Why are beefeaters called beefeaters and how much are they paid?

Where does the names of the ceremonial guards come from?

A group of beefeaters arriving before the opening of Parliament
(Image credit: Getty Images)

They've played a part in royal occasions for centuries, and can often be seen in their distinctive uniform outside the Tower of London. But why are beefeaters called beefeaters?

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II, many have questions about the unfamiliar traditions around the national mourning period that has followed. From what does lying in state mean (opens in new tab) to will trains run on the day of the funeral (opens in new tab), there's a lot we didn't know before about what happens when the Queen dies (opens in new tab).

And amid the ceremonies and processions that come with the death of the monarch, people are wondering about the officials who are involved. And one question that many want to know about the royal guards is why are beefeaters called beefeaters?

Why are beefeaters called beefeaters?

Though nobody knows for sure, the most popular theory is that the name 'beefeater' comes from the fact that they were allowed to eat as much meat as they wanted from the King's table.

However, 'beefeater' is actually just a nickname. Their official title is The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary - though they are often just referred to as Yeoman Warders.

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The Yeoman Warders were formed in 1845 by Henry VII - the first Tudor monarch - after the Battle of Bosworth. 

They are not be confused with the Yeoman of the Guard - although their uniforms are almost identical - who were traditionally bodyguards for the British monarch. 

What do beefeaters do?

Nowadays, beefeaters are mostly ceremonial, but they do keep the Tower of London safe and secure, as well as working as tour guides. Beefeaters have become a tourist attraction in their own right, because of their unique uniform.

Other activities beefeaters take part in include the Ceremony of the Keys. At the same time each night, the Chief Yeoman Warder of the Tower emerges from the Byward Tower, wearing the traditional uniform and carrying a set of keys. The Chief then takes the keys back to the Queen's House, to hand them back to the Queen’s representative at the Tower, The Resident Governor.

Beefeaters also attend the State Opening of Parliament and other state occasions.

Traditionally, however, beefeaters were responsible for guarding prisoners at the Tower of London and protecting the Crown Jewels.

Are there female beefeaters?

There are just three female beefeaters. Traditionally, the role has been held only by men since the order was founded.

In 2007, Moira Cameron became the first ever female beefeater after beating five other applicants. Cameron, from Argyll, Scotland, joined the army in 1985.

Ten years later, the second female beefeater joined the ranks, Amanda Clark from Lancashire. She had served in the Royal Logistics Corps for 22 years and completed tours in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and the Falkland Islands. Speaking to the BBC (opens in new tab) after her appointment, Clark said: "It didn't really hit me until the first time I wore the uniform and realised I am now part of the Tower's history.

"Waking up at the Tower of London is magical. Every morning I wake up and the Tower looks so peaceful."

The third and final female beefeater, Emma Rousell from Derby, was appointed in September 2021. Previously, she had served in the RAF.

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How do you become a beefeater?

To qualify as a beefeater, candidates must have served for at least 22 years in the armed forces, as well as hold the Long Service and Good Conduct medal.

Applicants to be beefeaters must also have reached the position of Warrant Officer or equivalent, and competition for the roles are often fierce.

According to Londonist (opens in new tab), ideal candidates are good communicators who can bring the history and stories of the place to life, and those who enjoy meeting new people every day.

The most senior beefeater is the Chief Yeoman Warder, followed by four Yeoman Serjeants and then the other Beefeaters, who report to the Chief. This includes the famous Ravenmaster, who looks after the ravens at the Tower of London.

Legend has it that King Charles II demanded that six ravens be kept at the Tower at all times, otherwise the kingdom would fall.

How much do beefeaters get paid?

According to The Mirror (opens in new tab), beefeaters' staring salary is around £24,996 a year, but they can expect to get around £30,000 with allowances.

The job involves working 37 hours a week for 14 days out of every three weeks, which includes weekends and occasional night shifts. They get 23 days off a year at first, rising to 25.5 after three years' employment and 26.5 after ten years - plus bank holidays.

A major perk of the job is getting to live in the Tower of London, where each gets a two-bed unfurnished flat - though veterans can get three-bed properties. However, beefeaters do have to pay rent, utility bills and council tax.

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