Bear-leaders were men who led captive bears on a chain. Between the 12th and 19th century in Britain, bears were used in two ways for public ‘entertainment’. Firstly, they were used in bear-baiting which was particularly popular in Elizabethan times and took place in special arenas known as bear-gardens. In these settings, chained bears were either set upon by dogs, or blinded and whipped. Secondly, during the same period, tame, trained bears were also taken around the country to perform on their hind legs as ‘dancing bears’. Bear-baiting in Britain was banned in 1835, and dancing bears in 1911.
In the 18th and 19th century, bear-leader was also the name given to a sort of chaperone or tutor who accompanied young gentlemen on their travels.