Over 3,000 military maps, views and prints collected by King George III have been digitised and published online free to visit by the Royal Collection.
The culmination of ten years of research by Dr Yolande Hodson to catalogue one of George III’s most prized collections, the new website makes these important documents publicly available for the first time and allows them to be explored in minute detail.
No just of considerable academic interest — but just stunning to browse and look at.
The collection consists of a diverse range of material from the 16th to 18th centuries, from highly finished presentation maps of sieges, battles and marches, to rough sketches drawn in the field, depictions of uniforms and fortification plans.
Maps were an important part of George’s early life and education, and he built up a huge collection of more than 55,000 topographical, maritime and military prints, drawings, maps and charts. Upon the King’s death, his son, George IV, gave his father’s collections of topographical views and maritime charts to the British Museum (now in the British Library), but retained the military plans due to their strategic value and his own keen interest in the tactics of warfare.
Highlights of the collection include two-metre-wide maps of the American War of Independence. These vast maps were probably hung on purpose-made mahogany stands in Buckingham House, enabling the King to follow the steady erosion of his hold on the American colonies. A map of the final British defeat at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781 is the only known copy to survive outside the USA.
An annotation by the American mapmaker marks ‘The Field where the British laid down their Arms’.
Away from the grand campaigns though, the illustrated maps in George III’s collection provide a rare glimpse of what life was like for the ordinary soldier in a military campsite – from the catering supplies and makeshift taverns, to the latrines and endless baggage trains.
The collection is online here.
Don’t blame me if you lose a few hours in there.