SPEED, John (1552 - 1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine: Essex, devided into Hundreds, with the most antient and fayre Towne Colchester Described and other memorable MONUMENTS observed. Anno 1662. London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (light browning to edge, light foxing, single brown dot on map).
An elaborate elegant uncolored map of Essex; as part of John Speed's highly regarded Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. This map was engraved on copper plates by Jodocus Hondius in his workshop in Amsterdam in 1610 - it is truly a prime example of the level of craft and detail found in Speed's Atlas.
Essex is beautifully depicted with a handsome title cartouche bearing the Essex coat of arms and a pair of hounds. Great features, as seen from the gated parks, rolling hills, and trees. Its borders stretch to Cambridgeshire, Harfordeshire, Kent, and Suffolk. The British Sea is decorated with full mast ships, sea monsters, and waves. The Thames River can be seen flowing from the Sea into London; with the city depicted as a vignette with high clusters of buildings.
The town plan is framed with an elaborate cartouche of fretwork and revival statues. Inside there are three coins bearing the heads of the Emperor Constantine and his parents, Constantius and Helena. Speed's inset plan of Colchester 'reveals a town of some prosperity with its castle, churches, dwellings and former religious houses, somewhat uncomfortably straddling a circle of walls of Roman origin'. (Nigel Nicolson). The plan is accompanied by a letter guide, to aide in locating the significant streets and buildings within Colchester. It is also noteworthy to mention this town plan was mapped by Speed himself, as indicated by the 'Scale of Pases' found on the bottom.
Coats of arms of the Earles of Essex decorate the left hand side of the map. Notable inclusions are the Arms of Geoffrey Mandeville, the first Earl of Essex in 1140, and of Thomas Cromwell, who was granted Earldom by Henry VIII in 1540.
Speed drew on the work of John Norden for this map of Essex: "Described by John Norden. Augmented by John Speede. And are to be solde by Tho. Bassett in Fleetstreet and Ric Chiswell in St Pauls 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. The 1676 edition of Speed's atlas never came with original color. The uncolored editions of Speed's maps are classic and highly sought after, as they reflect the true quality of Speed's work unhindered by possibly amateur colorists. Thus, the examples of this map of Essex should never be 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 county map of Essex is an excellent element 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 from our collection at 72nd Street NYC, please contact Natalie Zadrozna.