Trivia 036: Telling the Bees

A few days ago, as I was checking the morning news, I was stunned to discover that Queen Elizabeth II had passed away. Say what you like about the British government, and the monarchy in particular, but it’s hard to think of someone more famous than QE2. I mean, just think of how many references there are to the Queen of England which no longer make as much sense. It’s like how movies edited out the Twin Towers in scenes of New York after 9/11.

There are many different pieces of trivia I could write about QE2 (and already have), such as the fact that her reign spanned fourteen prime ministers, starting with Winston Churchill. In fact, just the plans and preparations for her eventual passing – called Operation London Bridge – could probably generate several of these newsletters. However, today I am going to be focusing on one particular facet of Operation London Bridge – the job of the royal beekeeper.

A long-held superstition in beekeeping is that the bees must be informed of important events in the lives of their keepers and owners, particularly any deaths in the family. In such an event, the beekeeper must go to each of the hives, knock on them, and tell them who has died. If the beekeeper (or their substitute) fails to do this, the bees will potentially leave, stop producing honey, or die altogether.

In the case of the death of QE2, the royal beekeeper, John Chapple, informed the bees of her passing last Friday. Here is his description, as quoted by the Daily Mail.

’I’m at the hives now and it is traditional when someone dies that you go to the hives and say a little prayer and put a black ribbon on the hive. I drape the hives with black ribbon with a bow. The person who has died is the master or mistress of the hives, someone important in the family who dies and you don’t get any more important than the Queen, do you? You knock on each hive and say, ‘The mistress is dead, but don’t you go. Your master will be a good master to you.’

Why this belief exists is anyone’s guess. As with many superstitions, its origins are lost to the mists of time. But it is a prevalent superstition many parts of Europe and the United States. I’ve always had somewhat of an interest in beekeeping. Maybe I’ll take it up when I retire. If I do, nobody will ever have to inform the bees of my passing, since I’m going to live forever.


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