In 1601 a Spanish force landed off Kinsale near Cork in Southern Ireland. Although the invaders were speedily repelled, the event had a traumatic effect on the English authorities, obsessed for the next two centuries by fear of a repeat invasion. A new castle, named James Fort in honour of King James I (1566–1625), was speedily constructed. In the mid-1670s, the decision was taken to commission William Robinson to rebuild the medieval Ringcurran Castle in accordance with the latest fortification theories.
This map was probably created in a chart-making workshop on the shores of the Thames, east of the Tower of London, from a detailed working plan sent over from Ireland. Drawn on vellum, it shows the town of Kinsale and its harbour with inset coastal views, and a large plan of “Ringcoran” castle. Great care has been taken in its execution, and the striking rich colours and use of gold suggests that it was created for presentation to King Charles II (1630–1685) himself – perhaps following the completion of the building works in 1677, when royal permission was sought for the fortress to be renamed in his honour.
Charles was an enthusiast for military architecture, as the earlier fortification plans in King George III’s geographical collections at the British Library demonstrate, and he would have been both informed and delighted by the map. It would also have made an attractive object for display and propaganda, suggesting to visitors that the English were in full control even of this most vulnerable part of Ireland.
In the event, the new fort did not live up to expectations. Forces loyal to the exiled King James II (1633–1701) seized it in 1689, although John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough (1650–1722), was able to recapture it for King William III (1650–1702) the following year. He achieve this with little difficulty by bombarding the fort from the overlooking hills. The fort continued in military use until 1922 and is now a major tourist attraction.
The British Library holds another example of the map (Maps K.Mar.4.19.), prepared by the same workshop but lacking the gold and painted onto linen, and this may have been intended for administrative use.
This is an edited extract from Peter Barber and Tom Harper’s Magnificent maps: power, propaganda and art (London: The British Library, 2010), p. 130.
- Article by:
- Ann Payne
- Military and maritime
Documenting national defence was a key purpose of topographical drawings. Ann Payne explores examples of military art in the British Library’s collections.