SPEED, John (1552 - 1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. "Bedford Shire and the Situation of Bedford described with the armes of thos Honorable Familyes that have borne ye titles of Dukes and Earls therof". London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (slight browning to edge, good margins)
An elegant uncolored 1676 edition county map of Bedford Shire; taken from the highly acclaimed Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine by English cartographer John Speed. Engraved by Jodocus Hondius, these maps are lauded for their high level of accuracy, detail, and craftsmanship. This is considered one of the finest maps depicting Bedfordshire available today.
A decorative cartouche bearing the King's coat of arms and the title, cherubim, dividers - we already have a taste of the elaborate features. The county is bordered by Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire, Hertfordshire, and Buckinghamshire
The town plan of Bedforde is inset by the right hand corner, held by a Roman general. The map is decorated by a small title cartouche-like coat of arms and a simple compass rose. The town is most well-known for St. Paul's Church, engraved central on the map. The church is speculated to have been around since the 10th century; however, the structure which stands today was constructed in the early 13th century. The town's other significant roads and buildings are marked by a letter and guide for facilitated reference. It is noteworthy to mention this plan was mapped by John Speed himself, as indicated by his signature scale of 'Pases'.
The map is further embellished with the shields of several Earls and Dukes. Notable individuals include: John Plantaginet (Lancaster), 1st Duke of Bedford (14140 and brother of King Henry V; Ingelram Coucy, 1st Earl of Bedford (1366) and son-in-law to King Edward III; and John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford (1550) and English royal minister of the Tudor Era.
Small framed text tells the 1399 event of the River Ouse flooding and straying its course. As a result, it divided the towns and county. This was deemed a foreshadowing of the War of the Roses, which occurred a short while afterwards.
The county maps found in the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine were the first consistent attempt to show territorial divisions, but it was mainly Speed's town plans that were the major innovation and probably his greatest contribution to British cartography. Together, they formed the first printed collection of town plans of the British Isles and, for at least 50 of the 73 included in the Theatre, it was the first time these towns had been mapped. While being the first English atlas of the British Isles, Speed's Atlas was also one of the first attempts to accurately survey Ireland and to incorporate a comprehensive list of their town plans into the maps. The 1676 edition of Speed's atlas never came with original color. The examples of this map of Beford Shire should always be uncolored and never colored.
Born in Cheshire, John Speed developed his interest in maps in the 1580s, after moving to London to pursue his passions outside of tailoring. He there joined the Society of Antiquaries, where his enthusiasm for cartography won him the attention of William Camden, Robert Cotton, and Sir Fulke Greville. By working with these figures, Speed was able to do a large amount of research for his own work. In 1596, Greville bequeathed Speed with an unlimited allowance to research, and then later write, the Historie of Great Britaine. It was during this project which Speed had the encouragement to add a cartographic supplement to the work - what we today know as his most famous atlas. After being first published in 1611-1612, the 'Theatre of Great Britain' dominated the seventeenth-century English map market, going through many reprints and editions.
Thanks to the Atlas' success, Speed earned the title of England's most well-known Stuart period cartographer and his work became the blueprint for folio atlases until the mid-18th century. Historically, Speed is also noted for placing England into the mainstream of map publishing, which had been dominated by the Dutch since the late sixteenth century.
This map of Bedford Shire is an excellent part of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, and would make an outstanding addition to all map collections.
For more information on this map, or a warm welcome to see other maps and books of our collection at 72nd Street NYC, please contact Natalie Zadrozna.