SPEED, John (1552 - 1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. "Northampton Shire". London: Bassett & Chiswell, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches) Full margins showing the plate mark (slight browning to edge, light foxing, offsetting)
A handsome map of Northamptonshire with town plan insets of Northampton and Peterborow. Taken from John Speed's famous Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. The cooper plates to print these maps were engraved by Dutch mapmaker Jodocus Hondius in 1610. These county maps are the finest of their kind and the most sought after of Speed's maps.
Northamptonshire is beautifully mapped out, depicting a relatively flat land with some hills sprinkled about. Hondius does an excellent work in filling all part of the space; with title cartouches, strapwork frames holding the King's coat of arms; frames, and elegant cartographer's tools.
The county borders with those of Lecestershire, Warwickshire, Buckinghamshire, Oxford, Bedfordshire, and Huntington. Northamptonshire has a rich history dating back to early human occupation during Paleolithic time and so on.
There are two town insets. Northampton (left) is the main county town of Northamptonshire in the East Midlands of England. It rose to national significance with the building of Northampton Castle - the royal residence and frequent host to the Parliament of England. Peterborow (Peterborough; right) was historically part of Northamptonshire, however for ceremonial purposes it now falls within the county borders of Cambridgeshire. The highlight of this town is its early English Gothic cathedral dedicated to St. Peter; presented in the center. The remaining significant roads and building on both town plans are marked with a letter guided by a key. John Speed also mapped both of these towns himself, as indicated by his signature 'Scale of Pases'.
A highly desired addition to the county maps are Speed's inclusion of vignettes depicting English battles and events. Here, we find the Battle of Edgcote, the first major action in the campaigns of 1469-71 and the second major period of unrest in the Wars of the Roses. It took place in Northamptonshire when the army of the Earl of Pembroke, which was marching to join with Edward IV at Nottingham, encountered a rebel force under Robin of Redesdale, which was marching to join with the army of the Earl of Warwick.
The right bares a frames showcasing the coat of arms of the ruling honorable families, Duke, and Earls over Northamptonshire. The shield of Sir William Compton is included in this 1676 edition, and was not previously printed on some other editions.
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 Northamptonshire 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 Northamptonshire 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.