SPEED, John (1552 - 1629).Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. “Breknoke Both Shyre and Town described. Anno Domini 1610”. London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (slight browning to edge, light foxing, offsetting, small spot left)
A handsome uncolored 1676 edition map of Breknokeshire (Brecknockshire); as part of the renowned Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine by English cartographer, John Speed. The plates for Speed’s maps were engraved by Jodocus Honius, a great Dutch mapmaker, in 1610. These maps are highly sought after for their beautiful accuracy, detailing, and embellishments. This map of Breknokeshire is one of the finest available of the county, exhibiting the true variety of the region with mountains, hills, and rivers. Hondius filled this map with elaborate cartouches for his presentation of the coats of arms of King Charles II and Wales. The heraldic badge of the Price of Wales is also depicted.
The 1676 edition of the map adds the shield of James Butler, 1st Earl of Brecknock and 1st Duke of Ordmonde (1661), which will not be found printed on some earlier maps.
An inset of the town of Breknoke graces the upper right corner. The plan is embellished with the town’s coat of arms and an elegant compass rose. The town is most known for being a part of the thirteen historic counties in Wales. The plan depicts an older royal Castle, and one of the only towns hosting a College. The other significant roads and buildings are marked with a letter, to be used with the corresponding key. It is also worth mentioning that this town was mapped by Speed himself, as indicated by his signature ‘Scale of Pases’.
A highly desirable aspect of the maps are their vignettes depicting important battles and events of Britain. The moment captured on the map of Breknoke shows the fight in Bluit involving the death of Leolin, the last reigning Prince of Brittany, and Roger Strongbow, who hath slain him, in 1282.
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 Breknokeshire 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 Breknokeshire is an excellent part of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, and would be 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.