The Queen's Body Guard
of the Yeomen of the Guar

Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard

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Ceremonial Duties
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The Yeomen that you see at the State Opening of Parliament, The Order of the Garter Service, Maundy Service, Royal Garden Parties, Investitures, State Visits, Epiphany and Diplomatic Receptions, Royal Funerals and Royal Weddings and all from St James's Palace and not from the Tower of London.

The Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen the Guard (in-ordinary) is based at St James's Palace and its yeomen are The 'original' Beefeaters' and are distinguished by the cross-belt, shoulder-belt or carbine-belt worn across their breast from their left shoulder to their right hip.

Their colleagues, The Tower Warders or Yeomen Warders, are The Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard (in-extraordinary) and based at The Tower of London only. These Yeomen generally wear the daily 'undress' and only wear the crimson tunic on very few ceremonial occasions and then do not wear the cross-belt.

This site is dedicated to the Yeomen at St James's Palace only

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The Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard (The 'Original' Beefeaters) are summoned for duty only on Ceremonial Occasions and live across the whole of the British Isles.  Their Headquarters is at St James's Palace and have no duties at The Tower of London.  Most of the Yeomen have a full time second career outside of The Body Guard.  Their uniform is in the tudor style and scarlet red (as the left image).  The distinct difference in the ceremonial uniform worn by either Corps is the shoulder belt, cross belt or carbine belt.  The shoulder belt had a practical function when their armoury included the heavy harquabus and the belt supported the weight of this cumbersome weapon.  The harquabus hasn't been used since the 1600s but the shoulder belt remains a distinctive part of their uniform.   


There's no doubt that both The Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard (in-ordinary), whose headquarters is at St James's Palace, and The Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard (in-extraordinary), who are The Tower Warders, are now both called Beefeater. However, the nickname originated with The Yeomen of the Guard from St James's Palace, possibly because of their daily rations attached to The Tower Warders by association only. See Rations

One story which would have been crucial in dating the term Beefeater, had it not been found to have been adulterated to suit the narrative and therefore distorted the research, is the story of Henry VIII (born 1491 – 1547), dressing as a yeomen of the guard and invited to dine with the Abbot of Reading. The story was related by a Dr Thomas Fuller (19 June 1608 - 16 August 1661) an English churchman and historian who wrote with authority that it was true. This story is taken from his book 'The Church History of Britain’, Vol II, Book VI, Section II, page 192, reprinted 1837:

Quote, ‘King Henry VIII, happening to be hunting in the neighbourhood of Reading Abbey, disguised himself in the uniform of one of his Yeomen of the Guard, and for a frolic paid a visit to the Abbot of that place about dinner time; the Abbot receiving his guest, as one of the Royal retinue, with great civility, and invited him to dine at his own table, the principal dish being a large piece of beef, of which the King, hungry from the chase, ate voraciously. Observing this the Abbot cried out “Well fare thy heart! And here in a cup of sack I remember the Health of his Grace your Master: I would give a hundred pounds on the condition I could feed so heartily on beef as you do. Alas! My weak and squeamish stomach will hardly digest a piece of small rabbit or chicken!” The King (or rather the Beefeater) then departed, and in a few weeks afterwards the Abbot was committed close prisoner to the Tower of London, and fed for a short time on bread and water, at length a piece of beef was placed before him, which the Abbot attacked with right good will, while he was thus engaged, the King himself entered the apartment and demanded the £100 for having restored the Abbot to his lost appetite for roast-beef.’ Unquote. Thereafter whenever the Abbot saw a Yeoman of the Guard he thought of the beefeater, and the King in disguise as a Yeoman of the Guard.'

The tale is told by other historians with some slight variations, and it is just possible that the jocular name of Beefeater was given to the Guard when this story was repeated, as indeed it would be.

While attempting to discover the origin of this story I found the same story quoted by Thomas Smith in 1852 who relates Dr Fuller’s story in a somewhat changed version.

King Henry VIII, happening to be hunting in the neighbourhood of Reading Abbey, disguised himself in the uniform of one of his Yeomen of the Guard, and for a frolic paid a visit to the Abbot of that place about dinner time; the Abbot receiving his guest, as one of  the Royal retinue, with great civility, and invited him to dine at his own table, the principal dish being a large piece of beef, of which the King, hungry from the chase, ate voraciously. Observing this the Abbot cried out “Well fare thy heart! And here in a cup of sack I remember the Health of his Grace your Master: I would give a hundred pounds on the condition I could feed so heartily on beef as you do. Alas! My weak and squeamish stomach will hardly digest a piece of small rabbit or chicken!” The King (or rather the Beefeater) then departed, and in a few weeks afterwards the Abbot was committed close prisoner to the Tower of London, and fed for a short time on bread and water, at length a piece of beef was placed before him, which the Abbot attacked with right good will, while he was thus engaged, the King himself entered the apartment and demanded the £100 for having restored the Abbot to his lost appetite for roast-beef’. Thereafter whenever the Abbot saw a Yeoman of the Guard he thought of the Beefeater, and the King in disguise'

Nowhere in Fuller’s version was the word Beefeater / Beef-eater used. If it had, the origin of the term Beefeater could have been dated as being used before Henry VIII’s death in 1547 and therefore would have definitely been attributed to The Yeomen of the Guard from St James’s Palace (in-ordinary), because The Tower Warders were not sworn as Yeomen of the Guard (extraordinary) until 1550, three years later.

Certainly during Queen Elizabeth's reign her Body Guard were known as 'Beefs' as it shown in the 1571 and 1572 confessions respectively when Edmund Mather and Kenelm Berney were involved in the plotting to overthrow and indeed assassination of Queen Elizabeth. Mather’s confessions are below but in both he describes the Body Guard as ‘Beefs’. Both Mather and Berney were executed on 13 February 1572. In 'The History of the Reign of Edward the Sixth, Mary and Elizabeth Vol 2, pg 266'. it states:

‘….Regicide in some aspect presented the most temptation. " To kill a sovereign would make their fame immortal". “The Queen's Beefs” were poor creatures, a handful of determined men could easily dispatch, and the rest of the household were, "perfumed minions” such as the vile woman kept about her to feed her fantasy.’ (3)

‘….In his first conversations with Berny, Mather said, ‘If the court were the town, I would undertake to take the Queen and all her true men, with two hundred gentlemen; aye, with half the number’. This talk he used many times with me. He said the guard, calling them the Queen’s beefs, might soon be dispatched.’

Notwithstanding this earlier dated evidence I sought to investigate the alleged origin of the term ‘Beefeater’ that is most regularly quoted. One involving Count Cosmo III when he visited England in 1669. In Thomas Preston’s book 'The Yeomen of the King's Body Guard 1485-1885' states:   

‘The earliest credible documented reference of the nickname 'Beefeaters’, appears to have its origin in 1669, when Count Cosmo, Grand Duke of Tuscany, was in
England, and, writing of the size and stature of this magnificent guard, said, 'They are great eaters of beef, of which a very large ration is given them daily at the Court, and they might be called beefeaters.’’

The Count’s visit is recorded in a book called ‘Travel of Cosmo The Third Grand Duke of Tuscany Through England, During the Reign of King Charles The Second (1669)’ written by his friend and companion on the visit Count Lorenzo Magalotti. He relates the story of the ‘beef-eater’ thus (page 308):

….employed to mount guard at the gates of the palace, both on the side of St James’s Park and that of Whitehall Palace, and to escort his majesty whenever he goes out on horseback or in his carriage through the city. In the hall called the Guard-Room, is the guard of the Manica or Sleeve (yeomen of the guard) consisting of two hundred and fifty very handsome men, the tallest and strongest that can be found in England; they are called, in jest, Beef-eaters, that is, eaters of beef, of which a considerable portion is allowed them by the court every day.’

In Count Magalotti’s account it’s uncertain if the nickname Beef-eater was coined by Count Cosmo or already in existence given that the text states ‘…
they are called, in jest, Beef-eaters, that is……’ The account is written as though the term beef-eater is already in general parlance.  

However, it’s hardly surprising that the Count was so taken with the Yeomen at St James’s Palace and their rations when you see their daily table below (rations).

