Kingdom Maps: Drawing the Boundary Between Us and Them

Part 5 in a series on global information design explores historical maps that superimpose political influence onto physical space

Paul Kahn
Paul Kahn
Nov 11, 2019 · 14 min read

2.2 Kingdom Maps

A Kingdom Map superimposes political influence onto physical space to represent that part of the world within a government’s control. Its function is to show us the shape and extent of how “our” territory is separate from “their” territory. We see the adjacent lands that are not ours, often without detail, but we do not see what lies far beyond.

While we find visualizations of the known world in many cultures, the examples of visualizing kingdoms cluster around Western territorial aspirations. That image of “our” territory is compelling when it expresses a sense of wholeness, a coherent imperial space without interruption. Conversely, it is visually disturbing to see a piece taken out of “our” wholeness, a boundary interrupted, or a narrow area precariously surrounded by “their” territory. To visualize the kingdom, I will begin with a series of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic maps from 16th-century Europe.

The Metaphoric Kingdom

Most of us have internalized Europe’s large physical boundaries to formulate our concept of the continent. This conditions us to expect the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the Mediterranean Sea to the south, and the Arctic region to the north. Try drawing Europe and you may not get the shape of the coastlines or the proportions of the land correct, but you will probably place the land between these three boundaries. The physical boundaries to the east are less clear. The traditional boundaries between Europe and Asia are the Bosporus and the Don River flowing into the Black Sea.

During the 16th century, the Humanist tradition was spreading from universities, reviving awareness of Arab, Greek, Roman, and Hebrew cultures. Warfare driven by the Protestant Reformation and Catholic Counter-reformation was dividing political and religious structures from within while the Ottoman Empire as expanding into Europe from the east. The European world was experiencing a collective identity crisis.

Europa Regina (Queen Europe), designed by the poet and mathematician Johannes Putsch, first appeared as a woodcut print in 1537. Putsch turned the image of continental Europe clockwise ninety degrees and imagined the body of a queen, giving a unified shape to a continent that was largely torn by internal warfare [1]. The queen’s body is an island boldly separated from the surrounding lands of Africa and Asia. Mountain ranges are ribbons on her robe. The Pyrenees are her necklace. Her image is decorated with royal emblems along with names of regions, cities and rivers.

Putsch’s image of Europe became the base for an illustration in later editions of Cosmographia, an enormously popular German-language description of the world compiled by Sebastian Münster. Cosmographia first appeared in 1544 and was reprinted in many languages well into the 17th century. In addition to a revised version of Europa Regina, the book contained several geographic maps, including a map of Europe that does suggest a similar shape surrounded by seas, though it does not share the east-is-up orientation of Europa Regina [2].

In the Cosmographia version, the royal emblems and names have vanished, the gown has a high rather than a low neck and the British Isles have changed into a banner on the queen’s scepter. Most details are similar in Heinrich Bünting’s version from his Itinerarium sacrae scripturae (1587), though in this example is less dynamic, as the north-is-up orientation places the queen on her side [3].

This kingdom map is an expression of the Habsburg’s aspiration to be universal rulers of a region that they partially controlled. We can align it with this modern map of Europe to see how corresponding areas have been placed in the personification. The queen’s crown is all of Iberia, though the Habsburgs ruled only Spain. Her heart is Bohemia, the Habsburg capital. Her right arm holds the orb of Sicily, another part of their territory. Her left shoulder is the Netherlands. We see major rivers and regions depicted within the female body, suggesting a unified kingdom that did not exist.

The zoomorphic Leo Belgicus maps, representing the regions that are now the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg in the shape of a lion, date from the same period of European conflicts. The kingdom being represented here are the seventeen united provinces rebelling against Spanish (Habsburg) rule. The choice of the lion derives from this animal’s presence on nearly every shield in the region. The shape of the lion’s spine and head follow the North Sea coastline. The beast’s tongue protrudes from Kampen on the water north of Amsterdam. His back legs extend from Flanders and Brussels, while his left paw rests on Luxembourg. The earliest Leo Belgicus was drawn by the Austrian cartographer Michael von Aitzing in 1586. His intention was to represent both the geography and the rebellious politics of the region [4].

