Cartographer: [Petit, Thomas ]
Medium: Ink and tempera on parchment
This is a bird's eye view of Calais dating from around 1545-1550. It shows the entrance to the harbour and the Lanterngate, the Rysbank fort and two jetties, filled with chalk rubble. Calais had been in a state of disrepair for several years. The progress on the repair work was quickened after the publication in December 1538 of a papal bull excommunicating Henry VIII, after his divorce of the catholic Catherine of Aragon. The same year Francis I of France, and Charles V Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain signed a peace treaty. This union gave rise to the possibility that France and Spain may combine forces to invade England. France was England’s historical enemy and Henry VIII’s divorce of Catherine of Aragon, Charles V’s aunt, had offended the militantly catholic King of Spain.
A new commission was subsequently appointed to review the defences of Calais so that they could withstand gun fire. The Earl of Hertford was head of the new commission which also included Richard Lee, a mason by training and surveyor of the works at this time. The master mason for the project was William Baker, the master carpenter was John Bird. Extensive re building was planned as was the conversion of towers into gun ports. Stone from the dissolved monasteries of Faversham and St. Augustine’s Canterbury was shipped to Calais for use in the project.
The enlargement of the fort at Rysbank was one of the main areas of work. Two towers were added, one round and one D-shaped. In this drawing these can be clearly seen, the new round tower faces the sea and the D shaped tower provides cover for the harbour and the Rysbank itself. The second round tower that can be seen in this drawing is the old tower built by Richard II, behind which was built new lodgings for the captain and garrison, also shown here.
The fineness of this drawing suggests that it was made for the kings personal inspection, Henry probably chose the sites of the new fortifications represented here as the accounts refer to the works progressing ‘by the Kings device’. In 1542 the chronicler Fabyan referred to the King’s ‘great building at Calais’ suggesting that they were largely finished. The Duke of Norfolk, a member of the king’s Council described Calais as ‘the strongest town in Christendom’ to the French ambassador in 1541, again suggesting that works were complete.
The surveyor of the project Richard Lee, only 30 when the works were completed, gained the reputation as the acknowledged English expert on military engineering and on May 11th 1544 he was knighted for his service.
The authorship of this drawing is not known; it could possibly be by Thomas Petit a surveyor in Calais who made a ‘Platt of the Lowe Cuntrey att Callais’ which the British Library also holds.
Ultimately Calais fell to the French, who correctly identified the medieval castle as the weak point in the defences.