Double Standards: The Ravens in the Tower

I took one of my students to the Tower of London, last Friday.  I confess that, in the seventeen years I have lived in London, I had never been there.  Well, at least not in daytime.  I was not looking forward to seeing any of the historical evidence of human cruelty.  The sight of the Crown jewels’ sparkle left me cold.  It is no match to the opulence of the Vatican Museum, and the finery of the higher echelons of poverty-vowing churchmen.  I was amused by the sign, at the entrance, that we were about the enter the most secure room in England.  I would have assumed that to be somewhere in the MI5 building.  However, I was very excited by the prospect of seeing the famous ravens.  A friend of my local corvine neighbourhood, I could not wait to catch a glimpse of their famed cousins.  I had heard something about their wings being clipped to stop them from flying away but nothing had prepared me for the overwhelming feeling of sadness I was to experience.


These magnificent birds, glossy black, with knowing eyes, walk with a sideways gait, as though their body weight is unevenly distributed.  When they try to fly, they are thrown off balance, and practically topple back down.  It reminded me of a poem by Charles Baudelaire, where the sailors on a ship entertain themselves by catching an albatross* and putting him down on the deck.  The bird’s wings are too large, and his legs too short.  Once on the ground, this symbol of the high-flying poet cannot soar back into the sky but dawdles ungracefully, mocked by the vulgar, ignorant creatures who have imprisoned him.  If the albatross represents the free-spirited poet, then the highly intelligent raven – with its Arthurian associations with magic – must stand for wisdom, and the knowledge of truths ancient and mostly forgotten.   I guess with the general wilful dumbing down of this country by a string of fear-mongering and increasingly brainwashing governments, there is something disturbing in the symbolism here.  The ravens in the Tower carry the distinct mark of the cut in their wings.  Like a surgery scar denting their backs.  Their movements are consequently awkward, ridiculous, heartbreaking.  Birds decreed not to fly, by humans.  Like a handicap to keep too much intelligence and free thought in check.


A jovial Beefeater told me that two ravens managed to escape.  (“Good on them!” was my reaction.)  When one of them was found, he was emaciated.  Bred in captivity, these birds cannot fend for themselves in the wild.  I hated the implication that, consequently, it was jolly kind of humans to care for the ravens, feed them meat and eggs, and even cod liver oil and vitamins.  There was not even the shadow of a sense of guilt for having actively and purposefully rendered these creatures so helpless in the first place.  I do not want to hear that they are bred especially for the Tower,  that they are treated like royalty, that they are well cared for, that they feel special, that they are happy.  That they are well fed and looked after, I have no doubt.  That they are happy? Happy animals do not try to escape.  If they were happy, they would come in hoards.  Their wings would not have to be clipped.


And for what? According to a legend no one can actually source, if the ravens were to desert the Tower, then the Crown would fall.  It should warm the heart of all the loyal subjects in the Land, that ours is a monarchy so strong, its future depends on seven resident black birds.  Does keeping them by force not go against the philosophy of fair play the English are so proud to endorse? Does it not constitute – tut-tut, dare I say the word – cheating? And, in the 21st Century, is it just not plainly absurd?


I am not about to launch into a pro-Republican argument.  I have nothing against the Royal Family.  Their pastel figures do not trigger strong emotions of any kind in me (though their fashion sense does make me cringe, and wish some of our taxes could go towards the fees of a Parisian or Milanese couturier).  As for the Monarchy, I am not naive enough to believe that its demise would bring liberty, equality, fraternity – or an equal distribution of wealth among the people.  History has shown that revolutions often go from “two legs good, four legs better” to the inevitable “four legs good, two legs better”, and crowned tyrants are often replaced by uniformed oppressors or manipulators in suits.



I would just feel prouder to belong to a country that treats animals with kindness and respect.  That includes foxes, bear cubs, badgers and ravens.  Producing vegetarian cheese and vegetarian beef-flavoured crisps is not enough.


Gandhi phrases it perfectly: “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

© Scribe Doll

* Read the poem in the original French or in English translations on

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11 Responses to Double Standards: The Ravens in the Tower

  1. Pingback: Odds & Ends: The Generosity of Animals | Londoner's Musings

  2. Dee says:

    It is absurd – but that’s ‘tradition’ for you. A word pulled out often to excuse the inexcusable. According the RSPB, ravens favour the western half of the UK. How about replacing them with some other highly intelligent corvids like the crow? I should imagine that a few of these hand-reared and unmutilated opportunistic immitators would be more than happy to loiter around the Tower for free food.

    • scribedoll says:

      Yep! But I guess even unmutilated ravens would happily stay if treated and fed well. A Russian friend told me a story about the last Tsar. It seems Nicholas II was strolling in his imperial palace gardens when he saw groundsmen clipping the wings of a swan. He asked why. The groundsmen replied, “Otherwise, the swans will fly away.” The monarch chuckled and said, “You should feed them better.”


      • Dee says:

        Perhaps, but London may be too far east for them was the point I was making with the RSPB comment. It would certainly be worth a try though. The reason I suggested crows as a possible alternative is because I have hand-reared them myself and they prove to be persistent guests. And they look pretty much the same, but smaller!
        I suspect visitors come to see the Tower rather than the birds…

      • scribedoll says:

        You have actually hand-reared crows! My heart is melting… I LOVE crows! Have you read my blog about them? I would love to be somehow involved in working closely with crows. Such intelligent creatures. Please tell me more about how you hand-reared crows? Did you rescue a chick by chance or is it something you do professionally?
        Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

      • Dee says:

        Good grief no! I used to be a vet nurse years ago, working for an animal charity where orphaned or displaced animals were often brought in. The nurses would take animals home in the evening, often taking it in turns to do ‘night-shifts’ (but of course this isn’t necessary with non-mammals). So squirrels (yes, I know we were supposed to ‘humanely destroy’ them, but we humanely looked after them instead!), rabbits, leverets, kittens and birds of all types were common. Even a swift once. I suggest you get in touch with your local wildlife animal rescue centre and offer to do a bit of voluteering to see how it works, and take it from there. They are usually keen on enthusiastic helpers. Good luck. And if you do ever hand rear crows, watch out for the ‘weaning’ stage when they can’t quite fly and so scale up your legs to demand food!

      • scribedoll says:

        Thank you so much for that. I will. Thank you for your comments. It’s been a pleasure communicating with you.
        Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

      • Dee says:

        Happy to be of service. 🙂

  3. adrian says:

    Think you’re forgetting the economic contribution the Tower makes to this country, attracting legions of tourists to photograph its ravens and beefeaters – it’s the cows I feel sorry for – they don’t just get their wings clipped!

  4. I ignored this brutal clipping of the raven’s wings.I haven’t been to the Tower since a kid. Being between the most intelligent creatures, I bet they can well judge their sad situation. Yes, England should know better, torn between the legend of nature-loving country and the reality of massacres of cattle and badgers…I agree on every single word you write, Kattherine.

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