King Henry III’s polar bear

I know its not a polar bear!

What do you give a Plantagenet monarch in 1251/52? Well if you are the king of Norway (Haakon IV) you send a large white bear – possibly a polar bear although such a thing would not have been recognised by writers at the time – hence the reference to white bear. The bear, whose name is unknown, was duly ensconced in the Tower which must have come as a surprise to the lions and before long the bear was catching his own fish in the Thames. In addition to fishing rights, Henry III ordered that London’s sheriffs contribute 6d a day to support the bear and a strong rope for the handler who had to muzzle the creature before leading him down to the river to allow the bear to swim- presumably the bear and the handler got on well as there are no references to the need for regular replacement handlers.

It’s possible that a local tavern took up the name the White Bear’ because of Henry III’s pet – but that’s only speculation.