British Royals Used To Get Wild With A Personal Zoo In The Tower Of London

If you have ever gone on a historical tour in London, your guide likely pointed out a tall limestone fortress along the River Thames. If you're anything like us, you likely took home more photos than you did history lessons while listening to your passionate, quirky tour guide. So to remind you, the official name of this grand tower is His Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress of the Tower of London. But most people will refer to it as The Tower of London, and locals simply call it "The White Tower."


Almost a thousand years ago,  William the Conqueror constructed the world-famous royal palace. Over the course of the past millennium, the site has witnessed century after century of captivating history. It has served as a royal palace, a fortress, and a prison. And, of course, as is entirely necessary, it functioned as a personal zoo for the royal residents.

Lions, tigers, and bears, oh why?

The Tower of London transformed from a palace that housed royals to a site that housed lions and bears when Henry I decided he wanted a place to view wild, exotic animals within London. And so, as one does, he ordered various lynxes and leopards to be delivered to the tower. This is believed to have occurred around 1210, the earliest year that shows records of lion keepers residing in the tower.


This collection only grew thereafter. While country leaders today may exchange agreements as a sign of peace, things were a bit more rogue in medieval times. Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II gifted Britain's Henry III three lions. Over time and with more bizarre presents, the tower became an official menagerie, complete with elephants and polar bears alike.  Yet, exotic animals might not even compare to the weirdest Christmas gifts the royals have ever given. Still, the royal residents adored their furry guests. Well, at least they loved observing them. Taking care of them became a bit of a disaster.

Why the menagerie didn't last

For hundreds of years, the Tower of London had been known as "The Tower Menagerie," even becoming an established site for the public. However, the enterprise became potentially one of the worst mistakes that royals have admitted to making. Royals were delighted to visit the wild animals as they pleased, but they had little interest in the well-being of their on-demand spectacles. While the zoos we are familiar with today are equipped with professionals who have spent years studying how to care for them, this was not the case back then.


A variety of disasters and mishaps went awry in the course of the menagerie's existence. At one point, the employees were so stumped as to how to care for the in-house elephant that for eight months, it drank wine instead of water.  Not only were the animals being mistreated, but the guest also faced several deadly attacks while visiting the Tower menagerie. 

So what happened the zoo? A tweet posted by @TowerofLondon explained its fate: "In 1835, the Tower Menagerie opened to the public one last time before closing for good ... some of the Menagerie's exotic inhabitants were eventually moved to [the London Zoo]."