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(Re)Mapping the centres Membership and State

Trevor Harris

National and Local Identity: Maps and the English "Country-House" Poem

John Scattergood

Texte intégral

  • 1 The illustrations are grouped together at the end of the article.

1One of the most striking uses of the map in late-sixteenth-century England appears in a picture by Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger which is ostensibly a portrait of Elizabeth I [Plate 1]1. Her white powdered face practically disappears amongst the elaborate dress and jewellery, and attention is drawn to a fan and gloves in her hands. The picture was painted in c.1592, and the queen is made to look a lot younger than her nearly sixty years. It is a highly eulogistic portrait, but also resonantly symbolic. Not only is her elaborate ruff decorated on the left side with the Tudor rose, but to her right is a skyline of clouds and sunshine, a day-time scene, and to her left a night-time landscape: this representative of the Tudor dynasty imposes herself, therefore, on time. Beneath her feet is the earth – curved in its horizon, a recognition of its roundness – and a map of England, on which she stands. This is an image of possession: the queen imposes herself on time and has the space of England, literally, under her feet. Off the coasts of England stand ships of contemporary design flying what look like English flags, the protectors of the realm, "this precious stone set in the silver sea", against foreign enemies such as the Armada which had been defeated four years earlier. This is, on one level, a portrait with a nationalistic agenda, an image of the identity of a self-confident England and the strong presence of its ruler. What is set out is an image of the nation-state under the rule of a monarch who bears all the symbolic accoutrements of her status. But it is more than that. The map on which Elizabeth I stands is a county map of England, clearly annotated, and her satin-slippered feet stand on Oxfordshire: the picture was in fact commissioned by Sir Edward Lee of Ditchley (Oxon.) to commemorate a visit by the queen to his house in 1592 (see Harvey, 1993, frontispiece). So a sense of local identity is involved too: the visit by the sovereign to the house and country estate of one of her subjects is a matter for memorialisation and self-congratulation.

2This portrait is very much of its time in its double agenda. Questions relating to both nationhood and local identity were prominent in the culture of the late-sixteenth and early-seventeenth centuries, and a great many intelligent people – artists, topographers, cartographers, writers – addressed them seriously and at length, sometimes separately but more often, and more interestingly, together. Nation and locality in all its variousness were perceived to exist in a dialectical interrelationship with each other. The Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I is celebratory and harmonious because it is strongly hierarchical: the monarch, in terms of size and positioning, dominates the nation and all parts of the nation. But in other treatments of this relationship there are interestingly subtle subversions.

3In England, in the sixteenth century, national and local descriptions, both visual and verbal, emerged at more or less the same time. Of course there had been visual representations of England in the Middle Ages – in mappaemundi, Psalter maps, and more accurately on portolan charts—usually in a larger context of the whole of the known world, or of Europe (see Edson, 1997, Harvey 1991, and Hale, 1968, 14-18). The Gough map, rather exceptionally, concentrates on England and on English possessions in France and Ireland (see Harvey, 1991, 73, 76). There are also local maps of particular areas, though these are not numerous (see Harvey, 1991, 86-95). There are verbal accounts of cities and towns too, which are often entertainingly encomiastic or pejorative (see Scattergood, 1996, 15-36). But the first serious attempt at a full description of England and Wales based on empirical enquiry, was that of John Leland in the 1530s and 1540s. This impossibly ambitious project was never realized. But detailed accounts of six or seven "itineraries" remain in the form of consecutive lengthy notes. Leland's descriptions are verbal, but he is clear that a description in visual form, a map, could be constructed on the basis of his work:

And because that it may be more permanent, and farther knowne, then to haue it engraued in syluer or brasse. I entend by the leaue of God, withn the space of xii. moneths folowyng, such a descripcion of make of your realme in wryttinge, that it shall be no mastery after, for the grauer or painter to make the lyke by a perfect example. (In Chandler, 1993, 11)

4Leland catches an important moment of change in England, as the old monastic estates are broken up and pass into the hands of the "new men", who were secular and tended to have reformist or Protestant leanings. Much of Leland's work was done with the active encouragement of Henry VIII and financed by his patronage, and there is a discernible nationalistic pride, sometimes tilting over into xenophobia, running through it. Just before Leland thanks Henry VIII for "youre infinite goodnesse towardes me your pore scholar and most humble seruaunt", Leland promises him that his topographical descriptions will enhance the fame of England:

