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Dorset Coast

Dorset Coast

Cartographer: Unknown

Date: 1539

Shelfmark: Cotton Augustus I.i f.31

Length: 52.4

Width: 155.8

Scale: Centimetres

Genre: Map

This is a drawing of the Dorset coast dating from 1539. It shows the defensive capacity of the area, depicting forts and gun towers and the beacon network of the locality, which is given greatest prominence. The forts depicted here probably include intended as well as actual fortifications.
The existence of this drawing and the proposals it contains can be imputed to the threat of invasion which became probable in 1538 after a peace treaty was signed by Francis I of France and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. England and France were ancient enemies and the Catholic Charles V, nephew of Catherine of Aragon, was angered by Henry VIII’s decision to divorce Catherine. Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries provided him with enormous wealth with which he was able to commission surveys of the vulnerable coastline and build defence fortifications. This map is the result of the order sent out by Thomas Cromwell in 1539 for the coasts to be surveyed by local people. These surveys, which were often just sketches or even text, were sent to London and in Greenwich they were edited, compiled and copied out for presentation to the King, who displayed them in Whitehall.
Such a large scale fortification plan is symptomatic of the growth in consciousness of the value of maps that occurred in the Tudor period. This map forms what is most likely to have been the original survey for a pictorial roll map measuring 10 feet long which contains information concerning the state of defences, detailing the distance between points along the coast and measurements at sea. Here the prominence given to beacons is notable and the details of water depth, which are given in manuscript notes.

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