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Thursday 13 October 2016

A Regency History guide to the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London

Lions at the Tower of London
Model lions at the Tower of London (2016)
The history of the Royal Menagerie

It is believed that lions were first kept at the Tower during the reign of King John in about 1210, though it is his son, Henry III, who is generally credited with establishing the menagerie, which included a polar bear and an elephant.

Model elephant at the Tower of London (2016)
Exotic animals were often given to the royal family as presents. Unfortunately, the keepers at the Tower did not know how to look after these unusual animals and as a result, many died prematurely. Their cages were cramped and they were often fed the wrong food. Some could not cope with the change in environment, like the big monkey from Sumatra seen by Cesar de Saussure in 1725. He recorded in his diary that the monkey 'seemed to suffer from the cold' and died about six weeks after his visit. 1

Model monkeys at the Tower of London
Model monkeys at the Tower of London (2016)
Where were the animals kept?

From the 14th century, the royal beasts were kept in a separate tower. According to the Microcosm of London:
The principal entrance is by three gates to the west. The first of them opens to a court, on the right side of which is the lions' tower, where the wild beasts are kept.2
Map of Tower of London showing where the Lion Tower used to be, in bottom left-hand corner
Map of Tower of London showing where the Lion Tower
used to be, in bottom left-hand corner (2016)
How much did it cost to see the Royal Menagerie?
The Lions, and other Wild Beasts, &c. These are kept in a yard on the right hand, at the west entrance. A figure of a lion is over the door, and there is a bell at the side to call the keeper. The visitor pays one shilling here, for which the keeper shews him all the wild beasts, &c. explaining their several histories. 3
Model polar bear at the Tower of London
Model polar bear at the Tower of London (2016)
What animals were on display in the Tower?

The early editions of Feltham’s Picture of London included a list of animals on display in the Tower. The latest list that I have come across is in the 1809 guide; by 1813, no detailed descriptions of the animals on display were given.

According to the Picture of London (1809), the principal animals then on display in the Tower were:
1. Miss Fanny, a fine lioness, but discovers so much ferocity, beyond that of any other lion in the Tower, that the difference of disposition in the same species is in this instance very striking.
2. Young Hector and Miss Jenny, a lion and lioness, from the Gulph of Persia, three years old, of the same litter, presented to his Majesty by the present Marquis Cornwallis on the 6th of March, 1800. These are extremely fine animals.
3. A young Lion and Lioness, sent to her Majesty by the Emperor of Morocco.
4. Two African Lionesses, a present from the Dey of Algiers to the King, and brought to the Tower in of Algiers to the King, and brought to the Tower in October 1800.
5. A fine young Lion, a present from the Emperor of Morocco to the Duke of Kent, and extremely tame and docile.
6. Traveller, a panther from Algiers.
7. Miss Peggy, a black leopardess. This animal is a great curiosity: although her skin is black, it is varied with spots of a deeper black, and her form is the most delicate that can be imagined.
8. Miss Nancy, a bright spotted leopardess. Both these animals were sent from Anjengo, by Governor Hutchinson, in 1799.
9. Duchess, a remarkably handsome leopardess brought from the Malabar coast, presented to his Majesty by Lord Carlisle. The brightness of the colours of this animal is beautiful in the extreme.
10. Miss Maria and Master Bobby, a Leopard and Leopardess from Prince of Wales's Island, in the East Indies.
11. George, a Leopard presented to the Prince of Wales, by Mr Devaynes.
12. Harry, a royal tyger, from Bengal and one of the finest ever seen, given by Mr (now Sir Evan) Nepean in 1791. This noble animal is very tame, and is fond of a little dog which often plays with it in the den.
13 A curious Ring-tailed Tyger, from Bengal, presented to her Majesty by Admiral Rainier.
14. A Wolf, from Mexico, presented by Admiral Masserano to Lord St Vincent, and by him to his majesty.
15. A Spotted, or Laughing Hyena, from the Cape; presented by David South, Esq.
16. A Racoon, bred in the Tower.
17. A very large African Deer, from the Cape of Good Hope, presented by General Dundas, and the only one ever brought to England.
18. A large Greenland Bear.
19. Ant Bear, from Canada. This is a curious animal, and is extremely gentle.
20. A White Fox, from Owhyhee.
21. A Jackall.
22. A large Eagle of the Sun. 3
The 1809 list made no mention of the 'Three Royal Hunting Tygers' recorded in the 1806 guide which were 'said to have belonged to a pack of the same kind, of Tippoo Saib’s, with which he hunted beasts of prey. They are a small kind of tyger, and are extremely curious'. 4 Neither was there any mention of the 'Tiger Cat, from the river Gambia' or the 'Coati-mondi, brought from Honduras' also listed in the 1806 guide. 4 It seems likely that these animals had died during the intervening years.

