Interior of the Bowyer Tower. — George Cruikshank. March 1840, fourth instalment. Seventeenth illustration (the eleventh wood-engraving) in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. 8.1 cm high by 8.9 cm wide, vignetted, p. 65. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Crossing the Hill in the direction of the City Postern, the stranger suddenly wheeled round, and, under cover of a low wall, approached the moat. Exactly opposite the Devilin Tower, and the bastion occupying the north-western angle of the exterior line of fortifications, stood at this time, at a little distance from the moat, a small low building. Towards this structure the stranger hastened. As he drew near it, he glanced uneasily at the ramparts, to ascertain whether he was observed. But though the measured tread of the sentinels and the clank of arms were distinctly audible, he remained unperceived.

Unlocking the door, the whole party entered the building, which was apparently deserted. After a moment's search, the stranger discovered a spring in the floor, which he pulled, and a trap-door opened, disclosing a long and steep flight of steps, at the foot of which sat a man with a mask, bearing a torch.

No sooner did this person hear the noise occasioned by the opening of the trap-door, than he hastily ascended, and placed himself in readiness to guide the party. On gaining the level ground, it was evident, from the dampness of the arched roof of the passage, and the slippery surface of the floor along which they trod, that they were far below the bottom of the moat. Traversing this damp dark passage for more than a hundred yards, the humid atmosphere gave place to a more wholesome air, and the ground became drier.

Hitherto, the passage had been about three feet wide and seven high, and was arched and flagged with stone. But they had now arrived at a point where it became more lofty, and their further progress was checked by a strong door plated with iron, and studded with nails. Taking a huge key from his girdle, the man in the mask unlocked this ponderous door, and, admitting the party, fastened it behind him.

He then led them up another stone stair-case, similar in all respects to the first, except that it did not ascend to more than half the height. This brought them to a vaulted gallery, from which three passages branched.

Pursuing that on the right, and preceded by his masked attendant, the stranger strode silently along. As she followed him, Gunnora noticed several strong doors in the wall, which she took to be entrances to dungeons. After threading this passage, the party ascended a third short flight of steps, at the top of which was a trap-door. It was opened by the guide, and admitted them into a small stone chamber, the walls of which appeared, from the embrazures of the windows, to be of immense thickness. The roof was groined and arched. In the centre of the room stood a small table, on which some provisions were placed. A small copper lamp, suspended from the roof, threw a sickly light around, and discovered a little pallet stretched in a recess on the right.

"You are now in the Bowyer's Tower, in the chamber where it is said the Duke of Clarence was drowned in the butt of malmsey," observed the stranger. "Here you will remain till your presence is required by the Council." [Chapter IX — "Of the Mysterious Manner in Which Gunnora Braose was Brought to the Tower," pp. 64-65]


The Bowyer Tower, one of thirteen towers on the inner line of the Tower's fortifications, is furthest from the river. However, as Ainsworth notes, at this period it was still somewhat inclined towards dampness in its chambers because of its proximity to the moat. In 1238, Henry III ordered its construction as part of the inner line of defences, contracting Henry de Riques and John of Gloucester as the project's architects. The royal bow-maker, responsible for making longbows, crossbows, catapults, and other siege and hand weapons, had a workshop in the Bowyer Tower. Positioned immediately behind the White Tower, midway on the north face of the inner curtain wall, the so-called "Bowyer Tower" at the time of the novel's action was in fact known as the Burbedge Tower; the present-day Flint Tower was then called the Bowyer Tower. In 1532, both the Burbedge and Bowyer Towers were refurbished, so that, in 1553, both would have been in a good state of repair and would have had up-to-date furnishings. There is no evidence of the Bowyer Tower's being used as a prison lodging, or of George, Duke of Clarence's having been drowned there in 1478, in the reign of Edward IV, despite the tradition that Ainsworth retails here. In the year after Ainsworth's publishing the novel, on the night of 30 October 1841, the Bowyer Tower was engulfed in flame, as was the nearby Brick Tower. The Flint Tower, the White Tower, and the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula were also damaged, compelling substantial restoration work. The ground floor room is the only original part of the building which survives to the present day. Ainsworth accurately describes a stone spiral staircase leads from the Inner Ward within the tower, up to wall walk level.

The monarch's Privy Council, who customarily met in the Star Chamber at the Palace of Westminster, had more than an advisory function during the Tudor period. For example, the Privy Council investigated cases of sedition and treason.​Apparently the intention of the Privy Council in this chapter is to gather evidence to prove that the Duke of Northumberland ordered the poisoning of late King Edward VI.​Accordingly, the Council has despatched a secret agent to bring in Gilbert Pot's mother, Gunnora, for questioning about Northumberland's treason. Her motivation is vengeance for Northumberland's ordering the beheading of her foster-son, the Duke of Somerset.​The man with a mask, bearing a torch, takes over conveying Gunnora to the Council in a secret meeting once she has entered the Tower precincts by the Postern Gate.

In Cruikshank's prosaic wood-engraving one receives no suggestion of the Bowyer Tower's importance to the defense of the Tower of London. It is simply a lumber-room for packing-cases in 1840.


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Last modified 24 September 2017