The Kingdom of France... is Represented as an Oak... (1796)

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The Kingdom of France... is Represented as an Oak... (1796)




This map is an artistic presentation of France, which is cartographically depicted as an oak tree. The country’s 83 departments are represented as individual oak leaves. Their numeration corresponds to each department’s location that is listed below the map.
The leaves are painted according to a colour gradient that ranges from mossy green to dark brown. While the majority of the map is painted in brown tones, there is a cluster of green leaves in the West of France. There are various symbols scattered around the map that correspond to a legend directly below. The symbols indicate the location of fortified towns, cities, where there have been massacres, frontier towns, archbishoprics and bishoprics (the offices of archbishops and bishops). The map depicts the branches of France’s oak tree growing into neighbouring countries: Germany, Swabia (Bavaria), Switzerland, Italy and Spain. The map is framed by text, which chronologically lists events of insurrection, armed conflict and massacre that occurred between French royalists and republicans between 1789 and 1795. The events are organized in alphabetical order of French towns. The map was published in 1796 in London, England. The cartographer of the map is unknown.


Cartographer Unknown


Publish’d as the Act directs, June 28th, 1796, by the Author No. 49. Great Portland Street.




Jennifer Akerman


Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5 License


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


Printed Map, 42 x 42 cm, on sheet 67 x 100 cm









Still Image Item Type Metadata

Original Format

Printed map

Physical Dimensions

42 x 42 cm, on sheet 67 x 100 cm

Contributor's Research

"In order to decipher the purpose of the map, it is necessary to deconstruct and analyze its design. As Peter Barber states in The Map Book, “the map’s purpose and intended audience define the map maker’s design choices”(Barber 2008, 2). While the cartographer is unknown, the map is a cartographic depiction of France, printed in London, England, in 1796 with English text. Hence, an analysis of the historical context of the map in association with its the artistic license aids to illuminate its bias and service as a piece British propaganda to support the Royalists of the French Revolution (1789-1799). This is achieved through the cartographer’s use of symbolism, text and colour.

Initially, the aesthetic beauty of the map captures viewers’ attention: a cartographic representation of France with the easily identifiable green and brown lobbed leaves of an oak tree. As “deconstruction urges us to read between the lines of a map,” it is important to identify the significance of the oak tree symbolism to assess its intended purpose (Harley 1989, 12). While the fleur de lis is France’s most iconic symbol, the cartographer chose to depict France as an oak tree. The oak tree is a traditional symbol of endurance and strength; however, it is most often associated with Great Britain, as it is the national tree of England (Barrow 2014). Interestingly, the oak tree is of particular importance to the British monarchy, as the Royal Oak commemorates the escape of Charles II from parliamentarians following the execution of his father during the English civil war of 1641 to 1651 (Barrow 2014). Thus, the symbolic representation of the oak tree aids positively reflects British support for France’s royalists through its positive connotations with the strength of the British monarchy in the face of reform.

Moreover, the use of language and text in the map aids to illustrate its purpose as a piece of British political propaganda denouncing Republican ideals of the French Revolution. The text used to describe the map, “The Kingdom of France/ Being one of the most…” refers to the “anarchists;” likely referencing the Jacobins and sans-cullotes of the French Revolution: radical revolutionaries who adopted the republican ideas of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (Encyclopedia Britannica 2016). Their “infamous principles” of universal suffrage, popular education, and the separation of church and state were considered dangerously threatening to the traditional monarchies and political systems of neighbouring European countries, including Britain’s constitutional monarchy (Philip 2011). The negative British sentiments towards the revolutionary activities of the French Republic are clarified when understood in terms of the historical context of the map.

