“The oppressive and sanguinary code framed in the reign of Elizabeth, was re-enacted to its full extent, and even improved with additional severities. Every individual who had studied or resided, or should afterwards study or reside in any college or seminary beyond the sea, was rendered incapable of inheriting, or purchasing, or enjoying lands, annuities, chattels, debts, or sums of money, within the realm; and as missionaries sometimes eluded detection under the disguise of tutors, it was provided that no man should teach even the rudiments of grammar in public or in private, without the previous approbation of the diocesan.
It has been, for years, the cherished wish of the writer of the following pages, to make the Tower of London—the proudest monument of antiquity, considered with reference to its historical associations, which this country or any other possesses,—the groundwork of a Romance; and it was no slight satisfaction to him, that circumstances, at length, enabled him to carry into effect his favourite project, in conjunction with the inimitable Artist, whose designs accompany the work.
Desirous of exhibiting the Tower in its triple light of a palace, a prison, and a fortress, the Author has shaped his story with reference to that end; and he has also endeavoured to contrive such a series of incidents as should naturally introduce every relic of the old pile,—its towers, chapels, halls, chambers, gateways, arches, and drawbridges—so that no part of it should remain un-illustrated.
How far this design has been accomplished—what interest has been given to particular buildings—and what mouldering walls have been informed with life—is now to be determined:—unless, indeed, it may be considered determined by the numbers who have visited the different buildings, as they have been successively depicted by pen and pencil, during the periodical appearance of the work.
One important object the Author would fain hope his labours may achieve. This is the introduction of the public to some parts of the fortress at present closed to them. There seems no reason why admission should not be given, under certain restrictions, to that unequalled specimen of Norman architecture, Saint John's Chapel in the White Tower,—to the arched galleries above it,—to the noble council-chamber, teeming with historical recollections,—to the vaulted passages—and to the winding staircases within the turrets—so perfect, and so interesting to the antiquary. Nor is there stronger reason why the prison-chamber in the Beauchamp Tower, now used as a mess-room, the walls of which, like a mystic scroll, are covered with inscriptions—each a tragic story in itself, and furnishing matter for abundant reflection—should not likewise be thrown open. Most of the old fortifications upon the inner ballium-wall being converted into private dwellings,—though in many cases the chambers are extremely curious, and rich in inscriptions,—are, of course, inaccessible. But this does not apply to the first-mentioned places. They are the property of the nation, and should be open to national inspection.
It is piteous to see what havoc has already been made by alterations and repairs. The palace is gone—so are many of the towers—and unless the progress of destruction is arrested, the demolition of others will follow. Let us attempt to preserve what remains.
Opposite the matchless White Tower—William of Orange by the side of William the Conqueror,—is that frightful architectural abomination, the Grand Store-House.
Not that the last-adopted denomination had any reference, as might be supposed, to the three huge wooden instruments on the wharf, employed with ropes and pulleys to unload the lighters and other vessels that brought up butts and hogsheads of wine from the larger craft below Bridge, and constantly thronged the banks; though, no doubt, they indirectly suggested it. The Three Cranes depicted on the large signboard, suspended in front of the tavern, were long-necked, long-beaked birds, each with a golden fish in its bill.
Immediately behind this individual, came a pale, poverty-stricken woman, whose forlorn aspect contrasted strongly with his plump and comfortable physiognomy. She was dressed in a tattered black stuff gown, discoloured by various stains, and intended, it would seem, from the remnants of rusty crape with which it was here and there tricked out, to represent the garb of widowhood, and held in her arms a sleeping infant, swathed in the folds of a linsey-woolsey shawl.
Notwithstanding her emaciation, her features still retained something of a pleasing expression, and might have been termed beautiful, had it not been for that repulsive freshness of lip denoting the habitual dram-drinker; a freshness in her case rendered the more shocking from the almost livid hue of the rest of her complexion. She could not be more than twenty; and though want and other suffering had done the work of time, had wasted her frame, and robbed her cheek of its bloom and roundness, they had not extinguished the lustre of her eyes, nor thinned her raven hair. Checking an ominous cough, that, ever and anon, convulsed her lungs, the poor woman addressed a few parting words to her companion, who lingered at the doorway as if he had something on his mind, which he did not very well know how to communicate.
The two young equestrians made a very gallant appearance, being attired in scarlet riding-coats, edged with gold lace, feathered hats, long neckcloth, laced ruffles, and boots ascending above the knee. The grooms wore green riding-coats laced with gold, and green velvet caps.
The earl, who was riding to Corbridge, which was not very far off, proceeded at a leisurely pace, and occasionally halted to examine some object in the grounds, or listen to an appeal to his charity. In the latter case the applicant was sent on to the castle to state his case to Father Norham.
The morning was bright and clear, and the country looked so charming that the earl determined to extend his ride along the banks of the Tyne as soon as his business at Corbridge was finished; but he had not quitted the avenue when a horseman entered it, who was evidently proceeding to the castle.
This person might be a courier, for he rode a posthorse, and was followed by a post-boy, who carried his portmanteau; and there was nothing in his grey riding-dress to indicate rank. He had pistols in his girdle, and a hanger by his side. But he rode well, though provided only with a sorry hack, and had a military bearing. In age he could not be more than three-and-twenty, if so much. He was rather above the middle height, and slightly built, and his features were handsome and expressive.
While Jack Sheppard seems marked from birth for a terrible end, his wit and charm might just be able to cheat fate. Fate, however, seems eager to cheat him out of an honest living, when Jack begins visiting the notorious Black Lion, drinking den of the worst criminals in London. Soon he is one of the most famous scoundrels in the city - not for his crimes, but for the wonderful fact that not one of the King's fine prisons can hold him.
But Jack's luck will have to run out eventually...
The night was solemn and beautiful. Myriads of stars paved the deep vault of heaven; the crescent moon hung like a silver lamp in the midst of them; a stream of rosy and quivering light, issuing from the north, traversed the sky, like the tail of some stupendous comet; while from its point of effluence broke forth, ever and anon, coruscations rivalling in splendour and variety of hue the most brilliant discharge of fireworks.
A sharp frost prevailed; but the atmosphere was clear and dry, and neither wind nor snow aggravated the wholesome rigour of the season. The water lay in thick congealed masses around the conduits and wells, and the buckets were frozen on their stands. The thoroughfares were sheeted with ice, and dangerous to horsemen and vehicles; but the footways were firm and pleasant to the tread.
Here and there, a fire was lighted in the streets, round which ragged urchins and mendicants were collected, roasting fragments of meat stuck upon iron prongs, or quaffing deep draughts of metheglin and ale out of leathern cups. Crowds were collected in the open places, watching the wonders in the heavens, and drawing auguries from them, chiefly sinister, for most of the beholders thought the signs portended the speedy death of the queen, and the advent of a new monarch from the northÑa safe and easy interpretation, considering the advanced age and declining health of the illustrious Elizabeth, together with the known appointment of her successor, James of Scotland.