Queen's Beasts outside Palm House
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The Queen's Beasts

British monarchs have used beasts to symbolise their royal ancestry and family allegiances throughout history. Razwana Akram looks at the mythical beasts found at Kew and their meaning.

Date: 
2 December 2016
Author: 
Razwana Akram

 

As you explore Kew's gardens and enjoy the many botanical wonders they have to offer, you may also encounter a sight you didn’t quite expect to see at Kew. When approaching the Palm House you will be greeted by a set of ten mythical beasts, standing guard outside the entrance. These statues are known as The Queen's Beasts.

The Queen's Beasts in their position outside the Palm House at Kew

The Queen's Beasts

The original Queen’s Beasts were a set of ten heraldic statues produced by the Ministry of Works for the coronation ceremony of Queen Elizabeth II on 2 June 1953. The Beasts stood at six feet in height and were composed of plaster and sculpted by renowned sculptor James Woodford.

The ten beasts consisted of:
The lion of England
The griffin of Edward III
The falcon of the Plantagenets
The black bull of Clarence
The yale of Beaufort
The white lion of Mortimer
The white greyhound of Richmond
The red dragon of Wales
The unicorn of Scotland
The white horse of Hanover

Although there are many heraldic creatures appearing in the lineage of the Queen’s ancestry, the ten chosen were judged best suited to illustrating her royal line of descent and legitimacy as heir.

After the coronation ceremony the statues were moved to Hampton Court Palace, the location which originally inspired the creation of the Queen’s Beasts. Woodford had been inspired by a set of ten statues known as the King’s Beasts, which were located on the bridge over the moat leading to the great gatehouse at Hampton Court Palace, and remain there today. They represent the ancestry of King Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour.

In 1957 the Queen's Beasts were moved to St George’s Hall in Windsor, but a year later they were taken into storage until a permanent home for them could be chosen. It was ultimately decided that they would be gifted to one of the Commonwealth governments and Canada was offered the Beasts. They accepted the offer in 1959 and they now stand in the Canadian Museum of History in Quebec.

The Beasts at Kew

In 1956 a replica set of Beasts were made in Portland stone once again by James Woodford and donated to Kew. It is these sculptures that visitors to the gardens are greeted with when approaching the main entrance of the Palm House.

A plaque outside the Palm House provides a brief history of the beasts and how they came to be at Kew.

The Queen's Beasts plaque

Commemorated

The original sculptures have also been commemorated in many forms including the following which can be found in our collections.

A page from the coronation anniversary stamp album showing 'The black bull of Clarence'

A page from Hugh Stanford London's The Queen's Beasts showing 'The white lion of Mortimer'

- Razwana Akram -

(Library Graduate Trainee)


Bibliography

London, Hugh Stanford (1954). The Queen's beasts: an account, with new drawings, of the heraldic animals which stood at the entrance to Westminster Abbey on the occasion of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, 2 June 1953.  

Gibbons, Stanley (1978). The coronation anniversary stamp album: a souvenir album: a souvenir album in commemoration of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesy the Queen.


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