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

Primary tabs

Click a term to expand the definition; Search for a term; Select other Opera Chapters; Go to the Lexicon menu for introductory and afterword content..

Enter part of a term; e.g., "gill" for Gillow's.

Act I

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.

Standard [as a reward for his valour in saving his standard]

A consecrated battle flag “carried at the head of troops in battle as a rallying point and intended to inspire” (178). Terry (286) says a standard would be carried by a cavalry regiment. What the infantry carried would be called the colors. Neither is carried any longer except in parades.

Court [from Windsor, where the court is]

This would imply the court of Henry VIII.


A town on the Thames about 25 miles upstream from London. The site of the royal residence, Windsor Castle.

Circumspection [a very dragon of virtue and circumspection]

Prudence, discretion and vigilance (directed toward his little sister’s reputation).

Pursed [my lips pursed up]

Closed tight, like a miser’s purse.


Foster-brothers are unrelated boys raised by the same family. (There are plenty of details in the libretto that make it hard to believe that Leonard and Fairfax were really foster-brothers. But then it might as well be confessed that this opera is shot full of inconsistencies, if you want to be picky.)

Advent [due notice of his advent]

Imminent arrival.

Boon [no light boon]

Benefit or favor. See also Ruddigore, Utopia, Limited, and Cox and Box.

Sooth [for, in sooth, I have tried both]


Another moon

Another month.


Short for complaint.

Whit [Then count it not a whit]

A little, or jot.

Essay [He should all means essay]


Sir Clarence Poltwhistle

A villainous character who never appears on stage, but who would be hissed off if he so dared.

Secretaries of State

Among the king’s chief ministers (245). Each was given responsibility over some aspect of government (64).

Devolves [which devolves to him]

Transfers or passes down.

Grace [by your worship’s grace]

Kind assistance.


“A widow’s share of her husband’s property” (75).

Crowns [a hundred crowns to boot]

The crown was a British coin worth five shillings or one quarter of a pound sterling. One hundred crowns would be worth £25 –– a lot of money in those days. For example, ancient records show that the lieutenant of the Tower was then paid £100 per year (plus luxurious lodging), putting him in a class with London’s wealthier burgesses (319). Goodman (142) says £5 would represent three or four months’ wages for a laborer. Knight (178) says the coins were first struck in 1526.