Lost Maps of the Spanish Armada

November 2020

Ten hand-drawn maps of the Spanish Armada have surfaced in London and been brought by a private collector. An export ban has been imposed by the British Government in the hopes that £600,000 can be raised to keep these maps in a British institution. The maps are the only contemporary depiction of the battle. Dr Sam Willis speaks to Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy about why these maps are so important to British history and the forging of a British national identity.

 

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    Sam Willis

    From the Society for Nautical Research, I’m Sam Willis, and this is The Mariners Mirror Podcast, the world’s number one podcast dedicated to all of maritime history. It’s Saturday, the 14th of November. This continues our series of excerpts from the logbook of the Whaler Swan of Hull, from 1836, she’s trapped in the ice in the Davis Strait between Baffin Island and the west coast of Greenland. It’s been a dull week. It’s very dark most of the time, and conditions are worsening.

    Whaler Swan

    Tuesday 8th November, calm. The sun being only half an hour above the horizon and her meridian altitude only eight miles. PM two foxes close under the ship stern, shot one of them, with a fine brown colour from the taffrails. Thursday 10th November 1836. North-eastern light winds this day, replenished the oil cask from the ship’s cargo with same quantity of neat oil as before: 22 gallons. At noon, the upper limb of the sun was just perceptible above the horizon. This day ending with clear weather. The landing site thermometer minus 10 degrees. Saturday 12th November, eastern light breezes the whole of this day. A 240-gallon cask cut up for firewood number 41. 7 pm saw two foxes under the ship’s stern but owing to it being dark the guns did not take effect. Thermometer five below zero. Sunday 13th of November, northeaster light breezes with fine clear weather the fore part of this day. 7 pm strong northerly gales. Divine service between decks this day as usual. Thermometer 15 degrees below zero.

    Sam Willis

    Measurements taken today in the exact location where the Swan was beset show that the ice finally has begun to appear, and it’s well behind the average measured between 1981 and 2010. By now the Swan had already been trapped there for a month. Looking back through her log, we can see exactly when the ship was first beset and how dreadful that news was. Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of the Mariners Mirror Podcast, this week we have a fascinating but also a troubling topic. News has reached us that 10, yes 10, magnificent and contemporary hand-drawn maps of the Spanish Armada campaign of 1588 have surfaced in the hands of a London dealer and have been sold to a private collection. Now the British Culture Minister has placed an export ban on these images, which depict the greatest naval battle of the early modern period. The drawings were completed by an unknown draftsman, possibly from the Netherlands, and are un-dated. Though they are thought to be from the years immediately after the battle. It’s impossible to overstate the importance of these maps. They are the only surviving contemporary drawings of this battle, that was so instrumental in shaping the modern world. To find out more, I’m talking to Professor Dominic Tweddle. He is the Director-General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. Hi, Dominic.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Hi, Sam.

    Sam Willis

    Now, tell me about these maps; they sound absolutely fascinating.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, they’re a set of 10 maps. And what they do is they tell the story of the Armada from its first sighting, off Cornwall, or Plymouth actually, right through to the Battle of Gravelines. So, day by day, sometimes two days on a single map, they’re telling this story, rather like a strip cartoon.

    Sam Willis

    Ah, yeah. And they’re beautifully, beautifully illustrated aren’t they, the detail of these are amazing.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    They are lovely; they’re astonishing. I thought they were just going to be quite simple things, but actually, when you focus in on them, there’s all sorts of detail, like people throwing themselves off burning ships, and you think ‘Oh, that squiggle is a bloke, actually!’

    Sam Willis

    Yeah. It’s that kind of detail that makes you, kind of convinces you that he’s, the artist, has been talking to someone who’s actually found out particular accounts of events that he wants to fit in.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Absolutely. So,  they’re astonishing. And of course, they sit next to the written record. Some slight variations from Lord Howard of Effingham’s account, but not very many, and that’s what is quite interesting about them.

    Sam Willis

    Where have they come from?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, they actually have been kicking around since the 17th century, they very unusually have a long provenance; of course, we’re worried about that kind of thing, in case somebody painted them in an attic last week; they didn’t, it’s ok. So, they have a long provenance back to the 17th century. They were bought by William Waldorf Astor in the mid-19th century, and they’ve been in his family ever since. I don’t suppose they thought very much about them until they sold them recently.

