In this post, I cover everything you would want to know about the ravens at the Tower of London.
I explain why they are here, who the current resident ravens are, what they eat, who trains them, as well as some of the lore surrounding them.
My name is Margaret and I am a local London tour guide with Free Tours by Foot London.
I lead daily tours in and around the Tower of London, and questions about the ravens pop up on just about every tour.
And, the video below is a clip on the ravens from my larger virtual walk through the Tower of London (full video here).
So, without further ado, on with the post.
- Why Are There Ravens?
- Current Residents
- The Ravenmaster
- Can the Ravens Leave the Tower?
- Visit the Tower of London
Ravens feature prominently in Welsh and English mythology and they have been used in heraldry as symbols of powerful - and mystical - families and figures.
In the past, ravens were also said to congregate around gallows and scaffolds, making the presence of the ravens in the Tower of London understandable, given the death that surrounds the building.
“If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.”
Or so the legend goes! Truth be told, nobody knows exactly where this tall tale originates.
However, what we do know for sure is that at the Tower, they take this folklore and superstition very seriously and the ravens are seen as guardians of the tower.
7 ravens are kept at the Tower of London at all times – 6 of whom make up the number of ravens that are said to need to remain in order to protect the crown, and 1 of whom acts as a backup...just in case!
Written evidence of ravens within the Tower of London goes back centuries.
One source claims that shortly after the execution of Lady Jane Grey in the Tower in 1554, the ravens were seen to be “pecking the eyes from the severed head” of the dead Queen.
The enduring legend is that King Charles II (on the throne from 1660 to 1685) was told by a witch or an advisor, that should the ravens ever leave the Tower, the Monarchy would fall.
Another source claims a friend of King Charles’, royal astronomer John Flamsteed, using the Tower as an observatory, complained about the ravens flying past his telescope and obscuring his view.
But, Charles refused to remove the ravens, fearing it would be a bad omen to kill or banish the birds, and instead set the Royal Observatory up elsewhere, in Greenwich.
Historians now generally believe the introduction of ravens to the tower – and all the legends along with it – only dates back to the 1800s and was a sort of Victorian folklore.
In fact, the official Tower of London historian reports that shortly after the Second World War, the only two surviving ravens at the Tower (Grip and Mabel) disappeared, leaving the Tower raven-free!
However they came to be there, the ravens are an enduring symbol of Monarchy, tradition, and history at the Tower of London.
No trip to the Tower would be complete without a sighting of a raven.
Look for their accommodations near Wakefield Tower and keep an eye on the green outside the White Tower, as this is their favourite territory!
The earliest factual reference to ravens at the Tower came in 1883 in a published illustration in a newspaper.
The Tower Ravens have been tourist attractions in their own right ever since!
The current resident ravens are...
- Jubilee (named for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee)
- Georgie (born on St. George's Day)
- Edgar (after Allen Poe)
- Branwen (Born to the Tower's breeding pair)
The ravens are easily identifiable by different coloured bands around their legs and they are treated as individuals.
Should a raven behave in an undignified manner, or perpetrate “conduct unbecoming Tower residents”, such as Raven George who attacked and destroyed TV aerials at the Tower, they can be retired from service.
In 1981, another raven, Grog, managed to escape the Tower and take up residence in a local pub after 21 years of service to the Crown!
Visitors are advised to keep well away from the ravens, as they will not hesitate to bite.
They also like to play tricks!
A previous raven at the tower, Merlina Merlina was known as the queen of the Tower ravens and "undisputed ruler of the roost."
She loved to play dead on the south lawn, lying on her back to watch panicked visitors alert the Beefeaters to a dead raven, only to then jump up and run away.
But despite their diva-like behaviour, the ravens have been known to mourn for their dead crow companions and are even recorded to have silently gathered around the Tower chapel after a Tower chaplain died.
The ravens at the Tower don't want for much and they are fed twice a day by Ravenmaster Chris Skaife.
Their Diet consists of fresh fruit, cheese (reportedly their favourite special treat), assorted raw meats (such as mice, chicks, and rats), and also vitamins.
A very special dessert consists of biscuits soaked in blood. (Yum!)
The ravens at the Tower are looked after by a designated Ravenmaster – a selected Yeoman Warder, who at the time of writing this post is Chris Skaife.
He is responsible for the well-being of all the ravens in the Tower, including looking after their enclosures, their diet, their entertainment, and their health.
Chris has also begun a breeding programme at the Tower which means the Tower can now supply its own ravens any time a new one is needed.
The Ravenmaster works closely with the ravens and they will respond ONLY to him.
It's worth remembering on your visit as they are completely spoiled and are happy to steal food out of visitors' hands or bite anybody who is annoying them!
The lucky birds at the Tower have a pretty luxurious existence.
They live in a Royal Palace, they are waited on by servants, and they are sought after and viewed by the public – just like members of the royal family.
So, as you might imagine, they tend to not want to leave!
However, just in case, the Ravenmaster will often trip some of the ravens' flight feathers to encourage them to stay within the bounds of the Tower.
This doesn't mean the ravens aren't able to fly at all, however, and you will often see them soaring from one location to another.
Take note, though, that some ravens manage to make an escape.
As mentioned above, one raven made it all the way from the Tower of London to Greenwich - a 6-mile journey!
The Ravens have free rein throughout the Tower of London, so once you've bought your ticket to go inside, you'll no doubt come across them in due course.
They are housed primarily by the Wakefield Tower but the doors to their cages are open during the day so you'll find them all over the place.
You may even catch the ravens eating - but make sure not to try to feed the ravens ourselves as they are known for nipping fingers if they feel as though you are invading their space!
To find out how to visit the Tower of London, take a look at our Guide to Getting Tower of London Tickets.
Or, if you won't be in London any time soon, take our Virtual Tour!