Elizabeth I's map of the British Isles, 1558

Look carefully at this beautiful map and you'll see that it has been deliberately damaged: the left side of the heraldic shield over England has been scratched out. But who would have done such a thing to a valuable royal map?

To answer this question we need to look back to the 1500s. The map is part of an atlas known as the Queen Mary Atlas. Mary commissioned the atlas in 1558 from the Portuguese mapmaker Diego Homen. It was probably intended as a gift for Mary’s Catholic husband, King Philip II of Spain. Mary died before the atlas was finished, and after her death, the atlas was presented to Elizabeth I, Mary’s successor to the English throne.

The right side of the heraldic shield on the map shows Mary’s coat-of-arms: lions quartering the fleurs-de-lis. Philip’s coat-of-arms, on the left, has been scratched out. The sight of the arms of Catholic Spain emblazoned over England would have infuriated the new Protestant queen. It was well known that Elizabeth had a terrible temper, and she despised Philip. This may well have led her to scrape Philip’s coat-of-arms off the map.

Taken from: The British Isles and Western Europe
Author / Creator: Diego Homen
Date: 1558
Copyright: By permission of the British Library Board
Shelfmark: Add. MS. 5415A. f.5