John Speed was born in Farndon, Cheshire, the son of a tailor, and continued in the trade until the age of fifty. He became a Freeman of the Merchant Taylors’ Companyand lived in Moorfields, London, where he and his wife raised twelve sons and six daughters. He was an enthusiastic amateur historian and mapmaker and found that he was able to leave tailoring and pursue his real interests in earnest when, as a Fellow of the College of Antiquaries, he gained the patronage of Sir Fulke Greville (Lord Brooke) who, as adviser to the Queen and with her help, secured him an office in the Custom House and subsidised his map-making.He started making County maps individually between 1596 and 1610. The maps were first sold as separate sheets without text on their backs. However, in 1610 Speed published a volume entitled ‘The History of England’. To accompany this he also published a topographical section. This too was in a single volume that was divided into four Books. This volume, the Atlas, was entitled‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine: Presenting An Exact Geography of the Kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Isles adioyning: With the Shires,Hundreds, Cities and Shire-townes, within ye Kingdome of England, divided and described By John Speed. Imprinted at London Anno Cum Privilegio 1611 and are to be sold by John Sudbury & George Humble in Popes-head alley at ye signe of ye white horse.’ The Theatre’s Four Books were namely: England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland all of which contained sixty-seven maps. They were engraved by Jodocus Hondius the Elder in Amsterdam and printed in London by William Hall and John Beale.Plagiarism among the map-making trade was commonplace and Speed was honest enough to admit that he was no exception. Indeed he even stated “I put my sickle into other mens corne”. While he copied much of his material from other cartographers, mainly Saxton and Norden, he did, in many cases, acknowledge the fact on his maps. He pointedly used key words such as: ‘augmented’ and ‘performed’. However, amending the maps with up to date information, including parish hundreds and the innovation of insetting County town plans and other important towns within the County maps was entirely his work. He claimed to have surveyed the towns personally and used a scale of ‘pases’ as measurement. Eventually it was through such efforts that he was able to produce the earliest published atlas of the British Isles.Although some maps were plain backed the majority had text on the reverse. When there was text these two pages in the Atlas were numbered. Rutland’s text was on pages fifty-nine and sixty. The first page (reverse half of the map) described various aspects of each County, based on earlier researches of Camden, while the other half produced a table. In the case of the Rutland map the table was entitled ‘An Alphabeticall Table of all the Townes, Rivers, and Places mentioned in Rutlandshire’.Rutland was unique in the ‘Theatre’ as it was based not on a surveyor’s work but that of an amateur, and resident of the County, the 1st Lord Harington of Exton. The attention to detail and the minutiae depicted on the map clearly reflects local knowledge. So too, help with Speed’s text on the reverse of the map was also due to information imparted by Lord Harington.Apart from one other map in the Atlas, Rutland, because of its small area, had the largest scale namely 6 miles to 5¼ inches. The County town of Oakham is featured along with, surprisingly, Stamford its near neighbour across the border in Lincolnshire. The Rutland map measures, across the two pages, 21½ inches with a top to bottom measurement of 16½ inches. From the edges of the printed borders it measures just less than 20¼ inches and 15¼ inches respectively.Two years before Speed died he published, in 1627,‘A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World’. This along with the 1627 edition of‘The Theatre’ became the first World Atlas published by an Englishman.
As a general guide only, the County map editions, with and without text,along with their publishers are shown in the box above.