The lion proved to be a unifying symbol for Dutch resistance and was revised many times during the decades of conflict. The lion is seated with a sword pointed downward in his paw in a 1611 version by the master Dutch engraver Claes Janszoon Visscher created during the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609–1621) with Spain. The representation of the North Sea and English coast is replaced with an allegorical landscape and the lion is bordered by vignettes of the nineteen cities included in the truce.

Kingdoms in the Wilderness

The first map printed in North America, A Map of New England appeared as a large fold-out frontispiece to William Hubbard’s book about the wars between the English and the native people of Massachusetts and Narragansett Bay regions [5]. I look at it and see a design intended to establish a kingdom in what the English like to think of as an uninhabited wilderness. The design is establishing “our” territory, beginning with a feature added by the engraver, the English ships approaching harbors from the east.

The kingdom is described not only by its defining geography but also by the actions that took place within it. The interior detail of the map shows the relative location of settlements along the coasts and two major rivers, the Merrimack and Connecticut. Fifty-five settlements have numbers that correspond to battles that took place during the wars described in the book. This is where the English claims to the kingdom have been defended.

The kingdom is also described by the absence of its neighbors. While the Connecticut coast is bounded by the Long Island Sound, there is no representation of Long Island or the New Netherlands settlements along the Hudson Valley. Both the Dutch and French settlements to the north are not shown. Instead, two vertical lines represent the abstract boundaries claimed by the Massachusetts Bay Puritan government authority.

In the decades that followed, as settlements expanded to the south and west, the contesting imperial claims dividing the American continent became increasingly important to the English government. Henry Popple, a clerk at the English Board of Trade, collaborated with Captain Clement Lemprière, an English engraver and cartographer, to summarize the English territory in relation to French and Spanish claims into a single map.

Both men were based in London and never visited the territory they documented. Popple had been the agent for several colonies in the Caribbean and his family had been part of the Board of Trade for three generations. This gave him access to decades of American colonial data [6]. Lemprière, who was draughtsman to the Office of Ordnance, had previously created the official road map of the Scottish Highlands. But the map, which Popple published in multiple formats — single sheet, four sheet, and as a book atlas, provided the definitive image of the North American territories that at the time were the English colonies and later the United States of America.

The map was based on commercial as well as geographic and political information, resulting in some curious details. An illustration of a naval battle when British ships attacked Spanish treasure ships carrying gold and silver back to Spain in 1708, labeled as “Sr. Charles Wagner’s Engagement”, covers the sea between Cartagena and Jamaica. “The course of the Spanish Galeons from Vera Cruz to Havana to avoid the Trade Winds” in the Caribbean is shown in detail. West of the “Apalacean Mountains” there is an X that marks a spot in present-day Tennessee labeled “A fit place for an English Factory” (the pre-industrial meaning of “factory” was a place where traders do business). Off the northeast coast from Cape Cod to Newfoundland are dark shapes in the ocean, the largest of which is labeled “The grand fishing banks of Newfoundland”. Horizontal boundary lines at 40, 36.5 and 31 degrees longitude are drawn separating colonies from the east coast and continuing west across the continent.

Popple and Lemprière’s work is a significant kingdom map because it became the visual image of America for the rulers of the nation that would expand the colonial system. In 1746, Benjamin Franklin ordered two copies of the Map of the British Empire in North America, “one to be displayed beside the main door to the chamber of Pennsylvania’s House of Assembly, the other to be bound in atlas form for more private consultation by the assemblymen.” It was also on display in the legislatures of Virginia and Massachusetts and was still the visual point of reference for the new American government after their revolution [6]. Those boundary lines extended westward into an imperial void until they hit Spanish Nuevo Mexico, pointing toward economic opportunities.

