The Ravenmaster2019-04-25T11:59:23+00:00

The First Behind-the-Scenes Account of Life With the Ravens at Britain’s Most Famous National Monument

For centuries, the Tower of London has been home to a group of famous avian residents: the ravens. Each year they are seen by millions of visitors, and they have become as integral a part of the Tower as its ancient stones themselves. But their role is even more important than that – legend has it that if the ravens should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust, and great harm will befall the kingdom.

One man is personally responsible for ensuring that such a disaster never comes to pass – the Ravenmaster. The current holder of the position is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, and in this fascinating, entertaining and touching book he memorably describes the ravens’ formidable intelligence, their idiosyncrasies and their occasionally wicked sense of humour.

Over the years in which he has cared for the physical and mental well-being of these remarkable birds, Christopher Skaife has come to know them like no one else. They are not the easiest of charges – as he reveals, they are much given to mischief, and their escapades have often led him into unlikely, and sometimes even undignified, situations.

Now, in the first intimate behind-the-scenes account of life with the ravens of the Tower, the Ravenmaster himself shares the folklore, history and superstitions surrounding both the birds and their home. The result is a compelling, inspiring and irreverent story that will delight and surprise anyone with an interest in British history or animal behaviour.

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BUY NOW

THE RAVENMASTER

The First Behind-the-Scenes Account of Life With the Ravens at Britain’s Most Famous National Monument

For centuries, the Tower of London has been home to a group of famous avian residents: the ravens. Each year they are seen by millions of visitors, and they have become as integral a part of the Tower as its ancient stones themselves. But their role is even more important than that – legend has it that if the ravens should ever leave, the Tower will crumble into dust, and great harm will befall the kingdom.

One man is personally responsible for ensuring that such a disaster never comes to pass – the Ravenmaster. The current holder of the position is Yeoman Warder Christopher Skaife, and in this fascinating, entertaining and touching book he memorably describes the ravens’ formidable intelligence, their idiosyncrasies and their occasionally wicked sense of humour.

Over the years in which he has cared for the physical and mental well-being of these remarkable birds, Christopher Skaife has come to know them like no one else. They are not the easiest of charges – as he reveals, they are much given to mischief, and their escapades have often led him into unlikely, and sometimes even undignified, situations.

Now, in the first intimate behind-the-scenes account of life with the ravens of the Tower, the Ravenmaster himself shares the folklore, history and superstitions surrounding both the birds and their home. The result is a compelling, inspiring and irreverent story that will delight and surprise anyone with an interest in British history or animal behaviour.

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THE RAVENMASTER

Signed Copies of The Ravenmaster Available to Buy Now.

I have what is often described as the oddest job in Britain.

Odd? Maybe.

The best? Definitely.

My name is Chris Skaife and I am the Ravenmaster at the Tower of London.

This book is my attempt to answer some of the most common questions I get asked about the ravens on a daily basis by our visitors and those folk that follow my social media pages and dispel some of the more fanciful myths.

What this book is not—is a scientific study about birds… I am not a scientist…though over the years I’ve been lucky enough to meet with many fascinating and leading scientists in the study of avian intelligence… Despite my years of caring for the ravens, there is no actual qualification to be the  Ravenmaster… I’m just an average guy with a greater- than- average amount of luck… who has been fortunate enough to have spent a good part of my life at the Tower observing some of the most… beautiful and intelligent birds in the world.

I’m also very lucky to have had two careers… as an infantry soldier serving for 24 years in the military … and now as the Ravenmaster…

As a soldier I have seen the best and worst of what humans are capable of…

As the Ravenmaster, learning about the ravens, I have discovered a lot about what it actually means to be a human… I’ve learned to listen… to observe…and to be still… (although my wife Jasmin would be inclined to disagree on that)!

The ravens have been my teachers… and I have been their pupil.

RAVENMASTER’S COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

24.04.2019 Who am I? And what do I do?

-Who is Ravenmaster and what’s his job?

