Ravens of the Tower of London
The ravens of the Tower of London are a group of captive Common Ravens which live in the Tower of London. The group of ravens at the Tower comprises at least seven individuals (six required, with a seventh in reserve). The presence of the ravens is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower; a superstition holds that “If the Tower of London ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it.” Local legend puts the origin of the captive raven population at the time of King Charles II (reigned 1660–1685); however, historians believe that the “Tower’s raven mythology is likely to be a Victorian flight of fantasy”.
According to folklore, wild ravens are thought to have inhabited the Tower for many centuries, supposedly first attracted there by the smell of the corpses of the executed enemies of the Crown. Allegedly, at the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1535, “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!” The ravens of the Tower supposedly behaved much worse during the execution of Lady Jane Grey in 1554, allegedly “pecking the eyes from the severed head” of the queen.
One legend attributes the start of the tradition of keeping ravens with clipped wings in the Tower of London to Charles II and to his royal astronomer John Flamsteed, although there are versions of the legend that differ in their details. According to one legend, John Flamsteed complained to Charles II that wild ravens were flying past his telescope and making it harder for him to observe the sky from his observatory in the White Tower. Flamsteed requested that the birds be removed, but Charles II refused to comply with this request.
Another variation of this legend says that it was Charles II himself who disliked the wild ravens’ droppings falling onto the telescope.
Yet another legend attributes the appearance of ravens in the Tower to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Wild ravens, as well as pigs and kites, were the biggestscavengers in medieval London. Allegedly after the fire, survivors started persecuting ravens for scavenging, but Flamsteed explained to Charles II that killing all ravens would be a bad omen, and that the kingdom would not outlive the last killed raven. Charles II then ordered six birds to be kept at the Tower.