'THE ACHIEVEMENT OF OUR...' / 'THE THEATRE OF THE EMPIRE OF GREAT BRITAINE' (Dedication / Title Page) by John Speed c.1627

'THE ACHIEVEMENT OF OUR...' / 'THE THEATRE OF THE EMPIRE OF GREAT BRITAINE' (Dedication / Title Page) by John Speed c.1627
SKU: spee/detp/001

An interesting and decorative 17th century title page and dedication to King James (on separate pages) which was engraved by Jodocus Hondius for John Speed's Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (London: J. Sudbury & G. Humble, 1627). The title page, with its ornate architectural framework, was inspired by the one produced for Ortelius's atlas in 1570. In addition, quaint, if somewhat inaccurate, historical figures adorn the page representing an ancient Briton, Roman, Saxon, Dane and Norman.The dedication on the adjoining page is made to King James I of England and VI of Scotland. whose Coat of Arms, supported by the Lion and Unicorn, dominates. Surrounding this are the twenty-four shields representing 'the ARMES of the Severall kings that aunciently raigned within [King James's] nowe Dominions' including the Roman Emperors, the 'Heathen' and Christian Britons and the various Anglo-Saxon Kings.

John Speed (1552-1629) was born in the Cheshire village of Farndon and from his youth pursued his father's profession of tailoring. He later moved to London to continue this trade, though Speed's real passions lay elsewhere, namely in the fields of antiquity and cartography. He joined the Society of Antiquaries where his enthusiasm soon attracted the attention of notables such as William Camden and Sir Fulke Greville. In 1596 Greville provided Speed with a full time allowance to write a 'Historie of Great Britaine'. It was during this project that Speed decided to add a cartographic supplement to the work and it was from this that his famous atlas, 'The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine', was born.

When published in 1611/12, his atlas was an immediate success, outdoing the one established by Christopher Saxton in 1579. There were a number reasons for this: Speed's atlas showed each county separately with its hundreds, was resplendent with heraldic shields but most significantly had one or two town plans. Displayed from a bird's eye view perspective, many of the towns were surveyed by Speed himself using a distinct 'scale of paces' and are the earliest known plans of these places. The aesthetic beauty of the maps were also down to the Dutch engraver, Jodocus Hondius, whose fine calligraphy and decorative strapwork are a feature throughout.

Speed's legacy was to live on long after his passing, the ' Theatre' itself was published in many editions until 1676. The maps were then re-published in the early 18th Century by Henry Overton and then finally in the 1780s by Dicey & co. giving them a life of 170 years.

  • This is an original copperplate engraving with later hand colour.
  • Printed areas are approximately 24.2cms by 38.2 for the dedication page and 24.3cms by 37.9cms for the title page..
  • The engravings are in very good condition with adequate margins. There is some minor water staining in the paper. A former (probably original) owner of the title page has written 'Citie' in the title.  Click on image for a better view.
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  • Guaranteed to be over 380 years old.