The current Ravenmaster at the Tower of London is Chris Skaife and holds the position of appointed Ravenmaster. He has been the Ravenmaster since 2011. He has the unique job of caring for the raven’s safety and welfare, but he is also a member of ‘The Body of Yeoman Warders’ known as a ‘Beefeater’. He is one of only 37 Yeoman Warders who live and work at the Tower. He has a team of three Ravenmaster assistants who assist him in his task of looking after the Ravens.

-You have been taking care of the Ravens in the Tower of London for almost twelve years, and, since 2011 as the Ravenmaster. How has your job been and your life with them? How and why did you become the Ravenmaster?

It’s been a real honor and privilege to care for these beautifully majestic and intelligent birds. The previous Ravenmaster thought I might have a talent for caring for the birds and so instructed me on their welfare. I do say that the ravens picked me!

-The legend says that there has always to be six ravens at the Tower of London. If they leave, the kingdom and the Tower will fall. They are a part of the legend of the Tower of London and British folklore. How do you face this responsibility?

As you said, the legend has it that if the ravens were ever to leave the Tower of London, the Tower of London would crumble and the kingdom would suffer a terrible fate, so it is a responsibility I take very seriously.

-You feed them, take them inside and out from their cages, you clean their cages, among other responsibilities. Which part of the day with them is the most gratifying?

 I get to spend a lot of time with the ravens, I enjoy the mornings when I first let them out of their night time enclosures as it’s a time I get them all to myself. Each raven has its own personality and during the daytime I get to watch them going about their daily business. In the evening, they respond to my calling them to bed after a hard day’s work for them looking good and been photographed.

-We know it takes the Ravens a little time to get adapted to their caregivers and watchers. How are they taught? Do they become dependent?

I don’t teach the ravens to get to know me, I let the ravens decide as to whether they want to get to know me or not.  It takes a lot of patience and dedication to get a raven to trust you, but once you have it, you will have it for life.

Ravens are neo-phobic so any change unsettles them a little and it takes a few days for them to become adjusted again. I keep the ravens as wild as possible so they keep their distance from visitors and staff.

-How is living with an animal associated with death by a lot of people?

 Within some cultures ravens are seen as omens of pending doom, while in other cultures they are seen as powerful spirit guides and good omens. Here at the Tower the ravens bring luck to the Kingdom by their continued presence.

-We believe that ravens are fascinating animals. Do you think that there’s still much left to discover from them?

 The more we study them the more we understand the raven’s abilities, such as their intelligence. There are some studies demonstrating their ability to complete two part puzzles making them the smartest birds known to man. It will be interesting to see the full extent of what they are capable of in years to come! I’m currently working with Queen Mary University helping their students to study cognitive behaviour in our birds.

-From the ravens that live there, is there anyone more rebellious or friendlier with the people and tourists? Even with you? How is their daily life? Could you tell us their names and ages?

 Details of the ravens, their place of birth and year of birth below:

Erin                  (female, Somerset, 2006)
Merlina             (female, South Wales, 2005)
Munin               (female, Scotland, 1995)
Rocky               (male, Somerset, 2008)
Jubilee               (male, Somerset, 2013)
Gripp                (male, Somerset, 2013)
Harris               (male, Somerset, 2016)

Merlin is the friendliest raven who has a special connection with me, but is still not tame.

-We have read studies and reports about the great intelligence of the ravens, their way of imitating sounds (they almost seem to speak), how they respect the elders. What would you remark about them?

 There was a raven that lived at the Tower call Thor that could say ‘good morning’. I do not encourage the ravens to mimic humans as a raven’s vocabulary is wide ranging and much more interesting that what we have to say.

Ravens are great at mimicking sounds picked up in there environment and there are many clips on YouTube where ravens can be seen making odd sounds and mimicking humans.

-If any raven escapes, what is done to recover it? Do they carry any tracking device? Or new ravens are taken?

 I use various methods to keep the ravens at the Tower, food, shelter security and raven husbandry, on occasions, dependent on the weight and size of the raven I gently trim a secondary flight feather. This process does not hurt them, but unbalances their flight slightly so while they can safely fly around the Tower but cannot fly long distances away from their home.

