[MR] Wikipedia: Ceremony of the Keys
Garth Groff and Sally Sanford
mallardlodge1000 at gmail.com
Tue Nov 13 02:18:12 PST 2018
Most visitors to the Tower of London are completely unaware that what may
be the oldest military ceremony in the world takes place there every night.
The Ceremony of the Keys is performed nightly at 9:53. It is the formal and
very ritualized locking up of the gate. Although the current ceremony dates
from the 19th Century, there has apparently been some form of drill since
at least the 16th century, and possibly back as far as the 13th:
Each night some 40-50 visitors are allowed to witness the Ceremony of the
Keys. The ceremony is free, but tickets must be obtained from the offices
of Historic Royal Palaces, and the event is booked nearly a year in advance.
Lady Sarah and I witnessed the ceremony in 2000. For security reasons, we
were allowed to stand in only one location opposite the Bloody Tower gate
(where there is an armed sentry posted) with our backs to the Traitors'
Gate. Before the ceremony began, one of the Yeoman Warders told us a ghost
story about a sentry in yonder box who challenged what turned out to be a
ghost (a famous story I had read before, but fun to hear when told on the
actual site). When the Chief Yeoman Warder arrived to lock the gates, there
was a great deal of stomping and marching. The ceremony itself flowed to
the left, and the actual locking-up was impossible to see, but everyone
could clearly hear the commands. The spectators then followed the Chief
Warder back through the Bloody Tower gate where he (or maybe she someday,
as there are female Yeoman Warders) saluted and turned the keys over to an
officer promptly at 10:00, followed by everyone shouting "God Save the
After some speculation about the spectators being locked in the Tower for
the night, everyone was led out through an unlocked postern gate.
I have never heard if there is any counter-ceremony for unlocking the gates
in the morning. Knowing the British and their love of pageantry, there
probably is. This would be a good question to ask the Yeoman Warders next
time we visit the tower.
The Yeoman Warders date to 1485, so they are definitely within our period
of interest. More about the Yeoman Warders (aka "Beef Eaters") can be found
at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yeomen_Warders .
Mungo Napier, Laird of Mallard Lodge 🦆
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