Copper engraving, 38.5 x 51 cm, map of Leinster with inset view of Dublin, modern hand-colour, old paper repair to verso at foot of centrefold, a couple of small stains in the lower margin, early manuscript note (‘by Francis Phelpes’) in upper margin, English text on verso.
Speed’s inset town plans, many surveyed by himself, comprise the first collection of town plans of the British Isles when viewed as a whole in his ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain’. His plan of Dublin is the earliest printed map of the city and was copied by Braun & Hogenberg (among others), who included it in the sixth and final volume of their monumental ‘Civitates Orbis Terrarum’, published in 1617.
Speed was the first to include individual maps of the four Irish provinces in an atlas of the British Isles. His ‘Theatre’ was carefully constructed to illustrate his ‘History of Great Britain’ and to support a particular pro-Stuart view of British identity, of which Ireland had become an integral part. Decorative coats of arms of distinguished local figures from the past, historical notes and battle scenes on his English county maps contributed towards the same goal, being carefully chosen to contrast the anarchy and upheavals of the past with the peace and prosperity of the Tudor and Stuart present.
The omissions and silences on the Irish maps raise intriguing questions of their own. Speed seems to have little or no access to the best recent official maps, such as those prepared by the unfortunate Richard Bartlett. (As reported by the poet and politician John Davies, ‘when he came to Tyrconnell the inhabitants took off his head, because they would not have their country discovered’, a reminder that map-making can be a hazardous occupation.) Speed had no official status and no right to access maps such as Bartlett’s, but he also made no efforts to update his Irish maps after 1610 (for example to show the new plantation towns of Ulster) or even to correct minor errors, which is a good indication that few of Speed’s early readers had first-hand knowledge of the province, or used his maps to find their way around.