The Beastly Tower: a Royal Menagerie

One of the most fascinating features of the Tower of London which has, alas, been lost to time is the Tower Menagerie, which makes an appearance in Elisha Rex.  How could I resist a setting like that?

Tower of London:  the green area you see was originally the moat, and the current tourist entrance occupies the gate once surrounded by the menagerie.

Tower of London: the green area you see was originally the moat, and the current tourist entrance occupies the gate once surrounded by the menagerie.

The menagerie began (so far as we know) during the reign of the singularly unpopular King John around 1210, when we find references to the “keepers of the lion” in the royal account books.  The menagerie, a collection of exotic animals, might have begun with animals brought as gifts to the monarchs, and the early records show the residents were often beasts associated with royal arms, like the lion, or the leopards of Henry III.  This collection displayed the monarchs’ great reach and power, commanding exotic creatures from many corners of the globe.  The Tower’s website has a timeline about the menagerie as well, though it does not include the same information in the Official Illustrated History of the Tower of London.

One notable resident was a polar bear, given as a diplomatic gift by the king of Norway in 1251, who was given a leash long enough to allow him to fish in the Thames River.  Another exotic likely given to show the wealth and influence of the giver rather than the receiver was an elephant from Louis IX of France.  This gift required a new building to be constructed, but according to most sources, the elephant did not live long, and was promptly buried in the structure meant to house it.  An elephant buried on the Tower grounds?  Now there’s a thought.

At times lion or bear fights were popular entertainments at the Tower–which makes one very curious about the Tower link above, which guarantees admission to a Tower Beasts “interactive” exhibit.  Those of you who have read Elisha Rex will know that Elisha receives a personal interactive tour of the menagerie–including some interactions perhaps better avoided.

In fact, the animals of the menagerie were sent off to the zoo in 1832 after a series of attacks on keepers and visitors, ending this curious by-way in Tower history.

an engraving of the Tower of London menagerie, showing the arched recesses where animals were kept.

an engraving of the Tower of London menagerie, showing the arched recesses where animals were kept.

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About E. C. Ambrose

I spend as much time in my office as I possibly can--thinking up terrible things to do to people who don't exist.
This entry was posted in Elisha Rex, England, history, medieval, The Dark Apostle, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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