There has been the occasional raven escape. Munin escaped for seven days until caught by a vigilant member of the public in Greenwich Park. She was returned to the Tower and is still with us at the ripe old age of 22!

Grog was last seen outside an East End pub called the Rose and Punchbowl in 1981.

A raven escape is luckily very rare and we always keep at least one raven spare – just in case!

-How do people react watching you so close to the ravens? And how do the animals react to people?

 I never encourage the public to get close to any of our ravens… enjoy them from a distance, as raven’s and selfies don’t mix! They are wild and bite really hard! I have gained Merlina’s trust over the last 10 years and she sees me as one of her own. The public are amazed at my interactions with her and generally respect the ravens space. But get too close and she will let you know!

 -Are the ravens able to distinguish you from your three helpers? Do they interact in a different way with you and with them?

 Yes definitely, although some of my assistants have also gained her trust over the years and can interact with her as well.

-For all the readers of this interview, would you like to tell them something to animate them to visit the tower and their ravens when they visit London?

 Apart from the fabulous history that the Tower of London represents in British history we have the best storytellers and curators to pass on the any wonderful and sometimes grisly stories that are told. The ravens have their own myth and legends attached to the Tower represent our gruesome past in vivid detail, besides that they are truly magnificent to see close-up. A must for any raven fan!

RAVENMASTER’S COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS

24.04.2019 Who am I? And what do I do?

-Who is Ravenmaster and what’s his job?

The current Ravenmaster at the Tower of London is Chris Skaife and holds the position of appointed Ravenmaster. He has been the Ravenmaster since 2011. He has the unique job of caring for the raven’s safety and welfare, but he is also a member of ‘The Body of Yeoman Warders’ known as a ‘Beefeater’. He is one of only 37 Yeoman Warders who live and work at the Tower. He has a team of three Ravenmaster assistants who assist him in his task of looking after the Ravens.

-You have been taking care of the Ravens in the Tower of London for almost twelve years, and, since 2011 as the Ravenmaster. How has your job been and your life with them? How and why did you become the Ravenmaster?

It’s been a real honor and privilege to care for these beautifully majestic and intelligent birds. The previous Ravenmaster thought I might have a talent for caring for the birds and so instructed me on their welfare. I do say that the ravens picked me!

-The legend says that there has always to be six ravens at the Tower of London. If they leave, the kingdom and the Tower will fall. They are a part of the legend of the Tower of London and British folklore. How do you face this responsibility?

As you said, the legend has it that if the ravens were ever to leave the Tower of London, the Tower of London would crumble and the kingdom would suffer a terrible fate, so it is a responsibility I take very seriously.

-You feed them, take them inside and out from their cages, you clean their cages, among other responsibilities. Which part of the day with them is the most gratifying?

 I get to spend a lot of time with the ravens, I enjoy the mornings when I first let them out of their night time enclosures as it’s a time I get them all to myself. Each raven has its own personality and during the daytime I get to watch them going about their daily business. In the evening, they respond to my calling them to bed after a hard day’s work for them looking good and been photographed.

-We know it takes the Ravens a little time to get adapted to their caregivers and watchers. How are they taught? Do they become dependent?

I don’t teach the ravens to get to know me, I let the ravens decide as to whether they want to get to know me or not.  It takes a lot of patience and dedication to get a raven to trust you, but once you have it, you will have it for life.

Ravens are neo-phobic so any change unsettles them a little and it takes a few days for them to become adjusted again. I keep the ravens as wild as possible so they keep their distance from visitors and staff.

-How is living with an animal associated with death by a lot of people?

 Within some cultures ravens are seen as omens of pending doom, while in other cultures they are seen as powerful spirit guides and good omens. Here at the Tower the ravens bring luck to the Kingdom by their continued presence.

-We believe that ravens are fascinating animals. Do you think that there’s still much left to discover from them?

