The next time you visit the Tower of London, count the ravens. If you find fewer than six, it's time to panic. According to legend, six ravens must reside inside the Tower of London at all times. Without them, both the Tower and the monarchy will fall. (Insert shocking plot twist music here.)
Pesky Ravens, Blocking Stars
According to Historic UK, here's how the legend began: the first 'Astronomer Royal,' John Flamsteed complained to King Charles II that ravens were "were interfering with his observations." So naturally, the King ordered their removal—only to be told (by whom?!) that "the White Tower would fall and a great disaster befall the Kingdom."
Easy fix! Instead of destroying the birds, the King decided that six ravens must live within the tower walls at all times. Now, mind you, Charles II was king of England between 1660 and 1685. To save you some math, that was a long time ago.
Why keep the creepy ravens in captivity today? It's better to be safe than sorry. And, hey, it's a fun tradition. Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife (his official title) is one of 37 Yeoman Warders (a.k.a. Beefeaters) at the Tower of London. As his title would suggest, Skaife is uniquely in charge of maintaining the "Unkindness of Ravens."
Not Friends, Just Foes
How does one become a Ravenmaster? Like the other Yeoman Warders, Skaife had at least 22 years of military service under his belt (24, to be exact). Unlike the others, however, he became a qualified falconer. According to Mental Floss, the previous Ravenmaster "saw something in him," introduced Skaife to the ravens — who inexplicably liked him — and the rest was history. Well, sort of. He also had to complete a five-year apprenticeship with the previous Ravemaster, and move into the Tower with the rest of the Yeoman Warders and their families (as per tradition). That is, until one spooky night when Skaife spoke to a little girl sitting near the raven cages. When he turned around, she disappeared. Since his first residence was "too haunted," Skaife moved his family to a different apartment within the grounds.
As for the lovely ravens, Skaife had a few fun facts for Mental Floss. For one, he feeds them "nuts, berries, fruit, mice, rats, chicken, and blood-soaked biscuits." Mmm. Skaife also whistles a tune to lull them into their protective cages at bedtime.
There is one particular diva raven. Merlina doesn't play nice with the other birds, so she has her "own private box inside the Queen's House that she reaches by climbing a tiny ladder." Even though Skaife is close with the legendary ravens, he claims that they "don't like humans at all unless they're dying or dead." Sounds like Edgar Allan Poe hit the nail on the head.