April 9 2000                      BRITAIN

   Richard Brooks Arts Editor

 EXCAVATION work beneath the
 ramparts of the Tower of London
 has revealed new evidence of a
 medieval menagerie which held an
 extraordinary array of animals.

 A dig under the Lion Tower and
 new research in royal, cathedral
 and university archives have
 produced proof that 100 different
 species were once housed within
 the walls of the palace. Bones of
 rhinoceroses, antelopes and tigers
 have been discovered, as well as
 the skins of snakes and alligators.

 The remains of ostriches, brought
 by sailing ship from Africa, have
 also been found. The huge
 flightless birds died after they were
 fed nails because their keeper
 thought that iron was good for
 them. One was found with 90 nails
 in its throat.

 The menagerie was founded
 during the Crusades in the reign of
 King John (1199-1216), and was
 closed in 1835 when London Zoo
 opened in Regent's Park. Never
 bigger than the size of a "largish
 suburban garden", according to
 researchers, the Tower zoo stood
 beneath what is now the West
 Tower, near the Thames.

 "Most of the early animals came
 through kings and some queens of
 Europe exchanging gifts," said
 Rory Browne, professor of history
 at Harvard University and the
 author of several books on

 "The king of Norway sent his polar
 bear to Henry III in about 1250 and
 the elephant, a year or so later, was
 from a French monarch, who in
 turn had taken it from the Middle

 The elephant walked from Kent to
 the capital, but died after it was
 plied with wine to keep out the
 cold. The polar bear fared better,
 swimming and living off fish in the

 A zebra also made its way to the
 Tower and was regularly ridden by
 a young boy as it paraded around
 a tiny yard.

 "Sometimes animals had been
 captured in wars," said Browne.
 "Captive lions, in particular, really
 appealed to kings. After all, the
 king himself was the arch beast."
 Hence Henry III, during whose
 reign the Tower zoo was
 substantially built up, had three
 lions on his coat of arms.

 It is an emblem that has lived on,
 decorating flags and even the shirts
 of England football players. Some
 lions became closely linked with
 the lives of their owners. A lion
 which Queen Elizabeth I named
 after herself died within days of
 the monarch's own death.

 Baiting of the animals was
 commonplace. James I and Henry
 III took the most sadistic interest in
 "their zoo", clearly loving to goad
 or kill animals. Salt and pepper
 were put into the wounds of
 injured bulls to increase their pain,
 while elephants were fed broken
 bottles. Commoners joined in the
 baiting - visitors who took their cat
 or dog to the zoo and fed it to the
 lions did not have to pay the entry
 fee. Geoffrey Parnell, the Tower's
 chief archivist, said: "It was clearly
 London's longest-running show,
 which entertained both royalty and
 commoners for centuries."

 The first known Tower keeper was
 William de Botton, who ran the
 zoo from 1243. In its early years
 the menagerie's keeper was a
 nobleman, reflecting its importance
 to the monarchy.

 In the 15th century men as eminent
 as the 13th Earl of Oxford and Sir
 Robert Brakenbury served as
 keepers. But by the 16th and 17th
 centuries the zoo's management
 had been taken over by different
 generations of the Gill family from

 The menagerie was important in
 Europe because of its
 uninterrupted longevity. Other
 zoos were set up by kings in
 France, but tended not to last
 because of the more unstable state
 of the country. At the Tower, itself
 a symbol of English royalty, the
 zoo was maintained largely
 because of the great interest of
 successive monarchs. Only Oliver
 Cromwell tried to close it. He
 failed, but did manage to stop
 some of the particularly excessive

 Not until the early 19th century
 did people begin to question
 cruelty to animals. Dr Hilda Keene
 of Ruskin College, Oxford, the
 author of several papers on animal
 cruelty, said: "Up to then many
 people took a perverse delight in
 simply being cruel to them. Until a
 couple of hundred years ago there
 was also no notion of an animal
 possibly having a soul."

 John Wesley, the founder of
 Methodism, used to go to the
 Tower zoo to play his flute to the
 lions to see whether they had

 With the abolition of slavery, a
 debate began about the treatment
 of animals. In 1822 the Society for
 the Prevention of Cruelty to
 Animals was set up and shortly
 afterwards, spurred by the
 realisation that the creatures
 needed more space, the Tower zoo
 closed. Its animals were sent to
 London Zoo or shipped to

 Although experts had been aware
 of the existence of the zoo, the
 excavations, partly financed by
 BBC2's Timewatch programme,
 have revealed extraordinary details
 of the historic animal residents of
 one of England's most famous

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