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Anatomy of an empire
The first comprehensive atlas of Great Britain, John Speed’s Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine was published 400 years ago in 1611/12. It was the first time a complete set of plans of English and Welsh counties and towns was available in print. John’s county maps were the first consistent attempt to show territorial divisions but it was his town plans that were a major innovation. Together they form the first printed collection of town plans for the British Isles. The Theatre’s influence was so great that it was used by armies on both sides of the Civil War in the 1640s.

Cambridge University Library (CUL) owns one of only five proof copies left in the world. For the library, it is the hand-coloured set of proofs that is one of its greatest treasures. To celebrate the event, CUL has digitised the atlas.

Image & info courtesy: Cambridge University Library