Indeed , a poem written by
Andrew Marvell in 1667 called ‘Last Instructions to a Painter’ shows that the term was indeed already being used before 1669:

Carteret the rich did the accountants guide
And in ill English all the world defied.
The Papists--but of these the House had none
Else Talbot offered to have led them on.
Bold Duncombe next, of the projectors chief,
And old Fitz-harding of the Eaters Beef.
Late and disordered out the drinkers drew,
Scarce them their leaders, they their leaders knew.
Before them entered, equal in command,
Apsley and Brod'rick, marching hand in hand.

The poem relating to ‘Eaters Beef’ would prove nothing and merely a way of rhyming with ‘chief’ had it not been that Fitz-Harding was Sir Charles Berkley, Viscount Fitzharding, Treasurer of the Household with responsibility for the Yeomen of the Guard.

Even in 1935 the nickname Beefeater was a contentious issue. Yeoman Percy Lloyd King (formerly SCM, 2nd Life Guard) writes:

“….Both bodies resent the term Beefeater, and try to ‘pass the baby’, as it were, one to the other. The origin of the nickname is, according to the best authorities, not a corruption of the word ‘Buffet’ and easily coined ‘Buffetier’, but is most probably the result of a not too polite observation on the part of a foreign Count, who in 1669 remarked upon the hearty ration given to the Yeomen, and thought – confound him! – that the Guard might well be called beefeaters. It is perhaps fortunate that they were not eating spaghetti at the time of the visit! At all events, the Yeomen of the Guard have ceased to be rationed by the Royal Household for many decades, although they are attached to it, and proud to be so, that they reasonably be said to be ‘living out’ and the reference to beef has lost any significance it may have had at any time at all. It is just a rather stupid nickname – and, moreover, of foreign extraction – that is as much resented by Yeomen, whether Ordinary or Extraordinary, as is the equally vulgar term ‘Tin Bellies’ by the Life Guards….”

Other anecdotal evidence for the term Beefeater being related to the Yeomen of the Guard at St James's Palace:

The Beefeater’s Boy from 'Yeomen of the Guard Their History from 1485-1885 by Thomas Preston'

‘On the return of the King (George III) and Queen from Windsor in October 1785, their post-chaise stopped at the door of St James’s Palace, where a crowd soon assembled to see their Majesties alight, and amongst them was a fine little boy, who had been newly breeched that day. The King, noticing the happy look on the boy’s face stopped and said to him, "And whose boy are you?" To which the lad replied, "My father is the King’s Beefeater," "Then", said the King, "down on your knees, and you shall have the honour of kissing the Queen’s hand", "Oh, no!” Said the boy, "I won’t kneel down, for I shall dirty my new breeches". The reply so pleased the King and Queen that they gave the boy five guineas’.

Rations (prior to 1813)

It’s hardly surprising that Count Cosimo was so taken with the yeomen and their rations. Here is an extract from Some Account of the Royal Body Guard Entitled The Ancient Corps of the Yeomen of the Guard Instituted 1485 by Thomas Smith (1852):

Thirty men mounted guard or signed the muster roll at St James’s every day. Daily allowance for the table for those thirty men, a messenger and servant:

Beef                      24 lbs
Mutton                  18 lbs
Veal                      16 lbs
Butter                     2 lbs
Bread                  36 loaves
Beer                    27 gallons in Winter and 28 gallons on Summer

Vegetables in sufficient proportions and the best in season. The dinner was cooked in the Royal Kitchen and served in two dinners, one for each guard. There were extra allowances on Michaelmas Day, birthdays of the King and Queen and their family and whenever the guns fired on other occasions, called Pitcher Days. For instance, on the King and Queen’s birthday the allowance was increased to:

Beef                    216 lbs
Butter                      6 lbs
Bread                 144 loaves
Beer                   104 gallons
Wine                     20 dozen full-quart bottles

Notes in the Duty Journal acquaints us with the lamentable fact that on 4th June 1802, “…no claret was allowed us there being no ball at night’ and on 18th January 1811, “…the Queen’s Birthday was not kept on account of the King’s Illness…” the writer adding somewhat pettishly “….No wine allowed to any one whatsoever”.

The table was abolished in 1813 by Order of The Lords of the Treasury and board-wages allowed as an equivalent when on duty.

Waterboarding (Water-boarde) From: Some Account of the Royal Body Guard Entitled The Ancient Corps of the Yeomen of the Guard Instituted 1485 by Thomas Smith (1852)

Among punishments for slight offences in ancient Royal establishments, the following in the House of Ordinance of Edward IV. A table was placed in the hall supplied only with bread and water and called the water-boarde. It was ordered ‘that if any man come too late to mattyns upon the Holyday, that is to say, after the third lesson, he shalle sytt at the Water-boarde and have nothinge unto his Dynner but bread and water; and if he absente himself wilfullye, he shall thus be punished whenever he comes to Dynner or Supper’. However, there’s no documentary evidence to suggest that any such punishment was inflicted on a Yeoman of the Guard, on the contrary, the following order was issued as late as January 1812, ‘The Yeomen do not presume to begin dinner ‘till the presiding Usher shall be in his seat, and if he is not there within five minutes after the appointed hour, he shall be forfeit five shillings to the waits at table, and any Yeoman not being in his proper seat at the table in ten minutes after the appointed time, if he is not engaged on duty’.

The origin of the nickname Beefeater is often evidenced by the below example but it has no authority. Indeed, the Beaufetier or Buffetiers doesn't even translate.

Quote, ‘The origin of the jocular nick-name Beefeater obtained by the Yeomen of the Guard has been variously stated by different writers. Some have believed it to have reference to their portly appearance, and to their having originally been selected from ‘the tallest and stoutest men that could be found in all England’ others, in allusion to their duties in the Presence Chamber at the Royal dinner, when they took charge of the sideboard or beaufet for security of the plate, have attributed it to a corruption of the French word Beaufetier or Buffetiers’. Unquote.



Yeomen of the Queen's Body Guard

Ceremonial Dress with Shoulder Belt

Tower Warders
Blue Undress (Day Uniform)
Chief Yeoman Warder Pete McGowran (left)
and Yeoman Gaoler Bob Loughlin MBE


The Queen's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the GuardThe Yeomen of the Guard or Yeomen Archers was created in 1485 to guard the new King, Henry VII.  As then, their sense of duty and commitment to their Monarch is absolute.  They no longer carry the harquebus, or a quiver of arrows with the long-bow of by-gone days, or indeed protect the body of the Sovereign in its true meaning, but they are as proud and certainly no less loyal to their Sovereign, because, they are The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard (The Body Guard).     

elow is a short history of The Body Guard and within the site a more comprehensive and detailed history by Thomas Preston. Their uniform and weaponry are described in fine detail and certain myths are dispelled.  Find biographies of the Monarchs from 1066 (including Matilda and Lady Jane Grey). This site provides an insight into their ceremonial duties.  the site's broken into hyperlinked-sections for easy reference or, if you have a spare afternoon and a flagon of mead, just browse through the pages. Either way, enjoy your time here.


Richard I - From his Tomb at FontevraultThe earliest official form of body guard of which anything is known is that of the Sergeants-at-Arms who were mounted guards raised by Richard 1 in 1191. They were originally sons of knights, and later patents were granted to esquires. By the 15th century however, their role had been extended in such a way that the protection of the sovereign was no longer their first duty.
Edward I
The first positive mention of a royal guard in English history is found in the records of Edward I’s reign (1272–1307), where the description occurs “Crossbow men of the Household”. Nothing is actually known of this guard beyond the fact that it had a very short existence, as it is not mentioned again, and the long-bow was then becoming the national weapon, being much quicker in performance. The State records of Edward II’s reign mention:
Yeoman Archer of 1485

“archers on foote for garde of the Kinge’s body who shall go before the Kinge as he traveleth through the countrye”

Edward IIEdward II maintained this guard of archers, increasing its size and giving it thus a certain permanency, which had not previously existed. Each successive monarch since this time may be assumed to have enrolled a personal Body Guard, though details are not now available in all cases, certainly Henry V, the hero of Agincourt in 1415, and his “Archers of the Household” who accompanied him abroad and fought with him on the battlefield. These were maintained until the reduction of Henry VI’s household in 1454, when the Wars of the Roses put an end to all but hereditary State and Household appointments.



