The Date of the Gough Map

The Date of the Gough Map

By T.M. Smallwood

Imago Mundi: The International Journal for the History of Cartography, Volume 62, Number 1, 2009

The Gough Map

Introduction: The manuscript map now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, known as the Gough map after its eighteenth-century owner Richard Gough, occupies a special place in the corpus of surviving medieval maps from western Europe.

It is large (55.3 × 116.4 cm), relatively well preserved, detailed and generally clear, with a wide range of pictorial signs and inscriptions in both red and black ink and with the sea and rivers tinted green. It depicts a recognizable England, Wales and Scotland, orientated to the east.

In several respects the Gough map qualifies as unique. It is not a mappamundi, but a geographical map of one part of the world. It shows an extraordinary number of rivers, settlements (generally correctly placed), and several networks of straight red lines linking some of the towns. No map that is comparable in its combination of area covered and detail of content is known to have been produced anywhere else in Europe before a date some years into the fifteenth century.

The red lines, often mistaken for roads, raise various problems of interpretation. More fundamental are three other puzzles: the date of the map that has come down to us; the question of whether it was an original creation or a copy or re-working of a somewhat earlier map, now lost; and the question of whether its makers borrowed substantially from a conjectural much earlier ‘prototype’ map related to the wars of King Edward I. What follows is an attempt to answer these questions, or at least stimulate further discussion of them.

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