This map was finely engraved and separately-issued by Melchior Tavernier the Younger, royal cartographer to Louis XIII, and showcases Leucate, a fortress located near a highland along the coast of the Mediterranean, in Languedoc, France. It was long considered a strategic position, as it blocked any army which attempted to invade France along the coast from the south. The map depicts the Siege of Leucate (September 24, 1637), an important event which occurred during the early period of the Franco-Spanish War (1635-59), an epic context between the Bourbon and Habsburg royal families for domination of Western Europe. As shown on the map, a Spanish army of 16,000 men under General Gabriele Serbelloni, an experienced Milanese officer in Habsburg employ, attacked the French positions around the Leucate highland, which were composed of 12,000 men under the command of the Duc d’Halluin. After a bloody battle the French prevailed and the Spanish attempt to conquer Languedoc was stopped cold.
The Franco-Spanish War (1635-59) was a conflict that grew out of the larger Thirty Years War (1618-48), in which France’s House of Bourbon squared off against the mighty Spanish Habsburg Empire which controlled all of Iberia (plus Spain and Portugal’s immense overseas holdings), parts of Italy and what is today Belgium, forcing France to fight a multi-theatre defensive war. However, Richelieu proved to be daring and clever diplomat and military strategist who ensured that France would punch well above her weight.
The war began well for France with a quick victory at Les Avins (1635); however, the following year initially proved to be a disaster for the Gallic side. Spanish armies from Flanders overran the French defensive lines in the north, leaving Paris open to attack. While this situation was clearly not comfortable for him, Richelieu knew that the Spanish forces were spread way too thin. He worked to foment rebellious activities in places within the Spanish Empire, such as Portugal and Catalonia, and cleverly moved his armies around French territory in an effort to delay and harass the Spanish forces. His plan worked, as by the latter moths of 1636, the Spanish had simply run out of steam and were not able to hold their positions in Northern France. They soon found themselves on the defensive, having to contain internal unrest while running out of money to finance their several massive armies all across Europe.
The Spanish designs to invade France from the south, through Languedoc, likewise failed, as exemplified by their loss at Leucate. From 1640 onwards, the Catalan Revolt (backed by France) further sapped Spanish resources in the region. In the northern theatre, the Spanish were stunned upon losing the Battle of Rocroi (1643). The war was stalemated when a truce was declared in 1648, although the peace was not to last long, with the conflict resuming in short order. At the Treaty of the Pyrenees (1659) which finally ended the war, France had the better of Spain, as she gained control of Roussillon, Perpignan and French Flanders, although Spain retained most of Catalonia.
The present map of Leucate is one of a number of fine separately-issued maps showcasing different aspects of the Franco-Spanish War issued by Melchior Tavernier the Younger (1594-1665), royal cartographer to Louis XIII and a member of a great family of engravers and travel writers. While the map bears no imprint or date, due to its unique style it is unmistakably by Tavernier, whose imprint appears on some of the other like maps. Tavernier’s official position gave him privileged access to French military manuscripts, on which his maps of the Franco-Spanish war are based.
The present map is extremely rare – we are aware of only 2 institutional examples (Bibliothèque nationale de France and Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal) and we have not been able to locate any sales records.
References: OCLC: 494448020; Bibliothèque nationale de France, département Cartes et plans, GE D-12962; Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal: cc-349-a.