The Queen Mary Atlas book

A Folio Society limited edition

The Queen Mary Atlas

One of the most beautiful maps ever made this was commissioned by Queen Mary Tudor as a gift to her beloved husband Philip of Spain. Holding a crucial place in the history of map-making, this is a remarkable portrait of the Renaissance world.

Limited to 1,000 copies

Published price: US$ 1,495.00 US$ 1,160.00   Saving: US$ 335.00 (22%)


The Queen Mary Atlas

One of the most beautiful maps ever made this was commissioned by Queen Mary Tudor as a gift to her beloved husband Philip of Spain. Holding a crucial place in the history of map-making, this is a remarkable portrait of the Renaissance world.

Production Details

The Queen Mary Atlas book
  • Limited to 1,000 numbered copies
  • Bound in full-grain calf leather
  • Binding design by David Eccles, featuring the conjoined arms of England and Spain
  • 12 double-page maps and charts, each measuring 31" x 22½"
  • Each map mounted on a ‘guard’, so that it opens absolutely flat
  • Specially commissioned commentary volume by Peter Barber, bound in full buckram
  • Supplied in a solander box bound in buckram with inset leather spine label

A gift fit for a king

As geographical knowledge expanded rapidly during the 16th century, lavish world maps increasingly became symbols of status and power. There was no more powerful figure than Philip II of Spain, who had a voracious appetite for maps. From the moment he acceded to the Spanish throne, Philip made use of maps to rule his extensive empire, which included huge colonial dominions in the New World. His correspondence is full of acute comments on the content and accuracy of his maps and he consulted them whenever there was even the slightest geographical context to any military, political, administrative or family problem. He decorated his homes with them – even today framed maps adorn the antechamber to his private apartments in the Escorial palace.

Queen Mary, his wife and queen of England, must have been only too aware of her husband’s passion for maps. In 1555, Philip departed for the Netherlands, which his father was about to cede to him, leaving Mary languishing alone in England. In the hope that a handsome atlas would remind him of their shared dominions and perhaps also of herself, she commissioned a new atlas as a gift for him. For its production she turned to Diogo Homem, who, having fled his native Portugal following his involvement in a murder, was building a substantial reputation throughout Europe and is now acknowledged as the finest cartographer of the age.

One of the most beautiful maps ever made and a fascinating historical document

As we turn the huge pages, we see the world both as it was conceived in the fertile imaginations of the Middle Ages and as it was seen through the eyes of the seafaring explorers of the Renaissance. A prized possession of the British Library, it is without question one of the most important and remarkable manuscripts in the history of map-making.

In The Queen Mary Atlas the world is dominated by the great maritime powers of Spain and Portugal. Ships patrol the seas or do battle with rival fleets. Ornate compass roses gesture enigmatically to the East. Flags and coats of arms jostle with pictorial vignettes of major cities and natural landmarks. Islamic banners in North Africa and the Balkans cast a threatening shadow over the borders of Christian Europe. The increasing geographical knowledge of the time is permeated with myths and misconceptions; monstrous creatures swim in uncharted, non-existent waters; legendary African kings rule from the foothills of mountains. But that is part of the great beauty and charm of this remarkable manuscript.

Two extracts from Peter Barber’s commentary

South America

Map XII: South America

Mundus Novus (New World), Quarta orbis pars(Fourth Continent), America. All three names appear here, the least prominent being America. In the Amazon region (the mighty river is depicted like a snake) Indians are portrayed engaging in distinctly unsavoury activities (‘Canibales carnibus umanis'); Brazil (controlled by the Portuguese) is reduced to little more than a coastal strip, with the rest of the continent firmly Spanish, and a splendid encampment represents Pizarro's army, which subdued the Inca empire in 1534 – signs of how keen Homem was to please Philip II. Although Homem depicts the giants reportedly seen by Magellan's fleet in 1521, he marks the southern tip of the mainland Terra Incognita and the mythical Great Southern Continent is also depicted.

The Western Mediterranean

Map VI: The Western Mediterranean

Extending from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Greek Morea, the map shows Christian Europe under threat by Islam. In the bottom right off the coast of North Africa (named Mahometania) a Christian galley does battle with an Ottoman ship; in North Africa, Muslim, Spanish and Portuguese banners jostle with each other, with Spanish banners extending as far east as Tripoli (though Spanish armies never actually reached that far); in Italy Lombardy is the only region mentioned by name (probably because it was ruled by the atlas’s intended recipient), and the arms of the ruling Medici family surmount the city of Florence; in France the importance of the medieval port of Aigues Mortes is clear to see; the Sierra Nevada mountains – last stronghold of the Moors in Spain – are given more prominence than the Alps.


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Review by wjcarter on 16th Dec 2012

Text: Illustrations: Binding: Rating: 5/5

"I have numerous FS LEs but the Queen Mary Atlas is by far my favourite. A huge lucious reproduction that I can peruse for hours and dream of old times. Both superb art and visible history. Opening the..." [read more]

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