SPEED, John (1552 - 1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. Leicester both Countye and Citie described, The Honorable Famylies that have had the titles of Earls there of. With other accidents therein observed. London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (slight browning to edge, ¾" tear in centerfold).
A highly desirable uncolored map of Leicestershire. This county is of the more found in John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine.
"This Countye of Leicester is and hath bene a most famous Earldome […]"
Engraved by Jodocus Hondius in his workshop in Amsterdam, this map is a prime example of the level of craft and detail found in the Atlas.
The title cartouche presents the map to the viewer, alongside the ever present royal arms of King Charles II.
The town plan of Leicaster fills the lower left side of the map. A letter guide allows us to match the most significant areas of the plan, such as roads, building, and rivers. The city is busy with fortresses, cathedrals, castles, and town squares - a true noble city indeed.
The map is edged with a selection of Leicester's most famous and noble Earls and Dukes; most notably including Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, the well-known close friend of Queen Elizabeth I; and Simon de Monfort, 6th Earl of Leicaster, who rebelled against King Henry III and became de facto ruler of England in 1264.
The county map of Leicaster is particularly attractive for its vignette depicting the Battle of Bosworth, the last battle during the War of the Roses in the 15th century. The image engraved by Hondius shows a fleeting moment of the civil war between the Houses of Lancaster and York.
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 Leicastershire 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 Leicastershire 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.