Rav(en)ing Mad for Our Royal Birds

Barmy British Beliefs
The Tower of London

The Tower of London

For many people in history, being held captive in the Tower of London did not bode well.  Some remained prisoners for the rest of their lives whilst others were sent to have their heads chopped off on the block (with the exception of lucky old queen Anne Boleyn, whose head was gracefully sliced off with a sword).  Anyway, if you went into the Tower through Traitor’s Gate, you were unlikely to have a good time.

The story is somewhat different if you happen to be a raven (which you might!).  An age old superstition says that if the famous ravens leave the Tower of London, the Tower and the Crown will fall.  In other words, the Royal Family and the King or Queen on the throne, would be forced to do something other than be posh and open hospitals.

It’s hard to work out where this suspicion originated, but reading into it, it seems the ravens have been there almost as long as the Tower itself.  Some think that the ravens originally turned up as they were attracted by the smell of the dead bodies of those who met an untimely end there.  Indeed, there are written accounts of the Tower ravens pecking at the severed head of poor old would-be-queen Lady Jane Grey back in Tudor times.  Yuck!

It seems it was party-boy Charles II who first insisted that the ravens needed to be at the Tower.  He heard the superstition about what might happen if the ravens were to leave, and rather than risking meeting the same fate as his dad Charles I who lost his head at the hands of an executioner, he ordered for six birds to be kept at the Tower at all times.

Ravens having a jolly time at the Tower of London

Ravens having a jolly time at the Tower of London

If you go on a school trip to the Tower of London, you will be able to see the ravens merrily hopping about on the grass.  They are probably the most spoilt ravens in the world; they are fed yummy treats and fresh meat, and are looked after by a dedicated, fantastically titled, Ravenmaster.

The superstition of the ravens at the Tower is possibly the result of stories and legends told over time which developed into this belief.  But the Tower of London still clip the ravens’ wings so that they can’t fly away.  Just in case, I guess…

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