The Tower of London – Ceremony of the Keys

‘Halt, who comes there?’
‘The Keys.’
‘Whose keys?’
‘Queen Elizabeth’s Keys.’
‘Pass then, all’s well.’

The above dialogue can be heard daily at around 8 p.m. by those who visit The Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower of London. The event is supervised by the Yeoman Warders.

GR8 to Know
Admission is free but you must book a “ticket” online in advance. Be quick – tickets are usually booked in a year’s advance.

More about The Tower of London here and here

What’s On at the Tower of London

ceremonyofthekeysThe Ceremony on the Keys

  • watch live how the Warders close the Tower (tradition for 700 years) – every day!;
  • visitors are escorted in and out the Tower (9.30 p.m.-10.30 p.m.; the ceremony starts at 10.05 p.m.);
  • you must book a ticket (free) online (only) – the event is fully booked for about a year long
  • you can’t take photos / videos; can’t go to the toilet or buy refreshments during the ceremony

The Crown Jewels

  • The Coronation Spoon (over 800 years old, used at coronations for holy oil)
  • The Sovereign’s Sceptre (with the Cullinan I diamond or Great Star of Africa, the largest colourless cut diamond of the world)
  • St Edward’s Crown (worn at the moment the monarch is crowned since 1661)
  • The Imperial State Crown (since 1937, worn at the State Opening of the Parliament

whitetowerThe White Tower

  • built to show power and
    strength and fear the intruders of London;
  • inside:
    • The Royal Armouries (e.g. of Henry VIII)
    • Chapel of St John the Evangelist, built in the 11th century
    • torture tools (axes, swords, blocks, etc. used in executions)

henryviiisarmoury

The ravens of the Tower

Ravens have been in the Tower since it was built. They are the kings of the Tower and the guardians, as the saying goes: “If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall.”

According to the legend, it was King Charles II who ordered to protect the Ravens. There are seven ravens to guard the Tower (six plus one – and there are more – spare).

towerravens03-ravenmasterIt is the Raven Master who looks after the Tower ravens, moreover, the ravens only respond to him. All of our ravens are bred in captivity, not taken from the wild. To prevent the ravens from flying away, their lifting feathers are trimmed by the Raven Master. This procedure does not hurt the birds in any way, but by unbalancing their flight, it ensures they stay safe and do not stray far from the Tower. Look carefully and you will see the ravens’ graveyard and marker in the south moat (visible from the Middle Drawbridge). This is a great indicator of the respect in which they are held at the Tower.

Despite their having one wing trimmed, some ravens do in fact go absent without leave and others have had to be sacked. Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials, and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub. 

The ravens at the Tower eat 170g of raw meat a day, plus bird biscuits soaked in blood. Generally, a raven that comes from the crow family (and is its largest member) lives for 12-15 years, but at the Tower, a raven lived even up to 44 years.

towerravens01

The Tower of London

FACTFILE

Age: more than 900 years

Built by: William the Conqueror

Its roles in British history: a Royal palace; a prison; an arsenal; a Royal Zoo; a place of execution; a Royal mint.

The Tower of London was a prison over a lot of centuries. The prisoners were brought via the River Thames from Westminster. Their trials were held at Westminster and crowds of people waited on the riverbank to find out the verdict.
The executioner had a long sharp axe. He stood behind the accused on the boat. If the accused was guilty, the executioner pointed his axe towards the victim. If not guilty, he pointed it away. People knew that if found guilty there was a public execution 48 hours later.

Famous prisoners of the Tower were: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard (2nd and 5th wife of Henry VIII); Lady Jane Grey and her husband, Guildford Dudley; Queen Elizabeth I; Guy Fawkes; Samuel Pepys…
Many people have been locked in the Tower, for religious beliefs or suspected treason. Many Tudor’s prisoners entered the Tower of London through the Traitors‘ Gate.

People and goods arrived and left the Tower via the River Thames, through a door in the walls called the Sallyport.

GUARDS – YEOMEN WARDERS

The responsibility for looking after the prisoners was given to the Yeomen Warders or Beefeaters. The Yeomen Warders originate from twelve Yeoman of the Guards, who were once private bodyguards of Henry VIII. There are about 40 of them nowadays.

Today, in principle, they have to look after any prisoners at the Tower and safeguard the British crown jewels. But in practice (as there are no prisoners nowadays in the Tower) they act as tour guides. There are twelve Yeomen Warders working at a time.

The Yeomen Warders take part in one State ceremony. At Coronations, they form a guard of honour inside the annexe at Westminster Abbey.

Their nickname is Beefeater. It comes from the time when the Yeomen Warders at the Tower got part of their salary with chunks of beef up until the 1800s.

YEOMEN OF THE GUARD

The Queen’s Body Guard – the Yeomen of the Guard are a bodyguard of the British Monarch. There are 73 Yeomen of the Guard, they are all former officers and sergeants of the British Services.

It is the oldest of the Royal bodyguards and the oldest military corps in Britain. The Yeomen of the Guard accompany the current monarch at investitures (e.g. a new bishop, archbishop etc.) and summer Garden Parties at Buckingham Palace, and so on. Their most famous duty is to ‘ceremonially’ search the cellars of the Palace of Westminster prior to the State Opening of Parliament, a tradition that dates back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up Parliament.

Yeomen Warders wear two types of uniform – the State Dress Uniform on state occasions, and the normal everyday uniform. The latter is a blue dress with some red and the initials ER in the centre. ER stand for Elizabetha Regina – Regina means Queen in Latin, so the initials refer to Queen Elizabeth II, the current British monarch.

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