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Extremely Rare Spanish Armada Maps to be put on display for the first time in their history by the National Museum of the Royal Navy

Date published 05/06/2023
  • Once in a generation opportunity for the public to view all ten of the Armada Maps 
  • The ten hand drawn maps will be made available to the public for 45 days at the National Museum in Portsmouth Historic Dockyard this summer
  • The maps show the real-time defeat of the Spanish Armada, a defining moment in the creation of our nation’s identity and a battle that laid the foundations for Britain’s naval supremacy and domination of the seas
  • Members of the public, National Memorial Heritage Fund, Art Fund, and other funders helped raise £600,000 to stop the maps being sold abroad in 2020

The Armada Maps National Treasures exhibition is a once in a generation opportunity to view the ten incredibly rare maps that chart the defeat of the Spanish Armada in August 1588 a defining moment in the UK’s national and naval history. 

All ten maps will be displayed to the public by the National Museum of the Royal Navy for the first time in their history from Saturday 24th June to Tuesday 8th August 2023 at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy commented:

“Our job is to tell epic story of the Royal Navy, its impact on Britain, as well as the world, from the earliest times to the present day, to that end we’re delighted to display the complete Armada Maps Collection for the first time at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The defeat of the Armada was a turning point in forging our nation’s identity and the maps act as a powerful commemoration of this pivotal naval battle. The Armada Maps National Treasures exhibition is hugely significant; it is an opportunity for us to link Navy to Nation and educate future generations about the origins of the Royal Navy as a protector of an Island Nation.” 

The Armada Maps were first drawn in 1589 and are thought to be the earliest surviving representations of the campaign.  They show in real time the defence of England’s shores against invasion in the 16th century by the Spanish fleet (141 ships and 24-thousand men), dispatched with the aim of killing Queen Elizabeth I and replacing her on the throne with King Philip II of Spain. Each map details the position in the Channel of individual ships on both sides of the battle. 

Arts and Heritage Minister, Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

“The Armada Maps are incredibly rare documents from the most significant naval battle of the early modern period. I am delighted that the export bar placed on these ten hand-drawn maps allowed time for the National Museum of the Royal Navy to secure these national treasures and keep them accessible to the public. These maps chart a defining period in British history and I, like so many others, cannot wait to see them when they are placed on public display for the first time.”

Following expert guidance from world-leading conservation experts and The National Archives, the maps can only be displayed for 45 days due to their fragile nature and the dangers of exposure to light. This exhibition also explores the build up to the Armada campaign and includes an extremely rare map from May 1588 of the Spanish Armada outside Lisbon. 

The ongoing story of the Armada and its resonance throughout history is also unpacked, through later representations of the maps, especially those by engraver John Pine. Visitors can digitally engage with the maps through an on-gallery touchscreen and animation created specifically for the exhibition.

Jenny Waldman, Director, Art Fund remarked:

“These exceptional maps plotting the defeat of the Spanish Armada illustrate a defining moment of our national history. I’m thrilled that the maps will finally be going on display to the public after a successful fundraising campaign to save them led by the National Museum of the Royal Navy with support from Art Fund. I’m sure that visitors will be flocking to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard this summer to see these national treasures.”

Entrance to The Armada Maps National Treasure exhibition is included in valid ticket to the National Museum of the Royal Navy.  

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