Monday, March 8, 2010

Beefeaters


Okay, I think we all have a visual, at least from the gin bottle, if nothing else. But who are these guys?

Strictly speaking, this is not an original idea kind of post, as a friend was the one who brought it up because there is a new novel coming out which features these guys somehow. She can remain anonymous or not, as she wishes. I'm still not entirely clear on the function of the Beefeaters, but now I know that they live in the Tower of London. For real! And there's this one guy who's the raven keeper, and they are apparently called something like the Order of Yemen and...

But maybe it's time to do a little fact-checking....

Oh,great. Yeoman warders, not Yemen warders. Please tell me that there is a raven keeper and not just a ravin' keeper.

Just kidding. I already knew there was a raven keeper. And you who didn't know can check it out here. If you get that far, be sure to scroll down a bit because the Ravenmaster, as he's really called, has some nice stories about the individual ravens.

Why ravens? Because legend has it that if the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, the White Tower will crumble and a terrible disaster will befall Britain. It doesn't seem quite, well, cricket that the reason the ravens don't leave is that their wings are slightly clipped. But I suppose when the future of a nation is at stake...anyway, they're well cared for.

But I digress. Why are the Yeoman Warders called Beefeaters? Turns out no one really knows. In fact, not even the Yeoman Warders know. There are lots of theories, of course--most having to do with these men and their families being given extra rations of beef in an era when few had much or any of it. According to this very charmingly rendered account ( scroll down to the part about the legend of the ravens towards the end), it may have been a term of derision, which would make sense on several levels.



There is some controversy about whether the fellow on the Beefeater's gin bottle actually is a Beefeater and not a Yeoman of the Guard, one of the monarch's personal bodyguard. The Beefeaters' everyday uniform is,after all, blue and red. But their state uniform is red and gold and similar to the Yeoman of the Guard's uniform. As, for some reason, these haven't been modified since the days of the Tudors, they are rumored to be very uncomfortable.

The toast of the Yeoman Warders is "May You Never Die a Yeoman Warder", which may sound odd, but it began at a time when the vacant post reverted to the Constable of the Tower on your death, leaving your family with nothing. Not too well thought out, I'd say.

Unfortunately, I must finish this post with the news that a couple of Beefeaters were sacked at the end of 2009. The reason? Harassment of the Tower's first female Beefeater, Moira Cameron. Some things never change, I guess.


I'm thinking that getting booted for harassment wasn't exactly the way those two foresaw that toast being fulfilled somehow...

11 comments:

  1. I can add that beefeaters make informative and hugely entertaining guides to the Tower of London. And the Tower is a solid structure. It's not going to fall down because of any birds.

    And now, lunch: a sandwich of beef.
    ==========================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://www.detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  2. Yes, I realized that in covering certain aspects of this I'd missed a couple of important points. Though once they were jailers, they are more tour guides than anything else these days--except I guess the Ravenmaster. And they don't actually live in the tower but on the grounds of the Tower of London.

    One thing I don't get about the harrassment or hazing of Moira Cameron: to even be eligible for the position, you have to have served honorably in the military for twenty-two years. Why would anyone who was of the same background not feel obligated to honor that service, even if they didn't like seeing women come into the postition? Families have lived on the grounds of the Tower forever, so it isn't even an elite male society she's busting up.

    As for the ravens, well, I don't know. The temptation is certainly to take them away just to see what happens... I'm kind of surprised no one has.

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  3. Oops, a typo in your title.

    I did not know until my visit that these guys were active-duty military. One of them went out of his way to be helpful when I had a question.

    "Who's that narrating the video?" I asked as we viewed the crown jewels. The beefeater apologized for not knowing, but then surprised me by seeking me out a few minutes later and a few meters further along the line and telling me it was Derek Jacobi. He'd gone out of his way to find out the answer.

    Some of his more entertaining colleagues could have acted alongside Jacobi on stage, at least in comic roles.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  4. And that's why we need copyeditors. I'll fix it after this comment. Thank you.

    I actually plan to listen to all the Tower of London lore at that second link at some point, mainly because the guy is such a nice storyteller.

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  5. Where is that link? Am I missing something, because I wouldn't mind hearing a bit of lore.
    ================
    Detectives Beyond Borders
    "Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
    http://detectivesbeyondborders.blogspot.com/

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  6. Seana, have you read Elivra Woodruff's The Ravenmaster's Secret? Another unputdownable YA adventure/mystery on this v. topic. Miss Lemon plans to review it soon.

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  7. I haven't, and it sounds very good. It will be even more interesting to me after researching this post. I'll add it to the list and look forward to Miss Lemon's review.

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  8. The legend about the ravens seemed so very charming and old-worldly. Till I came back with a bump at the last tidbit about Moira. Seems like even beef-eaters can turn out to be Male Chauvinist Pigs!

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  9. Well, change is hard, I guess. It's just discouraging that resistance seems to play out in exactly the same kind of way all the time. And I guess it was only a couple of bad apples.

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