Over a Million “Royal Bees” Were Informed of Queen Elizabeth II’s Passing

Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip

Photo of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, June 17, 2006 (Photo: anizza/DepositPhotos)

After Queen Elizabeth II passed away on September 8, 2022, the Operation London Bridge plan was put into motion. This described who should be informed about her death and in what order. While this mostly pertains to politicians and the press, there is another important exchange that takes place. According to a tradition called “telling the bees,” after the monarch dies, the official Palace beekeeper must visit the royal bees kept at Buckingham Palace and Clarence House and inform them of their master's passing.

This responsibility fell upon 79-year-old John Chapple, who has been the royal beekeeper for 15 years. When he received the news of the Queen's death, he journeyed to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House and tied black ribbons around each of the hives. Then, he knocked on the hives and said, “The mistress is dead, but don't you go. Your master will be a good master to you.” Afterward, he explained that King Charles III was their master, speaking always in a soft hush so as to not disturb the bees.

While it may seem like a strange custom to deliver the news to bees, it is actually an age-old tradition. It is believed that if the bees are not informed of their master's death, they will stop producing honey. However, this superstition is not limited to the British royal family. Its roots have actually been traced to Celtic mythology, where bees were viewed as messengers between the living and spirit world. Furthermore, the practice of “telling the bees” that there is a change in the household is practiced in other parts of Europe, including the Netherlands, France, Switzerland, and Germany, and has even been recorded in the United States.

After Queen Elizabeth II's death, the official Palace beekeeper had to inform over a million royal bees of her passing.

Close Up View of Honey Bees

Photo: smaglov/DepositPhotos

This tradition of “telling the bees” stems from the belief that they will stop producing honey if they are not told their master has died.

h/t: [IFL Science, Vanity Fair]

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The Life and Legacy of Queen Elizabeth II, Britain’s Longest-Reigning Monarch

Margherita Cole

Margherita Cole is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and illustrator based in Southern California. She holds a BA in Art History with a minor in Studio Art from Wofford College, and an MA in Illustration: Authorial Practice from Falmouth University in the UK. When she’s not writing, Margherita continues to develop her creative practice in sequential art.
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