Now yf it be the pleasure of almyghty God, that I maye lyue to perfourme these hynges that be alreadye begonne, and in a greate forwardnesse, I trust that thys your realme shall so wele be knowne, ones paynted with hys natyue colours, that the renoume therof shal geue place to the glory of no other regyon. (In Chandler 1993 14)

5But there is a delight too in local difference and identity – in the characteristics of the landscape, in the different types of farming and industry of particular places, in the sequence of local ownership of the land.

  • 2 See the maps from London, British Library MS Cotton Augustus I. i., I. ii. and I. iii in Platt, 197 (...)

6And this mixed agenda is apparent when the first detailed area maps of England begin to appear. P. D. A. Harvey has written that "it is no exaggeration to say that the map as we understand it was effectively an invention of the sixteenth century" (1993, 8), by which he means that earlier maps had different agendas and did not incorporate the same amount of topographical detail. A number of detailed local maps of cities and towns have survived from the 1530s and 1540s often emphasizing their fortifications or harbours2, but these in no way represent a systematic attempt to describe England as a whole. This was, however, not long in coming. Richard Helgerson has described Christopher Saxton's atlas of 1579 as "one of the most significant of the many extraordinary books to come from English presses in the last quarter of the sixteenth century". It consisted of thirty-five maps, a general map and thirty-four maps of individual counties or groups of counties. "Never before had England and Wales – or, for that matter, any county – been seen in such detail or with such accuracy" (Helgerson, 1992, 107). It is usually thought that Elizabeth I, or her Privy Council, ordered the maps to be made and that Thomas Seckford, Master of Requests and a Member of the Privy Council, commissioned Christopher Saxton to draw them. On every sheet of the 1579 atlas appear the royal arms, usually drawn very large near the top, Seckford's arms, smaller and often in the bottom right-hand corner, and Saxton's name, usually hidden away on a banner behind the dividers on the scale bar. In the decorative symbolism which is so important in these early maps, the land emphatically belongs to the monarch. But each county has its own local identity too – its own pattern of hills, forests, and rivers, its own cities and towns which are named. The royal arms may be present, but they are, in a sense, extraneous, superimposed, not part of the essential landscape – as in the case of the map of Hampshire, where the royal arms are carefully shaped so as to appear on part of Wiltshire [Plate 2].

  • 3 See Speed, 1995,7-18, for the relationship between Saxton's maps and Speed's.

7For the next two hundred years atlases of Britain were based largely on Saxton's maps, but the use of royal arms in them varies a great deal. The royal arms appear on only eleven of the fifty-six county maps in William Camden's Britannia (1607) and on only thirty-six of the forty-two maps in John Speed's Theatrum Imperii Magnae Britanniae (1611). What Speed does is interesting in this context. Even when the royal arms appear they are diminished in importance in comparison to how they appear in Saxton: they are much smaller, and they appear along with other decorations which suggest an alternative agenda3. What appears in Speed's maps is very contingent on the particular shape of the county and how much of the rectangular space is filled by the map and how much is free. But characteristically he will add the plan of a major town or city, or pictures of local monuments, or of local notables, armorials of the local aristocracy or gentry, sometimes of colleges or guilds. Speed's map of Hampshire, for example, is clearly based on Saxton's, but its decorative scheme clearly delivers a different meaning [Plate 3]. Speed modestly puts his name close to the scale bar, as Saxton had done, and Seckford's arms have, of course, disappeared. But the royal arms have been moved to the top right hand side of the map, on part of Surrey, and their place on the left has been taken over by quite a large plan of Winchester, which includes the coat of arms of the city. More significantly, other coats of arms appear: on the left side are four relating to the earls of Winchester, followed by the arms of William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester and, on the right, three relating to the earls of Southampton, all with elaborate cartouches. These maps again are images of possession in space and through time, but the focus is now predominantly local and only marginally national. In some maps, such as those in Michael Drayton's Polyolbion (1612), the royal armorials do not appear at all (see Helgerson, 1992, 117-118). The frontispiece shows a woman dressed in a map: she has some of the accoutrements of royalty, a crown and sceptre, but she is an allegorical personification of Great Britain [Plate 4]. In Drayton's poems in this collection, and in the accompanying maps, the focus is entirely local.

