The history of the Royal Menagerie
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.
Under 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
1210: 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
1816: 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
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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Find out more about Royal Beasts and discover more about the Royal Menagerie >
View our Royal Beasts slideshow >