A Fine Early
Edition of Speed’s Map
of the County of Chester
John Speed. “The
Countye Palatine of Chester, with that most ancient citie described”
(London: John Sudbury and George Humble, 1610 [1611–1616]).
Published in The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine.
Double-page copperplate engraving with excellent old hand color. 15
x 20" at neat line. Framed size: 22 x 27". Large inset in
u. center: “Chester” (6 1/2 x 7 1/4"). At left
margin: “The Armes of the Earles of Chester since the Norman
Conquest.” Four decorative cartouches: two with angels, two
with putti. Spit at old centerfold, stabilized. Overall, excellent
condition (by sight). Handsomely framed and double-glazed to reveal
English text on verso.
British historian John Speed is
perhaps the most famous mapmaker of the seventeenth century, if not
of all time. His formidable reputation rests on two great books: The
Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, the first printed atlas
of the British Isles, produced initially in 1611–1612 and in
subsequent editions to 1676, and A Prospect of the Most Famous
Parts of the World, published in 1627, the first general
atlas of the world to be created in England.
This stunning map of the county
of Chester comes from an early edition of the Theatre, either
the first of 1611–12 or the second of 1614–16. One of
the most influential atlases of the British Isles ever published,
the Theatre comprised maps of the individual nations of Great
Britain, as well as the famous separate maps of each county, as in
the present example. Speed based “Chester” and his other
county maps on the prototypes of Christopher Saxton and John Norden,
but updated information wherever possible and included new
cartographic features. He did not, for example, show roads, but he
took great pride in recording the boundaries of the “hundreds”
(English county divisions) and illustrating town views, as in the
inset of the ancient town of Chester at top, which contains charming
tiny details of village life. Elsewhere on the map, Speed shows
churches, castles, windmills, and ring-fences indicating parks. He
also includes a wonderful array of sea monsters, fighting galleons,
and the herringbone pattern for the sea.
The edition date of Speed’s
British Isles maps can be approximated by referring to the
publishers’ imprints and to features of the reverse text,
which was often reset for each edition of the atlas. The imprint on
the map offered here is Sudbury and Humble, indicating 1611–1612
All told, “Chester”
is a magnificent example of masterful 17th-century
cartography by its most important British figure.
Antique Maps, pp. 148–150; Potter, Antique Maps,
pp. 80–82; Shirley, Early Printed Maps of the British
Isles, no. 316 (for history of editions); Skelton, Decorative
Printed Maps, pp. 54–55.