8The most detailed local maps, however, are those which describe landed estates. It had long been the practice of landowners to have surveys made of the properties they owned – for legal purposes as a record, to facilitate the collection of rents, to divide up in terms of dowries or other bequests. The earliest date from the tenth century and by the thirteenth the practice of measuring areas of land precisely had come into being. In the sixteenth century, professional, fully qualified surveyors emerged as a distinct category – men whose job it was to measure and evaluate landed properties. And in the sixteenth century the first handbooks of surveying were printed: John FitzHerbert's Boke of Surveying (1523) and Richard Benese's Maner of Measurynge (1537) were the earliest of many. Surveys were made in written form, but in the 1570s and 1580s there grew up the practice of including sketch maps to accompany the written account – a sort of additional graphic description. Estate maps were usually partly diagram and partly pictorial: the buildings, for example, are not shown in plan, but in prospect, as if taken from some imaginary high point, such as a hill or a church tower. Estate maps detail rivers and roads, houses and buildings, forests, and arable and pasture land. Above all, they are, like other maps, records of possession in space and over time: they are full of names which detail contemporary ownership, or which etymologically convey history.

9Christopher Saxton's map of Sittingbourne (Kent) made in 1590 [Plate 5] is fairly typical (see Harvey, 1993, 92-93). The town lies on a creek of the River Swale (top left) and on the road from London to Canterbury (bottom). The church and various houses are marked (bottom left). It is clear that possession is important: the names of the owners of the land adjoining the main road are given, "Jeremi Pitman", "Mr Nicholson". Other names which appear are place names – "Crowne Key", "Morris Field alias Cleke pond field", "The South field alias Shoting felde" – some of which hint at historic or present uses. But the raison d'être of this map is the manor of Bayford (middle left) to which most of the fields belonged. This was owned at the time by Sir William Garrard, who presumably commissioned the estate map because he wanted a record of his property. The house is drawn in pictorial form. To the north is an orchard surrounded by a moat. To the south are barns and to the east what may be stables. The house is standing in its own land and is at the centre of what appears to be a self-sufficient entity: the barns suggest that the land of the manor was cultivated to grow grain; the "pinfold" to the west of the house on the "water lane" suggests that sheep were kept and pastured; the extensive orchards suggest that fruit was grown in some abundance. The river no doubt provided fish. This was a working estate which presumably drew some of its labourers from Sittingbourne town.

10It is almost certainly no accident that shortly after detailed maps of England were made there should grow up a vogue for topographical poetry, nor that shortly after estates' maps appeared there should occur a fashion for the depiction of country houses and estates in paintings, and for "country house" poems (see Hibbard, 1956, Molesworth, 1968 and Gill, 1972, 227-252). These are ostensibly panegyrics for lords, produced, on occasions it seems, as literary "thank-you" notes for hospitality received. A "country-house" poem praises lords and sometimes ladies by praising their country houses and the lifestyle associated with them. But these poems are anything but anodyne: as G. R. Hibbard put it in his seminal article, they celebrate "the values of a society conscious of its own achievement of a civilized way of living, and conscious also of the forces that threatened to undermine and overthrow that achievement" (1956, 159). They address many of the same issues as the cartographic representations of England – the relationship between the nation and locality, between the sovereign and his subjects, between the city and court and the country, between the entrepreneurial nouveaux riches and the traditional landed aristocracy. They have what is essentially a political and social agenda: they resist centralism and implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) attack courtly and urban values by praising an opposite lifestyle, self-sufficient, at ease with the configuration of the countryside, at one with the landscape and the turning of the seasons, based on sound economy and old-fashioned virtues. Mapping is implicit and sometimes explicit in these poems. In Emilia Lanyer's Description of Cookeham, published in 1611, which is about the country house of Margaret, Countess of Cumberland, a view from a high point on the estate is described in mapmaker's terms:

