The Signal, George Cruikshank's fourteenth and final steel-engraving for Windsor Castle. An Historical Romance for the eleventh instalment in Ainsworth's Magazine. "Book the Sixth: Jane Seymour," Chapter VIII, "The Signal Gun," facing p. 314 — 9.9 cm high by 13.9 cm wide, framed, originally published in the final (June 1843) number. The signal gun, fired from the Round Tower, signifies the beheading of Queen Anne Boleyn in Tower of London by St. Peter's Chapel earlier that day. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

Scanned image and text by Philip V. Allingham. [You may use this image without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the person who scanned the image and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]

Passage Illustrated: Henry encounters Herne once again in the Forest

The scene was not without its effect upon Henry; but a fierce tumult raged within his breast. He fixed his eyes on the Round Tower, which​was distinctly visible, and from which he expected the signal, and then​tried to peer into the far horizon. But he could discern nothing. A​cloud passed over the sun, and cast a momentary gloom over the smiling​landscape. At the same time Henry's fancy was so powerfully excited,​that he fancied he could behold the terrible tragedy enacting at the​Tower.

"She is now issuing forth into the green in front of Saint Peter's Chapel," said Henry to himself. "I can see her as distinctly as if I​were there. Ah, how beautiful she looks! and how she moves all hearts to​pity! Suffolk, Richmond, Cromwell, and the Lord Mayor are there to meet​her. She takes leave of her weeping attendants​ — she mounts the steps of​the scaffold firmly​— she looks round, and addresses the spectators. How​silent they are, and how clearly and musically her voice sounds! She​ ​ blesses me.​— I hear It!​— I feel it here! Now she disrobes herself, and​ ​ prepares for the fatal axe. It is wielded by the skilful executioner​of Calais, and he is now feeling its edge. Now she takes leave of her​dames, and bestows a parting gift on each. Again she kneels and​prays. She rises. The fatal moment is at hand. Even now she retains her​courage​— she approaches the block, and places her head upon it. The axe​is raised​— ha!"

The exclamation was occasioned by a flash of fire from the battlements of the Round Tower, followed by a volume of smoke, and in another second​the deep boom of a gun was heard.

At the very moment that the flash was seen, a wild figure, mounted on a coal-black steed, galloped from out the wood, and dashed towards Henry,​whose horse reared and plunged as he passed.

"There spoke the knell of Anne Boleyn!" cried Herne, regarding Henry sternly, and pointing to the Round Tower. "The bloody deed is done, and​thou art free to wed once more. Away to Wolff Hall, and bring thy new​consort to Windsor Castle!"

Thus ends the Sixth and Last Book of the Chronicle of Windsor Castle. [Book​the Sixth, "Jane Seymour," Chapter VIII, "The Signal Gun," p. 314-315]


The final steel-engraving is very much an illustration, that is, a visualisation of a distinct moment in the text, a picture that derives much of its meaning from the accompanying text. Moreover, in it Cruikshank brings together the story's two chief characters and two principal settings: Henry and the Castle tower represent the historical aspects of the text, whereas Herne and the Windsor Forest exemplify the world of romance that parallels the real world of the court. Henry, despite his white horse, is not the model hero of romance, and Herne, despite his black horse and pagan horns, is the voice of conscience. Henry, desiring the hand of Jane Seymour, has conveniently convinced himself of Anne's guilt, but Herne interrupts Henry's romantic visualisation of Anne's beheading at the Tower of London; he characterizes her judicial murder, quite correctly, as a "bloody deed."

The final illustration also extends the text since Herne is sternly pointing towards the Round Tower, from which the signal has just been discharged. Henry's mount rears back, ​terrified by the sudden appearance of the demon-rider. Cruikshank leaves the reader to construct the expression on Henry's face, which must surely be a combination of surprise, fear, and guilt, for the demon has echoed in more pointed terms the sentiments of the drinkers at The Garter in the town of Windsor the night before. However, an earlier passage seems to be suggested by Herne's moral gesture, so that Cruikshank is essentially conflating the telling dialogue with the dramatic meeting as the gun announces Anne's death. The day before, Herne had confronted Henry in the Home Park to denounce the execution as unworthy of Henry, as unjust and self-serving:

"Ah! thou here, demon!" cried the king, his lion nature overmastered by superstitious fear for a moment. "What wouldst thou?"

"You are on the eve of committing a great crime," replied Herne; "and I told you that at such times I would always appear to you."

"To administer justice is not to commit crime," rejoined the king. "Anne Boleyn deserves her fate."

"Think not to impose on me as you have imposed on Suffolk!" cried Herne, with a derisive laugh. "I know your motives better; I know you have no proof of her guilt, and that in your heart of hearts you believe her innocent. But you destroy her because you would wed Jane Seymour! We shall meet again ere long​—​ho! ho! ho!"

And giving the rein to his steed, he disappeared among the trees. [Chapter VII, "How Herne appeared to Henry In the Home Park," pp. 309-310]

Supporting Scene sketched by Delamotte

Above: Delamotte's realistic wood-engraving of the locale where Henry encounters Herne on the day of Anne's execution, View in the Great Park, near Sand-spit Gate (Book VI, Chapter VIII. [Click on image to enlarge it.]


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.

Chesson, Wilfred Hugh. George Cruikshank. The Popular Library of Art. London: Duckworth, 1908.

Jerrold, Blanchard. The Life of George Cruikshank. In Two Epochs. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. 2 vols. London: Chatto and Windus, 1882.

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.

"Sir Henry Norris, d. 1536." England under the Tudors. Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project.

Vann, J. Don. "Windsor Castle in Ainsworth's Magazine, June 1842-June 1843." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. P. 23.

Worth, George J. William Harrison Ainsworth. New York: Twayne, 1972.

Last modified 26 December 2017