There had been a long dynastic power struggle even before the forty years of battles (Wars of the Roses) between the Wars of the Roses lineage from Edward III. Lionel,Duke of Clarence (York) and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster. descendants of King Edward III.  The feuding bloodlines, or Houses, the House of Lancaster (its badge being a red rose) and the House of York (its badge being a white rose) fought for the possession of the Crown of England and the power, wealth and influence that went with it.  The Wars of the Roses began at St Albans in Pikeman and Longbowman wearing the a green tabard and green tights.1455 and saw the weak Lancastrian King Henry VI (he often suffered from bouts of madness) deposed by the House of York and the new King, Edward IV, enthroned in 1461.  In 1483, and seventeen battles later, a fourth King, Richard III (House of York) became Sovereign of England but by now, and thousands dead in battle, the rival Houses wished for peace. The decision was that the throne should be offered to Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, on condition that he marry Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Edward IV, thus uniting the Houses of York and Lancaster and ending this costly war both in money and lives.  Henry Tudor accepted the invitation and eventually embarked from Harfleur, France, for England in July 1485 with his “private guard of faithful followers,” and a small military force of about 2000 men.  Being himself of Welsh extraction, most of his adherents being Welshmen, and his private guard being Welsh born, it was but natural that Henry Tudor selected Wales as his base. He stepped ashore at the village of Dale in Milford Haven on the 1 August 1485; he was soon joined by the Welsh, who flocked to his Standard. With an increasing force Henry pressed forward to attack King Richard III

Henry VII
On the Eve of St Bartholomew's Day, 22 August 1485, they met at the Battle of Bosworth FieldRichard III was killed and it is said that the Royal crown, that he had worn over his helmet on the battle field, was found in a hawthorn bush by Henry’s “private guard”.  The crown was placed on the head of Henry Tudor, Earl of Richmond, who was then and there Richard IIIhailed as King Henry VII of England. This historical episode was commemorated in the Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey, by his son Henry VIII after his death in 1509. There, in its stained glass windows can be seen at the present day, the design of the Crown on theTop left hand corner of the Standard displays the Badge of Henry VII which is depicted by a hawthorn bush, the English Crown and the initials HR on either side of the bush. hawthorn bush under the Tudor rose, with the initials HR on the sides. From Bosworth, King Henry proceeded to Leicester and thence to London, where, on the 1 September, he attended a Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral, and deposited there the three Standards under which he had fought and those he had captured on the field of battle. Hall, the historian, described them minutely, “The first had an Image of St George; the second, ‘a Fiery Dragon beaton on white and green sarsenet,’ the Ensign of Cadwaladr, the last King of the Britons; the third was of ‘Yellow Tartine’ on which was painted a ‘Donne Kowe’ which being interpreted means dun cow.”  Henry VII was surrounded by his “private guard” of fifty men, now known as the Yeomen Guard or the Yeoman Archers.

Badge of the Stuart, King James 1 and King James VI of Scotland depicting the joining of Scotland with England. The crest shows the thistle toppe with the Stuart Crown.The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard is now the oldest Royal Body Guard, and also the oldest military corps now existing in this or any other country, pre-dating the Gentlemen-at-Arms by 24 years and the The Queen's Body Guard for Scotland, The Royal Company of Archers, who were founded in 1676. Though The Body Guard can be traced to the armed personal guards of the Saxon and Norman Sovereigns, its real historical origin is to be found in the body guards of the Plantagenet Kings of eight hundred years ago. These latter guards however, were known by various designations, such as “Cross Bowmen of the Household,” and “Archers of the Guard of the King’s Body,” and were often created anew by the Monarch on his accession.

It was King Henry VII, the first of the Tudor dynasty, to make his Royal Body Guard a permanent institution and confer on it a definite title, a title it continues to hold.  The Windsor Crest.

It may well be asked why Henry did not retain the name “Archers” of the Guard, seeing that it was these archers who had become the terror of the men-at-arms and won the glorious victories of Crecy and Poitiers, and defeated the hitherto invincible mailed cavalry. Historians of the time say that there is no doubt King Henry VII conferred the title of Yeomen of the Guard as a proclamation to the people that he had selected his body-guard not from the nobility, but from that class just below them who had proved themselves as the national strength of the country at home and abroad. In the pardons granted by the King on his Badge of the House of HanoverAccession, this class is described as “Yeomen or Gentlemen just below the rank of Esquire.” Such was the status of the Yeomen of the fifteenth century.

Since its creation as a permanent Corps, the Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard has an absolutely unbroken history of over 520 years; for even during the brief period of The Commonwealth between 1649-1659 it continued to serve with King Charles II during his enforced absence in France, and at the Restoration accompanied him on his return to England, took its historic place in his triumphal entry into London, and stood around him at his immediate Coronation.

It is certain, therefore, that Henry VII created The Body Guard between The Battle of Bosworth on 22 August and the 18 September 1485 when a warrant was issued to a William Browne:

To William Browne, Yeoman of the King’s Guard, for good service
that our humble and faithful servant hath heretofore done unto us
as well beyond the seas as at our late victoreuse journeye

Great Seal of Henry VIIThe King took the occasion of the great ceremony of his Coronation on the 31 October to let it be known that the Yeomen of the Guard who attended him were not for his personal protection, but for the upholding of the dignity and grandeur of the English Crown in perpetuity, his successors, the Kings and Queens of England, for all time.  The full title of the Guard in the old Latin MSS Warrants of the Tudor period is:

Valecti Garde (Corporis) Domini Regis
Yeomen of the Guard (of our Body) of our Lord the King

his historic title has been retained to this day, only being modernized since the ascension of Queen Elizabeth II to that by which it is know today:

The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard

The designation “Yeoman” is of interest, as it was introduced for the first time into the Body Guard upon the institution of this permanent body. As far as the etymology of the word is concerned, the most probable origin is believed to be a derivation from “gau”, meaning “district” and the word “man” signifying “man of the district”.

The term “yeoman” had for some time been applied to subordinate members of the sovereign’s household, but previous Body Guards had been designated “The Cross-Bowmen of the Household”, “Archers of The Guard”, “Archers of the Crown”, “Archers of the Household”, “The Body Archers”, or “The King’s Bowmen”.  The 14th and 15th centuries, the golden period of English agriculture, saw the rise and prominence of the yeoman class and its recognition by the State. The yeomen helped to fill in aA Yeoman of the Queen's Body Guard during the reign of Queen Victoria large gap between the upper class and the labourers. They lived well and in the winter did not have to contend with the hunger and cold endured by those who served them. Thus they were well suited to make fine soldiers, for as a wise statesman propounded  "To make good infantry it requireth men bred not in a servile and indigent fashion, but in some free and plentiful manner". The rewards granted took the form of appointments, such as bailiffs of certain towns, keepers of parks or castles, carrying emoluments, fees, commodities and profits.

The title of “The King’s (or Queen’s) Body Guard of the Yeomen of The Guard” has persisted to the present day, though during the Victorian era it had been altered to “The Royal Guard”. Before leaving the subject of correct designations, it is intriguing to discover the origin of misapprehensions, which have arisen in relation to the Yeomen of The Guard. A common acceptation of the work “yeoman” as coming from the “yeu”, the wood from which bows were then made, is as incorrect as the assumption that the yew trees of this country provided the source of our bows. In fact the best bows were imported from abroad, being mad from yew trees grown slowly on high ground in a dry climate.

Similarly, the nickname of “Beefeaters” as applied to the Yeomen has been misquoted in its origin. The authentic source of the misnomer is to be found in the narration by Count Cosmo, the Grand Duke of Tuscany, on his travels in England in the 17th century. The Count was frequently at court in 1669, and in referring to the Yeomen of The Guard, he stated: -  They are called ‘Beefeaters’, that is Eaters-of-Beef, of which a considerable portion is allowed them daily by the Court

The nickname was evidently in use at about that time, as it is on record that a respected member of parliament ironically applied it to the Yeomen of The Guard in a speech made in the House of Commons on the 9th November 1685.



