The beautiful and irreplaceable Merlina…
It has recently been reported, 13 January 2021, that one of the famous Tower of London ravens has gone missing and it is now sadly presumed she has passed away. Merlina or Merlin as she was first known arrived at the Tower in 2007 after being found by the side of a Welsh road aged about a year old and later went on to become the favourite raven of Chris Skaife, present Ravenmaster of the Yeoman Warders – well one of them. She had originally been taken care of by the Swan Rescue Centre in Barry where she became well known for ‘throwing tantrums and mimicking the other birds‘. A strong character she refused to sleep with the rest of the ravens at night in their purpose built enclosure (thought to be built on the site of the Grand Hall where Anne Boleyn was imprisoned prior to her execution 1536) and instead had her own ‘private night box behind an old window on the ground floor of the Queens House on Tower Green where she graciously allows the Constable of the Tower and his family to live‘ where she would return to most nights. Along with the other ravens she was free to leave the Tower and tootle around the perimeter , their flight feathers not being so harshly cut as in previous times thanks to Chris Skaife who prefers a more gentler approach, the idea being that with good plentiful food and accommodation the ravens would choose to live at the Tower of their own free will. This unfortunately entails some risk and give some ravens an inch they will take a mile as the old saying goes – ‘However, some ravens have gone absent without leave in the past and others have even been sacked. Raven Munin flew off to Greenwich and was eventually returned by a vigilant member of the public after seven days. Raven George was dismissed for eating television aerials and Raven Grog was last seen outside an East End pub‘. (1)
The full, and amusing, story of the retaking of Raven Munin is in Chris Skaife’s book The Ravenmaster: My life with the Ravens at the Tower of London which is full of funny anecdotes and recommended if anyone wants to go more fully into the story of the Ravenmaster and the Tower Ravens.
Merlina and the other ravens are fed twice a day, the official diet being 6oz of fresh meat daily, including chicken, lamb and pig hearts, liver, kidney, peanuts in their shells, defrosted rats, mice, day old chicks, hard-boiled eggs, biscuits soaked in blood, and the occasional road kill rabbit. However her favourite food was crisps or Pringles if she could get hold of any i.e. purloin from unsuspecting tourists which she would soften by dipping into water. One of her favourite tricks was to lie on her back, legs sticking in the air, faking dead to the distress of passing tourists. What a girl!
Chris informs us in his book for ease of identification the ravens wear coloured anklets: Munin lime green, Jubilee Gold, Gripp Light blue, Harris purple, Rocky brown, Erin red and Merlina bright pink and quotes Charles Dickens who described their walks as ‘like that of a very particular gentleman with exceedingly tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles’. (2)
A watchful Raven on the lookout for unsuspecting tourists and their sandwiches, especially the ham version, sausage rolls and Pringles..
Jubilee and Munin conspiring – Whats not to love? photo wikipedia.org
There is a legend that says Charles II initially ordered the ravens removal from the Tower following complaints from the Royal Astronomer, John Flamsteed (1646 – 1719) that they were ‘flying in front of his telescope’ and ‘interfering with his observations‘. However, after someone brought to his attention the story that if the Ravens ever left the Tower, a great disaster would come about and both the Tower and the monarchy would fall, a rattled Charles had a change of heart – the ravens stayed at the Tower and the Royal Observatory found a new home Greenwich. I should think so too. It is said that it was also Charles who decreed that the number of ravens should not fall below six and indeed at least seven are kept there just in case.
“History and prehistory, legends, fables, and stories, they’re everywhere here. I sometimes think that the Tower is just a vast storehouse of the human imagination, and the ravens are its guardians….” Chris Skaith Ravenmaster
A spokesperson from Historic Royal Palaces said “Since joining us in 2007, Merlina was our undisputed ruler of the roost, Queen of the Tower Ravens. She will be greatly missed by her fellow ravens, the Ravenmaster, and all of us in the Tower community.”
Ravenmaster Chris Skaith and raven
Queen Raven Merlina..much missed and a very hard act to follow.
- Historic Royal Palaces – The Tower of London On line article.
- The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London p.63 Christopher Skaith
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