The entwinement of the ravens’ destinies with the nation’s might have been foreseen last August, when worries related to the coronavirus pandemic stripped the Tower of London of some of its legions of visitors.
The ravens — sometimes collectively called an “unkindness” — became bored and restless without the detritus of human contact that kept them in snacks in addition to a regular diet that includes mice, chicks, meats and biscuits soaked in animal blood. They were also said to pine for the stimulation of a human audience for their party tricks that include mimicry.
One of the ravens, Thor, predating Merlina’s arrival in 2007, was said to have greeted the visiting President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia by bidding him good morning. Mr. Putin was “rather taken aback,” The Guardian reported.
Mr. Putin would not have been the first person to have been taken aback — or perhaps to have seen parallels close to Russia’s own history — at the tower, known for a history of incarceration dating from the 12th century, often as a prelude to beheading and other forms of execution. Its many doomed alumni included two wives of Henry VIII; the so-called princes in the tower who disappeared there in the 15th century and were said to have been murdered by their uncle, King Richard III; and the fugitive Nazi Rudolf Hess in 1941.
Many of the estimated three million annual visitors (pre-pandemic), moreover, flocked there not just to dip into bloody history but also to marvel at the heavily guarded crown jewels.
The Tower of London closed to visitors on Dec. 16, as the latest wave of coronavirus cases gathered strength. But even before then, and before Merlina’s disappearance, the impact of falling visitor numbers had worried custodians like Ravenmaster Skaife.