The fighting weapons of The Body Guard at Bosworth Field were those of the ordinary footThe Partisan. A seven feet wooden shaft holds a shaped-blade of stainless-steel and the oramental fitting securing it to the shaft is brass; light and dark gold coloured thread woven into a knot makes up the glorious fringe below. The blade is stenciled with the Royal Coat of Arms and the initials EIIR (Elizabeth Regina II) soldier – the pike and the long bow.  The Harquebus or ArquebusLater as technology developed these were replaced by the breech-loading Harquebus, also called Arquebus or Hackbut. This was a long, portable smoothbore matchlock gun. Although it was the first gun fired from the shoulder it was generally fired from a support, against which the recoil was transferred from a hook on the gun.  It was invented in Spain but its name seems derived from German words meaning "hooked-gun".  The bore varied andLarge swivel hook at the end of the cross-belt used to carry the heavy weight of the Harquebus its effective range was less than 650 feet (200m). 

The gold-embroidered cross-belt worn only by The Body Guard, is one of the most prized and distinctive features of the dress.  It was originally the buff-coloured service cross-belt for supporting the heavy butt of the harquebus and afterwards of the equally ponderous matchlock.  The massive swivel for attachment to the fire-arm can still be seen on the cross-belt. 

Wilkinson Sword. The handle is made of guilded brass and the blade stainless-Steel. When not being cleaned the sword is housed withing a scabbard made of toughed leather and brass fittings.
The Wilkinson sword is carried on the left hip within its black-leather scabbard. But for cleaning, the sword is never drawn.  

The Body Guard also carried an ornamental partisan or halberd (spear type weapon), similar to that carried to the present day at all ceremonial duties.  Our partisans are eight feet long with a wooden shaft.  A nine inch tassel of red and gold hangs beneath a steel gilt blade with the insignia of the reigning Monarch. 


Uniform - Yeoman Guard

The Yeoman State Dress worn is, in its most striking characteristics, the same as it was in Tudor time some 521 year ago. Because so few changes have taken place in the accoutrements of The Guard, it is not difficult to envisage its appearance through a great part of English history. Although in 1809 the ancient records of The Guard were destroyed during a disastrous fire at St James’ Palace, enough information has been compiled from other sources to provide a vivid description.

DOUBLET - Scarlet cloth Tudor, embroidered, back and front cut whole.  Full sleeves gathered into wrist band with one hole and small button.  Four skirts pleated into waist.  Three small buttons and holes on left shoulder, and five small buttons and holes on left side seam.  Blue Velvet and Gold lace shoulder strap on left shoulder with one large button.

EMBROIDERY - Rose, Thistle and Shamrock, with scroll and ER surmounted by a Tudor Crown on back and front.  Trimmings: 3/8 inch gold spot lace and blue velvet. Linings: white cotton, body and sleeves, blue shalloon skirts.

BUTTONS - Gilt, crown and German border.

SERGEANT-MAJORS - On right arm four chevrons of ¾ inch gold spot lace surmounted by crown.

BREECHES - Scarlet cloth, split falls, ¾ inch gold spot lace garter, with gilt buckle at knee; and three small buttons and holes. Red, white and blue ribbon rosettes at knee.

HAT - Flat brimmed black velvet Tudor hat, gossamer body, crown 5 inches deep, brim 2 ¾ inches. Red, white and blue ribbons in bows all round close above brim.

SWORD BELT - Maroon leather, diced, 3 ¼ inches wide, laced as Shoulder Belt with large baldrick frog, gilt oval buckle the width of belt, with gilt metal slide.

SHOULDER BELT - Scarlet cloth 3¼ inches wide, lined blue shalloon; four rows gold 3/8 inch light of blue velvet between the laces; two gilt eyelets 4 inches from bottom of each end with blue ribbon tie; a large gilt swivel riveted with two plates to end of belt.

HOSE - Scarlet Merino stockings or tights.

SHOES - Patent-leather Oxford, with rosette-buckle, and red, white and blue ribbon rosettes.  (Note, if any Yeoman arrived for duty with a pair of patent-leather shoes the Messenger Sergeant Major would have a coronary, regardless of what the Official Court Dress Regulations may state.  There is friendly rivalry between the various Regiments/Corps regarding the quality of the shine on one's shoes.  Wearing patent leather is seen as the lazy option). 

RUFFS - White muslin, four rows 3 inches deep, goffered into neck band with tape drawstring.

CLOAK - Blue Inverness with hood, lined Scarlet Italian, gilt rose clasp at neck, and eight buttons.  Generally only worn at the laying-in of state of a Monarch.

GLOVES - White cotton, buttoned at the cuff (used to be buckskin).

PARTIZANS - (Yeomen Only) - Steel head, blue and gilt with Royal Arms and Royal Cypher and crown, fitted into long gilt socket, below which is a large yellow and crimson tassel.  A lance wood staff 6 feet 2 inches long to top of tassel, steel shoe.

STICK - (Sergeant-Majors and Officers Only) - Black varnished stick, silver boss let in top device, Royal Cypher and crown, with rose, thistle, and shamrock, and motto, plated band, eyes for tassel, plated ferrule.

SWORD - Gilt hilt, half basket, with three bars; Royal Crest; Crown pommel; white fish-skin grip, gilt wired.  Blade blued and gilt, with Royal Cypher and Crown; Black leather scabbard, gilt locket with hook, Royal Cypher engraved above hook; gilt shoe.

Large swivel hook at the end of the cross-belt used to carry the heavy weight of the Harquebus Wilkinson Sword. The handle is made of guilded brass and the blade stainless-Steel. When not being cleaned the sword is housed withing a scabbard made of toughed leather and brass fittings.

 The weight of the tunic, breaches, hat and ruff combined is 16lbs (7.2kg); the sword weights 1lb (.45kg) and the partisan weights 7lbs (3.15kg).  The total marching weights of The Body Guard kit weighs 24lbs (10.8kg).

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I the ruffs were added, which indeed are worn today.  However, in the time of the Stuarts lace and plumed hats took the place of the ruffs and round hats. This history of the English Monarchy, from 1485 to present day, is told by the gold embroidered emblems on the back and front of the tunic. To emphasize the reconciliation of the Houses of York and Lancaster the coats of the Guard bore the Tudor Crown, with the York and Lancaster Roses superimposed below it, and the initials HR (Henry Rex). The initials changed with each succeeding monarch, i.e. ER (for either Edward Rex or Elizabeth Regina), or CR (for Charles Rex), or JR or AR (for James Rex or Anne Regina). The only instance of the King and Queen’s initials being both embroidered on the tunic was during the reign of William III and Mary II (1689-1694/1702) when they appeared entwined WM RR.

As is well know Mary II was the rightful heir to the Throne, but she refused to be crowned unless William of Orange her husband was proclaimed King and crowned with her. By her order both their initials were embroidered on the coats of the Guard.  The Stuarts added the motto “Dieu et mon droit” but strange to say, they substituted the St Edward’s Crown for the Tudor Crown.  Queen Anne reverted to the Tudor Crown, and added in 1709, the Thistle, on the confirmation of the Union of England and Scotland.  Here may also be noted the curious historical fact that when King James I of Scotland married the daughter of Henry VII in 1502, one of the most prominent features of the royal ceremony in the Banqueting Hall in Edinburgh Castle was the stone corbels on the walls supporting the roof, which were elaborately carved with the Tudor rose between two thistles the national emblem of Scotland.
Only after 200 years was the double emblem reproduced in England (below). 

Tudor Crown (as portrayed by TF Mills UK Crowns and Flags)

The Georges again altered the Tudor Crown to the St Edward’s Crown, and in 1801 George III added initials GR

St Edwards Crown. Used to Crown the Monarch at Coronations (as portrayed by TF Mills UK Crowns and Flags)

In 1901 King Edward VII adopted the Tudor Crown but in 1953 Queen Elizabeth II adopted the St Edward’s Crown.

Crest on the front of Elizabeth II tunic. The crest incorporates the encompassed Roses of the Houses of York and Lancaster, the Thistle of Scotland, the Shamrock of Ireland, Dieu Et Mon Droit (My God My Right) and ER to the left and right respectively.

