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John Speed, author of the History and Maps of Great Britain, was born at Farrington in Cheshire, in 1552. He was by profession a
taylor, and was free of merchant-taylors' com*pany in London. Sir Fulk Greville had the
penetration to discern his natural ability and inclinations, and had the generosity to furnish him with means to prosecute his favourite studies. He died in 1629.
1. His first work was his “Theatre (or maps] of the Empire of Great Britain, presenting an exact Geography of the Kingdoms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and the Isles adjoining; with the shires, hundreds, cities, and shire-towns, within the kingdom of England, divided and described by John Speed. Lond.
1606, fol.” These are the best maps which had appeared of the British dominions, prior to his time.
2. This work was followed by his “ History of Great Britain, the Conquests of the Romans, Saxons, Danes, and Normans; their originals, manners, wars, coins, and seals; with the successions, lives, acts, and issues of the English monarchs, from Julius Cæsar to our most gracious sovereign king James. 1614, fol." In the compilement of this history, the author had many facilities afforded him, and some coadjutors. The reign of Henry V. was compiled from collections, notes, and extracts, made by George Carew, earl of Totness, That of Henry VII, is borrowed almost exclusively from Bacon. For the reign of Henry VIII, he is indebted to the notes and collections of sir Robert Cotton. Sir Henry Spelman has also furnished him with materials. The life of king John was written by Dr. Barkham, dean of Bocking; and likewise the life of Henry II. The catalogue of the religious houses, at the end of king Henry VIII.th's reign, was drawn up by William Burton, esq. It is moreover affirmed by Dr. Thomas Smith, that sir Robert Cotton revised,
corrected, and polished the whole. It has been justly observed by James Tyrrel, esq. that
Speed was the first English writer, who slighting Geoffrey's Tales, immediately fell upon more solid matter, giving us a large account of the history of this island, during the time of the Roman emperors and English Saxon kings," &c. &c. The truth of this observation will be apparent from the following passages.
Not to derive the truth of our history from the feigned intentions of a forged Berosus, that bringeth Samothes to people this island, about one hundred fifty-two years after the flood, to give laws to the land, and to leave it to his posterity, for three hundred thirty-five years continuance: although he be countenanced by Amandus Zirixæus in the annotations of White of Basingstocke, and magnified unto us by the names of Dis and Meshech the sixth son of Japheth, from whom this island with a sect of philosophers took their names, saith Textor, Bale, Holinshed, and Caius: yet seeing this building hath no better a foundation but Berosus, and he not only justly suspected, but long since fully convicted for a counterfeit, we leave it, as better fitting the pens of vulgar chroniclers, than the relish or liking of ju. dicious readers: whilst with Laertius we judge rather, that those Sophes were termed Semnothoes,
and they not from Samothea, as Villicbus would have us believe.
Neither soundeth the music of Albion's legion tunable to our ears, whom Berosus with full note, and Annius alloweth to be the fourth son of Neptune, and him the same that Moses calleth Napthtahim, the fourth son of Mizraim, the second son of Cham, the third son of Noah, (because his fictions should be countenanced with the first) who being put into this island by Neptune his father (accounted forsooth the god of the seas) about the year after the flood, three hundred thirty and five, overcame the Samotheans, as easily he might, being a man of so great strength in body, and large ness of limbs, that he is accounted among the giants of the earth. Hiin Hercules, surnamed Lybicus, in battle assailed for the death of Osiris his father, and after forty-four years tyranny (saith Bale) slew him with his brother Bergeon in the continent of Gallia, near to the mouth of the river Rhodanus: whence Hercules travelled into this island as Giraldus (from Gildas the ancient Briton poet) conjectureth, whose fifth dialogue of poetry he had seen; and the rather believed because Ptolemy calleth that head of land in Cornwall, Promontorium Herculis, and left the possession of the island unto them of Cham, contrary to the meaning of the Scriptures, that made him a captive, but never
a conqueror over his þrethren, whilst their first policies were standing.
The last, but much applauded opinion, for the possessing and peopling of this island, is that of Brute, generally held for the space of these last four hundred years, (some few men's exceptions reserved) who with his dispersed Trojans came into, and made conquest of this island, the year of the world's creation two thousand eight hundred eighty seven, and after the universal flood one thousand two hundred thirty one, in the eighteenth year of Heli, his priesthood in the land of Israel, and before the incarnation of Christ our Saviour one thousand fifty nine. This Brute is brought from the ancient Trojans by descent; yea, and from the persons of the heathen deified gods: as that he was the son of Sylvius, who was the son of Ascanius, the son of Æneas, the son of Anchises by Venus the goddess, and daughter to Jupiter, their greatest in account. And if Pliny and Varro hold it praiseworthy to challenge descents (though falsely) from famous personages, whereby, as they say, appeareth an inclination to virtue, and a valorous conceit to persuade unto honour as sprung from a race divine and powerful: then by all means let us listen to him of Monmouth, who hath brought his nation to rank in degree with the rest of the Gentiles, which claim themselves to be the generation of the gods.
But why do I attribute the work to him, as the author, since he professeth himself to be but the