Book of the Month – John Speed

Posted by Tenby Museum on Jul 4, 2017 Blog No Comments

As part of a new series of blogs, entitled Book of the Month, the first book to be scrutinised from the museum’s substantial research library is John Speed’s The Historie of Greate Britaine Under the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes and Normans. The museum’s copy is the second edition of the book, printed in 1623 “enlarged with sundry descents of the Saxons Kings, their marriages and armes.”

John Speed (1551 or 52 – 1629) was an English cartographer and historian and was deemed a master mapmaker of the Stuart period. He was born in Cheshire, the son of a tailor. By 1595 Speed had published a map of biblical Canaan (which originally brought him to the attention and patronage of Sir Fulke Greville which allowed him to concentrate on cartography) and in 1598 he presented his maps to Queen Elizabeth I who granted Speed the use of a room in Custom House. He then set about creating his comprehensive atlas of the British Isles, which was started in 1604 and completed and published in 1612. Speed died in 1629, leaving behind 18 children.

Speed’s Historie of Greate Britaine was originally published in 1611. He undertook this with the encouragement of historian and cartographer William Camden. In 1586 Camden had published Britannia, the first comprehensive topographical survey of England, originally written in Latin.   Speed’s work was dedicated to James I. The book was a continuation of Speed’s earlier work The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine.

Contemporary historian Simon Schama wrote of Speed, “An energetic opportunist, Speed was taking advantage of King James’ widely advertised desire to be known, not as the Sixth of Scotland and First of England, but as monarch of Britain…Speed was after the public, sensing the excitement of even armchair travel, the need of the country to fix its place in the world, to contemplate, simultaneously, its past and its present.” (Simon Schama, A History of Britain, 2000, Miramax Books)

The museum’s research library and research facilities are open by appointment Tuesday – Friday. We also have a family historian volunteer who works on a Monday. Please contact us if you have any enquiries that you think we may be able to help you with.