Tower of London (3): A Royal Menagerie

Posted: February 26, 2016 in History, London, UK
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The foundations of the Lion Tower

The foundations of the Lion Tower

As you prepare to enter the Tower across the moat, you pass the remains of the Royal Menagerie. It was founded by King John (1199-1215). Records show that in 1236 Frederick the second, the Holy Roman Emperor gave 3 leopards to Henry III as part of his wedding gift and in 1240 there is the first record of a lion at the Tower. Interestingly 2 Lion skulls and a leopard’s skull have been found in excavations in the moat, which have been dated to the 13th century. DNA testing has indicated that they were probably Barbary Lions (a species now extinct) from north west Africa.

King Louis Ix of France presented James I with an elephant which was kept at the Tower

King Louis IX of France presented James I with an elephant which was kept at the Tower

The collection continued to grow over the centuries reaching its peak in the 17th century and amongst the animals recorded are camels, an elephant, ostriches, monkeys and a polar bear. During the 18th centuries the collection began to dwindle and although it had a brief renaissance in the early 19th century it became clear that the cramped conditions of the Tower were not beneficial to the health of either the animals or of the humans living there. In 1830 the decision was taken to donate the remaining collection to The Zoological Society of London, who founded their own Zoological gardens on the north side of Regents Park, where it is today.

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