Imperial Kingdoms

At the same time that Anglo-Americans were projecting a North American empire to the west, Russians were preparing a map of their kingdom stretching thousands of miles to the east. There is a remarkable symmetry in the way both American and Russia societies experienced continental expansion in the 18th century towards their respective Pacific coasts. An important expression of that expansion was a map that joined the European and Asian parts of the Russian Empire.

Creating this image was the result of a long struggle that reflects forces similar to those that shaped the Ricci-Li-Zhang world map (see Part 4 of this series), in this case an arranged marriage of European and Russian science. Rather than a Christian missionary traveling to China to seek out an audience with the Emperor, the Russian Tsar Peter the Great traveled to western Europe to seek out Science missionaries. He contracted with English, French and German scientists to create a Naval Academy and Academy of Sciences in his kingdom [7]. One of the foreign experts he recruited was the astronomer Joseph Nicolas Delisle (also spelled de L’Isle), who was the younger brother of Guillaume Delisle, cartographer to the King of France. It became this Delisle’s task to direct Russian cartographers and survey crews led by Ivan Kirilov, already at work mapping the empire.

Delisle made a trip to Siberia to take measurements and devised a plan to create scientifically determined points needed for the map based on an astronomical survey, a process that would have taken several decades. Kirilov, who was already engaged in a running survey along rivers and existing roads to create an accurate measurement of distances, did not want to wait for Delisle to complete a set of maps [8]. After repeated disagreements and court intrigues over funding, Delisle abandoned his position to return to France. Before the atlas, which bore Delisle’s name, could be completed, Kirilov died from illness during his surveys. The maps in the final atlas were the result of both men’s work.

It is over 4,000 miles from the Baltic provinces on the east to the north Pacific on the west. And this landmass is located in the upper part of the latitude-longitude system used to transfer locations from a spherical surface onto a two-dimensional plane, where the latitude lines are converging on the pole. The resulting shape gives the impression that the empire is twisted at both ends, an artifact of lines converging on a central off-stage north.

English naval and commercial shipping dominated much of the world’s oceans in the 19th century. By the mid-19th century, the British controlled an empire that was the very opposite of the Russian one. The British Empire was a discontiguous set of islands, ports and territories stretched across the entire world. Any representation of the empire had to show the entire planet. Variable size, as well as distance, presented a challenge to represent it all. The enormous territories of Canada, the subcontinent of India and the continent of Australia had to be presented along with strategic port such as Gibraltar and Hong Kong.

In the 1850s, the Scottish mapmaking firm of John Bartholomew and Co. (led by several generations of Bartholomews, many of them named John) devised a technique to address this challenge. Their cartographers pioneered the use of the color red to identify British possessions. British Empire Throughout the World, Exhibited in One View may be one of the earliest examples. The territory of colonies is filled with red to contrast with the non-British territories left uncolored. Names of British ports and islands are underlined in red to compensate for their lack of size. In a space that once held scientific vignettes, we now have tables of the empire’s possessions, listing area and population.

The Imperial Federation Map, published as a large color supplement to a London newspaper, adds several layers of information to this representation of the empire. “Our” possessions are colored red, which is a bright enough contrast the “their” territory which is uniformly white. Much of the Russian Empire is covered by a reduced map of the British Empire in 1786, demonstrating how much it has grown in a hundred years. The main sailing routes are drawn in black, noting mileage from London, Liverpool and Southampton. A table summarizing area, population and total trade numbers is inset for each part of the world.

Crane was a close friend of William Morris, founder of the English Arts and Crafts movement that emphasized the value of manual skills and the dignity of labor at a time of rapid industrialization. Politically he was a member of various socialist societies that emphasized reform through gradual change, including the Social Democratic Federation and later the Fabian Society.

