This plan shows Mount’s Bay in Cornwall in an invasion scenario and is thought to date from around 1540. It is orientated with south to the top, Penzance is lower right and St Michael’s Mount is in the centre. Lines extend between St Michael’s Mount and the mainland with distances expressed in words. Details of the landscape are shown pictorially, a feature typical of maps and plans of the Tudor period. Although the houses and churches of the area are depicted generically, the draughtsman has differentiated between those in good condition and those that have fallen into disrepair. Churches, with their towers and steeples, could be used as vantage points for surveillance, hence their prominent depiction here. The building shown here on St Michael’s Mount was home to a Benedictine monastery until the dissolution of the monasteries, after which it was fortified in order to take advantage of its excellent defensive location. The previous function of the building is clear from the crosses which decorate the apex of the gable ends of the central building.
The existence of this drawing can be imputed to the threat of invasion which became probable in 1538 after a peace treaty was signed by King Francis I of France (1494–1547) and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain (1500–1550). 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. It is likely that this drawing was executed in order to illustrate defence strategies feared to be necessary in this climate of unease.
- 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.
- Article by:
- Anthony Gerbino
- Military and maritime, Science and nature
The first important transformation of English medieval design practice occurred in a military context, during the reign of Henry VIII. Pioneering plans, surveys and designs by leading Tudor engineers are housed in the British Library, particularly within Sir Robert Cotton’s manuscript collection. Anthony Gerbino, Senior Lecturer in Art History at the University of Manchester, explores further.