View of the Tower of London in 1555 — George Cruikshank. May 1840 number, fifth instalment. Thirty-first illustration in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. Steel-engraving occupying a whole page, framed, 12.7 cm high x 17.6 wide, exclusive of the legend, facing p. 142. Logically, this large-scale illustration should appear in the context of the fourth chapter, "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." [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Passage Complemented

Returning to the outer ward, the principal fortification on the south was a large square structure, flanked at each angle by an embattled tower. This building, denominated Saint Thomas’s, or Traitor's Tower, was erected across the moat, and masked a secret entrance from the Thames, through which state prisoners, as has before been related, were brought into the Tower. It still retains much of its original appearance, and recals forcibly to the mind of the observer the dismal scenes that have occurred beneath its low-browed arches. Further on the east, in a line with Traitor’s Tower, and terminating a wing of the old palace, stood the Cradle Tower. At the eastern angle of the outer ward was a small fortification over-looking the moat, known as the Tower leading to the Iron Gate. Beyond it a draw-bridge crossed the moat, and led to the Iron Gate, a small portal protected by a tower, deriving its name from the purpose for which it was erected.

At this point, on the patch of ground intervening between the moat and the river, and forming the platform or wharf, stood a range of mean habitations, occupied by the different artisans and workmen employed in the fortress. At the south of the By-ward Tower, an arched and embattled gateway opened upon a drawbridge which crossed the moat at this point. Opposite this drawbridge were the main stairs leading to the edge of the river. The whole of the fortress, it is scarcely necessary to repeat, was (and still is) encompassed by a broad deep moat, of much greater width at the sides next to Tower Hill and East Smithfield, than at the south, and supplied with water from the Thames by the sluice beneath Traitor's Gate.​[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. 133]


Complementing the antiquarian's circuit of the fortifications, the plan view of the Tower of London includes features such as the Queen's Gallery and the Queen's Lodgings that no longer existed when the artist and author visited the historic site in 1840. Of all of that significant construction reflecting the Tower's function as a Royal palace, only the Cradle Tower remains. Cruikshank's view of that river-side tower in 1840 in no way suggests the building's distinguished ancestry as the point at which the old royal palace terminated.​However, both Ainsworth's descriptions and Cruikshank's view predate the rather fanciful mediaeval restoration of the Tower of London which Victorian architect ​ Anthony Salvin (1798-1881), who was commissioned​in 1851 to restore the Tower​of London in order to open the fortress to tourists. Ainsworth notes in particular the significant events that transpired at the royal palace, swept away by fire and subsequent renovations in the late seventeenth century:

This ancient palace — the scene of so many remarkable historical events, — the residence, during certain portions of their reigns, of all our sovereigns, from William Rufus down to Charles the Second — is now utterly gone. Where is the glorious hall which Henry the Third painted with the story of Antiochus, and which it required thirty fir-trees to repair, — in which Edward the Third and all his court were feasted by the captive John, — in which Richard the Second resigned his crown to Henry of Lancaster, — in which Henry the Eighth received all his wives before their espousals, — in which so many royal councils and royal revels have been held; — where is that great hall? Where, also, is the chamber in which Queen Isabella, consort of Edward the Second, gave birth to the child called, from the circumstance, Joan of the Tower? They have vanished, and other structures occupy their place. Demolished in the reign of James the Second, an ordnance office was erected on its site; and this building being destroyed by fire in 1788, it was succeeded by the present edifice bearing the name. [pp. 136-37]

The tourist today, wandering in the precincts to the east of the White Tower, can have no conception of the substantial royal residence that once stood where oak trees occupy a park-like space. Although Salvin sought to make the Tower of London tourist-friendly, he swept away a number of post-Tudor buildings, and did not restore the moat, drained in 1843. On 7 January 1928 at 1:30 A. M. a tidal wave swept across Tower Wharf, and destroyed portions of the moat's retaining walls.

Although Cruikshank had acquired an intimate knowledge of the Tower of London well before the spring of 1840 to produce his static vignettes and dramatic etchings, usually with the mundane 1840 scene (what Patten terms "the demystified Victorian present," p. 135) preceding the historical and comedic action scenes, he continually had to put off the completion of the time-consuming "bird's-eye-view map of the moated, crenellated keep and its precincts" (Patten, p. 134). The orthographic view complementing Ainsworth's antiquarian descriptions must have been in the works for some time before it appeared as an "extra" illustration in the May instalment.


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Last modified 11 November 2017