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‘George III’s Collection of Military Maps’ published online

Release date: Wednesday, 29 January 2020

William Roy, The Battle of Minden, Seven Years War, 1759

William Roy, The Battle of Minden, Seven Years War, 1759 ©

On the 200th anniversary of his death, George III’s unparalleled collection of more than 3,000 military maps, views and prints in the Royal Collection have been made publicly available for the first time. The culmination of ten years of research by Dr Yolande Hodson, a new website (militarymaps.rct.uk) allows these important documents to be explored in minute detail, offering an extraordinary insight into the art of warfare and mapping. 

Military Maps in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle

Military Maps in the Royal Library at Windsor Castle ©

‘George III’s Collection of Military Maps’ presents 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, providing a vivid contemporary account of major theatres of war in Britain, Europe and America.

Maps were an important part of George’s early life and education, and his passion for the cartographic sciences continued once he became King. He never left the south of England or fought on a battlefield, but his vast collection of more than 55,000 topographical, maritime and military prints, drawings, maps and charts allowed him to travel the world from the comfort of his library at Buckingham House, now Buckingham Palace. Upon the King's death, his son, George IV, gave his father's collection 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. George III took a close interest in every detail of the war, from how many blankets were required by the British forces to the number of cannon in the French fleet. 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’.

In 1766 the Scottish military engineer William Roy wrote to George III proposing a national survey of Britain based on his map and survey experience during the Seven Years War. This memorandum, which survives in the Royal Archives, is regarded as the founding document of the Ordnance Survey. Several unique examples of Roy’s maps from the Seven Years War survive in the Royal Collection and can now be viewed on the website.