SPEED, John (1552-1629). Theatre of the Empire of Great. County Map of Berkshire. London: John Sudbury & George Humble, 1676.
Single sheet (15 x 20 inches, full margins showing the plate mark, two inch tear top right corner, very thin 6.5 inch early crease line bottom left). A wonderful uncolored engraved map of the royal county of Berkshire, stretching from the border with Wiltshire in the west to the county of Surrey in the east. Engraved by Jodocus Hondius in Amsterdam in 1610, this map displays the aesthetic quality for which he is renowned. The best example of this on the map is the inset view of Windsor Castle as it would have been seen from over the river in the neighbouring village of Eton. The map was printed as part of Speeds revered atlas, 'Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine'.
The map was part of the earliest English attempt at producing an atlas on a grand scale as part of 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain', the work for which Speed is best known. This celebrated Atlas contained the first set of county maps consistently attempting to show the boundaries of territorial divisions and the first truly comprehensive set of English town plans-a notable contribution to British topography. After 15 years assembling the Atlas it was published to immediate success: three new editions and issues appeared during Speed's lifetime and the work remained popular into the eighteenth century. Indeed the maps of this Atlas remain one of the most popular with map collectors around the world.
John Speed was born in the Cheshire village of Farndon and from his youth pursued his father's profession of tailoring. He later moved to London to continue this trade, though Speed's real passions lay elsewhere, namely in the fields of antiquity and cartography. He joined the Society of Antiquaries where his enthusiasm soon attracted the attention of notables such as William Camden and Sir Fulke Greville. In 1596 Greville provided Speed with a full time allowance to write a 'Historie of Great Britaine'. It was during this project that Speed decided to add a cartographic supplement to the work and it was from this that his famous atlas, 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine', was born.
The individual maps of this Atlas are among the best known and among the most sought-after of all county maps. With a decorative cartouche and an intricate compass rose this is a particular fine county map.The map also sports a depiction of the battle of Radcott bridge which occurred on the Berkshire and Oxfordshire border where the kings troops where defeated by the armies of disaffected magnates including the Earl of Derby. The maps themselves were derived from the best and most up- to-date sources available. We are unaware of any 1676 edition of this map in original color. When it was published it would have been studied by nobles and officials without colour and we feel this same experience is strongly preferable to other maps with more recent colouring. This map of the royal county is truly a both beautiful and fascinating item.
Description prepared for Arader Galleries by Jack Rogers (Eton College, Oxford University Geography Undergraduate)