On an impulse, cycling past on an unaccustomed route back from work, I stopped at the church at Winkfield, a couple of miles south-west of Windsor, and was rewarded by seeing this brass plaque to Thomas Montague:
“Here lyeth the corps of Thomas Montague, borne in the parish where also he died March 31st 1630 when he had lived almost 92 yeares and had bene a good part therof a yeoman of the guard and a friend to the poore.”
I did my best to get a decent photograph: if you click on the image, you will get the best effect – there he is in the still-familiar uniform of one of the yeomen of the guard, Tudor rose emblazoned on his chest, with his partisan or halberd, and in the very act of giving alms to a couple of poor men. The faces are quite individualised by the engraver, but I rather doubt that it can be an actual portrait of Montague. It might be.
I haven’t found a better early depiction of a Yeoman of the Guard, close to the time when their uniform was not anachronistic.
Montague is depicted as a very much larger person than the objects of his charity. Obviously, it is a plaque for his grave, and they are just there an images of his charity. But it is possible that Montague was a very big man. The guard were selected for their size: the ODNB has a brief life of Anthony Payne, ‘the Cornish Giant’, who was 7 foot 2 inches, and who was depicted by Sir Godfrey Kneller in his uniform in 1680.
Those selected for their stature could enhance it by eating prodigiously: in Thomas D’Urfey’s Sir Barnaby Whigg (1681), a bit of comic banter says “a man may as well know a foolish Country-Knight by his down-right drinking, as a Yeoman of the Guard by his infallible eating”.
The enormous strength stemming from that bulk and all that good food is the keynote in Waller’s simile about how Fletcher’s plays overpower anyone else’s:
“Thus has thy Muse at once improv’d and marr'd
Our sport in Plays by rendering it too hard;
So when a sort of lusty Shepherds throw,
The Bar by turns, and none the rest out-go
So far, but that the best are measuring casts,
Their emulation, and their pastime lasts;
But if some brawny Yeoman of the Guard
Step in and toss the Axle-tree a yard
Or more beyond the furthest mark, the rest,
Despairing stand, their sport is at the best.
If the yeomen seemed to be aiming to live up to their most generous patron’s imposing figure,
John Stow preserves a charming ‘monarch in disguise’ anecdote about the young Henry VIII impersonating a yeoman of the guard, at what seems to have been a regular ‘night watch’:
(Stow is talking about Cheapside) “the kings of England, and other great estates, as well of foreign countries repairing to this realm, as inhabitants of the same, have usually repaired to this place, therein to behold the shows of this City, passing through West Cheap, namely the great watches accustomed in the night, on the even of S. John Baptist, and S. Peter at Midsummer, the examples whereof were over long to recite, wherefore let it suffice briefly to touch one. In the year 1510. the 2. of Henry the eight, on S. Johns even at night, the king came to this place, then called the kings head in Cheap, in the livery of a yeoman of the guard, with an halberd on his shoulder, (and there beholding the watch) departed privily, when the watch was done, and was not known to any but to whom it pleased him, but on S. Peters night next following, he and the Queen came royally riding to the said place, and there with their nobles beheld the watch of the City, and returned in the morning.”
It seems from entries in early dictionaries that Henry VIII might have referred to his yeomen as his ‘satellites’: I picked up the early history of that word from the OED:
Satellite – etymology: “a. F. satellite (14th c. in Littré), ad. L. satellit-em (nom. satelles) attendant or guard.”
Definitions and early examples in English usage:
“1. An attendant upon a person of importance, forming part of his retinue and employed to execute his orders. Often with reproachful connotation, implying subserviency or unscrupulousness in the service. a1548 HALL Chron., Rich. III 52b, Environed with his satellytes and yomen of the crowne. 1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Satellite, one retained to guard a mans person; a Yeoman of the Guard; a Serjeant, Catch-pole, one that attacheth.
2. a. A small or secondary planet which revolves round a larger one. [The L. satellites was first applied in 1611 by Kepler to the secondary planets revolving round Jupiter, recently discovered by Galileo, who had named them Sidera Medicæa.] 1665 Phil. Trans. I. 71 A Satellite of Jupiter. Ibid., The shadow of the Satellit between Jupiter and the Sun. 1692 BENTLEY Boyle Lect. viii. (1693) 14 Jupiter and Saturn..have many Satellites about them.”