'BEDFORD SHIRE AND THE SITUATION OF BEDFORD described' By John Speed c.1611 / 1612 (First Edition)

'BEDFORD SHIRE AND THE SITUATION OF BEDFORD described' By John Speed c.1611 / 1612 (First Edition)
SKU: spee/beds/002

Full title: 'BEDFORD SHIRE AND THE SITUATION OF BEDFORD described with the armes of thos Honorable Familyes that have born ye titles of Dukes and Earls thereof.'

A highly decorative early 17th century map of Bedfordshire which was 'performed' by John Speed and published in The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine (London: Sudbury & Humble, 1611 / 1612 [first edition]). The inset plan of Bedford, surveyed by Speed himself, is the earliest known of this town. On the reverse of the map there is a complete set of text briefly describing the history and topography of the county.

This is a much sought after first edition Speed which has a much bolder and more detailed impression than later issues of this map (a first edition can be identified by the large woodcut initial on the verso of the map which was used by the printers, William Hall and John Beale, for this one issue).

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 area is approximately 51cms by 38.3cms.
  • The map is in excellent condition for its age and has decent mountable margins. There is a repaired split to the bottom centre fold just entering the map border and a few minor stains, otherwise a fine example. Click on image for a better view.
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  • Guaranteed to be over 400 years old.