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John Speed: The Kingdome of Irland

Map: IRE2000
Cartographer: John Speed
Title: The Kingdome of Irland
Date: 1611
Published: London
Width: 21 inches / 54 cm
Height: 15 inches / 39 cm
Map ref: IRE2000
Speed was the most famous English mapmaker of the 17th century and his “Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine” was the first true county atlas of England and Wales. Within this work, there were also five maps devoted to Ireland, one each of the four provinces, and this map of the whole island.

Geographically, the map is largely derived from Mercator in its outline, with its characteristic flat northern shore. In comparison, the development of the “fingers” on the coastline in the southwest was relatively recent. They first appeared on a map of England, Wales and Ireland by Robert Adams c.1590 and then were further developed by Petrus Plancius, again on a map of England, Wales and Ireland approximately four years later.

Internally, however, Speed makes substantial changes, the most apparent being the correction of the shape and placement of Lough Earne in the north. There are also major corrections on the shores of County Down in the North. The interior is filled not only with geographical detail but also with family names and aristocratic holdings; unlike many other maps of the period, Speed’s map is orientated North to South.

Aesthetically, the map is beautiful; fully capable rivalling any of the great maps of the Dutch Golden Age of Cartography. Speed specifically sent his manuscripts to be engraved in Amsterdam by one of the Dutch master engravers of the period, Jodocus Hondius. In fact, Hondius, a very well known map publisher himself, has signed his name as the engraver on the lower left corner of the map.

On this example, a first edition, the engraving is particularly crisp and clear. The seas are portrayed in the usual “silk” pattern, denoting waves and in an early attempt to produce a “figure map” there is a series of portraits of Irish inhabitants on the left part of the map. Several ships and a sea monster adorn the waters beyond the island and Speed together with his publishers, John Sudbury and George Humble discreetly sign their names, together with an engraving date of 1610 on a panel on the lower right of the map.

Due to a combination of its style, accuracy and beauty, this map became the major cartographic source for the island throughout the 17th century.

First edition. English descriptive text on verso. Image available on request. Coloured.