Henri Abraham Chatelain, a cartographer, talented artist, prolific producer and publisher of maps and encyclopedic atlases was born in Paris in 1684 to Huguenot parents, and himself became a pastor of the faith. Being Huguenot at that time still carried a death sentence in some parts of Europe, thus his religious beliefs were of significant import to him throughout much of his early life, and influenced the development of his career as one of Western Europe’s premier cartographers. Despite having been born after the commonly recognized end of the so-called Protestant Reformation (1648), Chatelain would be impacted by its myriad repercussions for decades, as Huguenots were especially targeted for their non-traditional (non-Catholic) beliefs.
Huguenots are commonly defined as French Protestants who accepted the basic tenets and ideals of the Reformation started by Martin Luther in 1517 when he posted his Theses on the door of his local church. By accepting them, the Huguenots were thus rejecting Roman Catholicism. They, along with other Protestant groups, reformulated Christian beliefs, eventually resulting in the division of Western Christendom into two basic religious groups – Catholicism and Protestantism.
This division ultimately would have profound political, economic and social impact. France was determined to prevent this division and instituted myriad laws and reforms which resulted in draconian measures designed to prevent the ‘contagion’ of Protestantism from spreading in France. Despite the disadvantages, difficulties and dire danger of being Huguenot at this volatile time in European history, Chatelain, his father Zacharie and brother Zacharie Junior succeeded in creating their own publishing enterprise and to become known as some of the leading cartographers and publishers of their day.
Chatelain was born just one year before Louis XIV of France issued his infamous Edict of Fontainebleau. This edict, also known as the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was formalized by Louis with the intent of creating and enforcing religious unity amongst the citizens of his realm by banning the practice of all Protestant faiths, and by forcing the practice of Catholicism on all his subjects.
The resulting penalties for practicing Protestantism and persecution of protestant religions forced large numbers of these groups to either flee the country or to attempt to continue to meet and practice their beliefs in secret. Penalties for this ‘blasphemy’ were severe, with those caught opposing the Edict facing varying degrees of brutal and sadistic torture, imprisonment and/or the gallows.
As a result, France lost many of its Protestant inhabitants, with some estimates as high as 400,000. Many of those fleeing the country were highly educated and successful in various fields and professions who found it relatively easy to relocate to other parts of the world including England, the Netherlands, Prussia and even America. The repercussions of their abandoning France would ultimately seriously and negatively impact the country as the Industrial Revolution began its march across the continent from England.
Chatelain had already fled the country when Louis XIV pronounced France to be free of Protestants and Protestantism in 1715. Indeed, the turmoil of those times resulted in his moving from place to place seeking safety and a peaceful, secure place to work. By 1728 he had lived in a number of cities including Paris, St. Martins, London, The Hague, and finally Amsterdam in 1728. Fortunately, the time spent in each of these important cultural and educational centres of Europe afforded him opportunities to become proficient in myriad fields, enabling him to ultimately create a truly original and authoritative work, groundbreaking for its time.
A uniquely talented artist and engraver, Chatelain conceived an atlas which he called Atlas Historique, in French, Atlas Historique, Ou Nouvelle Introduction à L'Histoire. The production of the atlas was a family enterprise which included him, his father Zacharie and his brother Zacharie Junior. It was published in seven volumes between 1705 and 1720, with a second edition appearing in 1732, and a final edition in 1739.
The work is one of the most thorough and expansive of its era. Much of the text was compiled by Nicholas Gueudeville, a French geographer, with a supplement by Henri Phillipe de Limiers. Most of the maps were engraved by Chatelain himself. The plates are based on the best travel accounts by renowned explorers of the period such as Dapper, Chardin, de Bruyn, Le Hay, and on maps by contemporary and earlier cartographers and travel writers, such as Guillaume Delisle and Nicholas Sanson, to name a few.
Chatelain’s elegant, superb engravings often incorporated lavish decoration along with extensive, encyclopaedic texts, creating impressive imagery and providing wealth of information describing the regions depicted on any given map. Both lower and upper margins are often decorated with inset vignettes, plans of harbors and cities, portraits and explanatory texts. It was Chatelain’s expressed hope to provide information regarding the ever-expanding world to as many readers as possible in an easily accessible format, maps and charts such as those featured here.