LONDON – With Covid-19 blasting through the UK, Brexit causing chaos, and support for Scottish independence growing, the British hardly need folklore prophecies to tell them their country is in a tough spot.
But 2021 has given them one anyway.
Legend has it that at least six ravens must be kept at the Tower of London, otherwise the kingdom will fall. On Wednesday, it announced that one of these birds, Merlina, has disappeared and may be dead.
This means that the tower’s unfriendliness of ravens – the birds’ appropriate Gothic collective noun – is down to seven, so dangerously close to the minimum.
“My concern is obviously to look after the kingdom,”
The history of the ravens is usually attributed to King Charles II, who ruled in the mid-1600s. Legend has it that he insisted that the birds be kept in the tower after he was told it would fall if they ever left.
The Tower of London dates back to 1070, has served as a fortress, a prison and a palace at various points throughout history. At least one king and perhaps two young princes have been assassinated within its walls.
Today it is home to the crown jewels – a collection of robes, crowns and other royal regalia, the value of which has been estimated in billions of pounds – and of course the fabled ravens. It is one of the world’s biggest tourist attractions with more than 3 million visitors each year in non-coronavirus times.
Skaife, who has raven tattoos on his calves and lives within the walls of the tower, has said in previous interviews that the raven myth was actually invented by the tower itself in the 1880s as a marketing tree.
As one of the palace guards, known as yeoman guards, it is his job to look after the birds, feed them meat from a local market and biscuits dipped in blood.
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Skaife put the ravens to bed just before Britain went into its latest national shutdown earlier this month, noting that Merlina had not returned.
She has now been missing for two weeks and her “continued absence indicates to us that she has sadly passed away,” the Tower of London said in a statement. She was the “undisputed ruler of the roost,” it said, calling her “the queen of the tower ravens.”
Six of the seven remaining ravens are named on the tower’s site: Anniversary, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin and Poppy.
“We hope a new chicken from our breeding program will be up to the formidable challenge of continuing her legacy,” the statement said.