Ravenmaster

 Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London, by Christopher Skaife

If you've ever been to the Tower of London, or read very much about it, you know that there are ravens living there.  The story goes that ravens have always been at the Tower and that if they ever leave or are lost, the kingdom will fall.  There is, therefore, a Ravenmaster whose job it is to care for the ravens.  There are usually around six birds at any given time; they are usually rescues of some kind or occasionally former pets.  

Chris Skaife has been the Ravenmaster for several years and he gives us an enjoyable rundown of the history and current state of ravenkeeping at the Tower.  This ranges all over the place, and includes the Tower's history as a sort of zoo for exotic animals, details of raven life and habits, stories from Skaife's own life, and tales of hair-raising ravenic moments.  Skaife also explains how ravenkeeping has changed over time and that his own policy is that the ravens should be as free and un-interfered with as possible.  Their feathers are only barely trimmed, and they aren't trained to say things.

The sad news is that the legend of ravens having always been at the Tower, and of Charles II issuing a decree that the ravens should be cared for, lest the kingdom fall -- is just that, a legend.  There is no evidence for it existing before the 19th century, and ol' Charles issued no such decree.  However, the Tower would have been a popular raven hangout; it's not like they weren't ever there, they just weren't official or purposefully kept as captives until then.  The Welsh part of the legend, with Bran the Blessed's head buried on the White Hill (now the site of the White Tower), looking out to France, is antique.  And Bran does mean 'raven.'  So it's not totally made up, just partly, I guess.

Skaife also discusses literary ravens, but to my disappointment he left out my favorite: Joan Aiken's Mortimer.  I hope he's read the Mortimer books, nobody should miss them!

A fun and light read with a good amount of history.  I've been meaning to read it for a long time, and now I want to go see the Tower!

Comments

  1. Whoa, were they used to be trained to say things? What sort of things??

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    Replies
    1. Ravens are very smart and can be trained to say things. One of the ravens they had some years ago had been trained to say 'good morning,' but I don't know how often that happened in the past, or what they said. I'd bet money that somebody taught some raven to say 'God save the king' at some point!

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