The Golden Age of the County Map

John E. Holehouse considers the factors that led to a sudden and rapid improvement in cartographic scope and technique from 1480 onward.

In the past the greatest achievements in cartography have tended to follow sea-power and wealth. A decline in quality and innovation has followed the loss of either of these. So it was that Spain, Portugal and Venice each in turn made significant contributions to map-making.

The Dutch took the lead in the sixteenth century and shared it with England, which in turn became pre-eminent in this field. But already from Elizabethan times and for almost three hundred years, until the advent of the Ordnance Survey, it was the Golden Age of the County Map in England.

Let us consider briefly just three aspects of a vast and fascinating subject which has been treated in the detail it deserves, by such authorities as R. V. Tooley in Maps and Map Makers and R. A. Skelton in Decorative Printed Maps of the Fifteenth to Eighteenth Centuries, not forgetting A. G. Hodgkiss’ admirable and succinct work Discovering Antique Maps.

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