7. Michael Drayton 1612


Michael Drayton (1563-1631), an Elizabethan poet and friend of Edmund Spenser (1552-99), was born in Hartshill, near Atherstone, in Warwickshire and began his career as a page to Thomas Goodyere. Although patronized by Lucy, Countess of Bedford, Sir Walter Aston, and Prince Henry, he had little success finding royal patronage. Drayton was a respected professional poet, rivaled only by Samuel Daniel and Ben Jonson. Among his Spenserian acquaintances were Richard Barnfield, John Weever, Drummond of Hawthornden, William Browne of Tavistock, and George Wither.1 He published the first part a book of songs containing 18 illustrative maps in 1612, some 14 years after he first started to write it; this was reprinted a year later as Poly-Olbion or A Chorographicall Description of Tracts, Rivers, Mountaines, Forests and other Parts of the Renowned Isle of Great Britaine; and published with a second part in 1622, bringing the total number of maps to 30.

The maps, usually of two counties, are allegorical in nature and few geographical features are precisely shown. Emphasis is on the rivers, which are each named and with its own nymph or goddess. Here and there a few towns are named. The maps are without county boundaries, scale, title or pagination. Each map illustrates a song from the lengthy verse-travelogue which contains some fifteen thousand lines. The notes to the songs were written by John Selden. Although they are amongst the most curious maps of the counties ever issued and have little geographical value they are very decorative and charmingly illustrate the romantic side of the Elizabethan age.

The title page has the imprint: Inrave by W. Hole. and it is believed he engraved the county maps. William Hole, together with William Kip, had already produced maps for William Camden’s Britannia (5) to illustrate the prose descriptions of the country. The Drayton maps seem rather fantastic, but when one keeps in mind the sea monsters and other figures often seen in Saxton’s maps or indeed in the maps engraved by Hole for Camden (Warwickshire has Neptune disporting with a naked female) then the maps lose a little of their strangeness but none of their attraction. The whole work is said by some to be an attempt to connect the reigning Stuarts with the Tudors; both descending from Brut. It is Brut who defeated the giants inhabiting Albion, becoming the first King of Britain. In Fore Street, Totnes is the famous Brutus stone marking where he landed. The symbolism suggests that the descriptive maps have a serious historical context.

Devon is drawn together with Cornwall, but Lundy is shown on the map of Somerset and Gloucester which is the most attractive of all the maps. The Welsh and English choirs serenade each other across the Bristol Channel. The island’s nymph has a bird on her head, probably a puffin (Lundy in Norse means puffin island).

Michael Drayton died in 1631 a respected man even though the Poly-Olbion never achieved the popularity he had hoped for. Nevertheless, he was buried in Westminster Abbey with a suitable monument. A facsimile work was published by the Spencer Society in 1890 (New Series Issue No. 2).


Size 245 x 320 mm. No scale.

Devon and Cornwall were printed together as the first map in the anthology. The map is without title, the names of the shires being engraved on the map as: CORNWAL and DEVON SHYRE.


1. 1612  Poly-olbion  
    London. M Lownes, I Browne, I Helme and I Busbie. (1612).       XXXIII, S8, BL, AA.2
2.  1613 The number of the relevant text page has been added to the plate: Number I added (EaOS) and also just within the map itself.  
    a) Poly-Olbion or A Chorographicall Description of Tracts, Rivers, Mountaines, Forests, and other Parts of this Renowned Isle of Great Britaine  
    London. M Lownes, I Browne, I Helme and I Busbie. 1613.         XXXIV, S9, BL.
    b) Poly-Olbion or A Chorographicall Description (in two parts)  
    Part two has title-page: The Second Part, or A Continuance of Poly-Olbion ...  
    Reissued with 12 additional maps; printed by Augustine Mathewes.  
    London. Iohn Marriott, Iohn Grismand and Thomas Dewe. 1622. XXXV, S13, BL.


[1] See pages at http://spenserians.cath.vt.edu on Spencer and the Tradition: English Poetry 1579-1830.

[2] Has page number 55 engraved in reverse (collection late Dr Adrian Almond).