshippers would, of course, be reminded of the renowned Beefeater Gin, and foodies of the Beefeater Steak Restaurants of the UK.
The beefeaters that I refer to are the ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. Formally called the Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, they are Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary. They are responsible for safeguarding the jewels of the British Crown and looking after the prisoners in the Tower. They also conduct guided tours as they have been doing since the Victorian era.

All warders are former warrant officers retired after at least 22 years' service from the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth. They are distinct from the Yeomen of the Guard, which is actually a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards of the British monarch.

The name Beefeater is of uncertain origin, with various proposed derivations. The most-cited origin says that a very large ration of beef is given to them daily at the court, which is why they are called Beef-eaters.

While the Corps themselves believe this source, some etymologists have noted the similarity of the term beefeater to hláf-æta, the Old English term for a menial servant, literally 'loaf-eater', the counterpart of hláford (loaf-warden) and hlaefdige, which became 'lord' and 'lady' and respectively. Conjectures that the name derives from buffetier (an Old French term meaning 'a waiter or servant') too exist.

One of the Yeomen Warders has the responsibility to maintain the welfare of the ravens of the Tower of London. He is known as the Ravenmaster. It is not known how long the ravens have been living in the Tower of London, but legend has it that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, disaster will befall the kingdom. In order to prevent the ravens from flying away, their flight feathers are trimmed so that they cannot fly in a straight line for any appreciable distance. The ravens are free, however, to roam the Tower grounds.

The warders comment that the real beefeaters at the Tower are the ravens, as they are fed raw beef by the Ravenmaster who lets the birds out of their cages and prepares breakfast for them at dawn each day.

(This post is based on information culled out from different sources.)

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