Although unremarkable in appearance, this map of Portsmouth in the Cotton Manuscripts collection is of great significance in the history of cartography. Dating from 1545, it is the earliest map of any town in Britain to be drawn entirely to scale.Unlike many maps or plans of the period no attempts to show features of the town pictorially have been made, making this plan closer to what we now perceive as a plan than many of its contemporaries. Few parallel examples of plans of this date, drawn entirely to scale, exist anywhere else in Europe. The plan sets out proposals for improving the defences of the town after the events of July 19th when the French and English fleets met in Spithead, the Mary Rose was sunk and the French landed on the nearby Isle of Wight.
The plan shows a transverse rampart and ditch which cuts off the north east section of the walled area cut off from the rest of the town. The idea of adding an angle-bastion of contemporary Italian type to the south east rampart is indicated in pencil. The alterations shown here were not carried out but the proposals are of importance none the less as they show the earliest scheme for fortifying an English town with a fully flanked bastion system in the Italian style.
- 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.