Two young princes were murdered and their bodies were hidden in a white tower in London. It is assumed that they were killed by their uncle, King Richard III, following the death of his brother, King Edward IV, so that he could be the only successor to the crown. But their 1483 murders remains a mystery.
This is one of the many stories about murder, beheadings and infamous prisoners told to me while on a tour of the Tower of London. A tour with a Yeoman Warder at the Tower should be on your top 10 list of free things to do in London. The Tower of London is one of the most visited destinations in the United Kingdom and a tour with a Yeoman Warder brings its history to life.
On my trip to the U.K.this past Fall, this tour was one of my favorites. Yeoman Warder Lawrence Watts led my tour, he was funny, full of knowledge and a great storyteller. He told us about the transition of the Tower from a royal palace, to a prison, a fortress, and then its present day use as home to the British crown jewels and a popular tourist attraction. There were stories of Anne Boleyn who was accused of witchcraft and beheaded, torture chambers, hauntings and much more.
Yeoman Warder Watts was wearing a splendid dark blue uniform, trimmed throughout with royal red. The emblem of the crown and the insignia E II R on his chest. The E II represents Queen Elizabeth II and the letter R symbolizes Regina, Latin for Queen. Sitting high on his head was a matching wide brimmed hat. Worn proudly above his heart were medals and officer bars that represent his over 20 years of military service and good conduct distinction that is required of a Yeoman Warder.
Yeoman Warders were part of England’s royal protection service and were the personal bodyguard to the King and Queen. They have been guarding the Tower of London since Tudor times. They are also called Beefeaters because they were allowed to eat beef from the royal’s table until they were full. It has been a tradition to gift the Warder’s a bottle of Beefeater Gin as a thank you on their birthday. Today there are 37 men and women who are Yeoman Warders. Most of them reside with their families within the walls of the Tower on a cobblestone street, in a row of tiny cottages with brightly colored doors and just as colorful flower pots, or in apartments built into the Tower’s grand walls.
“May you never die a Yeoman Warder,”is a toast that Yeoman Warders make when they are sworn in. It means that they will have this job for as long as they are physically able. Yeoman Warders are committed to the telling of a thousand years of history and their stories are not to be missed when you visit the Tower of London.
Another not to be missed happening at the Tower of London is the Ceremony of the Keys.
This 700 year old ritual is performed by a Yeoman Warder each night as the gate to the tower is locked up for the day.
Tickets are free.
Visitors must pre-book tickets months in advance or they may be sold out. There is a maximum number of tickets that can be booked per person.
Arrive by 21:30 (9:30 pm) to be escorted inside. Late arrivals will not be admitted.
Photography of the ceremony is not permitted.