The Summit of the White Tower. — George Cruikshank. April 1840 number. Twenty-fourth illustration in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. Wood-engraving 6.4 cm high x 9.4 wide, vignetted, at the top of p. 115. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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The vast area of Tower Hill was filled with spectators. The crowds who had witnessed her entrance into the city had now flocked thither, and every avenue had poured in its thousands, till there was not a square inch of ground unoccupied. Many were pushed into the moat, and it required the utmost exertion of the guards, who were drawn out in lines of two deep, to keep the road which had been railed and barred from the end of Tower Street to the gates of the fortress clear for the Queen. As Mary’s eye ranged over this sea of heads​— as she listened to their stunning vociferations, and to the loud roar of the cannon which broke from every battlement in the Tower, her heart swelled with exultation. It was an animating spectacle. The day, it has been said, was bright and beautiful. The sun poured down its rays upon the ancient fortress, which had so lately opened its gates to an usurper, but which now like a heartless rake had cast off one mistress to take another. The whole line of ramparts on the west was filled with armed men. On the summit of the White Tower floated her standard, while bombard and culverin kept up a continual roar from every lesser tower.

After gazing for a few moments in the direction of the lofty citadel, now enveloped in the clouds of smoke issuing from the ordnance, and, excepting its four tall turrets and its standard, entirely hidden from view, her eyes followed the immense cavalcade, which, like a swollen current, was pouring its glittering tide beneath the arch of the Bulwark Gate; and as troop after troop disappeared, and she gradually approached the fortress, she thought she had never beheld a sight so grand and inspiriting. Flourishes of trumpets, almost lost in the stunning acclamations of the multitude, and the thunder of artillery, greeted her arrival at the Tower. [Book Two, "Mary the Queen," Chapter I, — "Of the Arrival of Queen Mary in London; Of Her Entrance into the Tower; and of Her Reception of the Prisoners on the Green," p. 120]

The Tower of London: Historical Occurrences

The White Tower once more claims our attention. Already described as having walls of enormous thickness, this venerable stronghold is divided into four stories including the vaults. The latter consist of two large chambers and a smaller one, with a coved termination at the east, and a deeply-recessed arch at the opposite extremity. Light is admitted to this gloomy chamber by four semicircular-headed loopholes. At the north is a cell ten feet long by eight wide formed in the thickness of the wall, and receiving no light except from the doorway. Here tradition affirms that Sir Walter Raleigh was confined, and composed his History of the World.

Amongst other half-obliterated inscriptions carved on the arched doorway of this dungeon, are these: He that indvreth TO THE ENDE SHALL BE SAVID. M. 10. R. REDSTON. DAR. KENT. Ano. 1553.​— Be feithful to the death and I will give the a crown of life. T. Fane. 1554. Above stands Saint John’s Chapel, and the upper story is occupied by the council-chamber and the rooms adjoining. A narrow vaulted gallery, formed in the thickness of the wall, communicating with the turret stairs, and pierced with semicircular-headed openings for the admission of light to the interior, surrounds this story. The roof is covered with lead, and crowned with four lofty turrets, three angular and one square, surmounted with leaden cupolas, each terminated with a vane and crown.

We have spoken elsewhere, and shall have to speak again of the secret and subterranean passages, as well as of the dungeons of the Tower; those horrible and noisome receptacles, deprived of light and air, infested by legions of rats, and flooded with water, into which the wretched captives were thrust to perish by famine, or by more expeditious means; and those dreadful contrivances, the Little Ease​—​and the Pit; —​the latter a dark and gloomy excavation sunk to the depth of twenty feet.​ [Chapter IV. — "Of The Tower of London; Its Antiquity and Foundation; Its Magnitude and Extent; Its Keep, Palace, Gardens, Fortifications, Dungeons, and Chapels; Its Walls, Bulwarks, and Moat; Its Royal Inmates; Its Constables, Jailors, Warders, and​ ​ Other Officers; Its​Prisoners, Executions, and Secret Murders," pp. 137-38]


The wood-engraving that opens Book the Second, "Mary the Queen," in the April 1840 (fourth) instalment is not a depiction of that site in 1553. Despite the presence of the royal standard on the roof of the White Tower, Cruikshank has not included either warders or cannons. In other words, this view of the roof of the White Tower is what the artist and the writer saw when inspecting the precincts of the Tower of London in 1840. When we encounter an illustration of Winwicke and Renard on the roof in the third chapter, "How Simon Renard Ascended to the Roof of the White Tower; And of the​ Goodly Prospect He Beheld Therefrom," we find a vista of Renaissance rather than nineteenth-century London. Ainsworth refers to the "massive tower of St. Paul's" and "old London Bridge" (128), both of which Cruikshank has placed in the background to reinforce the historical rather than present-day setting of the plate in Chapter III. The steel-engraving moves in for the closeup, depicting the yeoman warder in a casual pose and the Imperial ambassador at the parapet, beside a cannon and a pile of small-bore cannon-balls on a wooden ramp in one of the turrets.

Although Mary arrives at the Tower of London at the beginning of "Book the Second" to reinstate Catholic prelates and aristocrats, Ainsworth does not provide a detailed description of the White Tower, the subject of the headnote illustration for Book Two, until Chapter IV, after the senior warder, Winwicke, has taken the Spanish ambassador to the roof of the building to admire the view of Old London Bridge, the shipping, and Old St. Paul's Cathedral. The antiquarian narrative that Ainsworth then delivers is not identical to what Winwicke would have delivered to Renard since the commentary mentions events well after the period of the mid-sixteenth century.


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Last modified 10 October 2017