The embroidery now consist of the Crown, the superimposed York (white) and Lancaster (red) Roses, the Thistle and the Shamrock, underneath is the motto “Dieu et mon droit” (God and My Right) with the initials ER (Elizabeth Regina) on either side. 

Military Costume in the time of Henry VIIITournaments with 30 soldiers-a-side. The mellee became very rough and dangerous resulting in serious injuries and death. In the past, the rich attire of the Yeomen of The Guard was worn only on ceremonial occasions, a different uniform naturally being supplied when marching or fighting. For jousts and tournaments special uniforms were also supplied. These were at their most magnificent during the reign of Henry VIII, who spent a fortune on arraying his Guard in a most Yeoman of the Guard 1520opulent manner. At royal funerals black ‘caules’ or coats were worn, with black hats, or crepe bands round the bonnets, black gloves, and even the partisans had black fringes.

Until the early 19th century, when uniforms were still issued annually, the discarded dress becomes the property of the wearer on receiving his new outfit. George IV commanded, however, that in future every Yeoman should receive an allowance of £9 in lieu therefore, in order to prevent the dresses being brought up by person for theatrical or other public exhibitions. In William IV’s reign the duties of the Yeomen became lighter and the annual issue ceased, new uniforms being supplied only as required.


Workers of the tunic:

Mrs Gertrude Elizabeth Boud was born 1882 and originally lived in Ilford and worked as a military tailoress. After losing her husband at Gallipoli in WW1 she moved to London with her 3 children.  She found work at Pimlico making the full dress uniforms of the Yeomen of the Guard. The cuttings of the gold braid used for the uniforms was classed as a 'perk' and she was allowed to take home any little snippings. This could be quite profitable in that after hours of unwinding the gold thread from the cotton base, a small ball of gold thread could then be taken to the local pawnbroker and Gertrude would receive a £1 or so for it. Most welcome as her wages at the time were only about £1 and 6 pence per week.

In about 1936 Gertrude had to change employment and it is not known what company she worked for but it was situated in Lea Bridge Road, Silvertown, London where she trained women in the making of the uniforms. Upon the outbreak of WW11, in September 1939, the making of Body Guard uniforms was abandoned and made way for the making of Officer's uniforms for the war. Gertrude moved to Barking and worked in Bromley by Bow, London eventually retiring at the age of 75 years and passing away at the age of 82 years old.  Webmaster comment:  Thank you Gertrude and to all of those ladies that worked on these very heavy and superbly made uniforms. I think I'm still wearing the one in the picture!!

Uniform - Officers

COATEE - Scarlet Cloth, double-breasted, stand collar.  The collar and cuffs of dark blue (Life Guards) Velvet.  The skirts turned back with white cloth.  There are nine buttons in each row down the front and two at the waist behind.  Three pointed slashes of scarlet cloth on the cuffs, embroidered, and having three small buttons down the centre of the embroidery.  Three pointed sword flaps of scarlet cloth on the skirts, with a large button at each point.  White silk linings.

EMBROIDERY - Gold: rose, shamrock and thistle device, on the collar, cuff slashes and sword flaps and at bottom of skirts.

BUTTONS - Gilt, mounted, the rose, shamrock, and thistle surmounted by the Imperial Crown.

EPAULETTES - Loose gold bullion, with device in embroidery.

TROUSERS - Blue cloth, with stripes of gold oak-leaf lace 2½ inches wide on the side seams.

HAT - Black silk cocked hat, with special pattern embroidered loop and bullion tassels

PLUME - General’s 11 inch white swan feathers with red feathers under.

SWORD - Straight, special pattern. Gilt hilt, with folding guard. Black scabbard with gilt mountings.

SWORD KNOT - Gold lace strap, with bullion tassel.

WAIST SASH - Gold “train” lace, 2 ¾ inches wide, with three rows of narrow crimson silk; long bullion tassels hanging on the left side, 19 inches long in all.

BOOTS - Plain military, patent leather.

SPURS - Gilt, straight, embossed rose, shamrock and thistle.

GLOVES - White cotton.

Sir Thomas Seymour Sadler, Exon of the Guard. In the new uniform for Officers of the Body Guard, ordered by William IV 1830-31.AIGUILLETTES - Gold gimp and orris cord with gilt tags, worn suspended from end of epaulette on right side by the Captain. Lieutenant, Ensign, and Adjutant. (Not worn by Exons.)

CLOAK - Dark blue serge, Inverness pattern, fastened with one hook and eye, five gilt crown buttons with German border (plate II, No 33).  The cape forms part of the garment, and should be long enough to reach to the knuckles, and has three buttons in front.  Scarlet lining throughout. Gilt rose cloak clasps and chain on cape.

MESS DRESS - Evening dress of His Majesty’s Household. 

GOLD STICK is carried by the Captain.  Ebony with gold mountings and tassel.

SILVER STICKS are carried by all other Officers when on duty. Ebony with silver mountings and tassels.

All sticks are presented personally by the Sovereign on appointment.


Constitution and Duty

The Seal of The Yeoman of the Guard Since its inception The Body Guard has been headed by a Captain of the Guard; an important and highly prized position that grew in power as successive Captains were appointed a member of the Privy Council and Vice-Chamberlain, thus, becoming the executive-officer of the Lord Chamberlain.  Other officers of The Body Guard in descending order are Lieutenant, Ensign or Standard Bearer, Clerk of the Check and Adjutant and Exon.  Non-Commissioned Officers are Messenger Sergeant Major, Divisional Sergeant Major, Yeoman Bed Goer and Yeoman Bed Hanger and Yeomen.  Confusingly, several of the 66 serving Yeomen are also Commissioned Officers, some commanding Territorial Army units throughout the Country.  These men have completed their 22 years service in the Armed Forces as Warrant Officers or Senior Non-Commissioned Officers and have now accepted a Commission.  They are not however eligible as Officers in The Body Guard.

The duties of the Guard during the first three centuries of its history were of a mostThe Annual Inspection by King Edward VIII on 26 June 1936. onerous nature. The Guard was absolutely responsible for the personal safety of their Sovereign. The Captain, being also Vice-Chamberlain of the Household, was practically responsible for the correct performance of all Court ceremonials. The duties of guarding the interior of the Palaces were entirely in the hands of the Yeomen of the Guard who were posted on all the doors of the Palace, both inside and out. They collected the Sovereign’s meals, they tasted the food before it was placed on the Roger Monkroyal table, they carried out every evening an elaborate ceremonial known as “making the King’s bed” and an Officer of the Guard slept on a truckle bed outside the King’s bedroom.  Today the existence of the “bed” duties is still acknowledged, though of course, never carried out by the Yeoman Bed-Goer (YBG) and Yeoman Bed-Hanger (YBH).  Until the Guard ceased their daily duties in and around the Royal Palaces early in the last century, yeomen lived within the Palace; we are now permitted to live in own homes, indeed with the exception of the Messenger Sergeant Major, we are not allowed to live-in.  We are summoned only when required, approximately eight times a year which includes an annual Roll Call and Roger Monk DinnerThe Annual Roll Call of Officers and Yeomen in 1859.  The Ensign (third Officer from the right) is wearing a colour belt but at the time the Body Guard had no Standard or Ensign. The Yeomen are parading with muskets. This was instituted in Queen Victoria’s reign and developed into an Annual Inspection in the grounds of one or other of the Royal Palaces; mostly taken by the Sovereign or a member of the Royal Family. The late Duke of Connaught frequently inspected the Guard. In a few instances a distinguished soldier of the day has been honoured by being selected to take it – Field Marshal Viscount Wolseley, Sir Donald Stewart, Earl Roberts, and Sir George White. The first Inspection was held by King Edward VII when, as Prince of Wales, he was about to leave England on a visit to India. The inspection of the Guard in the Gardens of Buckingham Palace by Queen Victoria formed part of the Diamond Jubilee Ceremonials in 1897. 

Messenger Sergeant Major Arthur Rule RVM (Silver) (b1826-d1915)The original Guard was 50 in total. The permanent Guard made its first public appearance at the Coronation of its founder Henry VII. The strength of The Guard was soon after increased to 120, and has varied considerably since then, though its average membership has been 150 –200.  Henry VIII, who inherited a full treasury from his thrifty father, gradually raised the number of yeomen to the highest lever they ever, and strove to make them the most splendid and powerful Body Guard in Europe.