 The more we study them the more we understand the raven’s abilities, such as their intelligence. There are some studies demonstrating their ability to complete two part puzzles making them the smartest birds known to man. It will be interesting to see the full extent of what they are capable of in years to come! I’m currently working with Queen Mary University helping their students to study cognitive behaviour in our birds.

-From the ravens that live there, is there anyone more rebellious or friendlier with the people and tourists? Even with you? How is their daily life? Could you tell us their names and ages?

 Details of the ravens, their place of birth and year of birth below:

Erin                  (female, Somerset, 2006)
Merlina             (female, South Wales, 2005)
Munin               (female, Scotland, 1995)
Rocky               (male, Somerset, 2008)
Jubilee               (male, Somerset, 2013)
Gripp                (male, Somerset, 2013)
Harris               (male, Somerset, 2016)

Merlin is the friendliest raven who has a special connection with me, but is still not tame.

-We have read studies and reports about the great intelligence of the ravens, their way of imitating sounds (they almost seem to speak), how they respect the elders. What would you remark about them?

 There was a raven that lived at the Tower call Thor that could say ‘good morning’. I do not encourage the ravens to mimic humans as a raven’s vocabulary is wide ranging and much more interesting that what we have to say.

Ravens are great at mimicking sounds picked up in there environment and there are many clips on YouTube where ravens can be seen making odd sounds and mimicking humans.

-If any raven escapes, what is done to recover it? Do they carry any tracking device? Or new ravens are taken?

 I use various methods to keep the ravens at the Tower, food, shelter security and raven husbandry, on occasions, dependent on the weight and size of the raven I gently trim a secondary flight feather. This process does not hurt them, but unbalances their flight slightly so while they can safely fly around the Tower but cannot fly long distances away from their home.

There has been the occasional raven escape. Munin escaped for seven days until caught by a vigilant member of the public in Greenwich Park. She was returned to the Tower and is still with us at the ripe old age of 22!

Grog was last seen outside an East End pub called the Rose and Punchbowl in 1981.

A raven escape is luckily very rare and we always keep at least one raven spare – just in case!

-How do people react watching you so close to the ravens? And how do the animals react to people?

 I never encourage the public to get close to any of our ravens… enjoy them from a distance, as raven’s and selfies don’t mix! They are wild and bite really hard! I have gained Merlina’s trust over the last 10 years and she sees me as one of her own. The public are amazed at my interactions with her and generally respect the ravens space. But get too close and she will let you know!

 -Are the ravens able to distinguish you from your three helpers? Do they interact in a different way with you and with them?

 Yes definitely, although some of my assistants have also gained her trust over the years and can interact with her as well.

-For all the readers of this interview, would you like to tell them something to animate them to visit the tower and their ravens when they visit London?

 Apart from the fabulous history that the Tower of London represents in British history we have the best storytellers and curators to pass on the any wonderful and sometimes grisly stories that are told. The ravens have their own myth and legends attached to the Tower represent our gruesome past in vivid detail, besides that they are truly magnificent to see close-up. A must for any raven fan!

Bestseller
An Amazon Book of the Month

‘Packed with insight and anecdote, his story brings the Tower ravens to vivid life, each bird with a personality of its own. I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the Tower and meet the ravens a few times in years past; after reading this book, I cannot wait to go back’ George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones

‘This is a charmer! Life with the legendary ravens at the Tower of London! Chock full of wild things you didn’t know.’ Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale

‘A born storyteller with a gift for banter honed by years in the British army, Skaife has written a book that is far from a dry monograph about the species … [it is] a beguiling, fascinating, and highly amusing account of the strangely magical birds. He is making us love them in a way that makes them more than mere symbols’ Helen Macdonald, author of H is for HawkAtlantic

“What a terrific book. . . I learned so much about ravens, and even things I didn’t know about the Tower. It’s like spending a long evening with a bottle of whisky as a wise Ravenmaster tells you everything you need to know.” Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

‘A strange, wise and fascinating book that takes you deep into the interwoven myth and history of the raven. At a time when we’re thinking more than ever about tradition and identity, this is a book that feels both urgent and timeless, with the Ravenmaster himself an eccentric, genial and quintessentially British narrator’ Alex Preston, author of When Kingfishers Catch Fire

