Sir Thomas Wyat attacking the By Ward Tower. — George Cruikshank. Final pages of the tenth instalment, October 1840 number. Seventy-fifth illustration and and thirty-second steel-engraving in William Harrison Ainsworth's The Tower of London. A Historical Romance. Illustration for Book the Second, Chapter XXIX. 9.7 cm high x 14.2 cm wide, framed, facing page 319: running head, "Bret Taken Prisoner by Xit." Although no such assault on the Tower of London 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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Hitherto, complete success had attended his efforts; and if he had passed the fortification he was approaching, in all probability he would have been master of the Tower. Nothing doubting this, he urged his men onwards. On his left rode Bret, and behind them, at a short distance, came Captain Knevet, and two other leaders, likewise on horseback.

As they arrived within a few paces of the By-ward Tower, three tremendous personages issued from it, and opposed their further progress. They were equipped in corslets of polished steel and morions; and two of them were armed with bucklers and enormous maces, while the third wielded a partizan of equal size. These, it is almost needless to state, were the three giants. The bearer of the partizan was Gog. Behind them came their diminutive attendant, who, it appeared, had been released from his thraldom, particulars of which, and of his adventures subsequent to his meeting with Cicely in the cell beneath the Salt Tower, will be related at a more convenient opportunity.

Like his gigantic companions, Xit was fully armed, in a steel corslet, cuisses, and gauntlets. His head was sheltered by a helmet, shaded by an immense plume of feathers, which, being considerably too large for him, almost eclipsed his features. He was furthermore provided with a sword almost as long as himself, and a buckler.

Taking care to keep under the shelter of the giants, Xit strutted about, and brandishing his sword in a valiant manner, shouted, or rather screamed, —

"Upon them Og! — attack them Gog! — why do you stand still, Magog? Let me pass, and I will show you how you should demean yourselves in the fight!"

At the sight of the giants, the flying royalists rallied, and a fierce but ineffectual struggle took place. During it, Bret was dismounted and thrown into the moat. Urged by their leader, the insurgents pressed furiously forward. But the giants presented an impassable barrier. Og plied his mace with as much zeal as he did the clubs when he enacted the part of the Tower at Courtenay's masque, and with far more terrible effect. All avoided the sweep of his arm.

Not content with dealing blows, he dashed among the retreating foe, and hurled some dozen of them into the moat. His prowess excited universal terror and astonishment. Nor was Gog much behind him. Wherever his partizan descended, a foe fell beneath its weight; and as he was incessantly whirling it over his head, and bringing it down, a space was speedily cleared before him.

Seeing the havoc occasioned by the gigantic brethren, and finding that they completely checked his further advance, Wyat struck spurs into his charger, and dashing upon Magog, tried to hew him down. If the married giant had not caught the blow aimed at him upon his shield, Dame Placida had been made a widow for the second time. Again plunging the spurs rowel-deep into his horse’s flanks, Wyat would have ridden over his gigantic antagonist, if the latter, perceiving his intention, had not raised his mace, and with one tremendous blow smashed the skull of the noble animal. [Chapter XXIX. — "The Siege of the Tower," pp. 318-19]


Sir Thomas Wyatt attacking the By-ward Tower, 1554 (1840). An exaggerated depiction of fighting at the Tower of London during the rebellion against Queen Mary led by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Wyatt led the rebellion in opposition to Mary's plans to marry Prince Philip (later King Philip II) of Spain. He occupied Rochester on 26 January 1554, but his uprising had little support outside Kent. He marched on London with 4000 men but an anticipated rising amongst loyalist troops failed to materialise and Wyatt's supporters began to desert. After an attempt to force entry into the City at Ludgate failed Wyatt surrendered. He offered no defence when tried for treason, but his execution was delayed because Mary hoped that he would implicate her sister Elizabeth in the plot. Wyatt did not do so, instead clearing her of any involvement from the scaffold. Elizabeth was however placed under house arrest and spied upon for the rest of Mary's reign.​—, "Sir Thomas Wyat attacking the By-Ward Tower, 1554."

