Ravens of the Tower of London
‘If the ravens leave the Tower, the kingdom will fall…’
One of the earliest legends that connects the Tower with a raven is the tale of the euhemerised Celtic god Brân the Blessed, who was mortally wounded in a mutually destructive battle against theIrish kingMatholwch who had mistreated the British princessBranwen. He ordered his followers tocut off his head and bury it beneath the White Hill (where the Tower now stands) facing out towardsFrance as a talisman to protectBritain from foreign invasion.
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 histelescope and making it harder for him to observe the sky from hisobservatory 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. The conversation with his astronomer that supposedly followed decided the fate not only of the ravens, but also ofGreenwich, where theGreenwich Observatorywas commissioned by the King in 1675. In this version of the legend the King complained:
"These ravens must go!" he said. "But, Sire, it is very unlucky to kill a raven," replied Flamstead, "If you do that the Tower will fall and you will lose your kingdom, having only just got it back!" Charles, being a pragmatist, thought for a moment and said: "The Observatory must go to Greenwich and the ravens can stay in the Tower."
Yet another legend attributes the appearance of ravens in the Tower to the Great Fire of London in 1666. Wild ravens, as well aspigs andkites, were the biggestscavengers inmedieval London. Allegedly after the fire, survivors started persecuting ravens for scavenging, but Flamsteed explained to Charles II that killing all ravens would be a badomen, and that the kingdom would not outlive the last killed raven. Charles II then ordered six birds to be kept at the Tower.
image: source, Tower of London