‘Balancing fascinating tidbits (a raven’s need for order and routine) with macabre details (blood-soaked dog biscuits and ghostly sightings), [Skaife] titillates as he educates, rehabilitating the gloomy reputation of the raven. Skaife’s conversational style and disarming candor make this a rollicking tale fit for nearly any armchair adventurer’ Publisher’s Weekly

‘This is an utterly fascinating book about one of those subjects you never thought you’d be interested in until, well, you were . . . Skaife is a very good storyteller . . . A splendid and constantly surprising book’ Booklist

‘For those seeking the secrets of the Tower of London without actually being imprisoned there, this is just the thing’ Kirkus

‘A delightful read from a masterful―and very funny―storyteller’ Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times bestselling The Genius of Birds

‘Skaife is both a raven master and a master storyteller. Compulsively readable―I devoured the book in a single sitting!’ Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art

Bestseller
An Amazon Book of the Month

‘Packed with insight and anecdote, his story brings the Tower ravens to vivid life, each bird with a personality of its own. I’ve been fortunate enough to tour the Tower and meet the ravens a few times in years past; after reading this book, I cannot wait to go back’ George R. R. Martin, author of A Game of Thrones

‘This is a charmer! Life with the legendary ravens at the Tower of London! Chock full of wild things you didn’t know.’ Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale

‘A born storyteller with a gift for banter honed by years in the British army, Skaife has written a book that is far from a dry monograph about the species … [it is] a beguiling, fascinating, and highly amusing account of the strangely magical birds. He is making us love them in a way that makes them more than mere symbols’ Helen Macdonald, author of H is for HawkAtlantic

“What a terrific book. . . I learned so much about ravens, and even things I didn’t know about the Tower. It’s like spending a long evening with a bottle of whisky as a wise Ravenmaster tells you everything you need to know.” Neil Gaiman, author of American Gods

‘A strange, wise and fascinating book that takes you deep into the interwoven myth and history of the raven. At a time when we’re thinking more than ever about tradition and identity, this is a book that feels both urgent and timeless, with the Ravenmaster himself an eccentric, genial and quintessentially British narrator’ Alex Preston, author of When Kingfishers Catch Fire

‘Balancing fascinating tidbits (a raven’s need for order and routine) with macabre details (blood-soaked dog biscuits and ghostly sightings), [Skaife] titillates as he educates, rehabilitating the gloomy reputation of the raven. Skaife’s conversational style and disarming candor make this a rollicking tale fit for nearly any armchair adventurer’ Publisher’s Weekly

‘This is an utterly fascinating book about one of those subjects you never thought you’d be interested in until, well, you were . . . Skaife is a very good storyteller . . . A splendid and constantly surprising book’ Booklist

‘For those seeking the secrets of the Tower of London without actually being imprisoned there, this is just the thing’ Kirkus

‘A delightful read from a masterful―and very funny―storyteller’ Jennifer Ackerman, author of the New York Times bestselling The Genius of Birds

‘Skaife is both a raven master and a master storyteller. Compulsively readable―I devoured the book in a single sitting!’ Lindsey Fitzharris, author of The Butchering Art

Before becoming Yeoman Warder and Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, Christopher Skaife served in the British Army for twenty-four years, during which time he became a Drum Major as part of a specialist machine gun platoon. He has been featured on the BBC, the History Channel, PBS, Buzzfeed, Slate and more. He lives at the Tower with his wife, his daughter and, of course, the ravens.

Copyright © 2019 by Historic Royal Palaces / Chris Skaife

Before becoming Yeoman Warder and Ravenmaster at the Tower of London, Christopher Skaife served in the British Army for twenty-four years, during which time he became a Drum Major as part of a specialist machine gun platoon. He has been featured on the BBC, the History Channel, PBS, Buzzfeed, Slate and more. He lives at the Tower with his wife, his daughter and, of course, the ravens.

Copyright © 2018 by Historic Royal Palaces Enterprises ltd