Munin the raven passed away after a brief age-related illness, announced the Tower’s Ravenmaster, Chris Skaife last Thursday, adding that she would be sorely missed.
She arrived at the Tower in 1995 after being caught on North Uist in the Outer Hebrides. All the other current crop come from raven breeders. While previously chicks were reared at the Tower (before being sent elsewhere) currently no breeding pairs reside there.
Skaife said he always had a complicated relationship with the recently departed Munin. “I must have done something to her as a young assistant – I don’t know what - and she fell out with me,” he recalled. “If you get the trust of a raven it will trust you for life. A raven can also hate you for life.”
Ravens have officially resided in the Tower of London since 1630, when Charles II decreed there must always be at least six ravens there to ensure Britain’s safety.
But they were part of the Tower’s history even before then. According to folklore, ravens were a mainstay at executions. It is said that at the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1535: “Even the ravens of the Tower sat silent and immovable on the battlements and gazed eerily at the strange scene.” And during the execution of Lady Jane Grey in 1554, ravens were apparently seen “pecking the eyes from the severed head” of the queen.
The official title of Ravenmaster was introduced in the 1960s. Skaife and his team look after the birds by feeding them fresh meat from Smithfield market keep their flight feathers regularly trimmed. One ominous legend has it that great harm will befall Crown and country should the ravens leave the historic fortress. As well-wishers tweeted their condolences yesterday, Mr Skaithe revealed that Munin would be replaced in due course.
Compared to their cousins in the wild, the Tower ravens lead a charmed life gorging some 170g of raw meat daily, plus biscuits soaked in blood and whatever sweets they can pilfer off passing tourists.
Recent studies have shown ravens to be the cleverest of all birds, with a staggering 2.1bn neurons packed into their forebrain. Not only can they solve complex puzzles and establish social hierarchies among themselves but they are also talented mimics and can replicate human speech.