One of the ravens at the Tower of London is feared to have died, in a potentially gloomy omen for Britain. It means that the tower is close to having fewer than six ravens, a level that would spell doom for the kingdom, according to legend.
Ravenmaster Christopher Skaife confirmed that one of the birds, Merlina, known as the queen of the tower’s unkindness of ravens, is presumed dead after being missing for weeks.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Skaife said: “Merlina is a free-spirited raven and has been known to leave the tower precincts on many occasion. I’m her buddy and she normally comes back to us, but this time she didn’t. So, I do fear that she is not with us any more.” He added: “Just before Christmas, before we went into the lockdown, we were putting the ravens to bed, and she didn’t come back.”
If confirmed, Merlina’s death would bring the number of ravens at the tower to just seven. According to legend if two more were to die the tower and the kingdom would fall.
But Skaife said that if Merlina did not return, the tower did have a reserve raven to ensure that at least six remained.
He said: “We do have seven ravens here at the Tower of London, six by royal decree. And of course I still have a spare one, so we’re OK at the moment.”
In a statement on Twitter, the Tower of London said it hoped Merlina would be replaced by a chick from its raven breeding programme.
We now have 7 ravens here at the Tower — one more than the required 6, so we don’t have any immediate plans to fill Merlina’s vacancy. However in time we hope that a new chick from our breeding programme will be up to the formidable challenge of continuing her legacy. (3/4)
— The Tower of London (@TowerOfLondon) January 13, 2021
Various legends associate keeping ravens at the tower with Charles II and his Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. According to one, Charles refused to remove ravens from the tower after Flamsteed complained they were obscuring his view of the stars.
According to another, Flamsteed was concerned that ravens were being persecuted at the tower after being associated with the Great Fire of London. After being advised that killing all the ravens would be a bad omen, Charles II then ordered six birds to be kept at the tower.
This article was amended on 14 January 2021. In places, the original piece incorrectly spelled the missing corvid’s name as “Molina”, rather than Merlina.