Dublin Core




Cumberland (England)


“Cumberland” by Robert Morden is a map of the Scottish county of Cumberland in Elizabethan England. It was published in 1665 in Cornhill, London, England, and sold by Abel Swalle and John Churchill. Today the geographical area that it covers represents a part of the county of Cumbria in North West England. The region of Cumberland was incorporated into the new ceremonial county of Cumbria along with some neighbouring townships in 1974. The map was part of a series of county maps that appeared in Camden’s Britannia, the first major collection of county maps in Elizabethan England. The map is in full colour, and has a scale of four miles to one inch. Robert Morden, the cartographer, was a prolific publisher, bookseller and mapseller in the late seventeenth century who created maps of British counties and smaller playing cards of these maps that could be used by travellers. He was known for making some of the most accurate maps of the British counties among his contemporaries.


Robert Morden


Sold by Abel Swale Awnsham and Iohn Churchill; Publishing house found in Cornhill, London




Ana Qarri


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


Full-sized digital item can be found in McMaster's Digital Archive at:


One paper map, 39 x 46 cm, on sheet 39 x 46 cm.









Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Paper map

Physical Dimensions

39 x 46 cm

Contributor's Research

Although the colours used in the map, the symbols, and even the decorative cartouche on the top left corner were definitely interesting parts of the map, I was mostly drawn to the geographical area that it contained. In a time of rampant British colonial expansion, the documentation of the new world was of obvious interest to cartographers and imperialist countries; however, what role does the small British county play at this time and why it is so deserving of an intricate map with an artistic touch? “Cumberland” features the county by the same name that is now known as Cumbria in the United Kingdom. It was one of many maps in the series that appeared in a revised version of Camden’s Britannia, the largest British atlas to date that included maps of all the British counties (Harrison 1995; Crone 1953).
I found that there are two developments that can explain why the county was of cartographic importance as a geographical subdivision of the British nation. Firstly, the more scientific explanation is that it allowed for a detailed documentation of human life in England, which in turn led to more sophisticated surveying methods. Secondly, the county had political significance in the development of English identity. Depictions of the county within the English nation allowed for the creation of a local identity that was not solely reliant on international conquests.
The focus on local identify is obvious in what Morden chose to include in the map, and the history of his cartographic predecessors. Morden’s maps, including “Cumberland,” are best categorized under the sub discipline of corography. The purpose of corography is the documentation of local attractions, commodities and estates (Cormack 1991). Although it is not exhibited in “Cumberland” particularly, corographers also documented the genealogy of the families in local townships and counties and provided historical context along with their geographical depictions. Christopher Saxton compiled the first major collection of chorographic work in Britain in the sixteenth century at the behest of the Queen’s government (Helgerson 1986). Much of Morden’s work followed Saxton’s stylistic choices as is evident in a 1579 Saxton map of the county of Somerset. Both maps showcase a decorative cartouche, use shadow contours to emphasize county boundaries, and have almost identical artistic depictions of rivers, lakes, hills, and parks. Although Morden’s maps were published more than a century following Saxton’s and he was known to be immaculate in updating of his maps, both still share an equal amount of information with the reader. For many of his maps, Morden updated them by sending sending information to “Knowing Gentlemen” of the counties to be corrected, and while I am uncertain about other maps that Morden created, “Cumberland” geographical information was updated only through this method rather than through field work (Crone 1953). Morden’s additions include beacons, bishops’ sees, forts, hospitals, lodges, market towns, and monastic foundations (Andrews 2005).
The history of corographic county maps speaks to both reasons for their importance. First, the surveying methods in Saxton’s time only allowed for so much accuracy. But while they could have allowed for relatively larger scales, following the legal division of counties gave the information more geographical and historical context than the mapping of a townships, or of a smaller clump of hundreds (the smallest unit of the Elizabethan government). Even when surveying methods became more precise and allowed for maps of much larger scale, the county map continued to remain a popular part of British cartography. There was a steady trend towards larger scale maps but not so large that it “threatened the concept of the county map (Andrews 2005). As each generation of surveyors tried to surpass their predecessors through larger scale maps, there was contention about the most suitable scale to give the county an appropriate level of treatment.
Therefore even as maps became more scientifically accurate, the concept of the county map flourished. Morden, for example, could have drawn on these improvements to make more “scientific” maps, but chose to create traveller-friendly and decorative commercial maps of the counties instead. Thus, the success of county maps speaks to more than the scientific limitations of the discipline. There is evidence that the advance in surveying techniques was motivated by attempts at socio-economic and political glorification on the part of merchants and the aristocrats of the counties (Cormack 1991). This sheds a light on both the use of the decorative cartouche and the infrastructure that Morden does include in the map.
When Saxton was originally commissioned to make his collection by a royal representative of the Queen, Thomas Seckford, his maps included large royal emblems. When the maps were cited, they were often cited as being the Queen’s maps, or Seckford’s maps, rather than Saxton’s (Helgerson 1886). As Saxton continued making maps, however, he began to focus more on the detailed features of the land and stopped including royal emblems. The lack of royal emblems is also evident in Morden’s work, where the focus is the county itself and there is no mention of the Queen. At this time, the county map was both a symptom of an increasing sentiment of local pride, and through improvements in corography, it became a tool through which English locals had a way to form their identities through descriptions and classifications of the social and physical features of their land (Cormack 1991). Morden was not employed by the Queen; he was an independent publisher who made commercial maps that were used by travellers and county lords. The county map, then, became useful to more than just the British government to document its kingdom, or to track the taxation of landowners. Although it was initially used for this purpose, it soon became an artifact of local pride and identity. And even though the goal of those who were economically or politically motivated in commissioning these maps might not have been to improve surveying methods or the scientific process of corography, it also served to modernize the field through the help of government funds and commercial interests.


Andrews, John H. “Maps in Those Days: Cartographic Methods Before 1850.” Dublin: Four Courts Press (2005).

Crone, Gerald R. “Maps and their Makers: an Introduction to the History of Cartography.” New York: Hutchinson’s University Library (1953).

Cormack, Lesley B. “ ‘Good Fences Make Good Neighbours’: Geography as Self-Definition in Early Modern England.” Isis 82, no. 4. (December 1991): 639-661.

Harrison, K. C. “Old County Maps and Their Makers.” Library Review 44, no. 4 (1995): 36–41.

Helgerson, Richard. “The Land Speaks: Cartography, Chorography, and Subversion in Renaissance England.” Representations, no. 16 (October 1986): 50–85.

York, Laura Suzanne. “Redeeming the Truth: Robert Morden and the Marketing of Authority in Early World Atlases,” 2013."


Robert Morden, “Cumberland,” Omeka Testbed, accessed September 26, 2017,