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Beefeater at the Tower Of London, taken by Adrian Barnett with digital camera.
The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, popularly known as the Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. In principle they are responsible for looking after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguarding the British crown jewels, but in practice they act as tour guides and are a tourist attraction in their own right.
There are 36 Yeomen Warders. All warders are retired from the British armed forces and must have at least 22 years of service with good conduct, at the rank of, or equivalent to, Sergeant Major or above.
The Yeomen Warders are often incorrectly referred to as Yeomen of the Guard, which is actually a distinct corps of Royal Bodyguards. Gilbert and Sullivan shared this confusion by naming their operetta The Yeomen of the Guard when it appears to be about Yeomen Warders.
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 very similar to those of the Yeoman of the Guard.
The origin of the term 'Beefeater' is unclear. It may originate from the fact that early Warders were paid in beef, amongst other things. Count Cosimo, grand duke of Tuscany, visited the Tower in 1669 and commented on this "A very large ration of beef is given to them daily at court...that they might be called Beef-eaters" and earlier references can also be found. Other suggestions include that it was either, a corruption of a French term buffetier an archaic term for the guard of the king's food, or, a derogatory term used when they were relatively well fed at the side of many ordinary people who lived near them in London. The warders themselves often comment that the "real beefeaters" at the Tower of London are the ravens, which receive a daily ration of beef.
The term "beefeater" is also used to refer to the traditional headgear of the Yeoman Warders.
Beefeater gin is a brand of gin produced in the U.K..
This article incorporates text from the public domain 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.