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Tower Ravens
London, England

[Wednesday - 05/12/99] As much as the Yoeman Warders (Beefeaters), the Crown Jewels, or the White Tower itself; the Tower Ravens are equally associated with this most famous of English landmarks, HM Tower of London. Long before Geoffrey of Monmouth made literature of Arthur and far longer than medieval flights of fancy made Arthur's name a household word, the Celtic-inspired tales of the Mabinogion were chronicling Arthur's exploits. One tells of Arthur's one visit to London, specifically Tower Hill. There, the head of the prehistoric King Bran was buried as a talisman against foreign plagues and invasions. Purportedly, Arthur unwisely dug it up on the grounds that Britain should not rely on such superstitious things.

When this tale was recounted to the most famous and successful of all British invaders, William the Conqueror, the welsh 'Bran' was translated to its English counterpart, 'raven'. Thus, the ancient superstition had been taken to mean that keeping ravens at this place would protect Britain from invasion. Not wishing others succeed where he had, William placed ravens at his keep where they continue to this day, over 900 years later.

These magnificent birds, large members of the genus Corvus, respond only to the Ravenmaster (a special member of the Yoeman Warders) and are likely to attack if approached too closely. On the Corvus '94 tour, one actually allowed me to touch it... but only once. The second time I tried, it grabbed the webbing on my thumb quite hard. It didn't try to rend or tear, but simply sat there holding my hand in its beak. I waited for it to let go, which it did a few seconds later. It didn't hurt, but a small drop of blood pooled where I had been grabbed. He taught me my lesson. For the head of House Corvus, one touch was permitted, but no more! There is a complement of six birds, plus reserves and they preside over four different precincts within the Tower: the Tower Green, Coldharbour, the Tower Steps, and the Roman Wall; each identified by their colored leg rings.

Since the reign of Charless II (1660), the ravens have been protected by royal decree. Despite this, the fortunes of the Tower ravens reached their lowest point soon after World War II. With the disturbances of the bombing and the unresolved kidnapping of the raven Mabel, only lone raven, Raven Grip, was left holding the fort!

New recruits were soon on their way and the Tower once again had its full complement of birds. In recent years, the Tower has proudly witnessed the birth of a new generation of ravens.

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Last modified on Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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