The beasts within
Wild and exotic beasts
Beasts from around the world
Royal menageries started in Europe during the early medieval times when strange beasts were offered as royal gifts.Owning rare and impressive animals was a sign of status and power. It would have been the first time people had ever encountered many of these mysterious animals.
As European expeditions explored more of the world, the animals at the Tower came from further and further away. The variety of exotic creatures on display showed that the king had influence across the globe.
The first arrivals from Europe and North Africa
The first Royal beasts to arrive at the Tower - the lions, polar bear and elephant - came from Europe and North Africa. Over 600 years later, there were over 60 species on show, including alligators from the Americas, tigers from Asia and kangaroos from Australia.
In 1829, the Royal Menagerie housed:
1 barbary lioness, 2 tigers, 3 leopards, 1 jaguar, 1 puma, 1 ocelot, 1 caracal, 2 cheetahs, 1 striped hyena, 1 hyena-god, 3 African bloodhounds, 2 Javanese civets, 1 grey ichneumon, 1 paradoxorus, 1 brown coati, 2 racoons, 1 American black bear, 1 grizzly bear 'Old Martin', 1 Tibet bear, 1 Bornean bear, monkeys, 1 bonneted monkey, 1 pig-faced baboon, 1 baboon, 2 white-headed mongooses, 3 kangaroos, 1 African porcupine, 1 Asiatic elephant, 1 zebra, 2 llamas, 1 Malaysian rusadeer, 1 albino Indian antelope, 1 African sheep, 1 great sea eagle, 1 golden eagle, 1 bearded griffin, 1 griffin vulture, 1 secretary bird, 1 Virginian horned owl, 1 deep-blue macaw, a blue and yellow macaw, 1 yellow crested cockatoo, 2 emus, 1 crowned crane, 2 pelicans from Hungary, 1 alligator, 1 Indian boa, 2 anacondas, 100 rattlesnakes, varying in length from four to six feet.
Beasts with names
Many of the animals at the Royal Menagerie had names. Here are a few:
- In 1603, a lioness called Elizabeth died during Queen Elizabeth I’s final illness. It was seen as an omen that the Queen would also die.
- On 11 January 1660, Samuel Pepys records in his diary going to visit a lion called Crowly ‘who has now grown a very great lion and very tame.’
- Visitor records in June 1704 show that one of the owls on display, which was given to Charles II, is called Hopkins.
- In the first true guidebook to the Tower, published in 1741, some of the animals listed include the lions Marco and Phillis and their son Nero plus two lionesses called Jenny and Nanny.
- In the 1800 guide to the Tower of London, the animals included were a fine lioness called Fanny, a very fierce one called Miss Fanny, and two more called Miss Fanny Howe and Miss Howe (as they were born on 1 June 1794, the day of Admiral Howe’s great victory over the French).
- In 1811, the Hudson Bay Company gave a grizzly bear called Martin to George III. It was the first seen in England.
- In 1828, a Bengal lion called George arrived at the Tower of London. The lion cub and his sister were a present to George IV from General Watson.
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.
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