6. John Speed 1610

John Speed (1552-1629) was born at Farndon in Cheshire and followed his father’s trade as a tailor. By 1582 he had moved to London with his wife (Susanna who bore him twelve sons and six daughters) and been made a Freeman of the Merchant Tailors Company (1580). He was a keen amateur historian and map maker, producing maps for the Merchant Tailors in 1598. He became a member of the Society of Antiquaries where it is likely that he came into contact with the leading historians of the day such as Sir Robert Cotton, William Camden, whose text he had read, and perhaps even Christopher Saxton. His interests came to the notice of Sir Fulke Greville, who made him an allowance so that he should be free to write an history of England and, by courtesy of Queen Elizabeth, worked from a room in the Custom House.

A good historian he was a great gatherer of information: I have put my sickle into other men’s corns. Most of his map material was copied from Saxton, however, John Norden (1548-1626) and William Smith (c.1550-1618) had produced maps of some counties and Gerard Mercator maps of the regions. Yet Speed must have travelled extensively, for his maps go well beyond those of his predecessors. By including the hundreds, the inset town plans and heraldic devices of his maps and modifying the Camden text in the atlas he assured its success and lasting appeal. The first maps engraved for the atlas were printed in 1605-06 (although most of the dated maps show 1610) and were on sale between then and 1610-11, when the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine and the History, which often accompanied it, was issued in full. Speed’s drafts were taken to Amsterdam, engraved by Jodocus Hondius, then taken back to London for printing. The Devon map was copied directly from Saxton and the map of Exeter is taken from Braun and Hogenberg’s engraving (1587) of a plan by John Hooker. The Cornish boundary has a minor error: Mount Edgcombe, shown in Devon on the Cornwall map, is situated in Cornwall on the Devon map; a mistake copied by both Jan Jansson and Joan Blaeu, and hence by all who derived their maps from these sources.1

In 1627, just before he died, Speed published A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World (title copied from Ortelius) which, combined with the 1627 edition of the Theatre, became the first World Atlas produced by an Englishman.

Speed’s publishers, John Sudbury (d.1621) and his nephew George Humble (d.1640), received a 21-year privilege in 1608 and exploited it to the full issuing 12 editions of the work. George Humble also obtained the van den Keere plates (4) and published these miniature maps to coincide with issues of Speed’s large atlas, hence the name Miniature Speeds. William Garrett bought the plates in 1659 and immediately sold them to Roger Rea. By 1675 Thomas Bassett (fl.1659-93) and Richard Chiswell (1639-1711) had bought the plates and obtained a 10-year privilege to print. They then sold the plates or single sheets to Christopher Browne (fl.1684-1712). Henry Overton acquired the plates c.1711 and used them in collections of maps. Overton’s nephew sold them to Dicey & Co. in 1754. Single sheets were still being sold as late as 1770.


Size 375 x 510 mm. THE SCALE OF MILES (10 = 65 mm).

DEVONSHIRE WITH EXCESTER DESCRIBED And the Armes of such Nobles as have borne the titles of them. Royal Arms. Hundreds listed but not added to map itself. Inset plan of EXCESTER in frame together with city arms. Inset left, eight coats of arms. No publisher's imprint panel. Boat in Bristol Channel (Ba) and Part of Somerset/Shyre added in pencil with Dorset also named.2


1.  1610   Proof copy without text, known only as a single sheet. Possibly pre-1610.    P.



a) Panel introduced for imprint (Be) which reads Performed by Ihon Speede And are to be sold in popes-head Alleye by Iohn Sudburi & George humble. Cum privilegio. No text on reverse. Proof corrected: boat removed from Bristol Channel (Ba); Hundreds shown on map area. Neighbouring county as PAPT OF SOM / MER / SET / SHIRE with last section in Dorset.


