The Royal Family Once Had a Personal Zoo in the Tower of London With Exotic Animals From Around the World

The Royal Family Once Had a Personal Zoo in the Tower of London With Exotic Animals From Around the World

The Tower of London Menagerie started in the 1200s and went up to 1835 served as a status symbol.

The British royal family lives much of their life in the public eye. The royals lived shrouded in mystery before, but now, the public gets a peek at what goes on. The monarchy has always been removed from how the rest of the population lived. So it is not surprising that there is more to them that we didn't already know. 

In the past, the aristocracy exchanged gifts with each other and the British royal family had received plenty of these gifts as well. Many of them were exotic animals that cannot be found in England. 


In fact, there were so many animals that were gifted to the British royal family over the years that they had their own private zoo. These animals were kept at The Tower of London and could be thought of as the very first zoo in London. According to Historic Royal Places, starting from the 1200s to 1835, the Tower was home to a menagerie of exotic wild animals, including lions and a polar bear, that were given as royal gifts. Other animals at the tower included tigers, monkeys, elephants, zebras, alligators, bears, and kangaroos, who were kept in the Royal Beasts exhibition.


This collection of animals served as a status symbol and these exotic creatures were considered extravagant gifts. The Royal Menagerie was initially founded by King John in the early 1200s and soon became home to more than 60 species of animals. Thus began the long tradition of kings and queens keeping exotic animals as symbols of power as well as a source of entertainment and curiosity in their royal court. Today there are life-size animal sculptures in the same place where the real animals once lived and roamed. These animal sculptures were made by artist Kendra Haste in 2010 using galvanized wire sculptures. They were installed on-site to commemorate the former inhabitants of the Tower.


In 1235, Henry III (1216-72) was presented with three leopards by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. It is believed that these were actually lions but referred to as "leopards" in the heraldry on the king's shield. He started a zoo at the Tower. Edward I (1239-1307) established a new home for the wild animals at the western entrance to the Tower. This soon came to be known as the Lion Tower. The terrifying sounds and smells of the animals must have both impressed and intimidated visitors. The collection of animals grew over time and came to include a polar bear in 1252 given by the King of Norway. The polar bear was kept restrained but was allowed to swim and hunt for fish in the Thames.



An African elephant was gifted by the King of France in 1255. At the time, everyday people of London would flock to see the novel sight of the giant animal. The elephant had a brand new 40-foot by 20-foot elephant house as well as a dedicated keeper, but it died after a couple of years. By 1622, the collection had been extended to include three eagles, two pumas, a tiger, and a jackal. There were more lions and leopards, which served as the main attractions. Many of the animals did not survive in the cramped conditions at the Tower. However, lions and tigers seemed to do better since many cubs were born. The animals also got violent in later years maiming not only reckless visitors but also killing them, zookeepers, and soldiers as well.


Animals being exchanged throughout Europe as regal gifts was a common practice. But this was an abusive practice since the animals were taken far away from their natural habitat and more often than not were mistreated. Concerns over animal welfare and the founding of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) in 1824 as well as the nuisance factor and expense of the animals finally led to its closure. The London Zoo in Regent Park was founded when the 150 animals moved from the Tower Menagerie. Queen Elizabeth has been associated with the London Zoo for decades now, according to PEOPLE.






Image Source: YouTube/Historic Royal Palaces

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