    Sam Willis

    So, the situation is that they’ve been sold to a private collector, but there’s a chance for money to be raised to keep them in the UK. Is that is that correct?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Yeah. So, there was sold by whoever sold them, and we don’t know who, to a book dealer in London, who then sold them on to a private collector, perfectly reasonable. They were then what is called export barred, so the Export Reviewing Committee, which would have to look at giving them a license to leave the country, decided they shouldn’t be allowed to leave the country without a British institution having a chance to buy them.

    Sam Willis

    Okay, so how much money needs to be raised? And how much has been raised so far?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, we need to raise £600,000, which if you say it fast is not so daunting. We’ve raised £171,000 so far. So, I’m a glass half full man, so we’re nearly halfway there.

    Sam Willis

    Bearing in mind, there are 10 of them. I mean, actually kind of reduces the price down a little bit for each one, doesn’t it if we think about it like that!

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Personally, I think they’re a bargain. So 600,000, I think is achievable, and I think our next step is now to ask the Art Fund, and the National Heritage Memorial Fund, if they will help. That’s the kind of thing they do. That’s what they’re there for.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah. But there’s also the chance of, you know, the public being able to donate generously, should they so wish?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Absolutely. A lot of the money that we’ve got so far, well, £71,000 of it, has come from public donations, and every penny counts. It’s great, you know, there’s a fiver or a tenner, or whatever, it all goes into this wonderful campaign.

    Sam Willis

    Let’s talk about the charts a bit more. Why are they so important?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, in the modern world, it’s really true that a picture is worth a thousand words. In fact, it’s worth rather than more than a thousand words as we become more digital and more image savvy. And although you can read the account of the Armada, and there are various quite good accounts of it, contemporary, they don’t quite grab you in the same way that these maps do. And these maps are probably highly contemporary. We can’t say that they were made just after the Armada was defeated. But it isn’t very long after if they were made afterwards; they probably were. So, it just sets it out for you, and it really grabs you in a way that the words don’t.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah, it’s a real window into one of the most important campaigns in English history. I suppose that’s part of the importance isn’t it, linking it to this broader story?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    It is. Clearly, we have to think a little bit about the Armada. And I think it is the point at which England, and it is England at that particular point or England and Wales in fact, and suddenly looks at itself and says, ‘Crikey, we’re a world power, we’re a world naval power’, and I genuinely think that’s the turning point. You know, you wake up one morning and think you’ve defeated the world’s premier naval power, the global superpower, and good grief, we must, there must be something going for us. God was on our side, obviously, was the message at the time?

    Sam Willis

    I mean, I think one of the most impactful things about it is seeing the scale of the fleet’s involved, which you can’t kind of get your head round it unless they’ve, like put visually in front of you. And here you have this image of the English Channel with enormous fleets, they’re like, birds almost aren’t they, kind of flying up?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    They are enormous. We tend to think of the Spanish fleet is enormous. And then the English fleet, as a few plucky ships going out there to confront them. Actually, no; over 130 English ships chasing the Armada up the channel. And so there were these huge engagements. You can speculate how effective the gunfire was, and all that kind of thing, but there are these huge ship to ship engagements. Fleet to fleet engagements running up the channel over 10 days.

    Sam Willis

    It was 130 ships. If you think there are twenty-seven at the Battle of Trafalgar, so a 130. And you know, visually, seeing how he’s picked them out is wonderful. But what do we know about the man who actually made these maps?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    The thing is, we don’t know who made them. What we do know is there’s a set of engravings which appear to be based on them made by a pair of people called Adams and Ryder, and they were published. But they’re at a slightly smaller scale, and so they got less impact because the fleets had become less prominent. And frankly, Queen Elizabeth’s coat of arms has become a great deal more prominent, which we could have well done without really, but I’m sure that’s the right message at the time. So, we don’t know who actually made them. But what we do know is that one of the maps has a Flemish inscription along the lower margin. And we can see that inscriptions have been removed from other examples of the maps. So, they’re clearly made by a Fleming, not surprising, because they were the best map makers of the period.

