The Tower Of London by W. Harrison Ainsworth

Inheriting the wit and valour of his father, the refined and courtly poet of the same name, Sir Thomas Wyat of Allingham Castle in Kent, had already earned for himself the highest character as a military leader. His father’s friend, the chivalrous and poetical Earl of Surrey, in one of his despatches to Henry the Eighth, thus describes his conduct at the siege of Boulogne: “I assure your majesty, you have framed him to such towardness and knowledge in the war, that (none other dispraised) your majesty hath not many like him within your realm, for hardiness, painfulness, circumspection, and natural disposition for the war.” Wyat was in the very flower of his age. But his long service—for from his earliest youth he had embraced the profession of arms—had given him an older look than his years warranted. He was of middle-size, strongly but symmetrically proportioned, with handsome boldly-carved features, of a somewhat stem expression. His deportment partook of his frank soldier-like character. In swordsmanship, horsemanship, and all matters connected with the business of war, he was, as may be supposed, eminently skilful.

After much deliberation, it was agreed among the conspirators to have all in readiness for a general insurrection, but to defer their project until the meeting of parliament, when the queen’s intentions respecting her alliance with Spain would be declared, and if what they anticipated should prove true, the whole nation would favour their undertaking.

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WHILE the great outbreak was thus deferred, it was deemed expedient to liberate Courtenay as soon as possible. Such were the precautions taken by the vigilant Sir Henry Bedingfeld, that this was not so easy of accomplishment as it appeared on the onset. At length, however, all was arranged, and Xit was despatched to the earl to tell him the attempt might be made on the following night, when unluckily, just as the mannikin had entered the chimney, one of the guards awakened, and hearing a noise, flew to see what occasioned it. Exerting his utmost agility, the dwarf was soon out of reach, and the attendant could not distinguish his person, but he instantly gave the alarm.

Flying for his life, Xit got out of the chimney, hurried along the tops of the ramparts, and jumping at the hazard of his neck, into the tree, reached the ground just as the alarm was given to, the sentinels. It was past midnight. But Sir Henry Bedingfeld, aroused from his couch, instantly repaired to the chamber of his prisoner. Nothing could be found but the rope by which Xit had descended, and which in his hasty retreat he had not been able to remove. Courtenay refused to answer any interrogations respecting his visitor, and after a long and fruitless, search, the lieutenant departed.

The next day, the occurrence was made known to the queen, and at her request Simon Renard visited the prisoner. Not thinking his place of confinement secure enough, Renard suggested that he should be removed to the Bell Tower, a fortification flanking the lieutenant’s habitation on the west, and deriving its name, as has already been mentioned, from the alarm-bell of the fortress, which was placed in a small wooden belfry on its roof. This tower is still in existence, and devoted to the same purpose as of old, though its chambers, instead of being used as prison-lodgings, form the domestic offices of the governor. In shape it is circular, like all the other towers, with walls of great thickness pierced by narrow loopholes, admitting light to the interior. Courtenay was confined in a small room on the basement floor, having a vaulted roof supported by pointed arches of curious construction, with deep recesses in the intervals. From this strong and gloomy cell it seemed impossible he could escape; and having seen him placed within it, Renard departed fully satisfied.

When the intelligence of the earl’s removal was brought to De Noailles, he was greatly disheartened; but Xit bade him be of good cheer, as he still felt certain of effecting his deliverance. Some time, however, elapsed before any new scheme could be devised; when one night Xit appeared with a smiling countenance, and said he had found means of communicating with the prisoner. On being questioned as to how he had contrived this, he replied that he had crept up to a loophole opening into the earl’s chamber, and filed away one of the iron bars; and though the aperture was not large enough to allow a full-grown man to pass through it, he had done so without inconvenience, and under cover of night without being perceived. He then proceeded to detail a somewhat hazardous plan of flight, which Courtenay had determined to risk, provided his friends would second the attempt. All the earl required was, that a well-manned boat should be in waiting for him near the Tower-wharf, to put off the instant he reached it.

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