The royal beekeeper – in an arcane tradition thought to date back centuries – has informed the hives kept in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and Clarence House of the Queen’s death.
And the bees have also been told, in hushed tones, that their new master is now King Charles III.
The official Palace beekeeper, John Chapple, 79, told MailOnline how he traveled to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House on Friday following news of The Queen’s death to carry out the superstitious ritual.
He placed black ribbons tied into bows on the hives, home to you of thousands of bees, before informing them that their mistress had died and that a new master would be in charge from now on.
He then urged the bees to be good to their new master – himself once famed for talking to plants.
The strange ritual is underpinned by an old superstition that not to tell them of a change of owner would lead to the bees not producing honey, leaving the hive or even dying.
Royal beekeeper, John Chapple, 79 (right) – in an arcane tradition thought to date back centuries – has informed the hives kept in the grounds of Buckingham Palace and Clarence House of the Queen’s death
The bees have also been told, in hushed tones, that their new master is now King Charles III
Speaking from the Buckingham Palace gardens, Mr Chapple told MailOnline: ‘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.’
‘I’ve done the hives at Clarence House and I’m now in Buckingham Palace doing their hives.’
At the height of summer, Mr Chapple takes care of over a million bees though by late summer their numbers have dropped.
He said: ‘In Clarence House there are two hives and in Buckingham Palace there are five.
‘At this time of year each hive contains 20,000 each, maybe a bit more but I’m not very good at counting them. It’s over a million in the summer.’
Mr Chapple revealed he has been the official palace beekeeper for 15 years despite not realizing he had turned up for an interview for the job.
He said: ‘I got an email from the head gardener here at Buckingham Palace to come here and talk about bees.
‘I thought they had a problem with bees but it turned out they wanted to keep bees so henceforth I look after the bees here.’
Mr Chappelle traveled to Buckingham Palace and Clarence House on Friday following news of The Queen’s death to carry out the superstitious ritual
He added: ‘I’m retired. I’m 79. It’s my hobby, beekeeping and now I look after a few hives for important people.
‘Number one is the Queen, or rather was, the Queen.
‘I was the Queen’s beekeeper and hopefully now I’ll get the job of being the King’s beekeeper.
‘It’s been about 15 years that I have been in the role.
‘In all, I have been looking after bees 30-plus years. It started because of my wife’s love of honey.
‘So I bought her a book called Keeping Bees In The Back Garden. She read the book and said, “Well, it’s over to you now”. So I got the job of keeping bees in my home and it has just developed from that.
‘It has been a wonderful hobby and an interest and it has taken me all over the world. I’ve met wonderful people and seen lovely sights that only beekeepers can ever see.
‘I’m standing now on the island in Buckingham Palace and there is not a living soul I can see.
‘I can hear a few birds and the traffic and that’s it.
‘It has been a wonderful privilege to do things like this for the Queen and hopefully now for the King.
‘I hope they still want to keep the bees on their premises. You never know. They might say, take them away but I don’t think that will happen though really you do never know.
‘It’s up to the new tenant of Buckingham Palace.’
He placed black ribbons tied into bows on the hives, home to you of thousands of bees, before informing them that their mistress had died and that a new master would be in charge from now on. He then urged the bees to be good to their new master
John takes care of predominantly Dark European Honey bees, specifically London mongrels.
These have been native to mainland Britain since before the closing of the Channel Landbridge, when sea levels rose following the last Ice Age.
Telling the bees is a traditional custom of many European countries in which bees would be told of important events in their keeper’s lives, such as births, marriages, or departures and returns in the household.
If the custom was omitted or forgotten and the bees were not ‘put into mourning’ then it was believed a penalty would be paid, such as the bees leaving their hive, stopping the production of honey or dying.
The custom is best known in England, but has also been recorded in Ireland, Wales, Germany, Netherlands, France, Switzerland, Bohemia and the United States.
Mr Chapple’s wife Kath, who sent John off for the day to inform the bees of the sad news of the Queen’s death, said: ‘The tradition is you tap gently on the hive and say your mistress or master is dead but your new master will be good to you so treat him well.’