It was Henry VII who created the Yeomen of the Guard in 1485, very soon after he seized the crown at Bosworth, and he surely kept elements of his bodyguard close by at all times.  As a corps, they absorbed older offices such as yeomen of the crown and yeomen of the chamber.  For an example of how these duties continue to apply, see details of making the King’s bed.

The modern Yeomen’s uniform, while historical, has evolved gradually over a long period.

It seems highly likely therefore that Henry was accompanied by a body of the Yeomen during his progress down to Exeter and back to London, possibly 50 or more of them.  Their uniform would not have been the same as today’s scarlet robes, which seem to have been introduced during Henry VIII’s reign and later.  For example, the Tudor crown on their chest wasn’t even designed until around 1521. The flat brimmed black velvet Tudor hat was another evolving fashion during the 16th century, and the tall collars and white muslin ruffs evolved during the Elizabethan era.

In Henry VII’s time, the Yeomen probably wore brigandines on the field (metal plated leather armour).

Spanish illustration of Saint Michael and the Dragon, but wearing a brigandine, with plate armour for hand and legs. Contemporary with Henry VII. Note also, the single-handed sword and buckler were replacing the two-handed sword.

The Yeomen’s ceremonial jackets incorporated the Tudor white and green stripes, which also form the background to the modern Welsh flag (illustration dated 1527).

Earlist known illustration, c. 1527, showing two Yeomen of the Guard, an archer and a halbadier.

The Yeomen were allegedly the first soldiers in England to carry an arquebus, and the original purpose of today’s diagonal sash was to support it, however the date of adoption is debatable.

The modern beefeater uniform sports the Tudor imperial crown and a thistle, Tudor rose and shamrock above a Hawthorn bush (where Richard III’s crown was found after the Battle of Bosworth 1485).  The earliest illustration appears to have a Tudor rose surmounted by the heraldic “ancient crown of the second” such as can be seen over the royal and parliamentary portcullis symbol nowadays.

For general household duties, in Henry VII’s day, the yeomen wore “watching clothing” which was predominantly russet cloth or tawny medley (orangey-brown woollen cloth with differently-coloured warp and weft).

In 1497, the Captain of the Yeomen was Sir Charles Somerset (appointed in 1486, Knight of the Garter since 1496).  He was referred to as “the bastard Somerset” at the time of Henry’s coronation but was recognised as a member of the Beaufort family, and hence a second cousin of Henry’s, through his mother Margaret Beaufort.  The captain wore cloth of the best sort: French tawny ‘with a fur of good black buge (lamb skin with the wool dressed outwards). In battle, of course, as a nobleman, he probably wore full plate armour.

Somerset was made a Knight Banneret on the battleground at Blackheath earlier in 1497, and it’s hard to believe he would have skipped the chance for a second fight later in the year.

An ancient honour for the captain which survives today is the annual present of venison from the Royal forests.

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