'Thresoor der zeevaert' by Waghenaer

The coast is clear!

Letterpress title page 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596

Handy-sized and meticulous. Words applicable to the pilot guide Thresoor der zeevaert, published by the Enkhuizen navigating officer Lucas Jansz. Waghenaer (1534/35-1606) in 1592. From now on shipmasters could navigate more safely than before along the West-European coasts.

Dutch maritime expansion

During the 16th century the Dutch maritime trade expanded on the coasts of Western Europe. As a result, the demand for reliable navigation books increased. Waghenaer turned out to be the major pioneer in this field. His three pilot guides in different formats – Spieghel der zeevaerdt, Thresoor der zeevaert and Enkhuyser zee-caert-boeckwere milestones in the development of West-European navigation and strongly influenced the next generations.

The world’s first nautical atlas

Engraved title page 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596

The completion of the 23 charts for the first volume of his Spieghel der zeevaerdt  around 1580 enabled Waghenaer to publish the world’s first nautical atlas in 1584. It was his own original work and not copied from existing sources. The atlas was based partially on Waghenaer’s observations as a navigation officer and partially on his wealth of experience in practical navigation methods.

Folio format

The Spieghel der zeevaerdt became a huge success. The nautical atlas was not only an indispensable aid to Dutch seamen but also to their French, German, English, Spanish and Portuguese colleagues. Until far in the 17th century they would be using this atlas as they navigated the European coastlines. The folio format was also a new feature; shipmasters were accustomed to use pilot guides in oblong format. Yet the folio format turned out to be not very practical aboard a ship. The smaller and more handy-sized pilot guides Thresoor der zeevaert (1592, oblong) and Enchuyser zee-caert-boeck (1598, octavo) formed a logical addition to Waghenaer’s stock of maritime navigational works.

Houtsnedekaart van Santa Cruz de la Palma, 'Thresoor der zeevaert'

Purged from all mistakes

The Thresoor der zeevaert was published again in its familiar oblong format. Just like the Spieghel the pilot guide is a mix of texts, coastal profiles and charts. Waghenaer, who dedicated the atlas to Prince Maurits of Orange (1567-1625), offers some interesting details about the realization of the Thresoor. He says to have carried out excellent preliminary research in compiling the pilot guide: studying older navigational works and charts and comparing them with each other. A long list of mistakes from older pilot guides was the result. That is why the Thresoor opens with a ‘Register vande ghebreken ende vervalssinghen van alle zeecaerten die ghemaeckt zijn van de Oostersche ende Westersche zeevaert’ (Register of the mistakes and falsifications of all the charts which were made for the Eastern and Western navigation).

Kustprofiel van Gibraltar, 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596

Having no clue of seamanship?

In this way traditional pilot guides, including the ‘Leescaerteboeck of Wisbuy’ and the works by Govert Willemsz. van Hellesloot (1587) and Adriaen Gerritsz. (1588) are said to contain dozens of faults and defects. But Waghenaer does not hold this against Willemsz. and Gerritsz.:

‘dese twee mannen [… zijn] seer treffelijcke stuermannen ende piloten gheweest […] soo gheloove ick wel, indien zij lieden in leven gheweest hadden, alsmen henlieder schriften hadde willen in drucke laten uytgaen, ende dat zij de selve hadden moghen corrigeren, datmen by hunlieden alsulcke groote fauten niet en soude bevonden hebben. Maer henlieden schriften comende in vreemde handen, soo en hebben die hun uytterste beste niet ghedaen [… en] vande saken vander zeevaert gheen verstant ghehadt en hebben.’

(‘These two men [… have] been excellent navigating officers and pilots […] I do believe, if during their lives they had wanted to print and publish their works, and if they had been allowed to correct the text themselves, such great mistakes would not have occurred. But their writings ended up in strange hands, and these people did not do all they could [… and] had no clue of navigational affairs’).

Coastal charts and profiles

Coastal profiles of Messina, 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596

Waghenaer’s Thresoor consists of three parts and concludes with an appendix. The first part describes the art of navigating. The second part, preceded by a sonnet of Janus Dousa (1545-1604) contains charts and sailing directions for navigating the Western European coasts. Twenty detailed coast charts in copper engraving and many coastal profiles in woodcut illustrate the text. Although only a few charts bear the signature of the famous engraver Johannes van Doetecum, all charts can be ascribed to him on the ground of stylistic characteristics.

New waters

For the first time a Dutch publication contained charts and sailing directions for navigating the waters north of Scotland and the White Sea. Furthermore the third part, focusing on navigating the western part of the Mediterranean Sea, is the earliest pilot guide containing sailing directions for this area. This third part, with coastal profiles but without charts, has its own title and may have been brought onto the market as a separate publication. Finally the Thresoor has an appendix with texts about navigating non-European waters.
Compared to Waghenaer’s Spieghel der zeevaerdt the Thresoor contains more extensive and meticulous sailing directions. The charts, with a Dutch and a French title, have a uniform scale (1:600,000) and are all spread over two pages. On the charts the coasts are drawn in profile. A larger scale is used for estuaries and ports and when directing towards landmarks the charts show bearing lines.

Zeekaart van de kust van Noordwest-Frankrijk, 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596


The first editon of the Thresoor came of the (Plantijn) press at François van Raphelengien (Franciscus Raphelengius) in Leiden in 1592. The Utrecht University Library copy described here is an example of the second Dutch 1596 edition to which two charts and a description of the coasts of Morocco are added. It is a rare publication; Koeman (1967-1971,IV, Wag 17) only describes two copies including the one from Utrecht. Worldcat (reference date 11-10-2013) also shows a copy held by the Zeeuwse Bibliotheek in Middelburg. Unfortunately, in the Utrecht copy six charts are missing: charts of the Dutch coast, Brittany, Shetland, the Belt and the Barbary Coast (two charts). Traces of cutting tell of a deliberate theft of the maps in the past.

Popular publication

Image of a quadrant, 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596

The second edition described here was published at the Amsterdam publisher Cornelis Claesz., who also took care of all next editions in Dutch and French. The Thresoor turned out to be a popular publication: as early as 1601 Claesz. had to replace the old and worn copperplates of the maps. In 1602 a Dutch edition of the Thresoor followed, with an appendix about the navigation in the Dutch East and West Indies. This edition illustrates the first Dutch attempts to break up the Portuguese trading imperium in the East and the Spanish imperium in the West.
Three years after Waghenaer’s death Claesz. published a last edition of the Thresoor with a new title page and some thirty charts. That same year Claesz. died and new pilot guides by Waghenaer would no longer see the light of day. Waghenaer’s place was taken up by a newcomer, Willem Jansz. Blaeu. With the Licht der zeevaert Blaeu presented a more up-to-date nautical atlas, not after the example of Waghenaer’s Spieghel but of his Thresoor


Zeekaart van de Golf van Biskaje, 'Thresoor der zeevaert', 1596