The Tower’s Menagerie

In 2011 an amazing exhibit started at the Tower of London. Kendra Haste was commissioned to create wild animals representing the royal menagerie that roamed the Tower for centuries. This may seem quite strange, when you think of it, but here is how it came about. Medieval Kings used to gift one another with exotic animals from around the world. This resulted in quite a few to take care of after a number of years.

[H]aving these creatures represented power, wealth and also a sense of worldliness. Often the gifts symbolized the animals used in the king’s heraldry shields. Henry III was gifted three ‘leopards (these were probably actually lions), which were on his shield.

Such animals as tigers, lions, zebras, elephants, baboons, bears, kangaroos and alligators were all house in the Tower at one time. By the 1200s proper conditions were built (at least for medieval times) to house the animals. This lasted until the 1830s, when the animals were given to the newly established London Zoo.

One of the first animals received was a polar bear, which was presented to King Henry III, along with a keeper, by King Haakon IV of Norway. The bear was kept on a long chain so that it could fish for its dinner in the nearby Thames River. Pity the poor bear living in England’s climate. In 1251 the sheriffs were ordered to pay a daily rate to upkeep this bear. Three years later they were also responsible for the construction of an elephant house, a gift from the King of France. As one observer said, people flocked to see such a strange sight.

Unfortunately, little was known about the care for these exotics. The elephant was given large amounts of wine to drink because he was thought of as regal. An Ostrich was fed nails (WHY?). These treatments resulted in death of the animals.

Other animals got up to no good. One of the leopards grabbed anything it could reach and shredded it. It was fond of umbrellas. One of the monkeys attacked a boy and tore his leg. The zebra was taught to drink beer, so she was fond of the soldier’s canteen. She did, however, allow a boy to ride her. One of the lions bit a soldier.

By the Elizabethan period the menagerie had been opened to the public. By the 18th century the cost for entry was three half-pence or if that could not be afforded, you could donate a cat or dog to feed the lions.

The exhibit will remain at the Tower until 2021. Here are two other websites that may interest you: Vimeo; This is Colossal.
Lion photograph ©Kendra Haste. Kendra is a graduate of the Royal College of Art and has received many awards. Her website can be found here.



This is a Guest Post from Anne Flint’s blog Mindbytes. An American author Anne writes extensively about England.

Fettigrew Hall The Biography of a House by Anne Flint

After the devastating death of her husband, Megan Redford returns to England where she was raised. In London she meets Andrew, who tells her she looks just like his long lost girlfriend Meghan. As she travels, she finds and explores a deserted Tudor mansion and she becomes unaccountably obsessed with it. She arranges to purchase and restore the house and learns the locals think the house is haunted . . .

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