16th and 17th Century Mapping of Wales

The earliest printed map to clearly show Wales was Sebastian Münster’s Angliae Triquetra Descriptio of 1538. However, this map of Great Britain showed little detail.

Two years later Münster’s ‘Anglia II Nova Tabula shows much greater detail and is a major step forward from the previous printed Ptolemaic versions. This map shows much greater detail for Wales, though the coast is still badly misshapen. This map bears some similarities with the Gough map and may have been copied from another similar manuscript.

The next step forward in the mapping of Wales is Gerard Mercator’s 1564 map of the British Isles, titled Angliae, Scotiae & Hiberniae Nova Descriptio. This map on 8 sheets at a scale of 14 miles to 1 inch [ca. 1:887,000] is highly detailed and the first map to show the coastline of Wales in a recognisable form. Only 4 copies are known to exist.

The earliest printed map specifically of Wales is Humphrey Lhuyd’s Cambriae Typus, compiled in 1568 and first published in the Additamentum to Abraham Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum in 1573. The original 4 sheet manuscript version of this map, which Lhuyd sent to Ortelius for publication, is now lost. The Library has 22 different editions of the 5 variants of Lhuyd's map.

Very soon after Lhuyd’s map, other cartographers began to produce more detailed mapping of Wales. Perhaps the 3 most innovative mapmakers in this period were Saxton, Speed and Ogilby.

Christopher Saxton

Christopher Saxton produced the first county atlas of England and Wales in 1579. The 13 Welsh Counties were covered in 7 maps, as follows:

  • Monmethensis comitatus…
  • Glamorgā comitatus…
  • Radnor Breknok Cardigan et Caermarden…
  • Penbrok comitat’…
  • Montgomeri ac Merionidh…
  • Denbigh ac Flint…
  • Mone Insulæ modo Anglesey, et Caernaruan…

Saxton’s work was based on detailed surveys and was the most detailed of its day. These maps, or variants of them continued in use for over a century. Later Kip & Hole split the Welsh maps into their individual counties for use in Camden’s Britannia (6th Latin edition of 1607). The Library has multiple copies both bound and loose of Saxton’s Welsh maps and their derivatives.

Saxton’s atlas did not have a separate map of the whole of Wales; however, he did produce a large wall map of England and Wales in 1583. Early versions of plates from this map appear to form the basis of a map of Wales that was acquired by the Library in 1986.

This Proof Map of Wales, dated 1580, appears to have been an attempt to produce a map of Wales. Manuscript additions to the printed plates support this idea; however, if this was the intention, the work never came to fruition. The map itself is a great improvement on earlier maps of the country and gives a relatively accurate depiction of the coastline.

One of the few maps in Camden that was not derived from an earlier Saxton plate is George Owen’s map of Pembrokeshire (1603). The Library holds 2 different manuscripts of this map, which is innovative for its depiction of the road network and also its alpha-numeric grid and place-name index with grid references. The map was published in a simplified form in the 1607 edition of Britannia.

John Speed

In 1611 John Speed published his ‘Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain’; the second book of this four-volume work covered Wales and included a map of Wales and 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 work improves on that of Saxton by providing greater detail and also by including small inset plans of important towns on each map. Again the Library has multiple copies of these maps.

In addition to the published versions the Library also has proof copies for 7 of the Welsh shires: Brecon, Cardigan, Carmarthen, Denbigh, Merioneth, Montgomery and Radnor. The Library purchased these in 1998.

John Ogilby

In 1675 John Ogilby published Britannia, this too contained maps; however, the maps Ogilby produced were radically different from those by Speed and Saxton. For Ogilby the most important feature of the British landscape was its roads.

His maps did not cover an area of land like conventional maps instead the map was a strip following the course of a road. These route diagrams provide a connection between the old Roman itineraries and modern motorway diagrams. The development of such a map and its evident popularity are evidence of the increase in road travel engendered by the political, social and industrial developments of the previous century.

Several of the routes travel through, begin or end in Wales and a few are set entirely in Wales. The first road map in the volume is ‘The road from London to Aberistwith’. At least 16 of the 102 plates show roads in Wales. The Library holds several examples of these maps and their derivatives, which continued in production for much of the 18th century.

This is just a small selection of the material from this period held in the Map Collection. The work of many other cartographers is represented in the collection, including that of the great European cartographers like Mercator, Blaeu & Hondius. The Library also houses a large collection of facsimiles of these works.

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