Sadly, we don’t know the name of this pachyderm – if it had one – but we do know that a couple of elephants lived in the Tower of London during the Middle Ages.
The first elephant to arrive was presented to King Henry III as a gift by King Louis IX of France.
The animal was apparently shipped across the Channel in 1255 and brought to the Tower of London by boat. A special 40 foot long wooden elephant house was built to accommodate it at the Tower.
It’s no surprise that such an exotic species attracted widespread interest. The medieval chronicler Matthew Paris was so intrigued he travelled from his monastery in St Albans to see it, noting that it was “the only elephant ever seen in England” (although it’s said that the Roman Emperor Claudius, when he arrived in Britain, came with elephants).
The elephant didn’t survive long – it died just two years after arriving in England and was buried in the Tower’s bailey. Its bones were apparently later dug up; it’s speculated this was so they could be made into receptacles for holy relics.
The elephant depicted could also represent one sent to King James I by the Spanish King in 1623 along with instructions that the poor creature should only drink wine between the months of September and April.
Made with galvanised wire, the sculpture of the elephant’s head – located in the courtyard between the Lantern and Salt Towers – is one of 13 representing some of the animal inhabitants of the Tower over the centuries. On display until 2021, ‘Royal Beasts’ is the work of artist Kendra Haste.
WHERE: Tower of London (nearest Tube station Tower Hill); WHEN: 9am to 4.30pm, Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4.30pm Sunday to Monday; COST: £24.70 adults; £11.70 children 5 to 15; £19.30 concessions (family tickets available; discounts for online purchases/memberships); WEBSITE: www.hrp.org.uk/toweroflondon/.