The Navigation Manual of Jacques de Vaulx
Jacques de Vaulx (1557-1597) was a French cosmographer and navigator. He is mainly known for his handwritten navigation manual, as well as for his explorations in America. He is one of the emblematic Norman navigators of the 16th century.
Jacques de Vaulx sometimes spelled Jacques Devaulx is a Norman ship captain, born in Le Havre, France. Shortly before he turned 30, he was a pilot who had already travelled to the Americas and became officially a cosmographer. He then received the mission to explore the Amazon River as pilot major on the ship La Normande. The objective of the expedition was to identify lands not occupied by the Portuguese or Spanish to set up trading posts. Indeed, the French presence in South America is almost non-existent, although its sailors often go there to trade. Norman navigators, more especially, frequented the Brazilian coasts for the redwood trade.
Jacques de Vaulx was in charge to wrote a memoir on the possibilities of trade with the territories where the Amazon River passed through. After 2 years of expedition, the ship landed in Honfleur in 1587 and the french navigator reported his discoveries, confirming his status as an outstanding explorer.
A new type of navigation manual
The account of this voyage has been lost but it’s another of his works that interests us. The French royalty, marked by the success of Norman navigators in the second half of the 16th century, decided to encourage the training of deep-sea pilots. In 1583, Jacques de Vaulx published his first version of his navigation manual Les premières Œuvres de Jacques Devaulx, pillote en la marine . This version of 31 handwritten and illustrated folios was extended the following year.
As a cosmographer he detailed in the first pages a composition of the universe, using a geocentric system which was then in use. The Sun appears only in 4th rank in orbit around the Earth. In the following pages, supporting his cosmic knowledge, he details the design of measuring and navigation instruments: the magnetic compass, the Jacob’s staff, the astrolabe, and other elements that allow to find one’s way in difficult situations such as the nocturlabe to find the time during the night.
He explains with these tools how to evaluate distances and directions between territories, the importance of meridians, what type of information the horizon and the tropics may provide, the use of latitude and longitude in navigation through cartography.
Finally, he continues his theoretical manual by applying it to nautical charts. Surprisingly the representation of the coast of South America and the Caribbean is much closer to reality than the North America one. An illustration of the Port of Le Havre and the city concludes his navigation manual. Only handwritten, it remains a sublimely illustrated work, very important in the theory of navigation and for the evolution of cartography and nautical charts at the end of the 16th century.
Ci-commence ce livre par la figure et miroir du monde. This book begins with the figure and mirror of the world.