2 December 2016

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.

By Razwana Akram

The Queen's Beasts outside the Palm House

Beasts fit for a queen

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.

"Each of these ten beasts was once used as a heraldic badge by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II's forbears and together they symbolise the various strands of royal ancestry. The plaster originals were made by Mr James Woodford OBE RA and placed in front of Westminster Abbey annex for the coronation of Her Majesty in 1953. These replicas in Portland stone are by the same sculptor and were presented in 1956 by an anonymous donor."

- Razwana Akram -

Library Graduate Trainee

Further reading

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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