    Sam Willis

    We think they were the foundation for these amazing tapestries which used to hang in the House of Lords; they were sort of an influence upon those, is that correct?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    They probably were. The tapestries were a great loss, slightly singed when the House of Lords burned down, and completely lost. But there are engravings of the tapestries surviving, 18th-century engravings, indeed, we have a set in our collection. And it’s interesting to compare the two, they’re clearly one source that went into those tapestries. They too were made for Lord Howard of Effingham.

    Sam Willis

    There’s this clear and fascinating link between visual representations of the Armada, and I’ve seen some images of the 17th century with people sitting in the House of Lords with these enormous tapestries behind them, and they were there for 250 years.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Yes, perhaps more interesting than many of the Lord’s debates really.

    Sam Willis

    Everyone just staring at them absorbing maritime history.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Yes, exactly; ‘What is Joe Bloggs going on about? Well, these maps, these tapestries, are much more interesting’, I would be with them. But yes, they were an important part of the kind of iconography of the state, until their loss.

    Sam Willis

    And so, these maps that we’re talking about, they’re almost like the sort of the first rung of the ladder, aren’t they of anyone attempting to visualize the Armada, and what happened there? In what way do you think those images influenced the way that we think about the Armada?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    It’s a really interesting question. I think that we kind of have, ‘Do many people think about the Armada these days?’ would be my first question. We all know about it.

    Sam Willis

    That’s a very good point; we know about it, but do we think about it?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    I’m not sure that we think about it. If we think about it at all, we just think of the big-ticket items: there’s the bullies from Spain, the plucky English fighting them off, the storm which scattered the ships, the fire ships, all that kind of stuff, we kind of know about. I think this gives you something, what the images do, is give you something of a sense of how long the fight took, this was a ten-day battle. How carefully and well it was orchestrated both by the Spanish and the English. The Spanish kept their formation together right the way up the channel, which was a formidable achievement. And the English managed to get behind them and push them through the channel, so it never had the opportunity to land, the Isle of Wight would have been a good place in retrospect. And that actually is quite impressive, really quite impressive. And I don’t think you get the sense of that from any other documents.

    Sam Willis

    And in terms of sort of England’s complex identity, which is kind of manifested through so many years of difficult history, it fits into that as well, I think. That this sense of being invaded and defending against invasion, it kind of creates an idea of an island nation just looking at these images.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Oh, it certainly does. You know, we are threatened from overseas and that has played out really ever since, you know invasion might happen at any minute. And of course, in retrospect, we say of course the Spanish had no chance. I don’t think that was the case actually. I think they had a pretty good chance, an overcomplicated plan, one might think, but they had a pretty good chance. And I think we felt invulnerable to some degree ever since, you know, ‘we will fight off the ghastly foreigners’, very curious. But that has fed into the nation’s psyche, I think.

    Sam Willis

    Why do you think it’s so important that these are brought into public ownership and put on public display?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, I think there are very few moments at which you can say, ‘this happened, and it has such a huge consequence’. If you think about it, if Elizabeth had lost this country would have been become Catholic, she might even have been overthrown and replaced, and we would have a very different history. And I think it also, this is so embedded in the psyche of the nation, and I’m talking not just about England, but Wales, Tudors were half Welsh, and then later incorporated into a British identity, I think that such a moment ought to be properly reflected for the public in Britain to see and experience and to share in.

    Sam Willis

    Do you think more generally that private collectors should allow scholars and students access to their collections?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    I think many private collectors do. I think many private collectors lend on a fairly substantive scale to museums such as ours, and we’re very grateful to them for doing it. It’s always an interesting balance to strike isn’t it, the rights of private individuals and their right to private property, which is very powerful in British law, English law, and then the rights of the nation to have access to the key documents in its history. We’re never going to solve this on a single podcast, but it’s a really interesting debate, isn’t it?

    Sam Willis

    Have you had to work with an export banned item before? Or is this the first time you’ve come across it?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    No, this is the first time for us. It’s a well-known procedure for all museums. It’s the case that it’s the more expensive items usually that are export banned or export barred. And it’s always a struggle to raise the money. So, you’ve got to be very careful about which things you think you can support and achieve and which things you think ‘no, that’s not for us’.

