The Yeomen of the Guard and the Early Tudors: The Formation of a Royal Bodyguard.
The Yeomen of the Guard and the Early Tudors: The Formation of a Royal Bodyguard. By Anita Hewerdine. (London, England: I. B. Tauris, 2012. Pp. 312. $95.00.)
The Yeomen of the Guard is the world's oldest surviving royal bodyguard and traces its origins to the precarious position of Henry VII as a usurper. Although their duties in regard to Queen Elizabeth II are ceremonial, this book makes clear that at their inception in 1485 they formed the nucleus of a real fighting force which, during the reign of Henry VII and of his son, developed into a body of men who represented and reinforced royal authority in a number of ways.
Anita Hewerdine, drawing on decades of research into a mass of unpublished and often difficult-to-read archives, has presented a richly documented and well-written history of these bodyguards, placing their early years in the context of early Tudor court and political culture more widely. She shows how it differed from that of previous royal bodyguards (such as Richard IPs infamous Cheshire Archers) by its incorporation into the increasing and self-conscious magnificence of the early Tudor court. Its members wore royal livery and served conspicuously at court and, at times, in the localities as extensions of an increasingly self-confident and assertive Tudor monarchy. She goes on to detail the Guard's remuneration and how it adapted to the great household reforms of 1519 and 1526, the nature of its ceremonial duties at court, its members' very real involvement in the military campaigns of both Henry VII and Henry VIII, and the political role of the Guard as members of a wider royal affinity in the localities.
One of the great strengths of Hewerdine's research is her careful reconstruction of the familial and other networks that underpinned the Guard as a socially and politically cohesive group. Drawing on taxation records, legal records, and correspondence, she gives a detailed and nuanced account of the careers of those men who served in its ranks. As evidence of the depth of this research, almost one hundred pages are given over to biographical notes of individual guardsmen. This alone provides a great service to historians of early Tudor England and points to some of the ways in which Henry VII and Henry VIII were able to realize their more radical ambitions at a local level. What is interesting to note is that the members of the Guard were recruited from the length and breadth of England and Wales. Few English counties were not represented among their ranks, and, as might have been expected, men from neither the Home Counties nor Wales appear to have dominated its membership.
Hewerdine's account of the Yeomen of the Guard fills an important gap in the literature on early Tudor England. It is grounded on thorough archival research and as such will be welcomed by historians of the Tudor court, the military, and political society in general.
University of Kent