A seminal work in cartographic history, Nicolay's La Navigation du Roy d'Ecosse is an early navigational guide, the oldest Scottish "rutter" (a sixteenth century term for a set of sailing directions, from the French routier). The voyage of James V named on the map’s title-page is that of 1540, when the King of Scotland, with several nobles, set out to subdue the unruly Lords of the Western Isles. Alexander Lyndsay was the pilot, and Nicolay credits him with having compiled the rutter by command of the King for the purpose.
Rutters were secretive documents, with the potential for giving away important navigational and economic secrets. It is believed that the French explorer, Nicolay, came into possession of a manuscript copy of the map in 1546 via Lord Dudley, Admiral of England (who had more than likely come by it through nefarious means). In fact, the rutter was used directly by the French to navigate safely to St Andrews in an attempt to avenge the murder of Cardinal Beaton by anti-French Protestants. St Andrews Castle ceded on 31st July 1547, and John Knox was among the defenders taken prisoner, spending eighteen months in the French galleys before his release. The map was finally published nearly 40 years after this, in 1583.
Little is known about the work's true originator, Alexander Lyndsay, but Nicolay is well documented. Nicolas de Nicolay (1517-1583) travelled widely throughout Europe and the Middle East, wrote several narratives of his journeys, and published De l'Art de Naviguer, translated from the Spanish. In 1544 he published a marine chart of Europe (the basis of the Ortelius map of Europe in his first atlas, 1570), a chart of America in 1554, and a map of the Boulonnais in northern France in 1558. He was appointed Géographe (or Cosmographe) du Roy in 1566.
This remarkable volume brings together many strands of interest: in the history of navigation and cartography, certainly; but perhaps more significantly it gives us an insight to the workings of diplomacy, espionage and intrigue in sixteenth century international relations.