Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Speed, John
SPEED, JOHN (1552?–1629), historian and cartographer, is said by Fuller, who gives as his authority Speed's daughter, to have been born in 1552 at Farringdon or Farndon in Cheshire (Worthies, Cheshire, p. 181; Ormerod, Cheshire, ii. 406). There were members of the Speed family settled in Lancashire and Cheshire (Lancashire and Cheshire Wills, iii. 37; Notitia Cestriensis, i. 35, 73, ii. 496), but no trace of the historian has been found in this connection. The historian's father was no doubt the John Speed who was admitted to the freedom of the Merchant Taylors' Company on 5 April 1556 (Clode, Early Hist. Merchant Taylors' Company, ii. 332), obtained a license on 25 Jan. 1555–6 to marry at Christchurch, Newgate, Elizabeth Cheynye of that parish (Chichester, London Marriage Licences, col. 1265), and was probably identical with the John Speed in whose house ‘in Powles churchyarde were found seven books tending unto papistry’ in August 1584 (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 198). Speed was brought up to his father's trade of tailoring, and 10 Sept. 1580 was admitted to the freedom of the Merchant Taylors' Company. In 1582 he married, and settled probably in Moorfields, where he leased a garden and tenement from the Merchant Taylors' Company for 20s. a year. He subsequently built on this ground a ‘fayer house which may stand him in 400l.,’ and added to it adjacent land worth 2l. a year, for which he received a new lease for twenty-one years from the company in July 1615. On 1 March 1600–1 he was an unsuccessful suitor to the company for a lease of 51 Fenchurch Street, which Queen Elizabeth requested for one Thomas Lovell. On 12 Dec. 1614, however, Speed obtained a lease of the prebendal estate of Mora, held of the chapter of St. Paul's Cathedral by the Merchant Taylors' Company.
This property seems to have accrued to Speed through the generosity of Sir Fulk Greville, first lord Brooke [q. v.], ‘whose merits to me-ward I do acknowledge, in setting this hand free from the daily imployments of a manuall trade, and giving it full liberty thus to express the inclination of my mind, himself being the procurer of my present estate’ (Speed, Theatre of Great Britain, Warwickshire, p. 53). On 15 June 1598, on Greville's recommendation, Queen Elizabeth gave Speed ‘a waiter's room in the custom-house’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1598–1601, p. 62).
Speed first used his leisure in making maps of the counties of England. He had already, in 1598, presented ‘divers maps’ to the queen (ib.), and in 1600 he gave others to the Merchant Taylors' Company, which acknowledged his ‘very rare and ingenious capacitie in drawing and setting forthe of mappes and genealogies, and other very excellent inventions.’ In 1607 he copied Norden's map of Surrey for the first edition of Camden's ‘Britannia,’ and between 1608 and 1610 he published a series of fifty-four ‘Maps of England and Wales’ (royal fol.); the maps of Cornwall, Essex, Middlesex, Surrey, and Sussex were by Norden, and others were by Christopher Saxton [q. v.] These, accompanied by a description of each map, were collected in 1611 in Speed's ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine’ (London, fol.), for which George Humble, the publisher, had received a license three years before (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603–10, pp. 425, 639). A second edition appeared in 1614, and a third in 1627, with the title ‘A Prospect of the most Famous Parts of the World.’ A new edition, with many additions, appeared in 1676. A Latin version was published in 1616 and again in 1646. Meanwhile Speed had become a member of the Society of Antiquaries, where he met Camden, Cotton, and other scholars. Encouraged by their help, he had commenced his great work ‘The History of Great Britaine under the Conquests of ye Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans … with the Successions, Lives, Acts, and Issues of the English Monarchs from Julius Cæsar to … King James.’ Cotton rendered him valuable assistance in its preparation; he supplied the lists of abbeys dissolved by Henry VIII, lent him innumerable manuscripts and the coins which are engraved in the volume, and in 1609 revised the proof-sheets (Letters of Literary Men, Camden Soc. pp. 108–9). Others who rendered assistance were Sir Henry Spelman [q. v.], John Barkham [q. v.], and William Smith (1550?–1618) [q. v.], rouge dragon. Speed fully acknowledged his indebtedness to other writers, and the insinuation in the ‘Biographia Britannica’ that his account of Henry VII's reign was taken bodily from Bacon's work is baseless. Both used largely Bernard André's ‘Historia,’ but Speed's work was probably prior to that of Bacon, and the latter has in several places followed and accentuated Speed's misreadings of André (Andreas, Historia, ed. Gairdner, Pref. pp. xvi, xxv, xxxiv). Speed's ‘History’ was dedicated to James I, and published in 1611 as a continuation of the ‘Theatre of Great Britaine,’ the paging in the two works being continuous. A second edition appeared in 1623 (reissued 1625 and 1627), a third in 1632, a revised edition in 1650, and an epitome in 1676. The catalogue of monasteries was published by Nicholas Harpsfield in 1622 in his ‘Historia Anglicana Ecclesiastica,’ and the portion dealing with the history of the Isle of Man was edited by the Manx Society (1859, &c., vol. xviii.) The publication of this work established Speed's claim to be the first of English historians as distinguished from chroniclers and annalists; Granger called it ‘in its kind, incomparably more complete than all the histories of his predecessors put together.’ Degory Wheare [q. v.] and others echoed these praises, but more just is Spedding's remark that Speed's ‘History, though enriched with some valuable records and digested with a more discriminating judgment than had been brought to the task before, was yet composed for the most part out of the old materials and retained almost all the old blunders’ (Bacon, Works, ed. Spedding, vi. 4, 133).
Meanwhile Speed turned his attention to theological subjects, and about 1611 he published his collection of ‘Genealogies recorded in Sacred Scripture’ (London, n.d. 4to). No less than thirty-three editions of this work appeared before 1640, many of them being published with various editions of the Bible. In 1616 followed ‘A Cloud of Witnesses … confirming unto us the Truth of the Histories in God's most Holie Word’ (London, 1616, 8vo; 2nd edit. 1620, dedicated to Whitgift). In 1625 he wrote that in spite of his blindness he was ‘keeping a continuation of his History’ (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1625–6, p. 308). He also suffered from the stone, and died on 28 July 1629, aged 77. He was buried in St. Giles's, Cripplegate, and a memorial inscription on his tomb is printed in Stow's ‘Survey’ (ed. Strype, I. iii. 85, 86) and in Ormerod's ‘Cheshire’ (ii. 406). An anonymous portrait of Speed was in 1879 transferred from the British Museum to the National Portrait Gallery, London. An engraving by G. Savery, from a painting belonging to Speed's grandson Samuel, is prefixed to the later editions of most of Speed's works.
Besides the works mentioned above, the following maps by Speed are in the British Museum Library: 1. ‘The kingdom of England, described by C. Saxton, augmented by J. S.,’ 1610. 2. ‘Norwiche,’ 1610? 3. ‘Canaan, begun by J. Moore, continued and finished by J. S.,’ 1611. 4. ‘Town and Castle of Lancaster,’ 1621. 5. ‘Asia,’ 1626. 7. ‘America,’ 1626. 8. ‘Kent,’ 1627. 9. ‘Darbieshire,’ 1680? A map of Yorkshire by him is extant in Lansdowne MS. dcccxcvii. 9, and others of Suffolk and Norfolk in Egerton MS. 2445, ff. 103, 181; a tract entitled ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ written about 1616, is in Egerton MS. 2255, and five of his letters to Cotton are printed in Ellis's ‘Original Letters’ (Camden Soc.) pp. 108, 110–13.
By his wife Susanna, who died on 28 March 1628, aged 70, Speed had issue twelve sons and six daughters. William, probably the eldest, was admitted scholar of Merchant Taylors' School on 10 Feb. 1594–5. Another son, John Speed (1595–1640), born in January 1594–5, entered Merchant Taylors' School in January 1603–4, matriculated from St. John's College, Oxford, on 30 Oct. 1612, and graduated B.A. on 19 June 1616, M.A. on 5 May 1620, M.B. and M.D. on 20 June 1628, was admitted at Gray's Inn in 1633, and died in May 1640, being buried in St. John's College chapel. He was author of two unpublished tracts: ‘Σκελετὸς utriusque Sexus πολυκίνητος,’ preserved in manuscript in St. John's College library, and ‘Stonehenge,’ a pastoral, acted before the president and fellows of St. John's in 1635. He was father of Samuel Speed [q. v.] and of John Speed (1628–1711), born on 4 Nov. 1628, who was elected fellow of St. John's in 1647, graduated B.A. on 1 Feb. 1647–8, M.A. on 20 Sept. 1660, M.B. and M.D. on 19 June 1666. He was ejected from his fellowship in 1648, and subsequently practised medicine at Southampton, of which he was mayor in 1681 and 1694. He died there on 21 Sept. 1711. He wrote ‘Batt upon Batt; a poem upon the Parts, Patience, and Pains of Bartholomew Kempster, Clerk, Poet, and Cutler, of Holyrood Parish, Southampton’ (1680, 4to), which reached a seventh edition in 1740. His grandson, John Speed, M.D. (1703–1781), made extensive manuscript collections relating to Southampton, now preserved in the municipal archives, on which was based the Rev. John Silvester Davies's ‘History of Southampton’ (1883) (Wood, Athenæ Oxon. ii. 660, iv. 699; Jacob, Poetical Register, 1723, ii. 307; Robinson, Reg. Merchant Taylors' School, i. 35, 47, 148; Foster, Alumni Oxon. 1500–1714; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Journ. Archæol. Assoc. xxi. 289–90).[Authorities cited; Works in Brit. Mus. Libr.; Cat. of Maps in Brit. Mus.; Biogr. Britannica; Chalmers's Biogr. Dict.; Camden's Annales, ed. Hearne, vol. i. p. liv; Thomas Smith's Epp. Camdeni et Ill. Virorum, 1691, p. 87; Roger Ley's Gesta Britannica in Stowe MS. 76, f. 260 b; Cotton. MS. Julius C. iii. 65, 68; Granger's Biogr. Hist. ii. 27, 319; Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 395, xi. 139, xii. 246, 5th ser. x. 327, 453, xi. 139. An admirable account of the later Speeds is given by the Rev. J. S. Davies (a descendant of the historian) in his Hist. of Southampton, 1883, pref.]