|Method||Copper engraved with hand colour|
|Published||[William Hall and John Beale for Sudbury and Humble. London, c.1611-12]|
|Dimensions||382 x 502 mm|
A fine first edition example of John Speed's map of County Durham, from The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine. In the top right corner of the sheet, a large inset map shows the city of Durham, with the cathedral, castle, and the River Wear clearly illustrated. A descriptive text about the founding of the city by the Monks of Lindisfarne is enclosed in a strapwork cartouche below. A further boxed descriptive text in the bottom right recounts the Battle of Neville's Cross in AD 1346, between the Scots and the English. A depiction of the battle is included above. The map is further embellished with beautiful hand colour, a large royal crest in the top left, a compass rose and scale of miles, and the title enclosed in a curled ribbon.
John Speed (1552-1629) is the most famous of all English cartographers primarily as a result of The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, the first atlas of the British Isles. The maps from this atlas are the best known and most sought-after of all county maps. The maps were derived mainly from the earlier prototypes of Christopher Saxton and Robert Morden but with notable improvements including parish "Hundreds" and county boundaries, town plans and embellishments such as the coats of arms of local Earls, Dukes, and the Royal Household. The maps are famed for their borders consisting of local inhabitants in national costume and panoramic vignette views of major cities and towns. An added feature is that regular atlas copies have English text printed on the reverse, giving a charming description of life in the early seventeenth century of the region. The overall effect produced very decorative, attractive and informative maps.
For the publication of this prestigious atlas Speed turned to the most successful London print-sellers of the day, John Sudbury and George Humble. William Camden introduced the leading Flemish engraver, Jodocus Hondius Sr. to John Speed in 1607 because first choice engraver William Rogers had died a few years earlier. Work commenced with the printed proofs being sent back and forth between London and Amsterdam for correction and was finally sent to London in 1611 for publication. The work was an immediate success and the maps themselves being printed for the next 150 years.
Speed was born in 1552 at Farndon, Cheshire. Like his father before him he was a tailor by trade, but around 1582 he moved to London. During his spare time Speed pursued his interests of history and cartography and in 1595 his first map of Canaan was published in the "Biblical Times". This raised his profile and he soon came to the attention of poet and dramatist Sir Fulke Greville a prominent figure in the court of Queen Elizabeth. Greville as Treasurer of the Royal Navy gave Speed an appointment in the Customs Service giving him a steady income and time to pursue cartography. Through his work he became a member of such learned societies as the Society of Antiquaries and associated with the likes of William Camden Robert Cotton and William Lambarde. He died in 1629 at the age of seventy-seven.
Condition: Central vertical fold as issued. Minor time toning to edges of sheet, not affecting map. Latin text on verso.