In the 1790’s, Great Britain was divided in its response to the principles of the French revolution. Edmund Burke, a leading member of the political Whig party, denounced the French revolution in ""Reflections on the Revolution of France"" in 1791 (Philip 2011). Burke stressed that revolution had “brought about destruction of a nation’s social fabric and risked tyranny” (Philip 2011). However, Burke’s conservative stance was challenged by the publication of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man in 1792 (Philip 2011). Paine defended the motivations of French Revolution, praising the abolishment of the ancient regime, advocating for democracy and the ‘universal rights of man’ (History World 2014). However, following the establishment of the First Republic of France on September 2, 1792, King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie-Antoinette, were tried for treason and executed (Encyclopedia Brittanica 2015). This act of radical violence served as sign of the republic’s contempt for the monarchy (Encyclopedia Brittanica 2015). In the weeks following the execution, Jacobin leader, Maximillien Robespierre, instilled the Committee of Public Safety’s bloody campaign against internal opposition: the Reign of Terror from September 5, 1793 to July 23, 1794 (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). The Committee took harsh measures against counterrevolutionaries, resulting in the official execution of 17,000 people (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). Disdain for the radical measures of escalating violence and incited internal and external opposition (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). During the summer of 1793, alliances against France were made between Britain, Prussia, Austria, Spain, and Italy (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). However, the strength of the Republican army led them to many victories and the spread of their influence; symbolically illustrated by the growing branches on the map into neighbouring countries. However, it is important to note that Britain did not engage in ware-fare with France until the summer of 1793, when French troops threatened occupation one of Britain’s most prized colonies: the Netherlands (Philip 2011). Moreover, the French occupation of the Belgian territories jeopardized British trade through the River Scheldt (Philip 2011). Thus, the historical context of Britain’s military engagement with France during the French Revolutionary Wars illuminates self-interested, conservative undertones of British motivation to denote revolution because it threatened British imperial trade and territorial interests, rather than for the principle of revolution itself.

Moreover, the use of colour leads to a “rejection of the neutrality of the map,” in an effort to positively reflect France’s royalist forces (Harley 1986, 14). The cartographer chose a gradient of earth-toned colours for the oak leaves to represent France’s departments. Our eyes are drawn to the cluster of green leaves located in the West of France that stand out amongst the surrounding tones of brown. The green-leafed departments in the West correspond with the locations of concentrated counterrevolutionary insurrections in Vendée between 1793 and 1796 (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). This area was considered to be a “fervently religious and economically backward region,” and resisted the sovereign and secular movement of the 1789 Revolution (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). Nantes is noticeably brown in the middle of two green departments: Lucon and Algiers. This is perhaps a reflection of the failed attempts of the royalist army to capture the area in 1790 (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). Although royalist forces were ultimately defeated, the 1795 treaty of La Jaunaye granted the Vendée freedom from conscription, liberty of worship, and some indemnities for losses (Encyclopedia Britannica 2015). Green was chosen to represent the leaves royalist forces; a colour that is positively associated with the life, success, and strength. However, the surrounding republican departments are varying shades of brown; a colour that denotes death or encroaching disease in leaves. Therefore, the deconstruction of the map’s use of colour aids to define the cartographer’s intention to positively highlight royalist concentrations in France, which reflects the map’s bias of counterrevolutionary principles.

Ultimately, the deconstruction of the historical context of the map in association with its the artistic license aids to illuminate its service as a piece of eighteenth century British propaganda to support the Royalists of the French Revolution. The use of symbolism, text and colour reflects the cartographer’s bias and leads to a rejection of the neutrality of the map. As Antonis Antoniou states in Maps of the World According to Illustrators, “[t]o map is to lie, or at least to subject the truth to personal preconceptions and ideologies” (2013, 4). Thus, the deconstruction of a map is essential in refining its intentions.

Work Cited:
- Antonis Antoniu. A Map of the World : The World According to Illustrators and Storytellers. Berlin: Gestalten, 2013.

-Barber, Peter. The Map Book. London: Bloomsbury Press, 2008.

-Barrow, Mandy. ""Symbols of England."" Symbols of England. 2014. Accessed February 27, 2016.

-""Jacobin Club | French Political History."" Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Accessed February 27, 2016.

- Harley, J.B. ""Deconstructing the Map."" 1989, 11-16. Accessed February 25, 2016.

- Philip, Mark. ""Britain and the French Revolution."" BBC News: History. February 17, 2011. Accessed February 27, 2016.

- ""Reign of Terror | French History."" Encyclopedia Britannica Online. May 15, 2015. Accessed February 27, 2016.

-""The French Revolutionary Wars."" History World. 2014. Accessed February 27, 2016.

""Wars of the Vendee | French History."" Encyclopedia Britannica Online. October 23, 2015. Accessed February 27, 2016."


Cartographer Unknown, “The Kingdom of France... is Represented as an Oak... (1796),” Omeka Testbed, accessed September 26, 2017,