Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Another part of the novel’s intention, however, was to urge the authorities to take better care of the Tower of London. Ainsworth’s particular bugbear was the Grand Store House, constructed by William of Orange, which is mentioned several times in the novel, always unfavorably, and which fortuitously burned down while the novel was being written. The tripartite structure of Ainsworth’s novel was intended to mirror the complex’s triple purpose as palace, prison, and fortress, and the novel rarely moves outside the confines of the Tower. Whenever it does, the action is brief, and the exterior places are not described.
The narrative strand that focuses on Lady Jane Grey’s brief reign, after she is placed on the throne by her ambitious father-in-law, the duke of Northumberland, shows the Tower of London functioning as palace, with the business of the realm carried out in its public rooms and in private meetings. Jane is shown in her private apartments and visiting the chapel. Her movements within the building are invariably circumscribed by her rank and the need for her safety. Similarly, Mary, once she takes control of the government, turns the Tower into her palace, favoring it, albeit temporarily, over Whitehall.
Throughout Jane’s brief reign, the Tower is not only a palace but also a place of sanctuary. It is not made explicit at first, but the implication is that Jane is secure on her throne only so long as she remains within the Tower. Outside, her safety cannot be guaranteed, and her claim to rule the country is suspect. Mary and her followers naturally recognize this and it is vital to their interests that the Tower be taken. Thus, some of the most dramatic action in the novel involves the storming of the Tower by Mary’s followers and scenes of hand-to-hand fighting through its courts and greens. The Tower is most clearly seen to function as a fortress in the narrative strand that focuses on Mary’s accession to the throne.
Ainsworth’s most vivid description and storytelling, however, is reserved for the Tower as prison, and it is clear that it is this function that most grips his imagination. His novel’s third narrative strand involves a young squire, Cuthbert Cholmondeley, who has come to the Tower in the retinue of Lord Guilford Dudley, Jane Grey’s husband. By falling in love with the beautiful but mysterious young woman named Cicely, he incurs the wrath of the jailer Lawrence Nightgall, who also loves Cicely and intends to marry her, though she despises him. As jailer, Nightgall has access to all manner of hidden passages in the fabric of the Tower–whether these are real or imagined, Ainsworth does not say–and he imprisons first Cholmondeley and then Cicely, in secret rooms, hoping to kill the former and wed the latter. However, others are also aware of the Tower’s secret passages, which are variously used by courtiers plotting treason and by rescuers of Queen Jane. Indeed, given the passages’ alleged secrecy, the volume of traffic underground is perhaps the most remarkable part of the novel.
In his more sober moments, Ainsworth also paints a vivid and rather more accurate portrait of life for noble prisoners within the Tower. He depicts assorted lords and Queen Jane and Lady Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower, in reasonable comfort, with frequent descriptions of the rooms being prepared for them, but also less important prisoners lodging with various members of the Tower community in their own homes.