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In 1611 John Speed (1551/2–1629), an English historian and renowned cartographer, published his ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain’. This was the earliest English attempt at producing an atlas on a large scale. The 2nd of this work’s 4 volumes covered Wales and included a map of Wales along with individual maps of the 13 Welsh counties. Most of the maps in Speed’s work are dated 1610, though a few are earlier. Speed’s ‘Theatre’ was extremely successful and its maps became the basis for folio atlases produced up to the mid-18th century.

Speed’s work improves on that of previous works by other cartographers e.g. Christopher Saxton (1542x4?–1610/11), by providing greater detail and also by including small inset plans of important towns on each map.

The National Library of Wales has multiple copies of these county maps by Speed, and in addition to the published versions we also have proof copies for 7 of the Welsh shires: Brecon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Denbigh, Merioneth, Montgomery and Radnor, which were all purchased in 1998.