Royal Beasts recreates 600 years of exotic menageries at the Tower of London

By Ben Miller | 24 August 2012 | Updated: 23 August 2012
A photo of a man in the red and black uniforms of royal palaces guards in the outdoors
A Beefeater with the Royal Beasts
© Historic Royal Palaces
Exhibition: Royal Beasts, Tower of London, London, semi-permanent exhibition

For 600 years, lions, tigers, monkeys, elephants, zebras, alligators, bears and kangaroos were among the unlikely inhabitants of the Tower of London.

In this explosion of exoticism, artist Kendra Haste has channeled the primal former incumbents of London’s most famous steeple into a collection of sculptures, creating life-size lions, baboons, a polar bear (based on a specimen who reputedly fished in the Thames for food) and an elephant.

“It has been fascinating to research the long history of the Menagerie before it transferred to form London Zoo,” she says, reflecting on a project which looked as far back as 1200.

“Depicting some of the past wild inmates at the Tower has been a huge privilege and challenge. I hope to convey through the sculpture the presence and power of these animals held in the unnatural confines of the Tower.

“I want the present day visitor to have a sense of what our ancestors witnessed centuries ago and what they would have made of these extraordinary beasts.”

With a nail-munching ostrich among 300 animals covering 60 species, it’s unsurprising the Tower was renowned as an intimidating fortress to visit.

Royals would often keep unusual animals as symbols of power, throwing them into cruel and strange sports, sometimes resulting in neglect and mistreatment.

The sights, sounds and smells of the impromptu zoo – an example of the Royal Menageries initially created to accommodate beasts offered as royal gifts – are recreated in four locations, including the former site of the Lion Tower at the main entrance.

  • Open 9am-5.30pm (10am-5.30pm Sunday and Monday) until October 31, then 9am-4.30pm (10am-4.30pm) until February 29. Tickets £9-£20.90 (family ticket £47-£55). Book online.

More pictures:

An image of a colourful painting of two tigers and a lion wrestling inside a cage
Terrific Combat between the Lion, Tiger and Tigress with Beefeaters© Historic Royal Palaces
An image of a drawn illustration of a lion from centuries ago with the bengal lion written beneath
The Bengal Lion (from The Tower Menagerie, 1829)
© Historic Royal Palaces
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