The Lion Of Gripsholm Castle is the unsurprising result of a taxidermist being forced to preserve and stuff a lion without knowing what a lion actually looks like. Here is the fascinating and hilarious story of how this legendarily lopsided lion came to be, as told by The Royal Palace of Stockholm.
During the 18th century, the court of King Fredrick I of Sweden managed to get their hands on the body of a real-life lion. For an 18th-century European monarchy, this exotic artifact was the ultimate status symbol. The exact origins of the big cat are unknown, although most think it was given as a gift from the Bey of Algiers in North Africa. Sweden is known to have paid some of the rulers of North African kingdoms considerable sums of tax in order to protect them from the pirates of the Barbary States around the Mediterranean Sea. So the lion most likely acted as a small “pleasure doing business with you” type deal.
However, for one reason or another, only the pelt and bones of the lion managed to make it back to frosty Scandinavia. Then another problem emerged: The taxidermist had never actually seen a lion in the flesh, nor did he have Google Images and YouTube to reference.
Nevertheless, the taxidermist's job had to be done:
“He is the star of Gripsholm that elicits every emotion from wide-eyed wonder to amused laughter,” explain The Royal Palace of Stockholm.
A few experts have noted that the wonky lion bears a striking resemblance to heraldic lions you might have seen on flags and family crests. As you can see, its chunky tongue appears to be flailing around like it does in the side-on illustrations of lion heraldry. This is because these illustrations were the only reference the taxidermist had to work with.
Regardless, the commissioners (who presumably had never seen a lion either) were happy with the results and the lion was proudly put on display at Gripsholm Castle in the town of Mariefred, east Sweden. The Royal Court of Sweden notes that the lion is still a big crowd pleaser at the site, serving as “perhaps one of the castle's main attractions… Once you have seen it, you are unlikely to forget it.”
The iconic lion’s legacy has also enjoyed a sensational renaissance thanks to the Internet. His fan group on Facebook has 7,000 followers and is regularly splattered with a stream of memes, homages, and good-willed ridicule.