[A map of Laois and Offaly]
Ink and colours on linen, 51 x 36 cm.
British Library Cotton MS.Augustus I.ii.40
This map of Laois and Offaly in Ireland, painted onto cloth, was made in around 1565. I wasn't keen to include it in the exhibition because I felt it too small and not sufficiently awe-inspiring. But in hindsight (ah wonderful thing) I wish it had been included, since it illustrates an important point about the origin of the word 'map,' which derives from the medieval Latin meaning 'cloth.'
Painted cloths are essentially poor man's tapestries. Anyone can afford to pay somebody to daub some paint on a rag and hang it on a wall, but it takes skill, materials, time and money to weave a tapestry. And so it is unusual, then, that this painted cloth map was probably produced for the decidedly unpauperish English royal family.
It shows the the land immediately to the west of the English-controlled area of Ireland known as the 'Pale,' land which had hitherto been very much beyond it, but which in 1557 had found itself firmly within English sights. This map signifies the first English 'plantation' scheme in Ireland, which involved the confiscating of land from its owners (in this case the O'Moore and O'Connor clans) and settling mainly English soldier-landlords in their place. It shows the land, the woods, the terrain, natural boundaries which would continuously impede the English troops in their helpfully bright red uniforms. It also gives the names of Irish inhabitants, people who knew their land far too well to need the help of maps.
The Map presented the lie of the land favourably for the monarch and chief advisors' eyes. Laois and Offaly have been renamed King's and Queen's counties, the two main forts renamed Maryborough and Philipstown after Queen Mary (reigned 1553-1558) and her husband. Your majesties! It also provided important, secret and presumably quite urgent geographical information for the eyes of the ruling elite. Let's face it, you wouldn't want to wait for the tapestry, you'd settle for the speedily produced tapestry imitation 'painted cloth!', which offered at least a modecum of insulation for the walls of that drafty palace.