A Prospect fit to please the eyes of Kings:
And thirteene shires appear'd all in your sight,
Europe could not afford much more delight. (Rowse, 1978, 139)

11At the opening of Upon the Hill and Grove of Billborow, a poem written between 1650 and 1652, celebrating a Yorkshire property belonging to General Sir William Fairfax (see Donno, 1972, 71-73), Marvell idealizes the estate by using the paradox that, in its natural state, it is more perfect than a picture or a map could be:

See how the arched earth does here
Rise in a perfect hemisphere!
The stiffest compass could not strike
A line more circular and like;
Nor softest pencil draw a brow
So equal as this hill does bow.
It seems as for a model laid,
And that the world by it was made. (1-8)

12And at the end of Upon Appleton House, a poem from the same years, describing another Fairfax property about five miles away (see Donno, 1972, 75-99), Marvell adverts to maps and to a similar idea:

"Tis not, what once it was, the world,
But a rude heap together hurl'd,
All negligently overthrown,
Gulfs, deserts, precipices, stone.
Your lesser world contains the same,
But in more decent order tame;
You, heaven's center, nature's Lap,
And paradise's only map. (761-768)

13Fairfax's house and estate, says Marvell, form an exemplar, a model: they are not a "rude heap" of things like the fallen world, but ordered places, "tame" not wild, like the garden of Eden in comparison with what surrounds it.

14The vogue for this sort of poem appears to have been set by Ben Jonson's To Pens hurst (1612) which opens thus (see Donaldson, 1975, 87-91):

Thou art not, Penshurst, built to envious show
Of touch and marble, nor canst boast a row
Of polished pillars, or a roof of gold;
Thou hast no lantern whereof tales are told,
Or stair or courts; but stand'st an ancient pile,
And these grudged at, art reverenced the while.
Thou joy'st in better marks, of soil, of air,
Of wood, of water; therein thou art fair.
Thou has thy walks for health as well as sport:
Thy Mount, to which the dryads do resort,
Where Pan and Bacchus their high feasts have made,
Beneath the broad beech and the chestnut shade;
That taller tree, which of a nut was set
At his great birth, where all the muses met.
There in the writhed bark are cut the names
Of many a sylvan taken with his flames;
And thence the ruddy satyrs oft provoke
The lighter fauns to reach thy lady's oak.
Thy copse, too, named of Gamage, thou hast there,
That never fails to serve the seasoned deer
When thou wouldst feast or exercise thy friends.
The lower land, that to the river bends,
Thy sheep, thy bullocks, kine and calves do feed;
The middle grounds thy mares and horses breed.
Each bank doth yield thee conies. (1-25)

15Penshurst Place was "an ancient pile" (an old stronghold), built about 1340, a latemedieval fortified manor house. It had been the country home of the Sidney family since 1552: the "great lord" of line 91 is Sir Robert Sidney, second son of Sir Henry Sidney. Like the maps this poem stresses ownership over a long period and abounds in names – "the Mount", "Ashour and Sidney's copse", the copse named "Gamage", after Barbara Gamage, Lady Sidney who fed deer there, "thy lady's oak", named because she went into labour there on one occasion. The Sidney family claim the landscape by naming it: it is made part of their family history. The economy is described, much as it is alluded to and implicit in the estate maps – sheep, bullocks, cows and calves, horses, rabbits, game-birds, fish, and a whole range of fruits in the orchard (22-44). What Jonson stresses here is the inter-relationship between the Sidney family and the surrounding landscape. The fiction of the birds and fish willing to be caught to grace the Sidney's tables, imitated from Martial or Juvenal, is one device. But more pertinent is the remark about the "walls", "reared with no man's ruin, no man's groan" (45-46), which were built in 1612 with stone from a local quarry. And this extends to people too: the Sidneys' country neighbours bring presents of local produce; the Sidneys offer hospitality of a generous and unstinting kind (48-60). And this stress on hospitality determines the latter part of the poem: Jonson remembers his own generous treatment by the Sidneys.

