West View of the Middle Tower — George Cruikshank. Tenth instalment, October 1840 number. Seventy-fourth illustration and and forty-third wood-engraving in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. A Historical Romance. Illustration for Book the Second, Chapter XXIX. 8.6 cm high by 9.5 cm wide, vignetted, bottom of page 317: running head, "Attack on the Middle Tower." Although no such assault probably occurred during the Kentish uprising, Ainsworth and Cruikshank use the thunderous battle scenes in this chapter to showcase the intrepid bravery of Cuthbert Cholmondeloy and Sir Thomas Wyat. [Click on the image to enlarge it.]

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On the arrival of the squadron, Wyat immediately commenced an attack upon the Bulwark Gate—one of the weakest outworks of the fortress,​— and while directing his engines against it, some half-dozen wooden houses adjoining it on the side of the moat, were fired by his men; and the flames quickly extending to the buildings immediately contiguous to the Bulwark Gate, that defence was at once surrendered.

The first point gained, Wyat despatched a messenger to Bret ordering him to join him instantly; and while a handful of his men, rushing round the semicircular wall, heretofore described as protecting the lesser moat, attacked the embattled gateway fronting the Lion's Tower, with the intention of joining Suffolk's party on the wharf, he directed his main force against the Lion’s Gate. This fortification was stoutly defended, and the insurgents were twice repulsed before they could bring their engines to bear against it.

Bret and his party having arrived, such an irresistible attack was made upon the gate, that in a short time it was carried. With loud shouts, the insurgents drove the royalists before them along the narrow bridge facing the Lion’s Tower, and leading to the Middle Tower, putting some to the sword, and throwing others over the walls into the moat.

The movement was so expeditious, and the rout so unexpected, that the portcullis of the Middle Tower, which was kept up to allow the flying men to pass through it, could not be lowered, and hastily directing those around him to prop it up with a piece of timber, Wyat continued the pursuit to the By-ward​Tower. [Chapter XXIX. — "The Siege of the Tower," pp. 316-18]


The Lion's Tower, as we have already scene, was the site of the royal menagerie. The Middle Tower, against which Wyat now launches an attack,​was originally a gatehouse when constructed in 1281, during the reign of Edward I. On the eastern side it is connected to the Byward Tower by a causeway. The entrance passage was originally defended by two portcullises, the grooves of which are still visible inside the archway. The stone bridge originally had a third drawbridge. By the time that Ainsworth and Cruikshank were inspecting Tower Hill monthly, however, the Middle Tower had undergone considerable renovation in the reign of King George I in the early eighteenth century.

In the following illustration, the rebels led by Bret and Wyat and the royalists (that is, the supporters of Mary I) are waging a vigorous, hand-to-hand battle at the causeway leading to the Byward Tower, which lies behind the Middle Tower. In the present (i. e., 1840), the moat no longer contains water, but in the following illustration the three giant warders Og, Gog, and Magog, have been tossing insurgents into the water on the far side of the Middle Tower. One of those attackers is Captain Alexander Brett, commander of the London Trained Bands and Wyat's second-in-command whom Magog pulls out of the moat and takes prisoner. Meanwhile, just to the right of centre Wyat on his rearing charger is engaged in combat with the mace-wielding Magog as the rebels attempt to take the Byward Tower on the southeast corner of the Tower complex. The alternating of wood-engravings of the Tower in 1840 and of steel-engravings showing the assault on the Tower in 1554 compels the reader to contrast the Tower's turbulent past with its tranquil present, and of violent factionalism in the sixteenth century versus peaceful, democratic compromise in the nineteenth.


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Last modified 22 October 2017