Spanish Armada maps saved from export to the US after hurried funds drive

The maps date back to 1589 and remain the earliest surviving representations of naval battles. 

A rare collection of 10 maps that depict the defeat of the Spanish empire were salvaged before being sold overseas. This was part of an urgent fundraising campaign led by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.  

The maps date back to 1589 and remain the earliest surviving representations of naval battles. Since they were drawn, the maps haven’t left the United Kingdom. An export bar was imposed in July on the 10 hand-drawn maps that depict the famous battle of 1588. 

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"The Spanish Armada set sail for England in the summer of 1588"

It is likely that the maps were drawn by a draughtsman from the Netherlands and are based on a similar set of engravings within the same year by Robert Adams, an Elizabethan cartographer. The Spanish Armada set sail for England in the summer of 1588 after continued hostility between Spanish King Philip II who was a catholic and the Protestant Queen Elizabeth I. England’s 66 ship fleet completely defeated the Spanish Armada which was twice its size by raming fire ships into its formation off Calais. the flagship Ark Royal was a large and powerful galleon that led the naval assault on the Spaniards. 

The maps were being sold by the Astor family that includes Samantha Cameron, (William Waldorf Astor III’s stepdaughter). The name of the buyer still remains anonymous. It is not uncommon for the UK to occasionally place restrictions on important pieces of cultural interest. 

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To prevent sales abroad, the university in Portsmouth raised £600,000 in a record 8 weeks through public donations and grants worth £212,800 written to the National Heritage Memorial Fund and £200,000 from the Art Fund. The rest of the funds came from over 400 individual donors. 

The Evening Express reported that the Director-General of the Museum Professor Dominic Tweddle described 2020 as “an exceptionally tough year” but remained proud that the Armada maps were saved for future generations. 

According to a museum spokesman, the 10 ink and watercolor armada maps stand out as a “defining moment” in England’s national and naval history. He pointed out in real-time the navy defending English shores against invasion by Spain which was the 16th century’s superpower. The events marked a turning point that forged England’s complex identity as it developed into the modern age. The maps also revered for their symbolism and their naval protection role. 

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Caroline Dinenage, the Culture Minister was behind the overseas sales ban of the maps which will last till January, describing them as “an important piece of British heritage”. She defended the export ban and expressed pleasure in their going on display to educate and inspire future generations. 

Sarah Philp, the director of programme and policy for Art Fund, expressed pleasure in saving these “irreplaceable maps” that evoke iconic events in the history of England yet reflect on the influence of history on the present day. The National Museum of the Royal Navy has begun a new fundraising drive to place the maps on display when it reopens after the lockdown.