In 1510 their number complement stood at 600. Henry VIII’s extravagance was such, however, that by 1524 he realized that there must be a check to his household expensed and the yeomen were reduced in number to about 300, fluctuating somewhat according to the varied duties they were call upon to perform.

When Charles II re-organized the royal households, and founded, for the first time, a permanent regular army (mainly at the instigation of his brother, later James II), he fixed the establishment of the yeomen of The Guard much as it remains to this day:

Charles II

Queen Elizabeth II









Clerk of the Cheque

Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant

4 Corporals (Exons)

2 Exons

8 Ushers

2 Messenger Sergeant Majors

92 Yeomen

3 Divisional Sergeant Majors


60 Yeomen

It should be noted that the rank of ‘Corporal’, which was introduced into the new regular army, was a very different status from what it is now. At that time the rank Captain was referred to as ‘Corporal’.

Recruitment to the Yeomen of The Guard until 1823 was by purchase and the majority of The Guard were civilian.  From 1830 candidates must have served in the Army or Marines.  In 1955 the first Royal Air Force candidate was accepted and two (including myself) currently serve.  Until 2011 members of the Royal Navy were excluded from becoming Yeomen due to their tradition of not swearing allegiance to The Queen; this has now changed and two have been sworn-in and now on duty with the Yeoman Warders.  As already mentioned, selection is made from service personnel who have served with distinction, and a very long list is maintained of those seeking entry to this exclusive and venerable “Body Guard”.  Successive monarchs have confirmed rules for the selection of suitable candidates, some emphasizing that candidates should be 'of tall personage, strong, active and of manlie presence' (in Queen Victoria's reign this included the mandatory wearing of a beard)'. 

Today, candidates (servicemen and servicewomen) must have completed no less than 22 years in the Army, Royal Marines, Royal Air Force or Royal Navy, attained the rank of at least Sergeant or Petty Officer (at least Chief Petty Officer for The Yeoman Warders) and awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal.  All Yeomen must retire at the ripe old age of 70, if only to give others a chance of joining.  During Queen Victoria's reign there was a minimum height restriction of 5ft 10in but since Edward VII's reign this restriction has but been disregarded.  Edward VII is anecdotally attributed to have as stated 'if he's tall enough to fight for his country, he's tall enough to be one of my body guard' .  There is a very long list of candidates and places limited to 60.  See Recruitment

The Body Guard were supporters of Equal Opportunities as far back as 1855 with the appointment of a Sergeant John Breeze 11th Hussars.  John Breeze was the veteran of many campaigns including the Crimean War, but on 5 November 1854, during the bloody Battle of Inkermann he lost his right arm and then was an unfortunate victim of the Crimean winter where many dying and injured soldiers were left unattended on the harbour at Balaklava.  He was invalided out of the Army in 1855 and accepted into The Body Guard in the same year.

The last personal appearance on the battlefield of an English monarch surrounded by his Body Guard was George II who won a glorious victory against the French at the Battle of Dettingen in 1743.  And between 1720 and 1830 a certain civilian element was admitted to The Body Guard but upon the accession of William IV in 1830 his majesty commanded that in future no one could belong to his Body Guard who had not served in the regular Army or Marines.  Furthermore, it was stipulated that no one under the rank of Captain could become an Officer and no one under the rank of Sergeant could be a Yeoman in the King’s Body Guard. 

The Officers and Yeomen of The Guard are re-sworn under each new Sovereign, and their ancient privileges are confirmed. These included exemption from public or parish offices and duties and from serving on juries, as well as confirmation of accustomed positions on State occasions. From the outset, the Yeomen of The Guards were paid for their service in The Guard, but, as can be imagined, appointment as a yeoman of the King’s Body Guard was far more valuable than any pay could make it. There was originally no actual salary given to the Captain, as he held a number of great offices of the state, but the Standard Bearer received £40 a year, and the Clerk of the Cheque £20 (£ = librae = pound) a year. The pay of the yeomen varied from 6d (d = denarii = pence) to 1s (s = solidi = shilling) a day.

Early in Henry VIII’s reign a yeoman is recorded as being paid at 12d a day as Petty Captain of 'The Garbrielle', whilst the ordinary Yeomen of The Guard received 8d a day as long as they were employed at sea. At the time when Henry VIII had raised his Guard to 600 they were being paid varying amounts according to their personal circumstances, as the King’s extravagance began to tell on his treasury and those who were wealthy house-holders were willing to take little pay. Even so, it became necessary to effect a reduction in The Guard, many being retired, others being placed on half-pay, and only called upon for expeditions abroad, receptions of foreign envoys, and for great ceremonials or stately programmes.

James I, upon the recommendation of his Captain of The Guard, had the yeomen’s pay raised from 2s to 2s 4d per day in the summer and from 1s 8d to 2s for the winter, the year being divided equally. After Charles II acceded to the throne the Captain received a salary for the first time, amounting to £1,000 per annum. The Lieutenant and Ensign at this time received emoluments of £500 and £300 respectively, the Clerk of the Cheque and Corporals £150 and £100 respectively and Yeomen in daily-waiting were paid £30 per annum, while 70 Yeomen, not in-waiting, were paid £15.

Re-cap:  £sd or lsd  -  £ = librae = pound   -   s = solidi = shilling   -  d = denarii = pence

Competition for admission to the King’s Body Guard become so keen that appointments being in the hands of the Captains, who received the greater part of the sums paid, it is not difficult to see that his recommendations often went in the direction of those who could afford to pay most. This practice was certainly in force in James I’s reign (1603 – 25), for he specifically mentioned in orders for the household of the Prince of Wales dated 16 October 1610 that:

“these places of my Guard be not traffickt or sould, but freely disposed of for merit and sufficiency, for otherwise it must needs be a hindrance to my service to have hem impoverished by purchasing their places in a mercenary manner”.

During the reign of Queen Anne a century later the purchases of appointments was said to be very prevalent.  She declared it to be highly dishonourable to Her Majesty, prejudicial to her service, introductive of corruption and extortion, and discouraging to virtue and true merit.

In spite of these clear directives, appointments to The Guard were being purchased in William IV’s reign (1830 – 37), when the Lieutenancy was valued at £8000, the Exonship at £3500, whilst appointment as Yeoman was attracting about £350. It was during this reign, however, that appointment by purchase was finally abolished.


Fighting Role

Battle of the Spurs. From a picture in the possession of the Royal Society of Antiquaries.For over 250 years the Yeomen of the Guard maintained their reputation as fighting men on many well-known occasions, as at Therouanne, Tournai, Siege of Boulogne, Dixmuyden in Flanders, Battle of the Spurs, Neumuden, Namur and at the Battle of Dettingen; they also served at sea as well as upon land. When Henry VIII fitted out a British fleet he appointed the Captain of the Guard to the command of one of the men-of-war. The Sovereign, and gave him ’60 of the tallest of the Guard.’ They have been traced to nearly every country in Europe not only as the personal guard of English monarchs (as with Henry VII, William III, and George II), but as attendants of Royal Ambassadors to foreign Courts, as with Sir Charles Somerset to the Emperor Maximilian in 1501. It is said that a Yeoman of the Guard saved the Emperor’s Standard in the reign of Henry VIII. After the Battle of Dettingen in 1743, when the Guard made their final appearance on the field of battle as the armed attendants on King George II, although the heroes of the victory, the duties of the guard became entirely ceremonial and domestic, until on the outbreak of the Great World War in August On the way to Her Majesty's drawing room - The yeomen of the Guard marching down The Mall - drawn by Frank Dadd1914.  By the King’s command The Body Guard resumed at once its ancient useful and honoured duty of guarding the Royal Palaces, thus releasing the civil police required elsewhere. Later, the King placed the whole of the Guard, who had already volunteered for active service, at the disposal of the military authorities for the training of the new armies at home and for active service abroad with the troops in the field. Of the veteran Officers and Yeomen chosen for these duties many earned further honours and distinctions, one rose to the rank of Lt Col and several became Majors and Captains. During the Second World War 1939-45, as in the First World War 1914-18, Yeomen of the Guard were again allowed to join the Services and civil defence services, bringing further honour and glory to the records of the Guard.

