Benford's G&S Lexicon Entries for The Yeomen of the Guard

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Act I

Autumn [In the autumn of our life]

Referring to post-middle age years. Members of the corps were selected from among recently retired warrant (i.e., low-level) military officers.

Ample clover

Economic security.

Repining [We recall without repining all the heat of bygone noon]

The phrase means that they recall their bygone passions but are just as happy to have outgrown them. See also The Grand Duke.

Richard Colfax, et al.

These are all imaginary names, of which only Colonel Fairfax is heard from again.

Cold Harbour

Another tower in the Tower of London. Wilkes (315) calls attention to an apparent slip on Gilbert’s part. The two words should be joined, thus: “Coldharbour.” Wilson (319) says it was used as the queen’s residence during the time of Henry VII. Goodman (140) adds that the tower was demolished in about 1670.

Blunderbore [or it’s not good enough for the old Blunderbore]

This was “the cruel giant in Jack the Giant Killer cycle of folk tales, who imprisoned Jack” (223). Stedman (273) adds, “I think the point here is that Blunderbore was a carnivorous giant, who ground men’s bones to make his bread –– just as the Tower grinds and devours living men … The tower is personified as the giant.”

Keep [I was born in the old keep]

A keep is the strong, innermost structure in a fort or castle. In this case the reference is probably to the White Tower (315).

Norman [our gallant Norman foes]
Sketch of a Norman

Here we had better review a bit of English history. William, the Duke of Normandy (ca. 1027-87), claimed that his cousin, the late King Edward the Confessor, had bequeathed to him the crown of England. To enforce his claim he led his army across the English Channel and invaded England. He was opposed by the Saxon King Harold II, whom he defeated at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. William subsequently appended a well-justified “the Conqueror” to his name and built the first part of the Tower of London, the White Tower.


During the fifth century A.D. England was overrun by waves of Teutonic invaders: the Jutes, the Angles, and the Saxons. Those three tribes came to rule over most of England. By A.D. 800 the Saxons, centered in Wessex (West Saxony), predominated, and it was their self-proclaimed king, Harold, who was the target of William the Conqueror’s invasion in 1066 (43).

The Conqueror

The aforementioned William.

Panoply [In its panoply of stone]

Complete protective covering.

Trow [Insensible, I trow]

Pronunciation: My dictionary (250) says it should rhyme with toe, but Gilbert asks you to rhyme it with brow. Do as the Master says.

Suppose (archaic).

A queen to save her head

Bradley (47) suggests two likely candidates for this reference: Anne Boleyn in 1536 and Catherine Howard in 1542. Each had the misfortune to be a wife of Henry VIII. Walters (302) nominates Lady Jane Grey, who ran afoul of “Bloody Queen Mary” and lost her head in 1554. Ossa once triggered a flurry of messages on the SavoyNet (260) by observing that none of the ladies mentioned above came to the Tower to save her head, but each was dragged there with beheading likely to follow. Ossa proposes that a more appropriate candidate would be Queen Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III, who did indeed take refuge in the Tower during the rebellion of Simon de Montfort (ca. 1265), and it appears likely that by so doing she literally saved her head from an unruly mob of local citizens. The ensuing internet exchange of views suggested other queens as well, but the majority opinion was that Gilbert probably had Ann Boleyn in mind, she being the one best known to his audience. The question is still alive, however, and freely available to anyone who wants to make it the subject of a Ph.D. thesis.


Seeking justice (something not easily found in those days).

Golden hoard [O’er London town and its golden hoard]

The wealth of London. The term may also apply to the royal jewels under safeguard in the Tower.

Watch and ward

Quoting Brewer (54): “Continuous vigilance; watch and ward being the terms formerly used to denote guard by night and by day respectively.” The King James version of the Bible also makes the same distinction.

Block [From the dungeon to the block]

The chopping block used in beheading.

Scaffold [From the scaffold to the grave]

A platform for executions. The grisly act was done at an elevation to allow the public a better view of the proceedings (64).


Collins (75) defines this as “a small fort or outwork.” It has also been defined as a fortress (obsolete) (250). The latter fits the context better than the former.

Reprieve [Has no reprieve arrived]

A document delaying a punishment, or possibly canceling it.