Map of Britain under the Heptarchy

John Speed (1551/2 - 1629)

Coloured engraving

1607
  • About the work
    Location
    Country: Holy See
    City: Vatican City
    Place: British Embassy

    This decorative map by John Speed shows Britain divided into seven kingdoms during the Anglo-Saxon occupation also known as The Heptarchy: Northumbria, Mercia, East-Anglia, Essex, Kent, Sussex and Wessex. Containing a title-cartouche, a compass rose and a scale cartouche, the map records prehistoric and Roman sites such as Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall, towns, churches, ports and battle-sites as well as coat of arms. The borders contain illustrations of historical scenes featuring Saxon kings. The left medallions displayed in a vertical line illustrate the founders of each kingdom from the 5th and the 6th centuries: Hengist, King of Kent; Ella, King of Sussex, Cherdik, King of Wessex; Erkenwin, King of Essex; Ida, King of Northumberland; Uffa, King of East-Anglia and Creda, King of Mercia. They are dressed as armed warriors standing proudly on the land they have conquered. The scenes on the right depict the history of the conversion of each kingdom to Christianity between 595 and 662.

    This is a later edition of the original map which featured in John Speed’s comprehensive atlas Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine engraved in Amsterdam by Jodocus Hondius and published by John Sudbury and George Humble between 1611 and 1612. This comprehensive set of plans was the first attempt at atlas production on a comparable scale with the well-established continental tradition. It follows the model of the famous Abraham Ortelius’s Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (1570) published in English in 1606, and was conceived as a supplement to Speed’s History of Great Britain published in 1611. The first print run of the Theatre was 500 copies and it continued to be reprinted until 1770.


  • About the artist
    John Speed was an historian and cartographer from Farndon in Cheshire. He published the theological works ‘A direction to finde all those names expressed in that large table of genealogies of scripture, lately gathered’ (1595) and ‘A Clowd of Witnesses: and they the Holy Genealogies of the Sacred Scriptures’ (1616). He also produced an atlas titled ‘The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ (1610), which was the first attempt at an English atlas on a grand scale and the first atlas to include a set of county maps, consistently showing territorial divisions. By 1625 he had lost his sight. He died at the age of 77.
  • Explore
    Materials & Techniques
    engraving, coloured engraving
  • Details
    Title
    Map of Britain under the Heptarchy
    Date
    1607
    Medium
    Coloured engraving
    Acquisition
    Purchased 1972
    GAC number
    9764