Herne the Hunter Plunging into the Lake, second steel-engraving by George Cruikshank for Windsor Castle. An Historical Romance for the fifth instalment (December 1842) in Ainsworth's Magazine. "Book the First: Anne Boleyn," Chapter X, "Of the Mysterious Disappearance of Herne the Hunter in the Lake," facing p. 77. 9.9 cm high by 14.5 cm wide, framed (originally published in the December 1842 number of Ainsworth's Magazine). Here Ainsworth and the book's new illustrator introduce into the main pictorial program the legendary Herne the Hunter, who has already appeared several times in the Delamotte wood-engravings for the fifth chapter. Edwardian critic W. H. Chesson singles out this particular illustration of the demon-huntsman for grudging praise, pronouncing Cruikshank's rather than Delamotte's Herne the Hunter "as impressive a person can be who jeopardizes the dignity of demonhood by wearing horns" (90). In the Cruikshank sequence of illustrations, Herne is the second-most significant figure, appearing eight times nine times in the fourteen plates for which Cruikshank was responsible: Henry VIII appears in ten of the Cruikshank plates (5, 7, 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, and 18), and Herne the Hunter in nine (6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, and 18). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated: The Second Encounter with the Herne the Hunter

The storm continued with unabated fury for nearly an hour, at the expiration of which time it partially cleared off, and though it was still profoundly dark, the duke insisted upon going on. So they pressed forward beneath the dripping trees and through the wet grass. Ever and anon the moon broke through the rifted clouds, and shed a wild glimmer upon the scene.

As they were tracking a glade on the farther side of the hill, the spectral huntsmen again swept past them, and so closely that they could almost touch their horses. To the duke's horror, he perceived among them the body of the butcher, Mark Fytton, sitting erect upon a powerful black steed.

By this time, Shoreditch, having somewhat regained his courage, discharged another shaft at the troop. The arrow struck the body of the butcher, and completely transfixed it, but did not check his career; while wild and derisive laughter broke from the rest of the cavalcade.

and Shoreditch, flinging down his bow, which he found useless, and grasping his staff, endeavoured to keep up with him. But though they ran swiftly down the glade, and tried to peer through the darkness, they could see nothing more of the ghostly company.

After a while they arrived at a hillside, at the foot of which lay the lake, whose darkling waters were just distinguishable through an opening in the trees. As the duke was debating with himself whether to go on or retrace his course, the trampling of a horse was heard behind them, and looking in the direction of the sound, they beheld Herne the Hunter, mounted on his swarthy steed and accompanied only by his two black hounds, galloping furiously down the declivity. Before him flew the owl, whooping as it sailed along the air.

The demon hunter was so close to them that they could perfectly discern his horrible lineaments, the chain depending from his neck, and his antlered helm. Richmond shouted to him, but the rider continued his headlong course towards the lake, heedless of the call.

The two beholders rushed forward, but by this time the huntsman had gained the edge of the lake. One of his sable hounds plunged into it, and the owl skimmed over its surface. Even in the hasty view which the duke caught of the flying figure, he fancied he perceived that it was attended by a fantastic shadow, whether cast by itself or arising from some supernatural cause he could not determine.

But what followed was equally marvellous and incomprehensible. As the wild huntsman reached the brink of the lake, he placed a horn to his mouth, and blew from it a bright blue flame, which illumined his own dusky and hideous features, and shed a wild and unearthly glimmer over the surrounding objects.

While enveloped in this flame, the demon plunged into the lake, and apparently descended to its abysses, for as soon as the duke could muster courage to approach its brink, nothing could be seen of him, his steed, or his hounds. [Chapter 10, "Of the Mysterious Disappearance of Herne the Hunter in the Lake,"​p. 76-77.]


Hovering over the whole plot of Windsor Castle is the devilish Herne the Hunter, who haunts Windsor Forest with his mysterious band. He becomes involved in the action at every turn, aiding mortals in their unwholesome designs in order to capture their souls. Henry time and again tries to defeat Herne, as do Surrey and Richmond, but always without success. [Worth, p. 48]

The plate corresponds precisely to Ainsworth description of the mysterious disappearance of Herne the Hunter, right down to the strange, blue flame emanating from the ghostly huntsman's horn, and the familiar spirits (the black hounds and the owl). In the background to the left,the mortal spectators, Shoreditch and the Duke of Richmond, cry out and point, not merely at the horseman, but at the viewer.

