Charting the Development of Portsmouth Harbour, Dockyard and Town in the Tudor Period

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    Charting the Development of Portsmouth Harbour,Dockyard and Town in the Tudor Period

    Dominic Fontana

    Published online: 23 October 2013 Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

    Abstract Portsmouth was crucial to the defence of Tudor England and consequently itwas mapped for military planning purposes throughout the Tudor period from 1545. The

    resulting sequence of maps records much of the town and harbour. The maps offer

    opportunities for furthering our understanding of Tudor Portsmouth and its population

    Additionally, images of the urban landscape provided by the Cowdray Engraving, which

    depicts the loss of Henry VIIIs warship Mary Rose on the 19th July 1545, may also be

    considered and compared with those presented in the early maps of the town. This paper

    considers the Portsmouth maps of 1545, 1552, 1584 and the chart of Portsmouth Harbour

    dating from between 1586 and 1620. These are examined in relation to one another and

    compared with evidence from the Cowdray Engraving.

    Keywords Portsmouth Cowdray engraving Mary Rose Tudor map


    In 1509, when Henry VIII came to the throne, English maps were relatively rare objects,

    used primarily as a means of displaying encyclopaedic and historical information rather

    than for practical purposes. However, during Henrys reign it was realised that they could

    prove extremely useful for both military and urban planning purposes as well as charting

    extant buildings and fortifications as a guide in planning further urban and military


    Portsmouth was most important to the security of England as it offered a good natural

    harbour along the south coast. Conversely, it was also the ideal invasion point for an enemy

    fleet, providing sheltered anchorage for many substantial ships, and deepwater quaysides

    D. Fontana (&)Department of Geography, University of Portsmouth, Buckingham Building, Lion Terrace, PortsmouthPO1 3HE, UKe-mail:


    J Mari Arch (2013) 8:263282DOI 10.1007/s11457-013-9114-4

  • upon which to disembark speedily the very large quantities of soldiers, provisions and

    equipment required for an invasion. In 1538, when Henry VIII and England faced great

    threat of invasion from the French and Spanish, immediate steps were taken to fortify the

    whole of the south coast and in particular the vulnerable coastline around the Solent.

    Surveys were undertaken, maps were made, plans developed and the building of fortifi-

    cations undertaken, all along the coast (Harrington 2007: 6). Indeed, the coastal survey

    which resulted in the magnificent map detailing the coast from Exeter to Lands End (B.L.

    C.A. 1.i. 35, 36, 38, 39) made in 153940, was the largest single British governmental

    mapping initiative before the 19th century (Barber 2009: 216). Similarly, there are also

    the maps showing the coast from Poole to Portland and Lyme Regis (B.L. C.A. 1.i. 31, 33).

    Although an enormous investment in manpower and money, it has left us with a legacy of

    Tudor fortifications, and some of the maps and plans that were used for their planning and

    construction. Portsmouth itself was mapped both for Henry and his heirs. During the reigns

    of Edward VI and Elizabeth I, threats from abroad continued and consequently further

    maps were made and plans drawn up for the repair and re-fortification of the towns


    This paper considers the Portsmouth maps of 1545, 1552, 1584 (1545, British Library,

    Cotton Augustus I.i.81; 1552, British Library, Cotton Augustus I.ii.15 and 1584, British

    Library, Cotton Augustus I.ii.117) and the UK Hydrographic Office (UKHO) chart of

    Portsmouth Harbour dating from between 1586 and 1620 (UKHO chart D623). These are

    examined in relation to one another and compared with the Cowdray Engraving, an

    engraved copy of a Tudor wall painting of the battle scene off Portsmouth on the 19th of

    July 1545, during the invasion attempt by Francois I of France. This action is mostly

    remembered for the loss of Mary Rose. Although a significant event in itself, this was only

    a part of the overall military and naval conflict, which occurred on the Isle of Wight, in the

    Solent and the English Channel. The Cowdray image has proven to be topographically

    accurate and contains a great deal of pictorial information about both Portsmouth and its

    defences (Fontana and Hildred 2011). Viewed together, the maps and the engraving pro-

    vide a rich source of information for the study of the defence and urban development of

    Tudor Portsmouth and provide an unparalleled view on aspects of Tudor life at all levels of


    It is not possible here to illustrate adequately much of the map based material discussed

    in this paper as there is too much to reproduce in print and it would be difficult to provide

    sufficient detail within printed images. However, with the exception of the 1584 map of

    Portsmouth, the maps from the British Library collection are available online where they

    are presented in colour and can be zoomed into by the user so that the detail of the maps

    can be explored. Consequently, the available space in this paper has been used for illus-

    trations from the Cowdray Engraving and the UK Hydrographic Office chart D623.

