Back to Mapmakers

Christopher Saxton
(c.1542–c.1611)

Christopher Saxton

Christopher Saxton is known as “the father of English cartography”. He was born in Yorkshire and apprenticed to John Rudd, to train as a surveyor. His brother Robert Saxton was also a surveyor.

In the 1570s he came to the attention of Thomas Seckford, Master of the Queen's Requests, and through him was introduced to Lord Burghley and Queen Elizabeth. With their patronage, he undertook the survey and publication of a series of maps of the English and Welsh counties, forming the first published national atlas of England and Wales, and one of the very earliest of any country in Europe.

The maps were published as they were completed, from 1574 to 1579; the completed atlas contains 35 maps, engraved by Remigius Hogenberg, Cornelis de Hooghe, Nicholas Reynolds, Johannes Rutlinger, Augustine Ryther, Francis Scatter and Lenaert Terwoort. Of the engravers, only Augustine Ryther is certainly English; the others were foreigners resident in England, presumably refugees from religious problems in the Low Countries.

It has long been assumed that the atlas appeared in 1579, but it seems likely that the majority of the extant atlases date from about 1590; the plates remained in circulation for a hundred years, with important editions published by William Webb in 1645 and Philip Lea in [1689] and [1693].

In 1580 Saxton published a wall map of Wales, ‘Cambriæ (quæ nunc vulgo Wallia nuncupatur)’, known in a single example, followed by his 20 sheet wall map of England and Wales, ‘Britannia Insularum in Oceano Maxima’ (1583) which survives in one contemporary printing and a later unaltered printing from the 1640s; subsequently the plates were much revised and altered, with later printings up to about 1780, the most significant of them printed by Philip Lea, recast as ‘The Travellers Guide’, with multiple issues from 1686 to 1720.

As a reward for his work he was appointed Queen’s Surveyor, and he spent the rest of his career working as a local surveyor, leaving a substantial group of manuscript estate-maps of parts of Kent and Lancashire but particularly his native Yorkshire.