When the Queen Died, Someone Had to Tell the Bees

LONDON – As news of Queen Elizabeth II’s death reverberated around the world, one headline over the weekend sent many bewildered on social media: Exclusive of Daily Mail that “the queen beekeeper has informed the queen that the queen bee has died.”

Do bees need to be told about human affairs? Do they have an opinion on the matter?

But some beekeepers, backed by folklore historians, say that “telling bees” is a standard practice that dates back centuries, with potentially dire consequences. if you do not comply.

Mark Norman, a folklorist and author of “Telling Bees and Other Customs: The Folklore of Rural Crafts,” says: “It’s a very old and long-standing tradition. , but not something very famous. “

Tradition holds that bees, as members of the family, should be informed of major life events in the family, especially births and deaths. Beekeepers would knock on each hive, provide news, and possibly cover the hive with a black cloth during times of mourning. The method is more commonly known in the UK but is also found in the US and other parts of Europe, Mr. Norman said.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was believed that ignoring bees could lead to various bad luck, including their death or departure or failure to make honey. Today, beekeepers may be less likely to believe they take risks, but they can continue to follow tradition as “a sign of respect,” Norman said.

Stephen Fleming, a beekeeper for 25 years and co-editor of BeeCraft, a magazine for beekeepers in the UK, said he once carried out the tradition after a friend passed away. He went to his friend’s swarm, knocked quietly on the hive and told them the news, he said.

“It’s just something that I think my friend will like,” he added.

After BeeCraft published an article about telling bees in 2019, several people wrote their own stories about doing the quest. One reader, addressing other people’s bees, spoke in rhyme to tell them their owner was dead: “Honeybee, honey bee, listen to what I have to say. Your master [name] has now passed away”.

John Chapple, a beekeeper at Buckingham Palace, declined to comment. The Daily Mail reports that he placed black ribbons tied into a bow on the hive before telling them in a discreet voice that the queen was dead and that they would have a new owner.

Mr Fleming said most beekeepers would most likely know about the tradition, but not many practice it.

“It is often said to be a good and nice thing to do,” he said.

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