John Speed


Artist Biography:

Born in Cheshire around 1552, John Speed was a tailor and cartographer with a reputation for producing accurate and decorative maps. John Speed followed his father’s trade as a tailor until he was at least 50, living in London with a wife who bore him 12 sons and 6 daughters. From his youth though, he had been a keen amateur historian and mapmaker, producing maps for the Queen and the Merchant Tailors Company, of which he was a Freeman. He joined the Society of Antiquaries and his skill came to the attention of Sir Fulke Greville, who became Speed’s patron and allowed him to devote his entire time to research and cartography. Queen Elizabeth also granted him the use of a room in the Custom House. In particular, John Speed’s name is synonymous with the creation of early county maps of Great Britain. Originally published in 1611-12, Speed's The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain was the first large scale British map publication and the first general British atlas printed by an Englishman. Speed’s maps drew considerably from the earlier works of Saxton, Norden and other early British cartographers. By the turn of the 17th century though, these maps were out of date and quickly replaced the Saxton atlases which were available at the time. Not only were they more accurate, but they were undoubtedly more beautifully engraved as well. All Speed’s draft material was taken to Amsterdam, where it was engraved by Jodocus Hondius, before the plates were subsequently returned to London to be printed. In 1627, just before his death, Speed published A Prospect of the Most Famous Parts of the World which, combined with the 1627 edition of The Theatre, then became the first world atlas to be published by an Englishman.

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