The Ongoing Story

Through analysis and research, we understand the origins of the Armada Maps and why they came to be. However, another interesting facet of their story is what happened to the maps after the eponymous battle? 

What we do know for sure is that in 1828 the maps were in the possession of Roger Wilbraham MP (1743-1829), a prominent book collector. Wilbraham’s main collection related to Italian and Spanish poetry, plays and novels, so the maps were a bit of a departure for him. Wilbraham sent the maps to Francis Douce and William Young Ottley, of the British Museum, to certify the provenance of the maps. Wilbraham received two letters in return, that the maps were indeed genuine and that they belonged to him 

But just how did this collector of Spanish and Italian romances come into the ownership of the maps? The answer may lie in the family’s prestigious past as his ancestor, another Roger Wilbraham (1553-1616), a prominent English lawyer who served as Solicitor-General for Ireland under Elizabeth I. This elder Wilbraham had a storied career, a favourite of the Lord Privy Seal Robert Cecil, he was appointed as Master of Requests. The elder Wilbraham retained this position even after King James I took the throne after Elizabeth, and he ended his career as the King’s surveyor of the Court of Wards and Liveries. It is possible that after a lifetime vying in Royal circles Roger Wilbraham the elder may have been the first recipient of these important maps?  

After Roger Wilbraham the younger’s death in 1834 the majority of his collection was sold at auction. However, the maps were not sold at this point and they remained with the Wilbraham family, passing them down for an additional two generations. Eventually they were sold in 1898 to J.Pearson & Co, a London bookseller, for £30. It was at this point that many of the coloured pigments were added to the maps, as discovered by The National Archives. This was a common trick at the time, intended to increase their resale value, and apparently effective as they were sold to William Waldorf Astor in 1900 for £90, a tidy profit  

Original letters sent by Roger Wilbraham MP to the British Museum regarding the provenance of the Armada Maps.

The Astors were known as ‘America’s richest family’, with William Waldorf Astor having recently moved to England after buying Hever Castle, the family home of Anne Boleyn, Elizabeth I’s mother. It’s possible that Astor felt a kinship to the powerful Tudor dynasty and it’s defeat of the Spanish Armada or the maps could have been just another talking point to furnish his newly owned home. Whatever the intent the maps were kept at Hever Castle as part of the family’s private collection.  

It was during this time that they were damaged by a flood in 1968, which led to them being restored shortly after. In 1951 they were used by Roland Pym as models for murals specially commissioned to celebrate Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe. The maps remained under the ownership of the Astor family until they were sold in 2020.  

It was here that the National Museum of the Royal Navy, supported by members of the public, the National Memorial Heritage Fund, Art Fund, and other individuals helped raise the capital to stop the maps being sold abroad. The maps now reside within the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s collection, where they will be preserved for future generations.

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