By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Merlina, the “queen raven” at the Tower of London, has gone missing, BBC News reported. Legend has it that the raven’s departure is a bad omen for the kingdom. The Tower has attracted tourists for nearly 500 years.
According to BBC News, one popular symbol of Britain’s endurance may have suffered an ill fate. “The Tower of London’s ‘queen’ raven is missing and feared dead, according to staff at the fortress,” the article said. “Merlina, who joined the flock in 2007, has not been seen for several weeks.
“The Tower usually has six ravens at any time and, according to legend, if they ever leave then both the fortress and the kingdom will fall.”
Merlina may still be alive and just missing, but a spokesman recently stated that her continued absence indicates that she may have passed away. Her home, the Tower of London, remains a majestic and awe-inspiring sight.
A Building of Many Purposes
“A full history of the Tower could constitute a pretty good history of England itself over the last millennium, with an emphasis on its more violent elements,” said Dr. Patrick N. Allitt, Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University.
“It was a royal residence until the 1600s; often an arsenal; a mint where the national coinage was made; a safehouse for the storage of the crown jewels; a zoo [called] the ‘Royal Menagerie,’ but above all, a prison.”
Dr. Allitt explained that most of the Jewish population of London were imprisoned in the Tower in 1278 on trumped-up charges of “degrading the currency.” Edward I expelled the entire Jewish community from England, 12 years later.
The Bloody Tower
During the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, a mob sieged the Tower of London, stole many jewels, and murdered the Archbishop of Canterbury Simon Sudbury. He was decapitated. However, the violence at the Tower was only beginning.
“Here at the Tower were killed two young Princes—Edward V and his brother Richard, Duke of York—by King Richard III, in 1483,” Dr. Allitt said. “Here too were imprisoned and killed King Henry VI and two of King Henry VIII’s wives, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. Also, Henry VIII’s former minister, Thomas More.”
Others murdered at the Tower include Lady Jane Grey at 17 years old, who Dr. Allitt said claimed the throne in 1553 for just one year before Mary I ousted her; and Sir Walter Raleigh. Finally, 60 people are buried at St. Peter ad Vincula, the church in the Tower grounds—51 of whom were beheaded.
Exit through the Gift Shop
Since the middle of the 16th century, visitors have gone to visit the Tower of London, and Dr. Allitt said that it is now almost entirely a tourist attraction.
“There’s a lot to see: first of all, the buildings themselves, but also exhibits on the Tower’s history, the unequalled armory, and the splendidly attired beefeaters—all of them veterans of the British military with at least 22 years’ service and a good conduct medal,” he said.
“Above all other attractions rank the Crown jewels—141 crowns, maces, scepters, orbs, coronets, and other jeweled objects still used in royal ceremonies such as the coronation and the annual state opening of Parliament. One of them, the Sword of Mercy, was made in 1626 for the coronation of King Charles I and has been used at every coronation since then.”
While the Tower’s historical significance is impossible to overstate, the loss of one of its feathered residents is still felt.
Dr. Patrick N. Allitt contributed to this article. Dr. Allitt is Cahoon Family Professor of American History at Emory University, where he has taught since 1988. The holder of a doctorate in history from the University of California, Berkeley, Professor Allitt—an Oxford University graduate—has also taught American religious history at Harvard Divinity School, where he was a Henry Luce Postdoctoral Fellow.