The Tower of Royal Animals

By Tiffany M.

The Tower of London had many uses over the years, up to and through the Pre Modern period. Notably it was the site of many beheadings and imprisonments. Queen Elizabeth I herself was even imprisoned there for a time. Notably, the Tower also housed The Royal Menagerie, where exotic animals were displayed for visitors to view. Though these facts are interesting in their own right, I am particularly interested in the diverse functionality of the Tower and what implications emerge given London’s eclectic use of the architecture. In particular, how did the Tower’s residents raise questions about spectacles and objectifications involving man and beast?


There was a fascination during the Pre Modern period surrounding the question “What exactly differentiates man and beast?” Vast amounts of experiments were occurring, including vivisections, dissections, and blood transfusions; in all cases, these experiments involved both animals and humans. Much as in the anatomical theaters, both man and beast existed in the Tower. Unlike the anatomical theaters, however, it could be argued the animals received better treatment in the Tower. According to an article by Phillip Drennon Thomas, “During the fourteenth century, lions and other animals were allotted six pence a day in food while their keeper was given one-and-a-half pence for his board”(Thomas). Also in an article by Julia Stuart, “Stow’s Survey Of London, published in 1720, remarked that: ‘The creatures have a rank smell, which hath so affected the air of the place… that it hath much injured the health of the man that attends them, so stuffed up his head, that it affects his speech.’”(Stuart). In a time when animals were considered possessions, for human consumption, and being killed and mutilated for human entertainment this was highly unusual.


The humans that resided in the tower were either held as prisoners or as keepers of the Royal Animals. The animals were often gifts from Royalty and considered a form of entertainment, art, and prized possessions, particularly the lions. According to Thomas, James I was so fond of the lions, that he designed a bottle with a nipple to feed orphan lion cubs. The feeding bottle was not even introduced for human children until the 19th century. This posses the question: Are some animals more valuable than humans? At least here, the animals were being humanized and the humans animalized. This is even more fascinating when you consider that only Royalty or people once of high regard were imprisoned there or were invited to the menagerie.Screen Shot 2014-05-04 at 11.38.22 AM


Placing Royal criminals in the same space with wild animals complicates ideas of human value in England at the time. In her book “Perceiving Animals,” Erica Fudge notes that in England, animals were often put on trial for crimes they allegedly committed. They were dressed in human clothes, put in human prisons, and assigned a lawyer. According to Stewart, in the Royal menagerie we see a reversal here. Instead of animals staying in human prisons, animal cages were turned into prison cells for humans. Was there a hierarchy between types of beasts as there was with men? Did this hierarchy overlap between different types of men and beasts? Fudge notes, “ In early modern English law there were three categories of animal, wild animals, domestic animals, and recreational animals, and different categories of ownership for animals, absolute and qualified possessory. Only domestic animals can be absolutely owned. Wild animals may qualify to be possessed however it must be made tame and maintained as tame”(Fudge). Where do the animals held at the menagerie fit into this? They certainly weren’t tame. There are documentations of them killing or mauling patrons and I have found no killing or trial records for any of these animals. Were they exempt from such rules, perhaps above the law?


Tiffany is a student at Ball State University with majors in the Art and English departments.



Public Domain, Wire animals at tower.jpg.

Burgess, Laura. “A Menagerie of strange Royal Beasts returns for Tower of London installation and exhibition.” Culture 24. (2011): n. page. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.


Fudge, Erica. Perceiving Animals. 1st ed. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. 115-142. Print.


Stuart, Julia. “Balthazar Jones And The Tower Of London Zoo.” HarperPress. (2010): n. page. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <Balthazar Jones And The Tower Of London Zoo Read more:–grumpy-lion-baboon-threw-cannon-balls-Britains-bizarre-zoo.html


Thomas, Phillip Drennon. “The Tower of London’s Royal Menagerie.” History Today. 46.8 (1996): 29. Print.



About MGN

Miranda Garno Nesler is a specialist in early material culture, gender, textuality, and animal studies. View all posts by MGN

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