Jane Grey and Lord Gilbert Dudley brought back to the Tower through Traitors' Gate. — George Cruikshank. April 1840 number. Twenty-third illustration in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. 9.1 cm high x 14.7 wide, framed, facing p. 112. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Illustrated

In this state she continued till they had shot London Bridge, and the first object upon which her gaze rested, when she opened her eyes, was the Tower.

Here again other harrowing recollections arose. How different was the present, from her former entrance into the fortress! Then a deafening roar of ordnance welcomed her. Then all she passed saluted her as Queen. Then drawbridges were lowered, gates opened, and each vied with the other to show her homage. Then a thousand guards attended her. Then allegiance was sworn — fidelity vowed — but how kept? Now all was changed. She was brought a prisoner to the scene of her former grandeur, unattended, unnoted.

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]


This is one of a half-dozen of the forty etchings that reflect Cruikshank's aspirations to become a painter in oils of historical subjects on a grand scale. In this particular illustration Cruikshank, is striving for what his biographer, Blanchard Jerrold, pronounced the kind of visual drama present in the work of Rembrandt. In particular, the illustrator here, as Jerrold remarked, is demonstrating his "technical skill in rendering infinite varieties of light and shade, of emotion, of scenery" (I, 241) in support of a grand design.

Truly, Cruikshank is trying his hand at something new, in particular the use of heavy crosshatching and shading to convey degrees of dark and light in backgrounds; but without detracting from his skill, one may be permitted to feel that many of such "Rembrandtesque" etchings are stiff and stereotyped in their depiction of human beings, and that after a while the shading becomes a somewhat tedious stylistic mannerism, rarely as interesting as some of Hablot Browne's "dark" plates. . . . [Steig, p. 205]

Nowhere else in this extensive series is Cruikshank's aspiring to be a painter of grand historical canvasses more evident. Employing "Rembrandtesque" shadows extensively, Cruikshank here effectively captures the dramatic nature of Lady Jane Grey's return to the Tower, and employs ominous darkness to foreshadow her fate. Accompanied by fifteen guards and attendants (four watermen, three courtiers, and nine soldiers), the Nine-Days-Queen now re-enters the Tower of London under very different circumstances — no longer even nominally in charge, but a prisoner of state facing execution. As the formal indictment of the Privy Council, now firmly under Queen Mary's control, will be treason, Cruikshank has drawn swords and halberds pointing upwards, towards her appointment with the executioner. With a knowledge of the present-day appearance of the vast gate under St. Thomas's Tower, which he has already depicted in the wood-engraving St. Thomas's, or Traitor's Tower, from the Thames, Cruikshank now offers an epic canvas, Jane's entry through the The Traitor's Gate, also known as the "Water Gate." The former depiction was simply architectural and contemporary — devoid of both water and figures: a prosaic, daylight scene. The atmospheric dark plate, with gigantic, partially open gates amidst the menacing shadows, dwarfs Jane and her band, and foreshadows her fate. The illustrator employs chiaroscuro to underscore Jane's virtuous nature amidst the bitter party rivalries that had installed her on the throne and now will consign her to the headsman's block. A delicate, white-clad figure, the only female in the plate, she takes centre stage as a courtier assists her to disembark from the overloaded wherry. As Richard M. Vogler remarks, "This is one of Cruikshank's most successful attempts to catch the historic atmosphere of the novel" (p. 154).

Winding Up the Plot at the End of Book One — "Jane the Queen"

Initially, things go as planned, for Gunnora Braose is able to keep her promise to Jane, reuniting the couple at Sion House on the south bank of the Thames before daybreak. However, things go badly awry very quickly as they learn that Northumberland has switched sides and at Cambridge has proclaimed Mary Queen. To persuade her husband not to attempt to see his father, Jane has Gunnora present documentary evidence to Dudley that Northumberland ordered the murder of the late King Edward: "It is no calumny. The royal Edward was poisoned by me at your father's instigation. And you and your consort would have shared the same fate" (p. 108). Moreover, the Earl of Arundel, whom the Council has despatched to arrest Northumberland, is likely to succeed shortly, bringing his captive to the Tower within the next several days. Although Lord Guilford wanted to leave with Cholmondeley to join his father at Cambridge, Jane has effectively dissuaded him. That night Gunnora returns with the alarming news that, informed of their whereabouts by Simon Renard, Lord Clinton, Lieutenant of the Tower, is already on his way to Sion House with an arrest warrant for Jane, and that Arundel has already apprehended Dudley's father and despatched him to the Tower. Just minutes after Gunnora leaves, Lord Clinton and his men arrest the couple, who probably should have decided to leave the London area as soon as they had escaped from the Tower. Attended by guards with drawn swords, Jane and Dudley travel to the Tower under cover of night by barge, sweeping past Durham House and shooting London Bridge. "Now all was changed. She was brought a prisoner to the scene of her former grandeur, unattended, unnoted."

The Immense Beams and Gloomy Arch 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: The Traitor's Gate (February 1840). [Click on the image to enlarge it.]


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Last modified 29 September 2017