    b) English text on reverse begins: Book 1. DEVON-SHIRE Chap.10. (DevA).
    The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine: Presenting An Exact Geography of the Kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isles adioyning. With The Shires, Hundreds, Cities, and Shire-townes, within ye Kingdome of England, divided and described by Iohn Speed.  
    London. John Sudbury & George Humble. 1611 (1612).    XXIV, S7, BL, RGS, W.
3. 1614 Shot silk sea-shading added.             (DevA).
    The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine 3
    London. Sudbury and Humble. 1614 (1616).    XXIV, S10, BL.
    Theatrum Imperii Magnae Britanniae: Exactam Regnorum Angliae, Scotiae, Hiberniae et Insularum adiactentium Geographia.4  
    London. Sudbury & Humble. 1616.      XXIVa/b, S11, BL, RGS, W.
4. 1623  British tribes and Roman stations added, eg DANMONII and ISCA DANMONIOR between Exeter and Okehampton (possibly by Renold Elstrack who signed Norfolk).  
    The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine  
    London. Sudbury & Humble. 1614 (1623).  S14, W, BCL.
    The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine - text variations as follows:  
    a) English text reset: capital D given plain double border5  
    London. G Humble. 1627.  XXV, S16, BL, B6 , RGS, (DevA).
     b) Text reset: in is now on the 2nd line - Hundreds | in Devon-shire  
    London. G Humble. 1627 (1632). S18, BL
    c) Text reset: the capital D has a lady and a knight on either side (not scribe).  
    London. W Humble. 1627 (1646).7 S36, BL. 
    London. W Humble. 1650 (with Prospect still dated 1646, printed by John Leggatt) and reissued in 1650 (1651), 1650 (1652), 1650 (1653), 1650 (1654) . S48, W; S50; S51; S55; S57, Gard. 
5. 1665  Imprint: Performed by Ihon Speede And are to be sold by Roger Rea the Elder and younger at ye Golden Crosse in Cornhill against the Exchange. The word PART in Somerset title correceted with downward stroke to original P.  
    The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine 8  
    London. Roger Rea the Elder and Younger. 1650 (1665).  XXVII, S81, BL, W. 
6. 1676  Arms of Wil: Cavendish E. of Devon (Ad) added (Of in Part of Cornwall moved to left). Imprint changed to: Performed by Ihon Speede And are to be Sold by Tho: Bassett in Fleetstreet, and Ric: Chiswell in St Pauls Churchyard. The D of Devonshire now within wreath.  
    The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine  
    London. Bassett & Chiswell. 1676.  XXVII, S92,  BL, RGS, (DevA). 
    Atlas Anglicanus9  
    London. John Seller. (1681). XXVIII, BL.
7. 1695  Devon (& 4 other maps) have new imprint; Browne: Corrected and Sold by Chrystopher Browne at the Globe near the West End of St Pauls Church London. (DEI), (KB).
    Atlas without title page or text.  
    London. Christopher Browne. 1695. S116, NMM, CB.
    England Fully Described - Speed (Overton) I & Speed (Overton) II  
    London. Henry Overton. (1713), (post-1716). H135, [NLW]; XXIXa, H136, BL, NMM. 
 8. 1720 Imprint: Performed by John Speed and Sold by Henry Overton at the White Horse without Newgate London. Roads added.  
    England Fully Described - Speed (Overton) III  
    London. Henry Overton. (1720).       XXX, H137, B. 
9. 1743 Retouching of shading to hills, end of plumes of helmet more feathery and stonework to Exeter walls almost lost under angled shading. (DevA), (DEI). 
    England Fully Described - Speed (Overton) IV  
    London. H Overton. 1743. XXXI, H138, BL. 
     Atlases with no title pages - Overton Atlas VII & VIII H143a, CB; H144, BL. 
10. 1756 Imprint altered to: Performed by I Speede and are to be Sold by C Dicey & Co: in Aldermary Church-yard London. (DevA).
    The English atlas (manuscript title in the Cambridge copy). 10  
    London. Dicey & Co. (1756-1770).  XXXII, H145, BL, C.


[1] For a comparison of all the names used on the maps by Saxton, Speed, Jansson and Blaeu, see Kit Batten; Christopher Saxton and his Map of Devonshire; 1990; unpublished monograph; copy lodged at the former Westcountry Studies Library, Exeter.

[2] Our thanks to the present owner of this proof copy for providing details and images of the map. Other points to note: The manuscript 'Part of Somerset' appears to be inserted between engraved lines so may be a very crude light early engraving rather than a simple handwritten insert. Many of the village place names also appear within the scribed guide lines (e.g. names in Cornwall around Hartland Point). The very small colour code lettering marked on the coats of arms of later versions of the map are missing from the proof. Manuscript title - 'Start Point' very faint above the lower margin of the map. The 'hills' in Somerset and along the eastern border of Devon appear to be early, simple outlines. The villages of Raley (near Barnstable), Molland (Exe-More), Bickley & Butterley (beneath Halberton) are all in manuscript.

[3] This has English text on reverse: the English and Latin editions have leaves and balls surrounding the first D of text, whereby the former has ovate leaves in the corners and the latter trefoil (see illustrations below examples of the Speed maps in image section). Our thanks to the late Dr Almond for providing both the information and the photographs of the woodcuts used.

[4] Reissued in Amsterdam by Jodocus Hondius 1621 and Jan Blaeu in 1646.

[5] Was now sold with first issue of A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World Printed by John Dawson for George Humble, and are to be sold at his shop in Popes head Palace, 1627.

[6] A copy in the Bodleian Library has been printed on a large sheet with two sets of lists pasted on the sides and the text pasted below in eight columns finishing with a colophon: Imprint: London by T Snodham for John Sudbury and George Humble, and are to be sold in Popes-head Palace, 1615. Text is 1614 (1616) version.

[7] Also issued without text in response to demand by armies in the Civil War.

[8] Issued with: A Prospect of the most Famous parts of the World dated 1662.

[9] As above without text in collection of maps possibly presented to Charles II in 1681.

[10] This was a mixed atlas of Speed and other maps. Sheets were also sold singly.