National Museum of the Royal Navy launches campaign to keep ‘Armada maps’ in the UK

Museum needs a further £500,000 to buy the rare 16th-century drawings
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Jonathan Knott
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One of the drawings the NMRN wants to acquire
One of the drawings the NMRN wants to acquire National Museum of the Royal Navy

The National Museum of the Royal Navy has begun a fundraising campaign to prevent the export of ten hand-drawn maps, which are the first visual representations of England’s defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

The ink and watercolour drawings were sold to an overseas buyer earlier this year for £600,000, but an export bar was imposed by culture minister Caroline Dinenage in July.

The NMRN is now seeking to raise the funds to buy the maps, which it says are important to understanding England’s development as a naval power.

The museum has set aside £100,000 from the annual purchase grant it receives from the Royal Navy, enabling the export ban to be extended until January 2021. It has applied to funders such as the National Lottery for support with the remaining £500,000, but is also appealing to “all those who care about the creation of England’s complex identity as it developed into the modern age”.

The NMRN says the defeat of the Armada was “the turning point at which England, and shortly afterwards Britain as a whole, launched itself as a major naval power that was the foundation for an empire that stretched around the globe”.

The reviewing committee on the export of works of art and objects of cultural interest recommended an export bar “on the grounds of the drawing’s outstanding significance for the study of the Armada story on British history and identity and how it affected marine depictions”.

Andrew Lambert, a professor of naval history at King’s College London, said: “Not only were these maps critical to the first attempt to record and publish English naval history as part of the national story, but they have influenced every subsequent account of the Armada campaign, in text, charts and tapestry”.

Committee member Peter Barber said “their importance in the creation of England’s historic self- image cannot be exaggerated”.

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It is thought that the drawings were made in the Netherlands shortly after the battle in 1588. Their creator is unknown, but they are believed to be based on drawings by the eminent Elizabethan cartographer Robert Adams, who was surveyor of the Queen’s works.

Adams’ drawings were used to inform engravings in 1590 by Augustine Ryther, which became the defining representation of the battle and were used as a model for tapestries that hung in the House of Lords for 250 years.

Dominic Tweddle, the director general of the NMRN, said: “The Armada maps represent a defining moment in England’s naval history and speak directly to our identity as an island nation. They depict a navy and country that defended our shores against a world superpower and are a milestone in the story of England.”

He said that while loss of income due to Covid-19 had made this year “incredibly tough” for the museum, “when we learned that the maps could be lost abroad into private hands we decided we were honour bound to step in and lead the fight to save them for the nation”.

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