Initial Letter M. — George Cruikshank. April 1840 number. Twenty-fifth illustration. Book the Second, Chapter I, in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. 3 cm high by 3.2 cm wide, vignetted, p. 115. Against the backdrop of the majestic White Tower two Protestant prelates suffer and die for their faith — an ominous sign of things to come in this Second Book. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Introduced

MARY made her public entry into the city of London, on the 3d of August, 1553. The most magnificent preparations were made for her arrival, and as the procession of the usurper — for such Jane was now universally termed, — to the Tower, had been remarkable for its pomp and splendour, it was determined, on the present occasion, to surpass it. The Queen's entrance was arranged to take place at Aldgate, and the streets along which she was to pass were covered with fine gravel from thence to the Tower, and railed on either side. Within the rails stood the crafts of the city, in the dresses of their order; and at certain intervals were stationed the officers of the guard and their attendants, arrayed in velvet and silk, and having great staves in their hands to keep off the crowd. [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. 115]


The crossbars of the "M" are spears and the pillars are two Protestants who are being consumed by flames. These two bearded priests may be as significant as Archbishop Cranmer or as little known today as Anglican clergyman John Rogers, a preacher, biblical translator, lecturer at St. Paul's Cathedral, and the first of the so-called Smithfield Martyrs whom Mary's agents burned​at the stake in London on 4 February 1555. The sheer scale of the wanton slaughter of Protestants is remarkable: between the beginning of 1555 and the close of 1558 some 284 people of various social backgrounds met their deaths at the stake under Bloody Mary's edicts. Another nine Protestants were exhumed and burned, so virulent was Mary's persecution. The two most likely models for Cruikshank's miniature are clergyman Hugh Latimer, previously chaplain to King Edward VI,​ and Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London and Westminster under Edward VI​ — both executed on 16 October 1555 as heretics and, since the leading Catholic of the realm was the monarch, traitors. Perhaps as many as 300 Protestants met their deaths at the stake during the five years of Mary I's reign in what historians have termed "The Marian Persecution." Because Ridley was one of Lady Jane Grey's most prominent supporters, the authorities ensured that his death was particularly gruesome. According to Foxe's Book of Martyrs, Hugh Latimer turned to Ridley and remarked, "Be of good comfort, and play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

A metal cross embedded in the cobblestones of Broad Street, Oxford, indicates the site of their martyrdom. Accordingly, if Cruikshank's victims of Mary's Protestant purge are indeed the leading Oxford Martyrs, Ridley (right) and Latimer (left, turning towards his compatriot), then the backdrop, the White Tower, must have symbolic rather than literal significance. Although the university town was the actual site of their martyrdom, the orders that led to their horrific deaths emanated from Mary's headquarters, a prison-fortress from which she could with impunity re-impose Catholicism upon England, and conduct her interviews with the Spanish ambassador removed from the prying eyes of the public. Given Ainsworth's description of the public adulation Mary received as she made her progress through London on 5 November 1553, — "Mary was everywhere received with the loudest demonstrations of joy. Prayers, wishes, welcomings, and vociferations attended her progress" (p. 119) —​ the consequence of her Protestant persecution, which Cruikshank announces in the opening word of the second book, renders her triumphant welcome ironic.


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Last modified 23 September 2017