The Ravens In The Tower Of London
Ravens have lived in the Tower of London for centuries and it is believed that if they ever leave the White Tower, the monarchy and the entire kingdom would fall.
Legend says that Charles II ordered the ravens’ removal following complaints from the Royal Astronomer. However, after being told of the superstition he was not prepared to take the chance and kept the ravens at the Tower, instead moving the observatory to Greenwich.
The earliest known reference to a raven in the Tower is in a picture in The Pictorial World newspaper in 1885 which places them near the monument which commemorates those beheaded at the tower. Other references in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century also associate them with the scaffold which suggests that the legend of the ravens, which are renowned for gathering at gallows, were used by Yeoman Warders to dramatise stories of execution to tourists.
Other evidence suggests that the original ravens were given to the Tower of London by the Earls of Dunraven, possibly because of their association with the Celtic raven god, Bran.
However, ravens were once abundant in London and could often be seen around the meat markets, such as Eastcheap and Smithfields, and could have roosted at the Tower in earlier times.
During the Second World War most of the Tower’s ravens died from shock due to the bombing raids and only a lone survivor named Grip remained. There is some evidence that the ravens were used as unofficial spotters for enemy planes and bombs during the Blitz. After the war a new set of ravens were housed at the Tower before it re-opened to the public on 1st January 1946.
However, the legend lives on and although they are free to roam the Tower grounds, the ravens’ wings are clipped to prevent them from flying away.
In May 2013 an urban fox attacked and killed two ravens. The unfortunate ravens, Jubilee and Grip, were snatched and eaten just before they were due to be locked up in their cages overnight. A spokeswoman for Historic Royal Palaces said: “Raven deaths at the Tower are not common, with many ravens living long healthy lives here. Currently we have eight ravens at the Tower. The legend mentions six ravens and we like to have two extra.” The dead birds have since been replaced with two ravens of the same name.
The ravens currently in residence are as follows:
The oldest raven ever to serve at the Tower of London was called Jim Crow, who died at the age of 44.
Find out more about the job of the Yeoman Warder Ravenmaster.