Henry I had quite a collection of exotic animals including a porcupine and some hyaenas which he kept at Woodstock. Thankfully he built a large wall around it. The local population may initially have thought that he was establishing a deer park – so it may have come as something as a shock when the hyaenas arrived with the lions, leopards and camels. Henry arranged for fodder to be strewn for his non carnivorous pets by Henry de La Wade of Stanton Harcourt who also came to have responsibility for the royal falcons.
Which leaves us with the porcupine. It was a gift from William V of Montpellier who had gone on the First Crusade. Medieval bestiaries describe porcupines using their quills to spear fruit. They were also symbolic of sin -the fleshly ones apparently so an eminently suitable pet for womanising King Henry I. If you don’t fancy that particular sin othe bestiaries pinned avarice and covetousness on the porcupine and hedgehog – all those spikes collecting up everything around it.
Henry III would develop the menagerie Woodstock to form the basis of his own menagerie at the Tower of London which was initially founded by King John.
Grigson, Caroline, Menagerie: The History of Exotic Animals in England, 1100-1837, (Oxford University Press, Oxford 2016)
Poole, Austin Lane, From Domesday book to Magna Carta, 1087-1216 (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1951)
Alright – I know that the seventeenth century is not medieval by anyone’s stretch of the imagination – however, I just couldn’t resist.
Samuel Martin, a consul in Algiers and husband of one of Samuel’s old flames, sent Pepys a ‘tame’ lion as a gift in 1674. Sam decided that the lion would be best accommodated in his admiralty office in much the same manner as any other moggy. He wrote with his thanks and the information that ‘as tame as you sent him, and as good company.’ The cub eventually grew too big to be accommodated in Sam’s office at Derby House and he joined the menagerie in the Tower of London. Samuel had written about visits to the zoo in 1660 to see a lion named Crowly who was very tame.
Should you happen to be wandering near Seething Lane Garden where Pepys had his home you can find a carving of a lion.
The Tower of London has had a menagerie since the 1200s – which is definitely medieval. In medieval times, in order to get into the Tower visitors would have to cross a drawbridge to the lion tower built by King Edward I in about 1275 before entering. The tower was demolished during the Victorian period . In addition to lions the barbican also housed leopards.
Eventually it came to be believed, so it is said, that if a lion died someone in the royal family was about to die. The rumour was given credibility when a lioness died in 1603 shortly followed by Queen Elizabeth I.