Exotic animals have always fascinated humankind. The Roman Empire, notoriously, had an insatiable appetite for any reliably dangerous creature that could be put in a ring with a human antagonist. Christopher Plumb and Caroline Grigson both give compelling and sometimes astonishing accounts of England’s involvement in this activity.
Animals were imported by kings, noblemen, showmen, and individual seamen and travellers. First in to bat for England was Henry I, who in 1129 populated Woodstock Park with ‘lions, leopards, camels and linxes’. Very spry camels, one supposes. Later he added hyenas, a porcupine and ‘a rare owl’. In 1204 King John established a menagerie at the Tower of London. This institution persisted until 1835, when it was relocated to Regent’s Park, under the care of the Zoological Society.
The Tower remained the most important of several royal menageries. Almost its first resident – a white bear given by King Haakon of Norway – was allowed to swim in the Thames. Other inmates were less lucky. In 1610 James I attended the Tower to see a fight between his