“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, but what we do know for sure is that at the Tower, they take this folklore very seriously. 7 ravens are kept at the Tower of London at all times – 6 of whom make up the number of ravens that is said to need to remain in order to protect the crown, and 1 of whom acts as a back up...just in case!
The idea of ravens within the Tower of London goes back for centuries. One source claims that shortly after the execution of Lady Jane Grey within the Tower, 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’, 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.
Historians now generally believe the introduction of ravens to the tower – and all the legends along with it – only dates back to the 1800’s and was a sort of Victorian folklore. In fact, the official Tower of London historian reports that shortly after World War II, the only two surviving ravens at the Tower (Grip and Mabel) disappeared, leaving the Tower raven-free!
However the story originated, the tradition is still very much alive within the Tower. The ravens at the Tower are looked after by a designated Ravenmaster – a selected Yeoman Warder. The ravens have clipped wings in order to ensure they remain behind the tower walls. The lucky birds at the Tower have a pretty luxurious existence, as well; 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! Their diet consists of fresh fruit, cheese (reportedly their favourite snack), meat (sourced from Smithfield Meat Market), and also vitamins. Dessert consists of biscuits soaked in blood. (Yum!)
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 perpetrating “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. 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.
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 the Wakefield Tower and keep an eye on the green outside the White Tower, as this is their favourite territory!