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When Queen Elizabeth took the throne in 1953, she inherited, along with an empire, a rather curious zoo.

The Queen's Menagerie, by Frederick Highland

Ten beasts, both real and mythological, stood guard over the entrance to Westminster Abbey to protect the Queen during her coronation. By 1998, the beasts had proliferated, a set of them having taken up residence in Kew Gardens, another set having made its way to Canada, and a third set appearing on a set of stamps of the Royal Mail.


But what do these creatures signify?


One might say that the beasts refer to a fundamental insecurity on the part of the House of Windsor. The Queen's people, you see, beginning with George I in 1714, were never really British, but German, having arrived from Hanover to ensure that British monarchs were Protestant.

In fact the House of Windsor, as such, wasn't born until 1917 when the British monarchy, then engaged in a World War with the German Kaiser, decided it wasn't such a good thing to draw attention to one's ancestry.


The first stamp in the set for instance, features the lion and the griffin, the former having been introduced as a royal guardian by the Richard the Lionheart about 1190, the latter having been a guardian of the Plantagenet Edward III.



Similarly the other animals fall into royal line, the falcon and bull being symbols of the House of York.



The Yorkist line is also represented by the wonderful spotted antelope known as the yale, and the white lion belongs to Lancaster.



The Tudors, who united the red rose and the white, once kept the greyhound and the Welsh dragon as pets.



The Unicorn is a Scottish emblem and stands for the Stuart line of English Kings.

There is even a Hanoverian ?berasschung in the menagerie, the grey horse that steals in on muffled hooves at the very end of the set. (Did you know a white horse is properly called a grey?)



What has not been explained is why the Queen's beasts persist in sticking their tongues out at us?