Protecting one of the London’s most iconic buildings and safeguarding the world’s most high-profile royal is no easy task. Masked by the magnitude of their bearskin hats and pristinely turned out red tunic uniforms, everything about the Queen’s royal guards oozes mystery. Luckily, as regular visitors to Buckingham Palace, we’re here to uncover everything there is to know about the Queen’s guards.
The British royal family are a favorite subject of the media worldwide. Their lavish lifestyles and quirky customs have captured the curiosity of many. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that it isn’t just royalty living behind the opulent gates of Buckingham Palace. Although their lives are much more low-key than that of the royal family, we can’t deny that the jobs of their staff are equally as fascinating. So here we have it, the 7 most interesting things we’ve learnt about the Queen’s guards.
1. The Story Behind those Bearskins Hats
Although not worn by the Beefeaters guards, the fuzzy bearskin hats are an iconic feature of the royal guards’ uniform. The origin of these seemingly excessive helmets dates back to the 17th Century. At the time, the gunner in British and French armies wore these enormous bearskin hats to make them appear taller. This was believed to intimidate their opponents. The French Emperor Napoleon dressed his imperial guards in similar hats while he was in power in the early 19th Century. During the great Battle of Waterloo, as the British defeated Napoleon’s army they collected the bearskin hats from the corpses of Napoleon’s men and brought them home as trophies.
Curiously, these hats are secured under the nose of the guards, as oppose to under the chin. This is to protect the guard’s neck in combat. The hat is so heavy that if it was tied beneath the chin and the guard was shot during an attack, causing the hat to drop backwards, the guard’s neck could snap in the process.
2. You Need a Strong Neck to be a Royal Guard
The Queen’s royal guards have got some neck. No, seriously! Those massive bearskin hats, 18 inches in height, can weigh up to nine pounds! You’d have to have a very strong neck to carry that for the entirety of your shift. And that’s not all, these hats get even heavier when they get wet - and let’s face it, that’s pretty often in London.
3. They Protect all the Royal Palaces
While we might generally associate these red tunic clad guards with Buckingham Palace, they actually protect many other royal landmarks too. In fact, the duty of the Queen’s guards is to protect all the residences of the British monarch. That means that these rigid combat troops can be visible at Windsor Castle, St James’s Palace and the Tower of London. They can also be seen in the Scottish capital of Edinburgh, as the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Edinburgh Castle also belong to the Queen. However, unlike at the London royal residences, the royal guards in Scotland only stand to attention when the Majesty herself comes to visit.
4. They Won’t Smile for a Selfie
Visitors to Buckingham Palace love provoking the royal guards in a bid to get them to smile. But their attempts are in vain. No matter how many jokes you make or photos you take the royal guards’ somber expression won’t crack. Although they’re a popular spectacle for visitors to Britain, wishing to observe as they perform their iconic Changing of the Guard, these guards are in active service to the Queen and must carry themselves with the upmost discipline. If they’re caught laughing or even smiling by a superior, they could be charged a hefty £200 fine.
5. No Toilet Break for the Dedicated Soldiers
The Queen’s guards are so dedicated to their position that they can’t even leave their post for a toilet break during their working shift.
6. They can Break their Silence in some Circumstances
Although we’d be forgiven for believing that the Queen’s guards have taken a vow of silence while in post, they can indeed speak on some occasions. Although we do not recommend provoking them to do so, the can speak (or more specifically yell) if visitors come to close to them or acts aggressively. They are most commonly known shout “make way for the Queen’s guard!” at tourists who get too close.
7. They Have to Faint According to Code
These guards are so well trained that they even faint according to protocol. Needless to say, fainting is a common occurrence for these guards. Weighed down by their bearskin hats and heavy woolen clothes as they stand to attention for hours on end is no easy task, especially during the summer. Yet even when a guard faints they must do so according to their code. As soon as the guard begins to feel dizzy, he must remain at attention and keep his position even when he falls. This means that they generally fall face down. This impressive act, demonstrating their unwavering allegiance to the crown, is described as ‘fainting to attention’.
Everything about the British royal family, their residence and their staff is fascinating. With traditions steeped in centuries of history, visiting the Queen’s palaces and witnessing royal customs in action is a quintessentially British experience and one you cannot miss on your visit to London. Experience the very best this historic capital has to offer in the company of an expert guide as you join us on our best London tours.