What connects contraband, the Magna Carta, one-upmanship and the sin of earthly desire? The answer is Emanuel Bowen’s map from 1733, A New and Accurate Map of England and Wales’.
In this map Bowen shows the roads throughout the country, with additional information on either the map or on the accompanying sheets giving distances from London and whether the roads are post, cross or ‘roads not to be found on Mr. Ogilby’s survey’ . If this was all the map did it would be a very good example of a common road map of the time (Bowen had produced earlier road maps that again had a dig at John Ogilby, with his ‘Britannia depicta or Ogilby improv’d’ set of road maps’ atlas). What sets this map apart from all others is the championing of the Members of Parliament that had recently voted against an Excise Bill. Introduced by Robert Walpole, generally regarded as the country’s first official Prime Minister, the Bill was intended to raise taxes on contraband goods while reducing the taxes of the rich landowners, appeasing those who had the power to vote. The idea that tax officers could go into people’s houses looking for such goods proved so unpopular – William Pitt, MP, led the rallying cry with ‘an Englishman’s house is his castle’ – that the Bill was quickly dropped. Bowen dedicates his map to the ‘the 205 members endear’d to their country by so seasonable an interposition in defence of it’s liberties’. Bowen further emphasises this sense of liberty by evoking an earlier time when the Crown and right of rule was challenged. The arms of the Members of Parliament that voted against the BIll feature on two accompanying sheets, the coats of arms that appear underneath the map are for those Barons who forced King John to sign the Magna Carta in 1215, protecting rights and restricting the power of the Crown. To make the point further Bowen uses symbolism around the cartouche to reinforce this connection between the 1215 and 1733 opposition to the State and Crown
On the left is Liberty, here shown with a staff topped by a Liberty Cap (which dates back to Ancient Rome, and were worn by freed slaves) while on the right is Britannia, holding a copy of the Magna C[h]arta. The chained figure represents man enslaved by earthly desires. Bowen’s opposition to the Bill didn’t do him any harm in the long-run as he eventually became Royal Geographer to George II, despite the King supporting Walpole after the defeat of the Bill and the opposition in both Parliament and on the streets .
The Bodleian has four copies of the Magna Carta, the earliest from 1217, which can be viewed here
The ‘Mr Ogilby’ derided at every opportunity by Bowen is John Ogilby, who in 1675 published the first set of road maps done as a set of strips. Ogilby’s work was revolutionary, but due to reasons possibly nefarious left out some routes, more on his story can be found in an earlier blog here
A New and Accurate Map of England and Wales… Where unto are added… a list of Members… who voted for & against bringing in ye late Excise Scheme. 1733. (E) C17 (540)