The Beefeaters have nothing to do with large framed guys gorging on beef. It doesn’t have to do with beef eating competitions either. The Beefeaters, or otherwise known as the Yeoman Warders of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London.
The name Beefeater was a fairly common 17th century slang term for the English in general. The earliest reference to the Yeoman of the Guards as Beefeaters however came from Cosimo II de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, who frequented the English court in 1669. He noted that since a large ration of beef was given to the Guards daily at the court, they might as well be called Beefeaters.
The Beefeaters were formed way back in Tudor times in 1485 by Henry VII, and continue till today. Their duties then involved guarding the Tower of London prisoners but of course their role today is primarily ceremonial. In 2018 there were 37 Yeoman Warders greeting visitors and tourists. They wear a uniform of dark blue with red trimmings and the queen’s insignia on the chest but on special occasions, like when the monarch is visiting the Tower, they wear a more impressive red and gold uniform. This special uniform can be found on Beefeater gin bottles.
Among the Yeoman Warders one has the official title of Ravenmaster . His responsibility is to feed the ravens that thrive in the Tower of London since long ago. Legend says that if the ravens leave the Tower it will fall and disaster will befall the Kingdom. So, ever since the reign of King Charles II, the ravens were allowed to roam the grounds and were fed raw beef bought specially every day by the Ravenmaster. It is fair to say then that today’s real Beefeaters are the ravens of the Tower of London!
The name Beefeater is more likely to have originated from the time when the Yeomen Warders at the Tower were paid part of their salary with chunks of beef. This took place right up until the 1800s.