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The Six Ravens At The Tower Of London
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The Six Ravens At The Tower Of London

Picture of Leticia Quesada
Updated: 27 June 2018
If anything characterizes the British, it is how they respect and preserve their traditions, many of which are based on magical stories and dark legends. One of these fabulous legends is the story of the six ravens at the Tower of London.
Aereal view Tower of London | © Rafa Esteve/WikiCommons
Aereal view Tower of London | © Rafa Esteve/WikiCommons

The Tower of London is a landmark building located north of the River Thames, next to one of the most famous bridges in the world, the popular Tower Bridge.

Located in the center of the British capital, this fortified palace consists of several buildings located within two concentric rings of walls. The White Tower, built in 1078 by William the Conqueror, is the oldest and the one that gives its name to the entire complex. Although extensions were built during the 12th and 13th centuries, these did not alter the original design.

From the 12th century, the castle was used as a prison, becoming a symbol of oppression that was brought on by the ruling elite in London. But throughout the history of England, this majestic building has always played an important role, being used for different uses and functions: armory, treasury, Royal Mint, the home of the crown jewels and so on. Kings and conquerors were convinced that in order to control the country, it was necessary to win the tower.

Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn | © Qp10qp/WikiCommons
Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn | © Qp10qp/WikiCommons

During the 15th century, characters like Elizabeth I and Anne Boleyn were held captive in this tower. Queen Anne Boleyn, wife of King Henry VIII, was arrested and taken to the Green Tower accused of adultery and incest. In 1536, she was beheaded. Since then, several people have reported seeing the headless body of the Queen walking through the corridors of the tower.

Although very few people were executed in the Tower of London, the belief that the tower was a sinister place where you could smell death and torture was widespread.

This sinister atmosphere gave rise to the creation of numerous dark legends and stories. One of the most popular, which has endured over time unsolved, is the six ravens who live and fly over the tower.

Some people believe that, for centuries, the ravens lived freely in the enclosure, perhaps attracted by the stench that emanated from the bodies of people who were executed in the tower.

It is believed that witnesses of Anne Boleyn’s execution mentioned the presence of these birds:

‘Even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements and gazed eerily at the strange scene. A Queen about to die!’

While there is no concrete proof to confirm how long the ravens have been a part of the Tower of London, what seems to be a historical fact is that the legend, and with it the tradition, was born during the reign of Charles II (1630-1685):

‘If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.’

A Yeoman Warder in Tudor State Dress | © Adam Cuerden, Detroit Publishing Company/WikiCommons
A Yeoman Warder in Tudor State Dress | © Adam Cuerden, Detroit Publishing Company/WikiCommons

John Flamsteed, staff astronomer of King Charles II, was in favor of removing all the ravens from the tower. These birds spent all day flying around the tower, making it difficult for him to observe the sky with his telescope.

But King Charles II thought it would be bad luck to scare or kill the ravens:

‘If the ravens leave the tower, the kingdom will fall…‘

Tower of London Raven | © Tyler Brenot/WikiCommons
Tower of London Raven | © Tyler Brenot/WikiCommons

To ensure the protection of these birds, along with the monarchy, Charles II ruled that there should always be at least six crows inhabiting the tower.

One of the first descriptions of the Tower of London’s ravens was from a Japanese writer who wrote the 1905 novel Tower of London. He wrote that those executed in the tower were turned into ravens. It is a fascinating dark story that adds to the magic of the legend.

During the Blitz of World War II, only one of the crows survived. Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill ordered more ravens, restoring the initial number of six.

Today, there is always an extra raven present in the event that one dies or disappears. They each wear a different color ring on their leg, plus they each have their own name.

The Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster, or simply Ravenmaster, is one of the Yeomen Warders who takes care of the ravens at the Tower of London:

‘The ravens eat 170g of raw meat a day, plus bird biscuits soaked in blood. ‘

The ravens' cages | © Gail Frederick/Flickr
The ravens’ cages | © Gail Frederick/Flickr

According to an article published in the Daily Mail in 2013, it costs about £4,000 each year to take care of the ravens.

They are registered as ‘soldiers’ of the Kingdom, and, thus, can be fired and expelled from the tower for misconduct. This happened to Raven George who was fired in 1986 because he attacked TV antennas; he was taken to the Zoological Park of Wales.

In order to keep the ravens close, one wing is clipped. However, it does not guarantee that the ravens will remain in the tower. For example, Raven Grog decided to escape from the tower in 1981 after 21 years of service. He was last seen on the roof of a London pub.

Although legend has it that there should be six ravens at the tower, the number is between seven and eight. They live next to the Wakefield Tower.