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The Ceremony of the Keys

Every night at 9.53 p. m. the Chief Warder of the Yeomen Warders (Beefeaters)* of the Tower of London lights a candle lantern and then makes his way towards the Bloody Tower. In the Archway his Escort await his arrival. The Chief Warder, carrying the keys, then moves off with his Escort to the West Gate, which he locks, while the Escort "present arms". Then the Middle and Byward Towers are locked.

* (Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) - a member of the royal bodyguard now employed on ceremonial duties, especially at the Tower of London.)

The party then return to the Bloody Tower Archway, and there they are halted by the challenge of the sentry. "Halt!" he commands. "Who goes there?" The Chief Warder answers, "The keys." The sentry demands, "Whose keys?" "Queen Elizabeth's keys," replies the Chief Warder. "Advance, Queen Elizabeth's keys; all's well," commands the sentry.

Having received permission to proceed through the Archway, the party then form up facing the Main Guard of the Tower. The order is given by the officer-in-charge to "Present Arms". The Chief Warder doffs his Tudor-style bonnet and cries, "God preserve Queen Elizabeth." "Amen," answer the Guard and Escort.

At 10 p. m. the bugler sounds the "Last Post".* The Chief Warder proceeds to the Queen's House, where the keys are given into the custody of the Resident Governor and Major.

* (Last Post - (in the army) a bugle-call giving notice that it is time to return to quarters for the night. The Last Post is also blown at military funerals.)

The Ceremony of the Keys dates back 700 years and has taken place every night during that period, even during the blitz of London in the last war. On one particular night, April 16, 1941, bomb blast disrupted the ceremony, knocking out members of the Escort and Yeomen Warders. Despite this, the duty was completed.

Only a limited number of visitors are admitted to the ceremony each night. Application to see it must be made at least forty-eight hours in advance at the Constable's office in the Tower. Visitors with permission are admitted at 9.40 p. m. and leave at 10 p. m.

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