Red Saltire map image for Eblast

John SPEED. The Kingdome of Scotland. From John Speed’s The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, 1652.

For St Andrew’s Day we are bringing you a piece from our extensive collection which we think the map enthusiasts amongst you will find very interesting indeed.

 The first edition of this very attractive map by the celebrated English mapmaker, John Speed, was produced in 1610 when King James VI and 1 sat on the throne of Great Britain.  It was one map – and the only one pertaining to Scotland – in what constituted an atlas of the British Isles, based on a map of Scotland published in 1595 by the great Flemish-born geographer, mathematician and map-maker, Gerard Mercator.

By 1652 when this map was printed, King Charles I had been dead 3 years. The years of Commonwealth rule under Oliver Cromwell had begun and it was not good politics, – or salesmanship – during such an anti-royalist period, for a map-maker to continue to produce and sell maps with royal figures shown on them.  In consequence, John Speed replaced the King and Queen depicted in his 1610 edition with the ‘neutral’ image of a “Scotch” man and woman, the man wearing the typical plain garb and hat of the Puritan period.  Underneath, in place of the depictions of the two royal Princes, Henry and Charles, who Speed had depicted in his first edition of the map, Speed substituted depictions of a Highland man and woman, dressed in plaid garments.  These are thought to be very early depictions of the plaid.

Unfortunately, Speed had to exclude Shetland from his map, due to its more distant geographical position, but he squeezed in Orkney as a special inset – out of its correct geographical position – at the top of the sheet.

Note the Saltire is not in its usual blue and white colours, but has a red diagonal cross set on a white background.  It is unclear if this was an error by the London-based colourist, or if red was chosen because it added to the attractiveness of the map design, or if there were other reasons for this.  What is known is that RSGS’s copy of this map is not the only one to show a red background to the white diagonal cross.

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