    Sam Willis

    It’s reassuring that such a thing even exists, I’m slightly interested in the history of export bans; do we know when they were introduced?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    I probably should know, but if I knew I’d forgotten. But they’re relatively recent. There are certain criteria which are laid out for objects to actually be export barred; it’s not anything the committee thinks is wonderful. There are certain criteria, called the Waverley Criteria, which have to be met, which go to the importance of the object in terms of its association with Britain. And then the committee has the difficult job of sitting down and saying ‘well, we think we should export ban something and try and get a British institution to raise the money’.

    Sam Willis

    How would these maps fit in with your broader collection at the National Museum of the Royal Navy?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, we tell a long story of the Royal Navy from whenever you think it begins, and there’s, my God, there’s a literature on that one, right through to the present day. And actually, with a look through to the future, where is the Navy going? So, it fits in with our broad narrative. I think we’ve given insufficient attention to the early part of that narrative, partly because Mary Rose sits across the dockyard, and tells the story of at least the navy of Henry the VIII so well. But there’s more to the Tudor navy than just that story, as important as it is. So, I think we need to do more. And actually, one of the things that we have in the collection is the bell of the Ark Royal, formerly the Ark Raleigh, which of course was the flagship of the English fleet during the Armada campaign, and very splendid it is, but it hasn’t been on display for some time.

    Sam Willis

    It must be so exciting to have your job and then to decide on the strategy and the directions of the museum. Do you have a great deal of material that’s not been on display for a long time? Or how does your focus on what gets shown to the public move?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Yes, like all museums we have rather more than we would like which is in store, but then we collect things for various reasons, some of which is because they will be interesting to the public and some of which because their scholarly, their scholarly interest, and actually a collection of 8000 buttons from the Royal Marines is going to bore the backside off most people, including me, and we wouldn’t, the public probably can be spared them. But within that, there are things that actually we ought to be displaying and are not, and that’s partly because we don’t have the space. So, you’ve got a Gallery Development Program which is allowing us to bring more material onto display. And we’re taking more material also to our other museums in Hartlepool, Fleet Air Arm and in Belfast.

    Sam Willis

    And we’re talking today, just as the second lockdown has been imposed, how are you guys coping with with with COVID?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    I think the second lockdown, we’re ok. The first lockdown was a bit scary because we lost 81% of our income overnight because we rely to a great degree on admissions in town. That meant that we had to furlough most of our people; I think we were down to a handful of people. And we had to find some money to fill the gap in a tearing hurry. And to be fair, the Navy, which we serve, came through strongly there and found the money for us. But you still have to go through some ghastly process with the Navy and then with the Treasury to get it all approved, you think ‘God, will this never end’. But it did. And the result was positive.

    Sam Willis

    And how can the public help rather than, other than just waiting to come and to march around your wonderful museum when the gates open again?

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Well, the public can help in a number of ways: they can donate to campaigns, like the Armada maps (really, really important that we have public support), they can buy tickets online (yes, you can’t come at the minute but you can buy a ticket and then the minute you come through the dockyard gate, if you buy an all attraction ticket, it will be valid for three years, you haven’t lost anything by buying it now), and some people during the campaign, during the closure, simply sent us a cheque, which was very welcome, and all of these are possible ways of supporting. And all support is very welcome; museums are in the end communities. They’re not just scholars in ivory towers, especially not that I think these days, but we’re communities and we have stakeholders and people who love us and want to visit and it’s important to maintain that community through lockdown and through these difficult times.

    Sam Willis

    Yeah, well, I have to say that the National Museum of the Royal Navy is a truly wonderful place, and I wish you all the best. Listeners, if you want to find out more about these maps, do check out nmrn.org.uk/armada.maps, that’s where you can find out all about it and you can donate and any help will be hugely, hugely appreciated. Thank you very much, Dominic.

    Professor Dominic Tweddle

    Pleasure Sam, that’s great.

