John Speed (1551/52-1629)

John Speed began his career as a tailor with deep interests in history, theology, and cartography. The patronage of Sir Fulke Greville, Lord Brooke (1554-1628), allowed him to give up his trade and dedicate himself to these interests. In terms of cartography, he is especially known for an ambitious project to publish a series of maps of English counties called Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, first published in 1611. Designed along the lines of Ortelius’ Theatrum orbis terrarum, Speed’s Theatre was groundbreaking: it provided some of the first detailed maps of the Irish provinces as well as town plans for seventy-three English towns. Many of the towns included had not been mapped before and Speed appears to have done much of the mapping and surveying work himself. The Theatre also included historical information and noted antiquarian sites alongside battles, highlighting Speed’s broad learning. Though Speed himself was not an engraver, his insistence throughout his career on high standards of design and engraving helped elevate English mapmaking. His maps were used as a basis for other atlases until the mid-eighteenth century.

This exhibit contains five maps associated with Speed:

Special Collections also has two editions of Speed’s The history of Great Britaine under the conquests of ye Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans: