A FINE EXAMPLE OF THE SO-CALLED PROOF MINIATURE SPEED, ONE OF ONLY 8 KNOWN EXAMPLES. This is the first atlas of the entire British Isles and it has mysterious origins. The year 1617 is the first true published issue of this series of maps, in an edition of William Camden’s ‘Britannia’ at the hands of Willem Janszoon (Blaeu). However, three of the plates are dated 1599, how can this be? It is known popularly as the ‘miniature Speed’, a title acquired following its first published issue in England in 1627 at the hands of George Humble who similarly published the folio Speed atlas. Its title states ‘England Wales Scotland and Ireland Described and Abridged with ye Historie Relation of things worthy memory from a farr larger volume done by John Speed’. However, the plates have a long and mysterious earlier history. Who exactly was behind the series of small county maps that would later be included in this popular atlas?
Collections like this of the original 44 plates are known lacking any title page or text; Skelton in 1970 recorded seven known examples, only four are complete. If it had been published around 1599 they would pre-date the ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ by John Speed, 1612, as the first ‘Atlas’ of the British Isles. The ‘Atlas’ of Christopher Saxton published in 1579 contained only maps of England and Wales.
Pieter van den Keere (1571-c.1646) engraved 22 of the maps although some authorities quote 21. The remainder are all in a similar style and are deemed to have been his work. Van den Keere was a protestant émigré to London in 1584 travelling with his sister Colette. She married Jodocus Hondius in 1587, and quite probably they returned together to Amsterdam in 1593. Van den Keere married Anna Bertius, sister to Petrus Bertius. Of the maps 33 are derived from Saxton, some having more anglicised titles; that of Yorkshire only appears in one example and is not considered part of the original set. Indeed, in the RGS example it is supplied in manuscript. The 6 maps of Scotland are derived from Abraham Ortelius’ map published in 1573. The 5 of Ireland are from van den Keere’s own engraving of Baptisto Boazio, published in 1591. Three of the maps are dated – Warwick & Leicester, Radnor etc., and northern Scotland. Known examples are listed below. None are known with either printed text or title page.
1. The Royal Geographical Society (shelf mark 264.A.35). With 44 plates, presented in memory of Mrs Yates Thompson, 1941. Yorkshire is present as a coloured drawing. It is bound with a manuscript description on 109 leaves.
2. Winchester College Library (part of the E. G. Box collection). 44 plates.
3. Private English collection. With 46 maps, with the original 44 maps plus Yorkshire, and an oval map of England, Wales, Ireland and southern Scotland by Peter Overadt after Jodocus Hondius (Shirley 223, 2 known).
4. Burden collection. Complete with 44 maps.
5. British Library Harley MS.3813. With 37 coloured maps, lacking: Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Hertfordshire, Essex, Westmoreland and Cumberland, Leinster, Caithness and Orkneys. Some replaced with manuscript drawings. With a manuscript description on 151 leaves.
6. Private collection – maps alone, incomplete, no text. Believed to be the same example acquired May 1998 by a private English collection. No title. With 43 maps only, lacking Timea, in contemporary vellum. It appears as if the Timea plate was never bound in.
7. Center for British Art, Yale University. 43 (of 44) maps and 4 (of 5) roundel maps from the William Kip – Hans Woutneel series c.1602 (Shirley 241). Lacks Ultonia & world.
According to Skelton the British Library Harley Manuscript and Royal Geographical Society copies have the same manuscript text, which is a description of the British Isles with genealogical notes on the nobility. References within the text place its compilation to between 1605 and 1612, probably in or soon after the earlier date. The RGS example has additional preliminary leaves containing pp.1- 4 ‘The order of [the] first Parliamente [in] the tyme of King Edward the Confessor’ and pp. 5-6 ‘The table for the Sheires citties & nobilitie of England since the Conquest’. In this example, illustrated arms of the nobility are drawn in the margins of the maps. The BL example appears to be an incomplete fair copy of that in the RGS. Neither appears to bear any relation to any existing published text. There are rumours of two more examples in St. Petersburg (Schilder) and in Germany in an atlas factice.
Example number five above bears some interesting contemporary manuscript notes. In English it lists the Kings and Queens of England since William the Conqueror. The last mentioned is Elizabeth I, however it only mentions her accession to the throne ’17 Nov ’, not her death in March 1603. This may place this collection conclusively to England prior to March 1603. Crone pointed out that the watermarks of the RGS and BL examples (and the Burden example above) are forms of the ‘pot’ marks commonly used in Amsterdam late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. They were also used in the 1617 edition.
A study of the plates and which ones are signed or dated does not unfortunately tell us much. The three dated plates are geographically dispersed indicating no likely pattern to their production. We do note that all those non-Saxton plates are signed, i.e. Scotland and Ireland. Those of England and Wales are scattered and show no pattern to the production. Skelton does not refer to anyone beyond the engraver van den Keere being associated with this early phase of the plate’s history. So, who exactly was behind them?