    Sam Willis

    Here’s what these remarkable maps show:

    Map 1, Friday 29th of July, the Armada is sited off the Lizard. The fleet consists of 138 ships and over 24,000 men. They are shown here in pre-battle formation as a circular clump. They are spotted by the Golden Hind an English scout ship. She is shown firing her warning signal towards Plymouth. Meanwhile, a Spanish ship breaks off from the Armada and captures an English fishing boat off Dogmund point.

    Map 2, 30th of July 9 am to the 31st of July, the first engagement. The Armada is now in a crescent-shaped battle formation, the vulnerable troopships in the centre, the fast warships on the wings. The English fleet is shown leaving Plymouth and following a zigzag course before regrouping to the west of the Armada. A small English ship, the Distain, is shown firing the opening shot of the battle.

    Map 3, 31st of July, the skirmish of Plymouth. The Spanish and English are shown fighting, the battle lasts some four hours. Later in the battle, a Spanish flagship becomes damaged in a collision, she’s left behind with four guard ships. Against orders, Francis Drake, in the Revenge, leaves his position in the English fleet it is shown sailing to capture her. Meanwhile, an explosion severely damages and large Spanish warship, the San Salvador. By now the Armada has lost its distinctive crescent-shaped formation.

    Map 4, Sunday 31st of July to Monday 1st of August, the capture of the Rosario, the Armada is pursued east. Drake is left behind as he captures the Rosario, debris from the damaged Spanish ships floats in the sea to the bottom of the chart. The Armada regains its formation and is pursued by the English eastwards.

    Map 5, 1st of August to the 2nd of August, the capture of the San Salvador and the engagement near Portland Bill. The San Salvador is now burning freely, and she is set adrift, captured by the English. Reinforcements from various ports in England, including Dartmouth, Torbay, and Exmouth, are shown sailing out to join the English fleet. Battle is re-joined off Portland in two separate combats.

    Map 6, Tuesday 2nd of August to Wednesday 3rd of August, engagement of the fleets between Portland Bill and the Isle of Wight. The battle rages off Portland Bill, the English fleet is split with a small group attacking the right flank of the Armada. The following day, the Armada once again retains its crescent formation. The English split into four distinct squadrons to make it easier to respond with speed.

    Map 7, Thursday the 4th of August, the battle off the Isle of Wight. The English launch a new attack, but the light winds and calm sea forced them to use rowing boats to pull their ships towards the Spanish. Drake harasses the southern wing trying to drive the Spanish northwards into dangerous and shallow waters.

    Map 8, Friday 5th of August to Saturday, the 6th of August, the pursuit to Calais. Battle calms now as both sides preserve ammunition and repair. The Spanish still retain their distinctive formation. More reinforcements are shown sailing from English ports. The Spanish head for Calais and anchor.

    Map 9, Sunday the 7th of August, the fireship attack. More reinforcements sail from Dover. The English wait until night and then launch eight fire ships. The Spanish raise anchor and successfully manoeuvre out of danger and we fall.

    Map 10, Monday the 8th of August, the Battle of Gravelines. One large Spanish Galleass runs aground just off Calais and is attacked. The guns of Calais fire at the English. Three Spanish ships ablaze on the ground at Dunkirk. The English fleet falls on the Spanish, focused on the flagship of the Spanish Commander Medina Sidonia. The Spanish are shown in significant distress: one ship has shown sinking, more heading towards the dangerous Flemish sandbanks, and yet the Spanish still retain their formation. It’s at this point that a sudden change in the wind direction to west southwest pushes the Armada away from the shore and out towards the North Sea, ending any chance of the Spanish fleet rendezvousing with Parma, or invading England. The Armada with almost no ammunition, severe damage and injured sailors, is now faced with a journey home around the north of Scotland and Ireland. They are harried for four more days by the English before they are left alone for their 750-mile, storm-lashed, journey in which around 40 Spanish ships were wrecked.

    Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed our podcast this week. You can find a video showing these maps on the Mariners Mirror Podcast YouTube page, it’s our first video, we’re very excited about it! Be sure to subscribe there and see everything that we’re going to produce. You can find us on Instagram on the MarinersMirrorPod, and of course, you can follow the Society for Nautical Research on Twitter @nauticalhistory, and on Facebook. Do please get in touch if you’ve got any ideas or podcasts or any exciting news to share. Thanks, guys. Bye

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