Every member whether Officer or Yeoman, is appointed for his active service record, preference going to members of fighting arms of the Army and Royal Marines and since 1945 from the Royal Air Force, the first, Flight Sergeant Hewlett, being appointed in 1955.

The records of The Guard teem with striking episodes, but in such a brief history it is only possible to mention a few of the more important:

The Great Review of the Army at Tilbury on the 5 August 1588 when Queen Elizabeth I, clad in armour, rode down the ranks and addressed them in stirring terms on the approach of the Spanish Armada which, as is well know, failed to invade these islands.

Guy Fawkes is discovered in the cellar beneath ParliamentThe arrest of Guy Fawkes in the cellars of the Houses of Parliament, where he was hidden preparing to blow them up on the 5 November 1605. This episode is popularly known and remembered as “The Gunpowder Plot.” The Guard continues to search the cellars on the morning of the Opening of Parliament.

The protective role of the Yeomen was evident in the 18th century, when a perfidious attempt was made by a madwoman to stab the King.  Fortunately a Yeoman warded off the blow and another wrenched the knife from the miscreant’s hand. A few years later, when George III was attending a state performance at Drury Lane Theatre, a madman suddenly rose from the front of the house and fired a pistol at the King, who was seated in the front of his box. The shot passed between the two Yeomen standing before him, and in the embroilment, which followed, none of them managed to seize the offender.



The multifarious duties performed by the Yeomen of The Guard are full of fascination and amply repay study. They encompass, as their founder intended, not only the personal protection of the monarch, but also the upholding of the dignity of the Crown.

Yeomen on duty with partisans and swords at the Royal Italian Opera, Covern Garden, during the reign of Queen VictoriaApart from the guarding of the outer doors of the Palaces and doors to ante-rooms, they lined the approaches to the audience chambers at all state ceremonies, and accompanied their sovereign whenever he went out. The most elaborate precautions were taken in serving the Royal dinner, when one of the Yeomen would be required to take a sample of the food before it was permitted to go forward to the King’s table. Even the making the King’s bed had its own set of rules and to this day the connection with this ancient and quaint ceremony is maintained in the descriptions affixed to the names of certain yeomen on the Muster Rolls – YBH (Yeoman of Bed Hanger) and YBG (Yeoman Bed Goer) – though, needless to say, the duties concerned have long been obsolete. It is relevant to note, however, that these estimable duties extended to the ‘viewing of such houses as should be fit to entertain his Majesty’ on progresses through the country, which was a feature of Tudor times.

As previously stated, the position of Captain of The Guard was of particular significance. Not only was he answerable for the sovereign’s personal safety, but he also carried the responsibility for ensuring that all details of court ceremony were accurately performed. In addition, it was his duty to look after and protect, together with the Yeomen, important guests such as foreign potentates and ambassadors, escorting them to and from the royal presence. Indeed, on many occasions the Captain was actually dispatched abroad, accompanied by a group of Yeomen, to escort diplomatic missions to great emperors or kings, or to act himself as an ambassador. Negotiations for royal marriages were often included in such missions. In cases where a noble had to be arrested, perhaps for plotting against the sovereign, the Captain was responsible for apprehending him. Several times in their history the Yeomen of The Guard found themselves in the ironic position of having to seize a great or royal personage who, a few years earlier, had actually come under their protection. Such was the fate of Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Protector Somerset, and Anne Boleyn.

The appointments of Captain of The Guard and Vice-Chamberlain were held by one official until towards the end of theThe Yeomen of the Guard in 1900 when they wore beards. It's said that Ismail Pasha, the Viceroy of Egypt, was so impressed by the stern appearance of Queen Victoria's Yeomen that he provided his own body guard with false beards in an attempt to render them as impressive 17th century. As the daily duties of The Guard in attendance on the Sovereign gradually diminished, the connection of the two appointments became unnecessary and was finally severed. The Vice-Chamberlain became a separate appointment and was bestowed on an official whose duties were of a less important nature. Whilst the Captaincy of The Guard, shorn of its daily and hourly responsibilities, became a ministerial and honourable sinecure, as it is at the present day. Though no longer Vice-Chamberlain, the Captain is under the direct orders of the Lord Chamberlain, and with The Guard attends his Sovereign, as a member of the Royal household, on all state occasions.

The Clerk of the Cheque had special responsibility for maintaining the roll of everyone connected with the royal household, in addition to handling large sums of money in his capacity of paymaster. Until modern times a portion of The Guard was mounted, as a travelling escort to the monarchs of England. The Yeomen of The Guard figure prominently in a number of old engravings and examples of sculpture, in some instances being shown on horse back, always very closed to the Sovereign’s person whether in representations of battles or ceremonial occasions.

Yeoman within the Guardroom of St James' PalaceEven at this time of the Commonwealth the King’s Body Guard continued its celebrated history, serving Prince Charles (eventually Charles II) during his enforced absence abroad. At the restoration The Guard accompanied him on his return to England, taking its historic place at his triumphant entry in to London, and at his magnificent coronation.

In addition to attending the sovereign, the Yeomen were also called upon to serve the Queen and heir to the throne. During George III’s long illness, the Prince of Wales became Regent, in 1811. The King’s portion of the Yeomen of The Guard was transferred to Carlton House, where Prince George resided. This led to a significant change in the board and pay of The Guard. At the time, the yeomen were the only court officials still receiving their meals at St James Palace, which it was then contended was an unnecessary extravagance and should cease. Arrangements were made for payment in lieu of these meals, thus dispensing with the ancient position of The Guard as part of the royal household.

The Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Victoria. The Queen passing under the screen after the thanksgiving service in Westminster Abbey on 21 June 1897 through a  the Body Guard
When William IV decided that no more civilians were to be allowed in The Guard, he commanded that lists of retired officers and non-commissioned officers, recommended for distinguished service in the field, desirous of becoming members of his guard should be kept by the Commander-in-Chief; and that when vacancies occurred selections should be made from these lists and submitted to the Captain of The Guard for final approval. The Lieutenancy was assigned to a Colonel or Lieutenant Colonel of the Army or Royal Marines; the positions of Ensign and Clerk of the Cheque were to be held by a Lieutenant Colonel or Major; and Exons were to be selected from Captains.

As far as the Exons were concerned, it became the duty of the Captain to lay before the sovereign the names of four officers from which one was to be chosen. It has always been considered the privilege of the Captain to present prominently the name of the officer he wished to see appointed, and this selection has almost always been confirmed, though of course the monarch reserved the royal prerogative of confirmation. Promotion to the higher grades of Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant, Ensign and Lieutenant now takes place within the corps. The Captain exercises the right of approval of all Warrant Officers and Sergeants selected by the Commander-in Chief for appointment to the rank of Yeoman.

The Yeomen are divided into three Divisions and undertake at least eight duties in the course of a year. Although the function of guarding the outer doors of the royal palaces no longer comes with their jurisdiction, any State duties to be performed inside the palaces are undertaken, as they always have been, by Yeomen of The Guard.


Progresses and Pageantry

Until the 19th century a leading feature of the monarch’s life was their journeyings throughout the realm, indeed, these often extended to the Continent.  In March 1486 Henry VII set out on the first progress of his reign, travelling with ‘Great Noblesse. Esquire, Gentlemen and Yeomen in defensible array’, and spent Easter at Lincoln, where he carried out his first ‘Maundy’ ceremony. In June The Field of the Cloth of Gold. From a large print published by the Royal Society of Antiquaries, engraved after the original picture. 1500 the King and Queen, attended of course by the Yeomen Guard, set sail for Calais, where they kept open court for a month.

