The Queen, as well as owning a frankly obscene number of diamond hats, technically owns all the unmarked swans in England. Not satisfied with being able to claim any swan she fancies (picture her in a swan boat pointing at a swan and saying "that swan is mine"), she also owns a lot of other fine birds, including the famous ravens at the Tower of London.
One of them, named Merlina, has been missing for several weeks, prompting fears of her demise. It's bad news for bird fans, but also bad news for the UK, if folklore is to be believed (and it isn't).
"We have some really unhappy news to share. Our much-loved raven Merlina has not been seen at the Tower for several weeks, and her continued absence indicates to us that she may have sadly passed away," the Tower of London wrote in a Twitter thread.
"Though it isn’t unusual for our ravens to roam outside the walls, free-spirited Merlina has previously always returned to the Tower and to the Ravenmaster and his team, with whom she shared a wonderfully close bond."
So far, so heartbreaking. Something that caught people's eyes, however, was the Tower's talk of raven vacancies.
"We now have 7 ravens here at the Tower — one more than the required 6, so we don’t have any immediate plans to fill Merlina’s vacancy."
What is the deal with being required to have 6 ravens in the tower at all times? Well, if you ever visit the tower, you will likely be told that during the reign of Charles II he clipped their wings after he had heard an "ancient" prophecy that the Kingdom will fall if the birds were ever to leave the tower.
The legend goes that "for many centuries, ravens have guarded the Tower of London and, since they are said to hold the power of the Crown, it is believed that the Crown and the Tower will fall, if ever the ravens should leave."
Though that all sounds quite fun, according to historian Bora Sax the legend appears to have come about in that superstitious time of around 1946, a few years after the microwave oven was invented. Ravens were used as (unofficial) spotters during the war, for enemy planes and bombs. Shortly before the tower re-opened in January 1946, some of the birds escaped, prompting new ravens to be adopted in time for opening day.
American papers shortly thereafter took a few liberties with the story, adding in the legend for spice, before the story was picked up again by English papers, securing it as an ancient legend that actually began in January.