16But there are other things going on in the poem too. The landscape – like Drayton's in Polyolbion – is classicised and Arcadianised: Pan, the god of flocks, and Bacchus, the god of wine, appear after the wood nymphs (dryads) in lines 10 and 11. A little later come the "muses". And behind the poem lie Latin poems – Virgil's Georgics, some of Horace's Odes and Juvenal's Satires, and here especially Martial's Epigrams III, lviii, which meditates on the contrasting lifestyles of Faustinus and Bassus (see Martial, vol. 1, 196-201). It opens thus:

Baiana nostri villa, Basse, Faustini
non otiosis ordinata myrtetis
viduaque platano tonsilique buxeto
ingrata lati spatia detinet campi,
sed rure vero barbaroque laetatur.
hic farta premitur angulo Ceres omni
et multa fragrat testsa senibus autumnis;
hoc post Novembres imminente iam bruma
seras putator horridus refert uvas.
truces in alta valle mugiunt tauri
vitulusque inermi fronte prurit in pugnam.
vagatur omnis turba sordidae chords. (1-11)

[The Baian villa, Bassus, of our friend Faustinus keeps unfruitful no spaces of wide field laid out in idle myrtle beds, and with widowed planes and clipped clumps of box, but rejoices in a farm, honest and artless. Here in every corner corn is tightly packed, and many a crock is fragrant of ancient autumns. Here, when November is past, and winter is now at hand, the unkempt pruner brings home late grapes. Fiercely in the deep valley roar bulls, and the steer with brow unhomed itches for the fray. All the crowd of the untidy poultry yard wanders here and there.]

17And it closes like this with an address to Bassus:

at tu sub urbe possides famem mundam
et turre ab alta prospicis meras laurus,
furem Priapo non timente securus
et vinitorem farre pascis urbano
pictamque portas otiosus ad villam
holus, ova, pullos, poma, caseum, mustum.
rus hoc vocari debet, an domus longe? (45-51)

[But you in the suburbs possess what is elegant starvation, and from your high tower survey laurels alone; you are not nervous, for your Priapus fears no thief; and you, vine-dresser, you feed on com brought from town, and indolently cart to your frescoed villa cabbages, eggs, fowls, apples, cheese, must. Ought this to be called a farm, or a town-house away from town?]

18Jonson, like other writers of "country-house" poems, takes much from this poem (Hibbard, 1992, 162-163, 165) – from phrases like "picta perdix" (15) which gives "painted partridge" (29), to whole sequences of lines, "nec venit inanis rusticus salutator..." (33 ff.) which gives "All come in, the farmer and the clown" (48). This intertextual referentiality is important because, for Jonson, Roman culture under the emperors existed as an ideal order of things against which the present could be measured, and here the present, the culture associated with Penshurst, is, it is implied, equal to the ideal. Part of the eulogy derives from the intertextual nuances, but so too does part of the satire. Martial's poem is important because it suggested to Jonson a way of fashioning the aggressive edge of his poem. Bassus has a genteel suburban house with a tower (turre), and an elegant garden, but his provisions have to be brought in from the city. Faustinus, at Baie, has a small untidy farmhouse, which is crammed with local produce and exists in a fruitful interrelationship with the surrounding countryside. And this perhaps gave Jonson the idea for contrasting the older Penshurst Place with more fashionable houses, built recently of "marble", with "painted pillars" and a "lantern" (a glazed turret to let in the light) – houses like Theobald's (belonging to the Burghleys) or nearby Knowle. As usual Jonson's pastoralism has a critical edge: he is attacking the ostentatious, get-rich-quick culture of early seventeenth-century England, the new-rich capitalistic, entrepreneurial class which was assuming increasing power and influence. Like Martial, he does this by means of referring to geographical space and the distance between places, but what he is measuring is moral distance too.