    The Cowdray engraving (Size: 222 3 69 in.)

    The Cowdray Engraving is an important historic image depicting the French attempt to

    invade England in July 1545 and shows the loss of King Henry VIIIs warship, Mary Rose

    (Fig. 1). The full title of the engraving is The Encampment of the English forces near

    Portsmouth, Together with a view of the English and French fleets at commencement of

    the action between them on the XIXth July MDXLV. The engraving was published in

    1778, although the original painting from which it was derived was created shortly after the

    events shown, probably by May 1548 (Nurse 2012). The copy consulted for this paper is in

    264 J Mari Arch (2013) 8:263282


  • a private collection and by kind permission of the owner the author is in possession of a

    high-resolution digital scan of the image, which enables the easy viewing of the picture at

    close quarters.

    The image presents a birds-eye panoramic view looking from north to south across the

    southern part of Portsea Island towards the Solent and to the Isle of Wight beyond. On the

    left-hand side of the image is the French invasion fleet shown as a mass of ships in St

    Helens Roads, off Bembridge Harbour, around the eastern end of the Isle of Wight. In the

    central upper right-hand area of the image are the ships of the English fleet, which are

    occupying the anchorage of Spithead and are set ready to oppose the French invasion. The

    town of Portsmouth is shown in the lower right-hand side and Southsea Castle is the large

    building in the centre of the image. Just above Southsea Castle are the mast-tops of the

    recently sunken Mary Rose, surrounded by a number of small boats attempting to rescue

    some of her crew.

    This picture is just one image derived from a set of five large wall paintings which once

    decorated the dining hall at Cowdray house in Midhurst, Sussex. They were probably

    painted for Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Kings Horse, between 1545 and 1548. The

    identity of the artist is unknown. Browne inherited Cowdray from his half-brother in 1543

    and it remained one of his principal residences until his death in 1548. Sir Anthony is

    shown prominently in the centre of the Portsmouth image riding a white horse following

    immediately behind King Henry VIII, who is also mounted. Next to Browne is Sir Charles

    Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk, commanding the English land forces at Portsmouth (Ayloffe


    The image, as we have it today, is in the form of a printed reproduction from hand-

    engraved copper printing plates. These were commissioned by the Society of Antiquaries

    of London in the 1770 s. Although it has been reduced to about one-third of the size of the

    original wall painting, the reproduction is still very large at over 2 m wide and, as a result it

    had to be engraved onto two separate copperplates which were, in turn, printed onto two

    sheets of extra large paper called Antiquarian (Nurse 2007: 144). The reproduction of

    such a large and detailed image required the creation of special paper by James Whatman

    who specifically invented equipment to manufacture sheets of the required size (Nurse

    2007: 155). The engravings themselves were made by James Basire of Great Queen Street,

    London. Basire specialised in antiquarian subjects and used a painstaking, carefully drawn

    and, even for the time, rather old fashioned style of engraving (Ackroyd 1995: 35).

    Although there is no direct documentary evidence, William Blake, painter and poet, is

    Fig. 1 The whole of the Cowdray Engraving showing the battle in the Solent off Portsmouth on 19th July1545. The ships on the left are the French fleet with the English ships in the centre and to the right of thepicture. The land in the top of the image is the Isle of Wight and the southern shore of Portsmouth is at thebottom. The sea in the middle is Spithead and the Solent (private collection, used by permission)

    J Mari Arch (2013) 8:263282 265


  • likely to have been involved in the engraving of the image. He was apprenticed as an

    engraver to Basire in 1772, living in Basires household until 1778, the year in which the

    engraving was completed and published. The engraving of the image was a major com-

    mission and took 2 years to complete, causing some difficulties for the Society of Anti-

    quaries because of the expense involved (Nurse 2007:156). However, it is fortuitous that

    the Antiquaries continued with the reproduction of the pictures because on the 24th

    September, 1793, Cowdray House was largely destroyed by fire (Hope 1919) and the

    original wall paintings were lost.