Colomb’s data is surrounded by Crane’s portrait of the British Empire in 1886 as a benign socialist union. People representing British subjects in the colonies, both indigenous and European, gaze at a female Britannia with trident and shield, sitting on top of the WORLD. That world is held up by a bearded Atlas, whose sash reads “HUMAN LABOR”. The female figures are eroticized. The male figures each have their hand on a stiff weapon or tool. Above the map, three female graces, each wearing a red liberty cap associated with the French Revolution, swing in rush hammocks holding banners inscribed with freedom, fraternity, and federation in place of égalité. “Our” kingdom is surrounded by this wreath of the personified Britannia and her subjects looking inspired, contemplative and hopeful.

Next: City Maps, the origin & the destination

While a Kingdom Map reports or asserts control over the territory, the City Map looks at the place where lives, history, culture and commerce converge. Next we will see how the city is seen at different times and from different points of view.

Global Information Design: an overview of the series

Global information design embraces the visualizations of qualitative data such as expressions of social hierarchy, cultural beliefs, and values, as well as visualization of quantitative data, such as economic trends and scientific explanation. We can broaden our view of information design by following the pathways of its intended use. Exploring the history of how we visualize cosmology and timelines, transportation networks and family lineage, is as informative for current data visualization practice as the mastery of programming libraries and cognitive science. Studying examples of information design from many time periods and many cultures helps us understand how we shape patterns of difference into hierarchies and networks to create that chart, story, or graphic from the patterns that connect.

Part 8: On The Road, from the Postal Web to Lincoln Highway

Part 7: Visualizing Overland Travel, When All Roads Led To Rome

Part 6: City Maps: Ways to View the Polis

Part 5: Kingdom Maps: Drawing the Boundary Between Us and Them (this article)

Part 4: Maps = Eyes + Imagination, Envisioning the Known World,

Part 3: From Creation to Migration: Cosmology in the Small

Part 2: Diving into Global Information Design: Cosmology in the Large

Part 1: Global Information Design: A New Framework for Understanding Data Visualization


[1] F. Helmreich and C. Wawruschka, “Kartografischer Sonderfund: Die Königin Europa in Retz,” DER STANDARD.

[2] D. A. Brownstein, “Europa Regina,” Musings on Maps, Apr-2013 (

[3] P. Meurer, “Europa Regina. 16th century maps of Europe in the form of a queen,” Belgeo, no. 3–4, pp. 355–370, Dec. 2008.

[4] E. A. Werner, “Anthropomorphic Maps: On the Aesthetic Form and Political Function of Body Metaphors in the Early Modern Europe Discourse,” The Anthropomorphic Lens: Anthropomorphism, Microcosmism and Analogy in Early Modern Thought and Visual Arts, vol. 34, pp. 251–272, Jan. 2015.

[5] A. K. Nelsen, “King Philip’s War and the Hubbard-Mather Rivalry,” The William and Mary Quarterly, vol. 27, no. 4, p. 615, Oct. 1970.

[6] M. H. Edney, “John Mitchell’s Map of North America (1755): A Study of the Use and Publication of Official Maps in Eighteenth‐Century Britain,” Imago Mundi, vol. 60, no. 1, pp. 63–85, Feb. 2008.

[7] J. H. Appleby, “Mapping Russia: Farquharson, Delisle and the Royal Society,” Notes Rec. R. Soc. Lond., vol. 55, no. 2, pp. 191–204, May 2001.

[8] L. Bagrow, “Ivan Kirilov, compiler of the first Russian Atlas, 1689–1737,” Imago Mundi, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 78–82, Jan. 1937.

[9] P. Biltcliffe, “Walter Crane and the Imperial Federation Map Showing the Extent of the British Empire (1886),” Imago Mundi, vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 63–69, 2005.


The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

Thanks to Jason Forrest

Paul Kahn

Written by

Paul Kahn

Lecturer Northeastern Univ, IA and UX at Kahn+Assoc, Dynamic Diagrams & Mad*Pow. Hypertext research & information design, books: Mapping Websites, UnderStAnding


The Journal of the Data Visualization Society

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