SPEED, John (1552 - 1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. "Merionethshire Described 1610". London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (slight browning to edge, light foxing, offsetting)
A stunning county map of Merionethshire; part of the renowned Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine by English cartographer John Speed. The copper plates were engraved by Jocodus Hondius in 1610, Amsterdam. The maps from this Atlas are highly sought after, due to their intricate accuracy, detailing, and embellishments; with this county map being a prime example of these claims. Hondius engraved this map with plays on symmetry, from the cartouches and framed coat of arms of Wales and King Charles II. The dividers and compass rose are elegant details alongside the winged cherubim flanking both ends of the frame. An inset of Harlech Castle is framed. This impressive castle is a medieval fortification, constructed atop a spur of rock close to the Irish Sea, built by Edward I during his invasion of Wales between 1282 and 1289. Over the next few centuries, the castle played an important part in several wars – most notably during the English Civil War where it became the last fortification to surrender to the Parliamentary armies in 1647.
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 Merionethshire 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 Merionethshire 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.