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Yeomen of the Guard

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YEOMEN OF THE GUARD, originally "Yeomen of the Guard of (the body of) our Lord the King"—"Valecti garde (corporis) domini Regis"—the title maintained with but a slight variation since their institution in 1485, of a permanent mili tary corps in attendance on the sovereign of England, as part of the royal household, whose duties, now purely ceremonial, were originally those of the sovereign's personal bodyguard. They are the oldest existing body of the kind. The first warrants to indi vidual "Yeomen of the Guard" date from Sept. 16, 1485, im mediately after the victory of Henry VII. at Bosworth (Aug. 22). The first official recorded appearance of the king's bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard was at the coronation of its founder Henry VII. at Westminster Abbey on Oct. 31, 1485, when it numbered 5o members. That number was rapidly increased, for there is an authentic roll of 126 attending the king's funeral in 1509. Henry VIII. raised the strength of the Guard to 600 when he took it to visit Francis I. of France at the Field of the Cloth of Gold (q.v.). In Queen Elizabeth's reign it numbered 200. The corps was originally officered by a captain (a post long associated with that of vice-chamberlain), an ensign (or standard-bearer), a clerk of the cheque (or chequer roll, his duty being to keep the roll of every one connected with the household), besides petty officers, captains, sergeants or ushers. In 1669 Charles II. reorganized the Guard and gave it a fixed establishment of i oo yeomen, officered by a captain, a lieutenant, an ensign, a clerk of the cheque and four corporals, which is the present organization and strength. The captaincy is now a ministerial appointment filled by a noble man of distinction under the lord chamberlain, and the old rank of "corporals" has been changed to "exon," a title derived from "exempt," i.e., exempted from regular regimental duty for em ployment on the staff. Formerly officers on the active list were given these appointments in addition to their own.

The original duties of the Guard were of the most compre hensive nature. They were the king's personal attendants day and night at home and abroad. They were responsible for his safety not only on journeys and on the battlefield, but also within the precincts of the palace itself. In Tudor times the Yeomen of the Guard alone were entrusted with the elaborate formality of making the king's bed. Another of their duties still retained is the searching of the vaults of the houses of parliament at the opening of. each session, dating from the "Gunpowder plot," in 16o5, when the Yeomen of the Guard seized Guy Fawkes and his fellow-traitors and conveyed them to the Tower.

The dress worn by the Yeomen of the Guard is in its most striking characteristics the same as it was in Tudor times. It

has consisted from the first of a royal red tunic with purple facings and stripes and gold lace ornaments. Sometimes the sleeves have been fuller and the skirts longer. Red knee-breeches and red stockings (white in Georgian period only), flat hat, and black shoes with red, white, and blue rosettes are worn. Queen Elizabeth added the ruff. The Stuarts replaced the ruff and round hats with fancy lace and plumed hats. Queen Anne dis carded both the ruff and the lace. The Georges reintroduced the ruff, and it has ever since been part of the permanent dress. Up to 183o the officers of the Guard wore the same Tudor dress as the non-commissioned officers and men, but under William IV. the officers were given the dress of a field officer of the Peninsular period. The weapons of the Guard are a steel gilt hal berd with a tassel of red and gold and an ornamental sword.

The real fighting days of the Guard ended with the Tudor period, but it was only with the final appearance of an English King in battle (Dettingen that the Guard's function of attending a sovereign on the battlefield ceased. For a brief period during the Georgian era the Guard lost to a certain extent its distinctive military character and a custom crept in of filling vacancies with civilians, who bought their places for considerable sums, the appointments being of great value. William IV. put a stop to the practice, the last civilian retired in 1848, and the Guard regained its original military character. Every officer (except the captain), non-commissioned officer, and yeoman must have served in the Home or Indian army or Royal Marines. They are selected for distinguished conduct in the field, and their pay is looked upon as a pension.

The nickname "Beef-eaters," which is sometimes associated with the Yeomen of the Guard, had its origin in 1669, when Count Cosimo, 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 'Beef eaters.' " In 1509, Henry VIII., envying the magnificence of the body guard of Francis I. of France, decided to have a noble guard of his own, which he accordingly instituted and called "The Gentle men Speers." It was composed of young nobles gorgeously attired. In 1539 the guard was reorganized and called "Gentlemen Pensioners." That title it retained till William IV.'s reign, when the corps regained its military character and received their present designation, "The Honourable Corps of Gentlemen-at-Arms." See The History of the King's Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard, by Colonel Sir Reginald Hennell, D.S.O., Lieutenant of the Yeomen of the Guard