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Travel Talk

Local hosts share their insights

The ravens of the Tower

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

The Tower of London played a prominent role in English history. Over the period of almost a 1,000 years it changed and served many different purposes: the royal residence, a prison, execution site, armory, treasury, the royal mint, an observatory and home to the Crown Jewels. Naturally, there are many legends surrounding the tower and its current famous residents Gripp, Jubilee, Harris, Rocky, Erin, Poppy, and Merlina - the ravens who live there and are believed to protect the British monarchy.

Historical context

The United Kingdom has been a monarchy since the 10th century, apart from a brief period of 11 years when it was a republic. The monarchy was restored in 1660 and King Charles II took the throne. How did the ravens come to reside at the Tower of London?

It is believed that Charles II sought advice from a witch on how to ensure the stability for the monarchy. The witch advised him to always keep six ravens in the Tower of London or the Kingdom would fall.

The Royal Observatory was based in the Tower and some stories say that the ravens were interfering with the astronomers’ work, which caused Charles II to try and get rid of the birds. The royal astronomer persuaded the King to keep the birds in the Tower and instead move the Royal Observatory to Greenwich - a place that came to define the world's time zones.

Legends are great, but what do historians have to say?

Unfortunately, they do not present a clear answer. Some say ravens were widespread in London and would have been at the Tower for centuries. Other historical records seem to disagree - only 13 raven sightings were recorded during the whole of the 20th century. Others say the mythology around the ravens was created during the Victorian era to make the tower seem more mysterious.

What is known as a fact is that ravens were used as unofficial bomb spotters during World War 2 and only one raven - Gripp - survived the war. It was Churchill himself who issued an order to always keep at least six ravens in the Tower. To this day the birds live in the Tower and are very well looked after by a dedicated Ravenmaster (yes, that's an actual position in the Tower).

Did you notice something “off” about the list of the ravens' names at the beginning of the article? You're right - there are actually seven of them currently living at the Tower. If the fate of the entire British monarchy rests on these birds, no chances can be taken! So a seventh “spare” raven is kept at the Tower. There are many other fascinating insights about the Tower of London, other places in the UK, and around the world. Look out for our following Instagram and blog posts!


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