The first breakthrough came when Günter Schilder identified them as being listed in a Cornelis Claesz catalogue issued in 1609. The ‘Const ende Caert-Register’ of 1609 lists: ’44 Cleyne Caertkens van alle de Provincien van Enghelandt’ for 10 stuivers. Claesz (c.1551-1609) was the leading publisher of the day in Amsterdam and was particularly active in travel and cartography. This told us that Claesz was most likely the financier of the plate’s production employing van den Keere to engrave them. We still however have no indication of who might have been at the English end of the production. It was a common practice of the day for collaboration between the stronger markets of the Netherlands and Britain. The former had greater resources of printers, publishers and engravers. The dominant centre for this activity in Britain was of course London. So, who else exactly might have been involved?
The period of the production of the van den Keere plates is a turbulent one in English history. The great promoter of the Saxton atlas, Lord Burghley died in 1598. The Tyrone Rebellion ran in Ireland through 1599, which had political ramifications for Lord Essex in particular who had his favour desired by some in the cartographic world. Queen Elizabeth dies on 24 March 1603 and is followed by James I. As always, but particularly in this case the change in the religious and political climate was enormous. Later that same year the Plague ravaged London taking the lives of 30,000, or 17% of its population. 40,000 would die nationwide.
We are unable to glean much from the van den Keere plates themselves. One safe assumption might be that as the three dated plates are of diverse parts of the country the production was intended to be quite rapid, and that either it faltered or was finished on time. What are lacking are a title page, a map of Yorkshire, and possibly any text. If no text was intended, then the lack of a title page indicates the projects quick failure due most probably to a death. If text was expected, then the reasons might be more varied. One example of proof plates does contain the Yorkshire, interestingly this is an example that appears to have been collected at an early date as it refers in a table of the Kings and Queens of England to Elizabeth’s ascendance to the throne, but not her death in March 1603. The lack of it in the other examples might be explained by the fact that it is the only folding plate and as such susceptible to damage.
It is quite possible that they were to be marketed as a miniature version of the Saxton atlas, expanded with maps of Scotland and Ireland, both areas of considerable interest at the time. Saxton’s Licence had expired c.1587, and Ryther continued publication of his atlas. He fell foul of debtors’ prison in 1594. The only texts to accompany them could be that of Camden’s ‘Britannia’, or possibly as an Addendum to an edition of the Langenes ‘Thresor des Chartes’, first published in 1598, by Claesz. The maps are a similar size to the Langenes, and indeed van den Keere engraved many of those plates to. An English edition of the ‘Thresor des Chartes’ was licensed in 1600 to Ponsonby but never appeared.
It would seem more likely that it would be intended to accompany an edition of the ‘Britannia’. First published in 1586 with a dedication to Lord Burghley, it was instantly a success. Calls for an illustrated edition along with the expiry of Saxton’s license led Camden to ask Ortelius for help in this regard in 1589. Why it never came to anything is not known. A possible scenario is that Camden contacted van den Keere who we know was in London from 1584 to no later than 1593 when he is recorded in Amsterdam. As described above Camden had many issues to cope with in the 1590s. Possibly it was not until the end of the decade that Claesz, who was often a financial partner in publications, may have got involved. The London end of the partnership would most likely be Bishop who would publish the 1600 edition of the ‘Britannia’ with a scaled back four general maps only. The reasons for the change of plans could be numerous including the personal attacks on Camden at the time, and the death of Burghley in 1598. It would explain how Claesz ended up possessing the plates.
A second scenario might revolve around the Langenes atlas. The publisher of this atlas was Claesz who working with Ponsonby in London intended to produce an English edition. Ponsonby states it would be ‘enrichi de belles descriptions et nouuellement mys en lumiere’. The license was granted in 1600 just as the van den Keere plates might have been finished. Unfortunately, Bishop publishes an illustrated edition of Camden’s ‘Britannia’ in the same year closely followed by Norton’s edition of Ortelius’ ‘Epitome’, which may date as early as 1601. The last reference to Ponsonby known is in July 1602 and he was dead by 1604. Ownership of the plates would have then reverted to Claesz solely. Why would Claesz not then have issued it with another partner? The reasons are unclear but most probably are due to the troublesome times in London. By 1603 London was being ravaged by the Plague and lost 17% of its population which clearly would have hit the city financially. From 1604 Norton had the Patent on the publication of maps in England and had his own version of Ortelius’ Epitome at market. This theory may be supported by the ‘Const ende Caert-Register’ of 1609 by Claesz where they are described as ’44 Cleyne Caertkens van alle de Provincien van Enghelandt’ for 10 stuivers. They are interestingly listed not in the section of books but of single sheet maps, immediately below the maps for the Langenes atlas. A fine discovery of a continuing puzzle in the world of English county atlases.
Provenance: an unidentified antique dealer. References: Burden ‘The Origins of the ‘miniature’ Speed atlas. The first atlas of the British Isles’ in ‘Mappae Antiquae Liber Amicorum Günter Schilder’ pp. 497-508; Keuning, J. ‘Pieter van den Keere’, Imago Mundi XV (1960), pp. 66-72; Van der Krogt 373:01; Schilder MCN VIII pp. 341-2 & 381; Shirley ‘Atlases in the British Library’ T.Kee 1a; Skelton 4; Wallis, Helen, ‘Introduction.’ In Atlas of the British Isles by Pieter van den Keere, c. 1605. Lympne Castle, Kent: Harry Margary, 1972; Worms & Baynton-Williams (2011) pp. 364-5.