    The Antiquaries distributed black-and-white copies of the engraving to members of the

    Society and a number of these copies still survive. The copy used for this project has been

    coloured by hand, probably using watercolour paints, and it is likely that this colouring was

    done shortly after the initial distribution of the prints to the members of the Society in the

    late 1770 s. It is not known if the colours used were chosen with reference to the original

    wall painting, but this seems unlikely. There is one other coloured copy of the engraving

    still known to exist, also in private hands. The colours used in the second known version of

    the engraving are significantly different to the copy used here and are somewhat brighter.

    A written description of the original painting was made by Sir Joseph Ayloffe (Ayloffe

    1775). Ayloffe considered the painting to be an accurate representation of the scene and

    was fulsome in his praise. is evidently handled with the greatest attention to truth; all isregular, circumstantial, and intelligible, nothing misrepresented, disguised, or confused.

    He also made a few notes about the colours that had been used in the original painting.

    Therefore, the image content remains available to us in the form of the engraving although

    the colouring of the copy used for this study must be treated with some care as it is unlikely

    to have been derived from the original wall painting.

    Within the illustration, there is considerable amount of identifiable topographical detail

    evident. Several English ships are shown passing through Portsmouth Harbours narrow

    entrance on their way to join the rest of the English fleet at Spithead. Some of the English

    ships are using the Swashway, a shallow channel which cuts southward across Spitbank

    adjacent to the harbour entrance, providing a slightly shorter route to Spithead. This

    underwater landscape feature is very clearly depicted in the United Kingdom Hydrographic

    Office chart D623. Consequently, we can be reasonably certain of the late Tudor seabed

    topography and from the map discern that it was very similar to the modern configuration.

    The shape of Spitbank has a significant effect on the tidal currents which, in turn, directly

    affect the navigational access to Portsmouth Harbour. Today, the Isle of Wight ferries, with

    their relatively shallow draught, use this route across the Solent at almost all states of the

    tide as they ply between the island and Portsmouth. These vessels are equipped with

    modern engines and steering systems, so they are more able to cope with the powerful tidal

    currents running through the harbour entrance caused by the ebb and flow of the tidal

    cycle. Sailing vessels without motor power are severely constrained by these currents and

    must adhere to tightly defined tidal time windows to enter or leave Portsmouth Harbour.

    This natural phenomenon is crucial in the planning and development of effective harbour

    defences. The location of the underwater sandbanks and navigable channel ensured all

    vessels entering the harbour would need to sail close to the southern shore of Portsea

    Island, from Southsea Castle to the Round Tower and consequently, the defence of the

    harbour required that enough guns of sufficient range and destructive capability were

    positioned in batteries along the shore and on either side of the harbours entrance and this

    is exactly the situation depicted in the Cowdray Engraving with guns mounted at Southsea

    Castle and along Portsmouths defensive walls from the Greene Bulwark at the southeast

    corner of the town to the Round Tower by the harbour entrance.

    266 J Mari Arch (2013) 8:263282


  • The Cowdray image also shows many identifiable features of the built environment of

    Portsmouth, Gosport and the Isle of Wight. On the Portsmouth side of the harbour entrance

    is the Round Tower, a circular stone structure dating from the 153040 s which probably

    replaced an earlier tower on the same site. On the Gosport shore opposite the Round Tower

    is Fort Blockhouse. Adjacent to the Round Tower is the capstan for raising a defensive

    boom chain, which could be drawn across the harbour entrance suspended beneath a series

    of small boats roped together. This would close the harbour to shipping, or at the very least

    significantly hinder entry for enemy vessels delaying them in a location close to the

    defending guns mounted in the Round Tower and at Fort Blockhouse. The chain is also

    shown on the 1584 map of Portsmouth fortifications and referred to in John Lelands

    Itinerary (written c. 153543). Williams (1979: 11) suggests that the chain was not

    available for the 1545 battle, which could explain why the capstan is shown in the

    Cowdray Engraving, but the chain itself is not and that the figure standing next to the

    capstan is making an almost forlorn gesture towards it.

    Also identifiable are the Square Tower, originating as a wood and earth structure around

    c. 1495 and rebuilt of stone during Henry VIIIs reign. Other structures clearly shown in

    the picture include in the southeast corner of Portsmouth the Saluting Platform, Long

    Curtain and what was then known as the Greene Bulwark and this still extant structure is

    now called the Kings Bastion. Further east along the Southsea shoreline the...


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