Naval History

Campaign Launched To Save Spanish Armada Maps From Being Sold Overseas

The maps tell the story of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the origins of England’s naval power.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN) has launched a campaign to stop a rare collection of Spanish Armada maps from being sold overseas.

The 10 hand-drawn diagrams tell the story of the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the origins of England’s naval power.

In 1588, the outnumbered English fleet managed to outmanoeuvre and fight off around 130 Spanish ships in the Channel as they attempted to invade.

Although the ink and watercolour maps are undated, they are thought to have been drawn in the Netherlands shortly after the battle and were then used as models for tapestries that hung in the House of Lords for nearly 250 years.

Andrew Baines, deputy executive director of museum operations at the Portsmouth-based NMRN, told Forces News: "These are really important documents about the Armada."

He added: "It's a big part of British history – it speaks to us and where we've come from as a nation.

"Britain, the UK, doesn't exist at this time - it's England - we're a relatively small power on the fringes of Europe and this is a real turning point and it's the start of the [Royal] Navy."

The Astor Armada Drawings are the first visual representations of the defeat of the Spanish Armada (Picture: NMRN).

Earlier this year, the maps were sold for £600,000, but culture minister Caroline Dinenage has imposed an export ban on them while a last-ditch campaign is mounted to keep them in Britain.

The NMRN has pledged £100,000 towards their purchase and is hoping to fundraise the remaining money so they can put them on public display for the first time.

Mr Baines said: "It's incredibly difficult to raise money at the moment with everything else that's going on but we think it's really important to try.

"We're working with partners, we're looking for funding elsewhere but we also need support from the British public to do our best to hit that deadline."

The decision on the export licence application for the drawings has been deferred until 9 January 2021.

Andrew Lambert, Laughton 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."

Cover image: One of the maps that chart the defeat of the Spanish Armada (Picture: NMRN).