The Beadle – the Vice-Chancellor’s ceremonial guard

Not everyone might know that the Vice-Chancellor has their own guards at their side during formal ceremonies. Martin Andersson’s day job is as administrative officer at the Communications Division. But a few times each year on solemn occasions, he takes on a role steeped in ancient traditions, leading the ceremonial guard of the Vice-Chancellor as the Beadle (head of the guard), where he and two cursors (Yeomen bedells) have important roles to play in the tradition.

The Vice Chancellor gives a speech at the podium in the university hall. In front of him stand the three people who are part of the ceremonial guard.

Martin Andersson (centre) as the beadle at the Vice Chancellor Anders Hagfeldt's conferement ceremony.

He had served as a cursor since 2009, but nine years later he was asked to become the Beadle. His father before him, Sten Andersson, was both a cursor and Beadle for more than fifty years.

“It’s an honorary role. You lead the procession as part of the Vice-Chancellor’s honour guard. It’s been a tradition since the 17th century, it’s wonderful to part of such a time-honoured custom. It makes me very proud to be able to carry on this tradition,” says Martin Andersson.

The role of the Beadle throughout the centuries

In the beginning, the Beadle was a kind of servant to the Vice-Chancellor, whose tasks also included waiting on the Vice-Chancellor. The Beadle also had policing powers and could put students in the University’s gaol.

The role has become more ceremonial over the years, but the Beadle is still superior to the two cursors who walk closest to the Vice-Chancellor in processions. The Beadle’s mace dates from the 18th century and the cursors’ silver sceptres from around 1600 are the oldest university artefacts in Sweden.

“It’s a special feeling holding such ancient artefacts, but fantastic that they’re still being used. For example, the silver sceptres of the cursors are key symbols in the ceremony at a Vice-Chancellor’s inauguration,” says Martin Andersson.

The role of the Beadle today

The Vice-Chancellor’s ceremonial guard is also involved in the Conferment Ceremony, but the Beadle has additional preparatory duties for that ceremony. At professorial inaugurations, the Beadle has more of a ceremonial role, and the focus is on the procession and the ceremony on the stage.

The Beadle and the cursors will be part of the next change of Vice-Chancellor, as they are an important part of the ceremony.

“The outgoing Vice-Chancellor hands over the chain of office to the incoming Vice-Chancellor. As the Beadle and cursors, we are also handed over. So up on the stage we physically walk from the outgoing Vice-Chancellor to the incoming Vice-Chancellor.”

Portrait photo of Martin Andersson standing in a hall

Martin Andersson at his day job.

Martin Andersson was a cursor when the current Vice-Chancellor was inaugurated, which was a very special moment. Another special moment was the very first time he performed the role of Beadle. The ceremonies that took place in Uppsala Cathedral during the time that the University Main Building was undergoing renovations were also very memorable moments for him.

When he was first asked to be part of the Vice-Chancellor’s ceremonial guard, many of his colleagues in the University Administration did not know very much about what happens at these ceremonies, even though they happened right next door to the University Main Building.

“They had heard the din of the cannon, but really didn’t know much more about it than that it was a kind of ceremony.”

A solemn ceremony

At the inauguration of professors, a minutely staged procession begins with the standard-bearers filing into the auditorium carrying all the nations’ flags. On the upper floor of the University Main Building, all the new professors begin to walk down the left staircase while the Vice-Chancellor’s escort, including specially invited guests such as the Archbishop, the county governor, and others, walk down the right staircase.

“We walk in and position ourselves on the stage behind the Vice-Chancellor who will make speeches. Then we make way for the faculties presenting their new professors and on the procession out, the standard-bearers go first again, followed by us, and we finish up at the starting point.

“All the details of the ceremony are planned down to the smallest detail and rehearsed to give the most solemn impression possible. These details are more significant than you might imagine, and in fact after the ceremony new professors have come up to him and been noticeably moved by the solemnity of the occasion.

“These ceremonies can become somewhat routine for us, but it’s worth remembering that for the new doctors of philosophy and professors this is a one-time event, perhaps one of the most memorable days in their lives. It is for them that we do this,” Martin Andersson concludes.