To the fanfare of trumpets, England learned the good news: The kingdom is safe and secure.
On May 19, BBC Breakfast unveiled the name of the Tower of London’s newest royal raven before a national audience. By popular vote, the British people chose Branwen, the name of a deity from Celtic mythology, as the new protector of the empire.
“This is absolutely brilliant,” said Ravenmaster Chris Skaife during the program, as quoted by Shannon Julia of the Mirror. “Branwen was the queen of ravens, the queen of white ravens, the queen of beauty and love. She’s all that and more.”
According to legend, Britain is secure as long as ravens remain at the Tower, a 1,000-year-old fortress and castle on the banks of the River Thames.
Charles II (1630–1685) was reportedly the first monarch to claim that “the Tower itself will crumble to dust and a great harm will befall the kingdom” if anything happens to the ravens, as William Booth wrote for the Washington Post in 2018. At least six birds are kept at the site at all times to prevent such a disaster.
Per a statement, the public selected Branwen, a Celtic word that translates to “blessed raven,” out of five shortlisted names. The other four choices were Matilda, a nod to the medieval English empress of the same name; Brontë, in honor of the legendary literary siblings; Winifred, after Winifred Maxwell, Countess of Nithsdale; and Florence, in honor of trailblazing British nurse Florence Nightingale.
A ravenmaster has cared for the Tower’s semi-wild birds since the 1950s, explains John Owen Theobald, author of the Ravenmaster trilogy of novels, for Historic U.K. While Charles II often receives credit for the ominous prediction, Theobald argues that the story actually sprung up as a response to the bombing of London during World War II.
“The first recorded reference to the legend dates to this period,” the author writes.
However the tradition started, the Tower’s ravens receive the highest quality of care. According to the Post, the hand-raised corvids have free roam of the castle, though they sleep in secure quarters at night to protect them from harm. The ravenmaster feeds the black birds twice a day with a special diet of mice, chicks, rats and assorted meats. Per the Tower of London website, the ravens enjoy biscuits soaked in blood as a special treat.
Skaife is the sixth person to hold the title of ravenmaster. He studied for five years under the previous ravenmaster before assuming the job. To earn this exalted title, an applicant must be a yeoman warder, or ceremonial guard at the Tower. Warders must have served a minimum of 22 years in the military, achieved the rank of warrant officer or higher, and have an exemplary record of conduct.
The newest raven was born in a brood of four earlier this year. According to the Tower website, two of the chicks were selected for the duty of protecting the kingdom. Skaife named the male Edgar—after Edgar Allan Poe, who wrote the classic poem “The Raven”—but gave the British public the chance to vote on the female’s name.
Earlier this year, one of the Tower’s ravens, Merlina, was reported missing and presumed dead. As a spokesperson told BBC News at the time, she was “our undisputed ruler of the roost, queen of the Tower ravens.”
After Merlina’s disappearance, just seven ravens remained at the Tower: Jubilee, Harris, Gripp, Rocky, Erin, Poppy and Georgie.
Branwen and Edgar bring the total to nine, helping to preserve the kingdom for the queen and all of her people.