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Anna Beek and the War of the Spanish Succession

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In honor of Women’s History Month this March, Worlds Revealed is featuring weekly posts about the history of women in geography and cartography. You can click on the “Women’s History Month” category see all related posts.

Anna van Westerstee Beek (also spelled “Beeck”) was born in 1657 in The Hague, a coastal city in the Dutch Republic around 40 miles southwest of Amsterdam. In 1678, she married the art dealer and publisher Barent(s) Beek and began a long career in the map publishing trade. Beek was granted a divorce by the local courts after her husband deserted her and their seven children in 1693 and took over the business of publishing maps and plans from her estranged husband. Four years after their divorce, we have records of her taking out patents under the name “Anna Westerstee, wife of Barent Beek” which signals that she had continued the business and may have assumed his guild rights.

There was a long tradition of women being intricately involved in the largest map publishing houses (called “ateliers”) in the Low Countries. Women were involved at every level of production: engraving, printing, coloring, and publishing. Ateliers could have a large network of family members working on production at any given time, including wives, daughters, sisters, and widows. It was not uncommon for a widow to take charge of a publishing operation or inherit the guild rights upon the death of a husband, including women from the famed House of Hondius. Because of this, we should not be surprised that Anna Beek ran Chez Beek as Chez Anna Beek following her divorce.

We know of approximately 60 prints and maps that were published under her name between 1697 and 1717, and 30 of which are currently in the collections of the Geography and Map Division at the Library of Congress. Looking at the maps we have attributed specifically to Anna Beek (again, some maps print her name as “Beeck”) it is clear that she specialized in city plans, charting naval invasions, mapping ground troop movement, and battle lines. She picked the perfect time to enter the business of printing up-to-date maps of battle activity: the War of the Spanish Succession began in 1701 and spanned her entire career.

Anna Beek. "Gelder." 1703. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.
Anna Beek. “Gelder.” 1703. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

When Charles II, the King of Spain, died in 1700 at the age of 38, Europe was thrown into tumult. Prior to his death, he had named the Bourbon grandson of French King Louis XIV (Philip, Duke of Anjou) as his successor. Charles II was the last Habsburg monarch of Spain and, in naming a Bourbon King to succeed him, gave nearly unilateral control of Europe to the House of Bourbon. From the view of England, the Dutch Republic, and the Holy Roman Empire, naming another Bourbon King would give too much influence to the French and would ultimately disrupt the balance of power across Europe. Those three powers, in reaction to Spain declaring a Bourbon King, called for a Habsburg son of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I (Archduke Charles) to take over the Spanish Crown instead.

That’s when Europe went to war. An alliance formed between the Holy Roman Empire, England, and the United Provinces (the Dutch Republic) against the French claim to the Spanish crown. Called the War of the Spanish Succession, battles were waged between 1701 and 1713, including endless land-grabs, naval engagements, other European countries becoming involved, new alliances forming and then dissolving, and a string of attempts to end the fighting.

Things were particularly tempestuous in the Low Countries. Previously united as the Seventeen Provinces and split into two parts at the end of the Eighty Years’ War in 1648, the northern Dutch Republic (also called the Republic of the Seven United Provinces) and the southern Spanish Netherlands (ruled by Spain) were two separate countries when the War of the Spanish Succession broke out. The Spanish Netherlands, nestled between France and the Dutch Republic, acted as a sort of buffer zone between the two countries during the War and had been a source of contention in the years leading up to it as well.

War against both Spain and France played an enormous role in map production in the Dutch Republic. The Seven United Provinces had the highest literacy rates in Western Europe and a public that was accustomed to reading and consuming maps by the end of the 17th century. Literacy rates, an active book trade, a thriving printing industry, and a large talent pool of printers, draftsmen, and engravers all played a role in the rise of commercial map production across the Republic. Many Flemish engravers fled the Spanish Netherlands to escape religious persecution by Catholics, which was a boon for the printing industry in the northern United Provinces.

Anna Beek. "Plan de l'action qui s'est passee a Wynendale." 1708. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.
Anna Beek. “Plan de l’action qui s’est passee a Wynendale.” 1708. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

The majority of maps and battle plans we have by Beek are of sieges and attacks that took place during the War of Spanish Succession. For example, in the above map depicting the Battle of Wijnendale, we can see that it was published in 1708. The Battle of Wijnendale (the French spelling is given on the map) took place in on 28 September 1708, and considering its publication date, we can conclude that this battle plan was published within only three months of the actual event. Given the timeliness of the map and the two column description of what took place (in both French and Dutch), this map could be an example of a large military news map or broadside. Popularized over the course of the 16th century, news maps were created for the keeping the public abreast of battles, troop movements, and international news. During times of war, these could be of particularly valuable to people living in warring states, such as the Dutch Republic or the Spanish Netherlands.

Beek’s publishing house was in a particularly strategic location for receiving news from abroad. Shipping and ship building thrived in the Low Countries, with shipping vessels and seamen visiting regularly with developing news from abroad. Taking a closer look at the publication information found on the bottom of her maps, we can see that she has written “privilège des Etats de Holl. et Wests” or, “with privilege from the States of Holland and West-Frise.” Privileges were a form of copyright; a way to ensure that your intellectual property was honored. If her up-to-date, contemporary maps were highly valued or appreciated, she could anticipate a certain level of imitation by her competitors. For example, we have a records of her filing a lawsuit against fellow publishers in 1713 for re-selling images she had made herself.

Anna Beek. "Caarte vande landingh inde baay van Vigos..." 1702. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.
Anna Beek. “Caarte vande landingh inde baay van Vigos…” 1702. Library of Congress, Geography & Map Division.

With a niche in the marketplace, sufficient infrastructure, and access to information about recent troop movements, Anna Beek published battle plans and military maps throughout the course of the War of the Spanish Succession. Ending in 1714 with the Treaty of Utrecht, King Philip V (formally Philip, Duke of Anjou) ascended the Spanish throne, the Spanish Netherlands were ceded to the Austrian Habsburgs of Holy Roman Empire, and portions of France’s settlements in North America were turned over to the the English. As a part of the Treaty of Utrecht, Philip V had to renounce the possibility of ever ruling France, thus maintaining a moderate balance of power among the nations. Anna Beek’s detailed and visual depictions of major territory disputes and battle lines, published in near real-time, are an example of military mapping from a period in Europe’s history marked by maelstrom.


  1. Thank you for this very helpful discussion.

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