The Historical Novel as instituted by Sir Walter ScottThe Waverley Novels — established the convention of involving the fictional hero in actual battles in order to show his resourcefulness and courage, and to bring history to life through the lived experience of a character with whom the reader is familiar. That focal character in Ainsworth's historical romance is Cuthbert Cholmondeley, whose political allegiance to Lady Jane Grey remains constant throughout the novel, and whose fortunes engage the reader from the opening to the closing chapters. However, as with Scott, the story also has a secondary, historical hero, Sir Thomas Wyat, leader of the Kentish rebellion against "The Spanish Match." The fierce battles at the north walls of the Tower of London in this chapter enable Ainsworth to generate considerable suspense by placing both protagonists in grave danger.

Thus, the novelist must produce an exciting plot-line that actually deviates from history, for Ainsworth is not merely recounting or dramatizing history; rather, he is romanticizing it, sensationalizing the period of 1553-54. In point of fact, although Wyat's forces infested the suburbs south of the Thames, they were never able to launch a concerted assault on the Outer Ward of the Tower of London such as we see in the next illustration, in which Wyat and the rebels attack the Brass Mount. Since an account of strategic withdrawals on either side is not the stuff of romance, Ainsworth must have felt compelled to offer exciting battle scenes worthy of the pageant of Tudor history that he has promised in the preface, and that Cruikshank has realised with gusto: Attack upon the Brass Mount by Lord Guildford Dudley, Attack upon St. Thomas's Tower by the Duke of Suffolk, and Sir Thomas Wyat attacking the By-Ward Tower in Chapter XXIX. "Desirous of exhibiting the Tower in its triple light of a palace, a prison, and a fortress" ("Preface," p. iv), Ainsworth must furnish a narrative that shows the Tower of London functioning in all three ways.

In the above illustration, the rebels and the royalists (that is, the supporters of Mary I) are waging a vigorous, hand-to-hand battle at the causeway leading to the Middle Gate. In the present, the moat no longer contains water, but in the illustration the three giant warders Og, Gog, and Magog, have been tossing insurgents into the water. 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 in a position of prominence in the composition Wyat on his rearing charger is engaged in combat with the mace-wielding Magog, the single largest figure in the picture. Meanwhile, flames consume the wooden houses of Petty Wales, upper centre, and billowing clouds of gun-smoke obscure the backdrop, upper right. Cruikshank deploys his documentary style with powerful effect, synthesizing an historical figure (Wyat) and a purely fictional figure (Magog).

Although Cruikshank does not make the geographical location of the hand-to-hand battle completely clear, the south-west barbican tower known as the Lion Tower must be behind the attackers, to the right, behind the Middle Tower, with twin turrets and a portcullis; to the left and under direct assault is the Byward Tower, the key to breaking through to the Inner Ward behind it. The contest occurs between the Middle Tower (left) and the Byward Tower across the causeway. The open portcullis, then, is a feature of the Middle Tower, which has apparently already fallen to the rebels, some of whom are surging across the causeway while their fellows are mounting musket-fire on the defenders to the right, led by the three gigantic warders. Should the insurgents succeed in taking the Byward Tower, then, they would encounter canon- and musket-fire from the Bell Tower, off right, before they could penetrate the Inner Ward's battlements.

Renouncing caricature entirely, Cruikshank approaches his material with a high seriousness that does not admit situational or character comedy in a series of battle scenes which William Feaver describes as "formidably detailed reconstructions of alarms and skirmishes" (249) of the kind he developed for W. H. Maxwell's The History of the Irish Rebellion (1845). These battle scenes and the interview between Queen Mary and Wyat that precedes them demonstrate Cruikshank's "technical excellence . . . in their fidelity to historical detail" (E. D. H. Johnson, p. 18) in terms of arms and armour, architectural setting, and Tudor costume, giving the reader a strong sense of the sweeping narrative. The text furnishes Cruikshank with plenty of material for a grand historical canvas, although the scale of the book illustration does not permit Cruikshank to move in for a close-up and retain the effect of a large-scale canvas.

These mid-1840 illustrations are the high point in Cruikshank's new "documentary" style that he initiated in Ainsworth's Jack Sheppard (1839) before applying it to an historical work without a fictional component, Maxwell's History of the Irish Rebellion. Although his work as a caricaturist for Punch was, as Feaver remarks, "on the wane" (249), Cruikshank would never become a true realist in the sense that the New Men of the Sixties such as Fred Walker and Fred Barnard would be, he would tackle a serious issue in The Bottle (1847) and The Drunkard's Children (1848), the disastrous personal and social consequences of alcoholism.


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Last modified 25 October 2017