SPEED, John (1552-1629) Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. York Shire. London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (small quarter inch tear on lower left, slight edge browning).
An elegant map depicting the royal county of Yorkshire, including part of Westmore Land, Lancashire, Lincolneshire, and the Germain Ocean (today’s North Sea). The map was printed from copper plates engraved by Jodocus Hondius in his workshop in Amsterdam in 1610. The upper right-hand corner of this map bares a detailed coat of arms used by King Charles the First. As King, Charles bore the royal arms undifferenced: quarterly, I and IV grand-quarterly: azure three fleurs-de-lis Or (for France) and Gules three lions passant guardant in pale Or (for England); II Or a lion rampant within a tressure flory-counter-flory Gules (for Scotland); III Azure a harp Or stringed Argent (for Ireland). The compass rose alongside it provides us with another striking example of Hondius’ detailed aesthetic. “Performed by John Speede and are to be sold by Thomas Bassett in Fleet Street and by Richard Chiswell in St. Paul’s Churchyard”.
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.
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 Yorkshire is an excellent part of the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, and would be an outstanding slice of history to add to every map collection.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.