Across the Channel

In 1534, King Henry VIII steered a political course that put him further at odds with England's neighbours across the Channel. Henry's divorce from his Spanish-born queen, Catherine of Aragon, led to the king declaring himself Supreme Head of the Church in England, in defiance of the power of the pope in Rome - an action that provoked anger in the Catholic countries of Europe, especially Catherine's native Spain. England braced itself for invasion.

The narrowness of Channel left the south coast of England particularly vulnerable. In the late 1530s, Henry commissioned his chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, to oversee a detailed survey of the English coastline, financed by money made from the sale of monastery lands seized by the Crown. The survey was the first of its kind in England. Its intention was to determine where extra fortifications were needed.

Surveys of individual towns were made by local representatives and sent to the king's court, where they were copied and incorporated into views of entire coastlines. These plans and views provide the earliest depictions of many English towns. The so-called 'Long view of England', shown here, was drawn in 1538 by an unknown London draughtsman working at Greenwich Palace.