South west coast of England from Exeter to Land's End, 1539-40
Medium: Pigments on vellum
This is a map of the south-west coast of England, from Exeter to Land’s End. It dates from 1539-40 and its creation 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 her. 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.
The style of the map is pictorial with details such as ships, town views and fortifications shown in accurate detail. However, it contains vital practical information such as the state of defences and the distance between points along the coast and measurements at sea. Measurements at sea appear to be the estimated distance at which the navigator could discern features of the coastline. These are given in Dutch kennings probably due to the fact that the draftsmen in Greenwich included Flemish artists.
The purpose of the map was to indicates, as if from the viewpoint of an invader, where landings could be made. Therefore, the cliffs, where landings would have been impossible are foreshortened, while the sandy beaches, where landings would have been easy are exaggerated in size. The sites for possible forts were then added to the map. The annotations on this map were made in about 1541 and record the state of fortifications, annotating ‘made’ or ‘not made’ over several fortification and ‘half made’ over St Mawes Castle.
Although this map contains measurements for use by sailors it is very unlikely that it would ever have been used at sea as it is almost 10 feet long and thus highly impractical for use within the confined space onboard ship.