The history of the Royal Menagerie

The history of the Royal Menagerie

Caged lions


From Royal Menagerie to London Zoo

History of the Royal Menagerie


1210 - The first record of wild animals at the Tower of London.

Since the reign of King John animals were kept at the Tower for the entertainment and curiosity of the court. Everything from elephants to tigers, kangaroos and ostriches lived in what was known as the Royal Menagerie.

Bear FightUnder James I, the bloody sport of baiting became very popular and a platform was built over the dens so that the King and his courtiers could watch lions, bears and dogs being made to fight each other to the death.

A popular attraction

In later years, the variety of animals at the Tower increased and the Menagerie became a popular attraction. At the Royal Menagerie, visitors could see strange and rare beasts that they would never have seen before.

Wellington sends the animals to London Zoo

The Menagerie finally closed after several incidents where the animals had escaped and attacked each other, visitors and Tower staff. The Duke of Wellington, who was Constable of the Tower, ordered the animals to leave and in 1832 they arrived at their new home in London Zoo.


Timeline of beasts at the Tower


Cape Lion1210: First record of lions at the Tower

1235: King Henry III received three lions from Emperor Frederick II

1275: Edward I builds a new fortified tower at the entrance to the castle, which becomes known as the Lion Tower

1360: King John II of France, while imprisoned at the Tower, visits the lions and gives 20 shillings to the lion keeper

1622: James I builds a stone platform so he and his court could watch the lions being made to fight other animals

1670: Charles II gives the King of Denmark a lion from the Tower

1741: The Tower’s first guidebook is written for children. It has illustrations of the animals at the Tower

Grizzly Bear1816: A grizzly bear called Martin is given by the Hudson Bay Company to George III. It is the first grizzly bear seen in England

1832: After several attacks, the royal beasts are sent to London Zoo in Regent’s Park, London. The keeper, Alfred Cops, continues to show his own animals at the Tower for another three years


Further information

Discover the stories of the Royal Menagerie at the interactive Royal Beasts exhibition at the Tower of London. Entrance to the Royal Beasts exhibition is included in your Tower of London admission ticket and is free for members.

Ticket prices >
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Membership prices >

Find out more about Royal Beasts and discover more about the Royal Menagerie > 

View our Royal Beasts slideshow >

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