By the same authors

'"A disgusting exhibition of brutality": Animals, the law and the Warwick lion fight of 1825'

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Publication details

Title of host publicationInterspecies Interactions: Animals and Humans between the Middle Ages and Modernity
DatePublished - 13 Sep 2017
Pages149-168
Number of pages20
PublisherRoutledge
Place of PublicationAbingdon
EditorsSarah Cockram, Andrew Wells
Original languageEnglish
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-138-18971-9
ISBN (Print)978-1-138-18971-3

Abstract

On 26 July 1825, the quiet market town of Warwick was host to an extraordinary spectacle: a fight between a lion and six bulldogs. The event was organised by the showman George Wombwell, owner of a popular travelling menagerie. The lion was a handsome beast called Nero, born in captivity and widely esteemed ‘a beautiful and majestic animal’; the dogs were veteran fighters, known for their strength and ferocity. Around 500 people congregated to watch the combat, which, against expectations, ended in victory for the dogs.
This chapter offers a detailed study of the Warwick lion fight, its reception and consequences. Noteworthy in itself for its drama and novelty, the lion bait was particularly significant on account of its timing, falling during an important decade for human-animal relations. When Wombwell first announced the contest, the rights of animals were becoming a matter for discussion. The House of Commons was debating a bill to ban popular blood sports, including bull and bear baiting; magistrates across Britain were grappling with the interpretation of existing laws on animal cruelty; and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was campaigning to stop a variety of abuses, from the whipping to death of pigs to the boiling alive of lobsters. In this climate, the lion fight assumed new importance, generating much debate in newspapers and periodicals. I use this material to explore contemporary attitudes towards animals in a period when their treatment was closely connected with issues of class, public decency and national identity.

    Research areas

  • lions, dogs, Warwick, Wombwell, baiting, cruelty

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