Memorials of the Tower of London

De Ros, William Lennox






THE valuable and extensive collection of armour in the Tower, is an object of deserved admiration and interest to visitors but according to the judgment of antiquaries and persons conversant with the subject, it is beginning to require a fresh inspection and arrangement, similar to that made by the late Dr. Meyrick, about twenty-eight years ago, under the direction of the Duke of Wellington, when Constable of the Tower. In the mean time, however, it is attended to and cleaned with much care; and, if some confusion of the detail has arisen since Dr. Meyrick's inspection, there is no doubt it may at any time be rectified, at little pains and expense. Still it is a subject of reasonable regret, that in so large and fine a collection, any moderate outlay should be spared to classify and to arrange the armour, in a manner suitable to a great national collection of such value and interest.

It would be out of place here to introduce even an abstract of the very long published Catalogue of the Tower Armoury, but it may be mentioned that among other remarkable suits of armour, there is a very handsome one, complete both in the armament of


horse and man, which was presented by the Emperor Maximilian to Henry VIII., after their celebrated meeting at the siege of the town of Terouenne. The equipment of the horse is of the finest steel, engraved in every part with rich patterns, interspersed with representations of the martyrdom of several saints of the Romish Church. But the most curious is, a very elaborate delineation of a female, undergoing the terrible torture of the rack, and portraying every detail of the mechanism of that frightful engine. The Rack seems to have consisted of a strongly framed wooden trough, like a horse-trough, in which the sufferer was extended at full length; at each end of the trough was fitted a transverse cylinder, round which, in the fashion of a windlass, a stout rope was passed, after being secured to the wrists of the person under torture. This cylinder projected beyond the side of the trough, sufficiently to admit of the insertion of four wooden bars, into holes pierced through its diameter by which it could be powerfully turned, so as to tighten the rope, and produce a strain upon the sufferer's arms, so severe as not unfrequently to dislocate the shoulders.

A similar windlass at the other end of the trough produced a fearful strain upon the joints of the knees and hips; so that it is hardly possible to conceive a more universal distension and agony to the whole human frame than this infernal engine must have caused. The expression of the female's countenance, though a mere outline, conveys a most painful impression, while the deliberate coolness with which the operator at the windlass is forcing round the bars which he grasps, conveys


a frightful idea of the indifference produced by habit to the performance of so barbarous an office.

An instance of this indifference occurred at the torture of the unfortunate Anne Askew, who was accused of denying the real presence in the administration of the sacrament.

The mock ceremony of her trial took place in Guildhall, where, after repeated exhortations to confess the error of her belief, she was, by Henry VIII.'s own order, twice placed on the rack. The first time, she was lifted off, after repeatedly fainting under her sufferings. The second time no such mercy was shown, and when Sir Anthony Knyvett, the Lieutenant of the Tower, unable to endure any longer the sight of the unhappy young lady's agonies, ordered the executioner to desist from turning the wheel, Wriothesly, the Chancellor, seized the bars, and recommenced the torture with his whole strength. On his complaining to the King afterwards of Knyvett's leniency, the latter only saved himself from the loss of his place, by begging pardon on his knees, for his praiseworthy act of humanity.