19Most of the poets who wrote "country-house" poems, with the exception of Marvell, were royalists. They may attack the court and the city and posit decentralized, alternative lifestyles and value systems, but the visit of the monarch is for them, as for Sir Edward Lee of Ditchley, something to be commented on, recorded, remembered with pride. Jonson records the unexpected visit of James I and his son, and attributes their successful entertainment to the ever-ready hospitality of the Sidneys:

That found King James, when, hunting late this way
With his brave son, the Prince, they saw thy fires
Shine bright on every hearth as the desires
Of thy Penates had been set on flame
To entertain them; or the country came
With all their zeal to warm their welcome here.
What (great, I will not say, but) sudden cheer
Didst thou then make "em! and what praise was heaped
On thy good lady then! who therein reaped
The just reward of her high housewifery:
To have her linen, plate, and all things nigh
When she was far; and not a room but dressed
As if it had expected such a guest. (76-87)

20It is significant that the "cheer" is not "great" but "sudden", that is improvised: the sovereign is entertained, as is proper, but has to fit in with the terms of the locality. And when Thomas Carew wrote a poem for Sir John Crofts to recite to James I on one of his visits to Saxham in 1620 or 1621, much the same point is made in relation to food as well as to entertainment (see Clayton, 1978, 175-176):

We shall want nothing but good fare
To show your welcome and our care;
Such varieties that come from far
From poor men's tables banished are;
Yet we'll express in homely cheer
How glad we are to see you here.
We'll have whate'er the season yields
Out of the neighb'ring woods and fields;
For all the dainties of your board
Will only be what those afford;
And, having supped, we may perchance
Present you with a country dance. (23-34)

21The poem draws attention to the fact that there will be no attempt at Saxham to replicate the court: the king will be entertained with seasonal local produce and a "country dance". The sovereign no longer dominates the space of England, as in the Ditchley portrait of Elizabeth I: localities have their own lifestyles and values, their own identities which can be articulated visually and verbally. The sovereign, though welcome, is a presence from another world in these poems, which are confident expositions of local self-sufficiency. Like contemporary county maps or estates maps, these poems describe an England which has many centres of power and possession, not one. And to this extent they are subversive, though it is probably the last thing that their authors would have wanted for them. They effectively marginalize the sovereign. One wonders whether Oliver Cromwell, a country landowner who had a small estate in Huntingdonshire, which he had inherited, read any of these poems and took their point.


Works Cited

Chandler, John, 1993. John Leland's Itinerary: Travels in Tudor England. Stroud: Alan Sutton.

Clayton, Thomas, ed., 1978. Cavalier Poets: Selected Poems. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Donaldson, Ian, ed., 1975. Ben Jonson: Poems. London: Oxford University Press.

Donno, Elizabeth Story, ed., 1972. Andrew Marvell: The Complete Poems. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Edson, Evelyn, 1997. Mapping Time and Space: How Medieval Mapmakers Viewed Their World. London: The British Library.

Gill, Richard, 1972. Happy Rural Seat: The English Country House and the Literary Imagination. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

Hale, J. R., 1968. Renaissance Exploration. London: British Broadcasting Corporation.

Harvey, P. D. Α., 1991. Medieval Maps. London: The British Library.

—, 1993. Maps in Tudor England. London: The Public Record Office and the British Library.

Helgerson, Richard, 1992. Forms of Nationhood: The Elizabethan Writing of England. Chicago and London: Chicago University Press.

Hibbard, G. R., 1956. "The Country-House Poem of the Seventeenth Century." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institute 19: 159-74.

Ker, Walter C. A., trans., 1920. Martial. Epigrams. 2 vols. Loeb Classical Library. London: Heineman.

Molesworth, Charles, 1968. "Property and Virtue: The Genre of the Country House Poem in the Seventeenth Century." Genre 1: 141-157.

Platt, Colin, 1979. The English Medieval Town. London: Paladin and Granada.

Rowse, A. L., ed., 1978. The Poems of Shakespeare's Dark Lady. Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum. London: Jonathan Cape.

Scattergood, John, 1996. Reading the Past: Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Speed, John, 1995. The Counties of Britain: A Tudor Atlas. Introduction by Nigel Nicholson and County Commentaries by Alasdair Hawkyard. London: Pavilion Books.


1 The illustrations are grouped together at the end of the article.

2 See the maps from London, British Library MS Cotton Augustus I. i., I. ii. and I. iii in Platt, 1979, 51, 218; Harvey 1993, 11, 13, 18-19, 34-35,39, 40,45, 46, 50-51, 68, 70, 72, 99.

3 See Speed, 1995,7-18, for the relationship between Saxton's maps and Speed's.


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