Model lion at the Tower of London
Model lion at the Tower of London (2016)
Care of the animals
The care taken by the keepers to prevent injury to the visitors, is very great; and the wholesome cleanly condition of the dens, deserves praise. The dens are very commodious. They are about twelve feet in their whole height, being divided into an upper and lower apartment; in the former they live in the day, and are shewn, and in the latter sleep at night. Iron gratings inclose the front of the dens, most of which have been recently rebuilt, with every precaution to prevent accidents.
These animals are in general very healthy. It is remarkable that those which have been whelped in the Tower are more fierce than such as are taken wild: strangers should be cautious not to approach too near the dens, and avoid every attempt to play with them. 3
Visitors at the Royal Menagerie, Tower of London - labelled c1820, but the   costumes suggest probably nearer 1830 from Old and New London (1873)
Visitors at the Royal Menagerie, Tower of London - labelled c1820, but the
 costumes suggest probably nearer 1830 from Old and New London (1873)
A dreadful accident

By 1802, there were no longer any monkeys in the Royal Menagerie at the Tower. The Monkey Room had been a big attraction when it was set up in the 1780s. The school of monkeys lived in a furnished room where visitors were fascinated by their humanlike behaviour. But health and safety was virtually non-existent and as visitors were allowed to enter the room and mingle freely with the monkeys, it is hardly surprising that accidents happened. The 1802 Picture of London noted: 
There were formerly a number of monkies kept in the yard; but lately they have been removed from this place by his majesty’s orders, one of the largest of them having torn a boy’s leg in a dangerous manner. 5
Model monkeys at the Tower of London
Model monkeys at the Tower of London (2016)
Alfred Cops and the Royal Menagerie

By 1821, the Royal Menagerie was in decline. The only animals left were four lions, a panther, a leopard, a grizzly bear and a tiger. However, when a new keeper, Alfred Cops, was appointed in 1822, the menagerie enjoyed a brief revival. Cops bought animals himself to add to the menagerie and at one time, there were more than 250 animals living in the Tower.

An advertisement in the Times in 1824 claimed that the Tower's ‘exhibition of serpents is unparalleled’. 6

More accidents

Despite the care taken by the keepers, animals did sometimes escape from their cages and accidents did happen. In 1826, Cops, almost lost his life when a snake he was feeding suddenly darted at him and coiled himself around his arm and neck. It was only the providential arrival of two other keepers that saved his life.

In 1828, a secretary bird met a grisly death when it put its head into a hyena’s cage. In 1830, an assistant keeper accidentally allowed a lion and a Bengal tiger and tigress into the same cage. A fierce battle arose between the animals and the lion later died as a result of its injuries.

The closure of the Royal Menagerie

In 1830, it was decided to transfer the remaining animals from the Royal Menagerie to the newly formed Zoological Society of London – the new London Zoo in Regent’s Park. Cops continued to display his own animals at the Tower until several unfortunate escapes and accidents forced the menagerie to close in 1835. The animals were sold to the American showman, Benjamin Franklin Brown. Cops continued living at the Tower until his death in 1853.

The Lion Tower was dismantled soon after the departure of the last animals.

There is a display about the Royal Menagerie in the Brick Tower in the Tower of London.
There was another menagerie in Regency London at the Exeter 'Change. You can read about it here.

Royal Menagerie exhibition in the Brick Tower, Tower of London
Royal Menagerie exhibition
in the Brick Tower, Tower of London (2016)

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes clean/Christian Regency era romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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(1) From Cesar de Saussure, A Foreign View of England in the reigns of George I and George II (1902).
(2) From Ackermann’s Microcosm of London vol 3 (1808-1810).
(3) From Feltham’s Picture of London (1809).
(4) From Feltham’s Picture of London (1806).
(5) From Feltham’s Picture of London (1802).
(6) From Times Digital Archive, Saturday, Dec 25, 1824; p3; issue 12533.

Sources used include:
Ackermann, Rudolph and Combe, William, The Microcosm of London or London in miniature Volume 3 (Rudolph Ackermann 1808-1810, reprinted 1904)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1802 (1802)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1806 (1806)
Feltham, John, The Picture of London for 1809 (1809)
Saussure, Cesar de, A foreign view of England in the reigns of George I and George II (1902)
Thornbury, Walter, Old and New London: A narrative of its history, its people, and its places Vol 2 (Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1873, London)

The Tower of London website 

All photographs ©


  1. with the attitudes of many Georgians to animals, I should think that the animals needed more protection from the visitors than vice versa! a fascinating post, thank you.

    1. Sadly a lot of animals kept in the Tower died prematurely because they couldn't cope with the climate or became ill and the keepers often didn't know how to look after them properly. :(

  2. Hi Rachel,
    Do you know if Jane Austen (or her family) or any of her characters went to the Menagerie. I would certainly list this as one of London's many diversions.

    1. I can't think of any mention of the Menagerie in any of her novels or letters, but it is certainly possible that some of her nieces and nephews might have visited the Menagerie at some point.