Herne flying into the burning woods with Mabel, George Cruikshank's eleventh steel-engraving for Windsor Castle. An Historical Romance for the eleventh instalment in Ainsworth's Magazine. "Book the Fifth: Mabel Lyndwood," Chapter VII, "How Train was Fired; and what followed the explosion," facing p. 277. 9.7 cm high by 13.7 cm wide, framed, originally published in the final (June 1843) number). Once again the illustrator organizes a highly dramatic scene around two central characters, here, Herne the Hunter on horseback and the inert Mabel Lyndwood, the relatively passive heroine. Mabel has once again lost consciousness under the stress of events. With Mabel in front of him, Herne the Hunter, defying his pursuers, charges ahead, unafraid of the sudden conflagration that Fenwolf and Tristram Lyndwood intend to blow him up. Ironically, it covers his retreat through Windsor Forest. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated: Herne escapes his pursuers and the forest fire

At length Herne reached the acclivity, at the foot of which lay the waters of the lake glimmering in the starlight; and by the time he had descended to its foot, his pursuers had gained its brow.

The exertions made by Sir Thomas Wyat had brought him a little in advance of the others. Furiously goading his horse, he dashed down the hillside at a terrific pace.

All at once, as he kept his eye on the flying figure of the demon, he was startled by a sudden burst of flame in the valley. A wide circle of light was rapidly described, a rumbling sound was heard like that preceding an earth-quake, and a tremendous explosion followed, hurling trees and fragments of rock into the air.

Astounded at the extraordinary occurrence, and not knowing what might ensue, the pursuers reined in their steeds. But the terror of the scene was not yet over. The whole of the brushwood had caught fire, and blazed up with the fury and swiftness of lighted flax. The flames caught the parched branches of the trees, and in a few seconds the whole grove was on fire.

The sight was awfully grand, for the wind, which was blowing strongly, swept the flames forward, so that they devoured all before them.

When the first flash was seen the demon had checked his steed and backed him, so that he had escaped without injury, and he stood at the edge of the flaming circle watching the progress of the devastating element; but at last, finding that his pursuers had taken heart and were approaching him, he bestirred himself, and rode round the blazing zone.

Having by this time recovered from their surprise, Wyat and Surrey dashed after him, and got so near him that they made sure of his capture. But at the very moment they expected to reach him, he turned his horse's head, and forced him to leap over the blazing boundary.

In vain the pursuers attempted to follow. Their horses refused to encounter the flames; while Wyat's steed, urged on by its frantic master, reared bolt upright, and dislodged him.

But the demon held on his way, apparently unscathed in the midst of the flames, casting a look of grim defiance at his pursuers. As he passed a tree, from which volumes of fire were bursting, the most appalling shrieks reached his ear, and he beheld Morgan Fenwolf emerging from a hole in the trunk. But without bestowing more than a glance upon his unfortunate follower, he dashed forward, and becoming involved in the wreaths of flame and smoke, was lost to sight.

Attracted by Fenwolf's cries, the beholders perceived him crawl out of the hole, and clamber into the upper part of the tree, where he roared to them most piteously for aid. But even if they had been disposed to render it, it was impossible to do so now; and after terrible and protracted suffering, the poor wretch, half stifled with smoke, and unable longer to maintain his hold of the branch to which he crept, fell into the flames beneath, and perished.​[Book the Fifth, "Mabel Lyndwood." Chapter VII, "How Train was Fired; and what followed the explosion," pp. 277-278]

Commentary: Poetic Justice for Morgan Fenwolf, but not for Mabel Lyndwood

Again, Herne eludes capture, this time carrying off the mortal object of his timeless infatuation, the illegitimate daughter of Cardinal Wolsey, the forester's granddaughter, Mabel Lyndwood. In the end, all that is left for his frustrated pursuers to survey is "a collection of charred and smoking stumps, [which scene] . . . served to confirm the notion of the supernatural origin of the fire, in that it was confined within the mystic circle, and did not extend farther into the woods" (278). Even if Ainsworth's explanation for the sudden conflagration is farfetched, the scene as described is well suited to a dramatic pictorial translation. Indeed, in the Cruikshank illustration one may marvel at the artistic expertise displayed, the juxtapositions and pyrotechnical effects, and not be overly worried about deficiencies in the text.

The rescue party (seen upper right in the illustration) which encounters Wyat and Mabel in the woods after their escape from Herne's cave includes the Earl of Surrey, the Duke of Richmond, Shoreditch, and half-a-dozen archers. Once they have set out from the Castle and are in the Great Park, two riders travelling under the pseudonyms Tony Cryspyn ands High Dacre (actually, Suffolk and Henry in disguise) join them in the search for Herne the Hunter. Little do they or Herne know that Fenwolf and Tristram Lyndwood have laid gunpowder in a broad circle around the sandstone-cave in order to blow up the demon-rider when he returns. Fenwolf, hiding in the hollow tree above Herne's cell, is hoist on his own petard, burned alive by the fire fuelled by the store of gunpowder beneath the tree. At the moment realised, Herne has forced his horse to leap over the outer ring of flame, thereby eluding his pursuers with his captive.

Convoluted though the plot surrounding the enigmatic demon-hunter may be, Herne's motivation here seems straightforward. Having held Mabel Lyndwood against her will for several months in his cave, Herne loses her to Sir Thomas Wyat. Now he snatches her away from her rescuers (including the Earl of Surrey), who are in the upper right of Cruikshank's illustration. The subject is a challenging one for a black-and-white illustrator as Herne is riding his steed through a burning forest to escape the rescue party. His infatuation with Mabel, Ainsworth indicated earlier, is based on her physical resemblance to his beloved who died one hundred and fifty years earlier. Since she is hardly immortal, their relationship seems doomed, especially since she has transferred her rather ephemeral affections from the bluff King Hal (introduced at her forester's hut as "Harry Le Roy") to the dashing Wyat, who has recently abandoned all hope of winning back Anne Boleyn. To his credit, Cruikshank disregarded the complexities of the plot surrounding Mabel to focus on a highly dramatic moment.


Ainsworth, William Harrison. "Preface" to Rookwood. A Romance. With 12 illustrations by George Cruikshank. London: George Routledge, 1882. Pp. xxxiii-xxxviii.

Ainsworth, William Harrison. Windsor Castle. An Historical Romance. Illustrated by George Cruikshank and Tony Johannot. With designs on wood by W. Alfred Delamotte. London: Routledge, 1880. Based on the Henry Colburn edition of 1844.

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Patten, Robert L. Chapter 30, "The 'Hoc' Goes Down." George Cruikshank's Life, Times, and Art, vol. 2: 1835-1878. Rutgers, NJ: Rutgers U. P., 1991; London: The Lutterworth Press, 1996. Pp. 153-186.

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Last modified 24 December 2017