While there were many tournaments, jousts, festivals, progresses and celebrations throughout this reign, the inordinate splendour of the scenes to be witnessed during that of Henry VIII, surpassed anything ever known before, or indeed since, being well documented by historians of the time. Apart from the usual progresses and ceremonial rejoicings, that occurred in 1520 and event which has been described as probably the most recklessly extravagant and magnificent pageant the world has ever seen. This momentous occasion became known as ‘the Field of the Cloth of Gold’, taking its name from the rich decoration of the pavilions with cloth of gold. The pageant was held to mark the ratification of a treaty drawn up between Henry VIII and Francis I of France, in which Henry had agreed to restore the fortified city of Tournai in Flanders to France. The copious records of the time show the incredible proportions of the two King’s suites. Henry VIII’s retinue was estimated at 3997 persons and 2087 horses.
Each of The Guard, of whom the tallest and most erect were selected, had two coats, one of goldsmith’s work with the Tudor rose on the back and front, the other of red cloth with a rose on the breast and the crown imperial. Queen Catherine accompanied Henry VIII, having 55 Yeomen as her special guard (see current Roll), who were clothed in white satin doublets, with green velvet coats and crimson arrow girdles. All the Yeomen had broad grey cloth jackets for travelling.
Wanstead House residence of the Earl of Leicester visited by Queen Elizabeth I in 1578 
Queen Elizabeth I was renowned for her annual progresses through the country, which apparently she particularly enjoyed.  In May 1578 the Queen honoured the Earl of Leicester with a visit to his Wanstead mansion, where she stayed for four days. It is recorded that the Earl entertained the whole guard in celebration of this auspicious event.

The progresses of the Sovereigns had to be carefully planned and organized well in advance, as warrants of James I’s reign show.  One dated 16 March 1616 indicated that two Yeomen ushers were “sent to view such houses as should be fit to entertain his Majesty, and also such towns and villages as should be convenient to lodge his Majesty’s train in the progress in to Scotland and return from thence”.             

The Standard / Ensign

The original Standard of The Body Guard, bearing the Welsh emblem of Henry VII ie the Red Dragon of Cadwaladr, last King of the Britons, perished in the calamitous fire at St James’s Palace in 1809.  King George IV presented a new Standard to The Guard at Buckingham Palace on 5 July 1938.

The Standard is of a crimson damask. In the centre are the Royal Badge of the rose, thistle and shamrock combined, the letters GR and the Royal motto "Dieu et mon droit", the whole ensigned with the Imperial crown.  In the corners are Badges of the Royal Houses of Tudor, Stuart, Hanover and Windsor.  

The current ensign was presented by Queen Elizabeth II in 1985 and is similar but for the Sovereign's initials.  The image below shows the ensign's reverse view.

Top-left corner:  The hawthorn bush crowned and the letters HR.  Represent Henry VII at the Battle of Bosworth when the Royal Crown was found in a hawthorn bush and placed on Henry Tudor's head by his 'Body Guard'. 

Top-right corner:  The thistle crowned. Is that of the badge of James I depicting the thistle which represents the confirmation of the union of England and Scotland. 

Bottom-left corner:  The white horse courant on a green mount ensigned with the Royal Crown.  Represents the House of Hanover.

Bottom-right corner:  Represents the House of Windsor.  The Monarch's name was changed for political reasons from the Royal House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha (a German House) to the House of Windsor during the First World War.  In fact, until designed by Garter, King of Arms, there was no badge for the House of Windsor.  George VI requested that Garter replace the original Standard's design from that of VR (Victoria Regina) in the corners to that of the badge of The House of Windsor. After all, Victoria was already a member of the House of Hanover.

Order of Service

a. The Sovereign arrives at the Saluting Base and is received with a Royal Salute; b. The Sovereign inspects the Body Guard; c. The Standard is consecrated thus:

The Captain - "Reverend Sir, on behalf of the King's/Queen's Body Guard I ask you to bid God's blessing on this Standard.

Chaplain - "I am ready so to do.  Forasmuch as men at all times have made for themselves signs and emblems of their allegiance to their rulers, and of their duty to uphold those laws and institutions which God's providence has called them to obey, we, following this ancient and pious custom are met together before God to ask His blessing on this Standard, which is to represent to us our duty towards our Sovereign and our Country.  Let us, therefore, pray Almighty God of His mercy to grant that He may make it to be to those who following it a sign of His presence, and so increase their faith and hope in Him, who is King of kings and Lord of lords.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, I do consecrate and set apart this Standard, that it may be a sign of our duty towards our King/Queen and our Country in the sight of God. Amen.  Let us pray.  Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.  The grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Hoy Ghost, be with us all evermore. Amen. 

d. The Sovereign presents the Standard; e. The Standard is received with a General Salute and is marched to the centre of the Guard, the band playing God Save King/Queen; f. Address by the Sovereign; g. The Chaplain replies; h. The Guard gives a Royal Salute, followed by three cheers for the Sovereign; i. The Officers will fall out and be received by the Sovereign; j. The Guard will march past in fours and return to St James' Palace under the command of the Clerk of the Cheque and Adjutant.


Ceremonial Role

The Guard has a totally ceremonial role today.  The scene of an ancient ceremony, such as the Opening of Parliament or a Coronation, is greatly enhanced by the military precision and sumptuous apparel of those taking part. The British are renowned for their love of pomp and ceremony associated with age-old traditions and, with the termination of so many monarchies throughout the world, the United Kingdom is peculiarly rich in its historical scenes of pageantry. Closely embodied in the great ceremonies connected with the Crown is a select coterie of retired soldiers, marines and airmen who have given distinguished service to their sovereign and country.

On the 2 June 1953 it was present at the Coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In the same year a detachment of the Guard was present in Northern Ireland for the opening of the Northern Ireland Parliament by Her Majesty.  In 1969 the Guard was at Caernarvon Castle when Charles, The Prince of Wales, was installed and presented to the Welsh people by Her Majesty the Queen; just as the first Prince of Wales was presented to them by his father King Edward I on the same spot in 1284.  On 25 July 1985 Her Majesty the Queen presented the Guard with a new standard in the Gardens of Buckingham Palace to mark the quincentenary of its existence. Her Majesty has also inspected the Guard every fourth Year.  The customary annual occasions on which The Body Guard is present are:

The distribution of Maundy Money, Epiphany Service, State Visits by Foreign Heads of State, the installation of Garter Knights, Buckingham Palace Garden Parties, The State Opening of Parliament, Investitures and the Diplomatic Party at Buckingham Palace.

Yeomen, in black caules with partisans reversed at the laying-in-state of King George V at Westminster Hall 1936 (Painted by Frank Beresford).  The coffin of a Monarch was always carried by The Yeomen of the Guard until Queen Victoria announced that she wished for a simple funeral of a soldier's daughter. From that day forth the coffin has been carried by Grenadier Guards.  In addition, The Guard is present at services for Orders of Chivalry and has attended Royal Weddings and sadly for the lying-in state and funerals of Monarchs. Their last Royal laying-in of state was for our beloved Queen Elizabeth The Queen’s Mother in April 2002 when they stood on the corners of the catafalque guarding her coffin.  Other laying-in of state occasions that The Body Guard has attended are those of the Duke of Wellington in 1861 and Sir Winston Churchill in 1965. Those occasions were at the Sovereigns special instruction as a tribute to their great services to their country.

This has been a brief of history of the most ancient of Corps.  To expand your knowledge look at History 1485-1885.  The Body Guard exists today to a large extent as it did 534 years ago.  As former servicemen, they are proud to have fought yesterday for our Sovereign and Country and as proud and honoured to guard Her Majesty today.  They keep alight the memory of those Yeomen Guard that served before us.

The Queen’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard

Valecti Garde (Corporis) Domini Regis
(Yeomen of the Guard (of our body) of our Lord the King)

The Body Guard crest displaying the Thistle, Rose and Shamrock. Underneath is the motto "Valecti Garde Domini Regis" (Yeomen of the Guard of our Lord the Sovereign)



The Official History of the Guard, by Colonel Sir Reginald Hennell, CVO, DSO, OBE, Lieutenant, published in 1904 (amended in 1958 and 1991)
The Yeoman of the Guard 1485 – 1885 by Thomas Preston published 1886
The Yeomen of the Guard 1485 – 1985 by Julian Paget published 1984
The Yeomen of the Guard 1823 – 1903 by Ian McInnes
Extended Essay written between 1973-1975 by Anita R Hewerdine
BBC History - Monarchs
Old England. A Pictorial Museum Vol I, II
British Arms of Dominion
Portraits of Tudor Nobility

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Last modified: Friday, 05 June 2020 16:04