It’s neither medieval nor an elephant but Cardinal Wolsey owned a pet cat. Just thought I’d throw it in. Anyway, King Louis IX of France gave Henry III, his brother-in-law, an African elephant – as you do. Inevitably it was packed off to the Tower where Matthew Paris saw and drew it. The poor elephant did not survive long in medieval London. It arrived in 1255 but was deadly 1257.
Apparently the elephant arrived at its destination having been traded during the Crusades. Louis led a crusade to Egypt. Louis was presented with the elephant as part of peace negotiations. The elephant was sent to France, et voila.In 1254, Henry III who was in Gascony at the time met up with Louis and the elephant was hastily passed on. As Louis gave Henry the elephant whilst in France it was Henry who had to transport the beast home – it gave the Sheriff of Dover a bit of a problem as Henry delegated the task,
Meanwhile monastic writers described the elephant as a symbol of Christ and hope of redemption. The writers of bestiaries listening to tales from travellers convinced themselves that elephants lacked knee joints and that if they fell over they couldn’t get up again. Apparently dragons were fond of baby elephants …as a light snack and elephants were also afraid of mice.
Matthew Paris and Henry III’s elephant Richard Cassidy and Michael Clasby