Back to the William R. Talbot Home Page.  Back to the Maps Page
  John Speed. “The Countye Palatine of Chester,” 1611 [1611–1616].
John Speed, Chester

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 or 1614–1616.

All told, “Chester” is a magnificent example of masterful 17th-century cartography by its most important British figure.

Refs:. Christie’s 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.

Copyright 2003, William R. Talbot