Tower of London Ceremony of the Keys
Ceremonies known as the Ceremony of the Keys are held in at least two locations in the United Kingdom: London, and Edinburgh, as well as Gibraltar.
Probably the best known such ceremony is the one that takes place every night at the Tower of London, and has done so in some form or another since the 14th century. At exactly 9.53pm, the Chief Yeoman Warder, dressed in Tudor Watchcoat, meets the military escort, made up of members of the Tower of London Guard. Together, the Chief Yeoman Warder and the Yeoman Warder 'Watchman' secure the main gates of the Tower. Upon their return down Water Lane, the party is halted by the sentry and challenged to identify themselves:Sentry: "Halt! Who comes there?" Chief Warder: "The keys." Sentry: "Whose keys?" Chief Warder: "Queen Elizabeth's keys." (identifying the keys as being those of Queen Elizabeth II, the current monarch) Sentry: "Pass Queen Elizabeth's Keys. All is well."
Following this, the party makes its way through the Bloody Tower Archway into the fortress, where they halt at the bottom of the Broadwalk Steps. On the top of the Stairs, under the command of their officer, the Tower Guard present arms and the Chief Warder raises his hat, proclaiming:Chief Warder: "God preserve Queen Elizabeth." Sentry: "Amen!"
As with many events of ceremony in the United Kingdom, it takes some significant outside influence to interrupt the Ceremony of the Keys. The one time when the ceremony was interrupted was during the Second World War, when there was an air raid on London, and a number of incendiary bombs fell on the old Victorian guardroom just as the Chief Yeoman Warder and the escort were coming through the Bloody Tower archway. The shock and the noise of the bombs falling blew over the escort and the Chief Yeoman Warder, but they stood up, dusted themselves down, and carried on. The Tower holds a letter from the Officer of the Guard apologising to King George VI that the ceremony was late, along with a reply from the King which says that the officer is not to be punished as the delay was due to enemy action.
In popular culture
- The tower ceremonies mentioned above were partially parodied in the opening sequence of the film in which Charlie Drake's title character is called in to resolve a jammed lock occurring during the ceremony.
- The Ceremony of the Keys is mentioned in Tom Clancy's . In the novel the protagonist, Jack Ryan, is shown the ceremony by the Yeoman Warders after having saved the Prince and Princess of Wales from a terrorist attack. In the book the ceremony is represented as not being open to the public and therefore somewhat of a privilege to see. This is partially true. In reality it is possible for the public to view the ceremony, though the numbers are limited and free tickets must be obtained well in advance of the viewing date. However, there is also a second and more privileged guest viewing. This is by invitation of the Yoeman Warders only. The priveleged invitees stay in the Tower after the ticketed group is escorted out. This priveleged group is then invited to the private pub of Yoeman Warders to share a few pints and some genial conversation. Also, the term "Queen Anne's Keys" is used in the book rather than "Queen Elizabeth's Keys.
- The Ceremony is also parodied in the opening pages of Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel, where a similar ceremony takes place at Unseen University.
- During series 4 of the ITV television series, the fictional regiment ('B' Company, 1st Battalion The King's Fusiliers) was posted to London District to perform public duties, one of which being the Ceremony of the Keys.
- The Ceremony is portrayed in a mission in Assassin's Creed Syndicate, where "Queen Victoria's Keys" is used, due to the timeframe.
There is also a Ceremony of the Keys held in Holyrood Palace, at the start of the British monarch's week-long residence there in July. Soon after the monarch's arrival, in the forecourt of the Palace, the Queen or King is symbolically offered the keys to the city of Edinburgh by the Lord Provost. The monarch returns the keys, saying:
I return these keys, being perfectly convinced that they cannot be placed in better hands than those of the Lord Provost and Councillors of my good City of Edinburgh.
At the start of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, there is also a ceremony of the keys when the Lord High Commissioner, as the Monarch's representative, receives the keys from the Lord Provost.