MPF 1/35: Richard Bartlett’s map of Ulster, 1605

The National Archives has a collection of 60 manuscript maps depicting plantations, forts and towns in Ireland created during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I (c. 1558-1610). One of these maps is MPF 1/35, a colourful, hand drawn map of Ulster, Ireland created by Richard Bartlett in 1603. Bartlett was an Elizabethan mapmaker who mapped the interior of Ulster between 1600 and 1603. There are 27 of Bartlett’s manuscript maps in existence, and three are held in The National Archives.

The scientists think the purple areas in the frame around the map are likely to be painted with a dye taken from lichens or orchids, as they did not find any elements from metals such as lead in this dye. Using scientific imaging they were also able to determine that the yellow areas in the map are likely made from paints made from unripe buckthorn, which is a type of berry commonly found throughout Europe and North America.

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Heritage scientists at The National Archives wanted to investigate Bartlett’s mapmaking process and the materials he used, as this has never been done before. The paints and inks were analysed using ‘non-destructive’ scientific instruments, which means they did not have to take any samples to examine the paints or inks.

When the scientists examined the document they found that Bartlett used lots of different colour mixtures and types of paints to create his map – including berries! By testing the paints they found that some of the reds used to paint the crown and houses on the map are made from a mixture of vermillion, which contains the element mercury, and red lead, which contains the element lead. They also found that Bartlett used a red paint made from insects to shade buildings and for the outline in the compass in the bottom right corner of the map. You can see these features in the below images that were taken using powerful microscopes. The blue and green areas are made from copper-based paints, such as blue verditer, a paint recommended to be used for maps at the time.