The Royal Menagerie

Well before the London Zoo was created the reigning royal houses kept a menagerie at the Tower of London for their entertainment since the at least the thirteenth century. Throughout the ages the Tower of London had house eagles, lions, bears of all sorts, tigers, and even one African elephant. Of this extensive collection of creatures was a “white bear”, perhaps a polar bear, given to King Henry III by the King of Norway in 1252 for his enjoyment. This bear was allowed to fish in the River Thames, so long as it was restrained with a muzzle and chain around its leg to keep onlookers relatively safe from harm. King Henry III also received a magnificently exotic African Elephant as a gift from King IX of France. This elephant was extremely wondrous to all who viewed it. A large wooden house was built to house this fantastic beast, but it died shortly after. Later, the house was used to imprison humans rather than animals. As one might expect, the upkeep for large carnivorous beasts (or even those who were vegetarians) was quite costly for the keepers and the sheriffs who were made to pay for the meat.

After many long years of housing the dangerous predators in the Tower of London it all became too much in 1832. After the death of King George IV the menagerie was closed down and the animals given to the London Zoo or sold off. Some were still displayed at the tower for another three years, but a woman had been bitten by a monkey in 1835. This incident led to King William IV closing down the attraction for good. The animal housing and the royal keeper’s house were demolished some years later, and that would be the last of the Royal Menagerie.


All accessed December 11, 2014.

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