Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Legend of the Ravens in the Tower of London

The Legend of the Ravens in the Tower of London

The presence of the ravens is traditionally believed to protect the Crown and the Tower. 
An early British King called King Bran Hen of Bryneich (the Welsh word for Raven is Bran) was killed in a battle and requested that his head was buried, as a talisman against invasion, on the 'White Mount' where The Tower of London now stands. To this day ravens are accepted as highly important and necessary occupants of the Tower of London. 

Legend says that the kingdom and the Tower will fall if the six resident ravens ever leave the fortress. 
Photo thanks to Mini Mel

The Myths and Legends regarding Ravens

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. The conversation with his astronomer that supposedly followed decided the fate not only of the ravens, but also of Greenwich, where the Greenwich Observatory was 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."

Photo thanks to

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 biggest scavengers 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.
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So see how many ravens you can spot on your visit and remember that these magnificent birds respond only to the Ravenmaster and should not be approached too closely by anyone else!

Click on the link to download a ‘Guide to the Tower Ravens’ leaflet.


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