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John Speed: Devonshire

Map: DEVON543
Cartographer: John Speed
Title: Devonshire
Date: 1614
Published: London
Width: 15 inches / 39 cm
Height: 20 inches / 51 cm
Map ref: DEVON543
Speed was the most famous and influential British map maker of the early 17th century and his county maps were acknowledged as the finest geographical documents of their time; so much so that they were used as reference for over a hundred years. They were first published in 1611 as part of his geo-historical masterpiece, “A Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine” and went on to be re-issued and reprinted with additions and revisions into the late 18th century.

The map of Devon is unusual in relation to the other county maps present in the volume. Geographically, it is based on a survey performed by Christopher Saxton in the 1570s and originally published in 1575. This survey is thought to be responsible for one curious geographical error present on Speed’s map: Edgcombe, just west of Plymouth, as shown as being in Cornwall, while it was in fact in Devon; however, on Speed’s map of Cornwall, it is correctly shown in Devon, suggesting that this copper plate was engraved substantially before the Cornwall plate. Simultaneously, the typeface on the map is also a little different from other examples of Speed’s maps, suggesting that this plate was either an experiment or engraved before the other counties. The majority of the plates were engraved by Jodocus Hondius of Amsterdam, who often signed his work. On the Devon map, his signature is absent. All of the above suggests that Hondius did not engrave this map and it has been speculated that the engraving was by Renold Elstracke; a leading map engraver of the period, Elstracke was based in London but much in demand so it may have been that the Speed could only engage him for a brief period of time or that the original engraving time of the Devon plate took far too long for Speed’s timeline. Ultimately, this may have led to Speed choosing to use Hondius in the long term.

Also of note is the large city plan of Exeter printed on the lower right of the map. This practice of putting small city plans of the major settlement of the county on each map is an innovation introduced by Speed and was one of the fundamental reasons for the success of the work. Many of these plans were based on surveys by Speed himself but in this case, the plan is based on the work of Georg Braun of Frankfurt, first published in 1587.

The map is further embellished on the left by two rows of armorial coats of arms showing the families which have been granted titles in Exeter and Devonshire. These include the Beaufort, Courtney, Stafford and Cecil families.

For the many reasons outlined above together with its antiquity and beauty, this is generally acknowledged to be one of the finest antique maps of Devon.

English text on verso. Image available on request.