1355 — 1366

Gough Map

(An intermittent series introducing well known maps)

Edward III is King of England.

The Hundred Years War is on-going (1337 – 1453).

Charles IV is crowned Holy Roman Emperor.

The Hanseatic League is formed.

Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca), is writing.

As yet unwritten, the Tales of Robin Hood are circulating.

The first wave of the Black Death has spread across Europe.

The Pope is in Avignon, France — not Rome.

John Wycliffe is teaching at Oxford.

Ibn Battuta completes Rihla (The Travels).


The Gough map, a late medieval map of Great Britain, went through several hands before being bequeathed to the Bodleian Library in 1809 by Richard Gough.  Gough was an antiquarian and an expert on British Topography.  He bought the map from the estate of Thomas “Honest Tom” Martin for half-a-crown in 1774. This is roughly equivalent to $2300 today.   Martin had presented the map to the Society of Antiquaries in 1768.  It is speculated that Martin acquired the map from close friend Peter Le Neve; the first President of the Society of Antiquaries.  After Le Neve’s death, some of his extensive collections were sold.  Martin married Le Neve’s widow thus giving him further access to the remainder. There is more speculation that Le Neve who worked as a Deputy Chamberlain of the Exchequer, was connected to a Government department that may have used or commissioned something like the Gough map.

The Gough map was drawn on two stitched together pieces of animal hide.  It measures 55.3 by 116.4 cm or just under two ft. by four ft. There is no scale, but calculations indicate close to 16 miles to 1 inch or 1:1,000,000.  Similar to contemporary religious maps, East is at the top.  However, maps similar to  Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi do not show Great Britain in much detail.    The Gough map which has been called the “Road Map of Britain”, shows detailed coastlines and routes between towns.  It is one of the earliest known maps to do so, but even then–not completely accurate.

Unlike modern road maps where the important highways are highlighted, on the Gough map rivers are very visible. Due to heavy forestation, it was easier to transport goods and people by water.  In order to advance, traveling armies occasionally needed to send out parties of woodcutters to create a pathway.  Towns and villages are depicted with size indicated by buildings and named.  London and York were lettered in gold.  There are thin red lines leading to different locations, or “route” guides.  The lines have “mileage” numbers, but by what system is not clear.  The red lines seem to reflect the owner’s interest in places rather than a general highway map.

The dating of the Gough map has proven difficult.   Until 2004,  the best date scholars could assign was an eleven year range around 1361.  This range was deduced from clues given on the map.  1355 is the date when Coventry first constructed a wall around their town.  1366 is the date when Sheppy was renamed Queensbourgh.  However, there were clearly two (and perhaps more) cartographers who worked on this map at different times.  While the assumed dates set the map in the reign of Edward III, there are hints that the map may have been influenced by events in the reign of Edward I.  After gaining control of Wales through war, Edward I built a string of castles including Beaumaris, Caernarfon, Conwy and Harlech.   Some of the red lines follow that path  and seem to indicate a military interest.

Since 2004, new scholarship and technology have given more insight into the Gough map.  It is now thought that the whole map was created sometime between 1390 – 1410.  By 1425, another cartographer re-inked and changed names in Wales and England south of Hadrian’s Wall.  Then, between 1475 and 1500, a third cartographer made the same type of changes but only to the southeast and south central England.  It has been suggested that this implied local knowledge.

So questions still remain–Was the 1st cartographer heavily influenced by the crown concerning the wars in Wales and Scotland in the latter part of the 13th century?  Was the Gough map used for other governmental purposes?  What was the unit of measure for the red lines and why did they only show selected routes? Did “Honest Tom Martin get the map from his good friend Peter Le Neve?  Where did Le Neve get the Gough map from?

Perhaps time will tell.


Ohio State University Libraries has these resources for the Gough Map:

The Gough map of Great Britain

The Gough map : the earliest road map of Great Britain?

Map of Great Britain circa. A. D. 1360, known as the Gough map