Saxton's England and Wales proof maps


Elizabeth l's right-hand man, William Cecil, Lord Burghley (1521 - 1598), was well aware of the value of maps for national defence and administation. He had grown up in the decades when maps began to be used for government purposes on a regular basis and he became a map enthusiast.

Since his appointment as Secretary to Elizabeth I in 1558, he had been looking for someone who could carry out the detailed mapping of England and Wales that had begun in the late 1530s under Henry Vlll. He finally found the Yorkshire surveyor Christopher Saxton, and between 1573 and 1579 Saxton was to map the counties of England and Wales in previously unsurpassed detail.

Financed by one of Burghley's associates, Thomas Seckford, and with government support, Saxton did the mapping himself, utilising the information that was already available and assessing and improving its accuracy on the ground. His rather sober manuscript maps were then engraved and embellished with the Queen's and Seckford's arms, mainly by Flemish engravers who had taken refuge in England from their war-torn homeland.

Burghley received copies of the maps, in their uncorrected proof states, as they came off the press and had them bound with other, hand-drawn regional maps to make them easier to consult. He then had them annotated, as in the map of Dorset, to give defence information (e.g. 'Dangerous Places for the landing of men in Dorcett') while adding in his own hand the names of local landowning families and, north of Poole, additional villages and bridges.

With these maps at his fingertips Burghley could see where new forts were needed, where troops needed to be mustered in an emergency and, on a day-to-day basis, which families he could look to for the justices of the peace on which local administration depended.

And not a moment too soon: from 1580 Elizabeth's relations with Philip ll deteriorated and in 1588 England was to face invasion by Spain.

Full title:
Atlas of the Counties of England and Wales
1573 - 1579
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Royal MS 18.D.lll. no. 5

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