Ravenmaster may sound like a role on Game of Thrones — but it’s a real-world job at the Tower of London.
For the past seven years, Christopher Skaife has been looking after the tower’s seven resident ravens, including Munin, Merlina, Jubilee II and Rocky. “There is a legend that if the ravens leave the Tower of London, the tower will crumble into dust and great harm will befall the kingdom,” says Skaife. “So I have the safety of the nation on my shoulders!”
Skaife is the author The Ravenmaster: My Life With the Ravens at the Tower of London (out today), in which he chronicles the tower’s legends and his daily life at the castle on the banks of the River Thames.
One memorable mishap? Putting the birds to bed in the wrong pecking order.
“It was a bit of a catastrophe, as I ended up getting hurt severely and getting stuck in a thing called the pit of doom — a stinking hole of water with dead pigeon carcasses — as I tried to look for one of the ravens,” he said at a party on Monday to launch The Ravenmaster.
The birds, he says, have boisterous personalities: “Croaking loudly at visitors, posing for selfies, rifling through your bag for a box of Pringles. Or, like Merlina, laying on her back on Tower Green, with her legs in the air, playing dead to the shock of those who walk by.”
The former British infantryman says that in his 22-year military career, “I have seen the best and worse of what human are capable of. As Ravenmaster, the ravens have taught me a little about what it is to be human.”
“They have taught to listen, to understand and be still — although my wife would probably disagree with that last statement!”
He adds, “There is a misconception about [the birds]. They are associated with ill omens in the past. But here the omen is a good omen. I see my role as educational. I am trying to educate visitors about how beautiful and intelligent and smart [the ravens] actually are.”
Unlike in years past, the caretakers no longer aggressively clip the birds’ wings to prevent the from leaving. “I use something called ‘feather management,’ which allows us to have the ravens here and allows them to move around much more than they have done previously but still stay here. After all, we have legends to look after.”
As for their diet, “they eat everything from mice to rats to chickens,” says Skaife.
Thankfully, he doesn’t have to catch those among the castle ramparts or along the edge of the pit of doom. “I have specialists bring them in,” he says with a laugh.