When King Henry III was given three leopards by his new brother-in-law, Frederick, the Holy Roman Emperor, he ordered -- in desperation -- that they be sent to the Tower of London, his great fortress by the bank of the Thames. After all, where does one keep such things? Soon after the leopards' arrival in 1235 they were joined by an even greater wonder, a huge Norwegian polar bear which was encouraged to catch its own food from the river to save on upkeep expenses. And over the next 600 years -- until the menagerie was closed down by Wellington in 1835, a few years before it became clear he had an interest in the soon-to-open London Zoo -- the Tower played host to thousands more exotic creatures, all brought from overseas by returning explorers or VIP guests. Daniel Hahn's charming history of the first zoo explores the uses and abuses of the menagerie and the legion of Great and Good who came to behold its wonders, from William Blake, who came to look at the 'tygers', to John Wesley, who played his flute to the Tower lions in an attempt to establish if they had souls.
Fascinating and insightful in equal measure, THE TOWER MENAGERIE is both an intriguing survey of our changing attitudes to animals and a hugely entertaining canter through six centuries of British history.
Publisher: Simon & Schuster