Secrets of the Raven Master

An Interview with Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife, the Tower of London’s Raven Master

With the disappearance of one of the Tower of London’s famous ravens, the eyes of the nation turned to the capital’s ancient fortress. Ravens have a long association with folklore and superstition, but perhaps the best known is that connecting the Tower’s ravens with the fate of Britain: if the ravens should leave the Tower, the Kingdom of Britain will fall. After a year of pandemic, lockdown, civil unrest across the country, and atrocious weather, not to mention the acrimonious split from the EU, is Britain about to fall? Dr Leo Ruickbie went in search of the answers from the only man qualified to give them, the Tower’s resident Raven Master, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife.

On 13 January 2021, the Tower of London announced that the ‘Queen of the Tower Ravens’, Merlina, had been missing for some weeks and was presumed dead. I asked the Raven Master if there had been any news. Sitting in his living room, with its vaulted ceiling and a view of the ancient Devereux Tower, he explained the situation.

Chris Skaife: ‘No, sadly she has not returned. The thing is about it, she’s very unlikely to return for the simple fact that she’s spent such a long time with me as my partner. The likelihood of her leaving the Tower and flying off without me being by her side would have been very, very slim. And also, ravens are extremely territorial. They don’t leave their territorial area unless it’s extreme reasons. She just vanished. There were no sightings of her.

‘We were quite close as well, which makes it worse for me. I used her a lot on social media. She became quite a celebrity. That’s why the news spread as far and wide as it did.’

With little chance remaining of Merlina being found alive, I wondered if he believed in the legend associated with the ravens at the Tower.

CS: ‘We talk about the myth and legends. We are all storytellers, and the legends and myths we talk about here at the Tower of London, we have done for centuries, and they don’t really change that much. Whether the absolute truth or not, well, that’s storytelling for you.

‘It is layered history and mythology. The connection is so strong now. Even now, during this terrible pandemic that we’ve been having, people are so superstitious even now. I do quite a lot on social media and the amount of people who have asked me for comfort really and asking, ‘Are the ravens still there?’ is incredible. And that’s still ingrained in the way that humans work. We’re still superstitious. How many people do you know who would still walk under a ladder?’


The complete interview was first published in The Magazine of the Society for Psychical Research, 4 (2021), see for details