Ainsworth has grafted the old legend of Herne the Hunter, to which Shakespeare refers in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1597), onto the political drama surrounding Henry's divorcing Catherine of Arragon to marry Anne Boleyn. Although this is the demon-hunter's first appearance in the narrative-pictorial series, Ainsworth has introduced him much earlier in "Book the First. Anne Boleyn," at Herne's Oak, depicted by Delamotte towards the end of the first chapter, "Of the Earl of Surrey's Solitary Ramble in the Home Park; of the vision beheld by him in the Haunted Dell; and of his meeting with Morgan Fenwolf, the keeper, beneath Herne's Oak." As he rambles through the park on his way to the castle to see his cousin, Anne Boleyn, the young Earl encounters a member of his retinue, Captain Bouchier. The jolly soldier cautions the youth about approaching Herne's Oak after sunset: "It is said that the demon hunter walks at nightfall, and scares, if he does not injure, all those who cross his path" (5). Naturally, the curious young nobleman ignores the warning, and entering a gloomy dell, encounters a numinous presence:

He could scarcely see a​yard before him. Still, he pressed on unhesitatingly, and with a sort of​pleasurable sensation at the difficulties he was encountering. Suddenly,​however, he was startled by a blue phosphoric light streaming through​the bushes on the left, and, looking up, he beheld at the foot of an​enormous oak, whose giant roots protruded like twisted snakes from the​bank, a wild spectral-looking object, possessing some slight resemblance to humanity, and habited, so far as it could be determined, in the skins​of deer, strangely disposed about its gaunt and tawny-coloured limbs. On​its head was seen a sort of helmet, formed of the skull of a stag, from​which branched a large pair of antlers; from its left arm hung a heavy​and rusty-looking chain, in the links of which burnt the phosphoric fire​before mentioned; while on its right wrist was perched a large horned​owl, with feathers erected, and red staring eyes.

Impressed with the superstitious feelings common to the age, the young​ ​ earl, fully believing he was in the presence of a supernatural being, could scarcely, despite his courageous nature, which no ordinary matter would have shaken, repress a cry. Crossing himself, he repeated, with great fervency, a prayer, against evil spirits, and as he uttered it the light was extinguished, and the spectral figure vanished. The clanking of the chain was heard, succeeded by the hooting of the owl; then came a horrible burst of laughter, then a fearful wail, and all was silent. [pp. 6-7]

Although Ainsworth does not refer to the tradition that Herne's visitations foreshadow some national disaster or the death of the reigning monarch, he does seem to be responsible, nevertheless, for most of the spectre's back-story, including Herne's being a fourteenth-century forester who was gored by a stag, and then saved by the Devil on the condition that he wear the stag's antlers ever afterwards. Herne (or "Horn") was said to have been one of the keepers of the Forest of Windsor in the reign of Richard II, and known for his skills in hunting and woodcraft. Intervening to save the King from a rampaging white hart when hunting, Herne was fatally gored. Although a magus named Philip Urswick recovered Herne's life, the yeoman was temporarily cursed with loss of his woodcraft until his jealous fellows made amends and swore loyalty to him. Urswick chopped off the hart's antlers, and then tied them on to Herne's head, whereupon they attached themselves magically, as though they were natural growth.

Some fifty years before Ainsworth wrote the story, Samuel Ireland recorded (or more likely made up) he legend in which the forester, having been falsely charged with a capital crime such as treason, hanged himself on the oak tree to avoid living in disgrace. The precise location of the tree in the Home Park has always been a matter of debate. The tree commonly accepted as Herne's Oak was cut down in 1796, and then, in 1838, Edward Jesse claimed that a different tree in the avenue was the real Herne's Oak. This tree enjoyed some celebrity, especially with Queen Victoria. When it was blown down on 31 August 1863, the Queen commanded that another be planted at the same place. This "Queen's Tree," in turn, had to removed in 1906 when the avenue of oaks was replanted. A tree planted in 1906 now enjoys the title "Herne's Oak," which is, doubtless, a tourist draw on account of its Shakespearean associations. Now curious tourists hope to catch a glimpse of the spirit-hunter wearing the horns of a stag, riding a black stallion, and leading a Wild Hunt with a pack of phantom hounds and hunters.

In his preface to Rookwood in 1849, Ainsworth seems to believe that the introduction of such supernatural personages is necessary to effect "an important change" in the romance genre as "commenced" in Britain by Horace Walpole, Monk Lewis, Mrs. Radcliffe, and Maturin" and recently "Modified" on the Continent by such German and French writers as Hoffman and Alexandre Dumas. In essence, then, what Ainsworth is creating in Windsor Castle through inserting the demon-hunter into the midst of the action anticipates the "New Gothic" of the Bronte sisters, in particular, Charlotte.

Delamotte's Complementary Wood-engravings

Left: W. Alfred Delamotte's atmospheric realisation of the scene which Surrey and Richmond observe at Herne's oak, Haunted Beech-tree, near Norfolk Farm, as the headpiece for Chapter 5. Centre: What Surrey and Richmond actually see at the haunted beech-tree, The Wild Huntsman, tailpiece for Chapter 5. Right: Delamotte's sketch of the setting as it appeared in 1842, Old Beech-tree, on the Road to Virginia Water (Chapter 5). [Click on the images to enlarge them.]


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.

Johnson, E. D. H. "The George Cruikshank Collection at Princeton." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U. P., 1974, rpt. 1992. Pp. 1-34.

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.

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 4 December 2017