Spanish Armada maps saved ‘for the nation’ by fundraising appeal

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They depict one of the most significant events in English history. Now a collection of incredibly rare maps representing the defeat of the Spanish Armada will remain in the country, following the success of a last-ditch fundraising appeal.

After a sale last summer, it was feared that the set of ten ink and watercolour works would leave the country for the first time since they were hand-drawn in 1589. The Spanish Armada set sail for England in May the previous year, intent on invasion. But the English navy destroyed their opponent, despite being half as large.

One of the ten maps in the collection, depicting an engagement between the two fleets off the Isle of Wight, 2-3 August 1588. Image: National Museum of the Royal Navy.
One of the maps in the collection, depicting an engagement between the two fleets off the Isle of Wight, 2-3 August 1588. Image: National Museum of the Royal Navy.

The clash was the culmination of years of tension between the two countries, and part of a wider pan-European struggle between the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-Reformation, as well as rival imperial powers. The Spanish defeat shattered any prospect of a restoration of Catholicism in Britain by foreign invasion.

The maps depict in detail the positions of the different battles, as well as of individual ships on both sides. Although they are of unknown origin, the maps are believed to have been based on a set of engravings from the same year by Elizabethan cartographer Robert Adams.

The maps were sold to an overseas buyer in July 2020, but the British government imposed an export ban and called for a museum or institution to raise the funds to purchase them.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy took up the challenge, subsequently raising £600,000. This included public donations, as well as grants of £212,800 from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and another of £200,000 from the Art Fund.

Commenting on the campaign, Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said: ‘I am incredibly proud that we have made sure that the Armada Maps have been saved for generations to come.’

The museum now wishes to put the maps on display, and has long term hopes for a nationwide tour.

This is an article from the April/May 2021 issue of Military History Matters. To find out more about the magazine and how to subscribe, click here.


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