Richard Bowdler S...
Commemorating the quincentenary of Henry VIII’s accession.
This historic map of Britain, ‘Angliae Figura’, hung on the walls of Hampton Court Palace, where its owner, King Henry VIII, would have consulted it frequently. Now a treasure of the British Library, it is the most important manuscript map of Britain created during Henry’s reign. Highly significant to the King, the map is now available to own in facsimile. It is accompanied by a specially commissioned commentary volume by Peter Barber.
At the end of the 1530s the Lord High Admiral noted that Henry VIII had become ‘marvellously inflamed’ by a new map. The ‘Angliae Figura’ had recently been presented to the King as a New Year’s gift in 1537 by the Archdeacon of Rochester. Now housed in the British Library, this beautiful artefact has become one of the most famous representations of Henry’s realm.
Henry was the first English monarch fully to realise the potential of maps as practical instruments of government. The ‘Angliae Figura’ was both lavish and useful. Made from a single piece of vellum, it contains eight pinholes around its edges, suggesting that it was attached to a board. It was probably protected by curtains, which accounts for its pristine state. Containing the latest cartographical advances, it would have looked strikingly modern to its 16th-century viewers. The accuracy and detail of this map would have made it invaluable to Henry in implementing his policies, both foreign and domestic.
‘Angliae Figura’ was the most realistic depiction of Britain to date. The positioning of towns along the east coast of England, from Rye to Berwick-upon-Tweed, is correct, and there are 633 place names, more than any map hitherto. No border is shown between Wales and England, reflecting the recent Acts of Union.
The title panel is shaped like a royal coat of arms, denoting the map’s purpose as a portrait of Henry’s realm. Given that the map includes Scotland and northern France, this was a bold statement of political ambition in the late 1530s, as Henry sought to deal with his troublesome neighbours. As Peter Barber notes in the Commentary, ‘Angliae Figura’ is ‘not merely a geographical statement ... it is a visualisation of Henry VIII’s own view of his empire.
The full significance of ‘Angliae Figura’ is explored in a specially commissioned Commentary volume by Peter Barber, Head of Map Collections at the British Library. Tracing the development of Henry’s interest in cartography, Barber shows how ‘Angliae Figura’ reflects the King’s preoccupations and ambitions. The Commentary also provides an overview of the complete history of the mapping of Britain from classical antiquity to Tudor times. At 160 pages, with 48 integrated colour pictures, it is a handsome volume and a substantial work of scholarship in its own right.
In this limited edition the map is reproduced in facsimile at its actual size, tied with a silk ribbon and presented in a buckram covered box lined in fabric. The image is printed on both sides of Neobond – a remarkable material which looks and feels like vellum and which lies flat when unrolled.
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