The Roof of the Broad Arrow Tower. — George Cruikshank. Ninth instalment, September 1840 number. Sixty-sixth illustration and and thirty-eighth wood-engraving in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. A Historical Romance. Illustration for Book the Second, Chapter XXIV. 8.5 cm high x 9.7 wide, vignetted, bottom of p. 284: running head, "View from the Broad Arrow Tower." The prosaic line-drawing of the roof of the tower to which Xit now espaces gives the reader a sense of its proximity to the White Tower (upper right), but does not significantly contribute to the suspense as Xit subsequently searches the dungeons below and discovers the imprisoned Cicely. Having found his guards asleep in the upper chamber of the Constable Tower after his initial interrogation, Xit steals Nightgall's keys and effects his escape, barely pausing to admire the panoramic view from the top of the Broad Arrow Tower. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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Associated Passage: Xit Discovers Cicely Alive

It was just getting light as Xit gained the battlements, and he was immediately challenged by the sentinel. On producing the order, however, he was allowed to pass, and crossing the roof towards the south, he descended another short spiral staircase, and emerged from an open door on the ballium wall, along which he proceeded.

On the way, he encountered three more sentinels, all of whom allowed him to pass on sight of the order. Passing through an arched door-way he mounted a flight of steps, and reached the roof of the Broad Arrow Tower.

Here he paused to consider what course he should pursue. The point upon which he stood commanded a magnificent view on every side of the ramparts and towers of the fortress. Immediately before him was the Wardrobe Tower — now removed, but then connected by an irregular pile of buildings with the Broad Arrow Tower, — while beyond it frowned the grey walls of the White Tower. [Chapter XXIV. — "How Xit escaped from the Constable Tower; And How he found Cicely," pp. 284-85]

The Broad Arrow Tower and Xit's Escape

The Broad Arrow Tower, which was built by King Henry III between 1238 and 1272, was the Romanesque design of Chief Architect and Master Builder of the Broad Arrow Tower Henry de Reyns, assisted by John of Gloucester and Robert of Beverley. As the name implies, Henry III intended it to provide accommodation for the archers in the garrison of the Tower of London.

The plucky dwarf, Xit, expects to extricate himself from Renard's interrogation by telling a plausible lie. He is not expecting the kind of interrogation tactics to which the functionaries such as Mauger and Nightgall customarily subject suspects with information vital to the security of the regime. Consequently, having already spent a few minutes inside Scavenger's Daughter in the torture chamber, he takes the opportunity to escape when he discovers the drunken Nightgall and Wolfytt asleep in the upper chamber of the Constable Tower. Stealing Nightgall's complete set of keys to the Tower as well as his poignard, Xit discovers Nightgall's pass, "an order from the council to let the bearer pass at any hour whithersoever he would, through the fortress," which he immediately employs to get past sentinels on the roof and battlements. He then makes his way to the roof of the Broad Arrow Tower by way of the ballium wall:

Accordingly, he retraced the steps he had just mounted, and continued to descend till he reached an arched door. Unlocking it with one of the keys from his bunch, he entered a dark passage, along which he proceeded at a swift pace. His course was speedily checked by another door, but succeeding in unfastening it, he ran on as fast as his legs could carry him, till he tumbled headlong down a steep flight of steps. Picking himself up he proceeded more cautiously, and arrived, after some time, without further obstacle, at a lofty, and as he judged from the sound, vaulted chamber.

To his great dismay, though he searched carefully round it, he could find no exit from this chamber, and he was about to retrace his course, when he discovered a short ladder laid against the side of the wall. It immediately occurred to him that this might be used as a communication with some secret door, and rearing it against the wall, he mounted, and feeling about, to his great joy encountered a bolt.

Drawing it aside, a stone door slowly revolved on its hinges, and disclosed a small cell in which a female was seated before a table with a lamp burning upon it. She raised her head at the sound, and revealed the features of Cicely. [Close of Chapter XXIV. — pp. 285-86]

However, Ainsworth keeps readers in suspense for a number of chapters regarding the outcome of Xit's discovery of Cicely in the hidden dungeon of the Broad Arrow Tower, and their confrontation with the enraged Nightgall in the closing lines of the twenty-fourth chapter, towards the end of the ninth monthly instalment. Battle scenes and political machinations occupy Ainsworth's full attention until Chapter XXXV, in the final (December) instalment, when he finally reveals the fate of Nightgall and the secret of Cicely's birth.


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Last modified 22 October 2017