Traitor's Gate. — George Cruikshank. April 1840, fourth instalment. Sixteenth illustration and tenth wood-engraving in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. A Historical Romance. 6.5 cm high by 9.0 cm wide, vignetted, top of p. 49. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Complemented

Striving to banish these reflections, which, in spite of her efforts, obtruded themselves upon her, she strained her gaze to discover through the gloom the White Towrer, but could discern nothing but a sombre mass like a thunder-cloud. St. Thomas’s, or Traitor's Tower was, however, plainly distinguishable, as several armed men carrying flambeaux were stationed on its summit.

The boat was now challenged by the sentinels — merely as a matter of form, for its arrival was expected, — and almost before the answer could be returned by those on board, a wicket, composed of immense beams of wood, was opened, and the boat shot beneath the gloomy arch. Never had Jane experienced a feeling of such horror as now assailed her — and if she had been crossing the fabled Styx she could not have felt greater dread. Her blood seemed congealed within her veins as she gazed around. The lurid light of the torches fell upon the black dismal arch — upon the slimy walls, and upon the yet blacker tide. Nothing was heard but the sullen ripple of the water, for the men had ceased rowing, and the boat impelled by their former efforts soon struck against the steps. The shock recalled Jane to consciousness. Several armed figures bearing torches were now seen to descend the steps. The customary form of delivering the warrant, and receiving an acknowledgement for the bodies of the prisoners being gone through, Lord Clinton, who stood upon the lowest step, requested Jane to disembark. Summoning all her resolution, she arose, and giving her hand to the officer, who stood with a drawn sword beside her, was assisted by him and a warder to land. Lord Clinton received her as she set foot on the step. By his aid she slowly ascended the damp and slippery steps, at the summit of which, two personages were standing, whom she instantly recognised as Renard and De Noailles. The former regarded her with a smile of triumph, and said in a tone of bitter mockery as she passed him — "So — Epiphany is over. The Twelfth Day Queen has played her part."

"My lord," said Jane, turning disdainfully from him to Lord Clinton — "will it please you to conduct me to my lodging?" [Book One, Chapter 17, "In what manner Jane was brought back to the Tower of London," pp. 111-112]


The appearance of the Traitor's Gate at the top of page 49 would have prepared the serial reader of 1840 for the eventual scene ten chapters later in which the authorities, acting under the directives of a Council now dominated by Mary Tudor's adherents, return Jane to the Tower as a prisoner of state at the conclusion of Book One. Today as in Ainsworth's day the massive-beamed water-gate does not appear particularly sinister. The author and illustrator would have been aware of the historical significance of this private entrance to the Tower through which prisoners of state would have arrived by barge, usually under cover of night. This was a far more secure method for transporting such prisoners of rank to the Tower. Were such a noble with resources and adherents taken through London's narrow streets, the prisoner's confederates could more easily have effected a rescue. The Water Gate off the Thames and directly beneath St. Thomas's Tower was doubly convenient in that the authorities could thereby usher in a prisoner directly to the Bloody Tower just a short flight of steps up from river-level, as Cruikshank shows in the final illustration for Book One. Certainly Lady Jane Grey and her husband would have been just a pair of a number of prisoners of rank admitted to the Tower in this way:

Here successively Edward, Duke of Buckingham (1521), St. Thomas More, Queen Anne Boleyn (1536), Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Queen Katherine Howard (1542), Seymour, Duke of Somerset (1551), Lady Jane Grey (1533), the Princess Elizabeth, Devereaux, Earl of Essex (1601), and James, Duke of Monmouth (1685), passed under the arch on their way to prison or the scaffold. [The Tower of London (1971), p. 8]

Jane makes her way up the steps from the gloomy interior of Traitors' Gate

Above: The present-day tranquility of Cruikshank's earlier wood-engraving contrasts the high drama of the historical canvas featuring Jane and Lord Guildford Dudley enter the Tower's precincts as captives: Jane Grey and Lord Gilbert Dudley brought back to the Tower through Traitors' Gate (April 1840). The wood-engraving is positioned in the midst of Nightgall's negotiating with the esquire Cholmondeley, whom the gaoler threatens with immediate execution if he does not agree to give up Cicely. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 17 October 2017