Jacqueline Arzt  /  AP
Phillip Parker, right, Trevor Hughes, center, and Andy Thomson, three Yeoman Warders, stand outside the Tower of London, in this file photo reflecting the all-male tradition about to be broken.
updated 1/4/2007 3:43:28 AM ET 2007-01-04T08:43:28

They're as much a part of the Tower of London as the Crown Jewels, ravens and suits of armor. Since 1485, the Yeoman Warders — all men — have patrolled the parapets and passages of the royal fortress on the banks of the Thames.

But the Tower is about to break with tradition, with officials saying Wednesday it is in the process of hiring its first female Yeoman Warder.

The warders, who wear blue and red uniforms and are the subject of countless tourist photos, are known colloquially as Beefeaters because of the rations of meat they were given during medieval times.

The woman has not yet been identified, said spokeswoman Natasha Woollard.

However, it is known she is currently serving in Britain's armed forces — all warders are also soldiers — and will join the fortress' 35 other warders at the end of the summer.

"There were six candidates for the vacancy, and she was the only female," Woollard said. "She was awarded the job on merit — she will replace one who is retiring."

While the warders' role was initially to provide security for the Tower — a 900-year-old fortress, built by William the Conqueror - and to guard its famous captives, they now spend most of their days guiding visitors and posing patiently for snapshots. They also attend coronations, funerals and charity functions.

Anne Boleyn, second wife of King Henry VIII, was held prisoner at the fortress before she was executed on Tower Green in 1536; Queen Elizabeth I was also temporarily confined to the tower before she ascended the throne in 1558.

The fortress is also home to Britain's Crown Jewels, which include St. Edward's Crown, worn by Queen Elizabeth II during her coronation in 1953.

One of London's top tourist attractions, the fortress is managed by Historic Royal Palaces, a charitable trust.

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