The Tower of London. A Historical Romance. Illustration for Book the Second, Chapter XXIX. 7.8 cm high x 9.7 wide, vignetted, bottom of page 312: running head, "Attack of the Brass Mount." "The Brass Mount has already been described as the largest bastion of the Tower, standing at the north-east angle of the fortress, and its walls were, and still are, of such immense thickness, and it was so well fortified, that it was regarded as impregnable. Notwithstanding this impression, it formed the main object of the present attack." (313) [Click on the image to enlarge it.]— George Cruikshank. Tenth instalment, October 1840 number. Seventy-first illustration and and forty-second wood-engraving in William Harrison Ainsworth's
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Dudley's detachment consisted of about a thousand men, archers and arquebussiers, all of whom were well armed and eager for the attack. As yet, all was involved in profound darkness, and so far as they could judge, no suspicion of their presence was entertained by those within the fortress.
Scouts were despatched towards the postern gate, — a fortification terminating the city wall, and situated, as has before been stated, at the north side of the moat, — and from one of them, who had contrived to scramble along the edge of the fosse, it was ascertained that a detachment of Sir Thomas Wyat's party was creeping stealthily along, with the intention of surprising the postern gate.
It had been Cholmondeley’s intention to search for the entrance to the secret communication through which he had passed beneath the moat, but the almost certainty that it would be stopped, induced him to abandon the idea.
All at once, a blaze of light was seen at the south of the fortress, in the direction of the river. It was followed bv the roar of artillery, and the sharper discharge of fire-arms, accompanied by the beating of drums, the loud braying of trumpets, the clashing of swords, and other martial sounds. [Chapter XXIX. — "The Siege of the Tower," p. 312]
The Historical Novel as instituted by Sir Walter Scott — The Waverley Novels — established the convention of involving the fictional hero in actual battles in order to show his resourcefulness and courage, and to bring history to life through the lived experience of a character with whom the reader is familiar. That focal character in Ainsworth's historical romance is Cuthbert Cholmondeley, whose political allegiance to Lady Jane Grey remains constant throughout the novel, and whose fortunes engage the reader from the opening to the closing chapters. However, as with Scott, the story also has a secondary, historical hero, Sir Thomas Wyat, leader of the Kentish rebellion against "The Spanish Match." The fierce battles at the north walls of the Tower of London in this chapter enable Ainsworth to generate considerable suspense by placing both protagonists in grave danger.
Thus, the novelist must produce an exciting plot-line that actually deviates from history, for Ainsworth is not merely recounting or dramatizing history; rather, he is romanticizing it, sensationalizing the period of 1553-54. In point of fact, although Wyat's forces infested the suburbs south of the Thames, they were never able to launch a concerted assault on the Outer Ward of the Tower of London such as we see in the next illustration, in which Wyat and the rebels attack the Brass Mount. Since an account of strategic withdrawals on either side is not the stuff of romance, Ainsworth must have felt compelled to offer exciting battle scenes worthy of the pageant of Tudor history that he has promised in the preface, and that Cruikshank has realised with gusto: Attack upon the Brass Mount by Lord Guildford Dudley, Attack upon St. Thomas's Tower by the Duke of Suffolk, and Sir Thomas Wyat attacking the By-Ward Tower in Chapter XXIX. "Desirous of exhibiting the Tower in its triple light of a palace, a prison, and a fortress" ("Preface," p. iv), Ainsworth must furnish a narrative that shows the Tower of London functioning in all three ways.
The large semi-circular bastion known as the Brass Mount derives its name from the brass canons installed there to ward off attack from the landward side of the Tower, as suggested by a large townhouse across the moat in this wood-engraving:
Legge's Mount and Brass Mount are artillery basions built into the northern outer curtain wall, beyond the moat and attached to the medieval London Wall. The Brass Mount, although probably somewhat altered, dates from the reign of Edward I, and was built between 1275 and 1285 to enclose the inner wall completely in order to provide a concentric double defence on the north side of the Tower. On the north face of the outer wall are three semicircular bastions, the Brass Mount, the North Bastion, and Legge's Mount, and it is at these points in Ainsworth's fictionalized history that the rebels launch assaults. "Of all the medieval battlements that were erected, the blocked battlements sited at the south corner of Legge's Mount are the only ones still existing in the Tower of London, with the rest being Victorian replacements"("The Outer Ward").
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Last modified 23 October 2017