The By-ward Tower. — George Cruikshank. February 1840. Tenth illustration in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. wood-engraving, 7.9 cm high by 9.4 cm wide, framed, p. 33. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated

Arrived at the entrance of the By-ward Tower, the giants volunteered to take charge of the prisoner till the morning — an offer which was gladly accepted by the herald, who, intrusting him to their care, departed. But the Gospeller was not to be got rid of so easily. He begged to be admitted, and, partly by entreaties, partly by a bribe to the dwarf, succeeded in his object. The first care of the giants, on entering their abode — an octagonal chamber of stone, about sixteen feet wide, and twenty high, with a vaulted coiling, supported by sharp groined arches of great beauty, springing from small slender columns, — was to light a candle placed in front of an ancient projecting stone fireplace. Their next was to thrust the prisoner into the arched embrasure of a loop-hole at one side of it. [Book One, Chapter VI. — "Of the Solemn Exhortation Pronounced to the Giants By Master Edward Underhill, The 'Hot-Gospeller,' at their Lodging in the By-ward Tower; and of the Effect Produced Thereby," pp. 44-45]


George Cruikshank has given concrete life to the Tower's past, creating figures that convincingly take command of the stage offered by its charged spaces and, like the acting of Henry Irving, appear as if momentarily illuminated by flashes of lightning. Cruikshank’s pictures stand alone, like glimpses of a strange dream, drawing the viewer into a compelling emotional universe with its own logic, peopled with its own inhabitants and where it is too readily apparent what is going on. — The Gentle Author, "The Bloody Romance of the Tower."

Although not nearly so iconic as the White Tower, the original Norman Keep which William the Conqueror completed in 1087, the Byward is significant in the novel because its basement houses the stone kitchen and mess-room of the genial yeoman warders, and therefore is the backdrop for scenes of comic relief involving the giants Og, Gog, and Magog, and their friend, the dwarf Xit. This odd combination of antiquarian commentary, historical drama, and fictional characters engaged in lively banter and horseplay is characteristic of Ainsworth's approach to his historical subjects. Ainsworth fails to integrate the jolly scenes at Byward with the novel's plotting and counter-plotting between the devious John Dudley, Duke od Northumberland and nominal leader of the Protestant faction, and the devious Spanish ambassador, Simon Reynard, who seems to have considerably influence over both queens in the story.

The Tower of London is pretty representative of everything that followed. Where Ainsworth deviated from Scott as a historical novelist was that he preferred to dramatise the lives of famous historical figures. The Tower of London is chiefly concerned with the political plots and counter-plots to gain control of England after the death of Edward VI: the nine-day reign of Lady Jane Grey, the coronation of Mary I, her marriage to Philip of Spain and the restoration of the Catholic faith in England, along with Sir Thomas Wyatt's failed insurrection. The Duke of Northumberland is determined to take power through the coronation of his daughter-in-law, Jane, and to consequently make his son, Lord Guilford Dudley, the King. When this fails and Mary I is crowned while Northumberland goes to the block, Dudley's fanatical obsession to regain his former position leads to a doomed attempt at insurrection and the executions of himself and his wife. Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury schemes with the French Ambassador to depose the Catholic Mary and replace her with the Protestant Elizabeth. The arch-plotter is the Spanish Ambassador Simon Renard, who manipulates everybody in order to force the marriage between Mary and Philip of Spain and 'establish the Inquisition in the heart of London within six months.' (Ainsworth, The Tower of London, 398). [Stephen Carver, "Ainsworth & Friends."]


"Ainsworth, William Harrison."

Ainsworth, William Harrison. The Tower of London. Illustrated by George Cruikshank. London: Richard Bentley, 1840.

Burton, Anthony. "Cruikshank as an Illustrator of Fiction." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 92-128.

Carver, Stephen. Ainsworth and Friends: Essays on 19th Century Literature & The Gothic. 11 September 2017.

Department of Environment, Great Britain. The Tower of London. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office, 1967, rpt. 1971.

The Gentle Author. "The Bloody Romance of the Tower." Spitalfields Life. 17 May 2011.

Golden, Catherine J. "Ainsworth, William Harrison (1805-1882." Victorian Britain: An Encyclopedia, ed. Sally Mitchell. New York and London: Garland, 1988. Page 14.

Kelly, Patrick. "William Harrison Ainsworth." Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 21, "Victorian Novelists Before 1885," ed. Ira Bruce Nadel and William E. Fredeman. Detroit: Gale Research, 1983. Pp. 3-9.

McLean, Ruari. George Cruikshank: His Life and Work as a Book Illustrator. English Masters of Black-and-White. London: Art and Technics, 1948.

Sutherland, John. "The Tower of London" in The Stanford Companion to Victorian Fiction. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 19893. P. 633.

Steig, Michael. "George Cruikshank and the Grotesque: A Psychodynamic Approach." George Cruikshank: A Revaluation. Ed. Robert L. Patten. Princeton: Princeton U. P., 1974, rev., 1992. Pp. 189-212.

Vogler, Richard A. Graphic Works of George Cruikshank. Dover Pictorial Archive Series. New York: Dover, 1979.

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

Vann, J. Don. "The Tower of London, thirteen parts in twelve monthly instalments, January-December 1840." Victorian Novels in Serial. New York: MLA, 1985. Pp. 19-20.

Last modified 23 September 2017