Speed, John

, a well-known English historian, was born at Farington in Cheshire, about 1555, and brought up to the business of a taylor, and became a freeman of the company of Merchant-taylors in the city of London. He had probably shewn some taste for literature, as sir Fulk Grevile, a patron of learning, took him from his shop-­board, and supported him in his study of English history and antiquities. By such encouragement he published, in 1606, his “Theatre of Great-Britain;” which was afterwards reprinted, particularly in 1650, under this title: “The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, presenting an exact geography of the kingdomes of England, Scotland, Ireland, and the isles adjoyning. With the shires, hundreds, cities, and shire-townes within the kingdome of England, divided and described by John Speed,” folio. Nicolson observes, that these maps “are extremely good; and make a noble apparatus, as they were designed, to his history: but his descriptions of the several counties are mostly short abstracts of what Camden had said before him.” In 1614 he published, in folio, “The History of | Great Britain under the conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans; their originals, manners, warres, coines, and scales, with the successions, lives, actes, and issnes of the English monarchs, from Julius Cæsar to our most gracious sovereigne king James;” dedicated to James I. *


Extract of a Letter from Rev. Phil. Morant to Dr. Ducarel, Dec. 25, 1734: “I have seen the first edition of Speed’s Hist. which was in 1614. ‘Tis much preferable to all the subsequent ones, being in a larger folio, and on atlas paper, and the cuts are sharper and clearer. That which I have seen was in a distinct volume; but by the Contents in the beginning, it appears, that the chorographical part was designed to be at the head, comprehending folios 1—45, and being divided into four books; for the historical part begins with book the fifth, and fol. 155. But then the chorographical part could not be so large as it is in the present form; the late editions making up a thicker volume than of 145 folios. I will examine. “It was a wonderful work, considering who was the author but he had the assistance of the immortal sir Robert Cotton, Dr. Barkham, &.c.”

He borrowed many of his materials from Camden; and was supplied with many by sir Robert Cotton, sir Henry Spelman, and other antiquaries, with whom he was well acquainted. There are prefixed to it commendatory poems in Latin, French, and English, by sir Henry Spelman and others; and many writers have spoken of it in terms of high commendation. Speed was not only an historian, but also a divine; for, in 1616, he published a work in 8vo, called “The Cloud of Witnesses, or the Genealogies of Scripture, confirming the truth of holy history and humanity of Christ.” This was prefixed to the new translation of the Bible in 1611, and printed for many years in the subsequent editions, particularly of the folio and quarto sizes, and king James I. gave him a patent for securing the property of it to him and his heirs.

He died July 28, 1629, and was buried in the church of St Giles, Cripplegate, London, where a monument was erected to his memory. By his wife Susanna, with whom he lived fifty-seven years, and who died almost a year before him, he had twelve sons, and six daughters. One of his sons, named John, was an eminent physician; of whom we shall give some account. As to Speed himself, “he must be acknowledged,” says Nicolson, “to have had a head the best disposed towards history of any of our writers; and would certainly have outdone himself, as far as he has gone beyond the rest of his profession, if the advantages of his education had been answerable to those of his natural genius. But what could be expected from a taylor? However, we may boldly say, that his chronicle | is the largest and best we have hitherto extant.” In another place, “John Speed was a person of extraordinary industry and attainments in the study of antiquities; and seems not altogether unworthy the name of `summus & eruditus antiquarius,’ given him by Sheringham, who was certainly so himself

His son John Speed was born at London in 1595, and educated at Merchant-taylors’ school, whence he was elected a scholar of St. John’s-college in Oxford, in 1612, of which he afterwards became a fellow, and took the degree of master of arts, and bachelor and doctor of physic. He wrote “Sjwaetoj utriusque sexus Toxtwsvrof,” a manuscript in Latin, dedicated to archbishop Laud, and preserved in the library of St. John-college. This piece relates to two skeletons, one of a man, another of a woman, made by Dr. Speed, and given by him to that library. He wrote likewise “Stonehenge, a Pastoral,” acted before Dr. Rich. Baylie, and the president and fellows of St. John’s-college in 1635. It is extant in manuscript. He died in May 1640, and was buried in the chapel of that college. He married a daughter of Bartholomew Warner, M. D. and had by her two sons. One of them, Samuel, was a student of Christ-church in Oxford, and was installed canon of that church May the 6th, 1674, and died at Godalmin in Surrey, of which he was vicar, January the 22d, 1681. The other, John, was born at Oxford, and elected scholar of St. John’s-coliege there about 1643, but ejected thence by the parliament-visitors in 1648, he being then bachelor of arts and fellow. At the restoration he was restored to his fellowship, and in 1666 took the degree of physic, and afterwards quitting his fellowship, he practised that faculty at Southampton, where he was living in 1694. He wrote “Batt upon Batt; a Poem upon the parts, patience, and pains of Bartholomew Kempster, clerk, poet, and cutler of Holy-rood parish in Southampton;” and also “The Vision, wherein is described Batt’s person and ingenuity, with an account of the ancient and present state and glory of Southampton.” Both these pieces were printed at London in two sheets in fol. and afterwards in 4to. The countess de Viri, wife of a late Sardinian ambassador, was lineally descended from our historian. Such was the friendship between lord Cobham and colonel Speed, her father, that upon his decease, he esteemed her as his own child, brought her up in his family, and treated her with paternal | care and tenderness. Her extraordinary merit recommended her to the viscountess Cobham, who left her the bulk of her fortune. This lady, who was eminent for her wit and accomplishments, is celebrated by Gray in his “Long Story,” which indeed was written in consequence of a visit from her. 1


Biog. Brit.—Ath. Ox. vols. I. and II.—Granger.—Fuller’s Worthies.— Gough’s Topography.